Two years in a row is the start of a tradition, right? (Correct answer: Yes.)

I agree! So in keeping with tradition, if it's 11:00pm in Nashville, it's midnight in the Yoop so . . . .

HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY WONDERFUL FRIEND MARY!

Last year for her birthday, she asked for a silly bit of something for "160 Characters" and with help from a prompt from bangelforeverandalways, I gave her what I still think is the funniest thing I've ever written - Chapter 16: Leggo My Eggo.

This chapter . . . well, it's not fluffy or funny.

This story was born of a conversation she and I had after a comment she left for Chapter 10, Something Old from "The Story in the Tale." It turns out that we both have our grandparents wedding rings (I've worn my grandmother's ring on my thumb for over 20 years). Mary wanted a follow-up to that chapter that would continue the story of Booth and Brennan's rings.

So Mary, my Lovely Lady of the Lake, here is your birthday fic, v. 2013. I hope it's something along the lines of what you were looking for. I'm so happy that I've gotten to know you and so fortunate to count you among my friends. May today be the start of a fabulous new year!

(Many, many thanks to penandra, for all the hard work she put in as beta for this.)

(Also, FYI, this is an OC chapter. Booth and Brennan appear only in memory. Ouch . . . it hurt to type that.)

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"Well, I think a toast is in order." Christine pushed her chair back and stood up, the wine glass in her hand raised high, and beamed down the table at her son. The smile on his face matched hers as he curled an arm around the pretty brunette seated beside him. "Andrew and I are truly happy, Grace, to know that you and Seeley are getting married. I already think of you as my daughter and now it will be official." She lifted the glass higher. "Congratulations!"

The bloom on the young woman's cheeks deepened when Seeley leaned in for a kiss that stretched out over several minutes. Her fingers brushed lightly against his jaw, sending sparks of light flashing from the diamond in her ring.

"Oh, that's so pretty." Seated with her husband on the other side of the table, Lisa reached for her soon-to-be sister-in-law's hand and admired the jewel up close. "You did good, kid." She gave her younger brother a nod and a wink.

"Well, you don't have to sound so surprised." When the laughter died down, Seeley looked at his mother. "Speaking of rings, though, I was hoping to get Grandma and Grandpa's wedding rings." He lifted Grace's hand to his lips. "We've been talking about it and I think it would be nice to use theirs, you know, as a way to remember them. You've got 'em, right?"

The happy expression drained from Christine's face. "What?"

Grace smiled at the handsome young man next to her. "Seeley has talked about his grandparents so much, I feel like I know them, too. I would be honored to wear their rings."

"You . . . " Christine sank down to the chair as if her legs would no longer hold her upright. "What?"

The others began to take wary note of her reaction, except for the newly engaged pair who had eyes only for each other. Seeley occupied himself toying playfully with Grace's engagement ring. "We could have our initials engraved inside, too, next to theirs."

Struggling to think past the sound of blood roaring in her ears, Christine stared at her son in shock. "You . . . You want Mom and Dad's rings?"

Her words, and the tone in which she spoke, fell like a shadow over the table. Andrew's eyes narrowed on her bloodless profile; Lisa and Felix exchanged a surprised, uneasy glance while Seeley, for the first time, looked uncertain.

"Is that okay?'' He looked from one parent to the other. "I called Uncle Parker, he said Becky's never mentioned wanting them. Has one of Uncle Zach's boys asked?" His face turned faintly mutinous. "Because unless it's Daniel, I'm older than the rest of them so -"

"No. No." Christine shook her head and struggled to remain composed. "No. No one else has . . ." Her eyes filled with tears as grief surged, sharp and hot, until her only thought was of escape. "Excuse me." The words came on a harsh whisper as she pushed away from the table again, this time to flee, running, from the room.

"Dad?" Confused, Seeley turned to his father. "What's going on? What did I do?"

Andrew tossed his napkin to his plate and stood up. "I'll go talk to her." He waved a hand over the table and forced a smile. "Everything will be fine. You guys just . . . have some pie. I'll be right back."

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Upstairs, he hesitated a moment outside the closed door of their bedroom. "Christine? Honey?" He rapped lightly with one knuckle then pushed it open.

She was sitting on the end of the bed, facing a dresser with one open drawer, weeping silently. An old, threadbare ring box was cradled protectively in her hands.

Wordlessly, Andrew sat down and hugged her into his side.

Nestled inside the faded velvet on a bed of satin so old it had lost most of its shimmer, were two simple white gold bands. Christine's right thumb traced the upper curve of the largest ring.

"They never took them off." A tear dripped from her jaw to form a dark wet circle on her blouse. "Now they're all I have left."

Andrew thought briefly about the many possessions scattered among children and grandchildren, including the aged bronze earrings that dangled at that very moment from her ears, but remained quiet.

"I mean," she sniffed piteously, as if he'd spoken out loud, "I know I have stuff but . . ." Her thumb stretched to touch the smallest band. "They wore these rings. Every day, for 47 years." Her voice was a whisper, forced past the constriction that threatened to close off her throat.

