You'll be pleased to hear that this chapter is a lot less harrowing to read that the previous instalments! It's still jam-packed with emotion, but it's predominantly of a fluffy variety :-) I'm not promising that it'll have the same kind of impact as Chapter 20 (thank you so much for all of your amazing reviews), but I think/hope that you'll like it nonetheless, because Brennan & Booth are moving closer - both figuratively and literally. Please let me know!

The alarm clock's ring was shrill and steadfast, and the cacophony was far from welcome. Booth jolted back to reality, extending his arm into the general vicinity of his bedside table and aimlessly slamming his palm down until eventually, silence prevailed. His partner stirred reluctantly into wakefulness, groaning in protest at the early morning wake up call. In fact… Brennan glanced around the bedroom, noticing that it was still swathed in darkness, and focused her bleary eyes on the clock's luminous digits. 5.40am. She reached up to flick on the bedside lamp so her partner could observe the full extent of her frown, looking inadvertently adorable as she squinted into the sudden brightness.

"Booth, I told you to set the alarm for 6.30am." Brennan knew that whining was a rather unattractive quality, but right now, she didn't really care.

Booth regarded her ruefully. "I know. But you also told me that you were going to have to hotfoot it back to your apartment to get ready for work, and I wanted to make sure that I had time to make you breakfast first."

"Making breakfast doesn't take 50 minutes, Booth," she grumbled, rolling her eyes and letting out a surprised squawk when her partner's arms lightly encircled her waist, lifting her backwards until her body was pressed flush against his own.

"And maybe I wanted to buy some snuggling time, too," he confessed, grinning sheepishly.

Temperance couldn't help but laugh, and she rolled over to regard her partner with twinkling eyes. "I'm afraid I'm not really much of a snuggler, Booth." She wasn't being facetious, either – on a working day, Temperance Brennan was not the kind of woman who lingered in bed.

Booth looked faintly amused by her admission. "Well, you'll learn, Bones. It's just like one, big, extended guy hug. And don't even try and tell me that you don't enjoy those," he teased, nestling against her and engulfing her in his warm embrace. It should have felt suffocating, but instead the word 'cosy' sprang unbidden into her subconscious. It wasn't a term that had ever infiltrated Temperance's vocabulary before, and she felt mildly disconcerted. Her stomach fluttered slightly when Booth's hand slipped below the hemline of her shirt, and she resisted the urge to shiver when he began lightly caressing the planes of her lower back. She was inwardly waiting for his hands to rove downwards, to slip beneath the waistband of the sweatpants he had given her to sleep in, but Booth's fingers continued to languidly play across the same spot, tenderly warming her bare skin.

Men didn't usually touch her in such a non-invasive manner and, on those rare occasions where she was afforded this kind of attentive affection, it was invariably in the hope of instigating sexual relations. However, when Temperance furtively glanced at her partner's expression, she was astounded to see that he looked perfectly at peace. Booth's eyes were closed and his lips had settled into a soft smile, and clearly his carnal instincts were well under control. She was used to seeking physical gratification from skin on skin contact, but whilst the sensation of being touched like this was undoubtedly pleasurable, this kind of comfortable familiarity - the fact that Booth could enjoy being close to her without demanding more - was something she had never experienced with anyone else before. It was both invigorating, and terrifying, and she found herself panicking slightly.

"So I'm just supposed to lounge in bed whilst you pet me like a cat?" she inquired wryly, and the hand that was driving her to distraction promptly stilled against her skin.

"Never mind, Bones. Clearly I need to work on my technique," Booth muttered, rolling away from her and pulling the blankets back up to his chin. "Just go back to sleep."

It didn't take long for Temperance to realise that she had inadvertently hurt her partner's feelings. Booth had created a foot of distance between them, and she felt compelled to bridge the gap by burrowing snugly against him. "Booth, I'm sorry," she murmured, directly into his ear. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I just…I guess I'm not used to this kind of intimacy. My previous lovers didn't tend to stick around for long and, for the most part, I didn't want them to. But this…" She gave him a gentle squeeze, relieved when he turned to regard her with understanding eyes. "This is different. This is nice. But I've been waking up alone for most of my life, and even when there was someone lying next to me, I never had this sense of… companionship before. It's going to take me a while to adjust." She paused, her brow furrowing. "I don't know if I'm explaining this very well, but you can understand what I'm saying, right?"

