Author's Note: I had wanted to get this one done before the season premiere, but to paraphrase Robert Burns, 'The best-laid schemes o' Feds and Squints gang aft agley'. Hopefully this increasingly lengthy chapter will make up for my tardiness.

And thanks to NatesMama and Guest for keeping me honest regarding the 'Marco Polo' line. One of the few episodes I've missed, I'm afraid. I edited the chapter to make that correction. Thanks again.

This story features the song 'Push' by Sarah McLachlan, and a passage from "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss. Again I don't own those.


Chapter five

The Affirmations in the Aftermath

"The past and the present are within the field of my inquiry, but what a man may do in the future is a hard question to answer."

Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Hound of the Baskervilles"


Mountain warblers trilled gently outside the window, greeting the day. Early morning sunlight filtered through the bedroom window of the Blue Ridge cabin, casting dappled oak leaf shadows across the bed.

She lay sprawled across the right side of the bed, her body slowly awakening from the first sound sleep she experienced in nearly three months. The warmth of the sun across her face slowly drew her out her pleasant lethargy. She rolled semi-consciously toward the center of the bed, expecting to feel his warm body. She felt nothing but a warm indentation in the mattress next to her, prompting her to open her eyes.

Brennan felt her breath catch in her throat for a moment, as she considered the options. Had last night been a dream? She recalled the events; Booth and her father had arrived at the cabin where she and Christine had been hiding, to inform her that she was no longer wanted by the FBI. Booth assured her that she was free to return home and that he had forgiven her for running away. And after her father had left and they were assured that Christine was sleeping soundly...

She felt a renewed frisson of pleasure along the nerve endings of her skin as she recalled last night.
And she could clearly smell traces of his shampoo and aftershave in the pillow next to hers, mingled with sweat to create a scent that was uniquely Booth. She then noticed a small scrap of paper on Booth's pillow.

A part of her did not want to read Booth's note, fearing that it was a good-bye letter, that he still harbored anger at her taking Christine away from him, that he would never forgive her for running away. With a growing apprehension, she took the paper in her hands and scanned Booth's characteristic loose-but-still-legible handwriting;

Hey, Bones,

As I write this letter, it is 6:15 a.m. As much as I'd love to stay in bed and watch you sleep or, even better, enjoy another round of 'breaking the laws of physics' like we did last night, I figure the sooner we're on the road the sooner we can get back home and resume our lives together. So I'm taking Christine out for a quick drive to a little grocery store Max and I passed on our way over yesterday, about 20 miles east of here. I'll be back shortly with some muffins and orange juice for breakfast. I already showered, and there's enough hot water left for you to clean up with. We should be back by 7 or so.

In case you needed a reminder, I love you more than you know, and plan to spend the rest of my life, starting today, showing you how much.

With all my (metaphorical) heart,

Booth

Brennan smiled as she rolled on the bed, holding the note close to her chest. An illogical response, she freely admitted to herself, but she did not care. Last night was not a dream. She was free. Booth was with her. Their family had weathered Pelant's efforts to tear them apart. With a lightness that she despaired she would ever feel again less than two days ago, she glanced at the old electric alarm clock on her bedside table, which now read 6:50. She hastily made her way to the cramped bathroom and turned on the hot water for her shower.

When she emerged from the shower, clean and dressed in a pair of navy-blue khakis and a red flannel top, she could hear Booth's voice, singing tunelessly and with abandon. She quietly exited the bathroom and entered the hallway, where she had a clear view of Booth in the kitchen as he placed a cardboard box and a carton of orange juice on the counter. Christine was buckled into a baby carrier strapped around Booth's shoulders and waist, facing her father. Booth bounced her gently across the kitchen floor and selected two plastic tumblers from the cabinet for their juice, crooning happily; "I never thought through love we'd be / Making one as lovely as she / But isn't she lovely, made from love!" Christine cooed happily as her father spun her around in an impromptu dance.

"Marco?"

Booth stopped suddenly, turning toward the voice. Brennan stood in the doorway, smiling as she observed the man she loved with their daughter. "Polo" Glancing around, he added, "You didn't just take a photo of me, did you? I mean, this isn't like the time I was cooking an omelet in the nude, but—"

"Regrettably, I didn't think to bring my camera," Brennan admitted, stepping forward to claim a morning kiss. She meant for the kiss to be a simple peck on the cheek, but Booth placed his hands around Brennan's head, holding her in place, allowing the kiss to deepen. The seconds stretched out one into the next as she reveled in the touch of his lips. Finally disengaging, she commented, "Good thing I remembered my mouthwash."

"Same here," Booth quipped. They held each other for a few moments longer, their daughter sandwiched between them, as Brennan kissed the top of her baby girl's head. "God, I've missed this," Booth breathed happily.

"You missed the threat of my morning breath?" Brennan asked wryly.

Booth raised his eyebrow slightly. "Yeah, I have. 'Cause it was your morning breath." Brennan couldn't help but smile at his observation. "Really, I mean this, the whole family thing, being here with the two most important women in my life. I missed everything about you, Bones. I missed discussing cases with you, having lunch at the Founding Fathers, listening to you 'speaking anthropologically', watching you asleep in our bed...I woke up at about 5:30 am today and just spent a half-hour just watching you sleep." Handing her the tumbler he had just filled, he added, "Just reminding myself how beautiful you are."

