A/N: This is birthday a fic in honour of a friend I can no longer refer to as imaginary - the wonderful sunsetdreamer. I will freely (though ashamedly) admit that I have failed all over the place this year when it comes to birthday fics (I promise - there are some I'm still chipping away at!) and for that, I apologise. Apparently when you're no longer a student with a super secret and stealthy capacity for procrastination, finding time to write/review/generally be present in fandom is not as easy as it seems. I will try to be better!

However, as my honoured travelling companion, Broadway babe and work email buddy, Ren has inspired me to whatever it is you find below. It's post season 7, but it doesn't really explain any of that stuff that happens in what will be the summer hiatus. If you want those kinds of questions answered there is a fabulous little fic by razztastic called Once Upon a Summer that me and the afformentioned birthday girl agreed once upon a New York hotel room is one of the best out there right now.

My beta Tadpole24 turned this baby around in one afternoon - she's reliable and fabulous and I'd be lost without her :)


Firewood

.

(The piano is not firewood yet,

They tried to remember but still they forget.)

.

She finds him on the couch.

While the first two nights she'd sort of understood (understood, yes, but not liked) it's this third night that sees her finally padding out of their bedroom and through the house until she finds him on the couch in front of the TV. Asleep, apparently.

She hadn't been able to help it. Something about four months on the run had seen her wishing for the night when they could do something as simple as share their bed again. It had felt kind of like an itch, clawing away at her skin for every moment that she just lay there staring at the ceiling and feeling almost foolish to have thought it would be so easy.

She knows better now of course; last three days have been far from easy.

But still. The itch.

The slightest shuffle of her feet when she finally recognizes the even rise and fall of a chest over the brim of their couch is enough to set him off. The air rushes out of her lungs when she sees him lunge for his gun.

Hands fly into the air, waiting for the flicker of recognition.

Waiting for him to lower his weapon.

That flicker takes a little bit too long.

"It's just me. It's just... Bones."

Booth is breathing heavily through his mouth, but he manages to nod.

"Could you...?" she nods carefully to the gun, conscious of keeping her movements slow and calm.

"I thought you were..." The statement sort of hangs there, though she knows who he means.

"I know. I know. It's just me."

He seems sort of confused for a moment more but does eventually lower his arms and grapples for the safety. When the weapon is back on their side table he perches himself on the far side of their couch.

And waits.

"Booth..."

When she can't find whatever it is she needs to say next, he pushes, "What is it Bones?"

He's not usually like this – not in the day time. Not when the shiny, shiny sun makes them too feel obliged to be bright and shiny.

To be okay.

"...You haven't come to bed."

"I've been sleeping."

The answer to a whole other question she never asked chafes a little.

"I thought that you were..." Brennan tries again, "I was hoping you were okay with everything that's happened. When we got back you said that it would be okay."

He sort of laughs. The odd choking quality only makes her more uneasy.

"Yeah, I did, didn't I?"

She doesn't know how else to approach it other than to just ask. "Are you not okay?"

Booth finally turns to look at her.

And for the longest moment, they just... look. They just keep on looking.

She waits for him – she sees him honestly trying to come up with a way to answer her question and she sees him struggle for words in a way that the Booth she knows (knew?) does so rarely.

"So you're not then? Because I understand if you're angry. You are absolutely entitled to be angry."

He's so gentle when he explains, "I'm not angry, Bones."

"Well... well maybe you should be. Because logically, I left; I left and I took Christine when I promised that you would always have your family. Because since I've been home you don't sleep in our bed, we don't talk... Because this is nothing like before."

"It's been three days. There's been a lot going on, okay? It'll get better, just give it some time."

"I know that. I just hoped..." Her words trail off.

"Yeah. I just spent a lot of time hoping too."

It's only a small concession, but it feels a little like a lifeline.

Enough to make her want to jump.

"If I went back to bed," she gathers her courage, "would you come?"

"Bones..." There's that same gentleness to his words but it doesn't exactly soften the blow.

She's very aware, in that moment, that she's standing there alone. That she'll have to turn on her heels and go back go an empty bed if this is the way it's to be.

