Author's Note: A post-ep for Con Man in the Meth Lab. Takes place after the characters have left the bar. There's a reference to some dialogue from the sides for Con Man that was never in the ep. Basically it was just a line in which Brennan told Booth what she and Jared did during their night out.

I don't see Brennan as the type to mull over things in general, but I also think that after Con Man she would have still been feeling somewhat unsure of the state of things between her and Booth. That thought is sort of where this fic stems from. Well… that and my need to avoid studying for finals.

Disclaimer: I don't own Bones. Just in case you hadn't already guessed.

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Brennan shivers upon exiting the bar. It's become windy since she was last outside and the coat draped over her shoulders does nothing to lessen the bite of the autumn air. Her hair gets thrown back and forth in front of her face, her vision becoming obscured at times, but she walks a straight line toward the suburban parked in the lot, a familiar silhouette already sitting behind its tinted windows. Booth's voice greets her as she opens the car door.

"You cold?" he asks, turning on the heater as she negotiates the climb into the passenger seat.

She nods, pointing to her sling. "I can't actually wear my coat."

He looks at her arm, his eyes briefly apologetic, before glancing over his shoulder as he backs out of the parking space. Facing forward again he rubs a palm against his brow and she watches his reflection in the windshield, wishing she too could offer an apologetic look. But sorry being a sentiment that rarely manages to pass from her lips, let alone from her eyes, she sits quietly, her face blank, frustration with herself coiling tightly in her stomach.

Sitting at the bus stop with him, she had felt her silence fitting. He was talking and there seemed to be no expectation to respond. When they stood to return to the bar, she'd felt herself a competent friend for being there and listening, for understanding as best she could.

But here in this quiet car she feels desperate for something to say. Every moment without words seems to speak to her recent failings; as a partner, as a friend, as a rational being. All of it harkening back to her silent reply to Booth's question in the observation room. She recalls this with unrelenting fascination: the cruelty achieved by saying absolutely nothing. His eyes cutting darkly as she made an assessment of him based on wholly unreliable evidence. Him walking away from her, his jaw set, his voice tense; she finds it necessary to remember all of this. To remember what happens when she breaks from a principle she lives by.

Because Temperance Brennan does not believe in what she cannot see.

And yet, she allowed herself to believe the flashy nothings that Jared spoke, to latch onto them the way she latches onto the tangible things she finds in her science. Some truly irrational part of her allowed minutes of conversation wedged between sips of champagne to displace what she knows, what she's spent years learning. She knows Booth, and saying she sometimes forgets this feels akin to saying she sometimes forgets the names of the bones in her body.

Shifting in her seat to watch Booth watch the road, she wonders if there are tell-tale signs that they are at least fumbling back to easy banter. If there is some specific body language that says your toast was apology enough. Because Booth hasn't said that to her at all.

"Okay, Bones?"

"Yes."

"I don't know what sort of painkillers the doctor gave you, but I've never seen you this mellow. Kind of nice." Booth's mouth forms a straight line at the end of the statement, but there's amusement there, sweeping warmly over his face.

He's joking, she's almost sure of it.

"Antibiotics have no sedative effect whatsoever, Booth. And any depressing effects of the analgesic treatment I received at the hospital would have worn off very soon after the bullet was removed."

His grip on the wheel tightens at the word bullet and Brennan looks on mutely as his palms dig into their positions at ten and two.

"Bones…what happened today shouldn't have happened." He pauses, running his tongue briefly along his lower lip. "There's no way you should have gotten shot, okay? I'm sorry I let that happen to you."

She frowns at his hands, still clenched around the wheel. It's as if she's seeing his actions fall into her words; because isn't this what she meant in her toast? That it's just like him to apologize when he's done nothing wrong. That it's just like him to sit here in a car that's almost oppressively warm, continuing to let the dry heat from the vents chap his lips, because she hasn't explicitly said that she stopped being cold a long time ago.

And still, it's of no comfort to know that this time she's assessed Booth correctly. It's of no comfort to see Booth play out the word selfless before her. She reaches to turn off the heater then turns to him.

"Can you not do this?"

"What, Bones? Not do what?" His voice sounds pained or agitated or some other emotion that that grates at her conscience but is indecipherable beyond that. She doesn't chance a look at his face, unsure of what she might see there.

"Apologize." He doesn't respond and she presses on. "It's not your job to keep Jared out of trouble. And it's not your job to keep me out of trouble either."

Booth maintains his silence and she turns to stare outside, wounded arm cradled beside her, any hope of a response from him seeming to evaporate in a fog against her window.