"You are a sentimentalist, Booth," Brennan commented wryly as she accepted the offered juice.

"You are just figuring that out?" Booth smirked.

"I have been aware of that fact for some time," Brennan grinned back as she drank her juice. "It has just taken me some years to determine whether I found that trait irritating or attractive."

"Have you made your decision, Dr. Brennan?" Booth teased her as he poured himself a glass of juice.

Brennan favored Booth with a slight glance that somehow managed to be mildly condescending and sexy as hell at the same time. "I believe extensive research is still required for me to make a hypothesis."

"Uh, thank you," Booth groused as he opened the box he brought with him from the bakery, revealing a half-dozen fresh muffins, "I think. Okay, I got almond poppyseed, I got orange-cranberry, I got chocolate chocolate-chip..." Christine began to fuss and squirm in the baby carrier, her wailing gradually increasing in volume. "And I got a cranky daughter on my hands. Easy, baby girl, it's okay, shh, shh, daddy's here."

"Here, Booth," Brennan offered, placing her tumbler on the counter and extending her hands. "It looks like Christine has her daddy's appetite." Booth unbuckled the left shoulder strap, freeing Christine from the harness, and handed his daughter off to her mother. Brennan began to unbutton her top briefly, until she glanced back at Booth. "Forgive me," she admitted with a slight awkwardness in her voice. "I had grown used to doing this in private over the last few months."

"I can go into the living room," Booth offered, "while you, um..."

"No," Brennan smiled warmly. "I've missed sharing moments like this with you." Booth nodded in understanding, as Brennan opened her blouse and gently maneuvered her daughter's face so her mouth latched onto her mother's right nipple and sucked greedily. She made her way to a chair at the dining table and sat down, cradling her feeding daughter. "There are so many things I miss from my life, Booth. You, of course. Being your partner, discussing the details of our cases, spending time with you and Christine after work..." She glanced at Booth with a faintly wicked gleam in her eye. "And I very definitely missed making love with you."

Booth chuckled throatily at Brennan's words. "Believe me, Bones," he half-growled, "the feeling is mutual."

"Thank you," Brennan smiled. "Of course, I also miss the Jeffersonian, working in the lab, talking with Angela...and Italian food. Remember just after Christine was born and you treated me to the baked ziti in marinara at Lipari's?"

"Ramen noodles not doing it for you, huh?" Booth commented as he glanced at his watch. "Tell ya what. We head out of here 'round 8 or 8:30, we'll be in DC around 7 pm or so."

"I don't know if we should drive for so long," Brennan interrupted. "Not with Christine, at any rate. It's not like we need to be home right away, is it?"

"Yeah, you're probably right," Booth conceded. "Maybe we can find a bed-and-breakfast somewhere near Charlottesville. Then tomorrow, when we get back to DC, what say we go to Lipari's and pick up a big to-go order and bring it home with us? Maybe swing by the Trader Joe's in Arlington and pick up some romaine and some dressing for a salad."

"An excellent idea," Brennan mused. "Maybe some minestrone, followed by linguini with sautéed mushrooms. If you want something with chicken or sausage for yourself, of course, I won't have any problems."

"Actually, they got a new dish on the menu," Booth suggested. "It's a butternut squash ravioli in browned butter and sage sauce with pine nuts and shredded Parmesan."

"Mmm, sounds wonderful." Brennan paused slightly as her daughter had stopped suckling. She removed the infant's mouth from her breast, located a paper towel and placed it over her shoulder, and lifted Christine up to her shoulder, gently patting her back to encourage her to burp. "When did they add that to the menu?"

"About two months ago, I guess," Booth admitted. "Hodgins and Angela took me there last month. I guess they were worried about me going stir crazy, what with my suspension and being taken off the Pelant case and...well, everything else."

Brennan paused as she let his words sift through her mind. He did not want to dredge up the past, to burden her with his grief. She knew him perhaps better than she knew anyone living. She knew that he would try to shoulder the pain, the anger and fear that he felt over the last three months by himself, to "man up" as he would say. "Booth," she said levelly, "I want you to know that I regret having caused you such anxiety."

Booth sensed her voice shifting to a more professional demeanor as her shoulders stiffened. He recognized her body language as indicating that she was closing herself off. "Bones," he slowly approached her, touching her cheek with a reassuring hand, "you did nothing wrong."

Brennan instinctively leaned into her partner's hand. He had promised last night that he would repeat that sentiment from time to time should he feel that she needed to hear it, and evidently he felt that time had come. "I know you mean those words, Booth," she replied, her voice tinged with remorse, "and intellectually I agree. But emotionally, there's a small part of my psyche that feels as though I had betrayed you. That I made my decision to turn fugitive based on fear rather than reason."

"I know," Booth sat next to Brennan, taking her left hand in his, gently stroking her palm. "And in the end, you chose to do whatever it would take to keep Chrissy and yourself safe. So as far as I'm concerned, that makes you not just the smartest and most beautiful woman I've ever known, but also the bravest."

Brennan quietly sipped her orange juice, let go of Booth's hand and selected an almond poppyseed muffin from the box. "If I was so brave, why did I feel like a coward?"

Booth shrugged. "I seem to recall that one of your favorite movie actors said, 'Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway'."

Brennan smirked ruefully. "Stagecoach," she whispered, identifying the movie. "You remembered."