Something catches in her throat; she has to try, she has to explain, "I needed to go Booth, I didn't want to, but I had to leave.

"You said I'm the brain person; I look at all the facts and I think about things rationally. I had all the facts about Pelant and the case against me and I had no option but to run. We couldn't afford to give him that kind of control, it was safer to take Christine out of his reach, it was... it was the only thing left that I could do."

At first, there is relief – Booth doesn't seem angry to hear her explanation; he accepts what she has to say with the same measured calm that seems to have settled over him since his gun was set aside. It takes a few more moments to see that the distance he's so effectively imposed still seems to hang there between them and that her words still haven't broken through or brought her any closer to this man as the day she'd returned home.

The relief goes just a little cold after that.

Still, his response is kind. "I know that, Bones; I do, I know. I mean, I guess I haven't said it out loud but you did the right thing."

It's the one thing she could have hoped he'd have to say. But this – them standing here right now and the way he's looking at her carefully – this isn't quite like any of the things she's hoped for when she'd stepped back into their home for the first time in so many months,

"I've tried to be that guy, you know? I've tried to look at it all rationally. But you're the brain Bones, you're the brain and I'm the heart. You leaving? You taking Christine like that? That broke my heart."

The way his words crumble, the way his whole demeanor collapses sends an unwelcome hot tear or two slipping down her face.

"So what does that mean?"

He sounds so tired as he repeats himself a second time. "It means that it's going to take some time."

"...Time and space?"

Booth suddenly looks a little uncomfortable, "Uh, yeah. Time and some space."

"Oh."

She can feel him watching her, gauging her reaction. She waits for him to offer something in response to whatever it is he sees.

"You should go to back to bed Bones."

By this point at least, she had almost expected this to be his offering.

She readies herself to leave, bites back on any further shows of emotion and goes to turn...

But she has to give it one last try. She's thought about this – about everything – too long and too hard not to.

"It could be different, you know. If you wanted assurances, there are ways that you could be sure it would never have to be like this again."

The undercurrent of desperation seems to take them both by surprise.

"What are you talking about?"

"I couldn't tell you about what was going to happen, I couldn't involve you or ever get in touch with you because legally... legally our partnership has no standing. If you wanted to be sure..."

"Are you saying-?"

"...We could get married."

She sees it – that exact moment, like a thread pulled too tightly, when Booth's calm and his whole careful demeanor just snaps.

Snap.

His fists ball up at his sides and he wheezes out a breath.

Gone.

His response is bitter and icy, icy cold.

"Is that really what you think it's about? What we are – or were ever – about?"

He may not have been angry before, but his quiet fury is now clear.

"I just meant-"

"No. You didn't mean anything, it doesn't mean anything that way. Did you really think you could use marriage – the way I feel about marriage – just to fix us all up, good as new? Did you think that I would ever ask you to do something like that just so I could have my own assurances?"

She doesn't know what to do, doesn't know where this has come from and all she can do is look at him a little blankly, struggling for something to say.

Booth turns once more, sits himself on the couch and stares at the wall as he says, again, "Go to bed Bones. Just go back. To bed."

This time, she does as she's asked.

.

In the daylight, they go back to being bright and shiny. A little too polite.

They don't try to talk about these things again.

In the place of any real discussion they develop a routine; he rises early, he runs (for at least an hour, and he always returns chest heaving and spent) and then leaves for his office before most other agents have even thought about getting out of bed. She wakes the baby, feeds her and then goes about her day. On the nights where they're both at home, dinner is usually take out – neither of them is much accustomed to cooking any more.

And for a little while at least, this is the way it's to be. Working by way of not working.

Time and space.

.

(The piano is not firewood yet,

But the cold does get cold so it soon might be that.)

.

Though most of the hallways inside the Hoover are darkened for the evening, the path to Booth's office is hard to forget. Elevator, then a left into the bullpen, expertly dodging desks on her way through.

The familiarity of a place she's spent barely any time in over the last five months is comforting; she's had no real cause to visit since her return and it makes her wonder, however briefly, if she and Booth might ever work together as partners again.

It's not something they've really discussed.

Not yet, anyway.

