Well, here we have it, my longest one shot to date. I pulled an all-nighter for the first time since I was a student and worked for eighteen hours solid on this one. My muse is a fickle beast who thinks nothing of deserting me on a day-to-day basis, so I harness her whenever I can... Does that sound kinky? Because it wasn't supposed to. Anyhow, please help to soothe my frazzled nerves and bring the spark back to my tired and bloodshot eyes by sending some feedback in my direction :-) That was really quite shameless, wasn't it?
NB - I'm aware that Cullen disappeared off the face of the planet quite some time ago, but he was the only one of Booth's bosses I ever really learnt the name of... well, unless you're counting Kirby, but he wasn't faring too well last time I saw him! So please excuse the artistic license.
If he was as hard-nosed and as task-oriented as he liked people to believe, Deputy Director Cullen would have been seething that Booth had made the dire and wholly uncharacteristic mistake of allowing a prime suspect to slip through his fingers. Like any Agent with an iota of intelligence, Booth knew you could pretty much guarantee that if a guy fled in the opposite direction when you flashed your badge, he had something to hide. Of course, they weren't going to find out what that something was anytime soon, because the guy in question had, when cornered, proved willing to fight tooth and nail for his freedom - another sign of latent guilt. Jeremy Myers, despite packing a lot of extra padding, had proved to be deceptively spry. He was never going to be able to outrun an Agent who was the star of his high school football team, but he hadn't had much difficulty in handing Booth's ass to him - on a plate, with plenty of elaborate garnish. Which was why Cullen's anger was currently being tempered with empathy. When backup had finally arrived at the scene, they had discovered a bruised and bloody Booth slumped in an alleyway, breathing erratically and clutching his ribs with what little strength he had remaining. He had stomached several forceful punches from a decidedly meaty fist, and when he had finally crumpled to the floor in defeat, Myers had delivered a pitiless round of well-placed kicks to ensure that Booth wasn't in a position to pursue him. The Special Agent had been rushed to hospital, and although he had clearly wanted to cuss at the injustice of it all, he was too spent to do anything but mumble a barely coherent apology. The paramedics said he was lucky to have escaped a concussion, although Booth was renowned amongst his buddies for having an exceptionally thick skull. After his gun, his head was his weapon of choice.
Cullen couldn't absolve himself of blame, either. He'd known that Myers, with a rap sheet as long as Elle McPherson's legs, was potentially dangerous, but he'd stupidly assumed that the ex-con would feel compelled to be co-operative given his chequered history. Apparently not. He should never have allowed Booth to undertake the mission alone, even though he had personally forbidden him to take that squinty partner of his along for the ride. This wasn't a murder investigation, and her presence wasn't warranted. It's not like Dr Brennan would have been much use anyway – Booth had frequently commended his partner's proficiency when it came to hand to hand combat, but all Cullen saw was a slender, delicate looking creature who quite clearly belonged in a lab, not grappling on the streets. Bad things happened when Temperance Brennan was around - Booth very rarely took a hit prior to her arrival, and then suddenly he was getting blown up by household appliances, tortured by deranged murderers and shot in karaoke bars. Cullen often marvelled at the fact that Booth was still walking around with all four of his limbs intact, but that probably had something to do with his goddamn stubborn streak. Lesser agents would have booked off a couple of weeks to recover from the events of this afternoon, but not Seeley Booth. Cullen had just received a call from a disgruntled Nurse, informing him that his favourite Federal Agent had, much to the Doctor's alarm, prematurely discharged himself from the hospital after a superficial once-over. He could appreciate that Booth would much rather nurse his wounds in the privacy of his own home, but he wasn't about to let the headstrong Agent endanger his welfare and hinder his recovery. He needed someone to keep a watchful eye over him and, knowing that he lived alone and was unlikely to swallow his pride enough to ask for anyone's assistance, Cullen decided to procure a little TLC for him. That's if the woman in question was even capable of providing such a thing. With a grim smile, Cullen reached across his immaculate desk and removed the receiver from its cradle, rifling through his personal organiser in a bid to find the number of a certain forensic anthropologist.
Earlier on that morning, Brennan had retrieved another set of remains from limbo, and she was currently in the process of piecing together a young male of around 18-20 years of age who was looking increasingly likely to fit the profile of one Private William Thacker, who had been killed by enemy fire during the First World War. Never one to jump to conclusions, Brennan wanted to be sure that all of the preliminary markers she had identified were supported by more substantial evidence, and she was so engrossed in her task that it took her several moments to acknowledge the persistent ringing of her cell phone, despite the fact that it was vibrating against her hip. She was usually so absorbed in her task that an unsuspecting bystander might have mistakenly assumed she was in a state of catatonia – her concentration only ever seemed to waver in the presence of her partner, and usually only because Booth was prone to making such outlandishly exaggerated attempts to gain her attention that it would have proved impossible to ignore him. She hated unwelcome interruptions, and sighed in exasperation upon realising that the caller showed no signs of giving up. She wrenched off her latex gloves, reaching into the pocket of her tailored pants to retrieve the offending object.
"Brennan," she huffed, making no effort to hide her displeasure.
"Dr Brennan, it's Deputy Director Cullen."
Brennan's brow furrowed in confusion. Although they had developed a grudging respect for each other over time, especially after she had initiated and helped to solve the case that had ultimately resulted in the untimely death of his daughter, Cullen wasn't in the habit of making personal calls. "What do you want?" she demanded tersely, without preamble.
