Disclaimer: They are not mine, but I like to borrow and play :-P
Spoilers: Vague season finale reference

The title is shamelessly (but with no copyright infringement intended) stolen from a wonderful story by the great O. Henry, called The Gift of the Magi. If you have not read it, get a hold of it without delay.


Gifts Of The Magi

(Even Though They Are Clearly Mythical Entities, The Fallacies Of Whose Existence Were Perpetrated By Those Who Constructed Religion To Control The Masses)

It starts in the diner. Over pie, no less. Well, he has pie. She refuses.

She has been quiet all night, deep in thought, and he doesn't press the issue. She'll tell him when she's ready; she always does.

"Booth," she says, drawing out his name in a way that makes him imagine those lips doing very un-partnerly things. "I'd like to ask you something. A favor."

"Forget it, Bones. You're not getting any of my pie."

"That's not what I---"

He cuts her off, laughing, that low chuckle of having his own private inside joke.

"Whadya need?"

She bites her lip self-consciously. His normally unflappable partner- nervous?

What the hell kind of a favor is this?

"Are you sure? It's a rather big request."

Now he's nervous. Is she gonna ask him for his… stuff… again?

"What's the damn favor, Bones?"

"You know, there are studies that suggest unwarranted aggression could be indicative of an anteroventral septal lesion. Maybe you should make an appointment with your neurologist, Booth."

"Ok, way too soon for brain tumor jokes. Just so you know."

"What? That wasn't---"

"Yeah, yeah." He waves it away good- naturedly.

She's biting her lip again, eyes locked on him like tracking missiles. He arches an eyebrow, suppresses a smirk. It's moments like these that he actually feels grateful for the endless hours spent with his ass parked behind the scope of a rifle. Sometimes, waiting her out takes more patience than half the missions he's been on.

Honestly, the suspense is killing him.

She's still eyeing him, in that squinty suspicious way, and he lets the corners of his mouth curve up into a wry smile.

"Did I mention that Parker is going through a staring contest phase?" He leans forward conspiratorially, making sure to drop his voice to a husky whisper. "I could do this all night."

He's not really sure what this he's referring to. It could just be some sort of warped version of 'Chicken'. Or it could be a roundabout mating ritual that he's sure she would be more than happy to explain. Whatever this is though, it's kind of turning him on.

And by kind of, he means a completely inappropriate amount.

Her eyes widen at what he's sure is an unprecedented forward implication on his part. It's not about the favor anymore. It never was; not really, not for him. Because, after all, he's already stolen evidence, and aided fugitives, and perjured himself, and stepped in front of a bullet, so….. yeah. There pretty much isn't anything he wouldn't do for her.

Except maybe the sperm donation thing. Once was probably enough of that particular brand of torture.

They remain silent for another moment, laden with a tension even she can understand.

An aggrieved sigh escapes her lips. He smiles, because it's so her to be irritated with defeat, even while asking something of him.

She tells him.

***

The restaurant is one she's never patronized before, but had intended to since it opened. She's glad to be here now; the wine is good, the conversation comfortable. Her companion is in a jovial mood, which she doesn't really understand. Becoming another year older is something one should not enjoy so much, especially considering his age. Especially considering he, of all people, knows just how easily life can slip out of your grasping hands.

Perhaps that's the reason for his exuberance. He's hung on this long, and won't ever let go without a fight.

"I'm really glad we did this, honey."

She smiles across the table.

"Me too, Dad."

He fingers the stem of the crystal wine glass, holding it up in the dim light. His weathered face betrays a sly grin.

"You really outdid yourself. Russ and Amy had me over for dessert. Can you believe it? How do they expect an old man to survive that kind of treatment?"

"Well, rationally speaking, Russ's job does not afford him the luxuries that I---"

"It was a joke, sweetheart. I appreciate everything you kids do for me. Both of you."

She lowers her eyes. There hasn't been enough dinner, enough conversation, enough kindness between them. She has every right to ration out trust and forgiveness, every right to guard against the unapologetic way with which Max safeguards the lives of his children. But he's her father. He's trying. He's been trying for a very long time. And he won't exactly live forever. She prides herself on her steep learning curve, yet it seems she has taken nothing away from nearly losing Booth. Would she ever forgive herself if she continued to hold back with both the men in her life until it was too late?

She reaches down to the bag at her feet. Hesitating only for a moment, she proffers it to her father.

His eyebrows elevate in surprise.

"What's this?"

"It's your gift."

Max accepts the offering, smiling.

"I thought the dinner was my gift."