Booth nodded, gently smoothing his partner's hair away from her face. She was being open with him, and that was all that mattered. "Yeah, I can," he informed her, smiling when she settled her head against his shoulder. "It's weird for me, too, you know." Temperance glanced up at him, clearly waiting for him to elaborate, and he blushed slightly. "I've spent three years sitting on my hands, Bones, consciously trying not to get too close. Every time I saw pain in your eyes, I wanted to hold you and never let go. Every time you smiled, I wanted to squeeze your hand and tell you how beautiful you looked, and every time you and the squints had one of your genius breakthroughs, I wanted to kiss you for being so damn smart. Even when you were purposely driving me crazy, I wanted to distract you in ways that you couldn't even begin to imagine. But I was terrified, Bones," he confessed, staring at the ceiling. "I was terrified that one day, you'd notice the way I used any excuse to touch you, the way my hand lingered on your arm, or your shoulder, or your back. But what terrified me even more was that, most of the time, I couldn't help it anyway." He swallowed audibly, and shook his head in disbelief. "And now I get to wake up with you in my arms and I have to keep pinching myself to make sure that this isn't just another one of my torturous goddamn dreams. So yeah, it's going to take a while for me to adapt, too."

Bones was looking at him with an expression that was unfathomable in its intensity. "What?" he enquired anxiously, wondering whether he had said too much.

"I noticed, Booth," Brennan whispered fervently, tightening her grip on his waist. "I just didn't want you to stop."

Booth laughed, gently tracing the outline of his partner's ribs. "Well, I wish you'd told me that two and a half years ago, Bones."

"I don't," Brennan disagreed, hastening to explain when she saw the look on her partner's face. "Booth, part of the reason why I have such an appalling history when it comes to long-term relationships is because I find it very difficult to compromise my ideals. I'm a demanding lover, but once the novelty of sex wears off, I generally find that there isn't a lot left to cling onto. The longer I spend in a person's company, the less I have to say to them, and they invariably start to bore me with their superficial attempts at conversation and inane small talk. Admittedly, I don't help matters by being so reluctant to disclose personal information, but I've rarely found anyone worthy of opening up to. Most people don't understand me and are intimidated by my intelligence, and men have always been more concerned with my looks than my emotional needs. I have a very low tolerance threshold and it doesn't take me long to start noticing people's faults, and then they irritate me to the point of... " Temperance saw the look of alarm that was gradually working its way across Booth's features and she started to laugh, squeezing his hand. "Booth, relax. I was going to say that the past three years have given me plenty of time to assess our compatibility, and the results are highly favourable. I fell into my previous relationships without a lot of foresight and they were ultimately meaningless, but I want to be with you Booth, because I know our connection isn't something that could easily be severed. It's something we've cultivated over the course of time, and it's powerful enough for me to want to fight for."

"So I'm not going to bore you to tears and you're not going to dump me for falling short of perfection?" Booth clarified, his puppy dog eyes brimming with hope.

"That's precisely the point, Booth. I was aware of your faults from the outset and admittedly, all I noticed at first was how infuriating and ignorant you were…"

Booth feigned a look of hurt. "I'm sorry, is this supposed to be reassuring?"

"But then," Temperance interjected, poking her partner in the ribs, "As time went on, I came to realise that not only are you a very kind and considerate man, you're also immensely talented in your field and capable of maintaining stimulating – if occasionally immature – conversation." She smiled at him softly. "You don't bore me Booth, and you never have, which is quite an impressive feat considering that we've virtually lived in each other's pockets for the last three years. Admittedly, our work always gives us something fresh to talk about, but we spend a great deal of time conversing on a personal level and I find you equally as engaging in that arena."

"Well, that's good to know," Booth informed her, his cheeks flushing slightly. "Thanks Bones."

"I haven't finished yet," Temperance informed him, lightly stroking his stomach. "You're perceptive, and understanding, and an excellent listener. You're loyal, and trustworthy, and don't try to force me to be someone I'm not - but you're not mindlessly agreeable either. You're not cowed by my intellectual ability or intimidated by my achievements, and you're prepared to fight your corner, which I respect immensely." She saw Booth raise his eyebrows incredulously, and laughed. "I do! I wouldn't have learnt so much from you, Booth, if you were prepared to just sit back and defer to my superior wisdom. I accept that you excel in fields that I have absolutely no knowledge of, and that you're very intelligent in your own right."

