And, at long last, the wait is over. Here we go, kiddies.... The final chapter of the epic Killer in the Classroom - the War and Peace of fanfic. Only in the sense that it's, you know, really really long. I don't claim classic status, merely ridiculous length. Hope you enjoy, it's been one Fabulous ride!

The first night was unquestionably the hardest. Booth's flight left just after one – Brennan returned to an empty house and spent the afternoon cleaning and puttering before eventually settling down to work on some of the backlogged cases Cam had sent from the Jeffersonian.

Shortly before dusk, she fell asleep on the sofa. It seemed that within moments of closing her eyes, she was back inside Mickey's trunk, traveling to an undisclosed location with no hope of escape. There was shouting in the distance, her limbs too heavy to defend herself, and the trunk began to fill with ice water. She gasped, trying to keep her head above the water, trying to breathe, but then she felt hands on her shoulders – holding her under while she flailed, desperate for air.

The house was dark when she jerked awake, her own rapid heartbeat thunderous inf her ears. There was no noise inside the house. No trunk, no ice water, no hands holding her down. Two children played outside – she heard their shouts and their laughter as though still in a dream, watching shadows play against the walls of her living room. She was still for a moment, sitting up with her feet back on the floor, forcing herself to breathe.

Just a dream.

Her hands were shaking. "Get a grip, Temperance," she told herself, and felt better once she'd managed to get those few words out.

She hobbled to the kitchen in search of something to eat. Considered calling Booth, but she didn't want him to hear the tremor that she was sure would still be in her voice. Besides which, they'd agreed that he would call her when he got back – there was no reason to change that plan.

She made herself a cup of tea and a veggie burger, and returned to the living room. Turned on all the lights. Re-checked the locks on the doors and windows; made sure the alarm was still armed.

Returned to her work.

As it got darker, however, she found it more difficult to focus – every shadow sent her heart racing, every noise seemed to signal imminent peril. Finally, at ten o'clock, she gave up and returned upstairs. The house felt too quiet, too empty. This was the problem with being in love, she realized: the inevitable moment when he was gone – even if only for a few days – meant that her body was literally de-toxing from the rush of chemicals produced on an ongoing basis while they were together. She realized with an ironic smile that the term 'addicted to love' was far more literal than she'd ever imagined.

She went to the bathroom to prepare for bed, and rolled her eyes at the familiar t-shirt folded neatly by the sink. She'd claimed it early in the week, choosing to sleep in that rather than her own pajamas more often than not (that, of course, was only on the nights when she wore anything at all). Booth didn't seem to mind making the sacrifice, however.

When she opened the medicine cabinet to retrieve her dental floss, she paused for a moment – smiled gently, her eyes tearing at what awaited her: a small, plastic German shepherd sitting on the shelf, its ears perked forward and an expression of rapt attention on its face. She tenderly picked up the dog, and unfolded the note placed beside it.

This is the best I can do for now. Rome might take a while, but I'll do what I can.

Love, Booth

She smiled. Set the dog next to the sink, where he could stand guard while she flossed and brushed. She was just getting settled in for bed (with the German shepherd sitting on her nightstand) when Booth called.

"Sorry to call so late – you still up?" he asked.

"Of course. Did you just get in?" she lay back on the pillows, feeling suddenly much, much more relaxed.

"Yeah – longest travel day in history. Jesus, I could've walked back to D.C. faster. There were a couple delays, then one of the planes got grounded at the last minute. I almost called you, but I figured…"

She furrowed her brow, curious. "What?" she pressed.

"I didn't want you to think I was, you know, hovering. Only, I guess it'd be hovering long distance. I figured I'd get out of your hair for a while, give you a chance to miss me."

She thought of all the inane things she'd wanted to tell him all day – that the weather was nice again, that the neighbors were having a party, that she wished he'd been there to make pancakes for dinner the way he had the night before.

"Well, it worked," she said.

"Yeah?" he sounded relieved. "That's good. But… you're doing okay though, right? Staying warm, keeping off the foot, not pushing yourself too much. Remember what the doc said – you're not gonna be a hundred percent for a while."

"I'm fine, Booth."

She heard him sigh – she couldn't tell what it meant, though. Possibly still relief, possibly something else. She realized that she suddenly, irrevocably despised telephones. If she never had to speak with Booth on the phone again, it would be too soon.

"I found the gift you left in the medicine cabinet," she said, reaching over to touch her protector on his regal, plastic head. "Thank you."

There was another pause on the line, before Booth finally spoke again.

"You know, I was thinking and… we could get a dog together," he said, sounding slightly awkward. "I mean, you know, if you really wanted one. It'd be kind of nice. I've always wanted a dog."

She wrapped the blankets around her more tightly – ever since the night in the woods, she'd been having a difficult time staying warm. Yet another reason to miss Booth: the man generated a remarkable amount of heat.

"But who would it live with?" she asked, furrowing her brow. "Wouldn't that be difficult, logistically?"

He hesitated. "Well," another lengthy pause. "Not if we lived together. I mean, you know, then if you were off at some writer's conference in Oregon, I could walk him. And when I was out catching bad guys, you could take care of him."

"But I'm frequently with you when you're catching bad guys," she said. Then stopped for a moment, realizing what he'd said.

"You think we should move in together?"

"I don't know – I mean, not next week or anything. We can play it by ear," he said hurriedly. "But I kind of liked playing house with you, Bones."

She thought of washing dishes beside him, arguing over whether to watch television or listen to music, watching him brush his teeth every night. "I liked having you here, too," she finally agreed. "It's much colder without you."

"Hey, Bones, remember what I said? You've gotta stay warm," he said immediately. "You'll be more sensitive to cold for a while – the nurse walked us through this. Stay bundled up, and don't be shy about turning on the heat. It gets chilly there at night."

"Booth, I'm perfectly capable of keeping myself warm. I've been doing it for thirty-two years now."

She could picture him rolling his eyes at her. "I know, Bones. All right? I know. But get used to it – this is me, right? I worry about you. I don't see that changing anytime soon."

They talked for another few minutes before it seemed they were running out of things to say. Brennan watched the clock anxiously, knowing that he must be exhausted. Dreading the moment when he hung up, as the shadows climbed the walls and the wind made everything outside seem distinctly ominous.

"So, I guess I should let you get some sleep," he finally said.

She bit her lip. Hesitated, hating herself for saying anything. After a moment, though, she managed to speak up.

"Do you have to go?" she asked, despising that tell-tale tremor in her voice.

A pause. "Nah, Bones – of course not. No rush. You all set for bed?"

She nodded, which he of course couldn't see. "Yes – I'm in bed."

"All right," he continued, his tone sounding more at ease now. "Lie back, and I'll tell you a bedtime story. You'll be asleep before you know it."

He told her about a princess and a white knight, but when he suggested that the princess was in need of saving, she felt it her duty to set him straight. So, the princess was not in need of saving, and the knight was strong and virile but was fair-minded and very, very environmentally responsible.

"Bones, this is the worst bedtime story I've ever told," Booth griped. "Can't you just let me tell the damned thing my way?"

She pulled the blankets closer around her, unable to contain a smile.

"I like the story. Then what happened?" she pressed.

He sighed. "I don't know, Bones – he can't save her, and you don't like them trying to kill the giant – "

"Individuals who vary from the average either physically or intellectually have always been persecuted – we have no objective evidence that this individual has done anything beyond being slightly taller than the villagers, to earn his unsavory reputation."

Another sigh. "Okay, fine. You know what? The giant was a great guy. The knight was a great guy. The princess was strong, beautiful, and crazy about recycling. They all lived together in the castle – "

"Which they opened up to the peasants, as well, thereby obliterating the oppressive class structure that ultimately would have led to an insurrection within the kingdom…"

"Maybe you should tell the story, huh Bones?" he asked dryly.

She smiled again. "No, you're doing very well. Please continue."

"All right. So – they all lived happily ever after. Lots of recycling, almost no carbon footprint, everybody on equal ground, and basically it was just one big, happy hippie kingdom."

"What about the knight and the princess?" she wanted to know.

"What about 'em, Bones? They're all happy, okay? Everybody's happy."

"And they're together, right?"

She could imagine his eye roll. He'd said he was in bed, as well – she wondered suddenly if he was wearing anything. If he'd showered before calling her. Two weeks suddenly seemed like a very, very long time.

"Yeah, Bones – they're together forever. They get married, they have little royal babies who play with the giant and the unicorn, and…"

She closed her eyes. She knew she should argue over the inequality inherent in the concept of matrimony, particularly in feudal times, but she was so tired.

She yawned.

"You ready for bed now, babe?" he asked, his voice softer now.

"I am. I'll talk to you tomorrow?" Her own voice heavy with sleep, eyes still closed.

"You definitely will. Sleep tight – love you, baby."

"Love you, too," she whispered.

She survived the first night.

For the next two weeks, Brennan continued with her life, exactly the way she'd intended. Since the writing conference was now over, there were only three-day workshops to teach for the University, which left the rest of her time for her real work. After the remains had been excavated in Diablo, they were transported back to Portland for further study. Brennan assisted the forensic team in identifying the victims, gradually piecing together a story of violence and death dating back more than thirty years.

At the end of her days, she returned to the house on Glisan Street alone. She locked the doors and windows. Set the alarm. Spoke with Booth every night, overwhelmed at times by how strongly she missed him.

Shortly after Booth returned to D.C., a crime unit discovered a safety deposit box in Jason Farnham's name, containing a manuscript that Brennan was quite certain Dr. Taylor had known nothing about. Though she declined the offer to read the manuscript herself, she did have a copy forwarded to Sweets.

The following day – Saturday afternoon, a week after Booth left – Sweets called her. She saw his name on her caller ID and honestly couldn't decide whether she wanted to hear what he had to say or not.

She answered, regardless.

"Dr. Brennan, I have Agent Booth here with me – I wanted him to be here when we spoke. I debated simply waiting until you'd returned to D.C. so we could speak in person, but of course – "

"Just tell me, Sweets," she said, unable to hide her exasperation. "Clearly, there are things you've learned."