"The dinner was just… dinner, Dad. We should do it more often."

He looks surprised, but undoubtedly pleased. Pulling a gift box from the bag, he glances to her for confirmation.

"Open it."

He lifts the lid carefully, almost reverently, and she's amazed by how much this means to him. He hasn't even seen the gift yet. It's important because it came from her, and she finally understands what Booth meant when she'd asked him for assistance in this.

It's a good thing you're doing, Bones.

I merely wish to give a gift he'll appreciate, not purchase something mundane that he'll never use.

That's the beauty of it. It's something from the heart.

I don't know what that means.

She hadn't understood how it was a good thing. She only knew that it felt appropriate.

Seeing her father's eyes light up now, though, it finally makes sense to her.

He pulls out the leather-bound book, eyeing it quizzically. Flips the cover, a page, then another. His thick fingers dance lovingly over the contents, and his bewildered gaze flies to hers.

"How did you do this?"

The expression is one she's never seen from him. It's as if he's laid his heart out on the table in front of her. Which is completely ridiculous, and physically impossible, and obviously an inane metaphor she must have picked up from Booth. But, and she has to admit this despite her aggravation, it seems to fit the current circumstance.

"When your case was first reopened, we… came across the address of our old home in Ohio. I never gave much thought to it until recently. I suppose it occurred to me that there must have been items left behind, considering the hurry with which it was abandoned. Apparently, everything had been confiscated by the FBI and stored as evidence. The case was never officially closed. It was a logical conclusion that those things would still be in the possession of the FBI."

"And you just happen to have an in with those suits, don't you."

The knowing glint in his eye is rather unnerving.

"I'm not sure what you mean by 'an in', but if you are inferring that I asked Booth for help, then you are correct in your assumption."

In truth, the ferocity with which her partner had undertaken the task had been more than a little surprising. It had taken him three days to track down the forgotten storage location, and another four to go through all the contents therein. Not once in the week that her favor had cost him (not to mention the backache that followed), had Booth uttered a single complaint.

And he always complained.

"He's a good man, that Booth. Fist like an anvil…" Max rubs at his jaw absentmindedly, still feeling the weight of the punch. "He's very devoted to you."

"He's not…" But the denial dies on her lips. It had been confusing, the tremendous passion with which he carried out the favor that he had teased out of her in the first place. But, objectively speaking, what other word could she use to describe it but devotion? Friendship and caring no longer seemed to suffice. Perhaps they never had, but her vision had been too narrow to see it.

"He is a very good man," she says. "The best man I know."

Her father chuckles lightly, and returns his attention to the memories in his hands. Pages adorned with photos of people she didn't know, family she hadn't been aware existed. Her parents too, before they turned to a life of crime, young and bright and full of love and promise. There were secrets buried in those snapshots in time; the man in front of her the only one who could ever reveal them. Who could ever relive them.

He motions for her to come closer. She slides her chair to his side. He clasps her hand firmly in his, the way he did when she was a little girl who called him 'Daddy', and tells her about the parents she never really knew.

***

He isn't in the least surprised when there's a knock on his door. He mentally prepares himself for one of several possible scenarios.

1) Dinner went well. Now Bones is confused, and she won't know how she feels until she talks to him.

2) Dinner went badly. Now Bones is pissed off, and she needs someone to yell at. Or hit.

3) Max said something stupid. Now Bones is upset, and he's going to have to shoot Max.

He really hopes it's not that last one, because shooting her father would undoubtedly be worse than arresting him. The second one's not too appealing either, but preferable to at least one of the alternatives. Even if she does have a mean right hook. Best case scenario is number one, but that may be way too much optimism.

When he opens the door and she brushes past him without ceremony to sit on his couch, he lets out a relieved laugh. Number two's out, then.

"Hey to you too," he says, as his eyes rove over attire. She looks… soft. Feminine.

He clears his throat before he says something stupid.

"You want a drink?"

She shakes her head silently, patting the space beside her on the couch.

"I want to talk."

There's a certainty in her tone that he hadn't expected. She doesn't seem confused, or pissed off, or upset for that matter, and it throws him.

"Something wrong?" he asks, and for the first time he really has no clue how she's going to answer.

She shakes her head, large onyx earrings brushing against the curve of her neck. His fingers twitch. He's never wanted to be rock so bad in his life.

"No, nothing. I had a very enjoyable time. My father was…" she falters, clear blue eyes betraying some profound emotion. "He was very appreciative. It opened up an avenue of discussion for us that I have never known how to broach. I have you to thank for that, Booth."

