Brainless fluff. Absolutely brainless, saccharine fluff. You've been warned. Seriously.
You Become a Habit to Me
Stare in the morning shroud; and then the day began.
I tilted your cloud, you tilted my hand.
Rain falls in real time; rain fell through the night.
No dress rehearsals, this is our life.
Ahead By a Century, The Tragically Hip
Bringing their daughter into the world is an ordeal that goes beyond the expected. Beyond anything that can be even remotely classified as normal – much like everything else between Booth and Brennan has transpired for the last eight years. But Brennan and the baby are checked over thoroughly at the hospital and while exhausted, they're found to be in perfect health.
And that's the Important Thing.
She's tired but it's a different sort of tired; her body aches and she's utterly drained and her thoughts are all tangled in thick fog, but the irritation she would ordinarily experience at this loss of control - the anxiety she generally chooses to forcefully ignore - is nowhere to be found. Her brain has ceased to function, and she is strangely unperturbed.
When she tries to explain this turn of events to Booth, his response is light. (like the rest of him. And her. And their beautiful little girl)
Welcome to motherhood, Bones.
The forces of entropy will always be pulling things apart at subatomic levels and it's possible (however improbable) she and Booth will not have the feelings for one another in ten years that they are learning to openly share now. But she allows herself to drift through the hazy clarity she's found in this moment and she's as unbothered by this uncertainty as she is by the way her brain seems determined to process everything on a delay.
They've taken so many steps together in the last few months; whirlwinds of progress clashing uncomfortably with the slow crawl that had provided relative safety up until the night a shared grief pushed them over the edge. And it's never been so overwhelming as in this moment. Booth is still (for once) and focused on the tiny being between them, and she is equally transfixed, and this is the moment they stop sharing-a-life-for-the-time-being in the safe realm of reason created by her mind and simply begin sharing a life.
Her mind will eventually resume normal function and she will occasionally question this new reality, but with the passing of days and weeks and months and then years, similar moments will come and go. She will learn to accept that there will be days when she doubts herself (doubts him, doubts the lasting quality of this thing between them), but there will also be days when things simply fall into place and grant her the feeling of utter clarity.
It begins with a dropped earring.
Brennan makes a grab for it, misses, and can only watch as the piece of jewellery falls down the drain of the bathroom sink. And she knows that taking the pipes apart can't be all that difficult; after all, hasn't she watched Booth do it half a dozen times before? Except, as the bathroom begins to flood, Brennan realises that maybe it is that difficult.
Christine watches these events transpire from the corner near the tub and once it's clear that Brennan is not so much in control of the situation, she immediately breaks into a run to tell daddy.
(This is the moment in which Brennan also realises that her daughter's new habit of ratting her parents out to one another has definitely stopped being amusing.)
When Booth shows up, he laughs.
And she hates that.
Christine gets soaked and Brennan's annoyed enough to leave him to deal with it; one of them should get to be on time this morning and she's not about to let it be Booth. But while she manages to make a punctual arrival, she's in the lab for less than two hours before she's once again soaked to the skin, thanks to yet another ill-planned experiment that Hodgins releases on the lab.
But she can handle this. She can handle changing her clothes and she can handle her hair being stiff and crunchy to the touch. She can handle the argument with her publicist over book tours, she can handle the argument with Cam over benefit dinners... she can even handle her new intern damaging a set of remains.
By the time Brennan leaves the Jeffersonian to pick her daughter up from preschool, however, she's grateful for the twenty minutes the drive allows her to go without handling things. She can't deny that it has been a long, long time since she's been this eager to be free of the lab.
Christine's face lights up when she spots her mother in the doorway, and Brennan's day brightens instantly.
"Hello." Brennan laughs softly as she catches Christine in midair. She's learned to expect this enthusiastic variety of hug. She can't quite remember her life without it. "Did you have a good day?"
They walk back to the car hand in hand as Christine gives her a detailed account of her activities, and the little girl stops to take a breath only as Brennan begins to help her into the back seat.
"I can do it," she insists.
She climbs clumsily into her booster seat and the chatter resumes. Brennan patiently waits for another break in the conversation to shut the door, but what she interprets as the end of a story is, in actual fact, just a pause.
She reaches this conclusion at about the same time Christine puts her hand in the path of the closing door.
"Mommy wait; I'm not done."
Brennan instinctively rushes to stop the door, and while Christine's tiny hand is able to slip out unscathed, the larger fingers of her own hand are not so lucky.
She grits her teeth and clutches her injured hand against her chest. "Are you hurt?"