"We don't have to talk about it if you don't want, Bones," Booth said – his tone anxious. She could picture him leaning forward in his seat, irritated with Sweets for calling in the first place.

She rolled her eyes against a familiar surge of emotion. "No – it's all right. I want to know."

Sweets took a breath. "Well, it's essentially what we thought – Farnham's manuscript states that Taylor showed a proclivity for violence at an early age, gradually escalating from the torture of small animals to humans by the time he was in his early twenties. Eventually, he purchased the house in Diablo to carry on with his… well, work is the word Farnham uses."

She closed her eyes. Thought of the saw blades on the walls, the concrete floor, the workbench. All the things her panicked, delirium-addled mind had transformed into a love of woodworking.

"Farnham's narcissistic nature ensures that he casts himself in the lead role in the novel, of course – the sensitive, misunderstood writer who unwittingly becomes co-conspirator with his deranged cousin, wooed to the dark side through violence and secrecy and the sting of rejection."

"But what does he say specifically?" she asked impatiently. "I don't care about motive, I want to know what his involvement was. What does he say about Rachel Martin?"

Sweets sighed. "Right – sorry to bore you with the completely irrelevant, psychological aspects of the case."

"That's all right," she reassured him. "Just try to focus on the evidence. Who killed Rachel Martin?"

"They all did, Bones," Booth said. "Right, Sweets?"

"Based on the profiles I've compiled, and the manuscript Farnham left, I would say that's accurate – though technically, Taylor was ultimately the one who strangled the women. Since strangulation is the official cause of death, I suppose he was the actual killer. But Farnham was the one who initially chose the victims. He assumed an alternate identity, often working for months to get to know the victim's schedules, gain their trust."

"So, the women knew him," Booth continued, picking up where Sweets left off. "He'd go up to them in the parking lot or whatever, and… then what? Mickey'd jump out? Or Taylor?"

"No, I don't believe so," Sweets replied. "The manuscript, again, paints Farnham as a hapless victim, but I believe he was the one who actually surprised the women and struck the first blow – the one that rendered them unconscious. He would then steal the victim's car, and take them to the house in Diablo."

"So, who the hell left the notes?" Booth interrupted again.

"If you could just wait a moment," Sweets said, clearly becoming agitated. "I'm getting to that. According to the manuscript, the notes were Farnham's contribution."

"But Dr. Taylor was arguing with Mickey about them," Brennan said, puzzled. She thought back to the night, trying to push the panic the memory inspired aside as she recalled the conversation she'd heard, just before Dr. Taylor was killed. "He said Mickey would be the one to compromise the operation, because of the notes and his vendettas against Washington and Booth."

"I believe Mickey used the notes to taunt Washington – initially, they were meant to be akin to love notes from Farnham to the victims. Mickey was the one who turned them into something else entirely," Sweets explained. "There was an intense rivalry between Farnham and Mickey – he brought the women to Taylor's place in Diablo, and was extremely conflicted – "

"Well, gee, I don't know why," Booth said dryly. "He hands them over, and then takes off so Mickey can do…" she heard him sigh. "Jesus, what the hell is wrong with people?"

"Farnham wasn't actually conflicted by that, actually," Sweets said. "He had severe issues with women sexually – during the killings, he would actually stay behind, and describes in…" for the first time, Sweets sounded somewhat shaken. "Disturbingly graphic detail, the confrontations between Mickey and the women. Farnham watched them play out, using Mickey as a surrogate to act out the things he wanted to do but was unable. He became highly aroused watching both Mickey and, later, Dr. Taylor's torture of the victims."

Brennan closed her eyes, feeling suddenly ill. There was silence on the other line for some time, before Booth spoke.

"Temperance – you okay?"

She nodded. "I'm fine, Booth," though she knew she didn't sound fine.

"Dr. Brennan, I can only imagine the horror and revulsion you must be feeling right now, but you have to know that whatever emotions you're experiencing are completely natural."

She leaned back on the sofa, thinking once more of the night in the woods, the way it might have ended. She closed her eyes, willing herself to continue on, until all her questions were answered.

"So, Mickey killed Farnham?" she guessed.

"Yes," Sweets said. "Though I don't know with any certainty, of course, but I believe so. When Farnham began participating in this circle, it was because of a genuine fascination with the women they victimized. Mickey pointed him in your direction, Dr. Brennan, knowing that he would fixate on you, just as he had the others. Mickey was, of course, obsessed with Dr. Brennan in his own way – but that obsession stemmed from his original fixation on Agent Booth."

"But why?" Booth asked, something raw, troubling in his tone. "Why would he do that? I mean… I've gone over it about a million times, and I can't think of a damned thing I did to the guy. We… I thought we were friends. I mean, hell – we served together, fought side by side, and I never saw a fuckin' thing."

"That's true," Brennan said. "Booth is usually highly perceptive about people, and yet he was completely fooled by Mickey." It wasn't the first time she'd had the thought, despite how much she attempted to ignore it.

"Because Mickey was a master manipulator," Sweets said, without hesitation. "It has nothing to do with how perceptive Agent Booth is – this man spent his life creating a façade that no one could see through. He had a diabolical understanding of human psychology, and used that understanding against the people around him at every turn."

"But why?" Brennan demanded, her tone more intent than she would have liked. "Why would anyone do that?"

"I thought motive didn't matter, Dr. Brennan," Sweets said quietly.

She shook her head, brushing away still more tears. It seemed, lately, that they would never run dry.

"They don't," she agreed, struggling to regain control.

"The hell they don't," Booth said roughly. "If they don't matter to you, they sure as hell matter to me. So, why, Sweets?"

There was a lengthy pause on the line, before Sweets finally admitted. "We don't know. I don't know his background – no one seems to, even Agent Booth. Farnham doesn't speak of Mickey in anything but present terms, offering only speculation as to where the man might have come from and what he did prior to his partnership with Dr. Taylor. There's no reference to his childhood, though I would certainly suspect extreme physical and emotional abuse at an early age. But that's only speculation."

She felt suddenly, irrevocably exhausted. Booth and Sweets continued to debate amongst themselves for a few minutes, apparently not noticing that she had withdrawn from the conversation. Finally, after some time, Booth interrupted another of Sweets's diatribes.

"Bones – you still there?"

"I am," she said. "I'm fine," she told him, before he could ask again. "I'm a bit tired, though. Do you mind if we finish the conversation another day?"

"Of course," Sweets said quickly. "But please feel free to call if I can be of any assistance. Anything at all, Dr. Brennan."

She nodded. "I will. Thank you."

"I'll give you a call tonight, okay?" Booth asked.

"I'll talk to you then," she agreed.

She hung up. Sat quietly on the sofa for a very long time, gazing at the walking cast that would be on her foot for the next month. The wall that, not so long ago, was covered with macabre photos of death – now with a fresh coat of paint and the same Ansel Adams print that had been there when she first arrived. The new carpet to replace the bloodstained one where she had fallen.

There were things she would never understand – it was the reason she loved bones. Their mysteries were intricate and timeless, but nevertheless easily quantifiable. People were not that way, no matter how much she wished they were. She didn't understand how people had faith in an entity they could neither see nor hear; how, despite rampant overpopulation and a planet clearly suffering from its effects, parents dared to bring children into a world so deeply flawed; how couples met and fell in love and dared to whisper 'forever' when the concept was completely illogical.

And most of all, she could not understand how men like Mickey walked the planet, taking pleasure in inflicting pain wherever they went. How was it possible for a man like that to share the same genetic make-up as a man like Booth? How could they even be the same species? And how could Booth have been so completely fooled, all those years?

She closed her eyes again, pushing the thoughts away.

She got out her laptop, and began working on more cases from the Jeffersonian. Lost herself to the bones, and was grateful, at least, for that.

That evening, just as she was preparing to stop work in order to have dinner, Sweets called again. She was tempted to ignore the call, but curiosity got the better of her – she answered while staring into the refrigerator, trying to decide what – if anything – she felt like eating.

"I just called to see how you're doing," Sweets said.

"I'm fine," she responded, wondering just how many times she would need to say those words before people began to believe her.

"Yeah – I know you're fine. Okay – honestly, that's not the real reason I called, that was just a transparent excuse."

"Oh," she said, surprised. "What was the real reason you called?"

He sighed. "Agent Booth, actually," he said. "I'm concerned because he seems to blame himself for what happened to you. For not figuring out that it was Mickey – for not seeing through him."

"He does?" she asked, immediately concerned. "I mean – technically, it's true that he didn't see through Mickey, and he spent years with him. But I don't blame him for Mickey taking me." She hesitated, chewing her lip for a moment before she spoke. "Just – it seems as though he should have known. Doesn't it? That is, after all, what he does."

"Well, that's true," Sweets agreed. Another pause. "Huh. I guess I never really thought of it that way – I mean, this is Booth's area, right? You do bones, he does people. If someone brought you a bone with some huge flaw or… injury, or something, and you missed it, Booth would probably be all over you. If you can't rely on him to hold up his end of the partnership the same way you're expected to hold up yours, then…" He scoffed. "I mean, missing a psycho like Mickey? That's huge – how does anyone miss that?"

"Well," Brennan hesitated, not liking Sweets's tone. "He did fool a number of other people besides Booth," she offered.

"Well, yeah," Sweets countered. "But this is Booth – he should know. Shouldn't he? He's supposed to be infallible."

"No one's infallible," she countered, becoming increasingly irritated.

"Well, Booth's supposed to be pretty close. And he handed you over to Kenton, and Mickey now – I mean, maybe you're right. It turns out Booth is actually pretty crappy at this whole reading-people thing."

She furrowed her brow, instantly on the defensive. "He's very good at his job," she insisted. "Booth has seen through countless criminals, he has a better understanding of people than anyone I know. Kenton had been on the take for years and no one knew, and Mickey was a master at deceiving people. It was Booth who figured out that Washington was part of it, he was the one who played Mickey in the end… He would have done anything to get me back safely."

