AN: Several of you asked for it and I shall deliver. This very long one-shot is loosely connected to chapter 9 (Youth Without Youth) and chapter 10 (Lights Of Endangered Species), although it stands alone perfectly well. Hopefully, I did the prompt justice. If I didn't, razztastic has her own wonderful version, which left me scrambling to do something very different yet very Brennan.
TITLE: The Perfection In The Partnership
TAG TO: Post 7X13; Post 8X1
PROMPT: Brennan has finally decided to propose to Booth, but it has to be perfect. Will she find the language of love?
Draft thirty-eight hit the recycling bin, fluttering to rest on top of an outdated and no longer useful journal article regarding the accurate assessment of congenital defects in prepubescent remains. Brennan kicked the underside of her desk in frustration, wincing as the impact vibrated through her foot. This was hopeless. Disastrous.
At this rate, she'd figure out the appropriate proposal a good year after Booth finally relented and asked her himself.
It was infuriating. She was a bestselling author, a frequently published researcher, and intellectually gifted. Words were hers to wield. And yet, nothing she'd composed seemed adequate. Nothing sufficed.
The first four drafts were discarded due to potentially offensive comments about the institution of marriage. Angela had advised against them, acknowledging that while it might be her opinion, it was not romantic, nor would Booth appreciate it. The next seven drafts devolved into pros and cons lists and somehow, she sensed Angela would also file these under "not romantic". Five more drafts felt too much like business contracts in tone. Another six, derived from watching "chick flicks" with Angela, felt disingenuous. The following eight were discarded for wading deeply into anthropology and seeming to be more of a thesis defense than a proposal. These last eight… Well, they simply didn't sound right. In striving for a balance between the positives of the preceding approaches and their negatives, she'd ended up with garbled nonsense or simplistic statements that didn't seem to capture what the man meant to her.
"I can't do this!" she grumbled, laying her head on the desk.
She'd come in early to work on the proposal before Booth potentially swung by and stumbled onto the project, but it was futile. Perhaps finding a poem was the right approach, as Angela had suggested after draft twenty-seven was crumpled and thrown across her office. Why did he have to challenge her this way? Why had he made that damn comment about her proposing to him? Had he said nothing, she would feel no obligation. She would wait for him to propose, and she would accept, regardless of her misgivings on marriage as a social construct. She would do anything for him.
Besides, a secret part of her felt tremendously insecure when he'd told her he wouldn't ask her. He'd asked Hannah and Rebecca, after all. She knew marriage was important to him, that he wanted it to happen at some point – or did he? She bit her lip, suddenly concerned that perhaps her past rejection and her decision to run from Pelant had ruined things. Maybe he couldn't commit to her. Maybe Christine was what kept him with her.
No. I'm being irrational. The evidence tells me that Booth loves me independently of our progeny.
"Dr. Brennan! A sight for sore eyes."
She glanced up and immediately smiled. "Micah! How have you been?"
"Oh, same old life. Work all night, sleep half the day, slip into lectures when I can. Visit the kids. How have you been?"
"Good," she replied, leaning back in her chair. "I finally feel settled back into a routine after my absence."
Micah nodded, his expression solemn. "I can't believe they ever thought you were capable of that murder. You were missed around here. I got to know your colleagues very well during that time."
"They stayed that late?" Brennan frowned. "No one mentioned that to me."
"Probably didn't want you to feel bad. I shouldn't have said anything. You look frustrated," he added, changing the subject.
"I am very frustrated," she admitted. "The universe isn't sending me any signals this time, Micah."
"Maybe I can help?" he offered, stepping into her office.
She smiled, shaking her head. "Oh, I'm sure you're tired after working all night."
Micah shrugged. "I drank a lot of coffee last night. The Natural Gardens department restocked the good stuff and told me to help myself. Couldn't refuse." He grinned as he leaned against her couch. "What's up?"
Glancing around to ensure privacy, she answered. "I want to propose to Booth. He made a comment some time ago about me proposing to him, and while I know he was being a little facetious, he was also sincere, if that makes sense."
Micah nodded. "So propose."
"I can't make the words sound right," she continued. "It has to be right, Micah. It has to be perfect. He deserves a perfect proposal. He's given me so much, stood by me through some of the most difficult times of my life, tolerated my rejection of him, forgiven my absence this summer… It's not enough to simply ask. Love – the language of it – has always been his domain. I'm at a loss."