Cullen was silent for a moment, and then placed his hand over the mouthpiece whilst he chuckled quietly. It had been several months since he'd had any direct dealings with Dr Brennan and he had forgotten how abrupt she could be. Still, he wasn't overly fond of exchanging forced pleasantries with people, either, so he decided to overlook her attitude and cut to the chase. "Dr Brennan, I'm afraid I have some bad news. Agent Booth was involved in a violent altercation with a suspect this afternoon and – "
"Where is he?" Brennan was struggling to grasp the rationale behind why two relatively short sentences had the power to make her hands shake, her sweat glands kick into overdrive and her stomach twist into painful knots. The attentiveness she had previously invested in her work was instantaneously forgotten, and she didn't even register that she was leaving William Thacker unattended on an autopsy slab as she quite literally sprinted towards the exit, only stopping to grab her purse on the way out. She didn't notice the anxious looks she received from her colleagues, or the fact that she had neglected to shed her lab coat. Instead, a thought sprang unbidden into her subconscious. Oh God, please no. Not again. She wondered whether that desperate entreaty was simply a turn of phrase, or if it constituted a prayer of sorts.
Cullen was taken aback by the change in the anthropologist's tone. The question was still startlingly direct, but the faintly veiled ire had been replaced by raw anguish, and as he registered Dr Brennan's shallow breathing, he realised this work-obsessed woman had already dropped everything to quite literally run to her partner's side. "Dr Brennan, I'm so sorry, I probably didn't phrase that in the most eloquent of ways. I didn't mean to cause you any unnecessary alarm. Agent Booth took quite a beating and he's no doubt in a lot of pain right now, but he's already checked himself out of the hospital and he's not in a critical condition. I can't envisage him having gone anywhere else but straight back to his apartment."
"But how did he get home? He didn't call me," she whispered, and for the first time since she had picked up the phone, Brennan felt a pang of something other than unbridled panic. Booth was injured, he needed help, and he hadn't even considered turning to her in his moment of need. The realisation was like a slap to the face, and it stung accordingly.
Cullen was trying to remain professional, but hearing the pain in the anthropologist's tone – something that was completely contrary to her usually stoic demeanour - he couldn't resist offering a few words of reassurance. "I don't think he called anyone, Dr Brennan, aside from the cab company. He's probably too busy licking his wounds and nursing his ego. He seemed to be vaguely embarrassed by the whole ordeal, so I really wouldn't take it as a personal slight. I just thought you'd like to be made aware of the situation, that's all."
"Well… thank you for notifying me," Brennan said, in a rare display of tact.
Cullen blinked a couple of times in surprise, and then smiled. "You're welcome. You might want to try and persuade him to go back to the hospital. He should really be staying there overnight."
"OK," Brennan agreed, fumbling awkwardly in her bag with one hand as she attempted to find her car keys. "I guess I'd better go now."
"Good luck," Cullen said jovially, knowing that the sentiment would probably perplex her. However, he had the distinct impression that the attractive anthropologist would soon discover precisely why he had uttered those two words.
Brennan's concern had amplified tenfold after three failed attempts to get in touch with Booth. His cell phone kept ringing straight through to voicemail and she had never known him to have it switched off before, regardless of the circumstances. When she finally pulled up in front of his apartment complex, silently marvelling at the fact that she had escaped the attention of the traffic police owing to her aberrantly excessive speeding, she didn't bother knocking. Instead, she reached underneath the rock where she had first discovered his spare key, on that fateful night when she had experienced the sudden impulse to storm into his apartment unannounced. At the time, she had been consumed with the need to berate him for not telling her that his death had been little more than an elaborate ruse and that she had endured the agony of his loss for nothing. At least, that had been her intention. In reality, she had vented her frustration with regard to the former but conveniently whitewashed over her grief in relation to the latter.
Booth didn't need to know that she had cried herself into a fitful sleep every night for two horrific weeks, that she had consumed more alcohol in that time frame than she probably had in a lifetime, and that one night she had stood precariously close to the edge of her balcony and allowed herself to wonder if her life had any meaning at all without him in it. If she had done as Booth had instructed at her father's trial and listened to her heart, she might have considered the merits of following in Howard Epps' footsteps and releasing herself from the perpetual torment that had captured her in its unrelenting grasp, because it was slowly sucking the life out of her anyway.
The fact that she finally had her father and Russ back in her life, the fact that there was a small group of people who valued her existence… none of that mattered, because she only wanted Booth. She had lost the one person – the only person – who she needed to stay. Still, as always, logic prevailed and she came to the conclusion that leaping to her so-called salvation would undermine everything she had ever strived for. She wanted to be remembered for her achievements, not for succumbing to a whim of self-pitying romanticism. She had lived without hope before Booth appeared in her life, and she would learn to do so again. The shock of realising that she wouldn't have to undergo that painful process should have left her feeling nothing but relief, but instead she was consumed with anger and betrayal because all she could remember was the suffering she had endured - for no viable reason. Booth could rise from the dead a thousand times over, but it would take a true miracle to relieve her of that burden.
