Word Count: 2545
Timeline:Takes place not long after The Santa in the Slush
Spoilers: For The Santa in the Slush.
Feedback: is always appreciated. If criticizing, please be constructive.
A/N: My note is after the end of this chapter.
"Well, technically I didn't bring you that tree." Booth tried to shrug away the sudden tightness in his shoulders as he prepared to lie to his partner. With a little luck, she wouldn't call him on it. "Your dad wanted a real Christmas, with all the trimmings -- or at least the ones you can get when you're in prison -- and I just thought, you know, that the girls deserved it. It's like I said, Bones: Christmas is all about making the impossible happen," he finished lamely. Did she buy any of that? "What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing." Brennan's brows drew together in a frown. "But while your concern for Emma and Hayley is admirable, they are strangers to you."
"Sure. But you aren't."
"So then you admit that I was the motivating factor in your decision to buy, decorate, and transport that tree?"
Luck, it seemed, was not on his side today. Booth raised both his hands in mock-surrender. If his partner didn't already have a career, he might have suggested she become a lawyer. It was scary, he thought, not without a touch of pride, how good Brennan was at so many things. The woman was damned smart and damned capable. So much so, in fact, that none of the women he'd seen recently had made it past the three-date mark.
"Yeah, OK, you got me. I wanted to do something nice for you, my partner. Look, you don't talk about it much, but whenever Christmas comes up, you get that sad little girl look on your face. I know the holidays are tough for you because of your parents' disappearance. Now you've got your old man and your brother back, but they're in jail. Sue me for wanting to give you a happy Christmas memory. I just…I just wanted to see you smile."
"It's not your job to make me smile, Booth."
"And it's not your job to try to make me feel better when we handle military cases," he fired back, remembering how Brennan had tried, in her own slightly clumsy but entirely well-meaning way, to be there for him when they were knee-deep in the Charlie Kent investigation. "But you did it anyway. Because that's what friends do, Bones."
"Is that what we are, Booth? Friends?"
"I'm surprised you even have to ask me that. Maybe we didn't start off as friends, but yeah, I'd say we are now." Inside, in that secret place where he couldn't lie to himself or God, Booth confessed that this weird, amazing, beautiful woman who named the nameless and sought justice in an unjust world, had become his best friend. "Why? Do you not think of me as your friend?" he asked, suddenly afraid of her answer.
"To be honest," Brennan replied, her eyes a little uncertain as they met his, "I'm not sure what to think anymore."
"You've gotta help me out here, Bones," he said, slowly, hopeful but still uncertain, "I don't know what that means."
Brennan's gaze dropped to her feet before she turned away. "It means that I have work to do," she replied, her tone as brisk as a slap in the face.
"Wait a second," he said, carefully maneuvering around the sea of toilet paper on the floor and stopping just behind Brennan. "So that's it, huh? You started something, and now you're just going to walk away without seeing it through." He didn't bother trying to hide his disappointment. Maybe they'd just come too far for that.
Brennan whirled around, eyes flashing. "Istarted something? I didn't ask you to bring me that ridiculous tree; you did it of your own volition."
"Ridiculous? 'I love my tree, Booth,'" he said with savage accuracy, mimicking what Brennan had said as she looked out at him, Parker, and their tree.
"Stop imitating me." She crossed her arms over her chest, irritation written clearly across her face.
He straightened, mirroring her stance. "Caroline wants us to kiss under the mistletoe," he added for good measure. Despite his telling her that he'd work things out with Caroline, Brennan had insisted they had to kiss. For the good of her family, of course.
A bright flush snuck over Brennan's cheeks. A-ha! I hit a nerve. Booth squashed the small voice inside him that said she looked even more beautiful than usual when she was pissed.
"Booth, stop it."
"Stop making me responsible for this."
"Please attempt to articulate your position more clearly, Booth." Her chin rose a fraction, making Booth grit his teeth. His partner was going to drive him batshit crazy one day. If she didn't kill him first. "I don't know what you're trying to say."
"Oh-ho, don't play that game with me." He unfolded his arms and jabbed Brennan in the shoulder with his index finger. "You know exactly what I'm trying to say, Bones."
Scowling, she shoved his hand aside. "Don't call me Bones."
