He knew this day had been coming. Retirement was inevitable, especially when working for the federal government. Knowing it was coming and being prepared for it are two different things, however. Brennan had suggested having someone do this for him, but he wanted to pack his office himself. After ten years as the deputy director, he had filled his office with souvenirs, knick knacks, tchotchkes, or maybe more appropriately, hoardings. He intended to spend the day wallowing in sentimentality as he packed these little pieces of his life, deciding what to keep and what to toss.

Starting with the flat surfaces of his office, he wrapped photos and awards, carefully placing them in the boxes he had brought for that purpose. Next to be boxed were items like his bobble-headed bobby, magic eight ball and mini Stanley cup. He had collected so many souvenirs from their trips to China, Africa, Australia and many more placed he couldn't name. Realizing that if he stopped to reminisce over every piece he would be there for weeks, he began to wrap and pack more purposefully.

With that job complete, he moved to the walls. Removing each framed item, he wrapped them in bubble wrap before placing them in the special divided boxes that Brennan had located at a moving supply company. Walls cleared, his office no longer looked like his. It had reverted to a generic office in a generic office building. All of his 'Boothy' touches had been removed.

Sitting in his desk chair, he moved on to the task he had been dreading. Weeding through the files to determine what was personal and what remained at the FBI would be time consuming, to say the least. He methodically went through each drawer, sorting as he went. His desk now covered in stacks of files, trashcan overflowing, boxes filled to the brim, he opened the rarely-opened bottom drawer. Pulling out files of newspaper clippings, photos, notes, he made his way down to the last item in his desk. He had forgotten about the stack of papers, a few inches thick, bound together with four rubber bands, two horizontally, two vertically.

Leaning back in his chair, he stared at the top page, plucking at the rubber bands, debating whether to remove them or just toss the whole thing in the trash. Taking a deep breath, decision made, he removed the bands and then the blank page they rested on. Staring at the second page, he mouthed the words to himself.

Love, Loss and War

By S. J. B.

Releasing the breath he was holding, he turned to the next page.

To TB, my partner and friend

After reading it, he pulled a pen from the cup on his desk and made an addition, really more of a correction.

To TB, my partner, friend, lover and wife, in order of occurrence, but not order of importance.

He tossed the pen on the desk and, in a flurry of action, he placed the pages back on the stack and returned the rubber bands to their previous positions before dropping the whole thing in a box, on top of his bobble-headed bobby, magic eight ball and mini Stanley cup.

While he hadn't wanted anyone else packing up his office, he had no problem delegating the task lugging the boxes through the Hoover to someone else. The following day, a courier service would be collecting the boxes and delivering them to their home. All but one, the box with the two-inch bundle of papers. That box he would take himself. Standing at the door, box in his hands, he paused to take a final look at what had been 'his' for the last ten years. With a slight shake of the head and a smile on his face, he caught the light switch with his elbow, pitching the office into darkness and left for the last time.


It wasn't often that he came home to a silent house. Usually, it annoyed him when he did. He loved the bustle of their daily life. It was like white noise to him, always hanging in the background, a reminder that he had the life he had always dreamed of, but never thought he would have.

This day, however, was not a typical day. He was still in a reflective mood and welcomed the slow return to reality. Dropping the box in the entryway, he grabbed the bundle of papers on top and headed to their home office. That two-inch bundle of pages had occupied the bottom drawer of his desk long before he became deputy director or even assistant deputy director. He was still a supervisory special agent when he pulled the last page from the printer, securing the whole bundle with the rubber bands that hadn't been removed until earlier in the day.

Shooting a quick glance at the clock, he saw he had a few hours until Brennan and the kids returned home. Jotting a quick note on one of Brennan's ever-present legal pads, he stretched out on the couch and began to read.

Three hours later, he heard the back door open and then slam shut, alerting him to his family's return. Quickly gathering the pages, he once again wrapped the bands around the stack. He dropped it on Brennan's desk, laid the handwritten note on top before going to greet his family.


Hours later, after a quick dinner, homework and parents' night at each of the kids' schools (which they had split up for), Booth was relieved that Brennan hadn't had a chance to go into their office. He wanted to explain what she would find there. So, while they went through their nighttime routines with a rhythm born of years spent together, he sought the words he needed.

"Hey, Bones, can you do me a favor?" He tossed his t-shirt in the hamper, closely followed by his jeans. Dressed only in boxers and socks striped in obnoxiously bright colors, he walked toward the bathroom door just as Brennan walked out.

"Of course, I can. What do you need me to do?" Her face was freshly scrubbed free of make-up, Booth's favorite look for her.

