Oh God, this was gruelling. I still can't believe the volume of readers this fic has amassed, and the pressure increases exponentially with every chapter – especially as I know you all had such high expectations for this update in particular ;-) Hopefully I fulfilled them. I might have to take a few days off to recuperate, though LOL.

I continue to be astounded by the amazing response to this story, and I can't thank you enough for all your words of encouragement. Please keep them coming!

"So… do you want to… I mean, are we going to… you know… share again tonight?" Booth stammered, gesturing weakly towards his sleeping bag as a recently-showered Brennan proceeded to strip down to a fresh set of long johns. "Oh God, my eyes!" he teased, peeking through the gap in his fingers to appraise his less-than-amused partner. "Are you planning on working your way through every colour of the rainbow before we leave, Bones? Exactly how many of those things did you bring with you anyway?"

"Enough," Brennan retorted acerbically, "And there are seven colours in the optical spectrum Booth - none of which are black."

The figure-hugging two-piece, while still far from glamorous, was a lot more complimentary than the bland grey ensemble that Bones had sported yesterday. In fact, she looked stunning in her simplicity, and Booth watched, transfixed, as his partner poured a liberal amount of green-tinted moisturiser onto her small hands, smearing it evenly over her flawless features. The lotion's divine smell quickly permeated the confines of the tent, and Booth was mesmerised by the rhythmic pattern of Brennan's delicate fingers as she kneaded the cream into her lustrous skin.

"What is that gunk made of, Bones? Cucumbers?" he asked, and she nodded, regarding him warily.

"Why? Would you like to make a sarcastic remark about that, too?"

"No," he countered wryly, "It just… smells really nice, that's all."

Brennan's lips quirked a little, and she impulsively reached out to daub some of the moisturiser onto the bridge of her partner's nose. "Here, have some," she teased, and Booth squawked in protest, wiping off the offending splodge with his thumb and promptly spreading it over his partner's forehead.

"Nah, I don't need any girly potions to keep me looking good, Bones. I was just blessed that way."

"Blessed?" Brennan rolled her eyes. "You do know that your prevailing features have nothing to do with an imaginary entity's grand design and everything to do with your genes, right, Booth?" The question was rhetorical, but Booth opened his mouth to object regardless.

"Bones, how many times do I have to tell you to show a little respect for my – "

"And don't try and tell me that you don't have a skincare regimen when you clearly preen and pamper yourself on a daily basis," Brennan interjected, holding out a hand to ward off her partner's protests.

"Soap and water, Bones," Booth informed her with a cocky grin, "Soap and water."

Brennan made a show of studying her partner's countenance, picking up the torch and shining it in his face until he wrestled it out of her hands. "I suppose that would explain the deteriorating condition of your epidermis," she conceded with feigned solemnity. "As we get older, our collagen levels start to deplete and our skin loses its elasticity. You already have quite prominent furrows here," she gently traced the arch of his brow, "and here," she concluded, her fingers roving over the expansive crow's feet encircling her partner's eyes, which promptly narrowed in outrage.

"OK, so first I'm a crippled geriatric and now I'm Freddy Kruger? You're really not good for a guy's self-esteem, Bones." He negated to mention that his partner's soft touch more than made up for her impertinent observations.

Brennan looked confused for a moment, and then shrugged. "Well, it's really not difficult to appeal to your sense of vanity, Booth. It appears to be quite pronounced." She took no heed of her partner's affronted expression, and ploughed ahead regardless. "Angela has a variety of theories about men who wax their chests," she informed him, quirking an eyebrow pointedly in his direction.

"Bones, I've spent a lot of time honing this physique, OK? I don't want it covered in a blanket of fur. And from my experience, women prefer…" he trailed off, shaking his head. "You know what? I'm not even getting into this conversation with you."

"I don't know why you're getting agitated, Booth. You're right, I personally prefer torsos that aren't encumbered with hair… although I imagine the friction could be quite pleasurable in some instances; especially when rubbing against my - "


Brennan obligingly closed her mouth, pulling on her pyjamas and fighting the urge to smile when her partner heaved an aggrieved sigh. Then she impulsively pounced on his backpack, triumphantly emerging with a toiletry bag that was considerably larger than her own compact vanity case. "I knew it," she announced gleefully, her laughter intensifying as Booth engaged in a tug of war with her in an attempt to preserve his dignity.

