Disclaimer: If 'Bones' belonged to me, then I wouldn't need to write fanfic because Booth and Bones would have gotten together months, even years, ago and Sully would never have happened in the first place.

Author's Note: Written to fix what bothered me the most about 'The Bodies in the Book' because I spent the entire ep going crazy over how obvious the Booth/Brennan was and how it was so clear that Sully just didn't belong. So this is a little fic on how I wish that ep had ended— if only because seeing Sully kiss Brennan just about made me sick and I just couldn't stand it. I did like Sully, too; I just couldn't stand seeing him with Bones so I decided to make Sully… um, smarter…

A quick two-shot fic.

The Interloper in the Partnership

Sully sighed, got up and paced around his office, sat down, then got up and paced again.

He didn't like this but he was a realist and he had to face facts.

And the fact was that Tempe was shutting him out. She'd closed herself off and she wasn't letting him in, wasn't letting him protect her. But what really got to him—what hurt—was that she hadn't, as far as he could see, shut Booth out in the same way.

He and Booth had both been worried about her, had both been determined that she not be left alone and unprotected but it had only been him who she'd blown up at.

He understood that it was part of her effort to protect herself by pushing him away because he was getting close but he thought it was telling that Booth was close to her and she hadn't pushed him way, wasn't trying to push him away either.

He suspected—strongly suspected—that Booth was interested in Tempe; Sully wasn't blind and Booth's level of concern and caring for his partner was a little extreme to be justified by either friendship or partnership.

He'd thought, though, that Booth's interest was entirely one-sided, which was why Booth hadn't said or done anything yet. He'd assumed that Tempe simply didn't care about Booth in that way.

He was beginning to see, though, that he'd been wrong. He wasn't sure exactly why but it was becoming clear that whatever feelings beyond friendship were between Booth and Tempe, the feelings were quite mutual.

He winced.

Yeah, the truth hurt.

He walked out of his office abruptly, shutting the lights off and closing the door behind him.

He was going to go over to the Jeffersonian, where he knew Tempe and Booth would be, and then… Then he would decide.

Sully slowed his steps down, keeping just out of sight for a moment, as he watched Tempe and Booth in her office.

He couldn't hear what they were saying but he watched as they talked, Tempe putting some stuff away, and Booth watching as she did so.

There was an almost palpable level of comfort to them and he watched as Booth picked up a book—a copy of Tempe's book that had been the focus of this entire case—and said something, sitting down.

Tempe smiled a little and said something.

He couldn't hear Booth's response but Tempe's expression softened as she gave Booth a small smile.

Sully flinched again at the sight. It wasn't that there was anything particularly suggestive about the smile; it was just that the smile, her whole expression, was softer, more open than any she'd shown him since this entire case had begun.

He sighed. And now he knew.

He stiffened his spine. He was a realist and there were some things he couldn't fight—shouldn't have to fight. He knew and he'd heard about some of the cases Booth and Tempe had solved together; they had become one of the best crime-solving teams the FBI had and now he'd seen it in action, but it was more than that. Booth and Tempe were a partnership in every way, working together, acting together. They had a symbiotic relationship, a bond that somehow went beyond their partnership of the past year and some months.

He hadn't forgotten how Booth had mentioned that guy, Oliver, when Sully had brought over the list of possible obsessive fans; it had just been a casual mention but it had been one stark reminder of the past that Booth and Tempe shared that he knew nothing about, was not a part of. And even before that, he'd been rather surprised when Booth had casually mentioned "Russ" and then been told later that Russ was Tempe's brother—he hadn't even known that Tempe had a family, didn't know anything about Tempe's family, except to assume that her parents were dead because she never mentioned them. Oh, Tempe was interesting and fun to talk to but he'd realized that, to him, at least, it was almost as if she'd arrived on this planet as the fully grown, self-sufficient, capable woman she was now, because of how she never spoke about her past, not really. It was as if her life had only begun in the past year and half or so since she'd begun working with Booth because that was the main past that she ever mentioned. Anything beyond that was a mystery to him—but he'd realized that it wasn't as much of a mystery to Booth. Not only because Booth had known her longer—he was sensible enough to recognize the effect of time—but because Tempe told Booth more, somehow trusted Booth more. Tempe trusted Booth, relied on Booth in those few times when she acknowledged she needed someone else's help—but she didn't rely on him or trust him to that same extent.