She hadn't said that in a long, long time. Though he couldn't pinpoint when it had happened, he knew she had stopped protesting his use of that nickname a while ago. "Why not? Admit it: you love that I call you Bones. It makes you feel special," he said, punctuating the last word with a significant lift of his eyebrows that he knew from experience was guaranteed to make her blood boil.
Brennan's mouth dropped open, nearly making Booth grin before he caught himself. "I'll admit no such thing. From the moment you first used that horrible nickname, I've tried to dissuade you from ever using it again. It's unprofessional, it's irritating," she said, ticking the words off on her fingers, "and--"
"And you love it," he said, cutting her off with a self-satisfied nod.
"Stop it, Booth. I mean it. I'm not in the mood for your childishness."
"You love it, you love it," Booth said in a sing-song voice, circling Brennan, all too aware from the flare of her nostrils that he was waving a red flag in front of a bull.
"Bones, Bones, Bones. You love it," Booth said in a stage-whisper from behind her left shoulder.
While growing up, when Russ taunted her in a similar fashion, Brennan occasionally punched him in the nose. This usually earned her a swift, bloody victory, a smile of paternal pride from her father, and a scolding from her mother. While she was sorely tempted to do the same thing to Booth now, a distant part of her mind recognized that would be a highly inappropriate course of action.
Not that what she chose to do instead was appropriate either. Not precisely. But it did silence him.
Grasping Booth's slim, black, silk tie in her right hand, she pulled him toward her while simultaneously stepping closer. With a sigh that echoed throughout the bathroom, she surrendered to impulse. Much as she hated to admit it, Booth was right; for all her denials, she had started this, or at least escalated it, by kissing him under the mistletoe.
Oh, Brennan had known that if she'd protested more vehemently Caroline would have backed down and asked for something else, something more reasonable, in return for granting the request to allow Max and Russ to use the conjugal trailer on Christmas. But Brennan had quickly perceived the prosecutor's proposition for the opportunity it was -- to share a somewhat normal holiday with her family and also satisfy her own admittedly prurient curiosity about her handsome, well-formed partner in a harmless way.
Unfortunately, harmless did not mean without consequence. Nor did their first kiss satisfy her curiosity. On the contrary; it had merely exacerbated it, leaving Brennan to replay in her mind the kiss that should have been just a kiss, night after painfully quiet night, as she laid, restless, in her empty bed.
Logic spun away as their lips brushed, and for once, Brennan let it go without protest. Despite it being a physical impossibility, she felt the bottom drop out of her stomach as her hand loosened its grip on Booth's tie and slid up and over his collar into the crisp hair at the back of his neck. It tickled her fingers in an all too pleasant fashion.
She gasped into the softness of Booth's mouth as his hands found the lumbar region of her back and flattened there, pressing her gently against his arousal. Something twinged inside her at the unexpected intimacy of this tiny gesture. His hand often settled at her back as he urged her ahead of him, but this time the intent was wholly different and decidedly personal.
She'd kissed and been kissed many times before. She understood the physiology of it, the neurochemistry behind it. But this was Booth, her brain and body shouted, as every part of her warmed and loosened in response. To her surprise, that made it qualitatively different.
This silent admission caused her to pull back and break the kiss. Her heart still thundered in her chest, and she struggled to hide her breathlessness. She missed it already -- the soft, steady pressure of Booth's mouth against her own. But as soon as she realized that, his hands drifted to her face. His thumbs stroked her cheeks, causing a tremor to move through her, a moment before his lips ghosted across her forehead.
Slowly, he pulled back to look at her. "Only you would go from attacking someone with toilet paper to kissing them," Booth said with a rumbling laugh that made her lips curl in an answering smile.
"It worked, didn't it? After all, you did stop talking."
"So, you only kissed me to shut me up?"
She raised an eyebrow. "So, you only brought that Christmas tree for Hayley, Emma, and my father?"
He chucked her lightly under the chin. "So, the only reason you kissed me the first time was so you could get that trailer for your family?" he asked, brown eyes dancing with mirth.
"Touché," she replied, inclining her head in acknowledgment of the direct hit. "Perhaps it wasn't the sole reason."
"I knew it," Booth said, pumping his fist in the air with an enthusiasm that made her grin.
"I knew I should have punched you in the nose instead," she muttered under her breath, bending to clean up the mess of toilet paper she'd left on the floor in the midst of her tantrum.
"What was that, Bones?" Booth asked, cupping a hand to his ear as knelt to help her.