"You really have no concept of boundaries, do you, Bones?"

"There is a moisturiser in here, isn't there?" she demanded unrepentantly, and Booth was so enchanted by his partner's burgeoning playful streak that it took all of his willpower to maintain his outraged façade.

"Yeah, well clearly I need to try a different brand," he muttered darkly, his lips twitching slightly at the corners. "These lines are full of character, OK, Bones? They enhance my charisma."

Brennan snorted, her eyes twinkling. "Whatever you say," she murmured noncommittally. "It's not like you have to worry anyway, Booth. You're a man. Society has a far more tolerant attitude towards your flaws."

"Now you're just being cruel," Booth remarked piteously, cultivating a wounded expression.

"Well, you said it hurts to look at me," Brennan retorted, folding her arms petulantly.

"You're a sight for sore eyes, Bones, not an eyesore," Booth assured her, sending a beguiling grin in his partner's direction until she shook her head in resignation, ducking her head to hide her smile.

Brennan began brushing out the kinks in her hair, surreptitiously studying her partner as he hastily donned a pair of loose-fitting sweatpants and shed his sweater in favour of a T-shirt. Her heart was already pounding its approval, and its pace increased dramatically when Booth clambered into the right hand side of the double sleeping bag and patted the space next to him invitingly.

"So, are you coming to bed, honey?" he teased, and Brennan regarded him as though he had temporarily taken leave of his senses.

"You know, we actually have a five-point lead now, so sharing a tent isn't even imperative - let alone a sleeping bag," she informed him bluntly.

"Oh, yeah. Well… OK." Booth swallowed his embarrassment and struggled to contain his disappointment as he reluctantly shrugged his way out of the sleeping bag he had just shimmied into. "You should take the double with you, though. It's still pretty cold out there."

"Yes, it is, which is why I think it would be advisable for us to continue sharing regardless. Even if it's not strictly a… necessity… anymore," Brennan reasoned, her cheeks turning a vivid pink in the process. "Your feet seem to be highly susceptible to the cold and I – "

"You're sticking around to be my personal foot warmer, Bones? I'm touched, I truly am," Booth interjected, plonking his feet unceremoniously onto his partner's lap and grinning when she pushed them aside in disgust.

Brennan didn't fail to notice Booth's wince as he manoeuvred himself back into the confines of the sleeping bag, and she regarded him pensively for a moment, until he pitched a sock at her head to draw her out of her reverie. She tossed it back at him, hitting him squarely on the nose and bursting into laughter when he hurled it back towards her, bouncing it off her forehead. They grinned at each other inanely, until Booth's mirth gradually evolved into curiosity.

"What were you thinking about before?" he asked softly, and Brennan gave him an enigmatic smile.

"I was thinking that we finally appear to have a moment to ourselves," she confessed, almost shyly, and Booth was captivated by the flush that suddenly suffused her features.

"Yeah, we do," he agreed lightly, studying his partner with perceptive brown eyes. Bones was evidently weighing up her options, and his heart constricted a little when he saw the uncharacteristic uncertainty in her conflicted expression. "Bones, you know you don't have to look for a get-out clause, right? If you were just… joking around… earlier, that's OK," he ventured softly, and Brennan glanced at him sharply.

"It sounds like you're the one who's searching for a get-out clause, Booth."

He shook his head violently. "No! I just…" he hesitated, deciding to proceed with caution, "Look, it's not like you even specified what you had in mind, so I just wanted to make it clear that I don't… you know… have any… expectations or anything."

Brennan watched him squirm for a moment, and then her eyes began to glint mischievously. "But you were the one who asked for a reward in the first place, Booth," she reminded him pointedly, "So surely you must've had some notion as to what you wanted it to be?"

Booth stared at her for a moment, his Adam's apple bobbing prominently in his throat. "Yeah… well… I…" he trailed off, heaving a plaintive sigh, and decided for probably the millionth time since meeting this infuriatingly perfect woman that voicing his true feelings wasn't worth the risk. "Just… never mind, OK, Bones?"

He sank onto his side, rolling away from her incisive gaze, but not before Brennan realised that sadness and disappointment were vying for control of his countenance. She cursed her innate inclination to overanalyse - to seek clarification when it was clearly superfluous to requirements. Booth was trying to be chivalrous, and she'd purposefully made him uncomfortable because she couldn't contend with her own insecurities.

