"Dr. Brennan, come in."
Sweets doesn't get up to greet her, and his customary smile is absent. Later, she'll understand that those were clues. Now, she sits down, knees and ankles together, and checks her watch.
"I don't have a lot of time, Dr. Sweets." It feels strange to be here without Booth, but Sweets had been specific. Come alone, he'd said.
"Yes, of course." He hands her a single sheet of paper. "I thought you'd want to see this."
"What is it?"
"Just read it."
Seventeen seconds later she storms into Hacker's office. Agents scramble out of her way like startled pigeons, suit coats flapping. She slaps the memo down on his desk.
"Why?" Her voice is too loud, but she doesn't care.
Andrew's welcoming smile fades. He glances at the paper. She taps her foot, arms folded over her chest, and waits.
"I don't understand. Is there a problem?"
"You're transferring him."
"It's a promotion," he corrects her. "But it does come with a transfer, yes." He watches her warily. "It's Bureau business, Temperance. It doesn't affect you."
"He's my partner." She wants to scream the words, so she says them very quietly instead.
"We'll get you a new partner."
"I don't want a new partner."
Leaning back in his chair, Andrew studies her. "I thought you said there was nothing personal between you."
She lifts her chin, defiant. "My relationship with Booth is strictly professional."
In the hallway behind her a telephone rings. There's a murmur of voices, the sound of a copy machine. Eyes narrowed, Brennan waits for Andrew's response.
He gets to his feet and comes around the desk. "Look. Temperance. This is the way it works in the Bureau. Agents either move up, or they move out." He touches her arm, but she drives him back with a glare. "We'll find you someone else you can work with, I promise."
"I can work with Booth," she insists. "We have a--" She pauses, searching for the right words. "--a symbiotic relationship."
One eyebrow shoots up. "And you say there's nothing personal between you?"
When she doesn't respond he shakes his head and leans a hip against the corner of his desk. "I wouldn't have thought you the type to scuttle a man's career."
That stings. "I helped make his career."
"Then don't you think he deserves this promotion?"
"That isn't my decision."
"You're right. It's mine." With a decisive nod, Andrew straightens. "I'll arrange for Agent Perotta to partner with you. I believe you've worked with her before?"
Suddenly all she wants to do is get away. She strides out of his office, ignoring him when he calls her name, heedless of the agents who scramble, again, to get out of her way.
She ends up in Booth's office. He looks up when she stops in the doorway.
"Hey, Bones." If he's surprised to see her, he doesn't mention it. "I guess you heard the news?"
He waves her inside, but she stays where she is, feet planted firmly on a floor that pitches like the deck of a storm-tossed ship. Somewhere between Hacker's office and Booth's she'd realized what she has to do, and though her stomach roils with nausea she locks down her emotions and forces a smile to her face.
"Sweets told me," she says brightly. "Congratulations."
"Thanks." Something flickers in his eyes, and his answering smile seems a little forced, but even though she recognizes these things (Sweets is a surprisingly effective instructor), she doesn't yet know what they mean.
"So." It's all so awkward and painful, and she just wants to run away. But Temperance Brennan never runs from trouble. "Baltimore, huh?"
"Yup." He taps his pen against the desk blotter once, twice, three times. Drops it. "They want me to head up the field office. Imagine--" he gives a snort, "me as 'the man'."
The phrase confuses her until she remembers the last time he'd used it. "So you'll be buying office furniture instead of working on cases."
"No, it--" he waves his hand, gives her a faint smile. "I'm going to miss explaining these things to you."
"It's only Baltimore. I'm sure you'll be back on the weekends to see Parker. Maybe we can get together for coffee." Her facial muscles ache with strain. Being happy for him hurts in more ways than one, but she knows how to hide her feelings. It's the one good thing she got from the foster system.
She doesn't know what else to say, so they just stand there, looking at each other, until Brennan gives a quick shrug.
"I should get back to the lab."
He's on his feet and coming toward her, and that makes it all worse, because when he's behind his desk he's a colleague. Beside her, he's her friend. It takes everything she has to hold her ground and meet his gaze. There's a look in his eyes that she doesn't understand. And she wants to, which makes it all worse because he's leaving and she doesn't really have the right to ask him these kinds of questions anymore.
"Will you miss me, Bones?"
His voice is low and gravely, and it twists like a dagger in her heart. She wants to cry, but she doesn't because Andrew is right. Booth deserves this promotion. So she grits her teeth and forces words past the tightness in her throat.
"I don't know why I would."
His face falls, and she knows she's hurting him, but a clean break is best.