"You're frankly scaring me now, Bones," Booth teased her, although inwardly his heart was brimming. His partner's rare praise was doing a lot to assuage his insecurities, and after the trauma of the last few days, he needed to hear it.

"I also think that you have an excellent sense of humour, and although a lot of people have commented on my sombre demeanour, you're one of the few people who can make me laugh. And God knows, I need that sometimes." Temperance sighed, glancing at the clock. 6am. "So what I'm essentially saying is that in those three years, I've grown to like you and admire you, and ultimately…" She trailed off, her cheeks flushing slightly. "Well, you know."

Booth feigned ignorance, raising his eyebrows quizzically.

Temperance sighed. "You're going to make me say it again, aren't you? OK Booth, I have grown to… love you. Are you happy now?" She couldn't help but smile at the look of delight on her partner's face. "And, even though I'm immensely looking forward to engaging in sexual intercourse with you, if the novelty does wear off – which I'm sure it won't, because you have all the qualities of an exemplary lover; your toned physique would suggest that you have a great deal of stamina and your attentive nature would imply that you are keen to meet the needs of others… and of course I find you extremely attractive - we still have a lot to work with." Temperance wondered why her partner had suddenly chosen to bury his head beneath the bedcovers.

"Booth?" She wrestled the sheets away from him, laughing when she saw how impossibly red he'd become. "Oh come on, we're in a relationship now and we still can't talk about sex?"

"Well, you know, I'm more a man of action than words," Booth countered bravely, although his ears were still burning. "And maybe I'd appreciate it if you didn't sound the death knell for our love-making before it's even begun."

Temperance started to laugh. "Come here," she instructed, grabbing the fabric of his vest and pulling him towards her. She met his intense gaze for a moment, running her fingers over his jaw line, and then pressed her mouth gently against his own. Booth's kisses were unlike anything she had ever experienced before. He was passionate without being demanding, and tender without being too restrained. The sensation was overwhelming, and this time, when his hands delicately worked their way beneath her T-shirt, she pressed closer to him, running her fingers over the sensitive flesh on the back of his neck and delighting in his subsequent groan. Booth was stroking her bare stomach in a way that made her transverse abdominals clench in approval and, when his hands returned to tease the skin on her lower back, she too, couldn't withhold a moan of appreciation, silently marvelling at his infinite dexterity.

Booth was trying exceptionally hard to control himself, but it wasn't an easy feat given that he had never attained quite this level of bliss before. God, Temperance Brennan was one hell of a kisser. Her lips were impossibly soft and malleable, but she didn't have any trouble conveying her underlying hunger. The awkwardness that he usually felt at the beginning of a new relationship was conspicuously absent – he didn't have to alter his technique to merge with hers, and there was no bumping of noses or clashing of teeth – they just came together effortlessly, as though their union had been preordained. His breath hitched slightly when Bones suddenly decided to part his lips with her tongue, and he allowed her access, humming his approval when she simultaneously thrust one of her legs between his own, arching into him with a satisfied smile. Their tongues had been flicking together lightly, but Brennan's sense of urgency was increasing exponentially, and she plunged her tongue into her partner's mouth, tightening her grip on his neck in the process. Booth met her stroke for stroke, fighting a losing battle with his mounting desire, but he froze when he felt Brennan flinch, almost imperceptibly. She quickly relaxed again, and immediately tried to re-establish their rhythm, but Booth placed his hands gently on her shoulders, slowly pulling away.

Brennan regarded him with anguished eyes, knowing he had perceived her involuntary reaction, and knowing he was far too chivalrous to overlook it. "Booth, I'm so sorry, it was just… instinctive, I guess." She ran her hands over his well-defined torso, feeling compelled to offer some kind of explanation. "When I… when he…" she trailed off, sighing in frustration. "You really don't have to stop, you know? I'm fine."

Booth shook his head, his eyes clouding with empathy when Brennan wrapped her arms around herself, lost in thought. Glancing ruefully at his swollen groin, he used a pillow to obscure his evident arousal before gently taking his partner's hand and pulling her smoothly into his lap.

