When Hannah leaves, she hoists her duffle over her shoulder and looks Booth straight in the eye. “I know you’re in love with her,” she says. She sounds like Bones when she explains something obvious to one of the squinterns, lecturing kindly in the direction of a lesser intellect.
Booth shrugs. He respects Hannah enough not to lie to her, and besides, she’s right. He is in love with Temperance Brennan. What else is new?
Hannah smiles gently, leaning down to lift her small suitcase off the floor. Everything she owns is right there with her, and Booth should have known his life wouldn’t hold her for long. Too much everyday crap, too many hockey games and football practices and late nights spent with paperwork; Hannah needs excitement like everybody else needs air, or something. And, of course, he’s in love with his partner.
Before she goes, Hannah says, “Just make sure you’re not more in love with the idea of her than with the woman herself, Seeley.”
A year passes, and they fall into a comfortable routine. Angela and Hodgins have a daughter, who is as beautiful as her mother. Michelle goes to college, and Cam mourns the quiet she once treasured. Wendell gets his doctorate, and they have an even bigger party than when it was Zack.
Bones is quiet that night, and Booth wonders if she’s thinking another young man they knew who never fulfilled his potential. They toast the new PhD and joke about discovering the great truths of anthropology, but Booth’s only hope for Wendell is that he makes it to forty and fifty, to his own students and his own children.
Bones slips out the front door. Booth hands his beer to Hodgins before following her out, joining her on the bench outside the bar where once she apologized to him with cake and time but not space.
For the first time since that night outside the Lincoln Memorial, she leans her head against his shoulder.
“He accepted a position at the University of North Carolina,” Bones says, though Booth already knows. Bones was there when Wendell told him.
“I know,” he says, wishing he could see her face because it isn’t like Bones to state the obvious unless she has a greater purpose. “Are you worried that you’re going to miss him?”
She shrugs. “Of course I’ll miss him,” she says. She doesn’t qualify it with a statement about Wendell’s contributions to the lab or science, and Booth is surprised at the omission.
“But?” he prompts. “You think he’s going to figure out that he really wants to be a truck mechanic?”
This time, she raises her head and rolls her eyes. “Don’t be silly, Booth. This is exactly what Wendell wants. The position offers him considerable opportunity to advance his research and his teaching career.”
Booth can’t help but push. “You’re not wishing he was staying here?” he asks.
This time, her look is sharper, a little hurt. She waits for a moment, then says, “This is exactly what he wants. Why would I want him to stay when he is so excited to go?”
There’s only one way he knows how to explain it in a way that might get through to her. “For you,” Booth says, because surely she remembers how hard it was after Zack, how they were mourning for their loss as much as his.
But now a smile graces her face, one he almost never sees: Temperance Brennan, calm and content. She nods. “Let me ask you a question, Booth,” she says. Before he can even nod, she continues. “Do you still love me?”
“What?” he asks. “I mean—I—you—.”
“Booth,” she says, quieting him through the shock.
He respects her enough to be honest with her, too. “Of course.”
She continues as if she hasn’t stunned him into single syllables. “Do you want me to give you thirty or forty years?”
He’s committed now. “Yes,” he whispers.
Bones nods again. “And you believe you will love me in thirty or forty years?”
This time, he can only nod. For as long as he’s known her—and it will be ten years soon enough—he’s loved her.
She reaches out, holding his hand. “And if I told you I love you?”
This time, he can’t even nod. Something about happy and miracle and Oh my God and Bones flits through his head, but he’s not sure a sound comes out. Something about I hadn’t dared to imagine it.
Bones squeezes his hand, looking away. “But what if the way I love isn’t the way you want me to love?” she asks. “What if I know that I loved you yesterday and that I love you right now, but that I don’t know if I will love you tomorrow?” He can see her eyes fill with tears, because she’s trying to make a point but she’s going to break his heart by doing it. “Would that be enough for you?”
He has always hoped that she would figure out that normal people can take almost ten years of history and translate it into possibility for the future. He has. Angela and Hodgins have. But Bones can’t, and he’s not sure he wants to be party to a daily evaluation of the evidence. He wants her to do the math between yesterday and the day before that and come to next year and the year after. Like everyone else does.
And so he says, “No,” and his voice comes out choked, because dammit, she was supposed to get this one thing straight.
She moves her free hand to his face. “I want for Wendell what he wants for himself. You want for Wendell to stay for your sake, not his. And that isn’t fair to him.”
Of course, she’s not talking about Wendell.
“I would never ask you to be someone you couldn’t, Booth,” Bones says, brushing at his tears with her fingers. “Please don’t ask it of either of us.”
“Bones,” he says.
“I love you, Seeley Booth,” she says. “Right now, at this moment, I love you.” She leans in and kisses him softly before squeezing his hand. She stands up from the bench and looks down at him.
She doesn’t offer him a choice or an ultimatum, just turns and walks back into the bar.
Bones consults in Montreal, China, Rwanda, Peru, Ireland, telling and retelling the human history of violent conflict.
When she takes the first job, he says nothing. After the third in four months he asks quietly, “Is this what you want?”
She doesn’t answer him, just smiles that quiet, enigmatic Bones smile that means the thought she has is too complex for mere mortals. He thinks it means that she’s chasing what she can have instead of what she can’t, and he wonders if he’ll ever learn from her example.
She signs all her cards to him “Love, Bones” and makes sure she’s home to dance at his wedding.