She stopped short.

"Oh," she said softly. She tilted her head slightly, scowling. "That was a psychological trick."

"Did it work?" Sweets asked.

"Does he really think I blame him?"

"Yes, Dr. Brennan, he does," Sweets said without hesitation. "And I understand your reasons for staying in Portland alone, but in his mind, I believe Agent Booth sees this as a reaction to what happened, and the ways in which he failed you."

"Oh." She said again. She paused, thinking about this for a few moments before she sighed. "I have to go," she said, without elaborating further. She hung up, calling Booth the moment the line was clear.

He answered after only one ring. "Hey – you okay, Bones? I know that conversation earlier – "

"What Mickey did wasn't your fault," she said instantly.

There was a pause on the line. "Uh – yeah, Bones, I know."

"And it's not your fault that you didn't see it – no one could have. Sweets says you blame yourself, and you think I blame you as well."

Another pause. "Sweets said that, huh?" he asked, clearly angry.

"Do you think I blame you?" she pressed. "Do you think that's why I made you leave?"

A very, very long silence followed. Interminable. Finally, he cleared his throat. Sighed, sounding very tired. "I don't know, Bones – isn't it? I mean… I could hardly blame you, if it was. First Kenton, now this. I'm supposed to be able to see this stuff – "

"But you couldn't see this," she interrupted. "There was no way to see it. I made you leave because if I didn't, I was afraid that I would never regain what I lost that day." A tear spilled down her cheek, followed by another, as she struggled for the right words. "I would never again get that feeling when I saw you – that… joy, at spending the night with you, because I would be too panicked at the prospect of what would happen if you left. I need to know that being with you is a choice – for both of us. Not simply because you feel guilty or sorry for me, or I'm afraid I can't take care of myself."

She was rambling, she realized. He was silent again.

"Booth – say something. I want you in my life. What happened wasn't your fault."

She brushed at her tears, waiting for him to respond. Finally, she heard him sniffle on the other end of the line.

"You know I love you more than my belt buckle – right, Bones?" he asked, his voice somehow at once rough and tender. "You get that?"

"I know," she said. Smiled, closing her eyes. Relieved beyond words. "I get that, Booth."

In the midst of all of the drama, there was still, inevitably, the mundane details of her day-to-day existence. Brennan got up, did the exercises the physical therapist had recommended for her ankle, showered, got dressed. She identified remains, wandered Portland as much as she was able, taught the workshops. She had been paired with Jamie for the remaining two weeks at the Llewellyn's, which came as a great relief.

Teaching with Jamie was an entirely different experience than it had been with Farnham or Lethem (though she really hadn't had an opportunity to evaluate Lethem fairly, she realized). The tone of the classes was entirely different – casual but respectful, light and honestly quite fun. Jamie was unique in how instructive she was with each individual's manuscript – pinpointing problem areas and providing options for repairing them in a way that Brennan genuinely admired. Caleb continued working as a teaching assistant, and – despite Booth's insistence that the couple would not last – he and Jamie were actually quite charming together.

Wednesday afternoon, just two days before Booth and Parker were to descend on the West Coast, the sun was shining overhead, and the Llewellyn lawn was rife with activity. Brennan had just finished workshops and was preparing to hobble home – despite the doctor's insistence that she limit her activity, she'd found her walking cast was more than able to carry her the few blocks to and from the house – when she noted a man coming toward her. He was tall and well-built – too well-built, actually, and she found herself tensing. Evaluating him for potential weaknesses, her heart rate speeding perceptibly.

He smiled when he caught her eye, but she didn't return the smile, glancing around to make sure that she was still in full view of others in the area. TJ and Caleb were seated on the front steps – she caught their eye, and realized that both of them were watching the man's progress closely. She took a breath, attempting to reassure herself. She was safe.

"My name is Justin Parks – I used to work with Rachel Martin," he told her, a few steps before they actually reached one another.

She stopped moving, crossing her arms over her chest. Standing on the lawn with her heart beating frantically, she forced herself to hold her ground. She waited for him to continue.

"Doug Murray suggested I get in touch with you – he said you're looking for Abby?"

She just stood there for a moment, trying to find her voice. Since Booth had returned to D.C., he'd been looking into the matter of Abby's whereabouts, while she pursued leads in Portland. She had to admit, however, that since her abduction, she hadn't been looking as actively as she should.

She nodded, finally finding words. "Do you have information about her?"

He smiled slightly, his posture relaxing now that she was actively engaged in the conversation.

"I do, actually – have information, I mean. And a phone number. I told her you wanted to talk to her – she said it'd be okay, if you want to call."

She hesitated. TJ was getting up from the steps – she looked over and shook her head at him, indicating that she was fine. Returned her gaze to the man – Justin – with a frown.

"Do you have any identification – a driver's license, perhaps? I'd just like to verify – " she tried to inject confidence into her tone, hoping she didn't sound as small as she suddenly felt. He nodded quickly, giving her a glance that seemed too kind to be pity, but was dangerously close.

"Of course – I'm sorry. I should have offered." He took his driver's license from his wallet and handed it to her. She took a moment, refusing to be rushed, before she nodded and handed it back.

"Thank you." Someone else would apologize or explain, she supposed, but she did not.

"You said you know where she is?" she prompted him.

He nodded. "Yeah – we kept in touch after – " he dropped his eyes for a moment, swallowed, then returned his gaze to her. "After Rachel was taken. Still keep in touch, as a matter of fact. She's up in Seattle – second-year pre-med at Seattle Pacific."

"Second year? But isn't she – she's barely eighteen, is she?"

"Barely," he confirmed, looking unmistakably proud. "She had herself emancipated from the state when she was sixteen – graduated early, got into college on her own. She's a pretty smart cookie. She goes by Abby Reardon now – Rachel's maiden name."

Something about the way he was discussing the girl suggested to Brennan that he knew her quite intimately.

"You said Doug told you – why would he tell my partner and me that he didn't know where she was?"

He hesitated a moment, before he finally shrugged. "We're a little protective of her, I guess – she changed her name to get away from the publicity, does everything she can to keep a low profile. But Doug told me you were looking, and Abby saw your story in the papers, so…" He handed her a scrap of paper.

"That's her cell – she's coming down tonight to spend the long weekend with my wife and me. Maybe you two can grab some coffee or something."

She wasn't sure what to say, still caught by a single fact. "She's alive, then?" she asked stupidly – as though there was some other way for her to be in her second year pre-med in Seattle.

He smiled once more, and she noted that he did have what were universally referred to (somewhat ambiguously) as kind eyes. Light, open, a multitude of laugh lines at the corners.

"Oh, yeah – Abby's still alive. A little stuck in her head, kind of out of touch with the real world, but… Yeah. Abby's still alive, Dr. Brennan."

The next afternoon, Brennan met Abby Martin at Bay Leaf, a vegetarian restaurant in Southeast Portland that the girl had suggested when they spoke on the phone the night before. Inside, the walls were a soothing, pale green, with bamboo accents and deep, dark wooden benches. It was three o'clock – too early for dinner, too late for lunch, so the place was virtually empty. Brennan scanned the patrons, until she found the girl she imagined was Abby.

She was already seated at a booth. Brennan watched her for a moment – taking in the long, dark hair tied back in a disheveled braid, the baggy overalls she wore over a dark red t-shirt. She was small, perhaps a bit too thin, seated sideways on the bench with one leg draped across, the other bent with her chin resting on her knee. The table was laden with textbooks, and she chewed absently on a pencil while she read.

Abby didn't even realize Brennan was there, until she limped over and stood there for a moment.

Once the girl did realize, she stood quickly – a flash of anxiety touching her gray eyes before she recovered, extending her hand.

"You must be Dr. Brennan?"

Brennan nodded, taken aback by how strongly she was affected by the girl's presence.

"I am," she nodded. "And you're Abby Mar – "

"Reardon," Abby said quickly, glancing around. She lowered her voice, offering an apologetic smile. "After my mother's body was discovered last month, the name's been more in the papers again. And with everything they just found in Diablo…" She shrugged. "It's better to use Reardon, if you don't mind."

"Of course," Brennan agreed. She glanced at the table, gesturing toward the other seat. "Do you mind if I…?" she asked.

Abby looked uncertain as to what she might be referring to for a moment, before comprehension finally reigned. She blushed, quickly piling her books back into a threadbare backpack that didn't look like it could handle the burden. But then, neither did Abby.

"Of course – yeah, please, sit. Sorry, I'm a little clueless. Caught up in studying, I guess." She rolled her eyes, still appearing embarrassed. "I get a little distracted – Justin says someday I'm gonna get hit by a bus, and I'll be too oblivious to bleed."

Brennan laughed at this. She sat down. "I can be that way myself, at times." She paused, uncertain how to proceed. "What are you studying?"

"Pathogenic Bacteriology and Immunology. It's an advanced course – I was lucky to get in, so I'm trying to get a jump on things. You go into this stuff at my age, and people have expectations – " she shrugged. "You know, that I'm some prodigy or something. But since I'm not…"

"You work harder to make it appear that you are," Brennan guessed.

She nodded. "I mean – it's not like I'm an idiot. I certainly have a respectable IQ – I just wasn't memorizing Gray's Anatomy or composing operettas when I was five."

There was a lengthy silence at the table, interrupted when an elderly Asian woman came over to take their order. Once she had gone, Abby took a moment before she looked at Brennan intently – studying her.

"So, Justin said you were looking for me. I read about everything that happened to you – the men who did it." She paused, her eyes suddenly seeming much older. "I appreciate you catching them – finding them, the way you did. It feels better, knowing that everything's, you know… over, I guess."

"They found me more than I found them," Brennan said. "But… Either way, they won't hurt anyone else."

"And you really stayed out there that whole time – with your broken foot and everything? That story was true?" she asked, eyeing Brennan curiously.