"When I was packing up my office today, I found something that I had completely forgotten about. I was wondering if you could look at it." He could see she had questions and was preparing to launch into interrogation mode. Hoping to head her off, he forged ahead. "I left it on your desk in the office. I'd rather you read it before I say anything else about it." He paused, hating to put any restrictions on her, but needing this one. "Just one more thing. Could you find time to read it when I'm not around? Maybe when I go to a hockey game, or when I take AJ to soccer practice. I just don't want to see your reaction while you're reading."

"I can do that. Thank you, Booth."

"For what? You're doing me the favor.

"This is obviously important to you. Thank you for sharing it with me. Thank you for trusting me with it."

He was touched that this woman, who claimed to not be a heart person, could read him so well. He pulled her into his arms, wrapping her into a hug, speaking through actions rather than words.


She fully intended to wait until the next time he was out of the house to read whatever it was that he wanted her to read. Her best intentions, however, couldn't hold up to her desire for knowledge. Sleep eluded her, knowing that there was a previously unknown, unshared piece of Booth on her desk, just waiting to be examined. As she listened to his even breathing, she justified, rationalized the decision to slide out of bed and into her office to begin reading.

She crept down the stairs, avoiding the squeaky tread, keeping the lights off until she reached her office. Walking over to her desk, she saw a page from a legal pad with Booth's familiar scrawl.

Bones –

I'm not sure why it's important to me that you read this, I just know it is. I don't want this to be something that I didn't share with you. I've let you into every corner of my life. This shouldn't be any different.

Love you –

B

She had been expecting a letter or perhaps a diary or some other stream of consciousness writing. Instead, what she found looked and felt like a manuscript, similar in size to her own. Smiling at the woven-like appearance of the rubber bands' placement, she picked up the bundle and settled on the couch, preparing for, what Christine called, an all-nighter.


The house was still pitch black when Booth stirred several hours later. Reaching in his sleep, Booth's hand met cold sheets instead of his warm wife. Assuming she had gone to the bathroom, he waited a few minutes for her return. Just as he was drifting off again, he realized her side of the bed was still empty. As he began to rouse himself enough to go in search of her, he realized where she was – in the office, reading his, for lack of a better word, book. He should have known she wouldn't be able to resist. He had meant it when he said he didn't want to see her reactions while reading. He wasn't sure which would bother him more – her reactions to what he wrote or how he wrote it. Either way, he had no intention of seeking her out. She could come to him about it on her own. In the meantime, he would try to go back to sleep, as pointless as it might be.


Sunlight was beginning to peek through the mini-blinds when Brennan read the last word on the last page. She'd lost track of the number of times that she had stopped reading, blinded by the tears streaming down her face, only to be drawn in again. She had lost herself in the story of a soldier experiencing war for the first time and the loss that went with it. As she read, it was too easy to replace that soldier with her husband. How much had happened to her husband and the men around him, she wondered. Her heart hurt for them both, the soldier and the man who she was sure had inspired him.

Stacking the pages neatly, she brushed the remaining tears from her cheeks and returned to their bedroom. She expected to find him asleep, having never noticed her absence during the night. What she found instead was her husband propped against the headboard, her latest book abandoned next to him while he stared at the ceiling, apparently lost in thought.

"Hi."

"Hi. I didn't think it would take you so long to read it."

"I'm sorry. I know I promised I would wait, but-"

"It's fine. I should have known that asking you to wait was the equivalent of torture." He saw her flinch at the mention of torture and immediately wished he had chosen his words more carefully. "Just so you know, we don't have to talk about it. I just wanted you to read it. But, if you do want to talk, I'm here. I'm always here for you."

"I'm not ready to talk about it quite yet, but I do have a question. Did all of that happen to you?"

"Some of it. Other things happened to men that I served with." He could have continued, spelled out just which horrors were his and which were not, but he didn't want to push too far, too fast, a hard learned lesson about dealing with Temperance Brennan.

She nodded at the confirmation of what she had already suspected. "If you don't mind, I think I'll go to the lab early today. I'd like to spend some time in Limbo, if possible." Translation – I need to process what I just spent the last five hours reading. "Do you have any plans for your first day of retirement?"

He groaned. Somehow, in his worry, he had forgotten that he was, ugh, retired. "Uh, no, not yet. But I'm gonna find something to do. Sitting around the house all day is not an option."

With a smirk on her face at the thought of him doing nothing for an entire day, she gave him a kiss before heading to shower and start her day.

As he watched her go, he knew he should insist that she stay home, get some sleep, maybe even find something for them to do together. Instead, he gave her the space he knew she needed to process. Tugging on a t-shirt, he went down to the kitchen to make breakfast for his beautiful wife.


He puttered around the house, caught up on the laundry, reorganized the DVDs and Blu-rays and made a run to the grocery store. By mid-morning, he was utterly and completely bored. He considered looking for a project car, a classic American muscle car, but tucked that idea away for the time being.