Andrew squeezed her shoulder. "You can say no, sweetheart. You can keep them if you -"

Christine's head shook in a quick, violent burst of movement. "I'm being silly," she managed, just before another heavy sobbing breath shook her slender frame. "Selfish. I just . . . ." A tidal wave of sorrow broke over her; it was a moment before she could speak again. "It's just, when I look at these rings, I see Mom and Dad. I see their hands . . . it's almost like I can touch them again . . . It's . . ." The box closed with a snap as she turned suddenly and burrowed into the warmth of his arms. "I can still see them, Andrew." The words came in small bites of sound fractured by her mourning. "I miss them so much."

For several long minutes, the only sound in the room was her pain-filled keening, and Andrew's quiet murmurs of comfort as he rocked her slowly and stroked her dark hair. His own eyes grew moist as he listened to her grieve.

When it seemed as if the tempest had passed, he kissed her forehead. "What do you think they'd want you to do?" he asked, as she brushed ineffectually at the wetness on her cheeks.

A touch of joy colored an outburst that was still rough with tears. "Oh, they would be thrilled that Seeley wanted to wear their rings." Andrew reached into the dresser, pulled out a white t-shirt and passed it to her; she accepted it automatically and mopped up her face as he watched, his concern obvious in the way he studied her. "Dad would get all gruff and say it was no big deal and then," a smile curved her lips, "he would expect everyone to pretend that we couldn't see he was getting emotional about it. And Mom . . ." She blew her nose loudly before a mirth-filled chuckle escaped. "Mom would start talking about some weird marriage ritual from the . . . " Her eyes rose to the ceiling as she pictured Brennan's face. " . . . Ooga Booga . . . Willy Wonka . . . Tonka Truck tribe." Her laughter was as genuine as the fresh onslaught of tears that accompanied it. When the moment of levity faded away, her face was wet again and blotchy when she smiled mistily at Andrew. "And then she would probably cry, too, and Dad would glare at us like it was our fault."

His fingers lingered as he gently tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "He didn't like anyone upsetting your mom, that's for sure."

"Yea, he was the only one allowed to do that." Christine sighed and stared off into yesterday. "I could usually talk my way out of most things I did wrong," she confided in bittersweet remembrance, "but I lived in fear of hearing him say 'you upset your mother.'" She screwed her face into a mock frown and pointed one finger at her husband, in imitation of her father's old warnings. When he laughed, she rested her head on his shoulder. "There was no getting out of that kind of trouble."

Just then, she noticed the t-shirt in her hand and frowned. Andrew shrugged. "It will wash."

Christine shook her head and put it aside, then opened the small box and looked at the rings again; a fingertip brushed across each one as the image of her parents rose atop her memories. "He adored her," she whispered, in a voice that quivered as more tears surged, "and she loved him so fiercely. They were . . ." A silly, watery grin spread across her face. "They were like Legos. They just fit together."

"They were pretty amazing." Andrew pulled her close and kissed her forehead.

"They were. They lived for each other." Her eyes went back to the faded velvet box in her hands. "They killed for each other." When her quiet words drew a surprised glance from him, she nodded, her face solemn. "They did. God, the stories they told us . . . Zach found this website one day and . . ." She fell silent with a roll of her eyes. "I've got to stop. If I don't, I'll sit here all night talking about them."

"I'd listen." His easy smile was filled with his love for her.

"I know." When she kissed him, her lips tasted of the salt from her tears. After a moment's quiet reflection, she removed her father's ring from its resting place and held it at angle. "Forever starts today, May 15, 1941." The letters TB and SJB had been added in what little empty space remained. "I don't know where Seeley thinks he's going to fit more initials," she remarked quietly as she handed the gleaming circle to Andrew. "There's not much room left."

He studied the engraving. "I think he can squeeze in another set." When he gave it back, he covered her hand with his. "And when his grandchildren want to use these, they can start writing on the outside."

Eyes swimming again, Christine sighed and nestled into his arms. "I like that idea."

When they returned to the dining room a few minutes later, it was to interrupt a heated, low-voiced argument between their children. Felix and Grace stood a few feet apart, observing the siblings uncertainly.

Lisa poked her brother in the chest. "You shouldn't have sprung it on her like that!" she hissed. "You need to get your butt upstairs and apologize -" The rest of her bossy command faded into silence when her parents appeared.

"It's okay." Despite the evidence that remained from her recent storm of weeping, Christine was smiling when she hugged her children close. "Really, it is. I'm sorry for running out like that. I'm okay," she reinforced, when Seeley looked at her red-rimmed eyes with dismay. "I promise." She brushed away the fringe of dark blonde hair that lay across his forehead. "I was just . . . surprised, that's all. Sometimes it sneaks up on me, how much I miss your grandparents."

He shook his head immediately. "Forget I said anything, Mom. Grace and I can -"

"It's alright, Seeley." She interrupted his attempt to take back the request. "Of course you can have the rings." She continued to smile, even as more tears formed and spilled over. "Mom and Dad would be so happy to know you wanted to wear them. I have no doubt of that, I know they'd be thrilled." She tucked the old velvet box into his hand and closed her fingers over his. "Your great-great grandparents wore these first, you know." She struggled to get the words out before she broke down again. "That means there's over a hundred years of love inside here. I think we can add a few more."

For one brief second, she saw her father looking back at her from her son's deep-set gentle brown eyes. "We'll start the next hundred then," he promised gruffly.

Christine kissed his cheek then turned to his fiance. Weeping, the two women fell into each others arms. "Welcome to the family, Grace."

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Happy Birthday again, Mary.

Thank you for reading.