The question is a reflex; logically, she knows the tears following such an injury would be nearly instantaneous. Still, she doesn't relax until Christine shakes her head slowly.
Her daughter has inherited Booth's impulsive nature, but the remorse Christine feels when things go wrong is swift and genuine.
"I'm sorry," she says contritely.
The scolding comes anyway.
"Do not ever try to stop the door once I've begun to close it, Christine. You know better."
"I'm really sorry."
Not as sorry as you would be had your fingers been slammed in the door.
The retort is on Brennan's tongue before she can think about it, but it sounds so much like something Angela would say that she bites it back and closes the door without further incident.
As she walks around to the driver's side she notes that the rear left tire looks deflated in comparison to the other three. She sighs. In all likelihood it's been leaking slowly for some time, but she hasn't had any difficulty controlling the vehicle today and the temptation to just shrug it off (temporarily) is very much present. But Christine is with her and she does the responsible thing despite it being the less desirable thing.
She opens the door to pop the trunk and then shuts it behind her harder than is necessary, though she's careful to make sure she's in possession of the keys before she does. Given the way the day has progressed up to this point, it seems unwise to leave them anywhere her daughter can reach them.
Of course, she drops the keys as soon as the door's shut and they bounce twice before landing far beneath the vehicle.
She can't even find the energy to be upset about it.
The gravel beneath her is damp from last night's rain, and the cold sinks into her palms as she peeks beneath the car. She reaches for the keys... and then she feels a hand sliding into the back pocket of her jeans.
Brennan jerks and promptly bangs her head on the undercarriage.
"Oh God; sorry." The apology is immediate. Before Brennan has time to process this voice she knows so well, Booth pulls her to her feet and cradles her quickly bruising skull in one large hand. "It was a better idea in theory."
She's still adjusting to his appearance – not to mention the pain in her head – so her response is slightly delayed. "What- how? How is sneaking up on me and then groping me even theoretically a good idea?"
"Well it seemed more romantic in my head, Bones; girl's car breaks down-
"It's a flat tire, Booth."
"Guy swoops in and rescues girl-
"Guy initiates inappropriate contact with girl..."
"Exaggerate much? You're making it sound like I molested you."
"I'm merely suggesting that the intended romance of the gesture was somewhat cheapened by the head injury."
Their disagreements rarely continue on indefinitely these days, the way they once had. It has less to do with evolution than it does the fact that they have a child now. A child who has inherited their mutual impatience and tends to interrupt when she senses they've forgotten her. When Christine begins tapping on the window and waving frantically at her father, his attention shifts and he waves back with enthusiasm.
Brennan's head is pounding and her hand aches and she's a little afraid that whatever-it-is Hodgins got in her hair earlier will have eaten through it by the time she gets to shower, but she isn't immune to this exchange. A smile plays on her lips as she presses her fingers against the window in silent acknowledgement of her daughter's affections.
"What are you doing here?" she asks, softer now.
Booth looks guilty. "I thought I was picking up Christine today."
"But you just got here," Brennan furrows her brow. "If you had planned to pick her up, you should have been here at least fifteen minutes ago."
"Yeah," he winces. "I just... I got caught up at work and I left later than I should have."
"You forgot?" Brennan stresses incredulously. "You forgot to pick up our child."
"What? No! No, Bones, I didn't forget. Because I wasn't supposed to get her anyway, right?"
"Yes, but you didn't know that at the time."
"And it all worked out just fine."
"Booth, that's not the point-
"Give me your keys, will you? I'll change your tire."
He smiles charmingly and Brennan rolls her eyes. "I can change my own tire, Booth."
He winks at her, and before she knows it Booth has retrieved the spare and freed their daughter from the backseat, much to the little girl's utter delight. Brennan sits on the curb and watches Booth give Christine her first lesson in mechanics.
This is the type of manual labour Booth can manage almost effortlessly, but today the task takes nearly forty minutes to complete. Brennan concludes that this is probably due to his indulgence of Christine's every interruption, but even she doesn't realise how much time has actually passed until they have nearly finished.
Christine is covered in grease by the time she's buckled back in. Brennan absently notes that she'll have to scrub down the backseat after she's finished scrubbing down her daughter. She brushes a few rogue strands of hair out of her eyes and grimaces as she remembers that at some point she's going to need to find the time to wash away her own grime as well.
Booth leans in through her open car window and misinterprets the look on her face.
"It's just a little dirt, Bones. It'll wash right off her. Throw her in a decontamination shower at the lab and you'll be good to go."