Cullen's phone call had clearly dredged up memories she was trying to repress, and she had to take a moment to remind herself that Booth wasn't about to give up on her again. She mentally steeled her resolve and was pleased to find that, contrary to what her partner had claimed, he hadn't removed the key from its original position. Now, with a certain feeling of deja vu, she eased open the door to Booth's modest apartment. Only this time there was no music to drown out the sounds of her arrival, so she mustered as much stealth as she possessed and crept into his living room. With a feeling of trepidation, she peered over the edge of his couch and, sure enough, Booth was flopped out on the well-worn cushions, dead to the world and clad in little more than his boxer shorts. His torso was covered with an array of pre-packed frozen vegetables and she couldn't decide whether to be disgusted or amused when she saw the slab of steak that was resting across his cheek bone and partially covering his left eye. Brennan knew the pain must have been bad if Booth was willing to sacrifice a prime piece of sirloin to deaden the affect.
"Booth," she called, loudly. Her partner's eyes began to flicker, but they didn't open, so she increased the volume exponentially. "BOOTH!"
Booth's eyes flew open and he jumped several feet into the air, crying out in pain as he was rudely jerked into wakefulness. The frozen vegetables slipped off his stomach, revealing extensive bruising that was almost black in its intensity, and soggy green peas began spilling out of the small perforation he'd made in the top of the bag the other night, falling into a haphazard pile on his carpet. The steak had slipped downwards and was now covering his mouth, and he spat out his protests until Brennan, trying desperately hard to contain her laughter, gingerly reached out to remove it.
"You know Booth, raw meat has no healing properties whatsoever. Are you actively trying to contract E-coli poisoning? Or are you idiotic enough to believe the so-called merits of old wives' tales?"
Booth was momentarily preoccupied with vigorously wiping his mouth, and waited a couple of seconds before treating his partner to the full intensity of his glare. "Yes, Bones, I want to die of E-coli poisoning and be put out of my fucking misery, OK?"
"I can see you're not in a very hospitable mood," Brennan countered, scowling. "Would you like me to remove the peas from your carpet?"
"I don't know. Don't you think the beige would look great with a hint of green?" Booth sighed when he saw the contemplative look on his partner's face. "I was being sarcastic Bones. What the hell are you doing here, anyway? And why are you still wearing your lab coat?"
"Cullen called and asked me to take you back to the hospital," Brennan informed him, neglecting to mention that she had been crippled with concern and that checking her appearance had been the furthest thing from her mind. Her eyes revealed her true intentions, though, as they flitted anxiously over his battered body, rapidly trying to assess the extent of his injuries. She wanted to poke and prod, to run her hands over the contusions and see how serious the swelling was, to determine if the bruises were radiating heat and whether her partner's ribs were cracked, but she consciously held back. Her hands trembled slightly as she knelt to pick up the peas, and she inwardly willed herself to hold it together.
"Look Bones, you may as well go home, because I'm not going anywhere, OK?" Booth was pouting like a petulant three year old, and Brennan had to bite back the urge to reprimand him for his puerile antics.
"Why?" she asked, trying to sound curious, rather than exasperated.
"Because the Nurse was manhandling me with all the grace of a gorilla and the pudding tastes like shit."
Brennan frowned. "Are you being sarcastic again?" she ventured.
Silence descended for a moment. "I could take you to another hospital, Booth."
"I don't want to go to another hospital. I'm fine where I am. End of discussion." Booth's tone was becoming increasingly terse.
"So you're just going to stay here and lick your wounds?" Brennan demanded, ignoring the intensifying glint of annoyance in her partner's swollen eyes. "That's what Cullen said you were doing. At first I thought he was being literal. I know the practice is common amongst animals – especially those who are feral in nature, but I'd never heard of humans engaging in such uncivilised behaviour. Then it occurred to me that he was probably utilising a metaphor, although now I've seen you with a slab of raw meat on your face, I think I might have had it right the first time around." She snorted amusedly at her own joke, but Booth was far from impressed.
"Look Bones, I'm really not in the mood to listen to your crap tonight, OK?"
The venom in his tone took Brennan aback and, although her defences were instantly riled, she couldn't stop tears from welling in her furious eyes. She blinked them back angrily, ignoring the tightness in her chest. "Fine, I'll go. I mean, you obviously never wanted me here in the first place or else you would have called me to come and pick you up, instead of some virtual stranger, right?" Brennan busied herself with picking up the scattered remains of the frozen veg, and she gently laid the bags that were still sealed on top of Booth's chest so he wouldn't have to bend down to retrieve them. "I hope you feel better soon."
Booth knew that tone. It was the kind of tone Bones adopted when she was trying desperately hard not to succumb to tears. He realised how scathing his remark must have sounded and instantly hated himself for hurting her feelings. "Bones… hey." He reached out to clasp her forearm as she moved away from him, and somehow found the strength to pull her back towards him again. "I'm sorry, OK? I'm in a foul mood and I shouldn't be taking it out on you. I'm just… mad… you know?" He saw her expression, and shook his head. "Not at you. I'm mad at myself for letting that bastard get away. I still can't believe he got the jump on me like that. I never expected him to be so tough to take down – I got complacent, and I guess I paid the price." He trailed off, sighing. "I'm just not used to the bad guys getting one up on me, you know? And the only reason why I didn't call you was because I didn't want you to worry over a few bruises."
"This is more than a few bruises, Booth." Brennan relented in the face of her partner's honesty, and sank down into a nearby armchair. "Why didn't you ask me to come with you today?"
