A/N: I am a mentally challenged person for starting this fic. All you people who were supposed to tell me NOT to write it DIDN'T DO A VERY GOOD JOB.

But. It's started. Whatcha gonna do?

This is going to be one of those long, winding road fics. There will be no quick resolution. It hurts me as much as it hurts you.

Thanks to the lovely nicolemack, who's going to help me make this NOT some emo soap opera crap. We can all be thankful for THAT.

--

It was amazing how natural and good it felt...strolling into the Jeffersonian, giving a big smile to the secretary in the lobby and making her blush, greeting the security guards who used to yell at him for trying to get in without his passkey, hopping up into the sterility of the lab to see his Squints…and it was made all the more amazing by how much he used to hate it. What a difference a few years made; these few years had turned the bane of his existence into his home.

"Hey, hey," he said cheerfully, walking across the platform to see Bones, Cam, and Hodgins hovering over a set of remains. "C'mon, Bones. It's that time."

She looked up with a cursory glance at him, and then her watch, before turning her attention back to the bones in front of her. "What's so special about 1:14 in the afternoon?"

Cam gave him a smile, then a look that almost passed for affection at Dr. Brennan. "I think it means that it's time Booth was here to steal you away for lunch."

He pointed at her with a wink. "Bingo."

Bones circled the table, playing her hard-to-get act. "I can't be 'stolen' right now. I'm very busy." She was studiously ignoring him.

He knew the routine, and affected his second-most persuasive tone. "Awh, those bones aren't going anywhere. And I'll have you in and out in forty-five minutes. Help me out, Hodgins? Cam?" Waggling his eyebrows, he appealed to Bones' colleagues.

The pathologist rolled her eyes at him, but complied. "You'd probably be more focused and efficient if you eat a little something, Dr. Brennan. It's good for your work."

His partner paused, considering. "I suppose that's logical." Finally, she flashed her brilliant eyes up at him, and held them this time. "Forty-five minutes?"

"Not one more," he promised solemnly.

"Fine." She pulled off her latex gloves one-by-one, stepping away from the table. "Just let me grab my things from my office."

He grinned in victory, turning when he felt Angela bump his shoulder as she passed him.

"You're late," she scolded. "She's been checking her watch for the last half-hour."

"Can't be too predictable," he told her, and received a knowing smile in return before the artist continued her journey back to her own studio.

"Have a good lunch," she called over her shoulder, hips swaying as she walked away. Brennan's best friend was all too cued into their habits and routines and ways of relating to each other, more from her own observations than anything her friend had told her. And Booth knew for a fact she knew that he was in love with Bones. Actually, he knew most of the people here knew it.

It didn't bother him so much anymore, people knowing, once that information had sunk into his own recently-operated-on skull. The feelings he had for her…whether they were caused by the tumor, or by chemicals, or by fate, or by God Himself…were there, stubborn and unfading, and as much as he struggled with them, he was also used to them by now. He was used to the thrill he got from every accidental touch, the agony of every thoughtless comment on her part…used to keeping it to himself because he knew, in some deep part of him, that she couldn't handle that information right now. Gordon Gordon had advocated patience, and patience was something he had.

For now, he simply enjoyed the time he spent with Bones, their growing closeness warming him. When it was time, he'd tell her the thing that everybody knew…and he'd hope to God it wouldn't ruin this lovely, comfortable familiarity that he'd come to depend on so much.

"Ready?" She surprised him by sidling up to him, shaking her keys and giving him an expectant half-smile.

"Always," he quipped, turning and heading for the exit with her while they argued about who was going to drive. He got her to acquiesce by promising not to give her a hard time about getting the bill this time.

In the car, she complained to him about the contract her agent was pressuring her to sign. "It would require two public appearances a month. I don't like being locked into those; sometimes the nature of my work doesn't allow me to devote that kind of attention to my fan following," she griped.

He tipped his sunglasses down his nose as he glanced from the highway to her, then back again. "She's trying to pin you down because you're always backing out of the ones you schedule."

"No I'm not," she insisted. "At least I don't try to. Sometimes our cases require me to make last minute changes…"

"Uh huh," he teased her. "She knows your shenanigans."

"I don't have 'shenanigans'," she said primly, and he repressed a grin.

"You're right. I have shenanigans. Your life isn't near as exciting."

Her look was indignant. "You don't have shenanigans either."

"Oh, untrue. I am the king of shenanigans. I could out-shenanigan you any day."

"Like what?" she glared, although he could tell she was only half-taking him seriously.

"A gentleman never reveals his shenanigans to a lady," he said somberly, turning onto the main strip.

She snorted softly. "Well, I'd be interested to see that."

He laughed quietly. "Maybe someday, Bones. Maybe someday."