"That's what I thought."
Straightening, her hands full of wasted toilet paper, Brennan strode toward a nearby metal trashcan. The heels of her shoes clicked against the tile, reminding her that she had just kissed her partner. Again. In a public restroom. At her place of employment. Tossing the toilet paper into the trashcan, she shot her partner a glance over her shoulder. "Booth?"
"What are we doing?" she said, hoping she didn't sound as vulnerable as she feared she might.
"No," she said impatiently, shaking her head. "What are we doing?"
"Oh. You mean that." Booth stood and walked toward her, stopping a few short inches away. He brushed a strand of hair off her shoulder. "I'm not sure, but it feels right."
"Sometimes, what feels right, isn't," she said quietly.
"And sometimes, it is," he said, just as quietly. "I think..." Though his voice trailed off, his gaze was steady and reassuring as it met hers. "I think maybe we're just continuing on down a path we set off on a long time ago."
"A path to what?" she asked, genuinely curious to hear his answer. She always had so many questions for him. Though she knew that must bother him sometimes, she also knew that she had grown to trust and rely upon his answers, even when they didn't align perfectly with her worldview.
"A relationship," he said simply.
Brennan inhaled sharply. "I'm not very good at relationships," she said, hunching her shoulders. She shook her head, adding, "I'm not even sure I want one."
"I hate to break it to ya, Bones, but I think we're kinda already in one. Minus, you know, the sex," he said with a brief smile. Then he sighed heavily. "I know what I said about lines, and about people who work together. I meant it at the time." Sighing, he scrubbed a hand over his jaw. "But I think it's been a moot point for a while now. And for what it's worth, I wouldn't exactly call myself an expert on relationships, either."
His lips curved in a crooked half-smile that tugged at her in spite of her doubt. "Look," he said, spreading his hands in a gesture of helplessness, "I'll admit I don't have all the answers." In a strange way, this honest admission reassured her. He wasn't trying to feed her platitudes. "Not even close. But I think maybe we can take things a step at a time and try to figure things out together." Booth's smile dropped away as he stretched a hand out toward her. "What do you say, partner?"
Swallowing against the sudden dryness in her mouth, Brennan stared first at Booth's outstretched hand and then into the dark eyes that had grown so familiar, and if she was honest with herself, so dear to her. Feeling her heart pound, she gave herself permission to reach for his hand, curling her own around it. "All right," she replied, in spite of her anxiety. "But I can't promise you anything."
Booth rewarded her with a smile, the somberness fading from his expression, and she realized he'd been anxious, too. They both had a great deal hinging on her answer. Still smiling, he squeezed her hand. "I'm not asking you to."
Booth released her hand just before they stepped out of the bathroom. It wasn't a moment too soon, either, because a woman brushed past them and went into the bathroom, eyeing them strangely.
They walked back to her office in silence, both stopping at her door, as if by mutual agreement. "So," Booth said, slipping his hands into his pockets and rocking back on his heels. "How 'bout I pick you up after work? We can grab dinner and talk some more."
"That should be fine. But not before 7:30."
"7:30 it is," he said, flashing her what she noted with silent amusement was nearly a shy smile.
Special Agent Seeley Booth, shy? Unable to keep from grinning, Brennan covered her mouth with her hand and coughed.
She watched as Booth turned and strolled away from her, spine straight and head held high while he flipped his ever-present poker chip and whistled softly. He'd only gone approximately fifteen feet when he stopped and turned on his heel.
"Oh, and one more thing, Bones."
"What?" she said, raising her eyebrows.
"Just promise me you'll leave the toilet paper where it belongs."
She rolled her eyes in response. "Don't push your luck, Booth."
"Maybe you're right; I guess I have gotten pretty lucky already today."
They exchanged a smile. Then Brennan stepped into her office, closing the door behind her so she could catch up on some work without being interrupted.
A/N: Hugs & sincere thanks to ALL the generous folks who took the time to comment on the first part of this story. I sincerely appreciate it. This is for everyone who asked for more. I wanted this to be a relatively simple story, with a resolution that didn't require chapter after chapter. We don't always get happy endings -- in life or in fiction. But I thought it made sense to have one here. I hope this chapter didn't disappoint, and I hope you'll let me know what you thought -- if you have the time and inclination to do so. :)
Thank you, as always, for reading. May you all have happy endings of your own.