Oh my gosh, it's been a long time coming and I am soo soo sorry. I actually was toying with the idea of making this into a one shot for Con Man and then branching the rest out into a different story, but I started it, and by gosh I'll finish it. The support I've gotten from you all is absolutely breath taking, and I can't express how much it means to me. A heartfelt thank you to the many many who took the time to review. I heart you all!
Brennan sat behind the steering wheel of her car, staring into the warm glow coming from the windows of the diner. Booth had headed out after her, but he couldn't be far behind. There was no time for a leisurely perusal of her thoughts; a decision had to be made now. How was she supposed to act around him after sharing a kiss like that? It had stolen away not just her breath, but also a good deal of her common sense as well. Now here she was, suddenly lost as to how to proceed.
She sighed, letting her hands slip down into her lap. Things were changing, that much she was able to acknowledge. But she hadn't gone so far astray of herself to suddenly become comfortable in dealing with emotions and conjecture. So she was going to stick with the facts. They always provided a clear direction for her to take.
And really, the facts were simple. She could readily admit to herself that she was attracted to a certain type of man. And until recently, she hadn't really seen that Booth was in that category. She knew he was a good man, and had never believed otherwise. But it was only after the fallout from the RICO case that her eyes had been opened to just how "alpha" her partner really was. In the past, she had viewed him as a man that was constantly being walked on, and perhaps in her subconscious, she had looked down at him in a certain way. A feeling of abject shame washed over her again as she confronted that thought. Never in her life had she ever been so embarrassed of her own behavior. And now, it was as if her sudden realizations of where Booth truly sat in the male hierarchy was making her attraction toward him intensify in an alarming manner. Before, his pull on her had been held steady at a warm simmer. It made her job fun and interesting, but it was also something she could compartmentalize and keep in control. Now she had to come up with a way to turn down the heat so that the roiling boil she was feeling could calm itself back to normalcy.
The fact that she and Booth would never work out was a biter taste in her mouth, but she knew it was true. It would be a mistake of monumental proportions. As much as he pulled at her, he also pushed. There were so many things about him that just weren't agreeable to her. She respected the man that he was, and for the sake of their partnership she accepted a lot of his shortcomings. But they would inevitably come between them, causing one to resent the other. And the idea of a quick fling was out of the question. Not only was he her friend, but they had to continue working together and it would just be too much.
Brennan allowed her mind to wander back to the kiss they had shared under the mistletoe last Christmas. While it was by no means even comparable to the one they had shared last Friday, it was still an uncomfortable physical altercation that they had both dealt with professionally. It hadn't come between them in the last year, and so it gave her hope to think that perhaps they could manage to cope this time as well.
With a deep breath and a newfound sense of direction, Brennan opened the door of her car just as Booth's was pulling into the parking lot. She would treat everything like normal and things would eventually start feeling more normal, and then life could go on as before. She watched her partner climb out of the SUV and head towards her, her breath catching slightly as she realized once again how much she needed him. Booth was right. Some things were too important to risk.
Booth could see his partner waiting for him on the sidewalk in front of her car. He had parked on the opposite side of the parking lot, so he walked towards her. He had driven just a little slower in order to give himself time to think. And it had actually amazed him at how quickly he had come to a conclusion.
He wanted her.
And he was tired of having the things that he wanted taken away and given to someone else. This much he had control over, and there was no way he was going to let things escape his grasp this time. The details were a little fuzzy right now, and he knew that his hands would be full with such a huge undertaking. Hell, he wasn't really even sure where to start. But as he drew nearer and she gave him a warm smile, he knew that he would do whatever it took. And he could be patient about it, taking little bits where she was willing to give them.
As they greeted one another and headed into the restaurant, he was amazed at how just making a decision had lightened a load for him. It was as if a heavy burden was gone, and he was now fraught with purpose. He smiled to himself as walked behind her to a table by the window, chuckling under his breath. As she turned to slide into her seat, she caught a glimpse of it on his face.
"What are you laughing at?"
He looked up and caught her eye as he also took a seat across from her. "Nothing," he replied, another smile lighting up his face.
"Hmm," she responded noncommittally before leaning back in her seat.
A waitress came over with a couple of menus and two glasses of water that she set down in front of their respective recipients. "Hi you guys. Here are your menus. Can I get you anything to get started? Something besides water to drink?"
Booth recognized her as someone who had waited on them before, but he had to look at her nametag in order to remember her name. "Yeah, thanks Leah. I could really use a cup of coffee." He picked up his menu and smiled at the waitress. "How about you, Bones? You want coffee?"
"Yes, that sounds good." She replied without looking up and then picked up her menu to peruse its contents.
They sat quietly for a couple of minutes, each trying to decide what they wanted to eat. Booth took the opportunity to study his partner. He kept throwing discreet glances her way, and it wasn't encouraging what he saw. Bones, after all, was a vegetarian, and they had been at the diner so many times in the past, that she couldn't possibly need to look at the menu in order to decide what she wanted. So the only reason she would be hiding behind her menu was if she was avoiding him. But then why come to dinner at all? But just as he was starting to lose some of his much needed gumption, she placed her menu down on the table and looked up at him. He was caught staring and she called him on it.
"Why are you watching me?" she asked, all innocent curiosity.
He fumbled in his mind for an appropriate answer before settling on a half truth. "I was just wondering what you could possibly be hoping to find on a menu that I'm sure you have memorized."