There had been a time when the idea of putting his child in a decontamination shower would have had Booth pitching an undignified fit. But he's learned a thing or two in their years together just as she has.
There are worse things.
"It's not that." She begins to explain but then shakes her head and smiles instead. "Thanks, Booth."
She could have managed without him but it's nice to know that she doesn't have to. It's nice to know that they can take time and space and come back together at their worst, as well as taste what it is to be whole while at their best.
A family, in every sense of the word.
"I'll follow you out," Booth says. He gives her a quick kiss and waves one last time to the little girl in the booster seat.
True to his word, he follows close behind her until she turns off into the Jeffersonian parking garage, and then he continues on back to his own building.
And Brennan experiences one of those moments of absolute clarity.
She lets the thought rest in her mind for weeks. Unexpected grand gestures are generally Booth's area of expertise, but Booth makes her happy. Their daughter makes her happy. Their life shared makes her happy. She wants to make a gesture. And though she knows Booth, knows he would be elated over dinner and a thank-you, she has never been satisfied being average. If she's going to make a gesture, it will be extraordinary.
One Wednesday evening she finds herself at the mall, in search of yet another new backpack.
Christine is bright but careless with her things. She's only in preschool half days and still they have yet to find her a bag she can't destroy in under a month. Sometimes, Brennan wonders if there is any of her to be found in her child – figuratively speaking – but most of the time, vigorous play habits aside, Brennan is sure that Christine has inherited the very best of her and Booth.
Angela calls this a parental bias.
She ignores her.
"This one," Christine states definitively.
Brennan frowns at the adult backpack standing nearly as tall as her daughter. "It's too big for you."
"No it's not. I like it."
She changes her approach before Christine digs in her heels and they both become frustrated. "What do you like about it, exactly?"
Christine tugs enthusiastically on an outer zipper. "Look at all the pockets. I can get all my crayons and markers and coloured pencils and put every colour in a different spot."
Effortlessly, Brennan pictures the pointed look Booth would be shooting her over their daughter's head if he had been around to witness this declaration.
And then Christine continues.
"Also, there'd be more spots for my snacks."
She smirks then, and even though Booth is absent from this scene, she considers this a point in her favour.
"Then I would suggest we look for a bag with plenty of pocket space in a size more appropriate for your current height and weight."
Christine's bottom lip peeks out in a small pout, but she hangs the bag back in its place and settles for staring at it longingly as Brennan leads her away.
"Do you find any of these appealing?"
Christine stares at the wall of children's knapsacks and Brennan sees her eye linger in one particular spot before she flushes and ducks her head.
"Are you sure?" Her eyes flit over the wall trying to pinpoint the object of Christine's gaze. She doesn't find the bag, but when she turns back, Christine is still staring fixedly at the floor. She crouches down and rests her hands on her knees. "Which one?"
At her mother's prodding, Christine shyly curls her index finger into her mouth. Once Brennan gently removes it, she uses the same finger to point up on the wall. "That one."
Brennan follows her hand. "This one?" she touches a backpack – adorned with pockets – coloured a soft pink. Off the tentative nod of Christine's head, she removes the backpack from its high hook and then raises an eyebrow. "Why are you upset?"
"I'm not upset, mommy. I just... I really like it."
The confession is riddled with shame and very nearly whispered, which is cause for concern in and of itself; Christine doesn't often opt to temper her volume (though both of them, Booth especially, occasionally wish she would).
"I'm not saying no, Christine. What is the problem?"
"So?" Brennan frowns.
"Michael says pink is a girly baby colour."
Brennan's features soften and she crouches once more. "You are entitled to find happiness in any colour you desire. Michael is your friend and he will continue to be your friend; regardless of your colour preferences."
"It's pretty," Christine admits reluctantly.
"Okay. We can get this one," she decides. "And if Michael doesn't like it, I'll tell Angela on him. Then he'll be sorry."
Brennan's brow furrows once again and her lips part before she quite figures out what she wants to say. Eventually she shakes her head. "Perhaps it would be wise to try expressing your feelings on the subject to Michael prior to seeking out Angela."
Christine shrugs noncommittally in response and Brennan leaves well enough alone. She's learned the importance of picking her battles. "Is there anything else you need?"
Christine pauses to think and then shakes her head. "No. Can we make cookies when we get home?"
Her small hand slips into Brennan's, and Brennan gives it a light squeeze. "Sure."
As they walk to the checkout, hands intertwined, Christine takes note of the way her mother's ring rubs against her fingers and frowns.
"Who's smarter; you or my teacher?"
