AN: This is more serious than the stuff I usually write, but, fear not, there's still a fluffy ending.

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Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Did I really just say 'How are you feeling?' What an incredibly dumb question. It's only been a couple weeks since Sam lost his partner of five and a half years. Lost. That makes it sound like they got separated in a supermarket and now he can't find her. That wasn't what happened. She's not lost, she's dead. Killed by some doped up drug dealer she was trying to bust. When we caught the bastard, he said he didn't remember shooting her. He might even be telling the truth, but it doesn't matter. She's still gone. 'How are you feeling?' Really, Seeley? You go to Sam's office to try to console him and that's the best you can come up--

"I'm…getting by," Sam answered, interrupting Booth's self-pitying internal monologue. "The Bureau wanted me to take more time off, but I'd rather be here working than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, you know?"

Booth nodded in understanding. "Yeah, I know."

Sam turned away from Booth, choosing to stare at the wall rather than face his fellow agent's sympathetic gaze. "Her birthday is next week. I was going to surprise her with a huge bouquet of orchids--she loved orchids--then take her out to dinner at her favorite restaurant and…" He laughed bitterly. "Sounds like a date, doesn't it? We weren't dating, Booth. I know a lot of the guys think that we were, but I would have never asked Karen out."

"Because you two worked together," Booth said knowingly. "You had to keep things prof--"

Sam laughed again, quickly wiping away a tear. "Professional. Right. That's what I told myself, that I was being a professional. Bullshit. Total bullshit, Booth. You want to know the truth? I never asked her on a date because I was too damn scared that she didn't feel the same way, or that it would mess up our friendship. And a part of me thought I wasn't good enough for her anyway."

"You're a good man, Sam," Booth said. He meant it. Sam had never teased him about Bones, or the clown shooting incident, or made derogatory comments about his socks or ties, or done any of the annoying things many of his colleagues did. He had helped Booth on several occasions and never asked for anything in return; he was a solid agent and friend.

Sam shook his head. "I wasn't a good enough partner. I should have been there when she tried to take down Valdez. I was on my way, I told her to wait for me…but she is…was…so independent and stubborn…and I couldn't convince her to wait and I couldn't get there fast enough and…" His eyes were filling with tears, but he had stopped caring whether or not Booth saw them. "She was lying in a pool of her own blood when I got there. So much blood…it was everywhere. I knew she couldn't be alive but I was praying to every God I knew that she would be okay somehow…but she wasn't okay, Booth. Her eyes were open but she couldn't see me crying. She couldn't feel me take her into my arms. She couldn't hear me say that I…that I loved her. I loved her so much. I would have taken that bullet for her without a second thought. She was everything to me… and she never even knew. And now she never will."

Booth sat in stunned silence for several moments. Wow. I knew that Sam had feelings for her--anyone with eyes could have seen that-- but I didn't know that he loved her as much as…as much as I love Bones. God help me, if something like that ever happened to Bones, I'd…I'd…well, I'd kill the guy responsible, that's for sure. And I wouldn't do it quickly. No, I'd make it as long and painful as possible. He'd be begging for mercy, but I wouldn't give him any. And what would I do after that? Grieve and try to move on? Pretend that my life isn't empty without her? Try to convince myself that someday I'll love someone else the way I loved her? No way. "I'm so sorry, Sam. I can't imagine what you're going through."

A few seconds later, Sam turned to face him. "Will you do something for me?"

"Anything you need," Booth answered instantly.

"Do I have your word on that?"

"Of course," Booth said, slightly annoyed that Sam doubted him enough to want a formal promise.

"Good. So here's what I want from you, Booth: Don't make the same mistake I did, alright? Don't wait until it's too late."

Booth felt his cheeks burning. "I don't know what you're talking a--"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about," Sam interrupted. "Come on, Booth. Anyone with eyes can see how you feel about Dr. Brennan. I know her people skills are somewhat limited, but I'm pretty sure even she knows by now. She's just waiting for you to say it out loud. So do it. Tell her." Seeing that Booth was about to protest, he added: "You did give me your word."

"But what if she doesn't feel the same way?" Booth asked, cringing at the insecurity in his voice.

Sam smiled. "So she's just drawing upon her boundless imagination when she writes novels about an anthropologist in love with her FBI agent partner? She doesn't really strike me as the imaginative type. Is she?"

"No," Booth admitted. "Not really."

"Tell her," Sam urged. "Tell her now."

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Less than twenty minutes after leaving Sam's office, Booth was walking into Brennan's. She was sitting at her computer, her eyes fixed on the screen, but she stood up when she heard his footsteps. "Do we have a new--" He enveloped her in his arms before she could finish her sentence. A jolt of panic spread through her body. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he whispered as his hands lightly caressed her back. "I'm just glad that you're safe."

She backed out of his nearly suffocating embrace. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Booth gazed at her for several seconds before speaking. "You're a lot like Karen."

"The murdered FBI agent?" She had gone to the funeral with Booth a couple weeks earlier.

"Yeah. She was just as fearless as you are; she'd never back down from anything or anyone, no matter how dangerous. And now she's gone, and Sam never had the chance to tell her…" His voice broke. "To tell her how much he loved her."

"Her partner Sam?" Brennan asked, wanting to make sure she was understanding him. "He was in love with her?"

"Very much so. He would have given his life for her."

"Why didn't he tell her?"

"He was afraid she didn't feel the same way. And he didn't feel worthy of her. She was so beautiful and smart and strong and had all these amazing squint skills and was a famous author and--"

"Karen wasn't a squint or an author," Brennan interrupted. She didn't see how Booth could have made such mistakes…and then, as she watched him blush, the realization hit. "I'm a squint and an author. You were talking about me. I'm Karen and you're…you're Sam?"

Booth took a tentative step towards her. "I don't want to make the same mistake he did, Bones, so I need you to know that I love you. I've loved you since the beginning of our partnership, and I'll keep loving you until I take my last breath. I can't go on pretending otherwise."

Brennan inhaled sharply. She had suspected for a long while that Booth's feelings for her went beyond partnership, and that she returned those feelings, but a part of her was still surprised to hear her hypothesis confirmed so definitively. "I love you too, Booth. So…does this mean you're ready to cross the line?"

Booth grinned as he wrapped his arms around her. "Ready when you are."

She grabbed his jacket lapels, pulling him towards her for a kiss. The motion reminded Booth of the last time they had kissed in her office. This time however, there was no mistletoe, no awkwardness, and no federal prosecutor to gawk at their passionate display. It was just the two of them, each determined to show the other the feelings they had bottled up for far too long.

"Damn, Bones," Booth gasped when they eventually broke apart. "We should have done that years ago."

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Thanks for reading! All comments are greatly appreciated.