"It was exaggerated," Brennan said quickly. "The break was minor – it could have been much worse."

"But you stayed alive," Abby said. Her eyes filled with tears, and she brushed them away quickly – looking appalled at the display of emotion. "I'm sorry, sorry – God," she rolled her eyes. "I'm usually a lot better at…"

"Compartmentalizing?" Brennan guessed, studying the girl with a smile.

Abby considered the word for a moment. "That's not what I would have said, but… yeah, I suppose that's accurate." She cleared her throat. "But anyway… Here we are. And – I mean, Justin said you were looking, so… Was there something you wanted? I mean, besides an awkward vegetarian lunch?"

Brennan laughed at this, surprising herself. She hadn't actually thought this far ahead – was there something she wanted? She had so many questions. She just wasn't certain where to begin.

"I just… I wanted to make sure you were all right," she finally said. "They told me that you weren't." she trailed off, and Abby looked at her curiously.

"Who told you that?"

"Agent Washington. The one who…"

Abby nodded, and Brennan was relieved that she wouldn't have to explain any further.

"Yeah, I read about him. So… What, he told you I was sick or something?"

"That you hadn't survived, actually – " Brennan paused, not sure how to explain any of it. How much to say or what was relevant because, suddenly, none of it seemed that important.

"It doesn't matter, really. You're obviously all right." She hesitated. "Justin seems very nice – it's good that you were able to stay in touch, after everything that happened."

The girl smiled, growing thoughtful. "Yeah, Justin's kind of like my… well, I don't believe in angels or anything. But he's a good person to have in your corner. I was in foster care for a while, but…"

"It's harder when you come from a good home," Brennan said quietly. "I mean, I suppose it's hard for everyone, but when you come from a strong family and you're suddenly…"

Abby studied her for a moment, tilting her head slightly to the side – as though evaluating her. "You're suddenly with these people who could never be like your parents, can't hold a candle to them, really, and some of them are trying to be nice and some of them really are nice, and some of them are just plain nuts…"

"But none of them are yours," Brennan completed for her. "It's never your home, never your family."

Abby nodded again. "How long were you in?"

"My parents disappeared when I was fifteen," she said, holding Abby's gaze because it suddenly seemed safe, seemed the only thing to do. "My father resurfaced a few years ago, but my mother died shortly after they left. I was in until I aged out."

"I got a bad family when I was fifteen – a real doozy, you know the kind?" she asked, her eyes skating from Brennan's until she caught the older woman's understanding nod.

"I do," Brennan said simply.

"Yeah," Abby rolled her eyes. "So… Poor Justin had just gotten married, but he and his wife took me in for a while. He helped me get my paperwork together and go through the emancipation hearings."

"Well, you've clearly done well on your own," Brennan said sincerely.

"I could've done worse," Abby agreed. "I had some really good years, for a while there – I mean, you know, before my mom died." Her eyes filled, and she brushed away the tears again, impatiently. Abby's hair was in her eyes, and Brennan noticed a stain on her t-shirt that she was sure the girl was oblivious to. "That's better than most of the kids I met got – most of them never stood a chance. But I got twelve birthdays with a mom who was there at 12:06 every November 16th to tell me all the gory details of how I almost killed her coming into this world." She laughed, brushing away more tears. "Do you have kids?" she asked.

Brennan shook her head.

Abby nodded. "I figured not – it sounds like you have a pretty busy life. If you ever do, though, that whole birth story? It sounds nice, but it's a little disgusting. If you do anything like that, you should definitely gloss over the most horrific parts."

They both laughed at this, Brennan nodding – thinking suddenly of a little girl with Booth's brown eyes, curled up beside them in bed. Of a pregnant belly and tender breasts, of Booth watching in wonder as their child grew. She shook her head, quickly putting the thought at the very, very back of her mind.

She spent another two hours at the restaurant with Abby, discussing school and Brennan's work, Abby's years in foster care and subsequent emancipation, and a host of other topics. At the end of their time together, Brennan hesitated before she finally broached the subject she'd wanted to discuss.

"I wanted to talk to you about your tuition," she plunged in. "You said you share a small apartment in Seattle, and you work in addition to a full course load, which is very difficult. And I've written these books, so I'm fairly well off…"

And just like that, Abby's eyes darkened. "Thank you, but I'm fine," she said, almost coldly. "I can take care of myself. I've been doing it for a while now."

Her tone was civil, and she even managed a smile, but clearly something had changed between them.

"I didn't mean to suggest you couldn't," Brennan said, taken aback. "I just thought I could help."

"You caught the man who killed my mother," Abby said – quieter now, returning to her previous tone. "That's more than enough. I'm okay."

Brennan nodded. Took out her card, and handed it to the girl. "I can see that. But if you ever need anything – even if it's just to talk, please don't hesitate."

The girl took her card, nodding thoughtfully. "Thank you. I…" she hesitated, as though what she was about to say somehow cost her something. "I really do appreciate it."

Brennan waited a moment, watching as Abby Martin/Reardon walked out the door and across the parking lot. Barely bothering to check for oncoming traffic, she crossed the street and vanished once more, from Brennan's life.

The next day, Brennan found she could barely sit still for the final workshop. She was scheduled to pick up Booth and Parker at the airport at 3:30 – she'd spent days practicing driving with her cast on, not wanting the first thing Parker saw in Oregon to be the inside of a cab. She'd selected a variety of age-appropriate activities to choose from over the course of the weekend, filled the refrigerator with nutritious snacks, and purchased a new set of sheets featuring a life-sized, animated talking sponge who seemed to be quite popular with children Parker's age. Despite all of this, she found herself undeniably nervous about how the weekend would go, knowing how important it was to Booth that she and Parker got along well.

The last workshop was honestly absurd – critiques had been completed the day before, so it was essentially just yet another excuse for a party. Jamie brought in plates and paper cups, party hats and an endless supply of alcohol. TJ and the Llewellyns and several of the other faculty joined them, and it was remarkably festive considering all that had transpired over the course of the month.

TJ raised his glass shortly before she was scheduled to leave, looking at her with a rakish grin.

"So, beautiful – it's your last chance. You can dump that loser from the Feds, spend the rest of your life chained to a lecherous ne'er-do-well who'll write you sonnets for the rest of your days."

Jamie laughed, rolling her eyes at Brennan. "Don't listen to him, T – he loves to play the martyr, but the man's got the world by the tail. Why don't you tell her how your life's really going, Teej."

Brennan's eyes widened uneasily – more lies? Caleb rushed in, apparently noting the effect Jamie's words were having.

"The real story, as in – he's not such a loser as we thought," Caleb clarified. "Lethem's publisher just signed our boy here to a three-book deal."

She grinned, shaking her head in amazement. "Seriously?" The grin quickly vanished, however, as she looked from one face to the next. "Wait – is this a joke? Or does he really have a publishing contract?"

"No joke, Temperance," TJ said. "Which I can call you, now that we're officially peers. David's coming in this weekend to celebrate, which means you can expect us on your doorstep at dawn Sunday morning."

Brennan wasn't sure whether she or Caleb were more horrified at this news. "Booth's bringing his son this weekend," she said quickly.

Jamie held up her hand. "Relax, T – I promise, we won't do that to you again. God knows, you've suffered enough at the hands of U of O faculty this time out – no more torture."

Brennan sighed, managing a smile. "That's good. I don't think I could take that much more."

TJ nodded. He caught her eye, looking wistful for just a moment. A second passed, then another, before she went over and shook his hand warmly. He laughed, shaking his head incredulously.

"You're shaking my hand? I don't even get a hug – or at least a kiss on the cheek?"

Physical proximity with everyone but Booth seemed to be something of an issue ever since that night on the mountain, but Brennan took a deep breath. Took the necessary step to close the distance between them, and hugged him quickly. He kissed her cheek.

"Thanks, Temperance," he whispered, with a sad smile. "And I'm serious – if things don't work out…"

She nodded, but was careful to return to a more appropriate distance promptly. "I know. I'll remember," she returned, also keeping her voice low. Then, she took in those around them, and raised her voice to include the room, giving him a knowing smile. "Now that you have the contract, perhaps you and Addie could celebrate."

His eyes widened innocently. "I'm sure I don't have a clue what you mean."

"So, I suppose you haven't been having a sexual relationship with her all summer while you declared your undying love to me, then?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow.

She was really quite pleased with herself, once the laughter had faded. Caleb tipped a glass in her direction, nodding respectfully.

"Well played, Dr. Brennan. Well played."

Driving a manual transmission Prius whilst wearing a bulky cast was not something Brennan would ever recommend to anyone who hoped to live a long life. And yet, it seemed, she did somehow manage to get to the airport without a scratch. Slightly late, slightly disheveled, irrevocably anxious. She'd changed outfits twice, finally settling on a skirt that was provocative enough for Booth without being inappropriate for Parker, and a red blouse that she knew Booth liked.

She walked through the sliding glass doors of PDX's lower level at 3:40, and surveyed the madness – the Friday before Labor Day weekend, and it seemed there were quite a few people who'd decided to vacation in Portland this year. She scanned the series of escalators, walked the length of baggage claim, read the monitors indicating flight delays. Booth's flight was listed as on time, but she didn't see him anywhere. Despite the progress she'd made over the past couple of weeks, she still found herself quite anxious in crowds; still avoided meeting strangers' gazes, still found that her heart sped up and she began to perspire when people got too close. She swallowed past all of this, however, and continued searching.

She was about to give up and start checking the gates on the upper levels, when she heard a familiar voice shout, "Bones," and something small and very solid tackle her from behind.

She turned to find Parker grinning up at her. She was surprised at how little reserve he showed at their greeting, noting that – as she'd requested – Booth had instructed him to call her Bones, rather than the almost absurdly formal Dr. Brennan. It simply didn't seem right, she'd explained to Booth – who had seemed only too happy to make the change.