"Of course I did," Booth answered. "And the point is that you saddled up. The Duke would have been proud...pilgrim." He spoke the last word in a vague impersonation of John Wayne's voice, causing Brennan to chuckle.

"Still," Brennan admitted, "in some small way, it still feels as though I was running away from you. From us." Taking a bite out of her muffin, she added, "I'm certain that you have noticed that I had become quite skilled at running away, especially where you and I were concerned. Like when I took my sabbatical at Maluku. Rather than deal with the possibility pursuing the long-term relationship you had asked of me outside the Hoover Building, I ran away."

"You were scared, Bones," Booth replied gently. "I understand that. Besides, I was running away too, y'know. You ran to Maluku, I ran to Afghanistan. Then I kept running back to Hannah."

"Weren't you in love with Hannah?" Brennan's words were not an accusation, merely a query.

Booth shook his head. "Not really, though it took me a while to wrap my thick head around that concept."

Brennan looked at Booth blankly. "I don't know what that means."

Booth had to smile; he even missed her saying that familiar sentence. "It means that it took me some time to admit the truth to myself. I wasn't in love with Hannah. I was in love with the idea of Hannah. I was in love with being in love with someone. Turning my proposal down was probably the smartest thing she had done since we first met. Not to mention the way I blew off you and the rest of the Jeffersonian when Hannah and I were together. In retrospect it's a minor miracle that Angela didn't tear me a new one over the way I treated all of you." Brennan nodded silently at Booth's statement. While his turn of phrase gave her pause, the tone of his voice made his meaning clear; there was a great deal of friction between Booth and the Medico-Legal lab that year as he distanced himself from them in his newfound relationship with Hannah.

Booth continued; "And I was hardly a sweetheart to be around when we split up either. Angry at you, the squints, the female gender in general—" He took a swig of orange juice and backtracked for a moment. "No, that's not true, not really. I was mainly angry at myself for not seeing it clearly. Hannah and I didn't have a future. I kept saying that I was trying to move on, but in the end all I was doing was running away." Turning to face Brennan, he could clearly feel her love and concern radiating from her. "And in the end, my stupidity nearly cost us, well, us. We can't let it get this far again, Bones. We need to stop running away."

"I concur," Brennan answered. "I have no desire to be apart from you for such a protracted period of time ever again." Leaning forward in her seat, she placed her free hand over Booth's shoulder, gently drawing him into a shared embrace. He let his left hand fall gently on her back, while his right hand stroked Christine's face.

It was at this moment when Christine began to wail loudly, shocking Booth and Brennan out of their intimate moment. "Hey, Chrissy," Booth murmured, his lips brushing the top of his daughter's head. "It's me, your daddy. I know it's been awhile..."

"I think the problem is more immediate, Booth," Brennan observed.

"Why do you say...?" Booth began, until he noticed a pungent odor. "Whoa, never mind," he added suddenly. "Here," he offered, holding out his hands. "You fed her, I'll go change her."

"I'll go make sure I'm packed," Brennan added as Booth made his way to the living room, holding his daughter at arm's length. "There's a diaper bag by the sofa."

"On it, Bones," he answered. "And we'll take the rest of the muffins with us so we can have a snack on the road." He found himself smiling as he prepared to change his daughter. Even with this less than glamorous task before him he had to smile.

He had his family back.


The drive to DC was a subdued affair. Initially Booth took the wheel while Brennan sat in the back seat with Christine. As the Sequoia threaded along the tree-lined lengths of Interstate 81, Brennan told Booth some of the details regarding her time apart from him. How she had lived from day to day, her only priority Christine's protection. "Oddly," she admitted, "the experience was not as terrifying or as exciting as I imagined it would be. Mostly I kept myself hidden, out of the public eye, disguising myself when it was necessary for me to go out in public." She paused to collect her thoughts, and her voice lowered slightly as she continued. "Apart from an occasional dread if I noticed a police officer or heard a siren in the distance, the only real fear I experienced was that, once this whole ordeal was over, that I would not be welcomed back home. That I may have hurt you beyond your capacity for forgiveness. After all, you severed all contact with Hannah, simply because she turned down a proposal."

"Never happen, Bones," Booth answered, and Brennan felt her burden lighten considerably as she could feel the sincerity in his words. "I wasn't committed to Hannah, not nearly as much as I am to you. I've invested too much of myself in us to ever give you up without a fight." Sensing a need to lighten the conversation, Booth added, "So, just curious, when did you go blond?"

"It was around the second week after I became a fugitive," she explained, "that I started applying peroxide to my hair. I hope my appearance did not shock you." She hesitated for a second. "So how do I look to you as a blonde? Just out of curiosity?"

Booth thought for a moment, "it's a different look, but I could get used to it."

"Well don't," Brennan admonished lightly. "As far as I'm concerned, my hair cannot return to its natural shade soon enough."

Booth shrugged his shoulders, his eyes returning to the road ahead. "It's your hair, Bones. Whatever you do with it, I'll always think you're beautiful."

"Hmmf," Brennan groused dismissively. After a second's pause, she added, "Thanks." The miles stretched ahead as they traveled on in companionable silence.

"So," Booth asked at one point of the drive, "who was that British guy you met?"

Brennan, whose attention was drawn toward their napping daughter, shot her head up at his words. "British guy? How did you know...?"

"He called me up a few days ago," he admitted. "Said he was helping a stranded motorist, and that you told him about the Pelant case."

