Here, at long last, is the final chapter for The War in the Woods. Between work deadlines, life deadlines, and getting one of the most horrid bouts of the stomach flu in the history of man, I'm afraid that it took a lot longer than I thought it would. I also want to apologize to all the people who've left such incredible comments and received nothing in return from me – I promise I'll write back soon, as I truly do appreciate everyone's thoughtful words and insights. It's just been a bit of a busy couple of weeks on this end. But without further ado, here is the final chapter. Hope it was worth the wait!
5 – 11a.m.
Hodgins woke the next morning and for the first time in a week didn't feel like his skin was gonna crawl off somewhere without him – that shower the night before had definitely been a long time coming. Booth was snoring; Sweets was babbling. And to be honest, Jack didn't really give a rat's ass – he lay there in the dark tent, and all he could think was:
Damn, I don't want to go back.
He wondered idly if Angela might run away with him. Probably not – hell, he wasn't even sure she'd speak to him once they got back to D.C., forget running away to Kuala Lumpur for the rest of their lives or something. They still hadn't talked about what was going on between them. Jack didn't want to push, and frankly for the past few days he'd been okay just following Tripp's mantra: Live in the now.
But, it was easy to live in the now when now meant mind-blowing sex with the girl of your dreams anytime you wanted, gorgeous views and good friends and no pesky outside world to contend with.
He knew he should just relax and see what happened, but every time he thought about going back to the lab and life the way it had been the past few months, it was like he had a piece of granite in his gut. Because to be honest, the past few months had really kind of… well, sucked.
Over the years, Jack had gotten used to being able to say with absolute honesty, "I love my job" to all the arrogant, pointless pricks he'd grown up with. God, there used to be days when he just couldn't wait to get to the Jeffersonian – when solving the puzzle chased him in his dreams, made him race through his off-hours just so he could get back to the work that he loved.
Lately, though, those days had been few and far between. Losing Zack had been a hell of a lot harder than he'd ever imagined it could be. And then Angela was gone, and to be honest the only reason he didn't just quit and run off to Kuala Lumpur on his own was because he knew how much Dr. B needed him. Otherwise, he knew he would've been a ghost a long time ago. Besides which, there was this little part of him lately that felt like work was getting kind of… small. He liked being outside, being physical and involved in the world around him, and lately it felt like he was getting less and less of that at the Jeffersonian.
So… yeah. The idea of going back to D.C. definitely wasn't that appealing. And yeah, it would be different if he knew he was going back to him and Ange back to their old ways, but that didn't seem all that certain. Last night on the way back from the galley, she'd ambushed him just before they got back to their tents, and asked him to meet her on the rocks once everyone was asleep. Which he did, of course, and… Well, it had been amazing. The stars were out, and the night was warm and quiet and they made love in the cove like they were the only people on the planet. In that moment, when Angela was beneath him and they were, well, kind of… joined, on some metaphysical plane that he didn't even really understand, it seemed like something happened between them. And he didn't even know what, couldn't have explained it if he'd tried, but for that moment it felt like everything had somehow been decided and it was all going to be fine.
Afterward, Angela got really quiet and still didn't say much when they got back to the camp. They kissed goodnight, and it looked like she wanted to say something but then she didn't, which kind of shot that whole fate-is-bigger-than-both-of-us vibe he'd had earlier all to hell. They hadn't even left the island yet, and suddenly it already felt like he was losing her all over again.
And now it was morning – more or less, anyway. Jack closed his eyes, debating whether or not to try and go back to sleep. The question turned out to be moot, though, because a few minutes later the cowbell was ringing and it was time to hit the trail for the final day.
When he came out of the tent, Brennan was the only one up besides Tripp and Belle. Jack hadn't told Angela about whatever it was he'd walked in on between Brennan and Booth the night before, after dinner. For one thing, he wasn't even sure that he had walked in on anything… And for another thing, he didn't really think it was anyone's business. When he'd realized he might be interrupting something, he'd honestly had every intention of just turning around and leaving them alone – but then Sweets was headed back down the trail, and Jack figured the last thing Booth and Brennan wanted was for the psychologist from hell to be poking his swollen nose in where it didn't belong. So, Jack gave them a heads up, and then he moved on.
He was worried that things might be awkward with Brennan now, so he made a definite attempt to keep things light. She was crouched beside a rock, staring intently at a trail of carpenter ants swarming a piece of bread when he came over, but she looked up with a distracted smile when she sensed he was there.
"You know you're not supposed to feed the wildlife, right?" he asked.
She looked at him seriously. "I dropped it – I wasn't feeding them purposely. Besides, with the island home to this many students and instructors on an ongoing basis, I'm sure the native fauna is inured to this type of interaction."
Jack smiled – just a half a smile, but a genuine one. "Yeah, I'm sure you're right. My bad," he said, not bothering to try to explain that he'd been joking.
He crouched down beside her, watching the thick-bodied, black ants make short work of the bread. "Componotus pennyslvanicus," he said, after they'd been silent for a few seconds.
Brennan nodded. "The black variety. I've seen a few red carpenters nearby, but they don't appear to be part of the same nest."
"There are probably fire ants out here, too – they're pretty common in the northeast. Nasty little buggers." He'd said that last part purely as a conversation piece – in reality, he didn't think they were nasty at all. Frankly, he kind of liked them. They worked hard, minded their own business, fought like hell when someone threatened their home or family. They lived, they mated, they died. Nothing nasty about that – he actually found it sort of beautiful.
Instead of acknowledging his fire ant comment, however, Brennan looked at him sideways and said,
"We weren't kissing, you know," completely out of the blue.
Okay, then. Jack blinked, trying to think of what to say. "Uh – excuse me?" he finally managed, figuring that would at least buy him more time. Maybe if he was lucky, the rest of the gang would interrupt – or, you know, a meteor would hit and strike him dead.
"When you found Booth and me last night – after dinner," she said it like this was what they'd been talking about all along, and he was an idiot for not following her.
"Booth purchased this sweatshirt for me," she gestured to the one she was wearing. "He knew I had no clean clothes, so he bought one for himself, and one for me. I was merely trying it on."
Jack nodded. "That was nice of him," he said.
She studied him for a second, like she was trying to figure out if he was being a jerk. He wasn't – he really thought it was a nice thing to do. It was the kind of thing Booth would do, which was why Jack liked the guy.
When Dr. Brennan finally seemed to realize he wasn't being an ass, she seemed to relax. "It was nice," she agreed. "But we weren't kissing," she added quickly, in case he'd forgotten where this whole conversation started.
Jack tried to figure out how to respond. If he was Angela, he would say something like, 'Sweetie, nobody said you did,' and miraculously end up having some crazy heart-to-heart for the next hour about all of Dr. Brennan's thoughts and feelings and emotional baggage. Jesus – now there was a horrible thought. So, instead of going the Angela route, he went for the Hodgins response – lowered his eyes a little, but not so much that he wasn't still looking right at Brennan.
"Dr. Brennan, it's really none of my business," he said, hoping that it sounded as sincere as he meant it to. It was true. He had a hell of a lot of respect for his boss, and he had a hell of a lot of respect for Booth. If they'd finally figured out how to be together, more power to them. He knew firsthand what it was like to fall head over heels with a whole office watching your every move, and he frankly wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Brennan was watching him with a lopsided smile, her forehead furrowed – trying to read him. He actually laughed at how intent she looked, and then shrugged.
"I'm serious, okay? You're both adults – you're both decent people. You both deserve something good – if that's what's happening, great. If not, that's okay too. But either way, trust me – I don't want details."
She actually smiled at this, and all it took was that smile for him to be reminded unexpectedly of just how amazing his life was. He worked for a gorgeous, genuine, decent forensic anthropologist, in one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. He had enough money to do whatever he wanted, was healthy and intelligent and reasonably good looking. He could bitch about it all he wanted, but he realized suddenly that he needed to stop taking his life for granted just because things hadn't exactly gone his way the last few months. Because even so, he lived a pretty damned sweet existence.
Cam and Angela came out of their tent then, both of them looking surprisingly well-rested. Booth and Sweets were next, already arguing about something, and Jack suddenly realized the change that had taken place in everyone over the past week. First off, everyone looked really… good. Healthy, invigorated, lean and well-muscled. But beyond that, there was a camaraderie that had been missing lately – he liked that they were getting that back. And it was even deeper than it was before, he thought, because it seemed like everyone actually got where each member of the team was coming from. There was a sort of trust that he'd never felt before, and it made him think maybe going back to the lab might not be such a terrible thing after all.
He started to stand to say good morning to Angela, but Dr. Brennan stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"So, you won't say anything to the others?" she asked, still uneasy.
He smiled and shook his head. "About what?" he said, meaning of course that it was as good as forgotten, as far as he was concerned.
Brennan just looked confused, though. "About seeing Booth and me – " she started to explain.
Jack held up his hand quickly to stop her. "Sorry – uh, yeah, Dr. Brennan. I won't say a word."
She smiled, obviously relieved. "Good. Thank you."
Tripp called to them then, announcing that it was time for the last morning round-up. Jack felt a twinge of regret – he wasn't looking forward to a day of goodbyes and "last this" and "last that." But Ange was in the circle with an empty seat beside her, and she looked his way and smiled that big-toothed, welcoming grin she got, and he figured to hell with it. So what if it was the last day? Didn't mean it couldn't be the best damned last day he'd ever had.
Around the circle, he could tell everybody was feeling that same low, uneasy endings vibe. Tripp got up and smiled at everyone, and Jack had to admit that he really did like the guy. The instructor looked around the circle, and then paused a second before he started.
"So, this is obviously our last morning. Once we get back to Wheeler Bay, we have a little ceremony we'll do there – but sometimes that can be kind of rushed, because there are more people around and everyone's in that 'Time to get out of here' mode. So, Belle and I wanted to take a few minutes now to check in with anyone. And because I know how much you guys love the Q&As, I thought we'd do one more question. For old time's sake."
Booth groaned, but his heart definitely wasn't in it. Brennan rolled her eyes at the FBI man, which gave Hodgins an unexpected kick – he liked the way they got each other, it was weirdly comforting.
"All right, what do you wanna know now?" Booth asked, and even though he sounded disgruntled about it, there was an unmistakable spark in his eye. And yeah, Jack definitely wanted Dr. Brennan to have her privacy and didn't want details on anyone's life, but he really couldn't help but wonder just exactly what had happened during solo.
Tripp looked at Belle, who was sitting next to Sweets. She looked up like she was surprised to be included in the conversation.
"Oh – well, we always ask the same question on the final morning: What will you take with you when you return to your homes? A lot of things have happened over the past week, and hopefully you feel differently about the others on your team and maybe about yourselves. How do you hope that will translate, once you return to your normal lives?"
She looked around the circle, obviously looking for a volunteer. Not surprisingly, nobody stepped forward – not even Sweets this time, which Jack had to admit kind of made him like the guy more.
Tripp smiled. "All right – why don't I start, and then we'll move on from there." The man cleared his throat, actually looking shy for the first time since Jack met him.
"Obviously, we do these courses all the time – different students, different lives, but the general rundown is pretty much the same. At least, for the most part. Of course, we're not usually working with quite as… headstrong a group of professionals as we've had this week."
Booth piped up. "That means we're all a pain in the ass, in instructor-speak."
Tripp laughed. "Yeah, I guess it does in a way. But, in another way it's been good – it's nice to see people who are passionate about their jobs and still passionate about each other. I've taught a lot of courses in my years, but I don't know when I've had a group that I'll remember quite as much as you guys."