"Andrew tells me he's going to assign Agent Perotta to me on a full-time basis. I'm sure she'll be a more than adequate replacement." She gives him an 'attaboy' punch to the shoulder, and the fact that she'd learned that from him makes it bittersweet. "Hey, maybe you'll finally be able to get that big-screen TV you've always wanted."
"Yeah," he says. "Maybe I will." But he doesn't sound particularly happy about it, and he doesn't return the shoulder punch.
"Listen." She's desperate to get away before her control snaps. "I've got to go. There's some lab results …"
"Yeah." He nods. "I understand." Rounding his desk, he drops into the chair and reaches for a folder. His movements are stiff and awkward, and she wonders if he's hurt his back again but she doesn't ask. "I'll see you later," he says. "Maybe we can get a drink or something."
She watches him bend his head over his work. Light gleams in his hair. The sudden urge to run her fingers through the dark strands makes her shove her hands behind her back. "Yes," she says. "I'd like that."
She flees his office with loneliness pounding in her ears.
Back in her car, she palms her cell phone and puts in a call to Cam. She isn't going back to the lab today, and for once she's not going in over the weekend. Instead she stops at her apartment long enough to change her clothes and pack a bag. She tells herself she isn't running away. She's just taking some time to gather her thoughts.
By late afternoon she's walking along her favorite stretch of beach, toes curling into the sand, wavelets breaking against her ankles. The outgoing tide has left seashells and sand crabs in its wake, but she ignores them the same way she ignores the scattered sunbathers. She's come here before--after learning of her mother's death, after her father's trial, after Zack ... Always before the sound of the surf had calmed her. Tonight it only punctuates her heartache.
Booth is leaving. The words time themselves to her footsteps, driving her forward. Booth is leaving-Booth-is-leaving. She walks faster. And then she's running, the surf pounding in her ears, the packed sand pounding against her heels--and the words beating against her heart. Booth-is-leavingBoothisleavingBoothis …
She runs until her chest feels like fire and her calf muscles scream for relief. Then, one hand pressed against the knifing pain in her side, she folds in on herself and sinks to the ground. Broken shells dig into her skin as she gulps in air and swipes at the tears that wash down her cheeks.
She's still there, arms wrapped around her pulled up knees, when Booth finds her an hour later. He's wearing jeans too, along with a faded FBI t-shirt. But it's his feet she notices. They're bare, and as long and lean as the rest of him. She wants to run her hands over them. And she wants him to think about her when she does it, instead of thinking about how it feels to have somebody beat them with rubber hoses and steel pipes.
"So," he says, dropping down beside her. "Does this mean drinks are off?"
He says it lightly, but there's an underlying tension in his voice. She understands that, because she feels it, too.
"How did you find me?"
His light shrug stretches the t-shirt across his chest and shoulders. She tries not to notice.
"You told me you came here after your father's trial." He picks up a sand dollar and tosses it into the waves. She likes that he doesn't check to see if it's alive first. "And after Zack."
"After Mom, too."
"See?" He gives her a quick smile. "So when Cam told me you'd taken off--she's worried about you, by the way--it wasn't hard to guess where you'd gone."
"Cam shouldn't worry about me. I can take care of myself."
"Can you?" There's a probing quality to the words that makes her look over at him, but that turns out to be a bad idea. His head is too close, his gaze too steady. It weakens her resolve. Shaken, she turns away and changes the subject.
"I like the ocean," she says. "I find the rhythms of the surf to be quite soothing."
"Is that the only reason you like it?" Quietly spoken, the words have an intensity behind them that draws her gaze back to his.
"Yes," she says simply.
He shakes his head. "I'm not a shrink, but even I know there's more to it than that."
"I don't know what you mean."
He gestures toward the water. "It's always here, Bones. You don't have to worry that you'll look up one day and find it missing."
The point hits too close to home, so she takes refuge in science. "Seventy percent of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean. It isn't likely to 'go missing' anytime soon."
Instead of answering he presses his palms into the sand behind him and stretches out his legs. The hem of his jeans is damp and crusted with sand, and she wonders if he's cold. But when his arm brushes against hers all she feels is heat. Behind them, the sun is setting. Rayleigh scattering tints the water in shades of pink and gold.
"I see why you like it here." His voice is quiet, almost reverent. "It's peaceful."
Down the beach a dog barks, then leaps for a thrown Frisbee. There's grace in its movements, and pure joy in its voice when it drops the toy at its owner's feet and barks again. It has such a simple life--eat, sleep, and play. She envies that simplicity.
"When do you start the new job?" she asks, steeling herself to accept the answer with as much grace as she can muster.