Glancing at her recycling bin, Micah replied, "I was wondering why the custodians were gossiping about how much paper you're using these days. You're trying to write a script."
"I suppose I am," Brennan replied. "Micah, I know if I simply walk into it and just start talking, I'm apt to offend or hurt him unintentionally. I don't want to do that."
"Marriage hasn't been on your radar," Micah mused. "Lemme guess: you're at war with your anthropologist side, trying to balance the head and heart."
She nodded. "Exactly. But my heart side – the metaphorical one, of course – doesn't have the language. Angela's always helped with the love scenes in my novels, but that isn't appropriate for something this personal."
"Maybe it's not appropriate to let her edit your proposal script, or whatever you'd like to call it, but that doesn't mean you can't look for inspiration," Micah suggested.
"I tried that. I watched movies with Angela."
Micah groaned. "No, movies are terrible. They sell overdramatic, sugary romance. That's not you, Dr. Brennan. That's not Agent Booth either, from what I've seen. Want my advice?"
"I'm desperate for advice, and given that you've never steered me wrong with Booth before, I'd appreciate your input."
It was the truth: although she'd been rejected that night, her confession and subsequent opening of her heart had eventually brought them together. Micah had given her that final push towards allowing love into her life.
"Look, I'm a divorced man, but I do have twenty years of marriage under my belt, and most of them were pretty happy. The big things that matter are sincerity and love. That's all you need. You love Agent Booth. I can tell just talking to you. You just need the language. Try this: go to everyone you trust to know what love is, and ask them to define love and marriage for you. Along the way, you'll find things that ring true for you. Write 'em down. Use them."
"That could work," Brennan replied.
"Also: be yourself, Dr. Brennan. He loves you. He probably expects the science talk. So throw a little in, but keep it positive. Are there any cultures with unique marriage practices you admire?"
She thought for a moment then smiled. "There are a few practices that I do find admirable or pleasant."
"There you go! Stop overthinking it. You're killing a forest," Micah teased.
She laughed at this, grinning. "It's true. I ought to donate to a charity as penance."
"Might be a good idea. I'm going to get out of here, but I'll see you around."
Micah rose and headed for the door, just crossing the threshold as she called out to him. "Micah, wait!"
He turned. "Yes?"
"Define love and marriage for me?"
He chuckled. "Took you long enough to ask." He thought for a moment and replied, "The best way I can think of love is a constellation."
"Think about it: stars move, but how long have we recognized the constellations they're always lecturing about? How long has The Big Dipper existed, for example? Love is something constant. No matter what happens around you, no matter how fiery things can be, it holds its general shape. It adapts or may change superficially, but The Big Dipper is, all in all, still The Big Dipper. Good couples know how to do that. Marriage is simply a promise to keep burning together, to move together."
Brennan smiled as she considered this. "Like evolution. Couples evolve, don't they?"
"Yes, they do. See? Science and romance, Dr. Brennan. They can go hand in hand." Micah winked. "See you soon."
Turning back to her computer, she found the words flowing freely. She was a scientist. What did scientists do? They gathered evidence. They studied behavior and recorded their observations. They recorded the narratives of others, preserving them. The answer had been there all along: she would gather her data and compile it.
Her friend glanced up from her monitor, smiling. "What's up, sweetie?"
"I need your help."
"Are you still agonizing over the proposal?" Angela pushed back from her desk, spinning in the chair. "What draft are you on now, thirty?"
"Thirty-nine and I want it to be the last one. I've decided I've approached this all wrong. In trying to be like Booth, I've been frustrated. It's time I be myself."
Angela tilted her head askance. "You're not going to lecture him about marriage, are you?"
"No, that's obviously inappropriate. I wanted to ask you a question."
Brennan frowned. "Why would I shoot you? And with what?"
Angela giggled. "Ask your question."
"How would you define love and marriage?"
"Wow! Um… That's so difficult," Angela replied.
"It is!" Brennan echoed. "That's why I'm coming to the people I know who understand love best."
"Alright, let me think for a minute." Angela's brow furrowed as she mulled the question over. "I'm a visual person, Bren. Abstract concepts – those are visuals for me."
"Well, describe a visual then. Or show me."