"And I don't suppose Cam had anything to do with that," Angela said. Cam shot her a look that could only be described as homicidal, but Ange just rolled her pretty eyes. "What? Oh yeah – I'm sure he's gonna remember us all because Booth bitched about the food and everyone broke solo. Like that's never happened before."
The instructor was starting to look monumentally uncomfortable, so Jack figured he'd take pity on the guy. After what they'd put him through over the past week, Tripp had earned it.
"So… In the interest of getting this show on the road – and saving Tripp's ass – I'll go next."
Tripp did a kind of half-bow, hands together. "Thank you," he mouthed.
Jack smiled in acknowledgment, then continued. "Okay – so, what will I take with me when I go back?" He thought for a second – really, he'd just wanted to help Tripp out, but now that it was his turn he wasn't actually sure what he'd intended to say. Finally, he opted for the truth.
"I guess the major thing is just kind of remembering that there's a world outside the lab. When we're up on the platform, lost in the cases and the bodies and whatever, it's easy to believe that whatever goes on there is… everything. But coming out here with everyone has been a good reminder to me that the sun doesn't actually rise and set by the Jeffersonian. The world is bigger than that."
Angela took his hand when he was finished, leaning into him a little, and he leaned back so that their shoulders were touching. It wasn't anything big, but maybe that was why it meant so much – just that simple show of solidarity, her hand in his, and he felt his reservations about going back start to lift.
"Angela?" Tripp asked.
She raised her eyebrows – looked like a kid in school, called on by the teacher when she clearly didn't have the answer.
"Me? Um… What will I take back with me?" She took a deep breath, which Jack knew was just to buy herself time. He turned to look at her, frankly curious about what she had to say.
"I guess I'll take back less space."
Jack looked at her – looked at how close she was to him, thought about the way she'd come looking for him during solo and the way she'd held onto him the night before, and he got it. Nobody else did, of course, but he just gave her this grin and looked down, hoping his heart wasn't quite so obviously on his sleeve as it suddenly felt like.
"Yeah?" he asked, whispering.
She nodded. "I'll try," she whispered back.
"I don't know what that means," Brennan said, completely blowing the moment.
Booth gave her a look. "Yeah, but Hodgins does," he told her, with a little smile.
"So it doesn't matter that I don't," Brennan said – still trying to sort it out, waiting for Booth to walk her through the whole thing.
Booth rolled his eyes, but Jack saw the way the agent smiled at Dr. B and that was definitely not frustration in his eyes.
"No, Bones. Hell, I don't know what they're talkin' about either – just as long as they know, that's what counts."
Belle cleared her throat. "Uh – what about you, Booth? What are you taking back with you?"
With a little effort, Jack was able to refocus on the group. Booth groaned.
"I don't know what the hell I'm taking back with me. I hate these questions," he griped. When no one said anything after a second, Booth finally sighed and gave in. He kept his eyes on the ground while he was talking, and Jack definitely felt for the guy – he hated this shit too, but he knew he didn't hate it nearly as much as Booth did.
"Fine – what will I take with me? Definitely a greater appreciation for the basics – hot showers, red meat, a real bed." He let out another long, exasperated sigh. "And I guess I kind of want to take back some of the outdoor stuff – I mean, being out in the woods and on the water and everything. I used to really like this stuff when I was a kid, but it's been a while since I've gotten out. I wanna start making more of an effort to take Parker out for this kind of thing, maybe take him somewhere up here this summer."
Brennan looked at him in surprise. "But I thought you missed showers and red meat."
"Well, yeah – but there's still something to be said for sleeping under the stars, living without a schedule for a few days. Parker'd really get a kick out of it, I think."
Brennan seemed to be thinking about this. She didn't say anything until finally Tripp prodded her, and she looked up like she'd completely forgotten about the conversation. After a second's thought, she still looked kind of clueless.
"I'm taking what I brought with me. Slightly less – because I obviously used some amenities along the way."
"That's not what they're askin', Bones," Booth said, rolling his eyes.
She looked annoyed. "Well, that's what it sounds like they're asking. 'What are you taking with you?' Clearly, it's a metaphor – which I understand. But, I prefer it when language is more precise."
Tripp smiled at this, nodding like he knew exactly where Brennan was coming from. Jack just shook his head – the guy had a hell of a lot more patience than he did.
"All right, Temperance – then what lessons have you learned, what insights have you gained, while you've been here? And how will you take those lessons and insights back with you?"
The clarification didn't seem to make a difference to Brennan's state of mind.
"I learned the same things Booth and Hodgins learned – that I'd like to be outside more, that the world is a large place." The way she said it, kind of rushed and impatient, made it seem like not only were those not the lessons she'd learned, she thought Jack and Booth were idiots for saying them. Booth bristled.
"Just answer the question, Bones – geez, it's not rocket science. Tell us what you learned so we can clean up and get the hell out of here."
It sounded harsh, but the way Booth said it made it clear he was just giving his partner a hard time, didn't mean anything by it. But Brennan looked at him with this flash of hurt to her eyes, before she set her jaw and looked at Tripp.
"Fine – I don't know what I learned, all right? To be honest, it feels like everything's different now, and I don't know how or why, and I don't know what impact that difference will have on my life or my work or my – " she pulled herself up short, out of breath, obviously just realizing that everyone was looking at her – including Booth, and the way the FBI man was looking at her told Jack all he needed to know about the changes Brennan was freaking out about.
Dr. B didn't look at Booth – or any of them, actually. She took a breath, and added in a rush, obviously embarrassed, "Hodgins also informed me this morning that Solonepsis invicta frequent Maine islands, which I hadn't realized before. So I suppose I'll take that knowledge with me."
There was a few seconds of silence around the circle, and Jack had an uneasy feeling that Sweets was about to push Brennan to finish what she'd started to say, but the psychologist wisely kept quiet. Finally, Cam looked at Tripp with raised eyebrows.
"Right, then – maybe we should move on?"
Tripp nodded, grateful. "Uh – yeah, we should. Cam?"
Cam nodded back, all business, and Jack was grateful that someone around the circle, at least, could just say what they meant without pulling teeth or staging a mini-revolt.
"I'll take back a newfound respect for what I'm capable of – hell, it's not everyday that a girl from the Bronx voluntarily jumps off cliffs and doesn't bathe for days at a time." Everybody laughed, and then stopped when Cam continued.
"I'll also take back a better understanding of the caliber of the people I work with," Cam continued. "Aside from some petty griping and an admittedly near-pathological inability to follow directions, I've been genuinely impressed over the past week with everyone here. I already knew that I was part of a team comprised of individuals with exceptional intelligence and drive, but it's nice to be reminded that there's also more than enough compassion, humor, and spirit to go around."
Jack glanced at Angela, surprised at how choked up he was getting at Dr. Saroyan's words. He wasn't the only one, though – Ange had tears in her eyes, and after a second Booth cleared his throat.
"All right – that's great. Everybody loves everybody else, we love the woods, the woods love us. Come on, Sweets – hit me. Let's get this show on the road."
Sweets looked up. He'd been staring at the ground, sort of lost, and now it seemed to take him a second to figure out what they were talking about. Jack wondered if Booth had hit him harder than they'd thought, because the poor kid definitely seemed out of it.
"What?" He took a breath, and then he looked at Belle and kind of looked away, and Belle looked at him, and Jack couldn't even believe it. Christ, was there anybody here who hadn't hooked up?
"Oh – right. What will I take with me," he said, like he'd already answered this question about a dozen times on a dozen other courses before this. "Greater respect for the natural world, an increased commitment to conservation and… uh, a greater appreciation for the life I lead in D.C."
Everyone in the circle was thrown. Jack realized he'd been waiting with mixed feelings for whatever diatribe Sweets was about to launch into – waiting for the guy to tie everything together, boil the last few days down into a neat package that Jack would be able to come back to later and say, 'Okay, yeah… He was right, that's what was going on.' Because as much as Hodgins hated to admit it, more often than not that was exactly what Sweets somehow managed to do.
Not this time, though. Sweets looked antsy and more than ready to break camp and get the hell out of there. Belle looked – well, Belle actually looked kind of devastated, which made Jack really wonder what the hell was going on. From the look on Tripp's face, he was obviously wondering the same thing, but he didn't push. Instead, he took a deep breath and looked around the circle one more time.
"All right then – I think it's time for us to move on. But today, instead of our usual run and dip, we'll be going for something a little more ambitious." He turned to Belle, who apparently was supposed to pick up their pre-planned spiel from there. But Belle just looked dazed, and Tripp ran his hands through his blonde hair, looking a little freaked out, and continued.
"Right, then. Uh… For the final leg of the course, we'll be doing a triathlon. We'll work in two-man teams that I assign this morning – Angela and Jack, Seeley and Temperance, Belle and Sweets, and Cam and me." He ticked off the teams fast, clearly waiting for someone to argue the point. When no one did, Tripp took a breath like he was surprised he'd gotten this far, and continued. "You guys pack up your stuff, and Jeremy will actually truck it back to the mainland when he goes back for his food run this morning."
"So, what about this triathlon – what exactly are we supposed to be doing?" Jack asked, already not looking forward to being teamed with Angela for any kind of competition. She was amazing, and sexy as hell, and great at a lot of things. Competition definitely wasn't one of them, though.
"We'll start with a run around the island," Tripp answered. "Followed by a pretty good-sized swim out to the kayaks, which are moored at the mouth of the cove. From there, we'll all paddle back to the mainland."
"What do we get if we win?" Booth asked, clearly intrigued.
Tripp looked at Belle again. This time, Belle came to enough to stand, walk over to the tents, and pull out a hideous driftwood statue thingy with seashell eyes, bright red lips, and an Outward Bound pin for a belly button.
"You win this – Tripp and I made it the other morning, while you guys were supposed to be on solo," she glared at all of them, and Jack wasn't sure but he liked this new, disenchanted Belle. He'd never really trusted that whole Disney princess/hippie thing she'd had going on before.
"That's really… scary," Jack said. At the look on Belle's face, he hurriedly added, "You know, in a whimsical, artsy kind of way."
Jack figured he pretty much knew how the day would go from there: the rest of the crew would drive themselves into the ground trying to win the amazing race and the golem from hell, while he and Ange hung back and watched. They'd take their time because that was what Angela liked best: take in the sights, breathe in the smells, maybe take a detour or two along the way. Show up dead last half an hour after everyone else, listen to them bitch and moan about how tired they were…
Yeah, he was pretty sure that was the way the day would go.
Except that this was Angela, and God forbid she ever be that predictable.
Instead, as soon as she saw the little Outward Bound statue, she looked at Jack with this kind of shine to her eyes.
"Jack," Angela said, low and breathy, like she was telling him something meant for his ears only. "I really want that."
The way she said it – almost shy, giving up some dirty little secret she was embarrassed to have, made him melt and burn all at once, the way only she could. He gave her a cockeyed grin.
The shy smile turned into a full fledged grin back his way. "Yeah."
He nodded. "All right, then. Let's do it."
And he figured there was no way in hell, because by this time everyone else was already at the starting point with blood in their eyes. But the fact that she wanted to try – she, Angela Pearly Gates Montenegro, wanted to put in the effort and actually finish the race? Well, for some weird reason the idea gave Jack hope.