The door to his office is shut and his blinds are pulled over, it's not unusual given that the night has already drawn in and he's been keeping an eye on Christine since late in the afternoon. She'd asked the evening before, eager to get some uninterrupted time to become reacquainted with the state of things at the Jeffersonian, unwilling just yet to leave their daughter in the care of someone she doesn't know.

She knocks once before heading straight in. It's a habit hard to break.

"Booth, I-"

"Cherie!"

She hadn't expected Booth to have company but she finds she is not unhappy to be met by Caroline, bouncing a contented Christine on her knee.

She gathers a smile, "It's good to see you Caroline."

Booth looks up and pats his daughter's arm across the desk, "Christine thinks so too. She's had a fun afternoon with Caroline, haven't you baby girl?"

Bouncing one last time, Caroline nods knowingly, "Of course she did."

Carefully, she lifts the baby back into Brennan's arms.

"I better let you take her home, I imagine you want to spend some time just the three of you. It's time for you to get out from behind that desk and go home, Cher."

Brennan gives her a tight smile but doesn't dare a glance in Booth's direction.

Caroline, however, seems determined to say all the right things to make the very tight, uncomfortable feeling ball up in Brennan's stomach. "It's so good to see you two back together. Not everyone would come through all this mess quite so easily but if anyone can do it, it would have to be you."

She hears Booth clearing his throat. "Uh, thanks Caroline."

"Well it's true." She turns to Brennan, "I'm glad you're back Cherie – you look after this one, okay? He was like death warmed up while you were gone."

She catches Booth's eye, "Don't you look at me like that – you know it's true."

Caroline waits, almost as if challenging him to say something but instead he remains silent.

She's half out the door when she turns back to add, "You three be good. And try for less drama, you hear me? I might have saved Booth here from being chained to his desk for the foreseeable future but this partners business is giving me trouble."

Brennan's head turns in an instant, "Partners?"

"You know – you two, working together. I'm sick of getting cases handed over to me by fools, so I'm doing my part. And when I want something, I almost certainly get that something."

And with that, she's gone.

For just a moment, they're left looking at each other through an awkward silence.

Eventually Brennan asks, "So Caroline – she thinks we'll work together again as partners?"

"That's the idea, isn't it? Everything back to the way it was before?"

She can't quite tell if he thinks this is a good idea or a bad one.

"I... I guess I didn't know."

Things haven't exactly been back to normal in any other sense.

"She just wants to help however she can. And... I mean, I know I would want to be partners again like that. We're good at what we do, Bones."

"I'd like that too."

After shooting her a tentative smile, Booth gives Christine another affectionate pat on the arm. "C'mon, we should get this little one home."

They walk out to their cars together and to people on the outside, she decides, they must look an awful lot like an ordinary family.

.

It takes her several rings to answer the call because she hadn't exactly been expecting anyone to call in the middle of the work day.

She checks the caller ID and is even more surprised.

"Booth? Is everything okay?"

"Hey, you can calm down there Bones, everything is fine."

"Then why are you calling?"

She's not used to this anymore. Though Caroline insists she's still plugging away, they're yet to hear any more about the possibility of working side by side once more.

They're not partners, they're not working together and without any kind of reason to, Booth hasn't made a habit of calling at random intervals.

"I just, y'know, wanted to see how things were."

"...I'm fine Booth."

"Oh. Good."

"Are you okay Booth?"

"I'm fine. Just checking in because you usually at least come say good morning before I leave. I didn't see you today."

She's not used to the way he trips over his own words and warily explains, "I slept a little later because Christine woke repeatedly last night, she was very hard to soothe. I'm worried she's coming down with something."

"...Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize."

Because like every night, he insisted on sleeping on the couch downstairs, instead of in their bed.

"Is that all you called for?"

"Well, yeah... Just checking in"

It's a rare moment of clarity for Brennan – something about the note of concern riding under Booth's words – just like that it all kind of makes sense.

"I'm still here Booth, I'm not going anywhere."

"...What?"

"You're calling to check that I haven't left again. But I'm here; I want to stay right here."

"That's... good. I mean, I don't want you to think it's a trust thing, it's just..." He trails off.

"I understand. And it's okay. What happened was unexpected and it was... extremely unpleasant. For both of us. So I would accept if you wanted to call sometimes."