Brennan bites back the brutally honest response and answers the question with a question. "Why are you asking?"
"Some of the kids in my class don't know which side is left and which side is right. We made a circle and everybody was supposed to say something they can use to remember."
"Preschool is a waste of time," Brennan mutters.
"When it was my turn, I said that the right hand is the one that grownups put rings on. And then my teacher said that rings go on the left hand. And I told her that you wear a ring on your right and she told me I was confused." Christine awkwardly turns Brennan's hand and twists the ring in question. "But she's confused. This is your right hand."
Brennan hesitates. "Traditionally, wedding rings are worn on the left hand."
"But this is your-
"Right hand. I know."
"So she's wrong," Christine concludes.
"She made an assumption," Brennan amends. "As is often the case when one makes assumptions, it led to an erroneous conclusion."
"Because you don't have a normal mom ring."
"Because you and daddy are stubborn sumbitches and you're not married."
They are – of course – standing in a lengthy line at this point and all parties in hearing range make no attempt to hide their judgement. Once the initial shock wears off, Brennan tilts her head curiously. "Where did you hear that?"
Christine shuffles sheepishly. "I'm not supposed to tell." Off Brennan's steady stare, however, she's quick to change her mind. "Grandpa."
"What- how did that become a topic of conversation?"
Christine shrugs. "I don't remember."
"Well, what goes on between your father and I isn't any of his business."
"Is it my business?"
"Not especially, no."
"I think you should get married."
"Why?" Brennan is immediately concerned that Max has been filling her daughter's head with nonsense and creating problems where none existed before. And she begins to get angry. "Is this because of something Max said, Christine? Because-
"Don't be mad at Grandpa. I didn't mean to tell."
Brennan sighs. "I'm not mad."
"You're making your mad face."
"I do not have a 'mad' face."
"Daddy says you do."
"You are being extremely argumentative today," Brennan responds dryly. "Here; there's enough space for this now."
She hands Christine the backpack and watches her stand on her toes to place it on the conveyor belt. It's her daughter's favourite part of any store, and though she still doesn't believe in tricking children, should Christine happen to forget her line of questioning, there would be no sleep lost over it.
"So will you?"
It hadn't hurt to try.
"Why is this so important to you?"
There's another shrug of small shoulders, and Christine begins twisting the ring anew. "If you get a new ring, then you can give me this one."
The bitter tang in her mouth brought on by the thought of her child in distress recedes, and Brennan rubs the pad of her thumb over the baby-soft hands gripping her. Back when Booth had a child and she did not, it had been baffling – as well as occasionally entertaining – to watch the panic that had been triggered by Parker's every abnormal action. But with Christine, she experiences all of the anxiety and finds none of the humour. She understands that the love people hold for their offspring can make even supremely rational persons more than a little crazy.
"You may have my ring," Brennan promises, running her fingers through Christine's dark hair. "As soon as you are old enough for it to fit properly."
"And then you and daddy will get married?"
Behind her, someone clucks disapprovingly and Brennan's grip on her daughter tightens.
"Sometimes, people make decisions primarily because they've been taught that a certain course of action is the right course of action; they don't take the time to think about what the decision really means to them. You should think for yourself, Christine. Always. Never let someone bully you into thinking your opinion is wrong simply because it's different."
Christine bites her lip and her face becomes awash with the pensive concentration Booth claims she has inherited from her mother. Brennan can never find this as amusing as he does; in these moments she feels as though there is a space between her and her daughter that she can't reach across. But Booth is patient and she appreciates that he – usually – gives her the time she needs to sort her thoughts, even though standing idly does not come easy for him; she tries to follow this example. Even when it's hard.
"Is Grandpa bullying you?" Christine asks eventually.
"No, sweetheart," Brennan reassures. She relaxes and pulls her wallet out of her bag as they near the register. "Your Grandpa is... something else entirely."
"You should still get a ring. If I can have a pink backpack, then you can have a pretty ring. Even if you're not married."
Brennan raises an eyebrow. "Are you just saying that because you want this one?"
"Maybe. But it's true."
From the time they first become partners, more than half of the people they come in contact with day to day are under the impression that she and Booth are sleeping together. She finds this irritating, frustrating, until he has Hannah and she hasn't yet adjusted and no one thinks there is anything to them beyond what they see anymore. And it hurts her. It isn't logical, but it hurts just the same.
When they crash back together, they don't talk about it but there's this unspoken understanding of mutual hurts and betrayals and a desire (need) to take things slow. To remember all the ways they're good and right as they rebuild.