Jeremy joined the group to get the whole contest thing underway, calling out "Go!" with no starter pistol in hand, but it had pretty much the same effect on the group. It was rough going because there were eight of them on the trail, but Jack knew that getting to the water first wouldn't have any effect on the outcome of the race. Everyone else seemed to know it, too – Booth jogged backward part of the time, goading the rest of them on. Sweets was up in front, but Jack could tell he wasn't pushing himself yet – he never would've expected it, but it turned out the kid was one of those freaks of nature just born to run. He had a sort of easy grace when he was going full tilt – barely breaking a sweat, jaw set and his eyes up ahead the whole time.
Angela had gotten quicker, steadier, over the past week. He liked the fact that she laughed a lot when she moved – like just the fact of moving was enough to get her rocks off.
As for Jack, he loved it all. He'd always been a fan of wide open spaces, even as a kid. And this kind of contest, pushing himself to the limit and reveling in the pull in his muscles, the feel of granite and loose, unidentified particulates under his feet, that warming in his blood… It was a pretty heady feeling, actually.
It seemed like Cam was actually racing Tripp on the trail – which was admittedly counterproductive, but made Jack grin all the same. Brennan was totally focused, and every once in a while Booth would make some smart-ass comment – hell, the guy didn't even seem to be trying and he was still right behind Sweets – and Brennan would pretty much ignore him. At one point, though, Booth turned around with that shit-eating grin he got and said,
"C'mon, Bones – look alive here, you're slowin' me down."
Brennan didn't say a word, but she picked up the pace and burned right past the FBI man, and then the race between the two of them was on. When they got to the pier, Jack saw Booth catch his partner by the arm just before she jumped into the water – yet again, with all her clothes on – and Jack couldn't hear what they were saying, but he couldn't help but smile when Brennan grudgingly stopped and stripped down to her swimsuit before she went in.
The run wasn't long – just a mile halfway around the island, almost nothing compared to the ten miles they'd be covering in the kayaks. On the pier, Sweets actually waited for Belle, who was flushed, but still only a few paces behind her partner. Everyone left their clothes on the dock, and Jack checked to see if Angela needed any encouragement this time out. Apparently not – she shucked her shirt and shed her shorts and jumped in with a high pitched scream before she went under, then popped back to the surface with a crazed grin.
Jack followed her, but once he was in the water, his focus was on the kayaks moored a good, long way out in the water. He kept his strokes even, his breath measured – two strokes, head up on the third for a quick inhale, breathing out while he was still under. His arms felt good, strong – he cut through the water in a clean line, tasting the salt and enjoying the way it stung his eyes.
He'd always been a strong swimmer. Jack wasn't a big guy, but he had some power to him, and that counted in the water. He kept up the rhythm, the sun hot on his back and the water cold, the contrast somehow setting his body at exactly the right temperature.
When he'd almost reached the kayaks, he was surprised to find that he and Booth were in a dead heat for first place. At sight of the FBI man cutting through the water just an arm's length ahead, Jack picked things up a little. One strong kick and the two men were tied, with maybe another twenty yards to go. Jack's shoulders were actually burning now – not the smartest move with three hours of kayaking ahead of him, but he didn't care.
When he slapped the stern of one of the kayaks with the palm of his hand, he looked up to see Booth's hand hitting just an instant before. They stayed there for a second, Jack one kayak over from Booth, both of them hanging on, breathing hard, before Booth turned to him like he was surprised.
"Not bad for a squint," he said, and Jack shrugged, waiting for his heart to stop hammering through his chest.
"Hey, I almost beat you, man. Squint my ass," he responded, feeling a little dizzy, a little weightless.
Booth grinned, pulling himself into his kayak while Jack did the same.
"Horseshoes and hand grenades, Jack – that's all almost is good for. Besides, it's not over yet."
Inside the kayak, an Outward Bound t-shirt and baseball hat were waiting on his seat. Jack pulled on the t-shirt and turned to watch the rest of the group coming in. Cam was next. Jack wasn't surprised – it turned out the lady was actually one hell of an athlete. And damn, she liked to win. Tripp was close behind, and then Brennan and Angela swam in together. Belle and Sweets were last; Sweets wasn't much of a swimmer, and Belle just treaded water alongside him while they made their steady way out.
Cam and Tripp were the first ones to untie their kayaks and start moving. Angela was out of breath once she pulled herself into her seat, but she was grinning like a friggin' lunatic – the look in her eye sent a little rush through Jack, and he just rolled his eyes at himself. Jesus, he was hopeless.
"You ready to win this fucker?" she asked him.
Angela swore like a sailor, and Christ, Jack loved it. Cocksucker, dirt fucker, shit stain… He'd heard her use all of them and more, and it never failed to make him twitch a little in his shorts. She pulled on the t-shirt and baseball hat waiting for her, turned around and faced front. They set off at about the same time Booth and Brennan did, Brennan hitting the water hard with her paddle before Jack heard Booth say,
"Bones – Geez, slow down. Remember the thing I said before Gormogon? It's a long race. Pace yourself."
Jack took the words to heart. He called up ahead to Angela, and she turned and fixed him with those eyes and that smile, looking goofy as hell in her baseball hat and sopping hair.
"Ready to go?" he asked.
"Ready as I'll ever be," she responded, and they were off. The sun was hot on his back, and he guessed it was maybe eleven or so. They'd be paddling through lunch, through the hottest hours of the day, through a tide change and busy inlets and lobster boat wakes.
And Jack couldn't have been happier.
11a.m. – 4p.m.
The night before, something had changed for Angela. She didn't know what, exactly, it was that had changed, but she did know when it happened. They'd been making love on the rocks, Jack above her – and yeah, it wasn't totally PC that she liked being on the bottom as much as she did, but sometimes it just felt… good, somehow. Like she was sort of safe, protected and possessed and enveloped. Yeah, definitely not PC. And sure, there were plenty of times when she'd ridden to a pretty mind-blowing climax on top, but every so often she liked it when her partner took the driver's seat.
So… Jack was on top. She could see the stars behind his bushy, mountain man hair, and he put his hands on her face, one hand on each cheek, and then for a second he just stopped – or maybe the universe stopped, Angela couldn't swear it wasn't that. But she could feel the pressure building, this low flutter in her stomach, and he told her he loved her like he knew saying it might lose the game. She didn't say it back, but she kissed him and they were still kissing when she came, a wave of warmth and electricity and light running through her blood.
Afterward, Jack kissed her again, long and cool and sweet, the way a tall glass of water tasted after she'd been drawing in the desert all day. And she wasn't overwhelmed, it didn't bring tears to her eyes or anything, it just felt… different. Like she'd been waiting her whole life for this instant of certainty, you know? And once it was there, she couldn't even begin to explain it, but she just knew that if she had her watercolors she could have gotten it exactly. A swirl of marigold and lilac, a bold line of emerald blue down the center. And Jack would've looked at it, and he would've gotten it – she just knew he would. He would have nodded and said,
"Yeah, I know – I felt it, too," and they would've stayed quiet and close, and that would have been enough.
But she didn't have her watercolors. She still didn't want to lose the feeling, though, so she tried to explain it to him with a kiss – that everything was okay and something had happened that she didn't have words for yet. She got quiet, and he got quiet, and by the time they got back to the camp that night she tried again, with words this time. But nothing came out right and eventually they just kissed goodnight and parted ways.
But once she was in her sleeping bag, Angela felt it again – lilac and marigold and emerald blue, that was exactly it. Certainty and magic, all swirled into one.
That was why she wanted the stupid trophy – something tangible to point to and say, 'See – the day after that moment, the day after I knew (but still didn't know what she knew, of course), everything changed. And here's the proof.'
And so she ran, and she swam, and she pulled herself into the kayak with her muscles burning and this bizarre, unfamiliar certainty hanging suspended in her blood.
Cam and Tripp were up ahead, and Booth and Brennan were running parallel to Jack and Angela. Brennan hadn't put her t-shirt on and Booth was yelling at her about skin cancer and sunblock, until finally Angela watched with an eye roll when Brennan pulled her paddle in just long enough to throw her t-shirt on and get back to business. Booth was powerful enough to keep their kayak moving uninterrupted during that time, but once Brennan joined in they pulled out ahead of Angela and Jack.
"Easy, Ange," Jack called to her. "We've still got a lot of ground to cover."
She nodded. It wasn't actually like she expected to win – one look at Booth with those gorgeous biceps and Brennan with that crazed glint in her eye told her that was a lost cause. Plus, Cam and Tripp had apparently been built to lay waste to the world with their bodies alone, so… Yeah. No trophy, probably, but she still wanted to try. She still wanted to remember this day, to put a name to it and be able to say, 'That day, something changed. Here's why I remember.'
That was all great, of course, until she got about two hours into the race and her shoulders and back were killing her, her legs were cramped and the pain in her arms had gone from slow burn to raging wildfire. Sweat dripped down her neck, her t-shirt was soaked, and she'd long since stopped trying to make conversation.
In fact, no one really seemed to be up for talking anymore. Tripp and Cam were neck and neck with Booth and Brennan, and even Angela's favorite FBI man seemed to have run out of the energy for wisecracks. Brennan had taken her t-shirt off again and was only wearing her bathing suit – every half hour or so, Booth would make her put the paddle down and put on more sunblock, take another drink of water. And Brennan would look put out, glaring at him over her shoulder, but she'd do what he said and then get back to it.
Nobody needed to remind Angela, though – all the kayaks had been stocked with water and sunblock, and she'd gone through a good portion of both. Sweets and Belle were somewhere behind them, and Angela wondered again what was going on between the two of them. She'd seen him and Belle making out in the woods the night before, which didn't really shock her as much as she figured it would shock everyone else in the group. Honestly, she got the whole Sweets charm thing. He had this arrogance about him, and every so often when they were talking he'd give her that dead level, no bullshit look, and even Ange had to admit it kind of got her. Plus he had those lips – Angela never actually considered the thought of the two of them together, but she definitely wondered what it would be like to kiss him. Just once.
Apparently, it had also occurred to Belle. Then, this morning Sweets was definitely being monumentally weird, but it seemed like he'd mellowed out now that him and Belle were on the same team. It occurred to Angela that they'd somehow switched places with her and Jack – usually, Ange was all about taking her time, seeing the sights, telling herself that she'd get there eventually and that was just fine. She felt a little surge of resentment, at the pain in her arms and the new stupid certainty in her blood, at what she wanted to prove and the way Jack was watching her.
He was waiting for her to give up – she knew that. Knew he was waiting for the moment when she got sick of the burn of the long haul, and called it quits. Put down her paddle, picked up her sketchpad, and drifted.
Angela wiped the sweat from her eyes, resituated herself in the kayak, and dug her paddle into the water with a little more bite than before.
Not this time.
By the time Wheeler Bay was in sight, it was a three-way tie between Cam and Tripp, Booth and Brennan, and Jack and Angela. Angela had no clue how that happened – she knew Jack was paddling his sweet little ass off, and she sure as hell was doing the same, but she never thought they stood a shot against the others. Now that they were this close, though, she could almost taste that win.
Brennan was across from her in the other kayak, just a few feet away. Angela looked at her friend with a grin.
"See ya at the finish line, Sweetie."
Brennan looked surprised – maybe even hesitated a little with her paddling, though definitely not long enough to count. Booth yelled over at Angela.
"Hey! No talkin' to my partner – you'll distract her. Just keep your eyes on the road and maybe if you're lucky, I'll let you hold my driftwood when we're done."
She grinned. "In your dreams, buddy."
Which actually made Booth lose his rhythm. Brennan yelled back at him.
"Booth! You paddled on the downbeat, you have to stay in tempo."
"I don't even know what the hell that means!" he shouted back at her. "We're paddling a damned kayak, not playing Rock Band 2."