For a few seconds, he seems to just take this in.

"...Okay."

"I'm going to go back to work, but you could call again later. If you wanted to."

"I'll keep that in mind. And Bones?"

"Yes?"

"Thanks."

.

She had hoped for peace by coming in on a Saturday. Winning her office back from Clark had not been an easy fight and she'd wanted to make the most of it by continuing to slog through the enormous amounts of work she'd missed in her time away.

What she had not anticipated was Angela.

That is, Angela staring her down fiercely, only made more determined by the baby hitched on her hip.

"What are you doing here Ang? Why do you have Christine?"

"I have Christine because someone left their partner at home alone all morning with a fussy baby. He got lonely and came to hang out with me and Hodgins."

"So then, why are you both here now?"

"That's funny, because I was just about to ask you precisely the same thing." Angela does not look impressed.

"I have a significant amount of work to catch up on Angela. It's clear that there are people here that think I need to earn back my position after everything that happened and I thought this would be a good time to start."

"No one thinks that, sweetie."

"Several members of the board were reluctant to reinstate a former fugitive. And Clark was not happy giving up his position."

"Well Clark can go suck it because he was the only one around here not under the impression that his position was temporary."

"All the same Ang, I need to get some work done."

"No, you don't. Not on a Saturday. You just got back Bren, you're supposed to be using this time to celebrate your freedom and appreciate your family! Work can wait."

She wants to say something. Wants to explain to her friend how she couldn't quite face another long weekend of disjointed silences and that feeling of just not quite being in sync.

But that would make it real – a real issue that goes deeper than the bright and shiny compromise that everyone around them sees when they're not alone.

"So where are Booth and Hodgins?"

Angela's expression brightens considerably when the conversation seemingly turns back in a direction she agrees with. "At the park with Michael. We could go and join them? They're waiting for us."

"...Oh okay."

Whether or not she'd meant it as such, Angela takes this response as an acceptance. "Oh good! If we go now, we might all be able to have lunch together."

Brennan nods and begins to close off the programs on her screen. But that feeling – a vague sort of unease and a sense of opportunity at the prospect of having Angela perfectly alone – is still hovering in her metaphorical gut. After a considered moment she asks, "Ang?"

"Yeah?"

"Is it supposed to be this hard?"

"Is what supposed to be this hard?"

"...Coming home. Everything that goes with it."

Angela is quick to dismiss her concerns with a smile, "Sweetie, you shouldn't let a few stuffy board members get to you. We're all so glad to have you back. Just look at the stuff that matters, look at you, Booth and Christine – you're a family again – that's what counts."

She hesitates, "But what if it's the family stuff that's hard?"

"Well, is it?" Angela looks her over with serious eyes.

"...Sort of. Yes." And then she adds, "Sometimes there are moments... Sometimes it feels okay, but mostly, it's hard."

"Hard how?"

"We don't talk about things. We don't talk about what happened. It's just hard."

"Sweetie, life is hard. Relationships and babies and being a family is hard, even to normal people that aren't you and Booth and who haven't had to deal with all the crap that you're having to deal with. But you know what? When it matters, the best couples always make it work. You two, you've fought through a lot to end up together and that was god knows how many years of hard. It probably doesn't feel like it now, but you guys can do this."

"Do you really think that? You're not just saying something reassuring because that's what is expected of you in this situation?"

Angela seems to find this endearing. "I do, I really think that."

She's not really sure what to say to that, so she begins to gather together her things.

She wants to trust in Angela's convictions. Angela has always claimed to have a better understanding of matters of family and relationships – her friend ought to know more than she ever could how two people in love might fare in this very challenging situation.

But she also knows now that family can be an intensely personal thing. That people face and deal with challenges in very different and complicated ways.

She wonders how easy it would be for Angela to see what she wants to see. To never go beyond the bright and shiny.

She wonders how Angela could ever truly understand what it is that has happened to them; if she could know how it could make everything feel so... different.

Because she's broken Booth's heart. That's bigger and scarier than almost anything else she can imagine.