"I'm sorry," Temperance whispered again, looking uncharacteristically ashamed, and Booth shook his head, tenderly cradling her against him.

"Bones, that was the most amazing, mind blowing kiss I've ever had," he admitted, giving his partner an affectionate squeeze. "Trust me, you have absolutely nothing to be sorry for."

Brennan was slightly mollified by her partner's generous words, but she was still unable to meet his penetrating gaze. "I don't want you to feel like you have to ask for permission to touch me, Booth." She gazed at her hands. "And I don't want you to think that this experience has made me… frigid… in some way. Because it really hasn't." She attempted a half-hearted smile. "I was enjoying that just as much as you were."

"I know," Booth reassured her, linking his fingers gently through her own. "But I also know that something I did made you think about that sick bastard and how much he hurt you, and I don't want to dredge up bad memories for you, Bones - even for a second. Seeing you like that yesterday…" Booth trailed off, fighting to keep his emotions under control, "Well, let's just say it's not an experience I ever want to repeat, and if I ever do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you have to tell me, OK?

"But you didn't do anything wrong, Booth," Brennan protested, regarding him earnestly. "I wanted you to kiss me like that." She smirked. "In fact, I wanted you to do a hell of a lot more than just kiss me…."

Booth blushed. "Bones! You saying stuff like that, is not helping with… stuff like this…" He gestured towards his lower extremities, and Brennan started to laugh.

The melodic sound was music to Booth's ears, and he cupped his partner's chin in his hand, regarding her with a soft smile. "But seriously, Bones, I've waited three years and I can wait a while longer. If you need some time to deal with this, you should take it."

"And watch you die of sexual frustration in the process?" Brennan countered, folding her arms. "Booth, words cannot begin to convey how infuriated I'll be if you start treating me like some kind of glass doll," she warned him, sighing with frustration. "The truth is, I don't know what's going to provoke the flashbacks and when they're going to occur. I had a brief recollection of Billy Marks grasping my jaw and forcing his tongue into my mouth, that's all. It wasn't pleasant, and at the time it was horrifying, but I will not allow my life to be governed by a completely illogical fear." She caressed her partner's face, regarding him affectionately. "I trust you, Booth. I know you're not going to hurt me, and you are by far the most considerate man I've ever known. I have no reason to fear you, and when I react in such a senseless manner, it's no reflection on your technique whatsoever. It's just a brief moment of irrational behaviour that you need to learn to overlook. And, given time, hopefully it'll subside."

"Bones, it's not irrational behaviour, OK?" Booth informed her, desperately trying to swallow his exasperation. "Any human being who has been through what you have is bound to experience some major psychological ramifications. And I know you hate psychology, Bones, but what that bastard did to you has got to have left some pretty deep emotional scars, and the flashbacks are just your brain's way of telling you that you need to acknowledge that fact. And I don't think they're going to subside until you do."

Brennan's slender form was becoming rigid with tension. "So what am I supposed to do, Booth? Just relinquish my grip on normality and succumb to the pain?"

Booth tightened his grip on her waist. "If that's what it takes for you to overcome it, then yes, Bones." He made a conscious effort to control his own emotions, knowing his partner's would always take precedence. "I know what happened out there, I got the cold, hard facts from Cullen and you were pretty blunt about dishing them out yourself." He felt her flinch away from him, and he pulled her closer, trying to prevent her anticipated retreat. "But you need to tell me how you felt, Bones. What you were thinking, how you were feeling…"

"How the hell do you think I felt Booth? I was terrified, OK? I thought I was going to die." Temperance regarded him with anguished eyes, but then she seemed to retreat into herself, held captive by the irrepressible brutality of her memories. "I couldn't breathe… he kept throwing me to the floor without giving me enough time to replenish my oxygen supply… I kept trying to get up and run, but my airways felt like they were constricting and my legs weren't functioning properly because the chloroform had attacked my central nervous system… my vision was hazy and I didn't know where to go because everything looked the same. I fought back, Booth, I fought so hard… but he was just… he was too strong. He pinned me down and his knee was pressing against my thoracic diaphragm… he was so heavy… I couldn't inhale properly and even though I was already gasping for air, it didn't deter him from sticking his tongue down my throat. There was nothing I could do. It's the first time in my life that I've ever felt completely powerless. His hands were like shovels… I couldn't turn my head away from him because he was crushing my jaw… licking my face… biting my lips… forcing my mouth open with his filthy fingers… I started to gag, because the smell of him… the taste of him… it was so unspeakably vile… I felt like I was suffocating, Booth. I couldn't breathe. And then he started rubbing himself against me and I realised how much my helplessness was exciting him and I felt… I felt… "

