So it's not like being Tony and Roxie or Buck and Wanda, but Brennan always loves it when they go on a case undercover. She gets to be another person, though she is still Temperance Brennan, but she gets to revise who she is, to be the very best version of herself, which is pretty much who she is in real life but with an addition: a husband, Bobby Kent. Except that when they run into Brad and Julie outside of the school she cuts in before Booth can speak and says, "This is my husband, Seeley Booth." She tries not to think too hard about how nice that sounds.
And so Bobby Kent is not her husband. Seeley Booth is. To his credit, Booth doesn't react to the switch up, and instead offers up his hand and smiles his charm smile and Brennan feels herself beaming. The side of her that felt bullied and disliked for all of her teenage years rejoices because this is who she is now. She is the top of her field, a best-selling author, and her husband is Booth, Booth who makes king-of-Burtonsville Brad look space junk when compared to Booth who is the sun.
"Time has been good to you, Temperance," Brad says, "very good." And Brennan feels Booth's hand slide possessively across her back, his hand resting on her hip. She leans into it and places her hand on top of his. She presses against his hand until his fingers loosen and spread apart to welcome her hand in his. Their fingers twine together and she thinks again how much she loves going undercover.
He places the wedding band on her nightstand and asks her questions about her former classmates.
"Do you remember if Evelyn had any enemies?" He says nothing about the rings. It's not like him to not comment or make a joke. But he is a man who believes in symbols and gestures. Opening a door is not just opening a door. Nor is closing it. But she doesn't look at the world in metaphor.
She wonders why he didn't just place it in her hand.
"We really should share a room," she says, nodding to herself because yes, a married couple would not be in separate rooms. It makes no sense socially or financially if others are to believe that they are a loving, married couple, and Burtonsville is small enough that rumor will go around if someone recognizes her. She doesn't want to blow their cover.
It's not like they haven't done this before. Tony and Roxie. Buck and Wanda. As the Moosejaws they shared that tiny trailer and couldn't move from one side to the other without touching one another. And it was fine, because it wasn't real.
He puts down a stack of papers and looks up at her, pained. "Bones."
"Is this too difficult for you?" she asks. It won't be the last time she'll pose this question on this case, and it won't be the last time he lies to himself and to her.
They're not even around her classmates when it happens.
He's entered her room to talk about the case when he slips and calls her Bren instead of Temperance. The silence stretches out between them because they're both remembering a life together that never happened. Because while Bren, like Bones, would have kissed Booth on the marble white steps outside of Sweets's office that night, (lost for a moment in a wave that she, Brennan, rationalized as lust and Bren recognized as love), Bren would not have pushed him away. Bren would not have told him no, nor would she have had to watch his face crumble as she said it.
Instead they would have left together, leaning against one another, and he would have gone to her place or she would have gone to his, and they would have spent the night together then and the night after that, too, two pieces of string tied together into one knot that could never come undone. In his bedroom, her bedroom, their bedroom, she would let him hold her down, his hands wrapped around her wrists, his mouth traveling up and down her body, because she wanted him to; he would let her slam him up against the wall and press her fingernails into the skin of his back because he wanted her to. And they would fumble and tangle and fall in love over and over again until they came to rest. And he would fall asleep as she traced the scars imprinted on his skin, and he would wake up for a moment before drifting off to kiss her close to her bluest of eyes, and whisper, "I knew. Right from the beginning."
But that is Bren and Booth. It is not Temperance and Seeley. It certainly is not Booth and Bones.
So he leaves her room, excuses himself because he has something he just remembered he had to do. He doesn't give any explanation for what could have possibly just come up, and she doesn't ask him to elaborate.
The stars fall from the sky and she says, "This is the prom I never got to go to." Tears prick at her eyes. She has only physiological explanations for this. She acknowledges the hows, not the why. That is when he opens up his arms and reaches for her. Because wherever he is, whoever they are, he is always Booth.
He holds her close and this is as it should be, she thinks. Around her, her classmates sway to the Seal, transported. She's closer to him physically now than they have been in weeks, and his smell is warm and familiar. There is no one else in the world she knows like she knows him, whether she is Temperance, Bren, or Bones. A matter of names or realities doesn't change this.
This will be the closest they'll ever be, she thinks, and she tells herself she is ok with this, but her nerve endings tingle and the neurons keep firing and it's all telling her, pretend is for children, and you're not a child anymore.
But she doesn't know what that means.
Back in D.C. they dissolve back into their normal selves. There is another case, a dead motivational speaker in an aquarium. And there is an assistant director of the FBI and a marine biologist. But in the back of her mind, there is still Temperance and Seeley, and suddenly Burtonsville is not filled with bad memories anymore.
She finds the wedding band when it rolls out of her purse. She had forgotten to return it to him. After all, Booth believes in symbols. At the time they had just solved the case and she had had her dance at the prom and they were smiling and laughing again, like nothing had changed. So she slid the band into her purse to return to him later, though she never did.
But the night after their respective dates with Andrew and Catherine, after he sips his beer and tells her he'll be seeing the marine biologist again, she shows up to his apartment unannounced to return the ring. There is a half expectation that maybe Catherine is there, and she drives faster than the posted speed limit through the dark D.C. streets because she understands the concept of too late, and she hates being late as much as she hates being wrong.
He's in a soft t-shirt and sweat pants when he answers the door. "Bones! What are you doing here?"
He doesn't have to ask her in because regardless of what's happened (or not happened) between them, his place is her place is their place.
She's placed the ring on her thumb, but suddenly she is all self-consciousness. She feels this is foolish, impulsive. These are things she is not, least not when she is thinking, is rational.
"I . . ." Her silence confuses him. Her stomach feels all tied up in knots.
In her last novel, when Kathy came to apologize to Andy after an argument, he broke up her long but concise explanations with a kiss that, as Angela had suggested, "seared itself into her brain, into her very heart, and melded them together," even though that was a physical impossibility. But she is not Kathy and Booth is not Andy, and she knows he won't stop her silence by pressing his mouth to hers, by lifting her up into his arms and carrying her off to bed.
And so she unfolds her palm and shows him the ring. He reaches out to take it. His eyes don't leave her face the entire time. As the ring slides off her thumb, she finds herself closing her eyes, closing her palm.
"Bones," he says, his voice so, so soft. And while she is not Bren or Temperance or Kathy, she is Bones, and there is no Bones without Booth. This she knows to be true. So she does, not what she thinks is right, but what she feels is right.
She opens her eyes and wonders if he can see that she is everything unedited—that without revision she is over the moon in love with him. And so what if she once said no, that he said he was moving on? She hates too late. She doesn't want to be too late. Because when she leans in to kiss away his silence, when their lips touch and there is that spark, she thinks about something she's learned from Booth: That it's okay to be wrong so long as you can make it right again.