These, however, are not questions that she has answers to so she puts on her coat and reaches for her baby, fussing in Angela's arms. The clean baby scent is reassuring.

Now she will go to the park; she'll be a mom and a friend and try to enjoy all that freedom Angela was talking about.

All of the rest can come later.

.

(The piano is not firewood yet,

But a heart can't be helped and it gathers regret.)

.

She'd been right in what she'd said to Booth on the phone in the days before; Christine had been coming down with something.

It's the second time in a row now that she'd coughed and wheezed through the night, her sleep is disrupted and she's very difficult to calm. Although the pediatrician has said that she shouldn't be too concerned, there's something about the hoarse sounds coming from such a small infant that makes Brennan feel alarmingly distraught and she has spent most of the night unable to relax, forever darting between the baby's room and her own.

She's bone tired.

She'd been just so close to sleep, curled into the rocker in the corner of the nursery when Christine's wails begin anew. Brennan rubs at her eyes, her head beginning to ache as she pads back towards the crib, scooping her daughter back into her arms. She's considering another trip to the medicine cabinet when a voice across the room startles her.

"Is everything okay?"

She turns on her heels, "Booth?"

His expression is grave, though there is no suggestion of sleep on his features. His concern is clear as he asks, "Christine, I mean, is she okay? She's been crying like this for two nights."

"She woke you?"

"Well... yeah."

"Because you never came up when she was crying before; I assumed..."

She'd assumed that from his bed downstairs on the couch, he hadn't heard. She hadn't really considered any other reason why he hadn't come to check on Christine.

She doesn't finish her sentence.

"Yeah." He tries to shrug it off, "Is she okay?"

"The pediatrician says it's a virus that will pass. He said we shouldn't be too concerned."

"Oh."

She sees that creeping disappointment – the one she usually associates with Rebecca making some sweeping decision about Parker's welfare without consulting Booth.

"You left so early this morning – I would have asked you to come to the appointment if you'd been here."

"You could have called."

"...I suppose I didn't want to worry you."

But it's too late and they're too tired to fight, so instead Booth lets it go with a sigh and offers to fetch whatever she needs. When he returns with the medicine bottle she has Christine in the rocking chair, her cries reduced to the occasional whimper.

Brennan focuses herself on spooning the syrupy mixture into her baby's mouth as she begins, "You're avoiding Christine."

He sounds a little surprised, "What?"

"You don't want to spend any time alone with her. That afternoon when I asked you to keep her with you in your office, you gave her off to Caroline. Last weekend when I went into the lab, you went around to Angela's. I don't think I would have understood it, but knowing that you've heard her cry like this and it's still taken you so long to come to her? You're a good father Booth – you're too good for that and something is wrong."

His stony expression fades into something a little more... lost. She sees the way he falters and she waits for whatever it might be that he has to say in response.

After a long silence, "...I didn't come up here because I thought I'd make it worse."

"Worse?"

"I wanted to come, I wanted to help you so bad, but Christine – she cries when I pick her up, she doesn't settle when it's just me. Not anymore."

"She's sick, Booth!"

"But even before that. She doesn't feel comfortable with me, she doesn't even know I'm her dad."

He swallows hard as the words begin to waver.

Something in her gut twists at this suggestion and at his obvious struggle.

"That's not true."

"It is Bones, you must have seen it."

And she has – kind of. She never read too far into her daughter's fussing but she can see now how Booth might have been very aware of these things and very quick to read into any changes once they were back.

"It's not-"

He doesn't let her finish, "It is, Bones."

Her voice sounds small when she begins to explain, "I tried; I really did everything I could so that she- so that we could hold on to what was really home. I showed her pictures and I talked about you – I had one of your t-shirts and... I'd bring it out sometimes. It was a silly sentimental thing but I thought maybe the smell..."

"You did?"

"I did. And even my father – I think he knew how terribly we missed you. Christine would cry for so many weeks after we left and he used to walk with her at night; he'd tell her stories about us – I could hear him sometimes – he'd talk for hours about your bowling, or letting you arrest him, or the Christmas tree."

"...Did it help? Did she stop crying after that?"

"It helped."

A tentative smile settles on his features.

"Here." She holds Christine out to him.

"Bones..."

