This is the last chapter.
The Tenth Chapter in the Story.
Dawn broke; dawn as rosy and new as it had ever been seen. The first rays of light found a baby stirring in her crib, turning around once more; found a man and a woman helplessly entangled in their sheets, his protective arms around her, her head resting trustfully on his chest.
Had it only been yesterday that the world had seemed to be so bleak? Had it only been last week that she had denied her name, her life, her home?
He was dreaming – old habits die hard – and it wasn't the pleasant kind of dream. He was lost, somehow lost, fighting against it in sleep, fighting for something. Awakening with a sudden gasp, Booth was still struggling, but it only took him seconds to notice the woman's weight in his arms, seconds to realize that dreams couldn't hurt him anymore, that his world was, once again, whole.
Relaxing with a deep breath, he tried not to crush her, not to hold her as tight as he possibly could. She was back. Had come back into his life, their life, with lost eyes and a haunted look on her face. Blinking against the new day, he tried to focus, and, eventually, he was able to see her clearly. The milky-white vastness of her skin. The elegant curve of her body. The mess of her dark hair. Her long lashes casting shadows on her rosy cheeks. His woman.
Torn between watching her and waking her, he brushed her soft cheek with one tender finger. Eyelids fluttered, as she mumbled in sleep.
"Hi Bones," he whispered, and blue eyes flew open, unfocused, vulnerable and more beautiful than he had ever seen them.
"Booth," she murmured, her voice still heavy with sleep, and, with a smile, he pulled her closer into his embrace, her body molding against his like a perfect fit.
"What time is it?"
"Hmm... Why are you awake?"
Because you were gone. And I was lost.
"Nothing beats waking up next to you."
His words hit her unguarded heart, and she peppered drowsy kisses onto his shoulder.
"I know. Booth..."
The reality of the day caught up with her, and she looked at him with sudden seriousness.
"I'm back... What about the lab? What am I supposed to do?"
He let go of a deep sigh.
"I guess it's time to talk, huh?"
Christine had decided that it was about time to start the day, informing her parents with happy gurgling, and Brennan groaned into his chest.
"Your daughter is awake."
"I believe she is your daughter."
"Why is she always my daughter in the morning?"
"She is your daughter at night as well."
It was an old banter, and playing it once more lifted his heart. Lowering his mouth, he placed a kiss in her unruly her.
"Okay. Baby, shower, breakfast?"
"That sounds correct."
"And then we talk."
Taking one more deep breath, she nodded.
"Then we talk. Booth?"
"Are we... are we solid?"
She looked at him with almost child-like trust, and his heart clenched.
"Always, Bones, always. Remember? We're the center."
"And the center must hold," she finished.
"We did, we do, we will," he confirmed with one more gentle kiss, before leaving their bed. Ready to start the day. Was he ready?
Brennan took her time in the shower. The water cascading down her body, her luxuriously aching body, was a pleasure she hadn't felt in a long time, and she both reveled in it and stalled to delay the inevitable.
How do you apologize for taking someone's life away? For taking their child, their joy, their everything...? Still, even after last night, even after finding the utmost reassurance in his arms, she didn't know how to. But this was Booth... and, in the end, she had always found a way back to him.
She found her towel on its usual hook... as if it had been waiting for her. Found her lotion in the shelf, her underwear in the drawer. Fragments of her life... only that they were so much more than fragments.
Then it was time.
Booth was in the kitchen, the fragrance of coffee in the air, Christine happily munching her banana pulp. Cooing gently, as she noticed her mother. Brennan waved at the baby. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, taking a seat, taking a breath. A deep breath. And a sip. Then...
"How has it been?"
The spoon feeding the baby stilled.
His voice so raspy, so dark.
"Everything," she whispered, and he sighed deeply, the spoon moving once again.
"We were coping. Cam was great, really great. The Jeffersonian never lost the case. I... I wasn't much help, but the secret squint squad was amazing."
"Secret squint squad?"
"Your friends, Bones. And admirers. People who believe in you. A whole bunch of smart asses around the world... Bones, we owe them, owe them a lot."
Her eyes had gotten a strange look.
"I don't have that many friends."
Manila envelopes, dozens and dozens of them...
"You do, believe me, you do. There are a lot of letters waiting for you. Angela was great as well. Saving me over and over again. Giving me a place to sleep, something to eat... I was kind of lost, you know?"
Her heart felt sore, so sore.