Angela started to laugh at the whole exchange, which only screwed up her own rhythm. Jack was laughing too, but he called up ahead with that forced-stern voice he used on her sometimes.
"Hey, Chuckles – do you wanna win this or what?"
She turned around to look at him at that, and the look on his face only made her laugh harder. "Chuckles? Did you just call me Chuckles?"
While all of this was going on, Tripp and Cam managed to pull ahead.
And keep pulling ahead.
So far ahead, in fact, that by the time Angela and Jack reached the landing, Tripp and Cam had already pulled their kayak ashore and were watching the rest of the group with matching, shit-eating grins.
Booth and Brennan got there a few seconds before Jack and Angela did. Booth hopped into the water and towed the kayak ashore, already whining.
"I'm just saying, it's not fair. Tripp does this kind of thing for a living – he kayaks every damn day, for crying out loud. How are we supposed to compete with that?"
Angela had finally stopped paddling, and Jack had gotten out to tow them in while she let her body go limp. She rolled her eyes, and she swore that even that took too much effort.
"Let it go, Booth," Angela said dryly. "We know who the better man is here, and it's obviously Cam."
Once the kayaks were back where they belonged, Angela found a little oasis away from everything and collapsed in the grass. She was sticky, and sore, and exhausted. And, strangely enough, incredibly proud of herself.
She'd run the race, start to finish. Didn't let up, didn't give up, didn't lose interest halfway through. Jack collapsed beside her with a grunt.
"Just kill me now, before I have to go back to the lab tomorrow with two broken rotator cuffs and heatstroke."
Cam sat down beside them. If Angela could've moved, she might have actually done some damage to the woman. Because Cam looked… great. A little flushed, but that was it – cool and calm, a sexy spark in her eye while she sipped her water and watched Tripp helping Belle and Sweets with their kayak.
"Actually," Cam said, not quite looking at them. "I thought we could use a night to recover – I booked us some rooms at the Hampton Inn in town. Our flight leaves tomorrow."
Jack's head came up at that. "You booked us a hotel?"
Cam nodded. "Yes," she said thoughtfully. "Yes, I did."
Booth flopped down next to Cam, his shirt off and his baseball hat on backwards now. "You mean, like with hot water and a real bed and room service?"
"Well," Cam responded dryly. "I don't know about the room service, but it'd be a pretty crappy hotel if it didn't have the other two."
Brennan came over next. She sat down beside Angela, a little bit apart from the group, and Angela tried to decide if the distance was there because Brennan wanted it to be, or she just felt like she didn't belong. The thought made her sad – like Brennan would always be that kid in school who never quite fit and pretended it didn't matter. Angela sat up, scooting closer to her best friend.
"Why are we talking about hotels?" Brennan asked.
"Because," Angela responded, feeling a twinge of matchmaker bringing her back to life. "Cam set up us all up with hotel rooms for the night. No roommates, no B.O., no holds barred."
Cam held up her hand. "Whoa whoa whoa – hang on there, Heidi Fleiss. I booked three rooms, which means we all have roommates. You can decide amongst yourselves who those roommates will be, and all I care about beyond that is that everyone's in the car and ready to go by seven o'clock tomorrow morning."
Belle came over then, looking not at all tired or flushed or disheveled. Angela was still riding high from whatever the hell she'd felt the night before, though, so she didn't have the will to hate the girl. Instead, she gave her a smile and nodded to a patch of grass.
"So, you and Sweets took your time, huh?"
The instructor actually blushed. Angela gave a little internal eye roll: if this was the way Outward Bound courses always went, she couldn't believe the place wasn't booming.
"We just decided to enjoy the trip – he's not really that into competition."
Sure he isn't, Angela thought to herself. She tried to figure out how old both of the instructors were, something she'd been wrestling with since the course started. When she'd first met Tripp, she honestly thought he couldn't be more than forty, maybe younger. But he'd mentioned over dinner last night that he had two kids in their twenties, so he had to be older than that – early fifties, but scarily well preserved. And Belle… Angela couldn't imagine that the girl was much older than Sweets, but it was hard to tell. She was definitely older than twenty-one, because she'd mentioned meeting someone at a bar later.
Finally, Angela gave up and tried to focus on the conversation again. Tripp had joined everyone by this time, making a way-too-obvious effort not to sit too close to Cam, who was making a way-too-obvious effort not to look like she cared. The whole group was getting a little ridiculous, and Angela was grateful that at least she and Jack weren't trying to hide anything. True, she didn't know exactly where they stood, but that was a hell of a lot better than all the sexual tension and furtive glances that had been going around the circle all week long.
Once everyone was gathered, Booth looked at his watch and stood. "So, it's just after one – how's about you guys hand over the keys to our lockers, and we'll just change clothes and grab some food and head for the hotel now, instead of at four. You know, wrap things up a little early."
Angela looked at him skeptically. Yeah, like that was gonna fly. But, Brennan and Jack stood at the same time, sort of dwarfing both Tripp and Belle.
"Good plan, Booth," Jack said enthusiastically. "This has definitely been a great week," he directed at Tripp, obviously thinking that maybe if he talked fast enough he could convince the instructors to abandon whatever hellish rituals they had planned for the last three hours.
Brennan nodded. "I agree. Now, if you could just assist us in retrieving our personal effects…"
Cam and Sweets both looked torn, but Angela stood without another thought. "Seriously, guys – give us back our stuff. We promise we'll come back after we're showered and changed for whatever final ceremonies circle thingy you have planned."
Unfortunately, it was apparently Angela's words that pushed Belle right over the edge. Ange hadn't missed the way the girl had gone from this chirpy, fluffy cartoon to a considerably more jaded shadow of a chirpy, fluffy cartoon over the last couple of days. Whatever Sweets had or hadn't done last night, it seemed like he'd pretty much capsized Belle's little blue kayak of sanity.
"You guys are unbelievable," she said, so quiet at first that it seemed like no one was exactly sure she was the one talking.
"You're supposed to be this incredible crime fighting team, but it turns out you have absolutely no respect for anyone's rules but your own. You don't care about law, or order, or – " her voice was rising. Angela shot a quick look at Booth, whose expression clearly said, 'Shit, we broke her.'
Cam spoke up, trying to be logical. "I'm sorry if it appears that way, Belle – I assure you, my people have the utmost respect for law and order."
"Except for Hodgins," Booth and Brennan said at the same time.
Jack looked sheepish. "Laws are merely arbitrary constructs designed to keep the soci-economic infrastructure in place and prevent society from functioning according to its own innate moral compass," he said, and Angela knew him well enough to know that not only did he understand what the hell he'd just said, he had sixteen books backing up the theory. He looked at Angela, obviously trying to shift some of the blame.
"Anyway, Angela sucks at rules, too."
Angela quirked an eyebrow at him. Nothing like being thrown under the bus by the man of your dreams.
"Sorry," she said with a shrug. "I'm an artist."
"Yeah, well – those two aside, the rest of us are all about law and order," Booth assured her.
Unfortunately, now that Belle had blown a gasket she didn't seem likely to stop anytime soon.
"What about your other friend? The one in prison for eating people."
Sweets looked up at that, appearing frankly unnerved by Belle's little breakdown. "He's not in prison – he's in an institution."
"And he never actually ate anyone," Brennan added.
Belle looked slightly relieved to hear this, but it didn't stop her from continuing. "You guys have no interest in anyone but yourselves, though – you barely apologized after you worried Tripp and me half to death during solo."
Cam started to say something about that, but she shut her mouth at a look from Tripp. Hmm, Angela thought. Now that was interesting.
"Actually," Tripp said, looking uncomfortable. "I wasn't really that worried."
Belle looked at him like he'd just stabbed her in the back. "What are you talking about?"
"Nothing," Cam answered smoothly. Okay, very interesting. "I'm sure Tripp just means that he knew we were all capable of taking care of ourselves, so there was no real cause for concern."
Belle looked satisfied with that, nodding her head. She was obviously starting to lose steam, which was good – it had gotten mighty uncomfortable around the circle.
Tripp stood and put his arm around Belle's shoulders. "Listen, I think you guys maybe are right – why don't you go to the lockers and tell Steph I told you it was okay to get your stuff." He handed Cam a set of keys. "There's food in the logistics building over there," he nodded vaguely toward the offices. "And you can get hosed down in the sun showers around back. Just meet back here at three, and we'll do closing ceremonies then."
He led Belle away, and the rest of the group stood around for a second of shocked silence before Angela looked at Sweets accusingly.
"Nice, Sweets – what'd you do to her?"
His eyes widened. "Me? Nothing! You guys were the ones who kept challenging everything and making fun of the circle – Belle takes this very seriously."
"A little too seriously, if you ask me," Brennan said dryly.
Booth rubbed his hands together, walking backward while he headed for the lockers.
"Yeah yeah yeah – if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the sun. You ask me, most of these types are wound way too tight and just waitin' to go postal. Now, I'm going to get my stuff – who's with me?"
Pretty much everyone, it turned out.
Angela took a quick, cold shower, changed into the clean clothes waiting in her locker, and took a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and her sketchpad to the nearest vacant tree. She was grateful that Jack could read her well enough to leave her alone at times like this, though she knew he liked watching her work. That had bothered her with other guys, but for some reason she kind of liked it with Jack.
She pulled out the sketch of Brennan she'd been working on the other day, closing her eyes for just a second to get the picture back in her head. Over the years, Angela had done plenty of sketches from models or photographs – it was nice, because she'd have something to continuously refer to while she was sketching, to make sure every line and shadow was exact. But, she honestly preferred working from memory. When she did, her mind tended to kind of bleed her impressions onto the canvas… It was hard to explain, but those pieces drawn from memory were definitely the ones that said the most about who someone really was, instead of just what they looked like.
After a while, the shadows around the grounds started to change as the sun sank lower in the sky. Angela didn't have a watch – honestly, she just ended up losing them – but soon enough, she sensed someone nearby. She looked up to find Booth standing behind her, watching over her shoulder. She put the pad down and looked up at him.
"Hey, you. Time to go?"
He made a face. "Yeah – time for the last round-up."
She knew that if he'd been talking to Jack, he probably would have used 'circle jerk' or something instead of round-up, and for some reason Angela really liked that he hadn't. Clearly, Booth had his foibles, but Angela had always been big on a man who knew how to be a gentleman – and Booth was nothing if not a gentleman.
He looked at her kind of shyly, and it took her a second or two to figure out why. Once she had, she nodded toward the sketch on her lap, feeling that same old awkwardness she always felt when someone saw her work.
"I started this the other day – Brennan had that kind of dreamy look she gets sometimes, looking out at the ocean. I thought it'd be fun to try and catch it."
Booth crouched beside her, a little smile on his lips that Angela knew had nothing to do with her. "Mind if I take a look?" he asked politely.
Angela handed him the drawing. Honest to god, even though she'd never go there in a million years because of Brennan, there were still moments when she could just eat Seeley Booth with a spoon.
He studied the drawing, shaking his head. "Wow. I mean, I'll admit, some of the stuff you do I kind of… don't get." He looked up, rushing in in case he'd said something wrong. "I mean, I know it's all really good, it's just sometimes a little over my head. But this…" he looked at it again. "That's Bones, you know? You got the way her jaw kind of tilts up when she's thinking, and that thing she does with her lip…" he looked embarrassed, handing it back to her like he realized he'd said too much.
"It just really looks like her, that's all." He shook his head. "I don't know why you're not in New York making a million bucks right now."