Parker still wore an orange cast on his arm, which he waved enthusiastically as he described their flight. His father was still several paces behind him, his grin widening as he got closer, though he stopped before he actually reached her.

"Did you know you get free peanuts on airplanes, Bones?" Parker asked her.

She nodded. "I did know that, actually."

"But you have to pay for the food, and Dad says it's a rip-off 'cause it tastes like – "

Booth came over and put both hands on Parker's shoulders, tickling the boy enough to make him squirm.

"Hey, Parks, remember what we talked about, bub?" he asked.

Brennan watched curiously as Parker rolled his eyes, before grudgingly putting his hands over his face.

"Why is he doing that?" she asked Booth.

"Dad said it's what I should do unless I wanna be totally grossed out," Parker informed her, his face still covered.

Booth took another step toward her, pulling her close.

"You look great," he said, close enough that she could feel the words rumble in his chest.

"So do you," she said, smiling like a fool. "Welcome back."

They kissed, there in the baggage claim with Parker's hands over his eyes and the rest of the world faded to the background. And it felt good, it felt right, and for the first time, Brennan felt as though she understood the allure of forever.

Portland was sunnier than he remembered it being. It smelled better, it looked better, and it sure felt a hell of a lot better than it had when there were serial killers running after Bones at every turn.

Parker had slept through most of the flight, which meant the kid was talking a mile a minute on the way back to Bones's place. He sat in the back, looking out the window, reading street signs to them, asking Bones about a thousand questions about what they'd be doing over the weekend.

Bones sat in the passenger's seat, turned around so that she could look at Parker while they talked, with her hand on Booth's thigh while he drove them home.

"How'd you break your foot?" Parker asked.

She hesitated, looking at Booth for a second.

"Remember, Parks – we talked about that. I told you, she fell. Just like you."

"Not just like me," Parker insisted. "Because I was on the monkey bars, and I broke my arm, not my foot. Bones wasn't on the monkey bars, right?" he asked.

Booth rolled his eyes. Smartass.

"That's true, Parker," she agreed. "I was climbing some rocks," she told him, after a second. "And you know that hard bone on the side of your ankle?" she asked.

Parker nodded, wide eyed.

"I bumped that part very hard, and I cracked the lateral malleolus – that's the smaller part of your ankle bone."

"Did it hurt?" he asked seriously.

Booth shifted uncomfortably, eyeing Bones, but she just smiled.

"It did, of course. Didn't yours?"

Parker shrugged. "It wasn't so bad," he said bravely. "And you'll get used to the cast," he told her, an old pro. "When we get to your house, maybe Dad and me can show you how to scratch inside it with a coat hanger – because sometimes it itches like crazy." He got serious. "And it smells pretty bad after a while, so you've gotta put powder in there. Doesn't she, Dad?"

Booth grinned, looking at Bones. "Couldn't hurt, bub. It couldn't hurt."

She was trying not to laugh, he could tell, but she kept her eyes on Parker's – all the while, her hand moving kind of absently up and down his thigh, like she didn't even know she was doing it, but Booth was already trying to figure out how long it would take before Parker passed out for the night. Based on the way the kid was talking, his whole body one little ball of stored-up energy, it wouldn't be for a while.

Once Parker had settled down a little, he had a chance to actually take in his partner's appearance. She looked good – better than good, actually, she looked gorgeous. No more circles under her eyes, and she even looked like she'd put a little of the weight she'd lost back on, which meant some of those curves he'd been missing were back in force. They were about a block away from the house, Parker still talking a mile a minute, when she realized he was watching her.

"What?" she asked, trying not to smile.

"You look good, Bones," he said. "Really, really good." He checked the rearview mirror. "Doesn't she look good, Parks?"

Parker rolled his eyes. "Gross, Dad. Gross."

There was a festival down by the river all weekend, with rides and cotton candy and fried dough, all set up on the boardwalk along the Willamette. Bones wanted to walk there, but Booth pointed out that – since it was three miles and she had a fucking broken foot, maybe they should take the car.

There were kids and dogs everywhere, couples of every size and shape and color. Music and great carnival food smells, a light breeze coming up off the river, bikers and runners whizzing by every so often. Bones was wearing this pretty, long skirt and that red, low-cut blouse that always drove him wild, holding hands with Parker while he told her what he'd been up to over the summer, what he was looking forward to in the coming year, and pretty much every other thought that popped into his head. It was basically Booth's dream date come to life.

Before long, though, he noticed that Bones was limping a little more than she had been before, wincing every so often when a biker went by too fast or someone bumped into her in the crowd. He put his arm around her, nodding toward an empty stretch of green grass off to the side of everything.

"How about we go sit for a while?" he said.

She smiled gratefully, resting her head against his shoulder for just a second. "That might be good."

It was about five, that hazy evening light falling over everything. When it was clear that Parker wouldn't just settle down without a fight, Booth stood up.

"Will you be okay without us for a few minutes?" he asked, already knowing that eye roll was coming the second the question was out. He nodded. "Yeah, I know – you can take care of yourself."

He grabbed Parker by the hand and pulled him up off the ground. "Come on, bub – how about some wind sprints?"

Parker nodded excitedly. "And then maybe we can run that bridge."

Jesus. Booth took a breath, and nodded. "Sure, Parks – whatever you say."

At one point during the run, he lost sight of Bones – just for a second, and it wasn't because she moved or anything, just because he was behind a bunch of columns on the other side of the river, but for that second, his heart was in his throat. Parker noticed the change, the way he slowed down, and looked at him anxiously.

"You okay, Dad?" he asked.

Booth nodded, still looking across the river. Another step to the left, and there she was – right where he'd left her. He kind of laughed, ran his hand through his hair.

"Yeah, Parks, I'm fine. Let's go get Bones, huh?" he asked.

Parker grinned. Rolled his eyes at his old man. "You're kinda pathetic, Dad."

Booth roughed up his hair, nodding dryly. "You don't know the half of it, buddy. Come on – let's go. I'll race you."

When they got back to Bones, Booth collapsed on the ground with Parker hot on his tail, convinced he was on the verge of a heart attack. Bones looked up from her writing with a grin, shaking her head.

"The kid's gonna sleep tonight if it kills me," Booth whispered to her.

She laughed, leaned over and kissed him impulsively, then blushed when Parker caught them. Yep. Best date of his goddamn life.

Parker wasn't even winded, though. He sat down next to Bones, eyeing her cast intently – which had apparently been signed by every writer in Oregon, and a bunch of the cops from the Lady Killer case to boot. The knowledge made Booth kind of proud, a little amazed all over again, because she really had no clue that this was who she was, how much people loved her.

"You must have a lot of friends," Parker said, comparing the few signatures (not that few, really – Parker knew a lot of people, for an eight-year-old) on his cast with the ones covering hers.

"I'm just around a lot of people," Bones reassured him. "They turned signing my cast into a party game a few days ago," she said, which surprised Booth. He looked up, and she shrugged – like it hadn't been interesting enough to mention. She shifted awkwardly, until a clear spot on the outside edge of the cast was showing.

"I saved a spot for you and your father, though," she said. "If you want to sign it."

Parker grinned, practically tearing the pen from her hand. He focused intently on signing his name over the ridges and curves, looking pleased with himself when he was finally done.

"There," he said. He handed the pen to Booth. "Your turn, Dad."

Booth frowned. He took the pen anyway, though, since it was clearly expected. Sighed, looking at Bones, who was looking back at him. Kind of amused, kind of curious.

Parker pointed to the blank space. "Just right there, Dad. If you can't think of anything, you can just write your name," he said helpfully.

Booth rolled his eyes. "Thanks, Parks." The rest of the cast was filled with drawings and inside jokes that he honestly doubted Bones even got. Bones was smiling at him – not a bad smile, actually, but one of those ones she got when she liked what she saw. Which took the pressure off, somehow.

He smiled. Wrote, If found, please return to Special Agent Seeley Booth, across the side. Which made Parker giggle, and Bones roll her eyes. But then, eventually, smile as well.

They ate dinner right there – carnival food that Booth figured would probably kill him later, but for now it didn't really matter. At seven, there was a sculling race on the river. They went and stood at the edge of the pier, looking out over the railing at the rowers moving in perfect synchrony across the water. Parker stood on the bottom rail, Booth holding onto the back of his shirt without even really realizing he was doing it. Bones shivered beside him, and he took off his coat and put it around her shoulders before she could refuse. Wrapped his arm around her, and she snuggled in without thinking twice.

Parker was passed out by nine – which was technically midnight for the little guy, since he was still on eastern time. They got home, and Booth carried him upstairs and tucked him in. Checked the closet and the windows, even though it was probably silly. Pushed the image of Angela, tied in the closet with tears rolling down her cheeks, far from his head. Kissed his kid on the forehead, and whispered goodnight.

Downstairs, Bones was in the kitchen. Staring into the fridge.

"You need a glass door," he told her.

"A what?" she asked, staring at him blankly.

"A glass door – for the fridge. So you can see what's inside, without letting everything thaw out."

"Oh," she said.

He came over and closed the refrigerator door. She turned around and put her arms around his neck. Leaned up to kiss him, tasting like cotton candy and the fried dough he'd gotten for himself but somehow only got a couple bites of, between Bones and Parker. She arched into him, deepening the kiss before he'd even had a chance, then pulled back. Looking a little uneasy.

"Is this okay?"

He raised an eyebrow. "It's definitely okay with me. Is it okay with you?"

She rolled her eyes. "I mean Parker."

"Trust me, that kid'll sleep through Armageddon when the day comes. I mean – no sex swings tonight, and you might need to keep the screams to a minimum," he gave her a wicked grin. "If you can manage it. But…" he moved in, kissed her again. Deeper, harder, more, until all he could think of was getting her upstairs. "Yeah, Bones. This is okay."

It felt easy, being there. Once they were upstairs, he closed the bedroom door behind them, and watched with his breath knocked clear and his jaw maybe hanging a little low, when she smiled at him. A little shy, a little… not. Pulled off the sweatshirt she'd been wearing, and dropped it on the floor. Started on the buttons of her blouse. He started to move toward her, but she shook her head.