He'd been watching the waves, and all at once he rolls to his feet and starts back the way he came. There's a moment when she doesn't quite understand what's happening. And then she does. He's leaving, walking away without a word, and suddenly, irrationally, she thinks he isn't going to come back. The feeling of loss that crashes over her with that thought takes her breath away. She can't let it end like this. Leaping to her feet, she starts after him, stomach churning.
She likes to think she can compartmentalize everything, but it isn't true. She has to tell him. He has to understand.
She can't compartmentalize him.
He stops. He turns back with an odd look on his face. "I'm just going to get my shoes." A quick glance beyond him reveals that yes, there is a pair of men's shoes in imminent danger of being washed away on the incoming tide. She could change the subject, cover her faux pas, but now that she's started the conversation she's determined to see it through.
"No. I mean …" She takes a breath, holds it, lets it out again. "Don't go to Baltimore."
Several long seconds pass while he stares at her. She stares back. She doesn't know what to say next or how to be. She's never done this before. It's strange and a little frightening, and the only thing that keeps her feet planted in the sand is the fact that she already trusts him with her life. It isn't such a stretch to trust him with this, too.
"What are you saying?" He hasn't moved any closer. He's just standing there, watching her, and it makes her restless. She busies herself brushing the sand from her jeans.
"I thought I was perfectly clear." Finished with one leg she starts on the other. "I don't want you to go to Baltimore."
He still hasn't moved, and she isn't sure what to think about that as she straightens and drops her hands to her sides.
"I like being Bones," she says simply. "If you leave … I won't be Bones anymore."
Arms folded across his chest, he rocks back on his heels. "That's what this is about? A nickname?" He flashes a crooked smile. "Because if that's all it is, we'll just get you a nametag." Lifting his hands, he shapes a rectangle against his chest. "Bones, it'll say. And then right underneath that, Super Scientist." There's something edgy about the way he says it. "What do you think?"
The Frisbee flashes past, wildly barking dog right behind it. Brennan curls her toes into the swirling water. It's about heart, he'd said once. But she's spent so many years in her head that she isn't sure how to act from her heart anymore.
"You know what I mean."
He doesn't even hesitate. "No, Bones. I don't."
She can't tell if he's being honest or just difficult. She closes the distance between them because the only way to be sure is to look into his eyes. Sweets taught her that, too.
"I like working with you, Booth. I don't want to work with anybody else."
He sighs, and she thinks it might be disappointment that she sees in his face.
"You'll get used to working with Agent Perotta," he says. "Same way you got used to working with me. Hell, you know the drill almost as well as I do. I'm sure you'll have her up to speed in no time. Now if you'll excuse me--" He turns away. "--I need to get my shoes before some damned crab turns them into condos."
He doesn't stop. He's angry, and she doesn't understand why.
"Damn it, Booth! Wait!" But he doesn't, and then she's running and the water's splashing up her legs and soaking into her jeans. She grabs his arm, feels it tense beneath her fingers. "Working with Agent Perotta wouldn't be the same!" She's yelling, but she can't help it. She doesn't have the courage to say this twice. "It couldn't be. I'm not in love with Agent Perotta."
He stops so abruptly that she stumbles against him. He steadies her, his hands tight on her shoulders. "What did you say?"
"I said--" It feels good to finally put it into words. She hadn't expected that, and it makes her smile. "I'm not in love with Agent Perotta."
His grip on her shoulders gentles. "Which means …"
"That I am in love with you." She's used to explaining things to him, so it doesn't bother her to explain this, too.
He blinks. "You're …"
A little impatient now, she nods. "In love with you."
He stares at her for so long that she begins to feel restless. "Well?"
"Well what?" He lets her go and starts walking again, long, loping strides through the waves. Looking ahead, she sees that his shoes are fast losing their battle with the tide, and instead of trying to hold him back she hurries after him.
"Are you going to Baltimore?" she calls.
"Nope." He tosses the answer over his shoulder with a kind of cheerful nonchalance that confuses her.
"You're going to turn down the promotion?"
He must hear the shock in her voice, because he looks around at her. "What, now you want me to go?"
"Of course I don't. I already said that. Booth …" She grabs his arm again. "Will you be serious for a minute?"
"I am being serious. Those Reeboks weren't cheap." He pulls free and jogs the last few steps, snatching up his shoes as they float past him on an outgoing wave. He shows them to her with a triumphant grin.
"Congratulations." Arms folded across her chest, she stares pointedly at the dripping footwear. "No socks?"
"To hell with the socks."