"You're wrong. It is my job," he says quietly. "We're partners, but you're not FBI. Going out into the field with me isn't supposed to include the sort of shit that went down today."

He pauses and looks pointedly over at her and her sling.

"You need that arm," he says wryly, "to examine the bones I bring you. So, as long as you're still picking through remains for a living, your arm and the rest of you fall under my protection."

Her mouth falls open, poised to speak, but she offers no reply. And maybe a part of her, albeit a small or even unconscious part, can see some validity in his words, or at the very least the honesty with which they were conveyed. So she looks over curiously at him but lets the statement be.

It's his birthday and she knows that, had things gone as Booth wanted, he'd be on a plane to Hawaii sometime very soon. There's a small but distinct feeling of having been complicit in the wrecking of his plans, although she knows her mistake does not extend so far. And, these thoughts swirling in her head, an idea seizes her.

Turning forward, she squints out through the windshield at the approaching street lamps. "We're on Independence Avenue?"

"Yeah. Bones, are you—"

She interrupts, clamping her free hand on his shoulder. He looks down, perplexed, at the fingers curled into his shirt.

"Bones, I--"

"Watch the road."

He narrows his eyes but turns back toward the pavement a moment later. Brennan begins to speak, her voice even and close to his ear. "When we reach the Capitol building, pull off along First Street."

"What is this, a carjacking?"

"I have a wounded arm. That would be impossible, Booth."

"Yes, well, can you let me know what's going on then?" The side of his mouth twitches and she's not sure if he's irritated with her.

She takes up a cool demeanor, removing her hand from his shoulder. "I know what is going on. It's not imperative that you know anything other than that."

"Yeah, I'll make sure to tell Sweets in therapy next week that we've been working out our trust and communication issues," he scoffs, scratching at the corner of his mouth, which has begun to tilt upward slightly.

"You are being sarcastic," she says slowly.

He shakes his head out at the near empty street and maneuvers out of the turn lane to continue down Independence. She leans back into her seat with a small smile and the knowledge that despite her partner's grumblings, he will make the detour she requested.

It's whimsy or something very close that's precipitated the snap decision to drag Booth along on a midnight excursion. And this is particularly troublesome to her, because without forethought or much knowledge of what it means to act on a whim, she feels as trapped in the moment as him. There's still that tightening in her stomach and now a creeping drowsiness that she had previously denied. She wonders if this is how Angela feels all of the time: whimsical but sleepy. Somehow she doubts it.

"The Capitol, huh?" Booth asks when they come upon the building in question. "Did you know there's a hidden passage that leads you up into the Dome?"

"Yes."

She reaches to open the car's glove compartment and begins searching its contents.

In her periphery she can see his brow furrow, can hear the question coming.

"Really?"

Her hand hovers over the junk in the compartment, its intent forgotten in the wake of Booth's question. He already knows that she went on a date with his brother, so what could be the harm in giving a point blank answer, she wonders. Jared showed her the way up to the Dome: it's a fact, not a poorly drawn conclusion or a slight to Booth. Still, she can't bring herself to say it.

"You used to have a flashlight in here," is what gets murmured instead.

He nods and mentions Parker taking the flashlight on a camping trip, making no note of the change in conversation.

The car rolls up alongside an empty sidewalk and she steps out the moment she feels it come to a full stop. The wind is surging in all directions and in one fell swoop it empties her of the heat the car had provided.

"I always thought I was the only one who knew about getting up there," Booth says, stepping into the street and gazing up at the glaring white top of the Capitol building, then back at her, standing on the sidewalk. "Well me and...Jared." He stops. Sighing, he nods his head slowly, his expression unrecognizable to her.

"Right," he grounds out, turning toward her. "Nice view from up there, Bones?"

She bristles at his gaze, not sure if his question begs an answer or if it's merely rhetorical. Not sure if he intended to sound…harsh. It's the only word she can think of to describe his tone. "I think that one could better view the city from The Jeffersonian's Observation Tower than from the Dome," she offers in reply.

His eyes seem to dance circles round her face and she tries to meet them, tries gauge whether that was the right response, wanting very much to have given an adequate answer. She glosses over the question of why, her foot drawing a small, impatient line across the concrete.

Booth gives a delayed nod as his answer, looking out past Brennan's shoulder.

"We should start walking," she says, motioning in the direction of the Capitol building, her hand steady and pointing out past his wary expression. She starts to cross the street and about halfway, when she can't hear the sound of another pair of feet behind her, she turns to find Booth still standing against the car.