"I can do Show and Tell!" Angela exclaimed, turning back to her computer. "I've scanned all of my art into the Angelatron… Just give me a moment to find it…" She clicked around for a few minutes, mumbling under her breath until she smiled and gestured to the projection screen. "There. Love."
Brennan studied the panting carefully, admiring the swirls of colour and the vague shapes. Angela was primarily known for drawing portraits and concrete images, but every once in a while, she ventured into the abstract. This was one such instance. The effect of the layers of colour was prismatic, the image seeming to emerge from the canvas and breathe. It was alive.
"I see what you mean," she said at last. "This is amazing, Ange."
"It was the first painting I did after I came home from the hospital with Michael. Originally I'd meant to do a portrait of him, but instead I just… let the paint take me on the journey. I embraced the colours and went with it." Angela smiled wistfully. "I was so scared of being a lousy mom, of doing things wrong, but I thought of Hodgins and Michael and I felt… safe, I guess. I wasn't alone."
Safe. Booth always made her feel safe. It was definitely something for the proposal. She also had her epiphany about the painting to add.
"Thanks. I've gotta go. Booth will be coming by with breakfast soon and I have to hide the draft."
Angela grinned. "Good luck!"
She found Hodgins after lunch, amusing himself with some rare insect he'd ordered in to study. Booth was at a meeting of some kind – he'd simply called it "boring" – and she had limited time to work with. Abandoning her final report on the previous week's case, she'd rushed downstairs to corner him.
"Dr. B.! What's new? Do we have a case?"
She shook her head. "Personal matter, one that you must keep from Booth. Promise?"
Hodgins grinned. "You know Angela tells me everything, right?"
"I am well aware of that, and given that three weeks have elapsed without Booth being aware of my intentions, I know I can trust you with this." She sat down on a nearby chair, angling it to preserve a clear view of anyone approaching. "I need a favour."
"Yes. I wanted to ask you how you would define love and marriage. As a fellow scientist, I value your input on the matter."
Hodgins seemed amused by her request. "Really?"
She sighed. "Yes, really. Booth will be out of his meeting in approximately forty minutes. I don't have much time."
"Okay, okay. Um… Truth be told, I've used a lot of poetry when in need of romantic words. Why try to improve on the masters? Easier to quote them," he began. "But love… I think the most important thing that comes to mind is being yourself. Love gives you permission to do that. Marriage celebrates it."
"Being yourself… How?" Brennan asked. "I fear that if I am myself when making this proposal, I'll make Booth angry by insulting marriage or tradition. But if I leave that out, I'm not myself."
"Well, why do you want to marry him then?" Hodgins asked.
Brennan frowned. "Well, it's important to him, for starters. I also cannot deny the legal implications of marriage and the benefits for our relationship and our daughter."
"Don't marry him just because he wants it. He chose you. He knows how you feel about marriage, so he's probably not expecting it," Hodgins replied. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes!" She hesitated, then added, "I won't deny that it terrifies me, that I still have qualms about the construction of marriage and its importance in our society. But I love Booth, very much. We christened our daughter, and even though I don't believe in God, I was happy to be a part of that ritual, because I was sharing in something that makes Booth who he is."
"That last bit? Important." Hodgins smiled. "The moment I stopped trying to be a traditional romantic and was just myself, that's when Angela wanted to marry me the first time. However you do it, be Dr. Brennan about it. That's who Booth loves."
She smiled, thinking of all of the times he'd told her he loved her as she was, that she didn't need to be anyone else for him. She, in turn, never wanted him to be anyone but Booth.
He grinned at her. "Anytime. Just hurry up and ask already. Angela's driving me nuts with her, 'I wanna know what he says!' rambling at night."
"I'll do my best," she quipped, heading out the door, her head just a little higher.
It had taken a lie about her father needing accompaniment to a medical exam to leave work early the following day, but Brennan had managed it. While she did consider Cam a friend, she was Booth's friend (and ex-girlfriend, although she chose to ignore that fact as much as possible) for far longer. She didn't trust her to remain silent for long, and while she'd made progress with her proposal, she was still nowhere near done.
Seated on a bench with her father at the park near the 'Mighty Hut', she sipped her coffee and prepared for what she imagined would be a difficult conversation.
"Tempe, you've been awfully quiet," Max said.
"I'm sorry. I'm just figuring out how I want to say this."
"Did Booth hurt you?"
Her eyes widened as she turned to face him. "What? No!"