"Unh uh – stay there. Make yourself comfortable."

Jesus. He was pretty sure that would be impossible.

She shook out her ponytail, so all that auburn hair spilled over her shoulders. He took a breath, the blood rushing straight to his groin. Her skirt came off next – an inch at a time, slow over her hips, then one millimeter of creamy thigh after another. He leaned back against the wall, because otherwise he was gonna pass out.

The blouse was next – he loved the way the red silk looked against the curve of her pale breast, loved the way she let it slide down her shoulder, off her back, before falling to the floor. She stood there in matching black bra and panties, her head tilted a little to the side, her eyes on him. And, of course, the huge, bulky cast still on her foot – which somehow still didn't kill the mood.

"Did you want to help with the rest?" she asked innocently.

He would, except his jeans were so tight at that point he could barely take a step. He peeled them off and let them drop to the floor, his boxers unmistakably tented. His striped socks were next, and then his t-shirt, before he finally allowed himself to go to her.

She ran a hand over his stomach, and he twitched in his shorts – she smiled a little, like she knew exactly what she was doing to him, and moved closer. He started by kissing her shoulder, and there was this little rush of air – this sweet, low intake, and he could've come right there.

"You're gorgeous," he told her.

"Thank you," she said, meeting his eye. Brushing her hand lower, her fingertips kind of dancing along the waistband of his shorts. Her voice got softer, a little lower, her eyes darker.

He ran his hand along the inner edge of her bra, loving the way her breath caught when he pushed the cup aside. He bent to take her nipple in his mouth, unhooking the bra with one hand while he trailed his other over her stomach, down between her thighs, pressing the heel of his hand against her mound until she gasped.

"Ssh," she laughed softly, like he was the one who'd made the noise. "We have to be quiet."

He grinned, pushing her back toward the bed. He forgot she had the cast, though, and just managed to catch her before she tripped and fell. Laughing harder now, the same desire in her eyes as before, and he felt drunk and dizzy and hotter than hell. He joined her laughter, trying to be quiet. Which didn't turn out to be so tough, once they'd finally made it back to the bed, because suddenly the world went still.

She put her arms around him, her nipples tight against his chest, her stomach pressed against his cock. "Hi," she said softly.

She moved against him, setting him on fire in ways he'd never even imagined, before her.

"Hi, baby," he returned. He took her earlobe between his teeth, until she began to move more desperately against him.

"God, Booth," she breathed, that kind of lost voice that meant she was already close, and he hadn't even touched her yet.

It was still new, they were still discovering things about each other, but they'd been together enough now that there were certain things he knew about her – like how, when he pushed aside the sheer fabric of her panties, she'd already be wet, long past ready for him. How, if he dipped a finger inside her, her head would fall back and her long, slender throat would make a perfect white line. The noise she would make – that intake of air, her hips coming up off the bed, the first sign that she was unraveling – when he ran his tongue over that little well at the base of her throat.

She lay back on the bed, and he watched her for a second before he lay down beside her. He pushed her panties down, past her hips, pausing for a second when they got caught on her cast.

"I really hate that thing," she said, laughing a little.

He nodded. "Me, too," he said, but he wasn't laughing. He kissed her shin, the closest piece of Bones he could find, after the cast. Moved up to her knee, sliding his hand up until he could dip a finger inside. She gasped, her head falling back to reveal the perfect, white line of her throat. She was watching him, her eyes hooded, as he sampled the juices on his finger – closed his eyes, licking his lips.

"I love the way you taste," he said softly.

He laid kisses up her thigh, listening to the way her breathing changed. The way her fingers curled in his hair, the gasp when he hooked her legs over his shoulders and his lips grazed her clit. Shadows played on the walls, light and dark, fast and slow. His tongue found her, moved deeper, and she arched and spiraled, curled and twisted, her breath coming faster, the words, "There, Booth – Seeley, Christ, please" coming in naked whispers in the still air, senseless and gorgeous, until he could feel her tensing under his hands, under his mouth, and then the flood of her honey, rich and sweet, when she slipped over.

He waited until she'd finished, until the final pulse had passed, and then moved up and barely gave her time for breath before he kissed her and she smiled. She wrapped her good leg around his waist, gasped again when he buried himself inside her – as deep as she could take him, watching her eyes change and the light move and the night swell.

"We should never stop doing this," she told him, her head falling back again when he moved inside her, pulling out halfway before sliding back in, the pressure already building fast.

"I won't if you won't," he promised, nearly losing control when her teeth grazed his Adam's apple. "Christ," he breathed softly. "You make me crazy."

"But in a good way," she said – like she was checking, not quite sure.

He kissed her, moved deeper and she gasped against his mouth until he was way past the point of no return.

"In the best way, Bones," he said, when he could find his voice. He nipped at the spot behind her ear, whispered roughly. "You gonna come for me again, baby?"

Her breath caught – she hitched her leg up higher, kissed him harder. Okay, so apparently talking was good for Bones.

He pulled out almost completely, holding off just long enough to make her look at him, just long enough to miss him, and then thrust back in, deep, so that she grunted before quickly biting her lip, blushing. "Sorry – quiet."

He leaned in, took her ear in his mouth. "Not that quiet, Bones. Relax," he whispered.

It was that way for a while – frantic one minute, laughing the next, teasing and tasting and then, suddenly, he fell into a rhythm that he couldn't break. She arched into him with every thrust, her breathing ragged, her hands on his back, moving over his chest, her hair damp on her forehead and her eyes closed. Lost.

"Booth," she whispered, still keeping her voice low. And a gasp, "God, Seeley," her lips on his neck, her tongue at his earlobe, her breath hot in his ear.

"That's it, baby," he whispered back, losing control of the rhythm, shifting just enough to hit her g-spot – he could tell by the change in her breathing, the way her body twisted beneath him, and she tensed, and fell, and he knew he would never, ever get tired of this dance.

Parker was up by six the next morning, knocking kind of shyly at the door before Booth tossed Bones his t-shirt, pulled on his boxers, and said, "Yeah, Parks. Come on in."

His son stood in the doorway with his curly blonde hair a puffy mess, his brown eyes a little uncertain.

"I'm not tired anymore," he said. "And I didn't know how to turn on the TV."

Booth kind of nodded. "That's all right – it's morning, right? I'll get up with you, buddy." He looked at Bones, who nodded gamely but definitely looked beat.

"Here, bub, how about we go downstairs and make Bones some breakfast?"

Parker nodded, still looking shy and a little out of place, until Bones gave him a sleepy smile. "Or you could come to bed with us for a while," she said, catching Booth's eye to see if she was doing something wrong. "We can talk about what we're going to do today, if you'd like."

It was all the invitation he needed. A second later, he'd climbed up on the massive bed and settled himself squarely between Booth and Bones with a happy grin.

"This is a really big bed, Bones," he said.

She nodded. "Well, your dad is a really big guy."

"He twists all over the place when he sleeps," Parker said knowingly. "And he snores."

Another nod. Great – just the kind of encouragement Bones needed.

"He's a really good cuddler, though," Parker informed her.

"He really is," she agreed.

"All right, that's enough of that, you two. What's on the agenda for today, Bones?" Booth prompted.

Moving was on the agenda. Rebecca had only agreed that he could bring Parker with him if he promised to have him back by Sunday night, since the new school year started on Tuesday and she wanted him to have Monday to get settled back in. Which meant everything got kind of rushed – something Bones insisted wasn't a big deal, but Booth still felt kind of bad about.

They spent the morning packing up boxes and getting them shipped out at the Mail Boxes Etc on the corner, Booth complaining the entire time because Jamie had taken Bones to about sixteen flea markets in the past two weeks. And the stuff Bones had accumulated – well, for someone who was supposed to be all about work and minimalism and whatever, she sure had a hell of a lot of crap.

That was done by noon, though, and then it was time for the zoo. Bones asked if he'd mind if Abby Martin – or Reardon, apparently – came along, and he'd of course said that he didn't. Even though he kind of did, but only because he'd been hoping for it to be just the three of them, and they didn't really know who this girl was or where she came from, and what if she was actually trying to take advantage of Bones, and Bones was just too naive to see it. But, since he couldn't exactly say any of that stuff, he just nodded and kept his mouth shut.

The zoo was crowded – which made sense, really, since it was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon on Labor Day weekend. The closer they got to the entrance, the more uneasy Booth got – checking the crowd, mapping the exits, watching the way Bones kind of flinched every time someone bumped into her. And then, of course, she'd pretend she hadn't flinched, and he'd pretend he hadn't seen it, and that he wasn't imagining all the ways someone could basically snuff out all his reasons for living in one fell swoop, by hitting the zoo today.

Abby was already waiting at the entrance, next to a big stone building at the top of a hill overlooking the entire park. She had her hair half-pulled back, like she hadn't actually had time to check a mirror before she left the house. A worn backpack was over one shoulder, and she wore baggy jeans and an oversized Seahawks t-shirt. She was reading when Bones spotted her, and when she looked up, Booth saw this quick flash of anxiety before she put the book away and managed a smile.

"Hi," she said, keeping her hands in her pockets when they first met.

Bones smiled at her – that genuine smile, this little spark of understanding passing between the two women, and Abby kind of relaxed.

"Abby, this is my… partner," she said, with that tiny hesitation now, like she was about to say something else – she just wasn't sure what. "Seeley Booth. And his son, Parker."

She shook Booth's hand, but kept talking to Bones the whole time – like Booth wasn't actually there.

"Seriously?" she asked, looking at Booth doubtfully. "You mean – partner as in work partner, or partner as in liberated boyfriend?"

Bones hesitated. "Both, I suppose. Though the boyfriend part is new."

Meanwhile, Parker had been noticeably quiet – not exactly standing behind Booth, but pretty damned close. He tugged on his father's hand, until Booth turned and gave him his undivided attention.