"She's almost asleep, you just need to put her down in the crib."

For a moment still, he seems to consider this.

"You have to start somewhere, Booth."

Carefully, he lifts her from Brennan's arms and bounces her gently. Her little body curls into his perfectly and her sleepy eyes droop.

Doing as he'd been told, he crosses the room and kisses her forehead carefully before settling her into the crib. As she drifts off, he steps back and watches over her.

"You did good." Brennan joins him by the edge of the crib with a careful pat on his arm. There's something of a habit to it when he sleepily tucks an arm around her, pulling her in just a little closer.

It feels nice.

They stay like this for a little while – she's so tired and she can feel herself... drifting. Lent in on his shoulder, all the weariness from the past few days washes back over her. It's so late, it's so cold and it's so dark.

"Booth...?"

"Yeah?"

They have to start somewhere.

"Please; you should come back to bed."

He doesn't seem to have much to say; she can see the way his jaw goes tight for just a moment before he turns in to look at her.

And with a careful nod, he allows her to lead him back to their room.

.

The next night, he's there. When Christine fusses through the night he doesn't take the lead but he does follow Brennan in to her room and he steps in whenever he's explicitly asked.

He's trying.

She doesn't want to say anything out loud for fear of revisiting the previous night's bitter words but she feels as though Christine seems to benefit from the presence of them both – she quietens more easily, sleeps a little longer and her cries seem less ardent as the night goes on.

It could be that she's just getting better, or even just that dealing with it all is a little easier for Brennan with someone there to help her – but she likes to think that it's Booth making the difference.

It's a new kind of optimism that she's learned.

Though hesitant, Booth is still a very devoted father. His hands are careful, his concern is genuine and more than once he catches her watching over him with a smile.

He just smiles back.

It has to be after three when they settle Christine for the second time and there's a special kind of satisfaction when he follows her back to their room without much in the way of discussion.

The night before hadn't been as awkward as she'd feared, even if she had been painfully aware of that extra few inches of space between them. He'd still been asleep when she'd woken and she'd struggled over staying there just a little while longer – in the end she'd concluded that it might be most comfortable for him to wake up on his own terms and she'd gone about tending to Christine.

But as they slide together under their sheets again for the second night and when he casually tucks an arm across her body, she can't help but wonder if things might be different when they wake for another day.

A little more time, a little less space.

"Goodnight Booth."

His voice is thick with sleep when he replies, "'Night Bones, love you."

.

It feels nice.

Warm, safe.

There's something comforting about a tangle of limbs – in a shared bed, still hovering on the edge of sleep, not knowing where one starts and another ends. The most intimate kind of safety in strong, solid arms.

And with it, there is that long dormant feeling. An excitement and a slow burn – pressed close enough together to know that she's not alone in the moment, the thick haze of sleep enough that she doesn't have to think too hard about what it means.

It just feels nice.

Without opening her eyes, she turns in his arms and she can feel his face in against hers.

It's like muscle memory; they were always so good at this – coming together, meeting in the middle – and when his lips press in against her own she's so quick to respond.

It's raw and it's simple and it's one of those things that feels so much bigger than the mess they've found themselves in.

She finally opens her eyes when she can feel him over her; their eyes meet and there's no question that this is okay, that this is something that they both need.

He presses into her and they twist together and the battery of sensation just. keeps. coming.

It's a practiced art that they can't quite forget.

An even, satisfying, perfectly timed rhythm.

Later, when they come down off their high, they stay close together, still tangled around each other unwilling to move too far.

"Well," he heaves out a breath, the exertion still taking its toll, "Good morning Bones."

A coy smile, "Good morning."

"That was..."

"I concur."

He presses an easy kiss to her forehead and for a while at least, they stay wrapped together, a little further away from their problems than before.

.

When her phone rings later that day, this time she's expected it. Been waiting for it throughout the morning and into the afternoon with a building sense of anticipation.

"Brennan."

"Come to dinner with me tonight."

There's an assured confidence (cockiness?) to Booth's suggestion that she hadn't realized she missed until now.

"Dinner?"

"Somewhere fancy. Max can keep an eye on Christine – I think she's sounding better."

"Oh really?"