"I never wanted to hurt you..."
Her voice tiny, so tiny.
He just shrugged.
"Well, you did. It's inevitable when you love someone. You gone... Christine away... Bones, I did not take it well. I was mad, so mad. At you and Max. At Pellant... For all my life," he swallowed hard, "for all my life I wanted to have something like this. A family. Then I met you... and I only wanted you. Whatever life you could offer me. You gave me the most incredible thing... and then you took it away. Rationally, I understood. Knew, why you did it. But..."
His voice trailed off, enveloping her in seven weeks of darkness.
"But you couldn't grasp it," she continued. "You kept on turning at night, and the sheets next to you were empty..."
"Yeah," he muttered, and she just nodded.
"So did I, Booth, so did I."
"You had her..."
She laughed out roughly, her gaze lingering on the child.
"A baby who wouldn't stop crying. Wouldn't stop growing and changing when all that I wanted was going back in time and back to you..."
Using his thumb, he brushed a smear of banana pulp away, and rosy lips smiled back at him.
"I've missed you so much, so much..."
It was directed at the mother, even though he looked at the child.
"Bones... I wanna say that it's okay. That I understand. That it doesn't hurt... But it does, okay? It does..."
Getting up on wobbly legs, she went to her purse, coming back with a little notebook and her phone some moments later.
"I know that I can't undo what I have done... Cannot give you those weeks back. But I have something for you."
Shoving the phone and notebook into his hands, she awaited his reaction. He looked up at her with fragile eyes.
"What is it?"
"Evidence. Progress. One picture a day. Notes. I tried to capture everything; the changes, the milestones, the little somethings. For you."
Holding his breath, he lowered his gaze, opening the notebook... and her clear handwriting invaded his senses.
June 3rd... Christine couldn't sleep. Again...
Some pages later.
She can turn around! From her back to her belly and the other way round. There's an almost triumphant glee in her eyes every time she does it... Oh, Booth, if only you could see it...
His breath left him, as he turned the pages.
June 22nd. The shortest night has been so long. Tummy ache? Homesick? Oh, Booth, if only you could hold her. Us... July 5th. How has there ever been a time when I have fought you? Denied the simple truth? Miles and hours away, I'm yours...
The letters blurred in front of his eyes, as he was caught in a whirlwind of emotions.
"Oh Bones... You did that?"
One slow nod. Blue eyes wide, so wide.
More nodding, more eager this time.
"Check out the pictures."
And he did. One picture a day, seven weeks came back to him. It reminded him of the snapshots she had received in their early daycare time, one every thirty minutes. And, over time and distance, he saw his daughter grow. Saw the days, the changes. In some pictures, Brennan was holding the child, standing in front of a mirror, her eyes dark, her smile forced.
Browsing the album, the things she had done for him, he felt a deep ache in his chest; an ache that was for her.
His voice broke on her name, and he couldn't tear his eyes away from one particular photo of Brennan and Christine. The baby was wearing something blue, her lips pouting. Looking at that picture, he just wanted to hold them, soothe their distress... Distress that was long gone. Pain that had happened.
Blinking once, twice, he snapped the phone shut, getting up. Without speaking a word, he closed the distance to Brennan in three long strides. Taking her into his arms.
Without resistance, she let him, burrowing her vulnerable soul in his chest, inhaling him in.
"I am so sorry, Booth," she murmured once again, and, just like last night, just like he always would, he forgave her.
"Thank you, Babe."
"It's not much..."
She sniffled in his arms, her fists clutching his well-worn shirt.
"It is. It is..."
His lips landed on her silky hair almost roughly.
"More than everything, I'm glad that you were safe..."
"I was safe. But never whole. I've..." she inhaled deeply, "I've changed. You made me change. And I'm better now. So much better than I've ever been alone."
Her eyes were firm, as they met his, blue boring into brown.
"I want it all, Booth. You and Christine and the lab... But if I had to choose... it would be you, Booth. Our family. Without a doubt."
Taking her face in both hands, he let his lips brush over hers.
"You don't have to choose. We'll get it back. All of it. I promise."
"Is that faith speaking?" she smiled weakly, and he chuckled.
"I know you, Bones. And I know our squints. I just know."
Taking a step backwards, she looked at him. Looked at the baby who was busy squishing banana pulp between her fingers. One smile for her; one for him.
"We should visit them."
"Yeah. We should. After breakfast?"