She tapped him gently on the shoulder. "Sit up and turn around," she murmured, and Booth appraised her suspiciously.

"What? Why?"

"Because I asked you to. After what I had to endure yesterday, the least you can do is show a little trust, Booth."

"I…" Booth moistened his suddenly dry lips as he absorbed the low cadence of his partner's tone, "What exactly are you planning to do to me, Bones?"

"Turn around and you'll find out," she insisted, hastily wriggling into her own sleeping bag to ward off the cold. Booth's gaze was penetrating in its intensity, and when he finally pivoted to face the back of the tent, Brennan found herself swallowing apprehensively.

Her hands were trembling faintly as she scooted closer, easing down her partner's sleeping bag until it pooled around his waist. Goose flesh instantly rose on Booth's bare, well-muscled forearms, and she rubbed them lightly in a bid to instil some warmth, but only succeeded in eliciting a shiver.

"Bones…" Booth's voice was hoarse as his partner encircled his waist from behind, her palms travelling the length of his torso until they settled just below his shoulders. Her touch wasn't explicitly provocative, but that didn't stop his crotch from tightening appreciatively in response. The fabric of his T-shirt was relatively thin, but the cold stopped registering when Bones pressed her chest flush against his back, the fullness of her breasts settling tantalisingly between his shoulder blades.

"Just relax," Brennan whispered, and her warm breath caressed the nape of his neck, forcing him to shift slightly to accommodate the growing protrusion in his thankfully capacious sweatpants.

Then he was being jerked backwards and tugged upwards simultaneously, and he let out an agonised yelp when his back wrenched in protest, emitting an aberrant grinding sound.

"Now that's just not fair, Bones," he groaned, as he was pitched forwards and pushed unceremoniously onto his stomach. The sleeping bag wasn't especially effective at cushioning his arousal as Brennan rested her hands firmly against his hips, forcing his pelvis against the floor of the tent until he had to purse his lips to keep from crying out in relief. Bones used her considerable strength to twist his torso towards her chest, pinning his arm behind his back in the process, and Booth grunted when his beleaguered body once again voiced its objections.

"Maybe you should consider a change of career, Bones," he ground out through gritted teeth, "You could've made a killing as a professional wrestler. You could even keep 'Bones' as your stage name, because you know, you'd be pretty good at breaking them," he concluded as sickening crunch reverberated around the tent.

"You're not telling me that you actually watch that gratuitous, contrived excuse for a spectator sport?" Brennan demanded distastefully.

"No, I'm telling you that there's a reason why chiropractors haven't been accepted by the medical profession," he whimpered, feeling his partner's stomach heaving slightly as she shook with silent laughter. Then, she forced his back to attain another awkward angle, and Booth hissed when her bony knee dug into the base of his spine.

"No pain, no gain, Booth," Brennan teased, her fingers settling lightly against her partner's neck to stop him from shaking his head furiously while she continued to manipulate his limbs.

"You know, that's the slogan of sadists, Bones, and the fact that you even know that expression – well, it worries me," Booth informed her earnestly, sighing in relief when his partner's hands lightly patted his back to indicate that she had finally decided to release him from his torment.

"Come on, you can't tell me that doesn't feel better," Brennan cajoled, and Booth muttered something incomprehensible under his breath, turning to face her experimentally. His partner's brutal ministrations had undeniably alleviated the pressure centred in his lower back, and the perpetual twinge that had been plaguing him seemed to have vanished without a trace.

"OK, so there appears to be a method behind your madness," he conceded begrudgingly, his lips curling into a smile as he observed his partner's slightly flustered demeanour. Brennan regarded him attentively for a moment, waging some kind of internal war, and then nodded almost imperceptibly.

"I've corrected the misalignments, Booth, but I could loosen the muscles for you, too… if you want?"

Booth's eyes narrowed slightly. "I think I've been tortured enough for one night, Bones. Show some mercy."

"No… I…" Brennan hesitated, looking uncharacteristically shy, "I think it would fall more within the realms of a 'nice relaxing massage.'"

Booth swallowed audibly. "Bones… you don't have to…."