Booth's heart leapt into his throat when Bones faltered, visibly hyperventilating. He hadn't wanted to interrupt his partner's horrific account of her ordeal, knowing that any kind of reaction on his behalf could feasibly stun her into silence, but now he wasn't sure he knew what to say. However, when Bones pushed her way out of his embrace, attempting to flee the implications of her impromptu revelations, he leapt to his feet, placing his hands firmly on her shoulders.

"Bones?" Temperance was staring steadfastly at the floor, and he wrapped his arms around her rigid physique, pulling her close. "You don't need to go anywhere, OK, because I've got you."

His words seemed to act as some kind of catalyst, and when Brennan burst into tears for the second time in as many days, clutching him tightly and crying convulsively against his shoulder, Booth tried to convey through the power of touch alone just how much he cared about her.

"You were wrong," she stated decisively when her heaving sobs had finally abated.

Booth's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "About what?"

"Rehashing the experience didn't accomplish anything. Telling you all that didn't make me feel any better, Booth." Her expression evolved into one of self-loathing. "It just made me look like some kind of weak, tainted victim."

"You're kidding, right?" Booth shook his head in disbelief. "Bones, we all feel overwhelmed at times. It's OK to cry, you know? Everyone does it. Even hard-assed alpha males like me are not beyond blubbing like a baby every now and again." He gave her a wry smile. "One day I'll take you to Happy Hour and you can see for yourself. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on sometimes and everyone gets scared, Bones. It doesn't matter if you want to curl up in my lap and bawl your eyes out every night for the next six months, you will still be one of the strongest and bravest people I know. I've learnt a lot over these last three years, too," he informed her, smiling softly. "So, Temperance, tell me why a woman who believes that society shapes our behaviour has such a problem with acting like everybody else every now and again?"

Brennan flushed, unable to form an adequate response. "I just don't want you to treat me any differently than you usually do," she eventually confessed, and Booth grinned mischievously.

"Well, technically speaking, I don't usually kiss you, so I guess I should just quell that urge right now…"

A smile was slowly starting to work its way across Temperance's features. "You're a pain in the ass, Booth."

"But you love me anyway, right?" Booth's ever-expanding grin was promptly cut short when Temperance wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him into another searing kiss. His instinct was to err on the side of caution, and he met her lips tentatively to start with, whimpering in protest when his partner pulled away, giving him a warning look.

"Booth, if you hold back I'm going to kick your sorry ass," Temperance informed him with deadly seriousness, watching her partner's eyes widen in surprise.

"Um… does that mean you want to, um…"

Temperance laughed at his misapprehension. "Not unless you want our first sexual encounter to be over in ten minutes? I'm working to a time frame here, Booth. It's 7.15 already, so just kiss me, for God' s sake."

Ten minutes later, Booth was stepping into a very cold shower, but even that wasn't enough to eradicate the huge grin that was fixed to his face – quite possibly on a permanent basis.

Temperance had been informed that she wasn't allowed to leave her partner's apartment until he had made her breakfast, and she sporadically glanced at the clock, drumming her fingers with mounting impatience as she waited for him to emerge from the bathroom.

'If paradise is half as nice as the Heaven that you take me to, then who needs paradise, I'd rather have you… OH YES I'D RATHER HAVE YOU… la la la la…la la la la….'

Temperance burst out laughing, her agitation instantly forgotten. Her partner's singing wasn't especially tuneful, but the sentiment and conviction was certainly there. She inched towards the bathroom door, snorting when Booth launched into another rousing rendition of the Amen Corner classic, and she could barely contain her laughter for long enough to holler through the crack in the door:

"You know Booth, I think that constitutes blasphemy!"

There was silence for a moment, and then she heard her partner emit something that sounded suspiciously like a guffaw. She started to chuckle again, her eyes shining with a tenderness that her partner wasn't able to see.

"I love you, Seeley Booth," she whispered, and even as she swallowed the lump in her throat, her smile didn't falter.