"Because if he did, I'll make him pay. I'll make Billy Gibbons look like a newborn kitten when I'm done," Max continued angrily.
"Dad, stop! Booth has been wonderful to me. He's always good to me."
His voice softened. "Then what's wrong? You look worried."
With one last sip of coffee to counteract her dry mouth, she began, "I'm afraid of marriage, I think."
"Wait, did he ask you?"
"No, Dad. He swore I would ask him, and I want to, but I can't find the right words." She shook her head sadly, staring at the ground. "I want it to be perfect. And while I've detested marriage for years and can criticize it as a meaningless institution, I'm also starting to wonder if part of my anger is fear."
"And you think it's because of your mom and I abandoning you," Max stated.
"Maybe? I'm not sure. I just… Things seemed good between you and mom. Were they good? Or was that an act, like Max and Christine Brennan?"
She forced herself to look at her father, needing to see him speak. She needed to know if he was sincere.
"I loved your mother so very much," he began. "I still love her, Tempe. A man finds companionship, but no matter what happens, I will always love her." A tear slid down his cheek and Brennan found herself stunned. "I'm not proud of many things in my life. I always told her she could do better than me. But your mother had a pure heart. She just… loved. She didn't care that I was flawed. She didn't blame me for the criminal life we fell into. Even when we ran, she didn't blame me for putting us in the situation, for that terrible choice we made. I'm not proud of all of that, but I am proud that I learned to accept her love and married her. I'm proud of you and Russ. I got a lot of things wrong, but my family? I got that right."
She glanced down at her dolphin ring, her own emotions threatening to spill from her eyes. "I've never understood what Booth saw in me that first day. What he sees now. I've done so many things wrong, but he loves me."
"Why do you think I told you I wanted him for you, Tempe?" Max smiled. "He's so much like your mother."
He is, she realized. He makes me feel safe, strong and beautiful. Just like Mom.
"Sweetheart, proposals shouldn't be complicated. They should simply be a declaration of the love we feel and what we're grateful for in that person, and a wish to stay in love," Max told her.
"I can do that."
"You can do anything. I've seen it."
They sat silently on the bench, both struggling to rein in their respective emotions. Brennan found herself staring at a dog across the park, roaming and barking as its owner threw a stick for it. It reminded her of Ripley, of how kind Booth had been to her when he'd been put down. So many gestures over the years – she couldn't possibly begin to list them all, and yet each was a tiny crack in her once impervious self. Each overture carried with it the ability to make her feel, whether she cared to or not. She was grateful for each and every one.
"How did you propose to Mom?"
Max chuckled. "I screwed it up. I tried to take her to a nice restaurant. Thought I'd slip the ring in her champagne, like the movies."
"Micah says the movies do it wrong," she chimed in.
"He's right. Your mother had an allergic reaction to the escargot appetizer. We ended up in the ER with her face broken out in hives, her dress ruined by the wine she knocked over when she couldn't breathe and me beside her, feeling like a jerk." He shook his head, smiling. "And because it had taken me forever to work up the courage to ask her, I went ahead and did it in the ER after they'd stabilized her. I told her… I told her I loved her and that not even hives could make her any less beautiful. That I needed her in my life, always."
"What did she say?"
"She said, 'You're proposing now?'" She and Max burst into laughter. "She said yes," he continued, "But she made me do it again when she was healthy."
Brennan smiled. "That was Mom."
Max nodded. "That was your mother. The moral of the story? Even if you screw everything up, Booth will say yes. He may tease you or make you try again, but he will marry you. I'll let you in on a secret."
With a wink, Max leaned closer. "I'm pretty sure he doesn't ever expect you to marry him, let alone propose. So make him sit on the couch before you start. You don't want to end up in the ER when he hits the hard floor and gets a concussion, do you?"
"Definitely not!" After a moment's thought, she embraced her father tightly. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. And if, for some reason, he says no? A tattoo of your beautiful face is the least of his worries!"
She finished the draft that afternoon, studying the pages carefully in the safety of the women's washroom – the one place she knew Booth would never go. Her pen flashed quickly over a word, striking it out and exchanging it for another. A sentence was removed outright. But otherwise… this was it. It's finally done. Thirty-nine was the draft that would take.
She phoned Angela from the bathroom, beckoning her friend to her hiding place. Without explanation, she handed the pages to her and leaned against the wall, anxious for her opinion.