"No, it's fine… I…" Brennan sucked in a cleansing breath, before clearing her suddenly dry throat, "Take your top off and lie down again," she said decisively, indicating that he should re-assume a prostrate position.

Booth stared at her for a moment, and then pulled off his T-shirt, lying on his stomach and resting his head against his forearms. "God, it's cold," he muttered, getting some measure of relief from the icy air when Bones shuffled towards him and settled herself at his side. She blew on her hands to warm them, and then tentatively reached out to knead the unyielding flesh encompassing her partner's broad upper back. Booth flinched slightly, clearly expecting to suffer through another agonising regime, but Brennan stroked her palms lightly over his shoulders until he relaxed into the languid rhythm of her ministrations.

"OK?" she enquired softly, hoping that her shallow breathing wasn't easily discernable. Contrary to her facetious assertions, her partner was in exemplary physical condition, and watching Booth's firm muscles twitch and contract in response to her touch was almost as alluring as the feel of his sleek skin rippling beneath her fingers.

"Mmm," Booth murmured in the midst of a contented sigh. The heat of his partner's touch warmed him from the inside out, igniting a fire in the pit of his stomach that rapidly dissipated the cold-induced tension coursing through his rigid physique. The pleasurable sensation radiated through his limbs, and he was lulled into a state of catatonic bliss as Bones soothingly, but skilfully manipulated his taut muscles until they willingly succumbed to her capable hands. He shifted slightly in deference to his lingering erection – the one part of his anatomy that wasn't lying in a state of peaceful repose.

"You're amazing, Bones," he mumbled, and Brennan smiled softly, running her thumbs along the length of his spine and gently smoothing the bunched skin outwards in an expansive circular motion. Her eyes roved over the myriad of scars that were littering Booth's otherwise unblemished skin, silently cataloguing their placement and probable origin. The disfigured tissue came in all shapes and sizes. The small, round, light pink scar just above Booth's right kidney had clearly been inflicted by a bullet; whereas the puckered, blistered tissue near the bottom of his lumbar curve was reminiscent of a third-degree burn. Its precise dimensions suggested that a white-hot metal rod had been pressed against Booth's epidermis for an excruciating period of time, and the deep-seated damage led Brennan to believe that his captors had meted out the punishment on more than one occasion. There were two jagged scars to the right of T5 and T6, probable knife wounds, and the faint diagonal lines running across the span of his upper back and shoulders were remnants of what must have been a brutal whipping. It was clear that Booth had suffered for survival on several occasions, and Brennan's chest constricted painfully as she traced - with trembling fingertips - the vestiges of his harrowing past.

"I'm sorry," she whispered hoarsely, "I'm sorry I never asked you about – "

"Bones, there's no use in dredging up old wounds, OK?" Booth stated in a blunt tone.

"But if you ever wanted to talk…" she offered tentatively, her hands momentarily stilling against her partner's spine.

"You'd be the first person I'd turn to," Booth assured her softly. When Bones didn't voice a response, he rolled over to appraise her, surprised to find her lost in a melancholy reverie.

"Come on, Bones, cheer up," he murmured, gently tucking an errant stand of hair behind his partner's ear.

Brennan sighed, regarding him apologetically. "I just… I don't like the thought of you hurting like that, Booth."

"It's in the past," he reiterated firmly, and for a moment his eyes seemed to darken, but then a lazy smile gradually worked its way across his features. He tapped his partner lightly on the knee. "Trust me, Bones, I am in a very, very happy place right now," he assured her, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

"I take it that means you want me to continue?" Brennan asked wryly, unable to stop herself from bursting into laughter when Booth nodded enthusiastically, rolling over with all the eagerness of a puppy waiting to have its tummy tickled.

Brennan obligingly resumed her gentle massage, momentarily fascinated by the motion of her partner's ribcage as he breathed steadily in and out. His respiration slowed considerably as she continued to knead and coax his muscles into acquiescence, and the realisation that she was bringing some measure of peace to a man who had clearly spent too long at war made her heart swell with an indefinable emotion.

"Is it OK if I…" she trailed off, hovering above him, and Booth grunted his assent before she'd even finished voicing her request. Loath to shed her sleeping bag, Brennan was relieved to find that the constrictive fabric offered just enough leverage for her to straddle the span of her partner's hips. She did, so, gingerly, and was grateful for the abundance of material between them as she became acutely aware of the wetness pooling between her thighs. She rested her weight lightly against her partner's haunches, biting back a moan when the fleeting pressure only served to exacerbate the ache of desire that was making her painfully sensitive to Booth's proximity. It didn't help that Booth was making little noises of appreciation in the back of his throat; a primal sound that was all too evocative of… more intimate situations.

