I've heard it said that to end a thing well, you must go back to the beginning . . .
He was alone when he woke and for just an instant, felt the familiar bite of fear.
Four days of having her home . . . of having them home . . . had started to blunt some of the sharp edges on the memories of a summer spent apart but only some of them and the pain was still there, lurking just below the surface. It spiked at unexpected moments, adding barbs to otherwise innocent remarks or a touch of heat to simple questions. Damage had been done. The hurt was real and the reminders stung.
But the regret was genuine, too, and apologies were swiftly offered and just as quickly accepted. Neither recalled those weeks of separation without also remembering how they'd fought their way back to each other and it was that knowledge they clung to when the wounds bled anew. They were the center and they were determined that the center would be strong again.
And so he felt that momentary jab when his eyes opened on the emptiness beside him but then he saw her crumpled pillow and noticed the book on her nightstand and the sweater discarded haphazardly across the arm of the chair beneath the window and he breathed easier. He wasn't alone, he was just . . . alone.
Relaxed now, he yawned and stretched and took advantage of having the big bed to himself by spreading out from corner to corner. He turned on his side, settled deeper into his pillow, tucked hers into his chest and prepared to steal a few more minutes of sleep. Almost immediately, though, his eyes popped open again.
From the small speaker sitting on the dresser, he heard the murmur of Brennan's voice as she played with Christine. The simple joy of the moment spread a smile across his face.
"This color is yellow . . . this color is green . . . Would you like to hold . . . Oh! Very good, Christine! Your fine motor skills are developing exactly on schedule . . . Would you like to try that again?" The faint sound of clapping echoed in stereo from the monitor and from the open bedroom door. "I'm so proud of you! You are very advanced for six months . . ."
All thoughts of extra sleep now gone, Booth rolled to his back with another jaw-splitting yawn. He slanted a quick glance at the clock on his bedside table and found himself snared by the sight of the black and white photo he still kept there, the one that had mysteriously appeared in his grandfather's room on the Father's Day he spent alone.
And then it hit him . . . it was Saturday morning.
Brennan looked up from her seat on the floor when he appeared in the doorway of Christine's nursery. The baby sat in front of her, propped up in the middle of a U-shaped pillow in case she wobbled in her newly acquired skill of sitting up by herself. A pile of brightly colored blocks lay between mother and daughter.
"Good morning," she smiled up at him. "You're up early," she indicated the jeans and t-shirt he wore. "I had planned to let you sleep in today."
He grinned back as he stepped fully into the room. "Morning," he replied as he squatted for a grownup kiss from her, followed by one on the finely spun silk of their little girl's hair. "Actually," he remarked casually, "I have something I need to do this morning so I'm headed out for a little bit."
He saw it in her eyes, that same spark of worry and fear that had affected him earlier, and then he saw her resolutely push it aside. "Will you be gone long?"
He reassured her with another touch of his lips on hers. "Not more than an hour or so at most. Want me to bring back some breakfast?"
Brennan shook her head. "I thought I'd make pancakes. Dad taught me his secret recipe."
"Now that sounds good," he answered and couldn't resist stealing another, deeper kiss. "I love you."
A high-pitched screech interrupted their tender moment, drawing laughter from both of them. Christine, busy trying to cram the thankfully-too-large yellow block into her mouth, returned their attention by repeating the noise.
"How about earplugs?" Booth laughed. "We might need some of those." His knees creaked as he stood up. "I won't be long," he promised again.
There was no need for subterfuge this time, no reason to wander through the different stalls and shops and no excuse to buy items just to fill a bag of props.
He parked in the first available space, entered the market through the first door he came to and wasn't at all surprised when he turned the corner and the farmer's eyes were already on him, watching his approach.
There was another shopper there and Booth waited patiently as the middle-aged woman dithered over her selections. The farmer shot him one wary glance and then ignored him until the customer turned away, her shopping basket full.
When they were alone Booth selected an apple at random and held out the $20 bill.
The sharp grey eyes narrowed as he looked from the money to Booth.
"Keep the change."
With a lift of one eyebrow, the farmer nodded and took the $20. It quickly disappeared into his back pocket.
Booth left his hand hanging between them until the other man reached out and shook it firmly. "Thank you," he said simply. When the farmer would have let go, Booth held on and leaned in close.
"But you tell that other son of a bitch," he added, in a low voice that was as much promise as threat, "if I ever see him around my house - or Bones - again, he'll get his chance to hit me back."
The farmer's lips twitched as laughter sparkled in his eyes. "I'll pass the message along," was all he said.
Booth released the work-roughened hand. "You do that." He tossed the apple casually into the air and after catching it with a snap of his palm, polished it against his shirt, took one large bite and walked away. His family was waiting for him at home.
As soon as Booth turned the corner, Harland stepped out from the door at the back of the stand.
"Cocky bastard, isn't he?"
Keith rolled his eyes. "I noticed you stayed hidden 'til he was gone."
Harland picked up a crate of corn and carried it to the correct table. "Well, she just got him back," he shrugged casually. "I didn't want to send him home all bruised and bloody."
"What?" Harland stopped, his hands resting at his hips, and stared at his older brother. "I could take him."
This time, Keith laughed out loud. "I'd pay good money to see you try," he said pointedly. "And so would a lot of other people."
Harland shook his head and let the subject drop as the two men finished unloading the rest of that day's fresh deliveries. When they were done, he placed a small black flash-drive on the battered work table. "For the Fletcher project," he explained, when Keith raised his eyebrows. "And make sure you tell Linda I was disappointed in her work on the Murphy job - and I don't like being disappointed."
Keith grunted in response then huffed in exasperation when he saw Harland's thoughtful gaze follow the path Booth had taken out of the market. "Hey," he barked. "Max said to leave 'em alone," he reminded his brother when the younger man looked back at him.
Harland grinned broadly. "He did, didn't he?" He slapped Keith on the shoulder. "Don't forget about dinner tomorrow. Now that everybody is gone, Mom expects us all there on Sunday, as usual."
He grabbed an apple of his own, polished it against one sleeve and took a large, crunching bite. With a whistle that trilled like the song of a robin, he sauntered out of the market.
* * * The End * * *
(Warning: pretentious, self-indulgent Author's Note ahead!)
Pardon the length here but I'd like to say 'thank you.'
Thank you for keeping me company while I kept myself busy this summer with this little story, one that wasn't even supposed to *be* a story but refused to go away and leave me alone.
Thank you for following along with only minimal grumbling while I moved it around all over the website.
If you left a review, thank you. If you alerted or favorited it, thank you. If you never said a word but still came back every week to read the new chapter, thank you. If you sent an email asking for backstory, thank you (because I've got backstory!).
Thank you for letting me play with Minnie and Bird again and for giving me a reason to create Harland, who may be my new favorite OC (sorry, Lisa!). Thanks for reading a story that had Max Keenan's fingerprints ALL over it, because I do unashamedly love me some Max!
And especially, thank you for saying such nice things about this story - in public, even! You guys make me feel like a real writer which (pardon my Sweets-ism) is wicked cool. Especially when those nice things came from women like sunsetdreamer, eitoph, NatesMama, AmandaFriend and Some1tookmyname, who are the writers I want to be when I grow up.
We made it through the summer! Two more days and Bones will return and Booth will really get his family back! Woo Woo! If you're on Twitter and don't mind the occasional profanity-laced tirade and repeated begging for a James Marsters guest-appearance, I'm UK_MJ - come fangirl squee with me! Two more days, people! Two. More. Days and we're back, bay-beeeeeee!
And one more time, thanks for reading!