He smiles. Optimism it is, then.

"Don't mention it, Bones. It was your idea anyway. I just… greased the wheels a little."

"You shouldn't undervalue your part in this. It was extraordinary, what you did. And I wanted to ask you why."

"What do you mean? You asked me to." He's startled, and can't really wrap his mind around what she's asking. Was this some sort of test? A scientific experiment to see how far he'd go for her?

"No, I mean, why did you take it so seriously? You could have made the attempt, and then explained to me how difficult it would be to accomplish the task. I would have understood. You didn't have to spend a week's unpaid vacation digging through storage boxes in Ohio."

His mouth opens slightly. Is she really asking him why he didn't just give up? On something that was so damn important to her?

But maybe… maybe the real question she needs answered is one she's deliberately not asking.

"Because you asked me to, and I couldn't let you down. You trusted me."

"Of course. Our partnership is predicated on implicit trust. We wouldn't be nearly as effective at what we do without it."

"But this wasn't about work, Bones."

"I've trusted you with personal matters in the past. You have consistently proven to be worthy of it."

She says it in squint-mode, he thinks. As if she's presenting a scientifically verifiable conclusion. As if he were an honest to God empirically proven fact. Like gravity. Or something.

And suddenly, he has a question of his own begging to be answered.

"Why did you ask me to do this?"

She looks at him sharply, previous confidence wavering. For once, she has nothing to say.

"Bones…." It's almost a whine, and he winces. But the effect seems to settle her, because she releases a breath. His chest is suddenly the most interesting thing in the world, her gaze focusing there in avoidance of his eyes.

"I wasn't sure that I could. Do it, I mean. I didn't think I would know what to look for."

"You'd know. They're your parents."

"And you're my---"

Her startled eyes fly to his at this. Teeth worry her lower lip, and he is desperate to know what she has almost revealed. He needs it more than he needs his next breath.

"I'm your… what, Bones?"

"You're my… confidant."

She nods her head and appears reasonably satisfied with this. He'd bet every last crazy pair of socks that wasn't what she had nearly said. But he's not really allowed to bet. And the moment for that particular revelation has passed anyway.

"Confidant, huh?" He nudges her lightly with his elbow. "That sounds kind of girly."

She laughs, a throaty sound that goes right to his heart. Amongst other places.

"The word can be traced back to the Latin verb 'confidere', the root of which, 'fidere' means to trust. While there is a female form of the noun, I did not mean it with any gender-specific connotation."

"You've been hanging out way too much with that Nigel-Murray guy."

There is a flush to her cheeks at his light-hearted teasing, and he wishes he had just taken what was obviously a complement and shut his trap.

"If there is another word you prefer…"

His hand covers hers on the couch between them.

"No. I like it."

Her lips curl slightly into the tiniest trace of a smile, and he just stares at her. There's a moment, and it's one of those moments, the ones that have always hung there between them but have been happening more and more lately. That's usually about where Angela tells them to get a room, or Sweets breaks into a boyish grin, or one of them severs the connection. But Angela's not here, and Sweets isn't either, thank God, and there's something about the connection that can't be severed. This, right here, and he feels like he can't breathe. Her fingers curl around his, squeezing lightly, and the blood is pounding in his ears, and it's like all their tiny steps suddenly became one giant leap, and all he has to do is close the distance….

"Booth, you're staring."

And he laughs nervously, because he must have been kidding himself to think that he could erase that invisible barrier separating them so easily. It's practically a goddamn continent. He gently extricates his hand from hers and stands, rubbing the back of his neck idly.

"I uh… I have something for you."

An eyebrow arches in surprise, but she says nothing, and he studiously schools his breathing back to normal as he walks to his room. Whatever the hell happened back there was… progress, but now she's never felt farther away.

When he returns, he sits by her side with a professional amount of distance between them, and congratulates himself on reversion to status quo. There is a black velvet box clutched in his hand. He stretches it out to her, nestled in his palm like a tiny plastic pig, and the flicker of fear in her eyes startles him. Because there isn't nearly enough fear there, and far too much of… something else that he can't put a name to.

He must be hallucinating again.

But she just shakes her head, smiling.

"I refuse to accept that, unless I have your assurance that there is some sort of plastic toy inside."

"Just open it, Bones."

She keeps her eyes on his when she reaches for the box. He's pleased to notice that, for the briefest of instants, those steadfast fingers tremble.

They tremble again when she opens the lid, and her lip joins them in quaking. Her eyes are oceans, miles and miles of blue abyss that he would gladly sink into and drown.