Brennan had never been one to let her imagination run away with her before, but as she continued to caress the smooth planes of her partner's powerful physique, she couldn't help but wonder how it would feel to explore every facet of his anatomy… with her hands, and with her mouth. If this was any other man, Brennan would have no qualms about putting her wayward thoughts into action, but this wasn't just about satiating her biological urges anymore. She and Booth had established a bond that transcended the parameters of all her previous relationships, but it was a bond that was ultimately indefinable. They were more than just colleagues; he was the best friend she'd ever had, but sometimes it felt like they were on the cusp of something extraordinary; something that could shatter her jaded beliefs and banish the loneliness that continued to gnaw at her in the wake of her failed relationships.

Denying the existence of that desperate longing was no longer an option, but determining whether it was reciprocated was more problematic. Booth sometimes made elaborate speeches that shook her to the core, speeches that extolled the merits of things she'd never experienced before. She didn't know whether her partner was playing Devil's Advocate and taunting her with the knowledge of what she could never have, or suggesting that he could be the one to change her perspectives.

Brennan weathered Booth's sentimental observations about how she was special, about how she deserved someone who could show her that love and monogamy were practicable options - and sometimes, during rare moments of whimsy, she wondered whether they could be construed as romantic overtures. But Booth had once preached about professional boundaries, about how some people shouldn't sleep together because there was too much to lose, and when she considered the desolate void in her life after Booth's supposed death, the thought of losing him again – of shattering the sanctity of what they already had – stopped her from taking that leap of faith.

Booth's own self-restraint only reinforced her temperance; he was a red-blooded alpha male and, from Brennan's experience, such men didn't hesitate to act on their sexual impulses. Booth had never been proactive about claiming her as his territory – he made petulant displays of possessiveness when she had a man in her life, but they seemed to be rooted in his misguided need to protect her, rather than jealousy. Why would he continue to watch her fumble her way through superficial relationships if he wanted to offer her something more meaningful?

Of course, yesterday's confession had confused her. Booth seemed to be insinuating that he was living in a state of self-imposed celibacy because he couldn't compromise his ideals. Of course, he hadn't expressly stated whether she was that ideal, but surely, if that was the case, he would have confessed to his feelings a long time ago? Then again, Booth was Catholic - prone to abstinence in the face of uncertainty; someone who would rather torture himself with the 'what-ifs' than take a reckless course of action. After all, he had tried to attain his ideal with Rebecca and failed – admittedly, through no fault of his own, but Brennan knew that she was more high maintenance than Booth's former girlfriend. The last four years had served to illustrate that she and Booth had diametrically opposed views on pretty much everything. Fifty percent of marriages ended in divorce, and that was when the individuals concerned harboured delusions of compatibility, so the statistical probability of their relationship succeeding was nominal. Brennan knew that it still hadn't shattered Booth's faith in the storybook notion of happily ever after, but as an atheist, she also knew that her partner's faith was often misplaced. It was idiotic of her to hope for something beyond the realms of possibility, but she couldn't explain why the thought of abandoning that dream caused hot tears to well in her eyes.

Booth was suspended in the realms of semi-consciousness when the first bead of moisture hit his back. It registered somewhere amidst his haze of contentment, but it wasn't until the second droplet streaked down the hollow of his spine that he realised something was amiss.

"It's a little cold to be working up a sweat, Bones," he deadpanned, his features furrowing with concern when he heard his partner's strangled laughter.

Brennan shuffled away from him as hastily as her sleeping bag would allow her to, swiping furiously at her eyes before Booth inevitably whirled around to face her. "I think that maybe… maybe I should sleep in my own tent tonight," she asserted, fighting to keep her tone even as she hastily shoved her meagre belongings back into her backpack.

"What? Why?" Booth demanded, hastily pulling on his T-shirt and reaching out to clasp her fumbling hands before she had chance to zip the compartment shut. He heard the barely perceptible hitch in his partner's breathing and grasped Brennan's shoulders, forcing her to face him. His stomach churned when he saw the tumultuous mixture of raw emotions in her downcast eyes, but Bones cringed away from him when he settled a finger beneath her trembling chin.