"Cullen told me there was no way to justify bringing you on board because it wasn't related to any of our current investigations." Brennan raised her eyebrows and even though this particular operation was being kept relatively under wraps, he knew he could trust her with the information. "We thought the guy was part of a drugs cartel supplying inmates in several penitentiaries with heroin – it wasn't a murder investigation or anything. Cullen just wanted me to help out because our caseload's been quiet this week." He regarded her tenderly. "But I'm not going to lie. I'm glad you weren't there, Bones. I'd feel a hell of a lot worse than I do now if it was you in this predicament."
Brennan decided to overlook her partner's brief moment of sentimentality. "So you don't mind if I stay?" she verified, hoping her tone didn't sound as hopeful to Booth as it did to her.
"Look Bones, I don't want you to feel obliged to play Nurse, but yeah, you can stay if you want. I'm always happy to have you around. In fact, I feel better already." He gave her his customary cheesy grin, but it looked less charming and more grotesque because of the bruises that were marring his otherwise perfectly proportioned face.
Brennan nevertheless smiled back. "You know Booth, you really shouldn't beat yourself up about what happened today – "
"No, I think Myers did a pretty good job of that himself," Booth interjected, attempting a feeble laugh that only succeeded in making him wince.
"No-one is invincible, Booth. You have a remarkable record when it comes to overpowering suspects, but Cullen should never have sent you out there on your own. This isn't your fault," she reassured him, willing him to believe her, "And I'm sure the FBI will catch this 'Myers' man eventually, especially after what happened today. I get the feeling they don't like seeing one of their own dragged down. Cullen was very concerned about you when I spoke to him."
Booth snorted noncommittally, but he gave her a tender smile to emphasise that he appreciated her efforts to restore his pride.
"Did you bother to hang around at the hospital for long enough to get some painkillers?" Brennan inquired wryly. "Because I imagine over-the-counter analgesics aren't going to be especially effective."
"Yeah, they're in that bag over there." Booth lifted his arm somewhat limply, gesturing to the coffee table.
Brennan retrieved the brown bag in question and removed the medication – Booth had been supplied with both Ibuprofen and Tramadol tablets, although she personally thought he deserved something stronger. "When did you take the last batch?"
"Well, I got in at about 1pm and necked a couple of Ibuprofen, but I've been dozing on and off for most of the afternoon so I haven't taken any since."
"OK, well you should be ready for your next dose now, then." Brennan hastily found her way around her partner's kitchen, letting the water run cold before rinsing her hands and filling a glass to the rim. She returned to the living room, once again struck by how uncharacteristically vulnerable Booth looked. "Here."
"Thanks, Bones." Booth obligingly took the water and watched his partner's deft fingers free two Tramadol tablets from their foil enclosure. She made to place them in his palm, but then hesitated, frowning.
"You've been touching raw meat," she clarified, bringing the tablets directly to his mouth instead. "Open up," she instructed quietly, her fingers resting softly against his lips. Booth tried desperately hard to ignore the intimacy of the moment, but he couldn't stop his cheeks from flushing slightly when she slipped the tablets gently into his mouth, and he was even more surprised when she tenderly traced his bruised cheek with her thumb. It took him several moments to register the chalky taste of the tablets and he made a valiant effort to sit up and sip the water, but to little avail. Seeing his plight, Brennan hesitantly wrapped an arm around his bare shoulders to support his weight and he smiled gratefully before taking a long swig of the water. "Thanks Bones." He was inwardly surprised by her awkward but gentle attentiveness, and grinned wryly. "I must look like hell, right?"
"Well, you've definitely seen better days," she conceded, before breaking into an amused smile. "And you smell like a Sunday dinner."
Despite his best attempts to restrain himself, Booth started to laugh at the analogy. "Well, everyone loves their meat and two veg, right?" He attempted to wiggle his eyebrows suggestively, but it hurt too much, and he reasoned that Brennan was unlikely to understand the innuendo anyway. His suspicions were confirmed shortly thereafter.
"Why would you say that? You know I'm a vegetarian."
Booth just shook his head, his grin expanding still further, and Brennan rolled her eyes, knowing she had missed yet another one of his obscure references. "You must be hungry?" she ventured, and Booth nodded vehemently.
"I'm starving. I haven't eaten since this morning, and I think I threw up most of my breakfast in that goddamn alleyway." Booth grimaced in distaste, recalling the punch to the gut that had made him unbearably nauseous.
Brennan tried not to show how affected she was by this particular piece of information. "I could fix you something, if you like?"
"Nah, Bones, you don't have to do that. Just grab my wallet off the table and ring for some takeout. Thai?" he asked, and they shared a knowing smile.
"How about I make mac and cheese instead?"
Somewhere beneath the myriad of bruises, Booth's face lit up and he tried desperately hard not to sound regretful when he said, "I don't think I have the ingredients, Bones. Besides, I don't want you to go to any trouble."
"It's no trouble," Brennan reassured him quickly, and then frowned at herself for the completely irrational thought that followed – namely that she would have gladly flown to the moon and back to give her partner a glimpse of happiness right now. "You must have a convenience store around here somewhere? I can go and get what I need - it won't take me long."
"Well, there's one a couple of blocks away, near the intersection, but seriously Bones – "
"I'll be back soon," Brennan announced, picking up her purse and heading towards the front door before Booth could protest any further.