She began crying at the end of page one, and continued to cry to the very end.
"Sweetie, this… This is perfect. Better than perfect."
"Nothing is better than perfect. Perfect, by definition, leaves no room for improvement," Brennan replied.
"Oh stop with the logic! You know what I mean!" Angela embraced her tightly, the pages still clutched in her hand. "I'm so happy for you, Bren."
"He'll like it?"
Angela was beaming as she passed the pages back to her. "He will love it as much as he loves you and Christine."
She felt her body tingle with the pleasant anticipation she felt whenever she saw Booth after time apart of any length. "That's the best possible outcome, I think."
Dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, Angela nodded vigorously. "So you need your ring back, huh?"
"I also need a babysitter for Friday night," she replied.
"Cam's already watching Michael. I think that can be arranged."
"Oh, no! She might tell Booth –"
"Leave it to me, sweetie. I got it all under control," Angela assured her. "Speaking of, Booth walked in as I headed back here, so maybe I should take those notes with me to hide them?"
"What? Yes!" Brennan folded the pages neatly and thrust them at her friend. "Bring them back Friday morning with the ring."
"Done and done! Now go, greet your man."
Drawing a deep breath, she left Angela in the bathroom and returned to her office, where Booth stood waiting. His smile at the sight of her made her dizzy.
"There's my baby mama!" he teased. "And how's your day been?"
"You know I hate being called that!" she protested weakly, wrapping her arms around his neck. "And the day's been pretty quiet."
"Well, it's about to get noisy. Case over in Falls Church."
"And here I thought you just wanted to see me," she demurred.
"I always want to see you," he murmured in her ear. "Does it help that I was already on my way over when I got the message?"
"I think it does improve your standing."
They kissed briefly – she maintained a general stance of minimal personal displays during the workday – before she gathered her kit and field garments. Two more days, she told herself happily as she climbed into the Sequoia. Two more days and he'll know just how much he means to me.
The case, luckily, had been quickly resolved, and although their final reports remained unfinished, Booth had agreed that a date night was exactly what they needed. Angela's excuse to Cam had been "a concern" that "they're not getting enough downtime alone" and a hope that Cam "could help her give her best friend a gift". Cam had readily agreed.
Brennan was pacing now in Angela's office, wringing her hands as her friend urged her to calm down, to no avail. This was it. This was the day she'd ask him to marry her. She was terrified.
"Sweetie, calm down!"
"Are you sure they're okay?"
"I'm sure. It's going to be fine." Angela stepped into her path, bringing her to a halt. "Look: you love him, he loves you. That's the hard part, no matter how scary this feels. I promise."
"Okay." She glanced over at her purse, frowning. "Maybe I shouldn't have bought the ring. He's very traditional."
"I think it's awesome, and I'll kick his ass if he disagrees."
"Alert status red!" Hodgins hissed, entering the office. "He just walked in."
"Text me!" Angela whispered, kissing her cheek.
She heard him call out from the platform. "Bones?"
Tucking her purse strap over her shoulder, she stepped out of the office. "Right here. Ready to go?"
"Absolutely!" Glancing over at Angela and Hodgins, he added, "And we'll see you two later?"
It was the cover story she'd concocted: they were going on a double date at Angela's behest, hence their daughter being left in Cam's care. Hodgins nodded enthusiastically and Brennan was grateful for her friends and their support.
"See you later tonight," she said to Angela, maintaining the ruse.
As they walked out to Booth's vehicle, he was beaming. "This is great, Bones! A night off to do whatever we want. No interruptions."
"Spontaneity is very pleasurable," she agreed. Her favourite form of spontaneity involved a certain storage room at the Jeffersonian without cameras, although their romp in Hodgins' hot tub during a drunken game of Hide and Seek was a close second.
He opened her door, leaning in to kiss her. "I love you."
"I love you. Very much."
"Very, huh? I like this. You're upgrading me."
"How do you top perfection?" she asked.
He froze, studying her and for a moment, she wondered if somehow, she'd given her intentions away. His hand reached out for her, toying with her hair.
"You don't," he said quietly. "You don't settle. You wait for it and once you have it, you don't let go."
She felt her cheeks flush as he watched her slip into the passenger side, shutting her door for her. Ever a gentleman. Her anxiety remained, her limbs twitching lightly, but she also felt more certain of herself. We're a family. We're strong. We have love. She'd made the right decision.
