Disclaimer: Nope, still not mine. (Drat.)

Author's Note: Thanks so much to everyone who read this story and reviewed it! I appreciate every one of the reviews, even if I don't respond personally to them. *loves*

I was originally planning this chapter to be of the super-fluffy, Booth/Brennan variety but, um, it didn't happen because neither Booth nor Brennan (apparently) felt like cooperating. So this is sort-of fluffy but not entirely so. Enjoy!

The Interloper in the Partnership

Part 2 (of 2)

Booth had stopped in to check with Cam on the last minute details of the autopsies on the victims and was just walking out when he saw Sully leaving.

He really had only needed a few minutes, Booth thought, with a slight frown. Surely Bones hadn't…

His thought cut off as he got close enough to see inside Bones' office, to see her still sitting where she had been but now she was staring blankly into the distance and it looked as if she were crying…

He felt a swift surge of anger. Surely Sully hadn't said something to hurt her…

He quickened his steps. "Bones, what is it?"

She looked up and hastily swiped at her eyes in an ineffective attempt at hiding her tears. "It's Sully," she said rather dully. He sat down beside her, near enough to be able to take her into his arms if she needed it but not touching her yet.

"He- he broke up with me." There was a note of incredulity in her tone and Booth winced.

Damn Sully. Booth sternly quashed his automatic, instinctive feeling of relief. It was not the time for that.

"God, Bones, I'm sorry."

"No, it's okay," she said, sniffing a little and straightening up. "He was right."

"Right? About what?"

"About me." She paused and then added, very softly, "About us."

It was Booth's turn to stiffen and sit up. "What did he say?"

She looked down at her hands. "He said… he said he couldn't fight what we had, that I let you protect me when I didn't let him do the same…"

"I'm your partner. It's my job," Booth said, giving his automatic answer.

She looked up at him with a rather watery smile. "Yes, but I don't have to let you do it and I do. I let you be protective and indulge your alpha male-ness when I didn't for him."

"If that's his idea of your indulging my alpha male-ness, then…" Booth began but she cut him off.

"He also said that there wasn't room for him in my life." She paused and then looked up at him, meeting his eyes. "Because that space was already filled… by you."

He stared and had to fight to swallow, his heart suddenly racing. He knew he'd been obvious to Sully (he wasn't a good enough actor to hide how he felt about Bones all or even just most of the time) but Bones didn't—she couldn't—what did Sully mean? "By… me? Bones, I…"

"He was right," she said simply. "You said it yourself earlier, that I try to push people away when they get close to me."

He inwardly winced. That hadn't been the nicest thing he'd ever said and he couldn't deny that part of him had said it because he'd been hoping Bones would push Sully away. No, not his finest moment. "Bones, I'm sorry. That was…" he began.

"No, don't. You were right; I was trying to push Sully away but he was right too because he wasn't as close to me as you are and I haven't tried to push you away."

He tried to smile. "Yeah, well, I'm not an easy person to push around."

She looked down again, examining her hands as if she expected to see something on them. "Sully was… a fling for me but he… he cared about me more than that and he was right when he said I just couldn't give him all he wanted."

Booth shifted. "Bones, you- you can't blame yourself for that. These things can't be forced, you know."

"I can blame myself for ever letting him think it was more than a fling for me. I led him on."

"Bones, you did not. You wouldn't," he added, under his breath.

"Yes, I—how do you know?"

He glanced at her. "It's like I said earlier, I know you."

She gave him a small smile. "Thanks, Booth. That's- that's really nice." She sighed. "I'm just not meant to be in long-term relationships. Some people are but not me. I'm just…" She let her head fall until her hair was concealing her face, making her next words almost inaudible. "I'm just one of those people who's meant to be alone…"

Booth flinched and now he finally gave in and pulled her into his arms. "No, Bones, no, that's not true. Believe me, it's not true and you're not alone. You've got your squints and you know how loyal they are to you." He paused and then added, very softly, "And you've got me."

She stiffened a little and drew back out of his arms, meeting his eyes. "And what are we, Booth?"

Booth swallowed, feeling as if his heart had suddenly taken up lodging in his throat. Was this it? Was this the moment when he told her the truth? "We're partners… and friends," he answered but his response lacked its usual conviction.