And it was morning; a morning like all the others they had shared before. Coffee and toast and fruits. Laughter and smiles and kisses. Banana pulp in the baby's hair. It was a morning somewhere between an ordinary Tuesday and autumn. One that was both old and new.
And he was happy, so happy.
And she was relieved, so relieved.
Notes and pictures and memories had been the patches, covering wounds and scars the time had inflicted on them. They were battered, they were bruised... but they were whole as well.
Angela was the first to squeal. Lovely, crazy Angela with her big heart. Hodgins was the first to choke on his words. Surprisingly, Cam was the first to cry.
Pushing Christine's stroller, Booth lingered a few steps behind Brennan, watching the reunion. The past weeks had shaken her strong facade, altered her usual no-hug-attitude, and he couldn't help but grin at the parade of clumsy embraces in front of him. Squints would be squints, he thought, casting a glance at his daughter who was busy suckling her own toe.
"Look at that, Christine, Mommy's back in the lab. Ah, well, almost. It's only a matter of time till we catch the bad guy. Can you say 'bad guy', huh? Then Mommy can play with her bones again."
Christine made an affirmative sound, at least it sounded like that to Booth.
"And Daddy's gonna be an FBI agent again. It's gonna be okay. Everything's gonna be okay. Huh? Seems as if Mommy's crying again."
She was indeed, albeit very discretely. It was just so much, the warmth in the welcome, the joy that was so palpable. After having been a stranger in someone else's life for so long, it was harder than expected to adjust to the familiarity and friendship. It was a good way of adjusting, though, a very, very good way. One that made her heart thump in a way that spoke about possibilities and hope.
Looking over her shoulder, she sought Booth's face, finding reassurance in his wide smile, and then Cam was in front of her anew, a huge basket full of manila envelopes in her arms. Recognizing some of the foreign names and addresses, in some cases even the handwriting, Brennan looked up at Cam with confusion written all over her face.
"Do you know the story about the yellow ribbon and the old oak tree, Dr. Brennan?"
"No, I'm not familiar with that tale."
"Well, there's this guy, and he's done his time. He's in a bus back home from prison, but he doesn't know if he's still welcome, still loved. There's this old oak tree in his town, and he's told his love to wrap a yellow ribbon around it if... if she still wants him. Or he would just stay in the bus. Never come back. So, he's in this bus, not knowing if he can dare to hope for a yellow ribbon... and then they drive around the corner and he sees the tree. It's full of ribbons. Hundreds of them. Here, Dr. Brennan," she shoved the basket into Brennan's arms, "here are your ribbons."
Looking down at the manila envelopes, hundreds of them, Brennan felt sudden tightness in her throat. It was so much better than greeting cards; it was proof of faith.
"That's a nice story," she finally whispered, and Cam sniffled.
"It is. Welcome home."
"I feel the need to hug you again."
Cam nodded wildly.
And they hugged – awkwardly around the basket.
And then they talked some more; sharing facts, revealing feelings.
And, maybe, tomorrow, one woman would open the envelopes, finding words of loyalty and friendship, finding theories and evidence. She even might shed some more tears.
And, maybe, one week from today, a SWAT team would storm into a motel room somewhere in the middle of nowhere, arresting a boyish looking man with black hair, taking away his computer.
Maybe there would be a trial some day and old enemies would face each other anew, genius and genius, but, this time, the line between good and evil would be clear – at least as clear as such a line could ever be since good and evil depended on a relative positions.
A child would learn how to walk. How to talk.
Maybe she would get a sibling one day.
The future was unwritten, and that's likewise the sake and curse of it, but, as for today, Booth went home with Brennan. They bathed their daughter, put her to bed, and, later, he made love to his woman and it was both sweet and rough. Because he loved her and she was everything... but also because he just could and it was fun.
Maybe he would ask for a promise, a promise that she couldn't give because, in the same situation, she just knew that she would do it again, over and over. And it would break her heart again... over and over. But she could give him another promise, one that made him gasp, one that had always been his dream.
One day later he bought a ring.
And there was no "maybe".
Writing this story was both sweet and painful, so the next one will probably be a little bit more fluffy and funny.
Also, I've started (and so far it's a very tentative start) to write a little something about Castle. Chances are that one of my next updates won't be Bones but Castle. Doesn't mean that I will abandon Bones. Never could. I'm with her, with them, all along the way.
Thank you for reading!