One Year From Today, By the Coffee Cart
by Amy L. Hull
Thanks to someonetookmyname, JSQ, and Ayiana for beta feedback!
It was just like any other morning. Brennan prepared for work, mentally reviewing the bone storage remains she was working on, the remains from the FBI that she was sure would be identified before noon, and the points she needed to make at the tedious administrative meeting she was required to attend later that afternoon.
She frowned in the mirror as she finished applying her minimal makeup. The bangs had been practical in Maluku, had kept her hair from falling into her eyes while she worked in the sun and humidity. In DC, though, they were in her eyes as they grew out, and she smoothed the growing strands into the waves of her hair. They popped out, and she tucked them back again.
They didn't stay.
She sighed rather than biting lips she had just coated in berry lipstick.
She plucked a wooden bead necklace from where it hung next to her mirror and tucked it under the collar of her blue sleeveless blouse.
"Blue conveys honesty, trustworthiness," a jury advisor had told her so many years ago.
"Blue matches your eyes," Booth had said on a number of occasions.
She smoothed the blouse into the waistband of the white, gauzy skirt she'd bought on a shopping excursion with Angela. "You have to humor me, sweetie. I can't buy anything cute that's not huge. It's your duty as a friend to try things on so I can live vicariously through you for another month and a half." Brennan pushed at the errant bangs again.
If this were really any other day, she wouldn't fuss. She put on the earrings that matched her necklace, scooped up her keys and bag, and left.
The morning was caught between beauty and gloom. Patches of blue sky were visible around dark clouds, and streaks of sunlight shone over the monuments, the beams refracting against the light fog. She parked in the structure and hesitated. She didn't believe in fate, and the flutter in her chest was probably anxiety.
She wasn't going to hope; hope led to more anxiety, then to disappointment. But because this was just like any morning, she needed coffee, and the coffee cart did have excellent coffee. She pressed the key remote, her Prius locked with a chitter, and she headed for the Reflecting Pool.
She didn't expect him to be there. So much had happened this year-Maluku, Afghanistan, Hannah, rainy nights, mistakes and ill-timed confessions, Booth being so very angry, them being stuck in an elevator, burning little papers together while laughing and teasing like old times.
She'd written today's date on her paper.
Part of her wanted to believe that he had too.
It was all right if he hadn't, she insisted to herself. He would be done being angry on his own timetable, not the arbitrary one they'd agreed to at the airport a year ago in front of all their friends.
She wasn't going to hope. And if Booth had forgotten their appointment, she wouldn't be disappointed. She'd seen him with to-go cups from the coffee cart, but they'd never run into each other there, not in the whole year since they'd parted, so there was no real reason to expect him there today.
She walked along the curving sidewalk around the capitol building with the sun at her back. Their timing had been off for a long time now. Maybe since before his brain tumor, before his confusion about reality and her flight to Guatemala, before Sweets's book...before they'd both fled to the ends of the earth to escape facing each other after she'd ruined everything. She was profoundly relieved and grateful that Booth hadn't walked away from her forever after that, that they were still partners, still friends.
The Mall was quiet, and her heels clicked loudly on the pavement. She ordered her coffee and sat down on a bench.
The bench where he'd told her the center must hold. There had been no center with her in Maluku and him in Afghanistan, she knew. The entire lab, their entire team had gone spinning out of true.
"Large coffee, black."
Her stomach turned over, and she sat perfectly still but didn't turn toward the voice behind her. In a moment the bench creaked as he sat beside her. The bitter scent of their coffee smelled like home and him.
The warmth from her coffee cup finally spread from her hands through her body. It was chillier today than when they parted at the airport a year ago. He'd been the first to let go.
She reached for his hand to find it already halfway between them. Her fingers trembled slightly as she curled them around his lean, warm ones. He tensed for a second then squeezed her hand in return. They sipped their coffee in silence.
"I made a mistake."
"I should have said-"
They chuckled as they spoke together, stopped together, urged the other to go ahead. Brennan looked at him for the first time since he'd arrived. His face held none of the tension and uncertainty that had been the norm for several months. She felt her shoulders relax, muscles loosening that she hadn't realized were tight.
"I made a mistake, Booth. Last year...I didn't want you to go to Afghanistan, and I should have told you I wanted us both to be here. I realized that while I was in Maluku, and wanted to tell you when we got back. I wanted to tell you that I'd been wrong to go, and cowardly not to give us a chance, but-" She glanced away.
"I told you about Hannah before you could."
"Yeah." She sipped her coffee again.
"I should have said something that night after we left Sweets's office," Booth said.
"As I remember you said quite a lot."
"I said I wanted to give us a shot, but when you said I needed protecting from you because you don't have my kind of open heart, that you can't change. I choked."
She frowned. "Your trachea was not blocked at the time. You were speaking and having no trouble breathing."
"It's a baseball thing. It means I screwed up." Booth took a look drink of his coffee. With one arm on the back of the bench, he shifted to face her. "I could only hear that you'd said no. I should have told you that you were right. You don't have my kind of open heart. You have your own kind, your own huge, caring heart. All I need is for you to be you."
"But you deserve someone who can promise you-"
"No. I don't. I need you, for as long as it works. You didn't believe in fate or faith or knowing the future-"
"I still don't."
"And I still do."
They both smiled
"But I should have told you, you were wrong, too. You can change. You have changed."
Brennan nodded. That was one of the things she'd come to understand in Maluku. "I'm still losing my imperviousness. But I am much stronger than when I met you. You knew that, and I should have trusted you. I shouldn't have second-guessed..."
"You wouldn't be you if you hadn't." His smile was stunning, and, for the first time in months, his eyes sparkled along with it.
Brennan hadn't realized how much she'd missed that sparkle.
The silence was rich with promise. The mists had lifted from the mall area as the sun rose, and now streaks of light reached out from the eastern sky, casting shadows so long it looked like the Washington Monument stretched to the Lincoln Memorial.
Brennan looked at her watch. "We should get to work."
Booth slipped his hand down and rested it on her shoulder, squeezing. "So, Miss I-Don't-Believe-in-Fate. You wrote today's date on the papers we burned, didn't you?"
"Don't be silly, Booth."
He held out a hand, looking her up and down as she stood to join him.
"You got sentimental and hopeful, and you wrote down this anniversary." He grinned.
"I was not being sentimental..." Looking through narrowed eyes, she stood to her maximum height. "You wrote today's date down too."
"Did I?" He offered her his arm. "What makes you think that?"
She eyed it with suspicion at first, then set her hand where it belonged in the crook of his arm. "The fact," she finally said, squinting at him in the sun "that you were at the coffee cart, a year to the day. Because we keep our promises to each other, whether it's for a year or...longer."
Booth smiled, and it looked natural. She smiled, and it felt easy. And they drank their coffee in companionable silence, walking together along the sidewalk where the morning's bright sunbeams shone.