Booth smiled to himself as the door slammed shut, marvelling at how much better he felt already, and he knew that wasn't just because the painkillers were taking their effect. Bones had the uncanny ability to ease him out of a funk, even when he was completely entrenched in self-pity. And she didn't even have to do much; her presence alone was enough to make his defeatist mood evaporate, a simple smile offered him an untold amount of comfort. He allowed himself to daydream for a moment, mentally replaying how hard it had been not to kiss the small hand that had, only a matter of minutes ago, softly stroked his cheek with what appeared to be shyness, although that wasn't an emotion he ever thought he would associate with his forthright partner. The sensation of Brennan's fingers delicately parting his lips was something he wasn't going to forget in a hurry, although he cringed when he considered how he must look with the bloody residue of the steak streaking across his battered face and the less than fragrant dew from the frozen vegetables pooling on his chest and stomach. He figured if Bones was going to be staying for most of the evening, he should at least have the decency to put some goddamn clothes on. He had caught his partner staring at his mottled chest with vaguely concealed consternation, and he knew she didn't need a constant reminder of his mortality. So, with all the eagerness of a sloth waking up from a long nap, he eased himself off the couch and half-walked, half stumbled towards the kitchen, depositing the remnants of the frozen vegetables and the foul-smelling steak into the garbage disposal unit. He ran the water until it was steaming hot, ignoring the stinging of his raw knuckles as he soaked a cloth in some antibacterial liquid and scrubbed his leather couch with as much vigour as he could muster. Then he made his way into the bathroom, ensuring the shower's nozzle was turned to its least abrasive angle and somehow managing to stand upright for long enough to endure a cursory wash. The last of his monumental tasks was drying himself without exerting too much pressure on his ravaged physique and then donning some baggy sweatpants, but the effort left him flagging with exhaustion and he couldn't resist collapsing onto his bed afterwards.
That was where a highly alarmed Brennan found him fifteen minutes later. She gently stroked his arm in an effort to wake him and he obligingly opened his eyes, blinking up at her with a sleepy smile that conveyed the depth of his feelings a little too clearly.
"You're a terrible patient," she informed him wryly, before giving him an indulgent smile. "But you smell a hell of a lot better now."
"I aim to please," Booth mumbled, his eyes shining expectantly. "Did you manage to get what you wanted?"
Brennan smiled. "Yes, the store was very well stocked. I also got you a proper ice pack because I was less than impressed with your improvisational skills. I've put it in the freezer but you're going to have to wait a while for it to cool to a sufficient temperature."
"Thanks, Bones." She began to shrug off his gratitude, so he captured her hand, squeezing it softly. "Really."
"You're welcome." Brennan blushed slightly under her partner's appraisal, and then cleared her throat. "I'm going to make a start on dinner, so you just stay here and rest, OK?"
Booth was about to argue that he had been resting just fine a moment ago, before she intentionally woke him up, but he decided against it, simply nodding in response. He had to laugh, though, when Bones roused him from yet another peaceful slumber, this time to inform him that dinner was ready, but that if he wanted to 'carry on sleeping' she would be happy to re-heat it for him later. He shook his head amusedly, happily inhaling the delicious aroma that was permeating his apartment.
"It smells way too good for a raincheck, Bones."
Brennan wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but she was able to infer that Booth wanted his dinner sooner, rather than later. She knew he would be incapable of sitting at the table for the duration of the meal, so she fluffed up his pillows and helped to ease him into a sitting position, placing a cushion on his lap and returning a few moments later with a steaming plate of mac and cheese and the requisite cutlery. Booth knew he was going to start salivating if he didn't tuck into his partner's speciality soon, but he frowned when Brennan disappeared from the room and showed no signs of returning.
"Whatcha doing, Bones?" He hollered curiously.
"Eating," Brennan replied, her voice conveying her puzzlement at the seemingly redundant query.
"Aren't you going to eat in here with me? There's plenty of room." Booth frowned when no response was forthcoming, but then broke into a grin when Brennan appeared in the doorway, carrying her own plate and looking uncharacteristically flustered.
"Isn't that a little uncouth?"
Booth laughed, and then grabbed his plate as it began swaying dangerously on his lap. "Well, I think the etiquette police would forgive you if it means keeping an injured man company."
Brennan hesitantly settled herself against the headboard, and Booth shifted slightly to give her more space, somehow managing to spill a few pieces of macaroni onto his bedspread in the process. He picked them up, licking his fingers before sheepishly placing them onto the corner of his plate.
"Do you want me to get you a bib?" Brennan inquired, her eyes twinkling, and Booth gave her an indulgent smile.
"Trust me, the rest of this will be landing firmly in my mouth. It looks great, Bones." Booth took a generous forkful and savoured every second of it. "It's even better than I remembered. You could be a gourmet chef, you know that?"
"Macaroni and cheese hardly constitutes a gourmet meal, Booth," Brennan objected, though her eyes were shining with pleasure at his praise.
"Well, it may as well be. This is just what the doctor ordered."
"I'm sure the doctor didn't advise you to consume a meal that is renowned for being excessively high in both carbohydrates and fat, Booth," Brennan retorted, and was surprised when Booth began to laugh.
"It's just an expression, Bones, that's all. You say it when you come across something that makes you feel better."
"Oh." Brennan rolled her eyes at her own ignorance, shrugging slightly. "Well, I'm glad you're feeling better, but please don't feel obliged to eat it all. Your appetite is bound to have been adversely affected by today's events."
"Are you kidding?" Booth had already devoured half the contents of his generously heaped plate. "I hope there's still some left in the pan, Bones, because I'm going to want seconds."
Brennan's face fell. "I'm sorry. I used it all up. You can have some of mine, if you want?" She held out her plate, and Booth gave her an affectionate smile, shaking his head.