She gets pregnant before they have a chance to do any of the talking.
They stumble a lot in the beginning. They're both trying so hard but they feel the pressure to fix things before they're parents and they're rushing, and as always, the journey does not unfold exactly the way they'd like. But they're partners again, and when people assume they're more, Brennan finds that she doesn't mind so much.
It begins with a dropped earring.
Booth is late getting in the shower and Brennan commandeers the bathroom mirror while he's in there; in his rush to get past her and into the bedroom, he jostles her arm and causes the earring to slip from her fingers. And then he steps on it.
"You bent it!"
"I'm bleeding, here, Bones!"
"And if Christine yells 'fuck' the next time she scrapes her knees, we'll know whose fault it is."
Her tone is matter-of-fact and it pisses him off a little bit. "Why are things like that always my fault?"
"I believe you just demonstrated why. Would you like help cleaning the blood off the floor?"
"No, Bones. I got this. I'm great, thanks," he snaps, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Brennan shrugs and deftly steps around him, and Booth chucks the offending piece of metal in the trash. He stubs his toe on the doorframe as he's leaving the bathroom and releases a whole new slew of words he doesn't want his daughter repeating. Then the first dress shirt he pulls on has front buttons missing (thanks a lot, Bones) and his watchband breaks as he slips it on and the tie he had laid out on the dresser before heading into the shower is mysteriously missing.
By the time he goes downstairs to the kitchen, he's grinding his teeth impatiently. When he finds Christine wearing his prodigal tie loosely around her neck as she eats her oatmeal, however, the morning takes a brief turn for the better.
He tugs gently on her ponytail. "I've been looking for that."
"I'm going to wear it to school," Christine announces proudly.
"Yeah? What's mom say about that?"
"She said not to let my teacher see the lady on the other side."
Booth's eyes widen in realisation. "Bones."
Brennan's scrolling through her phone and rearranging the files in her bag; he can recognise when his voice is nothing to her but background noise. He takes matters into his own hands.
"Chris, baby, how 'bout you trade with me, huh?"
She's a little reluctant, but in the end, when she skips ahead of him into her classroom, she is sporting a tie that is a little less rogue. Thank God. He's pleased with himself and this victory until he arrives at work and realises his afternoon meeting has been moved. And he's late. He's so late. There aren't any doughnuts worth eating left by the time he gets there, some junior-agent-rookie-kid runs into him and he gets doused in hot coffee, the air conditioning breaks down, and just when he's almost out the door for the day he's pulled into his boss' office and essentially ordered out on assignment. Starting tomorrow.
The whole day has been one giant mess, but the last straw comes when he arrives home and remembers that he had given Bones his key before leaving the house that morning, after hers had snapped off in the lock. He calls her phone and doesn't get an answer, and then he begins the rather humiliating process of picking his own lock.
Brennan comes home before he gets the door open; he straightens when he hears her car pull into the driveway and forces a sheepish smile when she gives him that look that says she knows exactly what he's doing.
"You didn't answer your phone."
"Because I was just around the corner, Booth." She twists his key off her ring and hands it to him. "I had a copy cut. Thank you."
Christine waves a piece of glitter laden construction paper at him and he picks her up easily, breathing in the scent of children's shampoo and crayons. It's far from the first time he's gone away for work since Christine's birth, but he doesn't find the same sense of purpose in these things that he had ten years ago.
She's still wearing his tie. His heart (and his grip on her) tightens.
Brennan interrupts his wistful musings.
"See? Sometimes I rescue you too, Booth."
He smirks. "Nothing says I love you like keeping your partner from being stranded on the porch, huh?"
"And note that since you haven't sustained any disorienting blows to the head, you're in a position to be appreciative of my efforts."
"I'm just saying."
He laughs in spite of himself and leans over to place a messy kiss on her cheek. Her nose crinkles distastefully and Christine pumps her legs, eager to be placed on her own feet. Reluctantly, he puts her down. "Let's get dinner started. I'm starving."
The weather is still warm long after the sun begins to set. Christine is put to bed and Brennan goes off to work on a paper, and Booth takes a beer out to the backyard. He exhales deeply and relaxes for the first time since the alarm had set this day in motion. Slow, laid back pulls of his drink, and by the time he drains the bottle, it's completely dark outside. When he sits back in his chair and looks up at the sky, he can see the light coming from Brennan's office window, and he smiles for all the ways they are comfortable together and apart. There's a gentle breeze tempering the humidity and at some point he must nod off, because the next thing Booth hears is the screen door opening behind him.