"You sure you're okay to walk in those heels?" Booth asked.
"I'm fine. Besides, it's really nice outside."
"Still, the Lincoln memorial's a long walk from Founding Fathers."
Looping her arm through his, she pulled him along the sidewalk. "I'm fine! Let's go."
She knew damn well how long the walk was. She was counting on it. She'd timed it on her lunch break. Having gone home to change, Booth believed the plan was dinner and drinks at Founding Fathers with Angela and Hodgins. The actual plan was a little different.
They made their customary loop around the reflecting pool, idly chatting about the case and Fisher's latest complaints about his mother (at least he'd ditched the herbal tea that made him nearly incontinent while not improving his mood in the slightest). Booth mentioned overhearing Caroline on the phone and suggested she had a new boyfriend in her life, which intrigued Brennan. She wondered how puckish this new man made her for a brief moment before realizing that Booth wanted to head for the pub – meaning it was time for her to begin talking.
"Can I ask you something?"
He paused and gave her a worried look. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing! I just…"
With a deep breath, she replied, "I want to tell you some things. Good things. But I want you to promise me that you won't interrupt at all and will wait for me to say I'm finished talking."
"You're not pregnant, are you?" he teased.
"No! You know perfectly well I'm back on the injections," she replied. "Please? It's important to me."
"Then it's important to me, too," he said, kissing her. "Let's walk and you can talk."
It was time. She'd memorized her notes so she could avoid the embarrassment of reading off pages, but now she longed for them, just in case. Be yourself, she thought. It doesn't have to be perfectly executed to be perfect for us.
"I've done a lot of thinking recently about love and relationships," she began. "It's been a frustrating process for me because in all other areas of life, I wield language easily. I write novels. I can present a thesis and document my findings in a precise and articulate fashion. But the language for love and the metaphorical heart has been difficult for me to acquire. It's perhaps the only exception to my steep learning curve."
Booth smiled, chuckling quietly and she reflected it back at him. To say she was slow to grasp relationships was a vast understatement, and both of them knew it.
"When I was young, I never felt that I belonged with my peers. My best friend was Russ. He was always there for me, checking up on me at school. My parents were devoted as well. And then, as you know, everything changed the Christmas they didn't come home. My parents were gone, my brother left me to foster care, and I found myself in a very bad situation. In foster care, the kids always said, 'Don't get attached. They can't hurt you if you don't care'. Eventually, I took that to heart. Although my grandfather eventually pulled me out, I never opened myself up to him. My heart was locked away. I hid it. I hated it for existing."
She glanced over at Booth, comforted by the empathetic look he gave her. He understood rejection, understood the pain of betrayal as she'd experienced it. She forced a small smile to reassure him.
"People in university began making fun of me for never dating seriously, for always refusing companionship. Part of that was the fact that no one kept up with me intellectually, which made conversations dull, but part of it was my promise to not allow anyone in. I eventually began engaging in purely sexual relationships until Michael Stires became my supervisor. He seemed to understand me and was very intelligent. I decided to try and be loving, try and let myself be loved. It obviously didn't work out in the end. I tried again with Peter – even moved in with him for a while – but it fell to pieces. Both of them wanted me to be something I wasn't. They wanted me to change. I couldn't do it."
She paused, finding herself emotional as she recalled the cruel words exchanged with both men. The accusations of being heartless, cold, unfeeling… Immature even, when it came to love. Perhaps she was that, but she couldn't give more at that time. The wounds were still raw.
"Bones?" Booth gently asked.
"Sorry. I wandered off. I'll continue," she told him.
His hand reached for hers, squeezing it lightly. It was reassuring and made her feel safe. He always made her feel safe.
"I gave up on relationships and went back to individually addressing my needs. I had companions for intellectual endeavors and others for biological urges. It was very compartmentalized. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that every aspect of my life ended up in neat little metaphorical boxes. Then Sully came along, and for a moment, I thought, 'Well, we share work. We share a hectic lifestyle.' But again, a man wanted me to change myself, change my priorities."
They were stopped now at a street corner, waiting for a walk signal. Turning to Booth, she continued. "I realized years later that I wasn't as upset about Sully leaving as I once thought. I was more upset, to be honest, that a relationship with a Federal Agent failed. It implied that such relationships were as impossible as my prior attempts. Do you understand?"