"Yeah, pal, what's up?"

"Is Abby coming with us, Dad?" he asked, in a loud whisper.

"Yeah, Parks. You okay with that?" Even though they'd actually already discussed this whole thing – still, Parker looked a little weird about the new development.

But, Parker nodded without a second's hesitation. Bones and Abby were deep in conversation by this time, but Parker waited until there was a break before he busted in.

"Do you know if they have lions here?" he asked Abby. He let go of Booth's hand, and took a step toward the girl.

She looked at Bones, like she wasn't exactly sure what to say, but eventually nodded. "I haven't been here in a while, but – yeah, I'm sure they probably do."

Parker thought this over. "At the zoo where I'm from, they have a huge section for lions. And they have monkeys, too – big ones. Gorillas."

"Gorillas are actually apes – not monkeys. They're both anthropoids, but they're really quite different from one another," Abby told him. Which, Booth suspected, was exactly what Bones would have said, if Abby hadn't beaten her to the punch.

Parker looked at her doubtfully. "My dad calls them monkeys."

"Well, they're not," she said firmly. "A chimpanzee is actually a closer genetic match to a human than it is to a monkey."

Booth waited for Parker to defend his old man's honor, but instead the boy took Abby's hand kind of shyly, and looked up at her.

"I like your hair," he said – solemn as hell, and Booth knew then and there that his kid was a goner. Apparently, Parker had inherited his old man's love of difficult, brainy women.

They were almost at the gate to pay when the money issue came up. Booth was going for his wallet when Bones stopped him.

"I've got it, Booth – it was my idea," she insisted.

"I can pay my own way, thanks," Abby said shortly, digging around in her jeans.

"Dad, I want to pay for Abby," Parker said seriously.

They were starting to hold up the line, so Booth grabbed his walled and slapped down his credit card before a fight broke out. Bones started to argue, but he just told her she could get lunch. He grinned at Abby.

"Sorry – between the three of us, I'm pretty sure you're not gonna be footing the bill for much today."

Once they'd paid, Parker pulled Abby on ahead. Since she didn't seem like the kind of person who'd go anywhere unwillingly, though, Booth let them go. Bones slipped her hand into his, and he smiled at her.

"I think they just ditched us," he told Bones.

"I think your son just ditched us – I expect Abby would have been quite happy if I'd just left the two of you alone."

He grinned. "Really? Huh – guess I just have that effect on women. Jealous?"

"I'm used to it by now," she admitted, catching him off guard at how serious she still was. "I've spent four years watching women salivate over you, I'm quite accustomed to it by now."

He put his arm around her, pulling her close. Not sure if this was a serious talk, or she was just making conversation.

"Well, you know you're the only one I'm salivating over, right Bones? There's not a woman out there who could hold a candle to you."

She rolled her eyes, but she was definitely smiling. Even blushing, a little. She leaned her head on his shoulder. "Thank you," she said quietly.

He kissed her temple, and they kept walking. "Just speaking the truth, Bones. Just speaking the truth."

They checked out the meerkats and the monkeys (which were apparently actually apes), had lunch in the AfriCafe while Abby told them all about the birds in the aviary below, and then just before they were getting ready to head out for the afternoon, Parker came racing over and pulled Booth aside.

"Dad, can I borrow fifty cents?" he asked. He was out of breath, his eyes on fire, and Booth dug into his pocket for some loose change.

"Easy, Parks – jeez, you're gonna break something else if you don't take it easy. You still hungry?"

He shook his head impatiently. "No – " his voice a loud whisper now, looking to make sure Abby wasn't listening. She and Bones were talking quietly again, though, so that didn't look like it would be a problem.

"See those rings?" Parker asked, pointing to a coin slot toy dispenser with tacky plastic rings pictured on the front. "I'm gonna get one for Abby."

Booth managed to keep a straight face, but it wasn't easy. "You sure about this, buddy? I mean, a ring's a pretty big step."

Parker looked at him seriously. "Dad, it's just a friendship ring – at least, for now. We're friends, so it's okay. It'll be like with you and Bones. First friends, and then I'll change her mind. Like you did. And then, she'll marry me. Just like you and Bones."

Which sounded great in theory, but clearly the kid didn't have the whole story. Booth shook his head, but he still ponied up the fifty cents. Then, after a second, he pulled out another couple of quarters.

"Do me a favor, bub – why don't you grab one for me, too. You know, just in case."

Parker grinned. "Sure thing, Dad. Good thinkin'."

Abby seemed a little freaked out and a little flattered by the whole ring thing – she wouldn't actually wear it, but she did put it on a string around her neck. Which seemed to satisfy Parker, at least. Booth popped the ring for Bones out of its plastic bubble, then looked at it for just a second before looking at Bones, who was debating with Abby about some kind of evolutionary theory on lemurs. He rolled his eyes, but he couldn't quite bring himself to throw the thing away. Instead, he stuffed it in his jacket pocket and walked on.

They left just after three. Abby shook Booth's hand solemnly, was only slightly less business-like with Bones, and then only gave Parker a hug because the kid had glommed onto her and she didn't seem to have much choice. She turned down a ride home in favor of the train, and Booth watched Bones for a few seconds while they were waving goodbye to her.

"She'll be okay," he told her. Bones looked at him – he waited for her to argue, but she just nodded.

"I hope so," she said.

So did Booth.

Right after dinner, Booth asked if Bones would be okay watching Parker for a little while. She looked a lot less freaked out at the prospect than he'd expected, waving off his apologies with her usual eye roll.

"Just go – we're fine. Right, Parker?"

Parker was helping do up the dishes. He barely looked over his shoulder at his old man, kneeling on a stool, up to his elbows in soapy water.

"We're fine, Dad," he said.

And so… Booth went.

He made the familiar drive across town feeling less and less like this was a good idea, his hands tight on the wheel. Once he was outside Artie's garage, he sat in the car for a good ten minutes, debating.

Finally, he smacked the steering wheel with the palms of his hands in frustration.

"Fuck it." He got out of the car.

The garage was locked. Booth went around to the side, tracking through tall grass to peer in the grimy windows. Tried the back door, which was also locked.

He pounded on the door.

"Art! It's Seeley – open up!"

Olga – or Helga, whatever the hell her name was – had called him in D.C., to tell him that Artie wouldn't take her calls, had fired her as his physical therapist, hadn't left the garage in days. Booth tried calling, leaving about a dozen messages with no reply.

He should have come here first – as soon as he landed in Portland, because that's what a good friend would do. But somehow, he just hadn't seemed to be able to make that trip.

He stood at the front of the building again, looking for a way in. Finally, he ended up turning a garbage can over and standing on it, pulling himself into a window that was open on the other side of the place. Once he was in, he stood there for a while, getting his bearings. Listening. He was on the far side of the garage, where Mickey's pickup was parked with the hood up. The light was bad in the place, just a couple of naked bulbs illuminating way too much square footage – Booth couldn't begin to guess how Artie got anything done in the place.

He could see a sliver of light coming from under Artie's office door – he bit his lip, suddenly not liking the thought of what he might find. Under all the motor oil and monkey grease, the smells of booze and cigarette smoke were strong. He thought again of Paraguay: what he thought he remembered versus the real story. Mickey was right – he'd been way beyond his limit that night, like most nights they were off duty. He remembered the place – remembered talking to a pretty girl in the bar. Remembered a scream, guns drawn, a naked girl bleeding at his feet. Artie, on the stairs.

He knocked on the office door, tried the knob.

"Artie – you in there? It's Seeley."

Nothing, for a solid sixty seconds. It was a flimsy corkboard door, he'd have no trouble knocking it down. Of course, he had no clue what was waiting for him on the other side. Nevertheless, he was about to take the thing down when Artie called to him.

"Go away. I'm not receiving guests right now."

"Yeah, well, I'm not a guest. Come on, Art, open the fuckin' door."

"I'm busy." His words unmistakably slurred.

Booth waited another few seconds. "Artie, if you don't open the door I'm coming in anyway. Which means you're gonna have to put up another shitty door to replace the one I'm about to break down."

Nothing, then: "Seriously, Seel. Just give me a break, all right? Go home."

Five more seconds, his heart drilling against his ribs. He took a couple steps back, then went at the door with all his weight. His adrenaline was going too much to notice more than a little sting in his shoulder at the impact, but the lock popped and the door gave, splintering in a couple places before it swung open.

Artie sat in front of a table covered with old pictures. He had an army-issue Beretta maybe two centimeters from his left hand, a whisky bottle in his right. Booth stopped moving the second he was in the room, taking in the scene like he was watching some old movie, as Artie's hand closed over the gun.

Saying that he didn't look good would definitely be an understatement. His hair was filthy, he had a week-old patchy beard, red eyes. The smell, though, was what really did it – a combination of whiskey and cigarettes and B.O. that was almost enough to make Booth gag. The smile the man directed Booth's way wasn't the most sane one he'd ever seen, either.

"I told you to stay out," he said.

His hand was on the gun, but his finger wasn't on the trigger yet. Booth considered his chances – he was still a good six feet away, too far to get the gun away before Artie did any damage.

"What the hell are you doing, Art?" he asked.

Artie looked at him with those red eyes, like he wasn't sure who he was seeing.

"I'm re-evaluating."

Booth nodded, his mouth suddenly bone dry. He took a couple steps into the room – Artie didn't make a move, one way or the other.

"Maybe you could re-evaluate in the shower. Come on." He took another step, saw Artie's hand kind of slide around the pistol grip.

"You know how many women he killed?" Artie asked, his eyes filling. "How many years he'd been doing it?"

Another step, his hands up where Art could see them.

"Yeah, Art, I know," he said quietly.

The other man picked up the gun – almost like he hadn't realized until then that it was there.

"Artie – come on, man. Put down the gun, let's just talk for a while, huh?" He took another step closer.

Artie looked at him. Smiled. Itched his temple with the barrel of the gun. Booth closed his eyes for just a second, willing himself to stay calm.