Brennan sat in silence for a full ten seconds before speaking; "The only name he gave me was Holmes. He saw through my disguise so effectively I feared for a moment that he was a Federal agent sent to arrest me. When he assured me that he had no interest in bring me to the Feds, I guess I broke down. If my father learned that I had confided in a total stranger while I was supposed to be hiding, he would never let me hear the end of it."

"Your secret's safe with me, Bones," Booth answered. "Besides, he ended up asking me a few questions about Pelant. Enough to get me thinking about the case from a different angle. He made me realize that, even with all his computer savvy, all Pelant really had going for him was simple misdirection. Thanks to him, I was able to discover the connection between Pelant and Flynn." With a mischievous tone in his voice, he added, "Makes you think, don't it?"

"Do not even consider that line of thought," Brennan warned him, although her mildly teasing expression did not escape Booth as he glanced at her in the rearview. "I still refuse to believe in your concept of 'fate'. Mr. Holmes' arrival was merely a fortuitous happenstance."

"Sure, Bones," she could see his smug grin in the mirror. "Pure serendipity."

"Five syllables. Impressive."

"Yeah, I know lots of big words."

Brennan tried to glare condescendingly at Booth but was unable to look overly stern while she giggled at his goofy smile. She settled for gazing contentedly through the mirror at the face of her lover and partner. Once again she realized that Booth was her constant reminder that faith and intelligence were not mutually exclusive. While not a scientist like herself, Booth was certainly not an idiot; his training as a soldier, a sniper and a detective, along with his nearly matchless ability to read people, had served him well over the years, and the pooling of their mutual talents had helped solve the most heinous of crimes. Indeed, Brennan gladly conceded, were it not for his many talents, Christine and I would still be on the run today. Or dead.

As much as Brennan regarded theology as the antithesis of reason, she recognized that Booth was a man who truly lived his faith. His values, his morals, his very person, were informed by his Catholic belief system. And whatever contradictions she saw as being inherent in Christianity, she was forced to concede that his faith made him the man she loved. Which was why she had no problem with Christine being baptized; she had no doubt that exposure to Booth's faith would be of benefit to their daughter.

And it was not that Brennan was a person without faith. Despite her reactions to Booth and Max teasing her on the subject the previous night, she did indeed have faith. She had faith in the tangible, the visible and the quantifiable. She believed in the evidence of her senses, in the testing of hypotheses, in the scientific method. She believed fervently that two plus two equaled four, the Earth rotated at roughly 1070 miles an hour, and the adult human body contained 206 bones. Her faith was absolute that force was equal to mass times acceleration, the velocity of a falling body increased at a rate of thirty-two feet per second per second and energy was equal to mass times the speed of light squared. These were her creeds, the tenets of her faith. She did not believe the soul, or in Heaven and Hell. Or in fate.

But Booth believed in these things. And she believed in Booth. So perhaps they were not as far-fetched as she believed.

After all, until a few years ago, I didn't believe in the concept of 'being in love'. And now look at me. Firmly, utterly devoted to Seeley Joseph Booth.

After a few more similar thoughts, Brennan announced, "I did something else that I have no doubt my father would object to over the last three months."

"What's that?"

"The night after I left DC," she began slowly, "I made a cash purchase of an inexpensive digital camera, some batteries and a 16 gigabyte SD-card. I had recalled how upset you were when I had a sonogram taken during my fifth month of pregnancy without informing you, and it had occurred to me that in our absence you would miss a number of milestones in Christine's development. Dad warned me that I should not take a camera or recording device with me, for fear of taking a picture that might incriminate me if I should be caught. However, I decided that the risk was worth it. So every day we were on the run, I took photos of Christine, in order to capture her development. I have the camera in my purse. When we get home, we can download the SD card on our main computer and your laptop. I know it's not the same as being there, but I suppose that it's the next best thing."

Booth swallowed down the sudden lump that was developing in his throat, and Brennan noticed his eyes appeared glassy as she saw them through the rearview. At length he spoke; "Bones, I gotta say—thank you. That means a lot, really. I guess I can only imagine how hard things were for you and Chrissy."

"Just as I can only estimate the anguish you experienced," Bones admitted. "I only hope that Christine's pictures can in some small way compensate for what we've lost over these last three months."

"Bones," Booth spoke warmly and with all the love he possessed, "you and Christine are safe, we're back together and we're on our way home. Anything else is gravy." He paused and glanced at Brennan in the mirror for a second. "Uh, isn't this when you say, 'I don't know what that means,'?"

"No, that one I understood," Brennan answered. "And I concur."

Booth chuckled in wholehearted agreement as the miles sped by. He and Brennan continued to talk about everything and nothing, restoring the precious bond that had been damaged by Pelant's actions. Dreams were shared, news was related, jokes were told, tears were shed. And two souls separated by a terrible ordeal were truly reunited.


By the time they made the exit to Charlottesville, Virginia, Christine had begun to fuss loudly. "We'd better find a place for the night," Brennan recommended, "and finish the trip home tomorrow."

"Good idea," Booth agreed, glancing at the signs ahead as the sun began to set behind their vehicle. "Exit 221 ahead, that'll take us straight to Charlottesville."

"Excellent," Brennan enthused. "There are a number of very nice inns there. I visited there during a book-signing a few years ago." After a pause she added ruefully, "Unfortunately I left my credit cards and checkbook in a safe deposit box in DC before I turned fugitive."