Angela put her sketchpad away, took Booth's hand when he offered it, and stood. She kissed him on the cheek, and he kind of blushed. Oh yeah, she could definitely just eat him up.
"Thank you, Seeley," she said sweetly.
He rolled his eyes. "Come on – we better get back before Belle has another meltdown."
Belle actually looked a lot better once they got back – everyone did, as a matter of fact. They'd all changed back into their normal clothes: jeans and t-shirts, cell phones and – in Booth's case – the unmistakable outline of a gun, underneath his jacket.
They'd all gathered off to the side of the grounds, in a circle with that hideous Outward Bound statue Angela had so wanted at the center. Beside the statue, there were a neat stack of tiny wooden boxes. Once Angela and Booth joined the circle, Tripp and Belle took the center. Tripp gave them all a grin, and Ange could definitely see why Cam was so obviously into him – besides being one hell of a hunk of man, he had a little bit of a spark to him that Angela imagined meant there was a lot more to him than met the eye.
"So, I know everyone's anxious to be on their way, but we didn't want to leave here without acknowledging who you each are, and maybe providing some perspective as to what each individual adds to your… um, unique group dynamic."
He picked up the Outward Bound statue and handed it to Cam. Angela couldn't help but grin when she saw him wink at her boss.
"Dr. Saroyan – we'll start with this, of course, which you clearly earned."
Booth coughed "Ringer" into his hand, which made the whole group – except Brennan, who was obviously clueless – laugh. Cam just rolled her eyes.
"Hey, we won fair and square. If you guys hadn't been too caught up in your usual squabbling and barely subverted sexual frustration, maybe you could've stayed focused long enough to actually come in first."
Which drew another laugh, though Brennan actually started to say something before she just shut her mouth and blushed.
Belle picked up one of the boxes then, and everyone got quiet. She went to Sweets and handed him the box, with a cute little smile that made Angela forgive the girl for every crappy initiative they'd been forced to suffer through over the past week.
"These are fetishes that an old man from the Penobscot tribe carves on one of the islands up the coast – small figures meant to embody the spirit of certain animals held sacred by the tribe. Each animal has certain qualities that make it unique – we've chosen each of these because Tripp and I believe you each possess these characteristics."
Okay, yeah, it was corny, but Angela still felt a little chill run up her spine. She sat quietly, looking over to see Brennan sit up straighter, obviously interested in the artifacts Belle was about to hand out.
Sweets opened his box and withdrew a tiny, beautifully rendered… Angela leaned over to look at it more closely.
"Uh – is that a goose?"
Everyone but Sweets and Brennan laughed, until Belle gave them a look that said pretty clearly, 'Shut up or die.'
"In Native American culture," Brennan interrupted seriously, "The goose represents persistence and ambition – they're viewed as highly social, and adept at working within an infrastructure to achieve their goals." She nodded approvingly. "I think that's very fitting – well chosen."
Tripp took the next box and handed it to Cam. She opened it and, for the first time that week, actually got tears in her eyes as she held up a small, regal looking bird in flight.
"The falcon," Tripp said softly. For a second, Angela almost felt bad about being there to see what was clearly a personal moment. "It represents leadership, level-headedness, equanimity in the face of conflict. In Native American lore, the falcon is regarded as the one whose decisions hold weight above all others."
Cam gave a little smile, laughing as she brushed her tears away in embarrassment. "Thank you, both. This whole week has been… well, surprising doesn't really seem to cover it."
Brennan was next. When she opened the box, Angela, got all choked up when she saw the tears in her friend's eyes.
"Thank you," Brennan said quietly, as she withdrew a tiny owl from the box.
"Do you know what it represents, Dr. Brennan?" Belle asked quietly.
Brennan rubbed her eyes and nodded, still studying the owl thoughtfully. "The owl is held as the keeper of knowledge, the inquisitor, the one for whom learning is a sacred practice."
Booth kind of nodded at that, giving an approving smile to the instructors. "Nice – good work, guys. So far, no complaints."
Jack was next. He opened up a box and held up a little figure Angela couldn't quite make out. "Uh… Thanks, I guess."
Tripp laughed. "It's a beaver. The beaver represents perseverance and an ability to stay on task. They're strategic, cunning, and witty – they are also regarded as compassionate, generous, and deeply loyal to their loved ones." Jack got a quiet, sort of moved look about him. Angela leaned in to look at the animal more closely, and he gave her a smile, shyly bumping his shoulder against hers.
Which made it Angela's turn. She opened up the box and couldn't hold back a little laugh at the sweet, playful looking otter staring up at her.
"The otter is the heart – the spirit, the spark, the creature that reminds us that life is nothing without play. In old Native American stories, the otter is often the ultimate savior, the one who saves everyone in some whimsical, unconventional way," Belle told her.
Angela traced the fine details with her index finger, imagining the man who'd carved this – the time he'd taken, the years he'd been working at his craft. She looked at Tripp and Belle and it was everything she could do to hold it together when she said,
"Thank you, guys. This is… This really means a lot."
Jack put his arm around her and she leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder while Belle handed Booth the last box. He opened it and got this sweet, bashful look as he pulled out a wolf, standing with his head raised, eyes on the horizon.
Tripp looked over at Brennan. "Would you do the honors, Dr. Brennan?"
Brennan nodded. When she spoke it was only to Booth, a smile that Angela knew for a fact she'd never seen before, on her friend's face.
"Traditionally, the wolf represents the great protector. In a fight, he won't hesitate to lay down his life for those he loves, for the other members of his pack. A gentle father, passionate lover, and loyal friend, it's generally agreed that the wolf is the most revered symbol in Native American myth."
Booth studied the figure in his hand, lifting his eyes for a second to meet Brennan's gaze before he swallowed and looked down again. He nodded to Tripp and Belle seriously.
"Thanks. I mean, I don't know how much I deserve it, but… thank you. It means a lot."
Once the little boxes were distributed and they'd each had their moment, Angela couldn't help it – she'd loved the whole week, and couldn't think of a nicer way to finish things out, but she realized suddenly that she was definitely ready to go. She knew she couldn't handle another big talk about thoughts or feelings or childhood trauma, so she just sat there with her head on Jack's shoulder and waited. It was four o'clock, and she was ready to go home.
4p.m. – 11p.m.
It wasn't that Booth didn't appreciate the whole thing – the ceremony and the wolf and the meaning behind it, because he definitely did. And yeah, he'd had a pretty great time in the kayak with Bones, watching the way she pushed herself, frankly a little turned on by the way she set her jaw and that little ripple of muscle in her back and shoulders as she paddled.
In fact, he definitely appreciated all of it - every minute. It was just that he'd been doing a lot of thinking over the last day or so, and the thing he was thinking about the most? Okay – the thing he was thinking about the most was Bones, and the way she'd kind of tackled and kissed the hell out of him the night before – the way she tasted, the way she felt, the way he'd leapt to attention like he was a sixteen-year-old kid again… Yeah, he'd been thinking a lot about that.
Coming in at a close second, though, was Parker.
Which he guessed was probably silly, since Booth had only been away from his kid for a week. But he couldn't help it – he really liked Parker. Missed the hell out of him when they were apart, and had a blast when they were together. And this week, he couldn't help but think that Parker would've had a great time out here. Obviously, Booth was glad Parker wasn't around for everything – he was a good father, but he was no saint. Still, the kayaking, the swimming, the campfires? Parker really would've loved that stuff.
So, by the time they finished handing out little wooden animals and talking for the thousandth time that week about their feelings, Booth was ready to get moving. Finally, after all the animals were handed out and Tripp finished his hundredth heartfelt spiel, Cam rolled her eyes in Booth's direction. He realized that he was tapping his foot, his knee going fast and his hands doing that keyed up drumming thing they did sometimes when he was anxious.
"Okay, you have to stop that. Seriously." She gave Booth her best, no bullshit, eyebrows raised, I'll-kill-you-now look of steel, and he gave her a bit of a flirty grin. It was just Cam, but he figured there'd always be a little bit of that left between them. She turned to the instructor seriously. "Tripp, you're gonna have to cut this thing short before Seeley has a stroke. Or I brain him."
Tripp nodded and smiled. "Got it. All right then, you guys – be well. Be safe. Be kind. And… I'll see you tonight at Billy's."
Booth shook his head, still not quite able to believe that he'd survived a week in the woods with a bunch of granola and hippies, only to have been informed by Cam that now he was gonna have to spend a night out on the town with the very same hippies. But at least there'd be no granola this time out.
As he was cutting out to grab his cell phone, Bones called after him.
"Say hi to Parker for me," she said, and he turned and smiled at her.
"You got it, Bones."
As he was walking away, he thought about what it would be like to be back in D.C. with his partner. They'd kissed – twice now. Him and Bones. He had no idea how Bones felt about it, but based on her outburst around the circle this morning, she was obviously thinking about it. And worried – that much was clear, which worried him, because if there was ever a time for her to freak out, this would be it. Hell, she'd practically sent him packing when all they did was hug at Jack and Angela's almost-wedding, and then she gave him the cold shoulder for a whole day after they got too close around the campfire the other night.
He had to push all those thoughts out of his head then and there, he decided, because there was no way he was gonna figure it all out at the moment. Instead, he wandered around for a few minutes until he found a spot with semi-decent reception, and hit number one on his speed dial.
Rebecca answered. Booth smiled, actually glad to hear her voice. Whatever had and hadn't happened between them – and seriously, there was a lot of water under that bridge – she was responsible for pretty much the best thing that had ever happened to him. For that reason alone, Rebecca would always be an important part of his life.
"Back from the camping trip from hell?" she asked.
She must've seen his number on the caller ID – he liked that she didn't bother with 'Hello' or 'How are you,' just got to the nitty-gritty. He realized it was something she had in common with Bones, and the thought made him smile.
"It wasn't so bad," he said.
"Oh, really?" Bec said, like he'd just said something big. "I thought you were being dragged out there against your will and you'd rather dance naked – "
"Yeah yeah yeah," he interrupted. "I remember. Nah, it was fine – you know, whatever. No big deal." He stopped, because he had no idea where to start or what to say without spilling the Bones thing. Rebecca could read him like a friggin' book, and no way was he ready for that. So, he decided dodging the conversation completely was his best bet.
"Listen, I'm not sure how long I'm gonna get a signal – I'll tell you all the bloody details when I get back, I swear. Is Parker around?"
"Hang on – he's outside with some friends. I'll go get him."
"Nah, that's okay – " Booth started to say, though he was definitely disappointed. Rebecca laughed.
"Are you kidding? He's been waiting all day to talk to you – if he found out you called and I didn't get him, I'd be in the doghouse for a week."
Booth felt a little rush of pride, along with a hefty-sized lump in his throat. He swallowed around it and managed, "Okay then – go get him," without sounding too bad, and he shook his head at what a sap he was. He could do dead bodies and psychotic killers and everything in between, but Parker could make him crumble in a second – always could. It was definitely one of the biggest surprises he'd gotten when he became a father: how everything he thought he understood about who he was and what he was capable of, just changed overnight.
A minute later, Parker himself was on the line – a little out of breath, but definitely happy to hear from his old man.
"Dad? Are you still in Maine?"
Booth grinned. "Yeah, buddy – I'm still here. Tired and sunburned and hungry – man am I hungry. I could go for one of those burgers over at Ella's."
"I went over there the other night with Chris and his mom," Parker told him excitedly. "Chris couldn't even finish one burger, and when I told him that one time you ate four he said he didn't believe me. Do you think you could take Chris and me there when you get home, and eat four burgers so he knows I wasn't making it up?"