"No, this is plenty, really." Brennan started to object, and Booth firmly pushed her plate back towards her. "I'm not going to steal your dinner, Bones. I just meant I can't get enough of your cooking, that's all. This is truly amazing."
Brennan had to smile at Booth's ability to delight in the simplest of things. It was an almost childlike quality, but she found it endearing nevertheless and she often found herself wondering how her partner had managed to retain his playful streak. Booth had clearly suffered more than his fair share of pain and had seen firsthand the many horrors this cruel world had to offer, but he hadn't become cynical. Sometimes she longed to see things from his perspective, and she was secretly delighted at how willing he had been to help her try.
They ate in silence for a while, and true to his word, Booth cleared his plate long before Brennan did.
"Do you still have room for dessert?" she inquired, and relished the way her partner's eyes shone with enthusiasm.
"I always have room for dessert, Bones."
Temperance nodded, and gently removed the plate from her partner's lap, returning a couple of minutes later with two boxes in tow.
"Take your pick."
Booth eyes flitted between the top-of-the-range cherry pie and the equally expensive chocolate pudding, and for a moment he was too choked to speak. "Wow, you got my favourites," he eventually concluded, smiling up at his partner with watery brown eyes. "I'm touched Bones, I truly am."
Brennan inexplicably found her own eyes welling with tears, and she bowed her head slightly as she blinked them away. "I aim to please," she eventually whispered, echoing her partner's earlier words, before waving the boxes impatiently. "So, which one do you want?"
"Well, after much deliberation, I think it's going to have to be the chocolate pudding," Booth announced. He knew his partner didn't like cherry pie, which made the fact that she had bought it for him all the more considerate, but he wanted to select something they would both enjoy.
As Brennan once again disappeared into the corridor adjoining his bedroom and the kitchen, Booth found himself wondering whether his partner was getting sick and tired of waiting on him hand and foot and running back and forth like the Duracell friggin' bunny. Still, she wasn't showing any visible signs of annoyance when she re-emerged to hand him yet another plate, and this time she didn't wait for an invitation before sinking onto his bed alongside him.
"This is really nice," she murmured, humming her approval around a spoonful of chocolate pudding, and Booth made sure he was looking directly into her eyes when he uttered his reply.
"Yeah, it is."
They stared at each other for a moment, and Booth wondered whether Brennan had caught his hidden meaning. She seemed relatively unaffected as she continued to take dainty bites of her dessert, but he nearly choked when she suddenly made an unexpected inquiry.
"Would it be all right if I slept in Parker's room tonight, Booth?"
Brennan was expecting a simple yes or no, but Booth's curiosity momentarily threw her for a loop. "I just want to make sure… well, you know… I want to be here if you need anything," she clarified, wondering if she had revealed too much.
"Bones, you've been taking care of me all night, and I've loved every minute of having you here, but God knows you must have better things to do than play nursemaid to me." Booth shook his head, tentatively reaching out to lay his hand on top of his partner's much smaller one. "I don't want to take advantage, because you've already done more than enough. I'll be fine, really."
Brennan rolled her eyes, but she turned her hand over until her palm was facing upwards and gently took her partner's hand, lightly chafing his bruised knuckles with her thumb. "Booth, you're not coercing me into staying. I want to, OK? You'd do the same for me."
Booth couldn't argue with that. "OK, Bones, if you really want to, you can stay. There's some fresh bed linen in the drawers under Parker's bed and I'm pretty sure there's a new toothbrush in the cabinet, which you're welcome to. Do you have any of your stuff with you?"
Brennan shrugged, shaking her head. "I figured I could just borrow one of your shirts to sleep in."
Booth hoped his gulp wasn't audible. "Yeah, sure." He gestured to his wardrobe. "Take your pick. And if you want a shower or anything, just help yourself to my toiletries. They might not leave you smelling quite as good as you usually do, but they serve their purpose." Oh shit. Did I just tell her that she smells good?
If Brennan noticed his faux pas, she didn't acknowledge it. "OK, thanks." She gestured towards the door. "I'm going to go and wash up, just call me if you need anything."
Booth was about to protest, but his partner disappeared before he even had the opportunity to open his mouth. He knew she worked tirelessly in the lab, but he didn't expect her perfectionist streak to extend to the domestic realm as well. Lulled into semi-consciousness by the sounds of running water and clanking pans, Booth allowed himself to fall into a restless sleep, and awoke an hour later to find his fresh faced partner placing a glass of water and some pills onto his bedside table. He was rendered momentarily speechless as he took in the sight of Bones in all of her unadulterated glory. Even without the fancy clothes, well-groomed hair, elaborate jewellery and expertly applied makeup, Brennan was effortlessly stunning. There was only one thing marring her flawless appearance, and he started to smile as his eyes fixed on the dollop of moisturiser over her left eyebrow that she had clearly neglected to rub in properly.
Brennan hadn't meant to wake her partner and was thankful that the bed was obscuring her bare legs from view. She felt uncharacteristically self-conscious as Booth appraised her, and when he started to grin in amusement she lowered her head in embarrassment.
"Do I look that bad?" she ventured, trying to conceal her hurt beneath the guise of humour.
Realising that Bones thought he was laughing at her minimalist appearance, Booth neglected to put his brain in gear before blurting out, "No! You look beautiful." However, seeing his partner's shocked expression, he knew he had to recover quickly. "My moisturiser is clearly working wonders already," he added hastily, gesturing for her to lean closer towards him. "Come here."