Booth nodded, clearly emotional. She stretched up to kiss his cheek as the light changed.
"It didn't matter how hard I worked to remain impervious. Somehow, you broke me down. You found a way to make me feel safe in your presence. I could trust that any vulnerability I displayed would not be used as a weapon against me later. You made me feel stronger, made me feel… acceptable. You proved to me that I could be myself and still deserve compassion and concern. That I was worth getting to know."
"You're an incredible woman," he interrupted. "Your uniqueness is what makes you so lovable."
She flushed as he apologized for speaking and gestured for her to continue. She'd expected him to break his promised silence at least once. His compliments steeled her resolve.
"The Hoover… I told you I couldn't change, that I didn't have your heart. But it was so much more than that. It was the fear that I'd ruin what we had, and I couldn't risk it. I hadn't understood what I was missing in life until you gave it to me. History assured me that I would fail, that you would leave. I couldn't imagine life without you. I couldn't let my heart out of that imaginary box, because if it were crushed one more time… I don't know what I'd do."
She held her breath, telling herself not to cry. It's the past. It's over. It was necessary for us to evolve.
"To give you an idea of how little I trusted the world, I confess that I barely slept before we became a couple. Sleep took people from me. My parents. Russ. Michael ran out in the middle of the night. But I could sleep if you promised me you'd pick me up in the morning. I trusted you. I trusted that I wouldn't lose you, and I would rest. Once I realized that in Maluku, I understood that all of the evidence pointed to things being different for us. We could work it out. We could succeed. But I came home and… We know what happened."
They were growing close to Founding Fathers now, and she knew she had to pick up the pace. She also knew that he wouldn't maintain his silence much longer; she could feel his body twitching, feel his impatient desire to speak.
"I tell you all of this now to provide a context within which you can appreciate how truly grateful I am to have you in my life. I'm grateful that you spent years at my side, protecting me and encouraging me to be more open, to love freely. I'm grateful for the big things, but also the little things. Burying Ripley, helping me get my father acquitted, countless nights of take-out food and drinks, coffee – the little things matter. They're the pieces of the whole." Glancing over at him, she added, "I know you're grateful for me, too. I promise I'm almost done."
Booth grinned. "You know me so well."
"I do," she replied. "I'm grateful that you've let me know you. I know you were guarded as well. I don't underestimate the significance of that trust. My life is richer with you in it, Booth. Angela painted love – it was a prism, a rainbow. My life was missing colours before you helped me heal my heart. I know objectively that my eyes and the corresponding cerebral cortex have not changed, but things do seem different in terms of how I perceive them. As a unit, we've evolved. We've adapted and shifted as life changes course, but the shape of us, the dynamic, it remains the same. You call that fate, I believe; I like to think of it as Darwinian principles. We adapt and thus, we endure."
One more block. They were again halted by a traffic light, awaiting their opportunity to cross. She squeezed his hand, smiling as he echoed the gesture.
"In examining love, I could not help but examine marriage, given how entwined the two concepts are in our society. As a social institution, it's ridiculous to me. The fact that a piece of paper dictates aspects of our lives over which no government should have the right to control irritates me. It's devalued. It's a tax break, a means of ensuring that families are not kept apart in emergencies. The love gets buried beneath that. But I then thought of other cultures, of how marriage is constructed for other societies and faith systems, and realized that marriage has a vast array of definitions. For example, the purpose of marriage in the Bahá'i faith is mainly to foster spiritual harmony, fellowship and unity between a man and a woman and to provide a stable and loving environment for the rearing of children. It's a fortress of well-being. In the Waorani Tribe of Ecuador, the marriage is bound with song, one that simply encourages the couple to love each other and never let go. Neo-pagans persist in the tradition of handfasting, a ceremony that is often renewed each year. The couples re-commit each and every year, or part, as the case may be. The problem, then, is marriage as defined in our society."
She shook her head. "Please, don't… Booth, I am grateful you've never pushed marriage for us. I'm grateful that you've always accepted my views on the subject, even though I'm aware of how important it is to you. What I am getting at is that my viewpoint is too ethnocentric. Marriage… it can be egalitarian. Women are not always chattel. The notion of continually affirming love is a pleasant one, as is the view of family as a fortress that protects progeny. Marriage need not be the status quo; it can be redefined. It can be as simple as a celebration of true acceptance. Like christening our daughter, it can be about respecting the value of a ritual to someone I love. Instead of condemning it, I can challenge it."