"Hi," Brennan says – a little breathlessly – as she closes the door. She's carrying two beers, caps already removed, and she hands one bottle to him before taking the seat he's nudged out for her.
"Hey," he sits up. "How's your paper coming?"
She shrugs. "Okay."
She doesn't elaborate; whether it's because she's displeased with her progress or because she simply doesn't feel like talking about it, Booth isn't quite sure. For a moment, it looks as though she may say something else, but in the end she leans back in her chair and takes in the sky, and she seems content to swallow her words along with her beer.
So he talks, instead.
"Hacker's sending me to West Virginia. I'm leaving tomorrow night."
Brennan frowns and sits up in her chair. "Is this why you're grumpy today?"
"I'm not- " he shakes his head. Because there really isn't any use denying it. "Yeah. Sort of."
"How long will you be gone?"
"A few days. A week, tops."
This seems to provide the push Brennan needs to begin speaking. Her speech, however, is halting and deliberate, and Booth takes this as his cue to pay strict attention.
"I was waiting for an opportune moment... I'm no longer certain that this is it."
"Opportune moment for what?"
She stares at him for a beat, then stands abruptly and disappears back into the house.
She doesn't answer. He should really know better than to expect her to by now. He gives a frustrated growl and jumps up to follow her, but she comes charging back out just as he's stepping in and crashes hard into his chest.
"I was coming back, Booth."
Booth rolls his eyes. "You could have mentioned that. Instead of just walking off."
She thrusts a palm sized box into his chest so hard she knocks some of the air out of him. "This is for you."
"Thank you?" The response is stunned from the get go – partially because she doesn't ordinarily buy presents without rhyme or reason and partially because she's essentially just knocked the wind out of him – but when he takes a good look at the unmistakeable jeweller's box in his hands, the term 'stunned' is redefined. "Whoa."
As he turns it over and memorises its weight, its feel, Brennan's hands clench, and he knows it's all she can do not to yank the box away from him and open it herself in order to hurry things along.
"Open it. Wait; not yet." She closes her hands around his and she looks so panicked all of a sudden, Booth has to laugh again. Albeit, nervously. "I think I should explain first."
"You're not going to take it back, are you?"
He's only half kidding.
"What? No, of course not," Brennan scoffs. "Don't be ridiculous."
He places the box on the counter, sufficiently beyond temptation's reach for their mutually antsy fingers. "You wanna tell me what this is about?"
"My car." Off his puzzled frown, she shuffles agitatedly. Because this is still hard for her and there's a part of her that wishes she could just give him the damn box without any explanation whatsoever. "You 'rescued' me – even though I did not need rescuing – and you taught our daughter how to change a tire even though she isn't yet capable of lifting one. Or operating a vehicle, for that matter. It was... nice. And I wanted to do something nice."
"You wanted to do something nice," Booth repeats.
"Are you making fun of me?"
"No! No, Bones, I'm just trying to get my head around what's happening here."
"I've always found it quite comforting that we stay together without being contractually obligated to stay together. What we have now means more to me than a marriage certificate."
"I know that."
It's an old debate and he's not really sure why she's feeling the need to restate her position on the subject when he can't even remember the last time either of them have brought it up. But her features are set in hard, determined lines and he waits for her to find her words.
"Did you know that Christine likes pink?"
Booth blinks at the non sequitur, but that's as far as his reaction goes. "I guess. I mean, her backpack's pink. I've never really thought about it."
"She was concerned Michael would tease her. And then she asked me why we're not married."
He blinks again and wonders not for the first time how he will fair against these genius jumps in trains of thought when they are coming not only from his partner, but - as she grows older and more like her mother - from Christine as well.
He finally settles on a response. "Okay..."
"There was more to it than that," Brennan reassures him. "I'm summarising to save time."
"You realise that it doesn't actually save time when you have to stop and explain to me-
"Sorry." He gestures her onward with a wave of his hand. "By all means, keep summarising."
She sends a mild glare his way but chooses not to directly address the sarcasm. "I just- she raised a valid point."
"Our four year old."
"Yes," Brennan snaps somewhat defensively. "There are no rules for colour preferences. And there shouldn't be rules for jewellery either."
Booth winces as he feels the conversation devolving and remembers that whatever her reasoning, he wants this. It's not the Important Thing (they love each other, they love their child, they are good parents with good friends and meaningful jobs. He recognises the important things, now; they've each learned so much about perspective) but it's as close to a promise as someone who doesn't make promises can give. And like the way she attends so many of his son's hockey games and the way she automatically tucks her body against his when they sit on the couch, it's enough.