And that level of trust was something he couldn't fight.

Tempe and Booth were partners—a unit, a whole that somehow, in some way, transcended its parts. He was… what? An interloper, really. He was the third wheel.

And that was something he couldn't fight.

He knew the moment Tempe saw him and then heard how she just said his name.

Booth, quite unconscious, only responded, "Yeah, you might want to apologize. I mean, you were really raggin' on the guy. He seemed a little frail."

Sully stiffened a little. He might have already made up his mind but he didn't appreciate being called 'frail.'

"Well, you know, I'm a lot stronger than I look," he spoke up.

He managed a grin at Booth as he stood up.

"Well, congratulations," Sully offered. "You guys… you make a great team," he said honestly.

Booth grinned and glanced at Tempe who looked up at him and their eyes met and held for a fleeting instant—Sully stiffened even more. If he'd had any doubts at all about his decision, they would have been settled right then with that one look.

They were a great team. And they were complete—without him.

Tempe was the first one to look back at him and Sully almost relented at the expression on her face. "Thanks for your help," she said.

Sully glanced at Booth. "Can you just give us a minute?"

Booth looked distinctly uncomfortable. "No, you know, I should go. I've got… stuff…"

"No, you guys have to finish the case file," Sully said. "Just… give us a few minutes."

Booth looked uncertain, glancing at Tempe and then back at Sully. "Sure," was all he said before leaving the office.

Tempe gave him a curious look. "Sully, I'm sorry," she began but he cut her off.

"No, it's okay. I understand."

"You… do?"

He gave her a small, gentle smile, ignoring the pang in his heart. "Yeah, I do. Tempe, did you notice that in these past couple days when you haven't been letting me protect you or comfort you, you've still let Booth help you? Why do you think that is?"

Her eyes had widened. "I don't… I don't believe in psychology," she finally responded, a little weakly.

"Yeah, neither do I. But this isn't psychology, Tempe; it's human nature. You don't like to ask for help, I get that, but you do let Booth help you. You do rely on him when you don't rely on anyone else."

"Well, I… he's my partner," she faltered, looking and sounding more uncertain than he'd ever seen her look or sound before.

"I know but that's not it, Tempe." He sat down next to her and gently put his hand on her arm. "The point is that you let Booth be your friend; you let him in. But you don't let me care about you in the same way."

"Sully, I… I can do better. I…"

He shook his head a little, cutting her off. "No, Tempe. That's just the thing. If you have to try so hard when it comes to me but it comes naturally when it comes to Booth, that means something. And I can't… I can't fight that, Tempe."

"What are you saying?"

He looked down at the floor. "I guess what I'm saying is, goodbye. I care about you, Tempe, and I thought we could be good together but I realize now that I can't get between you and Booth. You two are a team and there's no room for me in that team. There isn't room for me in your life, Tempe, not as much as I want, because you've already given that space to Booth and I can't fight that."

"But Sully, I… I care about you. I really do."

"I know you do, but not enough. So… I'm going to end this now before it gets even harder." He gave her a small smile, lifting one hand to touch her cheek fleetingly. "Be happy, Tempe, okay? And don't feel bad. If I had to lose you to anyone, I'm glad… I'm glad it's to Booth. He'll take care of you, Tempe. I know that."

"But Sully--" she started again and he cut her off by resting his finger on her lips.

"It's okay, Tempe, really." He managed a smile. "After all, we've only been seeing each other for about a month. It's easier to do this now than it would be later."

"But…"

"You know I'm right, Tempe," he cut her off. "You and Booth just… belong… in a way that I don't." He stood up, looking down at her as she looked up at him, her eyes wide and filled with tears. "Take care of yourself, Tempe."

And with a last, slight smile, Sully left.

He'd done the right thing; he knew he had. He was too much of a realist to want to fight a losing battle and trying to get in between Booth and Brennan was definitely a losing battle. Much better to walk away now, with a heart that was only bruised and not broken.

He'd done the right thing and that would have to be his comfort.

To be continued…

I'd love to know what you think!