Booth laughed outright. "Yeah, Parks – heck, as hungry as I am now, I bet I could eat five of 'em. So, how's your week been otherwise? You been good for your Mom?"
"Yeah, Dad, of course," Parker told him, and Booth could almost see the eye roll.
"No holding up liquor stores or robbing banks while I was gone, right?" Booth prodded, until Parker giggled.
"No, Dad. You're so weird."
Parker faded out for a second, so Booth hurried to wrap things up.
"Listen, buddy, I'm gonna have to go before I lose reception – not a lot of cell phone towers out here in the boonies. But I just wanted to check in and let you know I missed you this week. We on for ice cream Wednesday night?"
"Definitely!" Parker said, and there was no mistaking the enthusiasm in his voice.
"You know I love you, right buddy?" Booth asked, making an effort to keep his voice light.
"I love you too, Dad. See ya Wednesday."
Booth snapped his phone shut and stood still for a second, just thinking about his life. Every so often he did this – thought about what he'd seen and where he was now, about the fact that he had a healthy, bright, happy kid and a job that he liked and a partner that he… well, whatever. He didn't like to get sappy about the whole thing, but he also didn't want to take any of it for granted. He looked over at the group, still hanging out in the grass together. Bones was talking to Angela about something – the two women's heads sort of bowed together, laughing, and for some reason just that sight kind of got him. He really loved to see Bones laugh, loved the casual, easy way the women had together.
It was warm out, the sun shining, a breeze coming off the water. He was healthy, he was happy, he was strong. Not really caring if anyone was watching, he kind of closed his eyes and did a quick, silent 'Thank you' to the man upstairs – just because it seemed like the moment called for it. It wasn't like he made a big production of the whole thing, but sometimes it just seemed like a little gratitude was in order. Afterward, he put his cell phone back in his pocket, shook off all the deep thoughts, and called to the others.
"Hey," he yelled, moving fast, clapping his hands once to get everyone's attention. "All right, are we ready to get outta here or what? We've got three hours before Tripp here's comin' to take us out on the town, and I plan on spending at least two and a half of those asleep in a real bed. Let's get this show on the road."
The hotel was right on Route One headed out of town – not much of a view, but Tripp said the best ice cream on the planet was right across the road, and there was a movie theatre next door. Not that it really mattered to Booth – honestly, all he wanted was to take the longest, hottest shower known to man, strip down to his jockeys, and crawl between crisp, clean sheets. And he didn't plan on letting the fact that he was sharing a room with Sweets keep him from that plan. Jack and Angela had claimed one of the rooms for themselves, which meant Booth either had to find a legitimate reason why he should be rooming with Bones, or had to shut up and deal with spending the night with Sweets. Now, he was starting to doubt his decision.
As soon as they checked in, Booth called first dibs on the bathroom. Sweets griped a little, but he must've caught the look in Booth's eye because a second later, he just shut up and crashed out on his bed with a book. Which meant Booth was alone, more or less. He closed the bathroom door and put the shower on high, took his time on the pot after being forced to dig holes in the woods for the past week, and finally stripped down and got into the shower.
God, it felt good. There was great water pressure, so he let the spray rain down hard between his shoulder blades, running down his back and over his ass and just generally hitting all the spots that ached from a week of running himself ragged. He kind of took stock of himself, realizing that he'd probably dropped a couple pounds around his middle, but he felt good – strong, healthy, kind of clear about stuff. Okay, not totally clear, but he thought maybe he was getting there.
The problem, of course, was whether or not Bones was clear. Based on the conversation around the circle that morning, he was thinking she probably wasn't – which meant it was on his shoulders to steer her in the right direction. Except he wasn't really sure what the right direction might be – he just knew he liked spending time with her. Felt like he could tell her just about anything, and that was really saying something for him. And now that they'd introduced this new aspect of the relationship, he didn't really know any better than she did how it would affect them.
He closed his eyes, deciding that he just wouldn't think about it for a while. But of course that only made him think about it more, and before he knew it he was remembering the way she felt pressed against him, that thing she'd done with her tongue last night and the curve of her thigh when they were in the sleeping bag the night before that… He groaned in frustration, pushing the images to the very back of his brain. Turned the water from hot to cold, finished rinsing off, and got out.
Afterward, he decided he was officially ready to pass out for the next forty-eight hours. He managed to climb out of the shower, dry himself off, pull on a clean pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and stumble into the next room. Sweets was already in the bed closest to the air conditioner, sound asleep. Booth felt another twinge of regret when he saw how young the psychologist looked, laying there with black eyes and his nose still too swollen to breathe through.
Booth sat at the end of the other bed and turned the TV on low. He went straight for ESPN, reading the crawl at the bottom of the screen to get caught up on the games he'd missed. Sweets mumbled something, kind of snorted, and then jolted awake – Booth looked over at him, waiting to see if the kid was really up.
"What time is it?" Sweets asked, which Booth knew by now didn't mean he was actually awake.
"Almost five. Are you up, or are you dreaming?"
Sweets sat up, ran a hand through his hair. "No, I'm up. Did anybody call?"
Booth just looked at him. "What am I, your secretary? How the hell should I know – I was in the shower." He paused. "Why, are you expecting someone to call?"
The younger man looked embarrassed. "Well – not exactly. I mean, it's possible. They both said they might, and I have tentative plans this evening so…"
Booth's head was starting to throb, and that bed was definitely calling his name.
"Sweets, what the hell are you talkin' about?"
Sweets started to answer, but Booth held up his hand. "Hang on – " He stood, kind of hobbled to his bed, and climbed under the covers. "Okay, go," he told Sweets. "Talk as long as you want, just don't expect me to talk back."
So, Sweets dove into all his girl troubles, going on and on about how nuts he was about Daisy, but how Daisy was just plain nuts and wouldn't he be a healthier guy if he went for Belle and dropped Daisy. He stopped talking at that point, and Booth had that heavy, drugged feeling that meant he was about to pass out.
He'd just gotten to sleep when the room phone rang, jolting him completely awake.
Apparently, it was Belle.
Booth lay there and listened to Sweets babble to her about the course and a bunch of bands Booth had never heard of and then analyze everyone in their group – carefully avoiding any mention of Booth or Bones. It took only about sixty seconds for Booth to decide he was officially in hell.
"Why can't you use your cell for this?" he growled. Sweets put his hand over the phone.
"I forgot to charge it while we were gone – is this bothering you?"
"No, Sweets," Booth said, shooting a glare at the kid. "There's nothing I'd rather have as background noise for my nap than you and your girlfriend babbling about – "
Sweets got the picture.
"Uh – Belle? Listen, maybe we should just talk later, at the bar. Yeah, Booth is trying to sleep." There was a pause before Sweets said, "Oh – uh, really? Sure. I mean – yeah, I guess that would be okay. I'll see you in half an hour."
He hung up the phone. Booth breathed a sigh of relief, ready to get back to some quality power napping.
"Oh God," he heard Sweets say.
Oh God was right. Booth rolled over and opened one eye, determined not to encourage Sweets by asking him what was wrong. The psychologist was sitting on the edge of his bed with a sort of shell shocked look on his face, rocking just a little.
"This is not good," Sweets said, and Booth had the feeling he wasn't actually talking to anyone. Booth closed his eyes again, determined not to take the bait.
"This is definitely very, very not good," Sweets said.
He got up, and Booth opened one eye again and watched the kid pace the floor. Back and forth, back and forth, the floor creaking on every fourth step until finally Booth sat bolt upright, his eyebrows climbing his forehead.
"What the hell's the problem, Sweets? So you go out with Belle – you have a drink. You talk, have a good time – and then you get on the plane tomorrow and by tomorrow night you and Daisy are making sweet geek love and everything's peachy again. The thing with Belle's not gonna happen, get over it."
Sweets hesitated just a second before he blurted out, "But you don't understand – the thing with Belle already happened. It's out there. I'm officially a cheater – me. And there's no taking it back, and I know I don't want to lose Daisy but I can hardly just dismiss Belle after what happened, because that would make me more of a jerk than I already am."
Okay, that was definitely not what Booth was expecting. "You slept with Belle?"
Sweets looked at him in horror. "What? No – of course not. Unlike the rest of you, I have some control over my baser desires. And I have a girlfriend."
"Well then what the hell are you bitching about, Sweets?" Booth demanded, aware that his voice was definitely rising.
Sweets sighed. Long and slow and painful, and Booth might have felt for the guy if he hadn't already had his fill of Lance Sweets about three days ago.
"We kissed. I kissed her – and not just a peck on the cheek, either." He was pacing the room again. Booth took a breath, realizing that his nap window was closing fast. "A kiss is a uniquely intimate expression of one's feelings, and I just laid it out there. And now I'm going to see her again, and who knows what I'll do when we're alone with no danger of being discovered."
Booth shook his head. "This is about a kiss?"
"It wasn't just a kiss, all right? It was a good kiss. A great kiss. And I know I love Daisy – I mean, I'm pretty sure I do. Or I at least am very fond of her, and I could definitely see the relationship going further. And yet, here I am in Maine kissing some other woman and not only enjoying it, but hoping that it will happen again."
Booth massaged his temples, but it did almost nothing to ease the pain in his head. Great. He closed his eyes, sat up in bed, and found himself thinking again of Bones. And, more specifically, kissing Bones - how unexpected it had been in some ways, but how in others it had felt like the most natural thing in the world. Which brought him back to the conversation around the circle that morning, and the way Bones had looked when she'd said that she didn't know what she was taking back or how it would change things.
They'd done okay all day long, working together and joking around and generally being the partners they'd always been, but he hadn't actually said word one about what it would be like when they got back to D.C. He knew Bones – knew how amazing she was on just about every playing field, but this was one area where she really relied on him. There was no question in Booth's mind that she was waiting for him to give her a clue about how he was feeling and what should happen next, and he realized suddenly that he'd completely dropped the ball on that. Hell, she'd probably already overthought the whole thing all to hell and decided they should go back to the same old thing once they got back to D.C. And all of a sudden he realized that, as it turned out, he didn't want that at all.
He stood, realizing that Sweets was still babbling at him. Booth took another deep breath, and looked at the kid.
"You're twenty-two, right?" he asked.
"Right. Look, I don't know if you're in love with Daisy. I don't even know if you're in love with Belle. I do know that you're a jackass to go around kissing someone when you've got a girlfriend – but it happens, right? Call Daisy. For God's sake, don't tell her about the kiss – just talk to her. Once you do, I'm pretty sure you'll know whether you really wanna spend the afternoon alone with Belle."
He was getting dressed while he was saying all this, checking his reflection in the mirror after he'd pulled on jeans and a jacket and put his wallet in his back pocket. Sweets looked at him in surprise.
"Wait, where are you going? I thought you wanted to rest."
Booth rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well – I can rest when I'm dead. I've gotta take care of something."
Sweets looked at him funny, like he knew something was up but, strangely enough, was too smart to actually ask questions. Maybe he'd learned something this week after all. Booth was already out the door and halfway down the hall before he realized that he didn't have a clue what the hell he was going to say. Still, he kept going – this was Bones, after all. He'd figure it out once he got there, but he didn't want to risk giving her anymore time to talk herself out of this than he already had.
On the way to Bones's room, Booth stopped a cleaning lady in the hallway. The woman was pushing a cart overloaded with cleaning supplies and plastic bags of dirty laundry; she was tall and too thin, had the yellow skin and wrinkled mouth of a longtime smoker. He thought of a saying his old man used to use: rode hard and put away wet. He'd never much cared for the saying, but he could see how it might fit in this case.