He tosses the shoes above the high-tide line, grabs her hand, and yanks her into his arms. She only gets a glimpse of the look in his eyes, but it's enough to make her heart race. His lips find hers in the deepening gloom. They're warm and firm and they move over hers with devastating skill. She feels the moan rise in her throat, and instead of trying to stop it she curls her fingers into his shoulders and meets him halfway. He tastes of sea salt and peppermint lifesavers, and in the back of her mind she wonders if he'd planned on kissing her all along or if he just likes peppermint. But he's got one hand buried in her hair and the other wrapped around her back and she decides she doesn't really care, she just wants more. She tilts her hips into his and presses close and feels him gasp against her mouth.
"Bones ..." He's never said her name quite like that before, sort of guttural and desperate. "You're killing me here." As if to prove his point, his arm tightens around her until she feels his fingers pressing into the side of her breast. There's no way she can miss the evidence of his arousal, but it only makes her want him more. She runs her tongue along his teeth, pleased when he responds with a groan of his own and the seductive slide of his tongue along hers. She'd known he'd be good at this, but she hadn't anticipated the intensity of her own response. It's something she'll have to think about later--the chemistry that makes her reaction to Booth so much different from her reaction to any other man.
"Hey, you two lovebirds, why don't you get a room!" The voice is young, and male, and when Booth drags his mouth away from hers she recognizes the man who'd been playing Frisbee with his dog.
"That's a good idea." She looks up at Booth. "Yes. I would definitely like to have sex with you now."
Booth chokes. The young man gives her an odd look. Then he whistles to his dog and strides quickly away.
"He seemed uncomfortable," she observes, watching him go. "I don't know why."
Booth's chuckle draws her gaze back to him. "What's so funny?"
He pulls her close again, links his arms behind her back, and touches his forehead to hers. He's still smiling. "God, I love you."
"I don't understand what God has to do with anything. Sex is just a natural mmmph--"
She forgets the point she was trying to make when he kisses her again. But that's okay. She's more interested in his body than his spiritual beliefs anyway.
By the time he lifts his head they're both breathing hard, and Brennan is weighing her need for immediate sexual gratification against the fact that sand really does get into everything.
"About that room," Booth says, and the undisguised hunger in his voice makes her consider the sand again as her body tightens and warms.
"I have a room."
"Where?" He's already tugging on her hand, and she laughs.
"See that cottage down there?" She points. "That's mine." He starts toward it, pulling her along behind him, which makes her laugh again even though she's as impatient as he appears to be. "Wait!" When he stops and looks around at her, a faintly incredulous look on his face, she asks the one question she still doesn't really have the answer to.
"I told you. I turned it down. I'm not taking any job that takes me away from Parker." His gaze softens, warms. "Or from you."
"But what about your promotion?"
He shrugs, unconcerned. "I'm a field agent, Bones. Not a desk jockey."
She doesn't know what a desk jockey is, but when a picture of Hacker in racing stripes takes shape in her mind she grins.
"So you aren't moving?"
"Nope." He tugs at her hand. His fingers are warm and strong. She decides she likes having them wrapped around hers. "Is there anything else, or can we go now?"
"What about your shoes?"
He glances from her to the shoes and back again. Then he steps in close and tilts her chin up with a bent finger. When he speaks, she feels his breath against her lips, but it's his eyes that hold her attention. There's a light in them that she's never seen before.
"Let the crabs have them."
He steps back and reaches for her hand again, but she shakes her head. "That doesn't make any sense, Booth. You'll need them to drive home."
He sighs. Three long strides carry him to the abandoned footwear. He reaches down, sweeps them up one-handed, and turns back. "Happy now?"
She gives him a slow smile. "I think I'll be happier after we have sex." She pauses, considering him with her head tilted a little to one side. Then, "Yes. Definitely happier after sex."
With a snort of laughter he crosses back to her and reaches for her hand. "Me too, Bones. Me, too."
Falling into step beside him, she lets a smile break across her face.
"What are you grinning at?"
She hadn't realized he was watching her, but she finds that she likes the fact that he is. She squeezes his hand.
"I'm just glad you're here."
He stops, and dropping the shoes again, rests his hands at the curve of her waist. His eyes are serious when they meet hers.
"I'm always here, Bones." He presses a kiss against her forehead. "I'll never let you fall."
She knows he means it metaphorically, that he's telling her he'll always be there for her, and for once she doesn't lecture him about the impossibility of predicting the future. Instead she lays one hand flat against his chest and wraps her other arm around his waist.
"I know you won't."
He pulls her in for a quick, tight hug. Then he picks up his shoes, and with his arm around her shoulders and hers around his waist, they set off down the beach.