After an hour in his man cave, flipping channels, never landing on one, he ventured into the corner of the basement no one ever entered. Filled with his and hers boxes from their past lives, he needed to make room for the boxes from his office. He shuffled and stacked, occasionally opening and then closing boxes once their contents had been determined. Here he found the proof that fate existed. Tucked away, in a box that was clearly marked "Booth" in Brennan's precise handwriting, was a smaller box. There were no identifying marks, but he knew what it contained.

Pulling the smaller box from the larger one, he returned to his man cave, setting the box on the mahogany coffee table. Elbows on knees, hands clasped, leaning forward, he stared at the box almost as if it housed a monster. Unable to resist the pull, he flicked the lid from the box and plunged a hand into its depths.


It had been a quiet evening, outwardly matching the day that each of them had experienced. Inwardly, their thoughts had been anything but quiet and peaceful. Now, after the kids were in bed, a bottle of wine shared, the events of the day dissected, they sat on the couch, each tucked into a corner, facing each other, the box from the basement resting between them.

"It started when I was in Afghanistan. I missed Parker and it wasn't like I could pick up the phone and call him whenever I wanted. I missed you, and well, there was nothing I could do about that. Every day I saw things, bad things, dark things that I thought I would never have to see again. I felt myself slipping into a dark, familiar hole. It was the same hole I fell into after my first stint in the Army.

I couldn't sleep. Whenever I closed my eyes, I was reliving all of the things I had seen and done. I had to do something, ya know. I had worked too hard to fall back into addiction. I needed a new way to deal with it. Was it PTSD? Maybe. Probably. The beginning of it, anyway. So, I called Gordon Gordon. There wasn't much he could do from DC, but he gave me a piece of advice."

Tapping the lid of the box, he continued, "This is the result."

Brennan watched as he removed the lid, reached in and brought out what looked like scraps of paper. Hesitantly, she reached for one, prepared to stop if he said the word. Latching onto the first piece her fingers brushed, she pulled it from his hand and began to read. With tear-filled eyes, she looked at him, unable to speak, not knowing what to say if she could.

"Good ol' Gordon Gordon suggested that I write everything down as a way to clear my head before bed. I started by filling notebooks, but I didn't always have one nearby. So, I would write on whatever scraps of paper were handy. I met Hannah and was able to put some positive thoughts on paper, too. By the time I got home from Afghanistan, I had enough to fill two or three shoeboxes. That's when I dumped everything in this box. I put the lid on it, slid it into the top of a closet and forgot about it."

He began to rifle through the box, looking not for a particular piece, but for something from a particular time. Finally spotting one, he snatched it from the box and handed it to Brennan. He watched as she read, tears no longer contained, but flowing down her cheeks.

"I forgot about it until things started to go bad with Hannah. And with you. That's when I started writing again, my feelings about Hannah, about you, the conflict I felt. Everything was so wrong during that time. The only time I could see it clearly was when it was in black and white, right in front of my face.

Then, I proposed to Hannah, and she turned me down and left. I was mad, so very mad. I was trying to work through it and failing miserably. I called Gordon Gordon again. Instead of writing, he suggested that I read. He said I should read every notebook, every scrap of paper in this box. I was supposed to see if time and distance had given me perspective on any of the events I'd written about. I think he was just trying to prove a point – that time and distance do offer perspective."

Brennan nodded, agreeing with Gordon Gordon, remembering all of the times she had removed herself from a situation in order to gain perspective.

"He also told me to sort them, but wouldn't tell me how. He only said that when I was ready, I would know. So, one Saturday morning, I sat down with the box and started reading and sorting. I sorted by location – Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, DC, and dozens of other places that I can't mention due to mission secrecy. I sorted by year. I sorted military and non-military. Each time, I ended up with meaningless piles. At that point, I was convinced that Gordon Gordon's psychobabble was garbage. I started tossing the piles back into the box, planning to dump the whole lot into the dumpster."

"What stopped you?" Brennan had been listening intently, interrupting only occasionally. Booth, her Booth, was revealing a hidden part of himself and she didn't want to miss a word. Sure, there was probably some anthropological significance that she could assign to this event, but she didn't care. The only significance to her was Booth and how these past events had affected him.

"I saw your name. At the top of the box, on the back of a business card, I saw your name. That's when I knew how to sort – Bones and not Bones. That's what my life comes down to – with you or without you."

Waving her toward him with a hand, he patted his thigh, wanting her to sit on his lap. She yielded to him, curling up against him, face buried in his neck, palm placed against his chest just above the steady beat of his heart. Rubbing her back in soothing circles, he whispered against her hair.

"You've read the book, the sanitized version of the box. If you ever want to read the source material or talk about any of it, just let me know. I've kept quiet about that part of my life for far too long. It's time for that to end."


A/N - So, what did you think? Curiosity has been known to kill cats and anxious writers. Please, put me out of my misery by leaving a review in the little box below. As always, thanks for reading! ~ craftyjhawk