He picks up the box again, and Brennan makes no attempt to stop him this time when he lightly runs his thumb over the catch.
But she purses her lips and the nervous tell causes him to feel the slightest bit guilty for giving her a hard time.
Inside the box he finds a thin platinum band. It's simple and subtle and it fits perfectly, and it's so easy for him to imagine her perusing display case after display case before settling on just the right one, he can't help but smile.
"You like it," she concludes with a smile of her own.
"I love it," Booth returns.
"It's meant to be a symbol. Just like a marriage certificate is a symbol. Only, it's a symbol for us and not for anyone else. It's not legal, or binding, and people will assume what they want, but the story, the details, will be ours."
"That's... the most romantic thing you've ever said to me. Like, ever."
"It's not romantic, it's-
"A gesture. Yeah, Bones, I got it."
"You're being smug. It's irritating."
"I'm not being smug!" But he can't help smirking just a little and she's raising her eyebrows pointedly in response, so he turns on his most charming smile and hopes to distract her. "So where's yours? And don't tell me you don't plan on wearing one... it's going to look pathetic if I'm the only one taking part in this."
A little bit of the tension returns to Brennan's body. "I... enjoyed, buying yours. I enjoyed confidently anticipating how you would react to each option. I thought you would like the chance to have a similar experience when you shop for mine."
This time, there's no mistaking the look on Booth's face for anything other than smug. "Yeah. Yeah."
She corners him at work.
"It's been almost a month, Booth."
"These things take time, Bones! How long did it take you to finally give yours to me?"
Brennan doesn't answer this question, because they both know that it had taken a good long time.
"I thought you said it would be pathetic for just you to take part," she says instead.
"I thought you said this wasn't about anyone else."
"And it's not. I just think it's rude not to reciprocate."
"Are you asking me to marry you?"
"You're being incredibly childish."
"Bones, I love you, but would you please get the hell out of the Men's Room before someone else comes in here?"
There's a small box burning a hole in his right pocket as he makes his request, and so when Brennan storms out with one middle finger raised high, Booth is laughing for two reasons.
She finds herself holding her breath every time she slips into their home in these obscene hours of the night. She's an independent adult and it's her home to enter at whatever damn time she sees fit, but every so often she finds Booth has waited up for her (or, worse, fallen asleep on the couch while attempting to) and it makes her feel like she's a child sneaking in after curfew.
Tonight, the house is still and dark, save for the lamps he has left turned on so that she can make her way easily up to the bedroom.
She turns them off as she goes, completing her part of an ongoing routine. She closes Christine's bedroom door just a little too firmly after she checks in on her, and though she tries to temper the sound of her footsteps as she journeys down the hall, by the time her own bedroom door is clicking into place – loud in that way everything seems loud when the house is as still as it is now – she's mostly sure that Booth is awake. But she treads ever so carefully across the floor, swiftly abandons her heels, just in case he is not.
It's his breathing that gives him away, though he doesn't face her. She smirks at the slightly exaggerated rise and fall of his broad shoulders and slips into their bed without bothering to throw on a shirt.
He turns over a little too casually, looking a little too alert for someone who's just been pulled from sleep, the corners of his mouth turned up a little too much, and Brennan gives him her own charming smile, almost daring him to hold this against her when she's half-naked and oh so willing to make it up to him.
"Do you love me?" she asks demurely.
It's a simple response laced with good humoured resignation. Yes, I love you. Everything about you. Even when you come home late and I worry and I so badly wish you wouldn't.
"... want me to prove it to you?"
It takes everything she has to keep a relatively straight face, but she plays along. Because they've stumbled into another one of their perfect moments in which she's so sure of what they have, and she has yet to grow tired of this high.
"Mmm, if you're not too sleepy."
They roll dangerously close to the edge of the bed and Brennan grips his shoulders tightly – because it wouldn't be the first time they've misjudged the width of the mattress and she is not landing on the floor alone again – but after a slight pause, Booth rolls them back and she's so caught up in kissing him, tasting him, she doesn't notice the new weight on her left hand until something catches in his hair as she runs her fingers through it.
"Wh- what...?" She pulls away her hand and squints, blinking until the ring comes into focus. Above her, Booth looks inordinately pleased with himself.
"You didn't see it coming, did you? Admit it."
She does no such thing. But her eyes lighten a shade and she smiles softly, taking a moment to study the jewellery the way she studies all things before aggressively pulling his head down and reattaching her lips to his.
"Did you buy me a ring so you could have sex with me?" she asks in between kisses.