"Please don't touch me, Booth," Brennan stated flatly, and he shook his head in bewilderment.

"Bones, I don't understand. What did I do?" he pleaded, his tone laced with anguish.

"It's more a case of what you didn't do," she informed him bitterly, only exacerbating his confusion.

"OK, you're gonna have to be a little bit more explicit here, Bones, because right now you're talking in riddles." Brennan merely regarded him disdainfully, and so Booth scurried ahead of her, blocking her exit. "I'm not letting you go until you tell me what's wrong," he informed her bluntly.

He was expecting a litany of protests, or maybe even a punch in the gut, but nothing could have prepared him for the look of wild-eyed fury on his partner's face as she whirled around to face him.

"What am I to you, Booth?" she demanded tersely, and even though her voice was quiet in deference to their fellow campers, the lack of volume did nothing to detract from the urgency of her tone.

Booth stared at her for a moment, his mouth opening and closing in silent shock as Brennan studied him expectantly.

"How can you ask me to be explicit and accuse me of speaking in riddles, when you deliberately make it hard for me to understand your intentions?" she railed, pointing at him accusatorily. "I mean, you said that our personal and professional lives shouldn't intersect; you said that there was a line we could never cross, but you don't treat me like a colleague, Booth. The things you've done for me, the way you look at me sometimes I just… I don't understand," she concluded desperately, her distress increasingly evident.

Booth regarded her sheepishly. "Bones, I…"

"No, let me finish," she interjected, raising her hand warningly, "Because I am sick of your constant stream of contradictions, Booth. One minute you're telling me that there are some people you should never sleep with, because there's too much at stake, and then the next minute you're looking at me with your puppy dog eyes and telling me to be open to the prospect of everlasting love." She shook her head despairingly, heaving a frustrated sigh. "And it doesn't stop there. A few months ago, you said that you were sexually active, that you 'do fine,' and then yesterday you informed me that you've been living like a monk for the past two years. So at this stage, I'm not sure whether the prominent erection that was tenting your sleeping bag when you turned around was because you find me sexually alluring, or because you've been deprived of female company for so long." Brennan took a small measure of satisfaction from the flush that suddenly spread across her partner's features.

"Bones, for God's sake, keep your voice down," Booth hissed, immediately regretting his choice of words when he saw the hurt clouding his partner's features.

"Well, if that's all you're concerned about, I suppose I have my answer," Brennan retorted acerbically, promptly reaching for her backpack and moving to unzip the tent with trembling hands.

"Bones, wait!" When his partner didn't heed his request, Booth reached out to haul her retreating form towards him, and his heart constricted when Brennan turned her head away from him in a futile attempt to conceal the rivulets of tears streaming down her cheeks. "Hey… hey…" he murmured, as she struggled violently against him, eventually acquiescing to his superior strength and slumping in defeat. He wrapped her tightly in his arms then, cradling her against his chest, and he inwardly decried his idiocy when he felt her shoulders begin to shake with silent sobs.

"Bones, I'm so sorry," he murmured, burying his face into the crook of her neck. "I tried to tell you, to show you – "

"But I'm not equipped to read the subtext in your allegorical speeches, Booth," Brennan choked out, "You talk about the beauty of making love and saving yourself for the right person - the one you're meant to spend the rest of your life with - but you never say who that is, and I... I just want you to stop skirting around the issue and tell me the truth."

Booth cupped her chin in his hand, forcing her to assume eye contact. "You mean everything to me, Bones. Everything, OK?"

His voice was gruff with repressed emotion, and even in the murky torchlight, Brennan could see that his eyes were shimmering with unshed tears. She sucked in a shuddering breath, and then reached out to tenderly stroke his cheek, smiling a little when he pressed a kiss into her palm. "Then why – "

"Because I was scared," Booth admitted, no longer afraid of the repercussions. "I was scared that you didn't feel the same way, and I was terrified of ruining what we already have."

"I'm scared too," she admitted, lowering her gaze, "Because what if everything isn't enough, Booth? I mean, you felt that way about Rebecca once – "

"No." His voice was forceful and uncompromising in its conviction. "I have never felt anything remotely resembling what I feel for you, Bones, so don't even try and compare those situations." He pulled her closer, his hands tracing intimate circles against the small of her back. "I can't lose you. I won't."