"Excuse me," he said. She looked up, and he kind of smiled when her hand went to her hair, straightening a little where she stood when she saw him. You still got it, Seeley, he thought with some relief. He could definitely use a little confidence boost before having whatever talk he was about to have with Bones.
"You need fresh towels?" the woman asked, and Booth shook his head.
"No – no thanks, the room's great. I just wondered if you could tell me a quiet spot around here to take someone."
Her face sort of fell. "Oh – you mean like a romantic spot?"
He thought about this for a second. Was that what he meant? It seemed like way too much trouble to explain all the crazy details of his relationship with Bones, so he just nodded.
"Yeah, I guess so. Just somewhere to talk," he added, in case she was getting the wrong idea.
The woman nodded, like this was all the information she needed. "Lighthouse, breakwater, or Children's Chapel. Lighthouse and breakwater are closer – this time of afternoon, the lighthouse'll be less crowded. You know, just in case the talking gets old and you wanna do something else." She winked at him, and he rolled his eyes.
"Right. Thanks. And where do I find the lighthouse?"
She gave him directions he was hoping he'd remember once they were on the road, and a minute later he was back on his way to Bones's room. He got more nervous the closer he got – which was just dumb, he kept telling himself. This was Bones – Bones, for crying out loud. He knew her inside-out. She was his best friend, his partner, someone who'd proven more than once that she'd be there when things got tough. So they'd kissed a couple of times – was that really such a big deal? So maybe things between them were about to change, in ways he had a hard time picturing and was maybe terrified to admit…
Okay, this definitely wasn't helping.
He reached her door, and just stood there for a minute or two. He thought again of the advice he'd given Sweets – how he'd told her to just call Daisy and talk to her, and he'd probably have the answer from there. After a little more agonizing, he finally decided to take his own advice. He took a deep breath or two, and knocked on the door.
Bones answered the door with her hair still wet, wearing a fluffy white bathrobe. She kind of blinked at him when she opened the door, like he was the last person on the planet she'd expected to see.
"Booth. I – I thought you were going to rest before Tripp picks us up tonight."
He nodded, trying not to look too floored by how good she looked. Her robe was open at the throat, and there was a drop of water on her collarbone and it occurred to him completely out of the blue that he suddenly really, really wanted to taste that water.
Okay, now that definitely wasn't helping.
"Yeah, well – Sweets had other ideas. Where's Cam?"
They were standing at the door, Booth still outside the room and Bones still in. She looked at him blankly for a second, like she'd forgotten she had a roommate.
"She went with Tripp. Did you – um, did you want to come in?"
She moved out of the way a little, and Booth took one look inside the room with the big, empty beds and Bones standing there with probably not a stitch on under that robe and he just swallowed. Hard. And shook his head.
"Uh – no. No, definitely not." He didn't miss the look that crossed her face, that little flash of first confusion and then hurt. Get it together, Seeley, he ordered himself.
"I was actually hoping maybe we could go for a ride. Have a little time just the two of us, before the whole gang's back together tonight."
She gave him that skeptical Bones look he knew so well. "Where is everyone else? We can't just take the only mode of transportation and leave them."
He grinned, comfortable now that we were back in familiar territory. He put something out there, Bones shot it down, he kept at her until she gave in. Now this, he could do. "Sure we can – my keys, my call. I'm sure Jack and Angela are busy doing somethin' I don't really want to think about, God only knows when Tripp and Cam are coming back, and Sweets has his own problems. Come on, Bones… We've got less than twenty-four hours before you're buried back at the Jeffersonian again – let's check out the sights."
He half expected her to come up with some lame excuse about catching up on e-mails or something, so he was surprised when she actually nodded without arguing more.
"All right – just let me change."
Before they left, they got ice cream from the place across the street that Tripp had recommended. It was a little white shack with a line all the way to the road, but Booth figured good ice cream was worth the wait. Bones wore a sarong that had just about knocked him on his ass when she came out of the bathroom in the hotel – it was a pretty African print that hugged her body in all the right ways, and standing in line Booth didn't miss the fact that just about every guy in the place had their eye on his partner.
He stepped a little closer, resting his hand on that spot at the small of her back that – up until a few days ago – had been one of the few places he was allowed to touch in their day-to-day lives. This time, though, the contact sent a charge of electricity right up his spine (and, let's face it, to a few other places he was trying not to think about). It took more than a little effort to stay focused on choosing an ice cream flavor from the board in the window instead of just turning around and taking Bones where she stood.
But, he managed it. Bones ordered a bowl of ginger ice cream, which Booth gave her shit about because it wasn't a real ice cream flavor; Booth ordered peppermint stick in a waffle cone, which he insisted was not only a real ice cream flavor, but was the best ice cream flavor. He was surprised at how it didn't seem awkward between them at all, given the conversation they were about to have. Bones had been a little weird when they first got in the car, but she seemed to calm down once she realized he was the same old Booth. Or, at least he was trying like hell to be.
Once they were in the car, he thought the ice cream would be a good idea because they could just eat if he couldn't think of anything to say. But, it turned out they had plenty to talk about: what was going on between Tripp and Cam, whether Sweets should stay with Daisy, if Bones should buy a summer place in the area. They talked about the weather, about how they both missed not being on the water, Bones talked about a couple cases she was looking forward to getting back to…
It kind of blew Booth's mind actually, that they would've just spent the past eight days without more than a few hours apart each day, and still have this much to say. He liked the way she used her hands when she talked, the way her blue eyes sparkled when she laughed, how she turned her body toward him when he was saying something… He almost went off the road when she kind of moaned when she took the first bite of ice cream, a low, throaty sound that he suddenly really, really wanted to hear again. Only next time, he wanted to be the reason she was making it.
"That good, huh?" he grinned, and she actually blushed.
"It's delicious – Tripp was right. How's yours?"
"Good." He tried handing it to her. "Here, have a bite. Let me try yours."
She didn't take the cone from him, holding her dish out of reach. "I thought ginger wasn't a real ice cream flavor."
"It's not, Bones," he said with an exasperated sigh. "Vanilla, chocolate, blueberry, peppermint stick… those are real ice cream flavors. Ginger's some hoity-toity made-up flavor that normal people wouldn't be caught dead eating."
He took another bite of his peppermint stick, and Bones had another spoonful of her ginger. She moaned again – this time on purpose, he could tell by the glint in her eye when he looked at her.
"Nope – you had your chance. I'm not gonna beg for your ice cream, no matter how much moaning you do."
She nodded. "Suit yourself."
And then she ate the whole bowl, without offering him a single bite. And scraped the spoon along the sides, to make sure she'd gotten every last bit. Booth's waffle cone was actually huge – it wouldn't have been a big deal for him to let her have a taste, but there was no way after that. He crunched loudly on the last piece of cone, then looked over at Bones.
"Good ice cream."
She grinned at him. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."
She was sitting with her legs crossed and her hands in her lap, the window down partway so that the wind ruffled her hair. Over the past week, she'd gotten probably more sun than she usually allowed herself – there were streaks of blonde in her hair, her skin a little more tanned than usual. It wouldn't be completely out of line to say she was glowing, actually.
That was when the nerves kicked in for Booth. Bones seemed oblivious to the change, watching the sights now that they were on the back roads with the ocean off to one side, green trees and greener hills spilling on into the distance. By the time they'd gotten to the lighthouse, he had to take a second to pull himself together and get back on track. The conversation between them died, and he could tell that Bones was getting nervous, too – withdrawing a little, waiting for a cue from him about how this thing was gonna go.
The lighthouse was at the end of an old dirt road. Booth parked the SUV in a mostly-empty dirt lot, and would have opened the door for Bones but she'd already hopped out. Beyond the parking lot, there was a sheer drop leading to clear blue ocean, behind an old wooden guardrail on the right side of the road, a solid wall of trees to the left. The wind had come up a little, so that it was cooler out now – Booth took off his jacket and put it around Bones's bare shoulders. She made a face.
"You don't need to give me your coat – you'll be cold. I should have brought one myself."
He rolled his eyes. "Just take it, okay? You really want me to be the schmuck who lets his girl freeze just to prove a point?"
She looked at him when he said that, but he couldn't read her expression. She did keep the coat on, though, which he thought might be progress. They kept walking.
There was a long flight of white stairs leading to the top of the lighthouse, set on a cliff overlooking the water. It wasn't a big climb, especially after a week of kayaking for hours on end. Still, they were quiet on the walk up, and Booth was getting edgier the closer they got to whatever conversation it turned out they were going to have. There was almost no one there, just a group of kids sitting over by the ledges, and they passed an older couple on the stairs.
At the top, all Booth could see was ocean and islands for miles. He tried to figure out where they'd been – which islands they'd visited, whether they'd paddled through any of the dozens of inlets on all sides, but he couldn't tell. The wind blew through Bones's hair, and she leaned so far out over the railing that Booth finally grabbed the back of her jacket (or his, technically).
"Geez, Bones – be careful. Do you see how far down those rocks are?"
She pulled back, and turned around. Which meant now they were facing each other, and it seemed like the moment had pretty much arrived – time for the talk. Would they or wouldn't they? Should they or shouldn't they? And did she even want to, really? All the questions and uncertainty were starting to make him a little queasy, and when he looked at her he realized that she'd gotten that guarded look he always hated to see.
He was about to say something, when she beat him to the punch. She took a deep breath and kind of squared her shoulders, like she was about to walk into battle.
"I've been thinking about what happened between us this week," she said.
He smiled, just a little kick of a grin on one side because he suddenly had an idea where this was going.
"Oh, yeah? You come up with any theories?"
She nodded seriously. "I have. And I think that it's completely natural for us to feel a certain degree of physical attraction, given the complexity of our relationship and the number of charged, life-threatening situations we've faced over the years. Many of the chemicals released in the body during a threatening situation are the same ones released in a moment of sexual – " She stopped short, wrinkling her forehead at him. "Why are you smiling like that? I've put a great deal of thought into this."
He sighed. "Yeah, Bones, I'm sure you have. So, according to this theory we somehow got confused when people were trying to kill us, and when we spent a week without someone trying to kill us, the same old juices were flowing and our bodies didn't know what to do so we just… kissed. That's your theory."
She raised her eyebrows. "Well, yes – though the terms are obviously somewhat crude, that's an accurate summarization."
It took a second for him to figure out where to go from there. The older couple was gone, but the kids over at the ledges were still there – there were three or four of them, and it made him nervous to see them that close to the edge. Finally, he pulled his attention back to Bones, who was waiting for him to say something. And it wasn't even like this was a surprise – hell, he'd known from the minute Angela dared them to spend the night in the sleeping bag that this would be coming. Still, it was mind-boggling the lengths Bones would go to to keep the two of them from ending up together. Or even starting, for Christ's sake.
"You're kidding, right? So the whole kissing thing – you coming to find me, talking all night after solo and then the thing after dinner last night… You're saying that was all because of chemicals in our brain and a lack of bad guys. That's your story."
He took another step toward her, his voice still not rising – because this time, he knew. He knew exactly what she wanted, even if she didn't have a goddamn clue. And if it killed him, he was gonna make sure she figured it out once and for all.
"I'm merely saying that perhaps we weren't acting rationally – it was an intense few days, and it's completely natural for two healthy, attractive adults to develop a certain sexual attraction. But we obviously weren't thinking of the impact our actions might have on the partnership."