"Nah. I think tonight was a slam dunk, ring or no ring. Saturday morning coffee, though? That I buy to have sex with you," Booth retorts.
He finds that spot on her neck and they go from playful to frantic, rolling back and forth, tangling themselves in the sheets, losing themselves in the heat and passion and total obliteration of self-control they stir in one another.
She doesn't feel any different, really. But his hand finds hers against the sheets and there's something about precious metal touching precious metal, warmed by the heat of their bodies, that sends a possessive thrill through her.
"Thanks, Booth," Brennan breathes simply. She laughs in response to the way he ghosts his lips over her jaw, and then she allows her hands to wander.
"God, I love it when you do that."
It takes Angela two days to notice (this lack of attention to detail is unprecedented, but Booth and Brennan have been together for years and it isn't quite as rewarding to tease them now that they so rarely become flustered). She walks into Brennan's office in hopes they will leave together for lunch, and she isn't surprised when Brennan is too immersed in the papers before her to look up. She is surprised, however, when Brennan's left index finger follows a particular line across the page, and the fluorescent lights above her catch a new ring just right (or wrong, as the case may be).
"No way. No way."
Brennan is startled by Angela's sudden appearance as well as the force behind her words. "What's wrong?"
"Really? We're going to play this game?"
Brennan immediately rises from her chair when Angela advances. Because she's not clear on what's going on, but she does know that she has no intention of making it easy for Angela to do whatever it is she's planning to do.
When the artist takes another step toward her, Brennan holds her ground, but she continues to eye her friend warily. "What?"
Angela reaches for her hand, Brennan snatches it back, and Angela settles for folding her arms across her chest and staring pointedly. "Do not play dumb with me."
"I don't know what you're..." Brennan's voice trails off as the pieces click into place, and she instinctively glances at the hand still drawn back beyond Angela's reach. "Angela..."
The semi-placating tone is all the confirmation Angela needs. "Booth hasn't been here in days, and you, Missy, you called in sick on Tuesday."
"I never said I was sick; I said Christine was sick," Brennan asserts. She's insulted, as always, by the suggestion that someone of her stature could ever feel as if lying is necessary in order to miss work.
"You played hookie with your kid and you ran off and got married, and you didn't even invite me."
Brennan frowns. "You didn't invite me to your wedding."
It's a fact to her and nothing more, but it effectively deflects attention away from the situation in a manner Brennan could have never managed to do intentionally.
"That was different!"
"We were in the middle of a crisis! There hasn't been a good crisis around here in months."
"Is this the type of situation where I can appease you by offering to buy lunch?"
"You wish, honey. This is the type of situation that's going to require drinking. Lots and lots of drinking."
It's not until a banquet, months later, when a colleague (directly) asks Brennan how long she's been married and Brennan (directly and succinctly) answers that she isn't, that Angela learns how wrong she's been. Learns that Brennan and Booth are still entirely capable of pulling the rug out from under her when she least expects it (usually right when she's feeling particularly confident that she has them figured out).
Once the awkwardly one-sided conversation draws to a close and the colleague finally walks away, she glares at her best friend and receives a self-pleased half smile in return.
"You never actually asked."
Angela rolls her eyes. "You two deserve each other."
Few ask. People all over the world have made assumptions about them since before they were a them, because when one hears hoofbeats one is taught to think horses (while Booth and Brennan have always been zebras).
They make no efforts to hide the truth when questioned directly. Neither do they make any effort to explain the truth.
(No, I'm not married. Yes, it's a wedding band)
When Booth is feeling especially playful, he likes to answer that they're engaged to be engaged. Indefinitely.
They don't explain that part either.
And Brennan's inevitable display of obvious amusement in response to him becomes as exclusive a part of them as the rings themselves.
Endnote: I used to find it as easy to imagine Booth and Brennan getting married someday as not getting married at any point. Now, though, there's this little part of me, this immature, petty, stubborn, contrary-just-for-the-sake-of-being-contrary part of me, that – for the time being – wants them to live together for a good long while. It irks me when Brennan is taught and re-taught lessons (fic genius fourthrose once referred to this as the Eliza Doolittle/Henry Higgins routine and that struck me as so perfectly accurate my brain has latched on to it ever since) because it's a disservice to both characters. I loved Booth's comment in the finale about loving her for who she is, and I just kind of want to see THAT part of her not have to change for a while. I want it to just be okay that she still doesn't really believe in the traditional institution of marriage, even though someday she may very well find her reason to. So that's my little speech about that. *awkwardly steps off soapbox and backs out of the room*