She halted outside the door of Founding Fathers, turning to face her partner in all ways. She was briefly troubled that his eyes were moist, until she registered the light in them. Happy tears, she reassured herself. He understands.
"I brought you here tonight not to meet with Angela and Hodgins, but because it is our place. It is where I understood how truly heroic and loving you are, how you quietly make the world better by being in it. It was here where I truly understood that love was more than chemical reactions. It was here that we began again with drinks shared in your anger. It's a place of beginnings for us."
Reaching into her purse, she withdrew the small black ring box. "This is hardly traditional, but we've never been traditional. I can't promise to get everything right. I can't promise that I won't say something that inadvertently hurts or offends you during the course of our preparations. I can promise that I love you and will always work to evolve with you. I can assure you that I love you as you are, that I have given you my metaphorical heart and trust you to protect it. I can tell you that we are something worth celebrating. You are my fortress, Booth. I ask that you let me be yours in return."
Opening the box with trembling fingers, she revealed the ring she'd chosen for herself: a platinum band with a square-cut diamond (ethically sourced, of course) flanked by two smaller sapphires. The streetlights lent an ethereal twinkling to the gemstones, reminding her of Micah's constellation analogy. She handed him the box, startled by the energy that seemed to pass between them as their fingers touched.
"You can talk now," she whispered anxiously.
"You're asking… I'm dreaming," Booth said, blinking rapidly. "Another brain tumor?"
"I'm asking, Booth. Just as you said I would. Did I overstep my boundaries?"
"No, not at all. I just… I'd already come to terms with the fact that we might never get married." He grinned as he pulled the ring from its cushion. "You want to marry me?"
"Yes," she answered. "I'm proposing marriage. Do you accept?"
He reached for her left hand, bringing it to his lips before sliding the ring onto her finger. "I would be honoured to marry you."
She found herself giggling, uncontrollably happy. She couldn't explain it, nor could she fully explain how he came to laugh too, hoisting her into the air and swinging her around in a circle. When his mouth found hers, all thought was lost: all that remained was Booth and Brennan and love. She scarcely noticed the passers-by who began to cheer and clap as they kissed. Even as she took note of them, she could only think, Love should be applauded.
"I love you." He pulled her against his chest, where she could hear his heart racing. "I'm grateful for you, too. You've made me the man that I am."
"We bring out the best in each other, I think."
"Agreed." He jerked his head to the side. "Celebratory wine? Was that the plan?"
She nodded. "Dinner, too. We'll need the energy later."
She grinned. "I didn't arrange overnight care for Christine for us to sit and watch TV."
"Well, let's head inside then. But first…"
He kissed her again, gentler this time. Sweet. Her own heart seemed to be experiencing palpitations now, but she knew that this was common in his presence. She'd jokingly called it a "love attack" one night after Booth had grown concerned.
Leaning in beside her ear, he whispered, "I told you so."
Rolling her eyes, she coyly replied, "Well, you know I never back down from a challenge."
"Neither do I."
"Obviously. You stood by me, after all."
"I knew you were worth it."
The scientist in her wanted to challenge the statement, point out the lack of evidence their first case would have provided. The woman in her – the one who'd learned to love – silenced the scientist. For him.
The hostess arrived and brought them to a table, where wine was quickly ordered and a toast made.
"To beginnings," she said.
"To fate," he replied.
"To evolution," she countered playfully.
"You win," she murmured, clinking her glass against his. "To us."
She'd barely swallowed her mouthful of wine when the music on the speakers overhead switched to a very familiar melody. Booth broke out in laughter, hooting his approval.
"What are the odds?"
"I'm assuming that's a rhetorical question, as calculating them would take a great deal of time I don't care to spend," Brennan replied.
"Let's dance!" he exclaimed, standing up.
"What? No! People don't dance in pubs, Booth!"
"But it's our song and we're celebrating!" He flashed that half-grin of his that always weakened her resolve, strumming an invisible guitar. "C'mon, Bones. What are you afraid of?"
A slow smile crept over her lips as she considered his question. What did she really have to fear? Death? They'd faced that. Separation? Survived it. Glancing down at her left hand, she knew the answer.
"Absolutely nothing," she replied, extending her hand to him.