"I'm not really up for breaking and entering tonight, Bones," he says clearly out into the dark. His voice softens. "Why don't you just come back over here and I'll take you home?"

She blinks, unfamiliar with the sight of him so far away and unwilling to follow her. She knows Booth, yes, but sometimes she finds herself in situations with him she can't begin to make sense of. Her eyes widen, as if to see him better.

Is he simply tired? Annoyed? As frustrated as she is?

She doesn't do guesswork.

She remains rooted to the asphalt beneath her feet, biting her bottom lip hard before speaking. "We're not even going into the Capitol, Booth."

From the distance comes the slow rumble of an oncoming car, but it barely registers in her ears, not close enough to be of concern. She watches Booth intently; he retains his immovable stance on the other side of the street.

A moment later he shifts to look at the still-distant, but oncoming car. He hesitates then makes his way over to where she is standing.

She can see his eyes flash at her, though the street is faintly lit. "Geez…Bones." His hand coming to rest on her lower back, he pushes her along toward the opposite sidewalk.

"I would have moved before a car ran me over," she says rapidly, each word a puff against the cool air. "It's more likely that a car would've hit you. You weren't even watching the traffic on your side of the street."

Booth drops his hand, facing her. "Well, look, I'm here. Isn't that what you wanted?"

She stares at him, standing next to her, and nods almost imperceptibly, hoping the lights from the Capitol building are bright enough for him to see. Pointing down the sidewalk that forms the perimeter of the Capitol building's grassy surroundings, she shows him the direction they should be moving in.

They walk a good ten minutes before reaching a darker area illuminated only by the light from a large glass house. She stops abruptly and Booth collides with her back.

Moving away, he searches his surroundings. He stills, emitting low chuckle. "We're breaking into a garden?" Booth seems to hesitate but then turns, moving his hands to hold her arms. "You just got shot, I haven't slept in two days, and we're going to look at flowers?" he asks quietly, staring closely at her, as though he needs no confirmation of this other than the look on her face.

"You haven't slept in two days?"

"Forget it, Bones."

"No. Why haven't you been sleeping?"

She shifts against his hands, her brow drawn in confusion, as she ponders the source of his insomnia. Rapidly, the possibilities run through her head; caffeine, anxiety, stress, the RICO bust he never got credit for, the pay raise and vacation that never came to fruition, Jared, her—

There's a pang at that final, unbidden thought, and a hot flush of embarrassment sweeps through her—seeming to emanate from where Booth's thumb is making slow circles near her shoulder. She wishes he'd let go of her.

"Why, Booth?" she presses.

"Come on, Bones, let's just drop it, okay?" he whispers, a desperate edge working its way into his voice. He pulls her slowly closer to him, to meet his imploring stare.

She glances up defiantly, the question still in her eyes. A small pinprick of light from the Conservatory, the glass greenhouse, flashes into her line of sight and she remembers that her intention in bringing Booth here was not to run her own personal interrogation. She extricates herself from his grasp, turning away from her unanswered question and toward the Conservatory.

"Well," she begins matter-of-factly, consciously making her voice light, "this is the Botanical Garden. It's a museum, like the Jeffersonian, except it has living things. Plants."

He chuckles lowly. "I know what it is, Bones. And there aren't just plants. There are flowers in there, too."

She blinks.

A moment later, he leans in toward her, conspiratorially. "C'mon Bones, I won't think less of you for being a girl and liking the flowers."

She rolls her eyes. "Your insinuation that liking flowers is in some way innate to being female is flawed on many levels. And flowers are plants."

Tilting her head toward a gate in the distance, she begins to walk away, this time not bothering to turn around and see if Booth is behind her. She can hear his footfalls on the concrete.

Upon reaching the gate, she flexes the fingers of her left hand, now nearly numb from the cold, and begins to type a few numbers into a security keypad. It swings open quietly.

There's no sound from inside, neither is there light, the brightness from the Conservatory being little more than a distant flicker. She curses softly under her breath. This is why she needed a flashlight.

"So much for not breaking and entering," Booth whispers as he follows her into the dark.

"This isn't breaking,"

"I don't know, Bones…" he drags out teasingly. "Where'd you get the code from anyway?"

She stops beside the outline of a tree, a slow grin working its way over her face. "Booth, I did date a botanist."

Silence. Then he laughs, really laughs, ignoring her attempts to shush him.

"That was a good one, right?" she asks.

"The joke or the botanist? Or was it a joke?"

"The joke."

"Yeah, it was really good," he says softly.

She smiles. "To be honest, the code is in the lab's database. Hodgins has had to come here a few times to take samples for comparison, usually when there's a rare plant species involved in a case that hasn't occurred around DC." Her hand begins to grasp blindly behind her as she finishes speaking.