"I think I can spring for a four-star inn this once, Bones," Booth assured her. "Maybe a nice dinner somewhere? I promised you Italian, right?"

"There should be a decent Italian take-out place around here," Brennan suggested.

"You sure?"

Brennan nodded. "I just want to spend some time alone with you and Christine. In fact, about two hours back, while you were refueling the Sequoia, I called up Angela. I informed her that we were coming home, and naturally she was very excited. But I didn't want her to wait for us when we get back home tomorrow. Knowing her, she'd have the rest of the staff waiting for us to throw a surprise party, celebrating my triumphant return."

"Yeah, that sounds like Ange," Booth admitted. "Any excuse for a party." Brennan nodded knowingly, remembering how Angela, Hodgins and the rest of the Jeffersonian team were waiting for Booth and Brennan to come home just after she gave birth to Christine.

"As much as I love Ange, I just want to spend the next few days with you and Christine, just the three of us. Is that greedy of me?"

"Not at all, Bones," Booth smiled as he pulled off of the main interstate and onto the exit ramp. "After all we've been through, I think we deserve a little 'us' time. After we arrested Pelant, Cullen gave me two week's paid leave and told me to, and this is a direct quote, 'take care of that doctor of yours'. And Cam told me to tell you that you were on paid leave as well, but your job at the Jeffersonian would still be waiting for you when you were ready to go back to work."

"I'm relieved to hear that," Brennan admitted. "After all we've been through, I just want to move forward with my life. To return to the Jeffersonian, to be your partner again. To rebuild our relationship. I do not know if it is completely possible, but I want the life I had back."

Booth gave Brennan a reassuring smile. "We'll get it back Bones. One day at a time."

Brennan leaned forward in her seat, placed her hand on Booth's shoulder and gently kissed his ear. "I love you, Booth," she whispered. "More than I ever thought possible."

Booth took his left hand off the steering wheel and touched Brennan's hand, allowing his touch to linger over her fingers. "And I love you, Bones," he affirmed. "There were times this past summer I was afraid I'd lost you for good."

"Never happen," Brennan promised.


One hour later, Booth and Brennan arrived at the Hampton Inn Suites. The maitre d was able to set them up with a spacious suite, and provided a wooden bassinet for Christine as well as a baby monitor linking the crib to the master bedroom. "What do you think?" Booth asked as he escorted his family to the suite, suitcases in his free hand as he opened the door. "I know it's not as swanky as the places you're used to on your book signing tours, but…"

"Compared to where I've had to sleep for the last few months," Brennan assured him as she pushed their daughter's stroller into the suite, "this is the Taj Mahal. Thank you, Booth." She kissed him quickly on the lips, before setting their take-out bag on the nearest table. "Would you mind if I took a brief shower?"

"Not at all. I'll put Chrissy in her sleeper and watch over her for you."

Brennan smiled at Booth as she grabbed her overnight bag and headed for the shower. Booth unstrapped Christine from her seat, and as Brennan closed the bathroom door she could hear him saying, "Let's get you cleaned up and dressed, Chrissy. I brought something special with me…"

The shower was a welcome luxury, one that she scarcely could afford to indulge in during her months on the run from the law. The pulsing hot-water jets kneaded the tension from her back and shoulders, allowing her to stretch more fully after hours on the road. Even the spacious back seat of Booth's Sequoia could be a trial over extended periods. As she lathered some of the hotel shampoo into her hair(not her favorite tea-tree oil formula, but it did have a pleasant citrus scent) she considered her plans for tonight. If anyone told her two years ago that she would do what she was planning, she would regard the speaker as insane. Even last year, when Booth predicted that someday she would do this, she answered, "That's ridiculous."

Not so ridiculous after all, she conceded, a smile playing at her lips. Once again I underestimate Booth's people-reading skills. Or perhaps just his skills for reading me. Her course set, she rinsed her hair, turned off the shower, toweled herself dry, got dressed and headed for the living room.

She stopped just one step into the living room as her attention was fixed on the scene before her; Booth resting in an easy-chair, Christine lying on his lap, her little head resting drowsily against the crook of his left elbow, as he held a familiar and beloved book in his free hand and read to her in his gentlest voice; "And he put them away. Then he said, 'That is that.' And then he was gone with a tip of his hat. Then our mother came in and she said to us two, 'Did you have any fun? Tell me. What did you do?' And Sally and I did not know what to say. Should we tell her the things that went on there that day? Should we tell her about it? Now, what should we do? Well...What would you do if your mother asked you?"

Brennan smiled as she watched the care with which Booth placed their now-slumbering daughter in the bassinet and tucked her in. He stood next to Christine's bed, watching her sleep for a few seconds, when he noticed Brennan standing by the bassinet, a watery smile on her face.

"So how long were you standing there?" Booth asked, an amused half-smile playing at his lips.

"About the time the Cat in the Hat started cleaning up the house," Brennan admitted. "It was a wonderful performance."

"I thank you," Booth took a brief theatrical bow. "You should hear me do 'Where the Wild Things Are'. Not a dry eye in the house."

Brennan chuckled happily as she stepped around the bassinet and fell into the gravity of Booth's embrace, their lips meeting in a welcoming kiss, their arms fully encircling each other. Between kisses, Booth murmured, "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are, Bones?"

"I am aware that I am in excellent physical shape," Brennan stated, "but surely 'beautiful' is an over-statement, isn't it?"