Brennan hesitated, her expression uncertain. "You say that now, but what if – "

"There are always what-ifs, Bones," Booth interjected in an exasperated tone, "But they're what stopped me from admitting how I feel about you for the last two years, so I'm not going to entertain them anymore, OK?" He gave his partner a gentle squeeze, smoothing back her hair as she regarded him intently, "These past couple of days have made me realise that no matter what life throws at us, we can take it on… but only if we do it together, Bones."

"We can't guarantee a lifetime's worth of happiness on the basis of two days, Booth," Brennan countered, shaking her head wearily.

"I know that, and I'm not saying that it's gonna be smooth sailing all the way, either. But we're not gonna know unless we try." He clasped her hands, running his thumb over the bridge of her knuckles. "We can make it work, Bones, I know we can, we just have to do what we've done all our lives - face our fears head on. And I know you're not a coward," he murmured, eliciting a sharp glance. "Don't you dare think about running away from this," Booth concluded intently, "Because I'll follow you to the ends of the Earth if I have to, Bones."

Brennan hesitated, and then nodded almost imperceptibly, using her sleeve to wipe away the remnants of her tears. "Promise?" she ventured meekly, her breath catching in her throat when Booth gently claimed her lips with his own. His exploration was tentative at first, and she savoured every second of the ephemeral contact, her heart pounding wildly against her ribcage. Her eyelids fluttered shut as she absorbed the heat of Booth's soft, but assertive lips pressing lightly against her own, and she whimpered when he wound his fingers through her hair, lovingly caressing the nape of her neck. She deepened the kiss then, smiling against Booth's mouth as she pulled him impossibly closer, and her stomach quivered in appreciation as the warmth of him washed over her. Her partner's dexterous endeavours were inducing a heady sensation that was unparalleled in its intensity, and Brennan lingered over her withdrawal, allowing the exhilarating emotions to flood her senses.

Feeling almost deliriously woozy, she quickly returned for more, tracing her partner's pliant lower lip with the tip of her tongue. Booth parted his lips to allow her access, and they swallowed a reciprocal moan as velvet met velour and their tongues began a leisurely duel for supremacy. He tasted even better than she'd anticipated, and she immersed herself in her new-found addiction, her hands slipping beneath Booth's T-shirt to revisit the smooth expanse of his back. She heaved a mournful sigh when he reluctantly wrenched himself away from her, and his fingertips grazed her throbbing pulse point before caressing her cheek with infinite tenderness.

"I promise," Booth echoed, a little belatedly, regarding his partner with twinkling eyes as he fought to regain his breath. He shifted to the right of the sleeping bag, adjusting the fabric to its original position as he settled onto his back, and Brennan accepted the unspoken invitation, wriggling into the confined space and promptly curling up against him. She rested her head against his shoulder and looped an arm around his waist, and he swathed her in a secure embrace, grunting slightly when she shifted her leg to rest over the top of his own. Brennan sucked in a sharp breath when she was provided with an intriguing insight into the extent of her partner's arousal, and Booth offered her a sheepish grin as he placed a lingering kiss against her flushed forehead.

"It's all for you, Bones," he murmured, alluding to her earlier remark, and Brennan regarded him solemnly.

"Well, lucky me," she retorted, and her mischievous smile expanded to epic proportions when Booth's body began to convulse in a spontaneous coughing fit. They burst into uproarious laughter, oblivious to the din they were generating until a distant voice ordered them to 'shut the hell up.' Brennan snorted, raising her head to gaze at her partner amusedly, and their inane grins showed no signs of waning as they studied each other absorbedly. Their eyes were alight with mutual understanding, and they no longer had to worry about the consequences of staring for too long.

The thrill of anticipation was intoxicating, but the awkwardness Brennan usually felt when embarking on a new relationship was conspicuously absent - she felt so comfortable in her partner's company that being nestled in his arms felt like an inevitability; a natural progression. She hummed her approval as Booth's hand slipped beneath the fabric of her pyjamas to caress the bare skin of her lower back, and as she sought out his lips for a prolonged goodnight kiss, Brennan inwardly acknowledged that sometimes it was worth taking a risk – even when the odds were stacked against you.