"Yeah, I came here with him for the Dylan Krane case a couple of years ag-," Booth stops, his breath hitching audibly as her grasping hand finds his wrist and circles around it. Her fingers, she thinks upon hearing his response, must be colder than she had originally believed them to be.

She pulls Booth along a curve in the path and he doesn't protest the hold she has on him. His blood pulses quickly and she presses her thumb closer to his skin, fleetingly, just to feel. The pumping in his veins is fast and real and he feels incredibly alive. She finds it reassuring for no real reason she can discern other than that the last time she felt his pulse it had been rapid but very weak as he slipped into shock from a gunshot wound.

"Hey, Bones, are we about there? I think you're cutting off my circulation."

She doesn't respond, instead she pulls harder on his wrist, leading him to a pitch-dark greenhouse. "This is it," she sighs with relief, promptly letting go of him.

"It's nice."

"Yes, well, we have to get in so that we can turn on the lights." With her free hand she fumbles around for the knob poking out from what she presumes to be the door. She is not surprised to find it won't budge. Grappling with the question of what to do next, she promises herself that, should she ever decide to be spontaneous again, she will have a plan.

Staring down at her hand, still fixed on the knob, she begins to speak quietly to the door, and ostensibly to Booth. "We need to pick the lock. There isn't a deadbolt so it should be very simple."

"What?" Booth whispers out into the night. She can hear the crunching of gravel from behind her and the fading in and out of his voice as he paces. "Bones, why don't we at least try to avoid setting off any alarms or getting caught by security?"

She turns to face him. "I'm sure a greenhouse with only a latch bolt doesn't have an alarm."

He sighs loudly in response and there's a final resounding crunch of gravel as he stops pacing. Fumbling the few steps to where she presumes Booth is standing, she reaches until she can lay a hand on the outline of his shoulder. He tenses and for a moment she thinks he's going to shrug her hand off, but he only exhales, his shoulder falling and his shirt crinkling under her palm. "Booth," she says. "We have to get into this greenhouse."

"Bones, now would probably be a good time to tell me why."

It's a very simple request. Somewhere in the course of the night and not being able to see his face or the ground beneath her feet she thinks she might have lost sight of what they're doing here. What she is doing here. She inhales then drops her gaze to what looks like the square cutout of a shrub.

"It's a new greenhouse filled with plants endemic to Hawaii. You had to cancel your vacation and I thought that if I just…I wanted to try, at least once…"

"At least once…?"

"I'm not sure. Doing something for you, I think." She swallows. "No, actually, I'm certain my objective was to do something for you."

She, feeling her cheeks color even beyond the flush the cold had brought to them. Hearing the soft click of Booth opening his mouth to speak, she promptly drops her hand, facing away from him to regard the greenhouse door again.

Pulling her Jeffersonian access card from her pocket, she jams it where the door meets the wall, the glass almost convulsing from her attempt to pry the lock open.

"Bones…here let me do that." Booth makes a gentle grab for her hand and the card, but she continues in her quest to open the door. The sight would be almost comical, she thinks, if she weren't so set on getting inside.

After a few moments she feels the card forcing the lock back. Quickly, she pushes open the door, tottering a little with only one arm to balance her.

"I told you I mastered the black ops stuff you showed me," she mutters, floral notes and the faint smell of dirt reaching her nose.

It's warmer inside, and silent, as the both of them search for a light. A few minutes later they concede defeat, everything remaining entirely cloaked in black save the faint sliver of moonlight illuminating a corner of the greenhouse.

"I don't know what I was thinking," Brennan says, her low dejected voice working its way through the darkness. "Obviously, I wasn't thinking."

"Hey, sometimes it's good for you to…not think so much." His tired voice belies the jovial tone with which he says this and she feels a small pang of remorse for dragging him out here at this time of night. "C'mon," he continues, "I don't mind the dark if you don't." He makes his way over to the part of the greenhouse where the moon is shining in and she follows. They both stop and stare at a clump of purple flowers, squinting down at the placard that bears the their name.

"Purple Round Orchid?" Booth asks.

"I think it says Purple Ground Orchid," she says, touching a finger to the placard. "If Hodgins were here, this might be a much more enlightening experience."

"Now that would be awkward."

"Why?"

"Well, you know, Bones. Him talking about pollen while we're…"

"…standing in the dark," she finishes.

She can almost see Booth nod. Seconds later she hears him collapse onto a nearby bench, emitting a loud yawn in the process.