Booth looked at her knowingly; for all the pride she displayed in her intellectual abilities, there were still all those little insecurities lurking beneath the surface. "Bones, as an anthropologist, you of all people should know that beauty is subjective. Different cultures throughout history have had different standards of beauty, right?"

Brennan raised an eyebrow in thought for a second. "Perhaps an over-simplified phrasing of the concept, but not inaccurate."

"Right. So by my standards, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever known. And there is nothing you can say or do that will convince me otherwise."

Brennan smiled warmly at Booth's praise. "In that case, by my admittedly very high standards, you are the most beautiful man that I have ever known."

"Yeah I know," he grinned, "I've got one helluva zygomatic arch."

"You don't even know what a zygomatic arch is."

"Oh yeah?" Booth traced the tip of his finger along Brennan's cheekbone, from just above the corner of her lip to her ear. "Over seven years as your partner, I had to pick some things up, right?"

"I'm glad to see that you've learned something from our association," she teased.

"You're definitely my favorite teacher," he replied warmly, leaning in for another quick kiss. "C'mon, Bones, let's eat before it gets cold."

They ate their dinner in relative silence, occasionally sharing meaningful glances and gentle touches. Booth allowed Brennan to make the selections, and admitted to himself that, while meatless, her choices were excellent. Eggplant parmigiana with mushroom risotto and orzo salad with grape tomatoes on the side. They also made a stop at a local grocery store for a six-pack of IPA to accompany their meal. She was somewhat disappointed that the small Italian place they had found near the Hampton Inn didn't have butternut squash ravioli, but Booth promised her that he would treat her to Lipari's tomorrow when they got to Washington DC. They were only three-to-four hours away, so they would have plenty of time for a late lunch or early dinner when they finally arrived.

Brennan couldn't help but steal continued glances at Booth. She knew what she wanted to say to him, she knew that she was right in her decision. She only hoped that she would have the courage to back her conviction. Washing down a bite of risotto with a sip of beer, she began; "Booth? There is something I wish to speak to you about."

"What is it, Bones?"

"I promised you last night," she began, her voice calm and level, "that I would not make any unilateral decisions regarding our family without consulting you first. That we would make such decisions together. And I intend to keep that promise. With that in mind, I believe it would be prudent for the two of us to take precautions to insure that we never find ourselves in a situation similar to the ordeal Pelant forced us into."

"We don't have to worry about Pelant, Bones," Booth assured her. "Judge Julian told me that they have an airtight case against him. He's out of our lives for good."

"That is true," she nodded. "But as I have observed before, there is no such thing as a singular event. Our careers are difficult, Booth, and at times dangerous. And it's not as though Pelant was the first major threat we've faced together. Epps, Gormogon, Gravedigger, Broadsky. There will be other threats that we must face together, so long as we are partners. And especially with Christine as a factor in our lives, we should take steps to insure that she is protected."

Booth paused to digest Brennan's words for a moment. "You're absolutely right."

"I frequently am."

Booth snorted humorously. "Actually, I was thinking along similar lines. Just after we arrested Pelant, Cullen told me that he was considering me for Hacker's position. It'd be more of a desk job, with a big bump in my salary."

"Would that mean an end to our professional partnership?" she asked worriedly.

"No way, honey," Booth promised. "I'd still be the main liaison officer to the Jeffersonian and you and I would still be working cases together, but I just wouldn't be in the field as much. Some cases I might delegate the heavy-lifting if necessary. But you and me, we're a team. Always will be."

Brennan found herself smiling at Booth's reassurances. "Thank you. But perhaps we should include the rest of the Medico-Legal team in any discussions, as your promotion would affect how they do their work as well."

"Yeah, good call," Booth admitted. "Once we're back on duty, we'll discuss it with them."

Brennan nodded. "I also have a couple of suggestions regarding safeguarding our family. First, something we probably should have done sooner, we should sit down with a lawyer and set up legal documents establishing a chain of custody for Christine. If anything should happen to either or both of us."

"Like Angela and Jack?" Booth suggested.

"Exactly, or Jared and Padme. Someone whom we know we can trust with Christine's guardianship."

"As much as I love my brother," Booth admitted, "I trust Ange and Jack better as parents. They've been doing a great job with Michael. But Jared and Padme would probably be good to Christine as well."

"Agreed. And in the Hodgins' favor, Jack's personal fortune would insure that Christine would not want for anything."

Booth reached across the table and took her hand. "You've thought a lot about this, haven't you?"

"I have, Booth," she admitted. "Weeks on end with only Christine for company tended to lead to me thinking a great deal."

Booth gave her an understanding look, and squeezed her hand lightly before letting go. "Okay, so we can hash out the details when we get back to DC," Booth suggested. "You said you had another suggestion as well?"

"I did say that, and I do," Brennan answered. Taking another sip of beer for courage, she spoke; "You and I should get married."

Booth stopped suddenly and found himself staring at her, unable to speak or even move his face. After a few seconds, Brennan admonished him. "Don't look so surprised, Booth. You're the one who predicted that I would someday ask you."

"I did," he said. "And you thought it was ridiculous at the time Uh, may I ask what changed your mind?"

"I realized after some thought that marriage between us would provide certain benefits. For one, if either of us were injured, incapacitated or killed, a legal bond would provide more solid rights of custody over Christine. Also, if either one of us were forced to stand trial for any crime, the other spouse could not be compelled to testify, due to spousal privilege."