"Well, you gotta eat. And I didn't get time to make you breakfast this morning, and I'm just not the kind of guy that sleeps with a girl and doesn't at least make her a meal afterwards."

The laugh that bubbles up from her chest is a little nervous, but not unwelcome. "Well in that case, how can I refuse?"

"Good. Because we might just have a little something extra to celebrate as well."

"What do you mean?"

"Caroline stopped by my office just before; let's just say her days working with fools might be numbered."

"They're reinstating us?"

At this, he coughs, "...Well, uh, pending an evaluation of our working relationship with their resident shrink, yes."

She just laughs. After this, Sweets she can handle.

"In that case, you can pick me up at seven."

"I'll be looking forward to it."

The very same resident shrink once suggested that if they ever came together – however fleetingly – the dam would break.

His theory had been rubbished at the time; they'd kissed after that first case and they'd still been able to walk away.

But there's something about the way Booth's hand had drifted across her back on the way to the car that morning, his casual kiss when he dropped her off at the lab, his phone call and his easy confidence. Something between them has changed.

And they can't quite go back.

She's fairly certain this might have been what Sweets was talking about.

.

"Booth? I'm home!"

She has to step over toys in the hallway to make her way into the kitchen area and put down her shopping bags. Booth is too enamored with Christine, the two of them playing together in the den, to even look up.

"Hey Bones, how was Angela?"

"She was fine; very eager that I spend large sums of money on clothing that I don't require."

"Mmm, sounds good."

She gets the distinct impression that he isn't actually listening.

Setting aside her bags, she rounds the kitchen bench and goes to stand over them from behind their couch. Booth seems intent on Christine and her shape sorter, watching and encouraging her as her chubby hands bang her plastic shapes against the sturdy frame of the sorter.

"Look Bones, she's so good! Our little genius!"

She lowers herself to the floor, crossing her legs behind their little girl just as she lets free a pealing laugh of delight.

"I see that."

Pressing a kiss to Christine's head and smoothing down wispy hair that's starting to grow so long, she asks her brightly, "Did you have a good day with your father Christine?"

The little girl is a little too busy with her toys to pay any heed to her mother, so again Booth asks, "You had fun with Daddy, didn't you baby girl?"

Christine bangs her plastic shape against the floor gleefully and appears to agree with an emphatic, "Da!"

Booth's answering grin splits across his face.

It's her favorite new word – even more so than her much-debated ma which Brennan is convinced is also part of her repertoire – and just about every time it makes her father beam because she knows who he is.

She knowshe's her father.

It's not necessarily been an easy road to this place – Brennan has seen nights of frustration, days full of uncertainty but she's also been there for the hope and the joy and the relief.

Children learn quickly. They trust easily. With just the right amount of encouragement Booth has once again dedicated himself to his role as a doting father and for the most part, he has found himself happy.

They have found themselves happy, together.

Milestones that he's missed – the way Christine can hold herself upright, rolling from one side to the other – still chafe a little but they're quickly replaced with new ones. He was there for her crawling, for the first time her happy baby talk started to sound a little like real words and now he's sure she's going to walk any day now.

He'll be there for that too.

She asks casually, "Everything was okay while I was gone?"

Booth looks up with a knowing smile – he too easily sees through her concern that lingers after his initial struggle with their return. "Everything was fine."

She watches over him for a little longer; his delighted face matching Christine's as their game goes on. There is a satisfaction to the moment and she feels like she ought to say… something.

"...I'm glad that you decided to try Booth. I'm glad you... stayed."

His initial surprise fades quickly into something kinder. He nods carefully and counters, "I'm glad you tried and that you stayed."

"What do you mean?"

He deliberates over his response. "Because it wasn't easy when you got back Bones, but you did your best, you pushed me when I needed it and I know for a fact that in all that time you never once thought about how much easier it would be to just leave again."

"Of course I didn't! You have to understand; in the time I was gone, coming home – finding a solution so I could come back here – it was all that mattered."

"I know that now; I know without having to be there that you really did fight to come home because you sure as hell fought just as hard once you were back." He sighs, "There were times when you were gone... Sometimes I couldn't help but think it was all just a good reason to run again – it's what you'd always done until that point but you came home and you put up a fight and... I'll never doubt that again."