"I don't understand."

"I found this with some of your mother's things. She must have forgotten it, but it was obviously meant for you. I thought you should have it. So you could carry her with you wherever you go."

He waits for the inevitable rejection of his sentimental theory, the inaccuracy of his assumption that this simple object could possibly have any significance other than its own intrinsic value. He waits for an argument about her mother being bones beneath the soil, and no part of her existing within the contours of any material thing. But the rejection, the argument, doesn't come. Instead, she brings the box to her face silently, observing as if she expects it to do something completely improbable. She grasps the chain and holds it up to the light, the small crystal dolphin dangling at its end reflecting a kaleidoscope of color. Its body is engraved with three tiny letters, blending together into a word both familiar and foreign to her: J-o-y.

The silence is almost more than he can stand. A single, lonely tear weaves its way down her porcelain skin, and he wants to brush it away with a gentle finger. But she deserves this moment with the object in her hand, this silent communion as her mother's ghost reaches across the years that have parted them. She'd laugh at him for thinking that. That doesn't make it any less true.

Finally, finally, she sets the necklace down on his coffee table. Gingerly, like something exceedingly fragile. The only other thing he's ever seen her handle with such exquisite tenderness is her beloved bones. She turns to look at him, and there is something etched into her face that he can't read. He knows her, so well, but this expression from her is something he has never known.

"I have another favor to ask."

It's another one of Those Moments, and he can't take it. He can't handle what's simmering inside of him anymore, and the last thing she needs now is him losing control like some horny adolescent. He falls back on what works for him, on what has always worked, with everyone but her. He deflects with a joke.

"Come on, Bones. My back isn't even healed yet from this favor. Unless you wanna do something about it with those magic knuckles---"

"No, Booth. This is very important. Will you do me just one other favor?"

He mentally kicks himself for being so whipped. Clearing his throat again, he knows that this time he's going to say something stupid whether he wants to or not.

"You know I can't deny you anything." He searches her face for affirmation. When none is forthcoming--- " You do know that, right Bones?"

"You deny me things all the time, Booth. You never let me drive."

"I don't mean," he huffs out a breath, "I don't mean those kinds of things. I mean, the important stuff. The kind of stuff that---"

"Happens eventually?"

His throat goes dry. He feels like she just punched him in the gut, and he can't think of a thing to say. But suddenly, there's nothing to say, because her face is coming towards him with such purpose that he wouldn't be able to say anything even if he had two neurons firing at the moment, which he doesn't. Her words just kind of bounce around in the emptiness that is his cranium (and when the hell did he start using that word), and his eyes are open in utter fascination as her lips cover his. There's a split second in which he's frozen, her smell and the feel of those impossibly soft lips effectively paralyzing him. Then one thought, unbidden, manages to penetrate through the complete meltdown he's just experienced.

Oh yeah.

And it's like someone lit a fire under his ass, because he's pulling her to him and savaging her mouth with his. He's pillaging, and she's plunging, and they're both falling so far, so fast, with the entire world dropping out from under them with that one kiss. She's into this, is his second coherent thought, and she tastes like nothing he's ever known and everything he's ever wanted. He needs more of this, so much more, but he pulls away. Because after all this time of waiting and denying, all that 'look but don't touch' crap they'd been torturing themselves and each other with for reasons that seem kind of obsolete in retrospect, it would be too easy for this to get completely out of control way too quickly.

He catches his breath, proudly noticing it takes her longer to catch hers. Even in this, there's competition. Then he grins at her, broad and bright.

"What was that for?"

She licks her lips, and it takes all his willpower not to lunge at her again. He groans and she smirks, and he can admit that she wins this round. Then she looks him dead in the eye, serious as only she can be.

"For being consistent."

His jaw drops a little at that. She smirks again, leans in again, and fists his shirt in her hand. Score another for the good doctor.

"Now, about that favor…."

Her lips press against his once more, insistent and demanding, and being completely out of control isn't such a bad idea anymore. She's challenging him the way she always does, and he has always met her head on. There is tenderness and affection yes, but rivalry has been foreplay for as long as he's known her. Bickering has been a cold shower hours later, and many a time has he imagined swallowing her wise-ass comments while kissing her senseless. She's tugging at the hem of his shirt anyway, so really he has no choice but to grant this favor she's so adamant about.

Yeah, they should definitely go a few rounds. See who comes out on top.

(Each ends up being on top an equal number of times; it's always been evenly balanced between them.)

***

It starts in the diner. With pie. And a favor. Of course it does; he can never deny her anything.

Fin.