"Rational, as always," Booth muttered tonelessly, turning back toward his plate.

Even with her self-admitted lack of social skills, Brennan could tell that Booth was somewhat disappointed in her reasoning. "Booth," she said, "those were only the pragmatic reasons why I want to marry you. There is another reason. Booth, I cannot compartmentalize you."

Booth turned toward Brennan, his brow furrowed in confusion.

"For the last eighty-five days," she continued, "I concentrated on keeping Christine safe. On staying 'off the grid' as Dad would say. During those times, I could concentrate on what needed to be done, and compartmentalize everything else. But in the evenings, when I would lie awake in bed, I would find my thoughts turning to you. I could imagine you, fearful for our safety, angry at me for deserting you, and I felt this great pressure in my chest. The most terrible pain I had ever experienced. My only point of reference for such an experience was when I first realized my feelings for you, only to see you with Hannah. But this pressure was far greater." She stopped for a second and drank another swallow of pale ale. Booth sat beside her without speaking, knowing that his partner needed to express her feelings in her own time.

"I remember chiding you once regarding your use of the term 'heart break', because the heart is a muscle, not a bone. I think I understand that phrase now, at least a possible interpretation. My heart—my metaphorical heart, at any rate, was broken. Not like a bone or a china cup, but like a mechanism. A broken watch or clock. Like a broken watch, I simply could not function properly. During those nights alone, especially during these last few weeks, I finally began to understand. I had always succeeded in compartmentalizing every aspect of my life. My job at the Jeffersonian, my career as an author, our partnership, my relationships with Angela, Hodgins, Sweets, my father, you. But that changed over these last two years...I think it started that night after we were stuck in the elevator. When we were burning those notes. After nearly losing the friendship you and I had built together, we were finally beginning to rebuild. When we first moved in together after we conceived Christine, you and the family we were creating had increasingly become the forefront of my thoughts. I had come to depend on you for so much; for your insight in the field, for emotional well-being, for companionship."

Her voice began to falter somewhat, forcing her to inhale deeply before she continued; "I realized the truth when we were apart. You were not something for me to compartmentalize. You had become part of the framework of my being. The bones of my life, if you will pardon the metaphor. I've never been in love before, and initially I've found the experience to be simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. I was no longer truly independent and for a moment, I'll admit, that frightened me. But in the end, all that mattered to me was how much I was missing you, missing that connection we had forged, during our time apart."

"I was missing you too, Bones," Booth assured her, stroking her hair. "You and Christine both, every minute. But that's what happens when you fall in love. Being in love can be scary, but at the same time it's the most wonderful thing that can happen to two people. You and I have become interdependent of each other. That doesn't mean losing yourself, just becoming part of something greater."

"I never want to be apart from you again, Booth," her voice hitched slightly as she spoke. "I still remember when you first told me how you wanted to spend the next thirty or forty or fifty years of your life with me, and how I had let my own fears cloud my desires that night." She turned her face toward Booth, clear-eyed and certain. "I cannot promise you thirty or forty or fifty years, Booth. I simply do not know if either of us has that time. It is simply a fact that no one can predict the future with absolute certainty. But I can promise you this; whatever time I have in this world, I want to spend it with you. As your partner, as your friend, as your lover. As your wife.

"Seeley Joseph Booth, will you marry me?"

Booth took Brennan in his arms and kissed her passionately on the lips. Reluctantly Brennan pushed him away but still remained in his arms. "Your reaction is encouraging," she said breathlessly, "but I'm afraid that I will require a verbal response..."

"Yes, Bones," Booth declared, half-laughing, half-growling. "Yes!" And he reached for her again.


24 hours later:

She stood over her daughter's crib, watching Christine sleep. Over the crib an electric mobile, constructed and installed by Booth's son Parker, was rotating quietly, photos of Christine's family orbiting over her head.

They were home. And she had no intention of being anywhere else for a very long time.

The remaining drive to DC was subdued, as Booth and Brennan quietly accepted the enormity of the previous night. They were engaged. Soon, they would be married. Brennan repeatedly thought back to the beginnings of her partnership with Booth, and the long, often difficult path their lives had taken to this moment. Ten years ago, she had declared repeatedly and loudly that she simply did not believe in monogamy. And now she had made a commitment to spend the rest of her life with one man.

She felt strong familiar arms encircling her waist and leaned into them happily. "Welcome home, Bones," Booth whispered in her ear.

"Thanks for having me back," Brennan purred as she leaned into Booth's strong chest. Glancing up toward the mobile she commented, "You know, from an objective viewpoint, that mobile is an impressive feat of engineering. Parker is quite talented."

"Y'think so?"

"He really is," Brennan answered. "The Jeffersonian has some summer internship programs for pre-teens. Rather like a summer camp environment. I would be happy to sponsor him, if you think he'd be interested."

Booth shrugged his shoulders. "Next time he and Rebecca are in town, we can discuss it with them. I think he'll be thrilled." He kissed the back of her neck. "He idolizes you, y'know."

"He's a wonderful child." Turning in Brennan's embrace, she added, "You should be very proud of him."

"Yeah, I am," Booth agreed. "Just like I'm proud of you and Christine. I love you, Temperance Brennan."

"And I love you, Seeley Booth." Glancing out of the window, she added, "And you remembered the cherry-blossom tree."