There might have been a time where she would have been a little hurt by the whole suggestion, but instead Brennan feels like a really big weight that has been hanging over her shoulders has finally eased a little.

It's like a finish line she didn't know was coming.

The idea of things (finally, after so many months of awkward struggle) being normal has never seemed quite so extraordinary.

And it makes her think of a future she never could have dreamed.

.

It's not that his call is unexpected – these days random calls about cases or daycare arrangements are perfectly normal – but seeing as they don't currently have an open case and Christine is happily in the care of her nanny it takes Brennan more than a few rings to answer.

"Brennan."

"Y'know, I'm just going to say it."

"Booth?"

"Have you been weird? Things are weird." Although she can hear the way he's trying to keep his words light, there is a seriousness she can't quite avoid.

"What are you talking about?"

"You've been all... distant since that day when you went shopping with Angela and then this morning you were gone before I even got up. That's weird."

Oh.

She hadn't quite thought about it like that.

She allows herself a small smile, "So now you're... calling to check I'm still within the limits of the District of Columbia?"

"Well, yeah." He sounds a little sheepish, "But you did say I could call any time."

"I did. And for the record, I'm still at the Jeffersonian."

"That's good, I suppose."

Perhaps it's a kind of guilt over making him worry, but part of her wants the chance to explain.

She feels a little brave when she asks, "Are you in your office?"

"Yeah, why?"

She can do this.

"Just... Don't go anywhere."

"What? Why?"

"I'll see you in approximately five minutes."

She hangs up the phone without giving him the chance to ask any more and marches purposefully to her car. The drive across the city disappears in a blur and she's only a little more than the five minutes she promised when she knocks on his office door once and doesn't wait for a reply.

"Okay. You're not allowed to say anything until I finish talking."

"What's going on Bones?"

"I have decided to explain why I've been a little... distant, as you suggested, but I need you to promise you'll listen."

"Y'know, you saying things like that doesn't help with the worrying."

"Booth!"

"Okay, I promise!"

"Good." She crosses the room and motions for him to stay in his chair, pacing along the front of his desk until she finds the words.

"I suppose that I've been a little… absent lately because I have had cause to think seriously about the nature of committed relationships. When I suggested... that night, about getting married," a hand goes up before he can say anything, "It wasn't about the practicalities. Not exactly."

His head dips and she realizes that although keeping to his promise of silence, he wants to ask her to explain further.

"Marriage to me will never have the same sentimental value that it does for you, and there's no denying that it does have practicalities in our current situation but given what we've been through... I asked you to consider marriage because you're that person – you're the only person I feel I would never want to be cut off from the way I was, no matter the circumstance."

She doesn't have to ask him to be quiet now, his eyes trained on her and an unreadable expression on his face as he hangs onto every word. "While I was away, there was nothing I wanted more than to just be able to talk to you or to hear your voice, but I couldn't do that without making you an accessory somehow or putting you in a position where you were bound by duty to report everything that you'd heard."

He bursts in, "I would never- could never have done that."

"I know. And that would have meant taking all this," she motions around the room, pointing out the features of his office, "away. I couldn't do that either. You're the only person Booth, I love you, and whether it's a legal technicality or not, I want that much."

"So... does that mean you're asking me to marry you?"

"...Yes."

It's slow to spread across his face but as the suggestion seems to unwind itself in his mind, a familiar grin traces a path from one ear to the other, "Because you love me?"

"I'm fairly certain that's what I said, Booth."

He laughs, "You're right Bones, that's exactly what you said."

"So… do you accept?"

This time, he doesn't hesitate, "Yes Bones, I accept."

.

(Love what you have and you'll have more love,

You're not dying.

Everyone knows you're going to love,

But there's still no cure for crying.)

.


A/N: Maybe now, Ren, you'll know what I meant about this fic ending where it wanted to end. Call it my alternative to You Become a Habit... (which everyone should read, if they haven't!)

As I mentioned, I have been truly hopeless with reviews, review replies and anything of the sort - but I do promise that I'll try to be better! I hope you all enjoyed :)