Temperance looked perplexed. "Why?"
"Bones, don't argue with me, I'm an injured man. You're going to have to get a little closer than that," he protested, feebly extending his arm in a bid to demonstrate that his reach wasn't at its full capacity. He subconsciously held his breath as Bones edged suspiciously towards him, and then he deftly swiped away the glob of moisturiser on her brow, letting his fingers linger against her cheek for a fraction longer than necessary.
"Hey!" Brennan exclaimed, regarding him with confusion, but her expression cleared when he held out his finger for her inspection.
"You know, this moisturiser cost a fortune Bones. I can't have it going to waste." Booth grinned, and thoughtlessly began rubbing the cream into his own injured cheek, secretly delighting in the notion that something which had been so close to Bones' lustrous skin was now a part of his own. Then his cheek started to throb violently, as though to punish him for his wayward thoughts. "Ow, shit, that stings."
Brennan tried desperately hard not to laugh, but she couldn't resist and began to chuckle intermittently. "Well, what do you expect, you idiot?"
"I forgot about it, OK!" Booth exclaimed defensively, although once the stinging had abated he was quick to join Bones in her now uproarious laughter. It was so rare to see his partner succumbing to a fit of the giggles that the novelty of her radiant smile never seemed to wear off. Eventually though, Brennan regained her composure, and she laid an affectionate hand on her partner's forearm.
"It's late, Booth. I'm going to bed now, but don't forget to shout me if you need anything, all right?"
Bones was regarding him with such an earnest expression that Booth started to grin all over again. "OK Mom, I will," he teased, but he promptly sobered up when he saw the concern in his partner's gaze. "I promise."
"Night, Booth." Brennan's hand lingered on his bedside lamp and, knowing she was wearing his shirt and little else, Booth wanted to cry at the injustice of it all when she plunged the room into darkness before he got a glimpse of her legs.
"Night Bones," he whispered, and when he was sure that his partner had closed the door behind her, he risked mouthing 'I love you' into the inky void.
Three hours later, Booth was debating whether to ignore the sliver of light that suddenly appeared in his doorway. He was faintly amused to realise that Bones had come to check on him in the middle of the night. It was so uncharacteristically maternal of her, and she was obviously under the impression that he was sound asleep, because there was no way she would dare to display this kind of attentiveness otherwise. He felt a surge of both guilt and affection when it occurred to him that she must have been lying awake for hours, worrying about him for no good reason, and she had obviously felt compelled to seek reassurance by making an impromptu visit to his bedroom. He inwardly debated whether to reveal that he was, in fact, awake – he didn't want to embarrass her, but she had lingered in his doorframe long enough for him to realise that something was really bothering her. Eventually, his curiosity won out.
"Bones, why are you skulking around my apartment in the middle of the night?" He kept his tone light, but his brow furrowed with concern when he heard her draw in a breath that was half gasp, half sob. "Are you OK?"
"I'm fine," she replied, a little too quickly. The quality of her tone was, as always, assured, but Booth didn't fail to notice that it wavered slightly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," she apologised, biting her lip.
"Nah, don't worry, you didn't. I think I overdid the napping this afternoon and now I can't sleep."
"Me either," she whispered, and Booth strained to catch a glimpse of her face in the darkness.
"What's on your mind, Bones?"
Brennan shook her head, and then realised that Booth couldn't see the gesture. "Nothing. I'm going back to bed, OK?"
Booth heard her begin to inch away from the doorframe, and shouted, "Wait!" with a little too much vehemence.
Temperance froze, her features awash with alarm. "Why? What's wrong? Are you in pain? I can get you some more Tramadol if you want?"
Booth's eyes melted when he heard the panic in his partner's tone. "Whoah, slow down Bones. I'm fine. Really. I was just going to ask if you wanted to keep me company for a while?"
"I…" Temperance hesitated, contemplating what exactly the request would entail. Booth had a preternatural sixth sense where she was concerned, and she knew that if she spent much longer in his presence, he would easily be able to detect that she was on the verge of tears. Still, having spent the last three hours contemplating all of the horrific ways that Booth could be wrenched away from her, she had vowed never to overlook an opportunity to spend time with him again. When he flicked on his bedside lamp and squinted at her with heavy-lidded eyes, patting his bed in invitation and treating her to a sleepy version of his charm smile, she steeled her resolve and smiled back with as much sincerity as she could muster.
Booth couldn't help but notice that his baggy T-shirt had barely succeeded in covering Brennan's thighs, and he forced himself not to fixate on the smooth expanse of bare skin gracing her toned legs as they advanced tentatively towards him. He was grateful that the capacious black material wasn't actively drawing his attention to her other (many) attributes, because he was pretty sure that a certain area of his anatomy was supposed to be remaining in repose for the next few days. Noticing the goose pimples that dotted his partner's otherwise flawless skin, and the shiver that suddenly ran the length of her spine, he decided to take a chance and flung back his bedcovers, inviting her to climb beneath them.
"Come on, get in. It's freezing out there."
"Are you sure?" Temperance sounded somewhat doubtful, and Booth gave her an encouraging smile.
"Yeah, come on, Bones. I'm not going to bite. Although I think there might still be a couple of pieces of macaroni lying around, so you might want to watch out for them. They're kind of gooey."
Temperance smiled at her partner's attempt to ease her apprehension and obligingly clambered into his bed, gathering the covers around her and instantly feeling suffused in warmth.