"You can't fall asleep in here," she says, plopping onto the bench herself and feeling a pang of guilt for dragging her very obviously exhausted partner out here.

"Relax, Bones. I wouldn't dream of sleeping on this slab of marble." He emits a small chuckle when she doesn't respond and kicks lightly through the dark at her shoe.

"Hey, thanks, Bones. This is great. Really." She's thankful for the conviction with which he says the last word. Still, she can't help but wonder if his belief that it's not morally wrong to lie at Christmas extends to birthdays too.

"Best birthday ever," he adds lightly a few seconds later, scooting down the bench, his hand sliding along the marble to push against hers. Through the dark she sees the faint white of his teeth—he's undoubtedly flashing a smile at her.

She laughs a little at the statement, at the grin, at the slight, almost tickling brush of skin against her own. When she looks over at him he joins in with her laughter.

"I know that's a lie, Booth." She looks around at the dark, indistinguishable plants surrounding them then shakes her head. "Well, at the very least you could say it was the most ridiculous birthday."

He doesn't respond.

"What, not the most ridiculous?"

"When I was a kid I had this obsession with Cocoa Puffs."

She furrows her brow at him, and tries but fails to bite back a laugh. "They have very little nutritional value. Excessive quantities of sugar and sodium, little to no protein or—"

"Yeah, well, that's why we were only allowed to eat them for breakfast."

She nods, still unsure of why any parent would allow their child to consume such food at any meal.

"It was my birthday," Booth continues, a slight lilt to his voice, "and we had this jumbo box of Cocoa Puffs in the cupboard. It was a Friday so my father wouldn't be home, or at least, not until a lot later that night. So after school I completely tore into that box of cereal."

"Why?" she asks, slightly repulsed by the thought.

"I figured why not, you know? It was my birthday. Nine years old is nothing to sneer at, I should get to celebrate in some way."

His voice is still easy and unaffected and she's not sure whether he means for her to laugh at his statement. She tries to see his expression through the darkness but all she can see of his face is that it is turned toward her.

"Me and Jared, we just went at this cereal. Before it was even dark out I felt like absolute crap. And Jared…the kid couldn't even stomach Cocoa Puffs," he says with a hollow sort of amusement. "I let him eat way too much. You should've seen my dad when he came home that night and found him like that."

She is quiet for a moment. Normally her mind processes information instantaneously, but she struggles with that last sentence, unfolding possible meanings and considering whether clarification is necessary.

"Jared still hates cereal," he tacks on.

"And you?"

"Well, you know, I still sneak some of Parker's Lucky Charms. Magically delicious." He laughs, his breath brushing across her face.

"That wasn't a funny story, Booth."

"I know."

"This is why psychology isn't a real science," she says, her matter-of-fact conviction accompanied by a more personal sense of knowing that this statement is true. "Sweets, he does these profiles; a killer's actions get explained away by the fact that his parents were absent or abusive. But Sweets is wrong. All of that—it's typical psychological conjecture. Completely unfounded. Ultimately, we are autonomous beings and we decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives." She meets his eyes. "I mean, look at how you turned out."

"How did I turn out?"

"You're a good person. A good man and…you heard my toast at your party."

"I don't know, it was a bar—kind of loud. I think you said a few nice things. I remember you calling me invisible."

"Okay, now you're baiting," she says, rocking forward on the heels of her hands so he can see the skeptical look she's giving him.

"Fishing. It's called fishing, Bones," he retorts with a smirk.

"Yes, well, you should stop fishing."

"Fair enough. I know better than to come to you for an ego boost."

The words seem to gnaw at her in the silence that follows. And whether he intended to be funny or serious, she finds, doesn't matter. He's shown her so much about what it means to connect with living, breathing people and she's shown him that at the most crucial of moments she's unable to even reassure him that he's better—so much better—than some uniform-clad petty criminal.

"I know you're not a loser," she whispers, her voice almost trembling in its earnestness.

There's another long, quiet moment and all she hears is his shoe scuff at the ground below. Then…

"Say it again," he says quietly.

She looks at him and then leans in until she's certain he can feel her words on his face.

"You're not a loser, Booth. You're definitely not a—"

Booth reaches, cutting her off with the soft brush of his fingertips on her cheek. She flinches but his hand doesn't drop away. He holds her like this, his fingers gentle blurs against the darkness. He smiles warmly at her.

"Hey, let's get you home."

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A/N: Would anyone know how to go about getting a beta? I'm fairly new to the fandom and would really love to have someone to reign in my ramblings, make sure I keep everyone in character, and generally just look over my writing before I post.