She nodded jerkily. "Partners and friends—but then why, Booth?" Her voice rose sharply on those last words.

He blinked at her, feeling the way he usually did when she slipped into squint-speak, as if she'd suddenly started speaking a foreign language. "Why- uh- what?"

"What does it mean that my boyfriend leaves because he's jealous of you? Why was he jealous of you? It doesn't make any sense!"

Booth knew he probably looked like an idiot, gaping at her like a fish out of water, but he couldn't help it. God, this was it. This was it. Damn Sully, anyway, for forcing him to have this conversation with her when he didn't know if she was ready.

"You're the people person, Booth," she threw the words at him, standing up and pacing a little. "What does it mean when someone's boyfriend is jealous of someone's friend?"

"I- uh- usually it means that the boyfriend thinks the friend is more important to the person than the boyfriend." He chose his words carefully but even so, they turned around and hit him in the chest with all the force of a physical blow. He was suddenly having trouble breathing. Sully had thought… that he was more important to Bones than Sully was? Was he more important to Bones than Sully had been? He suddenly remembered exactly what Bones had said Sully had said—that there was no room for Sully in Bones' life because he already filled it… His heart was suddenly clattering in his chest, as he was filled with a poignant, almost painful hope.

"Bones, why did you let me protect you and not Sully?"

"What- because you're my partner and you insisted."

He stood up slowly, closing the distance between them with small, careful steps, hoping desperately that he wasn't about to make the worst mistake of his life in pushing Temperance Brennan like this.

"Sully insisted you let him protect you too and you didn't let him."

She shrugged a little, as if to say it wasn't important.

"Why do you come to me for comfort, hug me when you're scared?"

"I… I don't know," she finally said, not meeting his eyes as she unnecessarily rearranged some papers on her desk.

"Bones. Temperance," he said softly.

The use of her first name made her look up at him and his gaze caught and held hers so she couldn't look away.

"Just tell me why," he said, his voice low and husky, hardly above a whisper.

And Brennan had to fight the shiver that went through her at his tone, at the look in his eyes, fight the almost magnetic attraction of him when he looked at her like this, when he was this close to her.

Why… why did she allow Booth to protect her when she hadn't allowed Sully to do so? Why did she always turn to Booth for comfort now? Why did she hug him when she was frightened or sad?

"Because…" she found herself answering, her voice hardly above a breath, the words almost being compelled from her by the strength of his gaze, "you're Booth and… and you make me feel safe…"

The admission fell from her lips without her even being aware she was about to say it.

His expression softened, even as something hot and dark flared in his eyes, making her catch her breath, feeling heat shoot through her.

He lifted his hand to touch her cheek, lightly, and even though it wasn't the first time he'd touched her face, it somehow felt like the most intimate gesture, a caress…

"You can trust me, Bones," he said almost in a whisper. "I'll never leave you."

It was a promise and even though it had been a very long time since Temperance Brennan had allowed herself to believe in such promises, at that moment, looking at him, she had to believe him. She could see all his sincerity in his eyes and more importantly, she knew him. She knew how loyal he was, knew how seriously he took his promises. She trusted him…

"I do trust you," she told him very softly.

The ghost of a smile just touched his lips and then went away. He knew what a declaration that was, coming from her.

His fingers moved, lightly brushing back a strand of her hair in an unmistakable caress, before he leaned in and brushed a kiss against her forehead, his lips lingering just a second too long for it to be a purely platonic gesture.

"You're going to be okay, Bones," he said softly and then he left.

Leaving Brennan to stare after him, very aware that she could still feel his lips lingering on her skin, could still feel the almost feather-light brush of his fingers against her cheeks.

She suddenly remembered Sully saying that when you could still feel a person's touch as if they're right next to you even when they're not, that's not a fling.

This… new thing growing between her and Booth… this wasn't a fling, would not be a fling. This would be more, more than a fling, more than friendship, more than a partnership—just… more…

~The End~

A/N 2: Thank you for reading; I hope you liked this! Please, please, please review and brighten the day of a poor, stressed-out student facing finals week… Just… picture Booth and his charm smile…