"So, do you want to tell me why all the running around you did earlier hasn't worn you out yet?" Booth ventured, painfully aware of the anguish in his partner's eyes.
"I was just thinking, that's all," Temperance offered, somewhat noncommittally.
Booth discreetly rolled his eyes. It was like trying to get blood out of a stone sometimes. "What about?" he inquired softly, knowing that chipping away at his partner's stoic composure was a gradual process.
Booth raised his eyebrows. He hadn't expected his partner to be so forthright, but Temperance Brennan was a master of revealing a lot by saying very little.
"I'm OK, Bones," he reassured her, forcing conviction into his tone. "You don't need to worry about me. I've taken worse hits than this and I'm still standing."
Temperance visibly flinched, and he cursed himself for his inadvertent allusion to that fateful night five months ago. His partner's captivating azure orbs focussed on his, and they were shining with a torrid mixture of pain and anger.
"You should have called me."
Booth mistakenly thought she was referring to their age-old argument about why he had neglected to personally inform her that his 'death' was little more than a well-choreographed stunt. He opened his mouth in an attempt to exonerate himself for what seemed like the thousandth time, but Temperance seemed to sense what he was thinking and shook her head.
"I meant today, Booth. You should have called me today."
"I should have," Booth easily conceded, "And I wish I did. I don't think I could have gotten through today without you, Bones." Hesitantly, he fumbled under the bedcovers until he found his partner's hand, relieved when she seemed to welcome the gesture. "You're everything I could ever want in a partner, and a whole lot more, but can't you understand why I wanted to protect you from this? You don't sleep nearly enough as it is and it kills me to know that you've spent three hours lying awake for no good reason, because I was too stupid to duck and dive when some meathead was swinging his fists at me."
"You really don't get it, do you?" Temperance inquired softly, searching his face for some hint of understanding. "I lie awake every single night, Booth. Because every time I try to close my eyes, all I can see is that woman. I keep hearing that gunshot, over and over in my head, and I have to watch you falling to the floor right in front of me, knowing that you're never going to get up again." Temperance could feel the tears welling in her eyes, but for some reason, she seemed to have lost the ability to staunch them. They streaked down her cheeks in torrents, and she covered her face with her shaking hands in an effort to conceal them from her partner's view. "I can't lose you again, Booth," she whispered brokenly, choking on a sob that she tried desperately hard to repress.
"Bones…" Booth had been left shaken to the core by his partner's admission, and he reached for her instinctively, attempting to draw her into a warm embrace. Temperance shook her head vehemently, visibly retreating as she hastily wiped away her tears.
"I don't want to hurt you."
"Temperance, you're not going to hurt me, OK?" Impulsively, Booth pulled off his loose-fitting T-shirt, finally allowing his partner to see the full extent of his injuries. He gestured to the crook of his shoulder, which was one of the few patches of skin not marred by extensive bruising, and then to the lower plane of his stomach, which had also managed to escape any noticeable affliction. "You can put your head here," he gestured to his shoulder, "And your arm here, and I promise, I won't feel a thing." That wasn't strictly true, but right now Booth was beginning to understand the merits of the pleasure/pain theory.
Temperance finally allowed herself the opportunity to properly examine her partner's battered torso, and the tears started anew as she delicately traced the outline of each and every contusion. Booth seemed to have little control over his muscles as they twitched appreciatively in response to her gentle ministrations, but he kept perfectly still, somewhat embarrassed to find his own eyes welling with tears when Temperance concluded her lengthy examination by pressing her lips against the bright pink scar that proudly marked the spot where he had taken a bullet for her five months ago. She kissed it softly, several times, and Booth could feel her hot tears trickling down his torso. He reached out to capture her chin in his palm, initiating possibly the most intense eye contact they had ever shared.
"Bones, I promise you that as long as there is a breath left in my body, I will never, ever, leave you." They both felt the gravity of his statement, and Booth studied his partner's expression until he was sure that his heartfelt declaration, and all of its implications, had sunk in. He drew his partner into his arms, cradling her close, and this time she didn't resist. As her sobs died down and eventually ceased, Booth decided it was time for some much-needed levity.
"I'll always be there for you, Bones," he whispered, gently caressing the small of her back, "Even when you're sick of the sight of me. And if some psychotic stalker decides to shoot me and I don't make it the next time around, I promise to haunt your sorry ass until you're begging a priest to perform an exorcism, OK?"
His words had the desired effect. They somehow managed to break through Brennan's logical boundaries and make her convulse with laughter, and Booth felt like this was the moment he had been waiting a lifetime for. Bones remained wrapped in his arms for longer than he had ever dreamed possible, and when she finally pulled away, he felt the loss as though it was a palpable entity.
"I should go back to bed and let you get some rest," she said, her tone laced with regret.
Seeing her reluctance, Booth decided to take a chance. "I don't know, Bones, I was pretty comfortable where I was," he confessed, regarding her hopefully. Brennan was visibly torn, so Booth made the decision for her, ignoring his body's protests as he gathered her back into his arms and eased them both into a position of repose. "If you don't want me to leave, you're going to have to learn to stay, Bones."
"Why? Because you're the person I'm meant to spend the rest of my life with?" Brennan ventured hesitantly, her tone audibly shaking with nerves. Booth was relieved to feel that her heart was beating almost as erratically as his own.
"I am if you want me to be, Bones."
"I think…" she trailed off, smiling softly at her sudden epiphany. "I think I always have."