Leah returned just then with their coffees and a little cup of cream. They hadn't asked, but she was pretty sure that the woman at the table took cream with her coffee. Her arrival saved Brennan from having to come up with an answer, and she instead announced that she knew what she wanted. Leah pulled a pad and a pencil out of her apron and turned to Brennan. "What can I get for you?"
"I'll have a cup of your potato leak soup, and a Caesar salad."
The waitress turned to Booth. "And for you sir?"
He looked across to Brennan and grinned as he asked for a burger with the works. Having discussed her aversion to eating meat many times in the past, she settled for simply rolling her eyes at him.
Leah collected their menus and smiled before turning to go place their orders. Without the waitress there and no menus to read, quiet engulfed them at the table. Booth leaned back and assumed a casual pose in his chair, observing his partner across from him. She was looking out the window, most likely thinking about the bones that she had examined at Rock Creek. She had changed out of her field overalls and now sported the simple jeans and tee shirt that she wore underneath them. It was such a casual look for her that he rarely ever saw. Bones had a great sense of her own personal style, and Booth enjoyed every opportunity presented him to appreciate it. But this simple dressed-down Brennan was alluring in its own way.
The quiet at the table was becoming a bit pervasive, which was unusual for them. Booth wracked his brain for something to talk about, and he grinned suddenly as he remembered something that he had to tell her. "Hey! I almost forgot to tell you!"
Brennan turned her eyes to him, a small smile creeping onto her face at her partner's obvious enthusiasm. "What's that?"
Booth picked up his coffee cup, keeping the brim just under his nose so that his eyes could peek over it conspiratorially. "Its great news Bones!" He drew the moment out by taking a sip of the hot liquid, rolling it around on his tongue before setting the cup down. Brennan was now leaning forward, a questioning look on her face. "I got a call this morning asking me if I was available to escort some very valuable equipment of the Jeffersonian's." He paused again, waiting for the confusion to register on her face. He could almost see her brain working furiously as she tried to think about what he could be referring to.
"Escort equipment? Escort it where?"
Booth leaned forward in his seat, his body mimicking hers. He placed his fingertips on the rim of his coffee cup, running them around the edge as if he wasn't in any hurry to tell her the rest.
Brennan finally laughed. "Booth, just spit it out."
He ginned. "Good vernacular! I think last time you tried that one you said spit it up. I'm impressed." Her aggrieved expression finally forced it out of him. "Ok, ok. I get to come with you to China next week."
She sat back in her chair, her expression hard to read. "You do?"
"Yeah Bones! Apparently some of that high-tech stuff you're hauling with you costs, like, millions of dollars. So they figured since I am your partner and all…I could tag along and make sure that all things American return to America."
Brennan scoffed good-naturedly at him. "You know, most of the technology in my equipment was developed in China." She paused as he scowled at her. "Besides, what are you going to do the whole time? Stand guard or something?"
Booth leaned back up, pressing his back into his seat. Picking up his coffee cup again, he exclaimed "Come on Bones, it'll be fun!" before taking another sip. He looked over the brim to see her petulant expression and he waggled his eyebrows up and down at her.
"Booth, I really don't think you'll enjoy yourself. Your personality isn't one that is prone to adapting to an eastern culture and the Chinese pride themselves on being polite. I have an immense amount of work to do in a very short period of time and I'm worried that you'll just make things harder for me if you're going around offending everyone with your cowboy semantics."
"Cowboy semantics? Are you serious? Is that even a real term?" Booth looked at her and held up three fingers. "I'll only annoy the people that deserve it, scouts honor." Booth decided now was as good a time as any to sneak in a little heartfelt sentiment. "Besides, what would I do here anyway? At least this way, I get to be with you."
He paused, allowing his words to sink in a little, and released the breath he didn't even realize he was holding as she seemed to come to terms with it in her mind. "Besides, the Jeffersonian already bought my ticket. No refunds, you know."
A corner of Brennan's mouth quirked up. "Oh really? Well, don't get too excited yet then, because an entire flight to China in coach is not going to be very comfortable for a man of your height."
"Well, I will just have to bear it for the sake of my duty to my country, wont I?" The teasing tones were back in their voices, bringing a sense of normalcy to their conversation. This wasn't too bad at all. Then Booth suddenly thought of something. "What, wait a minute. Won't you be in coach too?"
Brennan smiled slyly at her partner. She leaned in across the table, her weight settling on her elbows as she revealed her upper hand in the situation. "No. I bought my own ticket." She paused dramatically. "First class." She settled herself back in her seat and smirked at him before taking a sip of her own coffee.
"No fair!" he pouted. Just as he was enjoying the twinkling of subtle mirth behind her eyes, Leah arrived again with their food. He heard his partner hum appreciatively as she leaned forward to inhale the steam rising from her soup. It had not only gotten dark out on the park trail, but it had also gotten cold. That combined with their hunger was making the food look particularly appealing. The next few moments were spent making small talk about the meal as Brennan unfolded a napkin in her lap and Booth poured ketchup out for his fries. Silence then ensued as each partner dug in with gusto.
Booth allowed his thoughts to wander to their upcoming trip. He was a little disappointed that they wouldn't be sitting together. He was sure that such a long flight would have afforded him the opportunity to flirt with her a little. It was a daunting task, certainly. Uncharted territory. How to cross over the line of innuendo just enough to gain ground without losing it all in the process.
He sneaked a glance at her as he dipped a fry and popped it in his mouth.
And caught her staring at him again.
He chuckled. If anything could be said about him, Seeley Booth was certainly up for a challenge.