"Yeah, Wendell helped me plant it a few days ago. Just before I got that call from Holmes."

"Thank you," she murmured, overcome by her emotions. "Next spring that tree will look spectacular."

"Yeah," Booth agreed. "Thought you'd approve." They remained in the nursery, their arms wrapped around each others' waists, simply content to remain in that moment for awhile longer.

"Booth," Brennan commented as they eventually left their slumbering daughter, "we may have some issues with setting the date. Shortly after we got back, I took the liberty of checking my voice mail, and there were nearly a hundred messages."

"Well, it's been nearly three months, Bones."

"They were all dated over the last forty-eight hours," Brennan replied. "Since Cullen's press conference, when he publicly exonerated me." Booth pursed his lips in understanding. "A few of them were from my publisher, several from Cam, Angela and other members of the Medico-Legal lab, but the majority of them were reporters wanting a statement. I spoke with my publisher and she recommended that I give a press conference in the next few days, just to get it over with, but you can see the potential problem."

"Gotcha," Booth commented as they entered the living room. "With you being a big name in mystery writing, not to mention the Pelant case being so high-profile, anywhere we want to have the wedding, the media will turn it into a full-on circus."

Brennan looked at Booth quizzically. "I trust that you mean that metaphorically."

"Oh no," Booth answered. "Literally. They'll have tents up on the lawn, clowns, tumblers, dancing bears—"

"Oh stop," Brennan quipped, lightly slapping Booth's chest. "I want our wedding to be an intimate event, just friends and family. I know that you would prefer a church service, and I would have no objections to that, but..."

"But if we announce a date with the local church," Booth nodded, then bring on the dancing bears. Look, as long as we're doing this together, I don't care where we get married." Looking around the room, he added, "Whaddya think? Judge Caroline over there," he pointed to the fireplace, "handling the justice-of-the-peace honors, the congregation over here in the living room? You can come down the stairs over there, maybe have one or two musicians, nothing to big."

"Maybe Mr. Gibbons would provide the music."

"Y'mean Ange's dad? Yeah, maybe. And we can get Gordon-Gordon to cater. Who do you see us inviting?"

"Well," she thought for a moment, "Angela as my bridesmaid, I would guess you would want Jared as your best man, he'll bring Padme, then Sweets, Daisy I guess," she scowled lightly at the thought, then continued; "Hodgins, Mr. Bray, Cam—is Michelle still seeing Mr. Abernathy?"

"I think so," Booth answered. "Pops, of course, and Parker and Becca. Caroline, Gordon-Gordon and Ange's dad, as we said."

"A small intimate gathering," Brennan nodded in approval.

"Just like we'd invite for Christmas dinner, wouldn't you say?"

"What are you suggesting, Booth?" Brennan crooked an eyebrow in curiosity.

"We invite everyone over for Christmas. It's Chrissy's first Christmas, naturally we'll want out extended family over. Then, after dinner, we announce, 'Oh, stick around, we're gonna get married in the living room in half-an-hour.' No press, no problems."

Brennan considered Booth's suggestion for a moment. "We'd have to make advance arrangements with Caroline, Mr. Gibbons and Gordon-Gordon. But with only those three knowing—"

"Four, I'd like Parker as my ring-bearer."

"Fair enough. But with only three adults and one child in the hoop—"

"Loop, Bones, in the loop," he corrected her automatically, smiling slightly.

"Loop, thank you," Brennan mock-scowled at him. "With only those four knowing, there's significantly less chance of the press learning our plans, until long after the ceremony. An excellent suggestion."

"Hey," Booth smiled, tapping his right temple. "There's more going on up here than a killer zygomatic arch."

"Oh shut up and kiss me," Brennan laughed throatily, leaning forward and pressing her mouth to his.

After a few seconds, she backed away and stepped out of Booth's arms. "Just a moment, if I may," she smiled serenely at him as she approached the stereo system. Pulling out a favorite CD, she placed the disc in the player and selected a specific song. The smoky-sweet voice of Sarah McLachlan poured out of the speakers.

Every time I look at you the world just melts away.
All my troubles, all my fears dissolve in your affections,
You've seen me at my weakest but you take me as I am,
And when I fall you offer me a softer place to land.

She extended her arm toward Booth and summoned him with her smile. "Dance with me." Booth crossed the floor to join his fiance, his arms around her waist, as they swayed gently to the music. They held each other, slowly moving across the floor, lost in their dance. Brennan's head instinctively found its way to the crook of Booth's shoulder, and Booth placed his hand on the back of her head, stroking her hair.

You stay the course, you hold the line, you keep it all together,
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in.
You're all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me,
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in.

Neither of them could claim to a happy childhood experience. Brennan being shuttled from one foster-home to another, Booth being beaten by his drunkard father until his grandfather intervened and took custody. For much of his adult life, Booth feared that he would never find the love of his life. For much of her adult life, Brennan scoffed at the notion of romantic love altogether.

I get mad so easy but you give me room to breathe,
No matter what I say or do 'cause you're too good to fight about it.
Even when I have to push just to see how far you'll go,
You wont stoop down to battle but you never turn to go.

Now, this moment, none of that mattered. In each other, they had found the happiness they despaired they would never experience. In each other they found the parts of their lives that were missing.

You stay the course, you hold the line, you keep it all together,
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in.
You're all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me,
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in.

In each other, they had found home.