"I was thinking about them, Bones," he said, without even stopping to think about it. "Okay? Trust me, that's all I've been thinking about for the past week. Hell, before we got out here I was thinking about the impact our actions might have on the goddamn partnership."
Somehow, they'd gotten turned around – Bones was standing with her back against the lighthouse now, Booth leaning into her. He took a step toward her, so close now that her heat was burning straight through him. He put a hand on either side of her head, his body pinning her without actually exerting any real force – if she wanted to get away, it'd be easy for her to do.
"This isn't just chemicals, Bones – you know it, and I know it. It's not just sex, and it's not just danger. Not to me, and I don't think to you either. There's something there."
She actually looked outright terrified for a second, but Booth didn't move because he suddenly knew it wasn't him she was terrified of. He just stayed there with their bodies pressed together and her heartbeat pounding in his ears, waiting for Bones to work it out in her own time.
"What if it doesn't work?" she asked, this mix of vulnerable and defiant in the set of her jaw and the light in her eyes. He knew that if he wasn't straight with her now, that was it – she'd run, and God only knew if they'd ever get this chance again. So he didn't look away, and he told her the truth.
"I don't know," he said honestly. "I just know that I think we should try. Take it slow, but stop pretending there's not something here." He paused, allowing just a little bit of a grin. "C'mon, Bones… Let's give it a shot."
A second passed, and then another one. Finally, she gave him this little smile, twisting her body just the tiniest bit against him. "If it doesn't work, we go back to being partners. And we don't tell anyone – at least, not right away."
He tried to keep from grinning like an idiot, and nodded seriously instead. "Yeah, good. Good idea. The last thing we need is Sweets poking around while we're just getting started."
She nodded her agreement, and then there was another second of silence between them when it seemed like everything that had ever gone on between them before was about to crash into whatever would come next, and for some reason Booth really wanted to remember that moment. He leaned in closer, and she leaned back, and when their lips met she tasted like the sweetest goddamn summer he'd ever tasted. He pinned her against the lighthouse and took a shaky breath when she wrapped her arms around his neck, deepening the kiss until his jeans were way too tight and his head was way too light and there were about a thousand things he would rather be doing than going out for drinks with their friends.
When they finally managed to pull themselves together and make their slow way back to the car, he draped his arm over her shoulders and pulled her closer while they walked. She lay her head against his shoulder, and Booth tried not to think about things like coming back here for a week with her and Parker, or what it would be like to spend a weekend in bed together, or how many times he could draw that ice cream moan from her in a night.
Once they got back in the SUV, it took Bones about sixty seconds to fall asleep. She had Booth's jacket over her, her body leaning toward him a little while she slept. By the time they got back, the rest of the crew was waiting in the parking lot for them – Booth nudged his partner awake, all too aware that everyone was watching as he parked the car.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty – time to get up."
She opened her eyes reluctantly. "I don't understand why we're going out at all. It would be much more sensible to say goodbye to Tripp and Belle now and just go to bed."
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Well, I don't know how much more sensible it'd be, but it'd sure be a hell of a lot more fun."
She rolled her eyes, but there was no mistaking the blush climbing her cheeks. "That's not what I meant," she said, stopping just short of a scowl, forehead creased.
Both turned on the patented Seeley Charm Smile, and actually winked at her – winked, for Christ's sake.
"Sure ya didn't, Bones," he said, and he couldn't keep from putting a little swagger in his step when he got out of the car.
He still didn't know what would happen between them in the next few months, but he was suddenly really looking forward to finding out. Oh yeah, this was gonna be fun.
Billy's Tavern and Oyster Bar was the smallest bar Booth had ever been in. Luckily, since it was a small-town bar on a Sunday night, it was pretty much just their group there anyway. Belle was conspicuously absent – which Booth took to mean Sweets had talked to Daisy. Still, the kid didn't look too broken up – in fact, he actually seemed to be in a good mood, joking and maybe flirting more than he actually should have with Angela, drinking a little more than he should have considering they had a six a.m. wake up call, and definitely getting way too personal with Booth.
"I'm just saying," Sweets was telling him, "that I've been very impressed with the group dynamic we've demonstrated during this course. I know, I know, Belle was somewhat taken aback by our unconventional methods, but I think she just hasn't been out in the world enough to recognize the validity of alternative approaches."
The psychologist had pulled Booth off to the side of the group, and had been babbling incoherently for about twenty minutes. Brennan and Tripp had been deep in a conversation about South American monkey colonies or something when Booth left, and Cam and Jack and Angela were playing quarters, laughing and generally living it up.
"And you," Sweets continued, actually hitting Booth in the chest with the hand holding his gin and tonic, splashing a little on Booth's shirt. Booth didn't move, but the look he gave Sweets was enough to make the psychologist take a step back. "You are actually a very impressive leader. The picture of the wolf – intensely loyal, thoughtful…"
Booth gave him a look, holding up his hand for the kid to stop. "Look, I know we're one short on girls here tonight, but you've gotta stop hitting on me like this."
Sweets grinned – not a stupid grin, not even an annoying one, and maybe it was all the sun he'd gotten all week, or (more likely) the memory of that mind-numbing kiss he'd shared with Bones earlier, but he realized Sweets was kind of growing on him.
"You're a very funny man, Agent Booth. A sense of humor is important – that's why I like Daisy so much." He shook his head, kind of mournfully. "Belle was beautiful, but she really didn't understand me at all. It never could have worked."
Booth nodded at this. "Yeah, plus she was a little nutty. At least someone like Daisy, you know what you're getting – you end up with a girl like Belle, it's only a matter of time before the crazy bites you in the ass. That's the kind of crazy you've gotta watch out for."
Sweets seemed to be considering this – or else he was so drunk he'd forgotten Booth was still there. Either way, Booth took it as an opportunity to get back to the others. Once he had, he realized that the climbing instructor – Jeremy, the guy who'd been all over Cam at the campfire a few nights back – had joined them at some point, and now was sitting next to Bones giving her lessons on how to flip a quarter into a glass. She had this intense look of concentration on her face, and Booth didn't miss the way Jeremy had his arm draped across the back of the seat, sort of leaning into his partner. Bones was oblivious, of course – she would've been just as clueless without the two beers or the shot of whiskey Jeremy had apparently bought her in Booth's absence, but now she didn't stand a shot.
Booth had already declared himself the designated driver for the night, so he was sober as a deacon. He took a breath and kept his head, managing to keep his temper in check when he returned to the table.
"Hey, Jeremy – good to see you." He pushed the guy aside, squeezing himself in right between Bones and the instructor. "When'd you get here?"
Jeremy shot him a look, but Booth knew he wouldn't call him on it. The guy just slid down a little, and Bones smiled widely at Booth. You could drive a truck through her pupils, and she gave him a sexy little grin that no one in the place could have missed.
"You're back," she said.
He nodded, looking around to see who was watching this little exchange. Everyone, it turned out.
"Yeah, Bones – geez, how much have you had to drink?"
She thought seriously. "Not that much – typically, I don't drink more than a glass of wine at dinner, though. And I think I may have lost some weight while we were on the course, so it's possible I miscalculated my tolerance."
She leaned into him, resting her hand on his chest when she said loudly, "I think Jeremy may have been hitting on me. He used the game as an excuse, but in ancient mating rituals it was common for males to assert their dominance over a female by demonstrating mastery of a sport."
Booth chuckled. "You don't say, Bones."
She leaned in a little further, stopping just short of resting her head on his chest. Angela was following the whole exchange with a smirk, while the rest of the group pretended they weren't watching.
"I'm very tired," Bones said quietly. Booth just sat there, not touching her, hating that he couldn't just put his arm around her or brush the hair off her forehead. Instead, he squeezed her arm in what he hoped looked like a partnerly show of support, stood up and nodded to the others.
"All right, guys – I know it's kind of early, but what's say we get packed up and head back to the hotel? I'm beat."
He was surprised when no one complained. Cam and Tripp took off together, with Cam assuring everyone that she'd be back by the time they had to leave in the morning. Booth watched her go and he liked the fact that Tripp put his arm around her when they were walking away, not seeming like he cared at all about pretending he wasn't crazy about Booth's ex.
Bones fell asleep again on the way back to the hotel. Booth dropped everyone else at the door, then parked the car and came around to the passenger side, grateful to have a few minutes of peace with his partner. Her breathing was even, her head tilted to the side and a few strands of hair falling loose over her forehead. Booth brushed the hair back, feeling that same spark he'd felt earlier when he touched her at the lighthouse. She opened her eyes, disoriented for a second before she saw him and smiled.
"I fell asleep," she told him.
He grinned. "Yeah, I noticed." He took a quick look around to make sure everyone had gone inside, then leaned in. She turned toward him, wrapping her arms around him when they kissed, her mouth sweet and soft and welcoming.
"I've been wanting to do that all night," he told her, feeling kind of shy about it.
She studied him, like she wasn't sure whether he was serious or not. "We'll have to be more careful when we get home. I think Angela suspects something."
Booth rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well – the way you were looking at me at the bar, I think everyone suspects something." She looked uneasy, so he added quickly, "I'm sure it'll be fine. Once we get back to D.C., everything'll go back to normal and we can just pretend we're the same old Booth and Bones. No one'll have a clue."
She didn't look convinced, but it seemed to make her feel a little better. There was a second or two of silence, before she nodded toward the hotel. He didn't miss the way she was looking at him or the sort of awkward beat when she said quietly, "So, we should probably go in."
He took a breath. Nodded. Held his hand out to her, which she took, and got out of the car. They walked back into the hotel with his arm around her shoulders, Bones leaning into him, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd been so nervous about the end of a non-date.
He walked her to her door, because that's what any self-respecting gentleman would do.
Once they got there, she looked at him uncertainly.
"Cam will be gone for the night," she said.
He nodded, but he wasn't sure what to say to that. Part of him wanted to just say that four years of waiting was enough – they had a hotel room all to themselves, no interruptions and nothing stopping them from a night of mind-blowing, knee-buckling sex.
Unfortunately, a bigger part of him was telling him pretty clearly that he was exhausted. And she was a little drunk. And they had a wake-up call at six a.m., before going back to their crazy-ass lives in D.C. He was trying to figure out how to explain all of this to Bones, who he imagined would just make fun of him for having more rules about sex than the Pope. But instead, she stood on her toes and put her arms around him, kissing him like they'd been doing this for years, instead of just a few days.
"We should probably get some sleep," she said, and he didn't miss the twinge of regret in her voice.
"Yeah," he nodded. "We probably should." He returned the kiss, running his tongue along her bottom lip, his hands at the small of her back and their hips melded together. After a second or two of that, he pulled back because he knew if he didn't, there was no way he was turning around and leaving.
"Christ, Bones – you know you're killing me, right?"
She actually grinned at that – this surprised look in her eye, and she raised her eyebrows and looked at him in a way he'd never seen her look at him before. But damn, could he get used to it.
"I know," she said, looking pretty pleased with herself. "See you in the morning?"
He nodded. She unlocked her door and went inside. Booth stood there for a second or two, getting himself back under control and trying to put a cap on the grin he was wearing. Walking down the hall, he pulled out a quarter and flipped it while he walked, whistling a little under his breath.
Oh yeah, he was definitely looking forward to getting back home.
A/N - I've actually decided that I like this storyline way too much to abandon it here – I'll be doing a sequel called The Killer in the Classroom over the next several weeks, with the first post going up in the next week or so. Stay tuned – and please oh please, don't forget to press the magic button below and let me know what you thought about the long-overdue end to The War in the Woods. And, as always, thanks for reading!