"Damn it, Artie. Come on. Put it down."

"How do you not see that kind of shit, Seel?" He shook his head, tears flowing freely now. "You know how many years we worked together? How many nights he drove my drunk ass home and put me to bed?"

He waved his gun at the table, indicating the pictures there.

"How do you look at these, and come up with that? Deranged serial killer who gets off on torturing women?"

"Art, I want you to listen to me – all right?" His voice was just a hair shy of pleading. "It wasn't your fault. I didn't see it, either. Nobody saw it, okay? There was nothing you could've done."

His face went still all of a sudden, his eyes dead on Booth's. "Don't you get it, though? I did see it. I saw him – I saw that he was nuts, hell I even saw a couple of the women he beat up when we were in the Rangers." The gun went back to his head, snug against his temple. "I didn't do a fucking thing."

Booth stopped moving. "Artie – Jesus, buddy, put down the fuckin' gun, okay?" His voice broke – he took a second to steady himself. "Please, Artie. We're gonna figure this out, all right? You've got things to live for, y'know? It looks bad right now, but we'll set it right. Just… give me the gun."

Artie studied him for another few seconds, while the world held still. The place was silent, too hot, and Booth could feel the sweat beading on his forehead, trickling down the back of his neck.

Finally, Artie kind of went limp. Sagged in his chair, like all his bones had just dissolved. He nodded. Put the safety back on, and lay the gun back on the table.

Booth grabbed it before he could change his mind, his knees buckling when he made the move. He managed to recover and avoid disgracing himself by actually passing out, but his head was swimming.

He took another breath, grabbed Artie's wheelchair, and pushed him the hell out of the room.

"You got a shower in this place?" he asked.

"I just want to be left alone, Seel," he said brokenly. "I don't need a shower."

"The hell you don't. Come on."

There was a semi-disgusting bathroom in the back. Booth took one look at it and grimaced. He poured scouring powder over every surface he could find, rinsed it clean, and dragged Artie inside.

"Come on. First step is to sober you up. Then we'll deal with everything else."

"Everything else is shit," Artie said shortly.

Booth nodded. "I know it is, Art. But you're gonna get through it anyway, because that's what you do." He took out his phone and dialed Olga.

"Now strip down, I'll help you get in there. We're gonna piece you back together so your girlfriend doesn't know just how far gone you are."

Olga answered immediately, telling him in broken English that she'd be over in a couple hours. Artie, meanwhile, had gotten as far as getting his shirt off. When Booth hung up, he was staring at the floor.

"You would've done something, wouldn't you?" he asked Booth.

Booth considered this, remembering what the man had said in the other room. "If I'd known Mickey was beating the shit out of women back in the Rangers?" he sighed, puffed out his cheeks on the exhale.

"What do you want me to say, Art? That I would've just let it slide?" he shrugged, the anger clear in his voice. "You know me better than that – which is why nobody ever said a fuckin' word to me about it."

Artie looked like he was ready to head back to his office and swallow a bullet, though, so Booth put the lid on his own rage, tried to get his tone back to neutral.

"Look, not every violent drunk is a psychotic serial killer, right? I knew he was a prick when he was drinking, too – does that mean I should've seen this?" He actually thought about the words for the first time; thought of Bones saying the same thing to him. It wasn't your fault.

He took a breath. Crouched down so he was looking Artie in the eye.

"You're gonna be all right, okay?"

He took off Artie's shoes and socks, helped him with his pants. Started the shower running. Once Artie was seated in the shower, Booth left the considerable job of scrubbing off some of the filth to him, and made a quick phone call.

"Where are you?" Bones asked, as soon as she answered.

"I'm sorry – it's taking a little longer than I expected." He hadn't told her where he was going; hadn't actually mentioned Artie's name since the whole nightmare with Mickey, and still wasn't sure how to bring it up.

"Is everything all right?" she wanted to know, a little tinge of fear creeping into her voice.

"Yeah," he said quickly. "It is – things are just…"

"Are you with Artie?"

He sighed, ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah."

"You could have told me that," she said, and he could tell she was hurt tht he hadn't. "Is he okay?"

"Not really – he's having kind of a tough time. I'm sorry, Bones – I didn't plan on just dumping Parker on you and taking off."

"We're fine," she said quickly. It actually sounded like they probably were – there was music playing in the background, and he could hear Parker laughing. "Take as long as you need. We'll be here when you get back."

The water was still running when he hung up and went back into the bathroom. Booth stood outside the shower and listened while Artie told him the things he'd known and the things he was sure he should have suspected, even though, it turned out, Artie didn't know a whole hell of a lot more than Booth had. He got out of the shower and managed to pull himself together enough to shave and get some food down, so that by the time Olga arrived at eleven, Booth was starting to feel like maybe his friend would make it after all.

Just before he left, he gave Art a hug. Bumped fists.

"You got the little woman waiting at home?" Artie wanted to know.

Booth rolled his eyes. "I won't much longer, if she finds out people are calling her the little woman. But yeah… She's waiting."

Artie nodded. Smiled, just a hair. "You've earned this one – you know that, right, Seel? Anybody deserves the fairy tale ending, it's you. Don't fuck it up."

"I'll do my best," he promised. "You take care of yourself, right? No more firing your girlfriend and playing Russian roulette in your own filth. I hear you're pulling that shit again, I'll come back and kick your ass."

Olga took over from there. Booth left the two alone and hoped for the best, because it didn't seem like there was much more he could do. It was up to Artie, now.

It was midnight by the time he got back to the house. The outside light came on when he pulled into the driveway, but the rest of the place was dark. He got that little rush of fear that, at this point, he'd gotten almost as used to as breathing, but he pushed it to the side.

He unlocked the front door, punched in the security code before the alarm could go off, and turned on the living room light. They'd be leaving before noon, so it looked like Bones and Parker must have spent the evening cleaning. The place was spotless. It smelled like lemons, everything in its place and not a sign anywhere of what had happened here just two weeks before.

He crept up the stairs and opened the bedroom door. Bones was asleep with Parker curled up next to her, his head on her shoulder. She was wearing Booth's t-shirt, her hair spilled loose on the pillow. Parker was smiling in his sleep, his Superman pjs riding a little high, his hair a tangle of curls. Booth went over and picked him up gently.

"Bones said I can sleep with you," he said sleepily, the second Booth picked him up.

Booth rolled his eyes. "Well, Bones isn't the boss on this one. Sorry, pal."

Parker didn't actually complain, though – just snuggled in and fell back to sleep a few seconds later. By the time Booth got him back in his own bed, the kid was lost in dreamland without a peep.

Back in their bedroom, Booth stripped down to his boxers and slipped into bed, trying to be quiet. Bones stretched. Opened one eye, smiling at him.

"You're home," she said.

He smiled. Cuddled in closer, brushing the hair from her face, resting his forehead against hers.

"I'm home. Everything go all right?"

She nodded. Smiled sleepily. "We had fun," she said, like it was kind of a surprise. "We cleaned. Told stories. Listened to music. Parker showed me a dance you taught him."

Booth groaned. "I knew I should never leave you two alone."

She was quiet for a few seconds, her wheels spinning. Trying to decide something or other – God only knew what.

"He told me you got me a ring today," she said.

Well, shit.

Booth chewed on his lip for a second. "To be fair, it was only a fifty-cent ring. A fifty-cent friendship ring."

"That's what Parker said," she told him. It would have been nice if she'd led with that part.

"Oh." He hesitated, trying to figure out what she might be thinking. "It was just… you know, a joke, Bones."

Which he thought would relieve her, but instead she got this kind of worried look. God, he couldn't figure her out sometimes.

"What are you thinking?" he finally asked. He kissed her on the lips – soft, fast, just because he wanted that quick taste of her before whatever conversation they were about to have.

"Marriage, and children…" she started. Then stopped, so he waited a couple of seconds before he finished for her.

"I know, Bones – they're not your thing," he said, trying not to let onto the fact that they were his thing.

Another long pause. She swallowed, running her hand along his side – studying him all the while.

"I never thought they would be. And I'm not…" she wrinkled her forehead, the way she did when she was trying to work out some especially tricky bone problem. "I'm not ready for them right now."

He wasn't sure what she was saying, but so far it didn't sound as bad as he'd expected. "I know that," he said.

She kissed him again, longer this time. Sweeter. "Someday," she looked monumentally uncertain now. Treading on shaky, shaky ground. "I mean – not that you would want to, with me necessarily. But perhaps – "

It suddenly didn't feel like the time to play things close to the vest. He looked at her intently, thinking of what he'd nearly lost two weeks ago.

"Temperance, you say the word and I'd get married tomorrow. It's your call – we can take as much time as you need. But there's no doubt in mind that you're the person I want to wake up beside, for the rest of my life and on into the next one."

He waited for her to freak out and run screaming from the bed, but she didn't. She just lay there, drawing lazy circles on his side until his blood started to run a little warmer. Watching him. Thinking.

"I'm not ready, yet," she finally repeated. A second or two passed. Her hands found their way past the waistband of his shorts, and she pulled him closer. Tilted her head a little, her eyes still intent on his. "It doesn't mean I'll never be ready," she said softly.

"Yeah?" he asked, not quite sure he understood her right.

She nodded. "I think so. I don't know... Everything's changing. Things I never imagined I'd be thinking about, I find myself considering on a fairly regular basis."

"Things like what, exactly?"

She draped her leg over his, pressing herself close. Kissed his neck, running her hands over his chest. "Good things," she finally said. "Can we just leave it at that, for now?"

The clock counted out the seconds. The night closed in around them, the events of the past month slowly fading once her lips were on his. Tomorrow, they would be home - back in D.C., back where it all started. They would work side by side, solve cases, argue the same way they always had. Make up afterward, in the best way possible. He smiled.

"Yeah, Bones. We can leave it at that."

He rolled over and turned out the bedside lamp. Wrapped her in his arms and held her close, breathed her in. And thought of good things.