He spends six weeks sifting through his memories and separating Bones from Bren with a kind of fierce determination. The hardest part about it is remembering that Bones is the real one. Not Bren. Still, by the time Sweets finally reinstates him, he's pretty sure he's got himself under control.

But it all goes to hell the instant Bones comes back.

His body remembers hers. He doesn't have a clue why, but there it is. And when she hugs him, his mix-mastered gray matter responds with a high-definition screenshot of the two of them making love that throws him completely off-stride.

Luckily Bones doesn't notice. She wants to know why he's dressed like a furniture mover, and then there's that flash of concern over his health. And by the time Angela comes in, he at least isn't staring at her lips anymore.

And then there's Avalon. What the hell kind of name is Avalon, anyway? He shakes his head. Whacky. That's what it is. At any rate, the woman's a bit of a nutcase. She'd have to be to call herself a psychic. And he doesn't believe in psychics, especially not when they happen to be prime-suspects in his murder investigation.

But damned if the woman doesn't strike a home run right off the bat.

"You're worried," she says. "You lost something."

Of course his mind goes straight to Bren. What else would it do? He drags it--and her--back to the case, but she won't be deterred for long.

"You never lost anything in that coma, Agent Booth. You gained something."

When she gives him a look like she knows he'll think that's good news he can't help but smile back a little, because yeah, if he believed in psychics he'd be pretty happy right now. But he doesn't believe in psychics, so her comment only adds to his confusion. As far as he's concerned, he not only lost something, he lost something big.

Cam knows. He drags her out for a drink, dances around the edge of the sand pit for a while, and promptly gets blindsided when she neglects to shout "fore" before teeing off a hole-in-one.

"You're in love with Dr. Brennan."

She doesn't sound surprised, and that right there is another kick in the head. But the weirdest thing is that she doesn't say it like it's a coma-dream thing. She says it like it's a real-life thing.

"Go for it," she says. "But be sure."

Yeah. That part he knows. There's being in love, and then there's being in love with Dr. Temperance Brennan--a woman for whom there's no such thing as second chances. And right now he's okay with that. Right now, he can't conceive of a future that doesn't have her in it.

But that damned tumor has him questioning everything. Does he really hate cats and clowns? Or does he only hate them because Sweets says he hates them. He won't really know until he meets up with a cat or a clown. And if he isn't sure about clowns, how can he really be sure about Bones?

He ponders that as he stops by a twenty-four hour Walmart and picks out a pair of wildly striped socks. Back at his office, he puts them on and leans back in his chair, propping his feet up on the corner of his desk. He stares at his feet, but he thinks about Bones. About Avalon and the case, too. But mostly about Bones. At some point he gets up and reaches into the back of his bottom drawer. He pulls out a slim folder, flips it open, and stares at the picture of him and Bones. It strikes him that she looks happy. But more than that, she looks relaxed.

It isn't really a conscious decision that brings him to the dig.

He says her name as he hits the last rung, and she turns to him with an expression of baffled surprise that makes him want to take her in his arms and kiss her senseless. His fingers itch to bury themselves in her hair, and he draws in a deep breath, hoping to catch a hint of her over the musty smell of damp earth. Startled by the intensity of his feelings, he makes up some flimsy excuse about not having anything to do.

And welcomes the wave of relief when she comes up with an old computer disk.

He's careful not to touch her when he takes it, a little afraid of what could happen if he does. The moment is too intimate, even with the work lights and the knowledge that he's standing at the bottom of a mass grave. All at once, being alone with her seems like a really bad idea. He babbles something about his people and her people and needing to get busy, already on his way back up the ladder. He knows she's confused and maybe even a little bit hurt when he turns down her offer of a shared breakfast, but as he makes his escape, all he can feel is relief that he didn't make a fool out of himself.

Back at the FBI, he buries himself in his work. And even though it all feels just a little bit off he thinks he's doing okay.

Until that whole forehead kiss thing. He watches her walk away, and the laugh she throws back at him, a kind of carefree amusement, makes his gut clench. Bones is rarely carefree.

Then, as if he isn't already tied in enough knots, Sweets turns up in his office with brain scans and dire warnings and cool insistence that what Booth is feeling is strictly a lingering effect of the coma. Booth tries to blow it off, but he has to fight an irrational desire to slug the guy. Sweets's parting words hit him like a blow to the solar-plexus.

"If you breech those defenses, and it turns out you don't really love her ...?"

Yeah, Sweets. I got it. I know the score.

He counts it a plus that he doesn't put his fist through the wall.

Against his better judgment he seeks out Avalon. He uses the case as an excuse, but he's pretty sure she knows Harbinger isn't why he's tracked her down. It's those damned brain scans. He just can't help wondering if Sweets is right.

But Avalon dismisses the scans out of hand. "They know about your brain. They don't know jack about your heart."

And even though he still doesn't believe in psychics that makes him feel a little better. So as a kind of thank-you, he only makes a token objection when she brings out the tarot cards.

What happens next clarifies everything.

He's almost too late. It's a thought that will plague him for a long time. In his dreams, he'll replay the sounds of battle and the way he crashed through the door just in time to see Dr. Leacock plunge a scalpel into Bones's arm.

He fires. There's no remorse for kill number fifty-four. Booth doesn't even glance at the fallen doctor as he hurries to Bones.

She's staring at Leacock, her eyes still wide with fear, her body pressed up against the wall. He drops down beside her and gathers her into his arms without a second thought. Partner, friend, fantasy-lover ... whatever the hell this thing is between them--none of it matters. All that matters is the gleaming shaft of the scalpel and the way it twitches with each beat of her heart.

In typical Bones fashion, she ignores his warning to leave it alone. Shock, he knows, but it still scares him to death when the clatter of metal on tile is accompanied by a spurt of blood against his fingers.

And that's when it hits him, really hits him, that this woman is his everything. He doesn't know quite what that means yet, but as he holds her close and whispers promises she probably won't remember later, he knows that his feelings aren't going to change.

The few minutes it takes for the ambulance to arrive feel like hours, but they're hours spent with Bones curled up against him, her head burrowed into his chest. And wounded or not, she feels pretty damned good there. When the paramedics finally storm through the doorway, he turns her over to their care with a twinge of regret.

The case pretty much takes over their lives after that, and it isn't until late the next night that they get a few minutes alone. After Leacock, the decision to come clean about his feelings seems an easy one, but he still has to work up to it. And part of working up to it includes Bones pointing out that the only thing in his heart is blood. As exasperating as that is, it's also oddly charming.

This time it's a clown that sends him into a tailspin, and later he'll add that to the long list of reasons why he hates clowns.

The whole thing makes him doubt the wisdom of telling her how he feels just enough that when his confession draws a too-long moment of shocked silence he finds he can't wait it out.

"In a professional, attagirl kind of way," he says, just a little panicked.

Is it disappointment he sees in her eyes then? Or is that only wishful thinking?

"I love you too," she says, and punches his arm hard enough to make him fall back a little. "Attaboy."

He counts himself lucky that Caroline shows up before things can get any more awkward.

By the time it's all over he decides that maybe he should slow down, at least until neither one of them can make the mistake of thinking he's acting out a coma-induced fantasy. When they finally do take the next step he doesn't want either one of them questioning his motivations.

And that's why when Avalon makes that comment about the two of them going on like they always have, he isn't really all that bothered.

"Sometimes you gotta settle for second best."

She shakes her head a little in a kind of disappointed exasperation and tells him that her cards say it'll all work out eventually.

But he doesn't really need to hear that.

He already knows.