By the time they reached the diner, they'd settled comfortably into this bicker-and-bantering thing they did so well, that he looked forward to every day when he woke up. She never disappointed in that department.

She ordered ricotta eggplant rolls; he almost ordered a chicken sandwich before remembering one of their recent cases that had put him off poultry for awhile, then sticking with the safer BLT. After some more small talk, he told her about his last weekend with Parker.

"He wanted to know how he could tell if a girl liked him."

"What did you tell him?" she laughed as she reached for her glass of water.

"I told him that no girl likes any boy until she's at least in middle school."

"Well that's not true," she insisted.

"Like-liking a boy? No way, Bones. Girls that age are only interested in ponies and sparkles."

"I like-liked a boy when I was in second grade."

He snorted. "Who? Albert Einstein? Isaac Newton? Those don't count as boys."

"No," she said in indignation, pausing as they received their food. She took a forkful and blew on it to cool it off. "His name was Micah Fibick. He'd always share his cookies with me during lunch." She smiled at the memory. "I always thought he had the prettiest green eyes."

"Cookies." He snapped his fingers before he picked up his sandwich. "Ponies, sparkles, and cookies. I forgot that one."

She gave him a look. "It wasn't all about the cookies, Booth."

"Who are you kidding? It still is." He grinned at her before taking a bite of his lunch, reveling in her exasperated look before it turned into a curious one. Her brow was furrowed.

"What's wrong, Bones?" he asked, voice slightly muffled by his sandwich.

"I think that's my dad over there."

"Huh?" Turning in the booth, he looked behind him; indeed, there was a gray-haired man a few tables away. "Are you sure?"

"Fairly certain." Her face was screwed up, and he was "fairly certain" it probably had something to do with the fact that across from the mystery man sat an equally-mysterious redhead. "I'm going to go say hi."

"Bones, maybe you should wait until after we eat…" he tried, wiping his lips with his napkin and getting ready to place a hand on her arm, urge her to stay. But she was already on her feet and making her way to the other side of the restaurant. Sighing and abandoning his napkin in a ball on the table, he followed her.

"Dad?"

The man and his companion looked up, surprised, before Max recovered. "Hi, honey! What a surprise. How long have you been here?"

"About fifteen minutes," Bones replied, eyes flitting to the woman across from him. She was nicely dressed, maybe in her early fifties, with a lovely smile that she was flashing now.

"And Booth, too! I didn't see you--I'm glad you came over to say hello." Max squeezed his daughter's hand, then turned to the other woman. "Janine, this is my beautiful daughter and her partner."

"Oh." The woman's eyes brightened and she stood to give Bones a vigorous handshake. "Temperance, I've heard so much about you. It's lovely to meet you."

"Oookay," Bones drew out, looking at her father questioningly.

"Honey," Max stood now, in full introduction mood. "This is Janine Morrow. She's part of the Science Educator club who I meet with every Tuesday. Remember, I always come to work Wednesday with all those great new experiments for the kids? Janine teaches middle school biology. She knows all the good stuff."

"I see." Booth could tell a forced smile when he saw it, and Bones was doing it now. "So are you here trading experiment ideas?"

Max hesitated, and traded a quick glance with Janine. "No, not today. Just lunch." He proactively avoided the awkward silence that was sure to follow, before it started. "How about the two of you? Have a big case?"

"Nope, just lunch for us, too," Booth interjected, taking Bones' arm. "Which we should get back to before it gets cold." He wanted to take away the need for Max to ask them to join him before it was even on the table. "Was great to see you, Max."

"Awh, okay. Well it was good to see the both of you." Max leaned in to kiss Bones on the forehead. "I'll call you later in the week, okay? We should have dinner and play cards soon. We haven't done that in awhile."

"Alright, Dad." She was still looking at Janine suspiciously as Booth guided her away.

"It was nice to meet you!" Janine called after them, and Bones blinked at her before she had to turn around and walk straight to avoid tripping.

Booth watched her carefully as she slid back into her seat, unfolded her napkin and smoothed it with just a hint of obsessiveness, ensuring it lay completely flat on her lap. The easy mood was broken.

"Bones?" He raised his eyebrows at her. "You okay?"

"Sure," she said just a notch too brightly. "Why wouldn't I be? It's really a lovely day, isn't it?"

Gazing at her intently for a moment, he read everything he needed to know—Don't push me. Please. He knew the message well, so he responded accordingly with a smile.

"Yeah. It's a nice day. How's your eggplant, Bones?"

Her posture reflected relief. "Fine. Just perfect." She took another bite, then… "We only have ten more minutes before we should leave. Eat fast."

Sighing, he returned to his sandwich, hoping that this particular conversation he knew was coming wouldn't take as long as the other revelation he was holding for the perfect time and place.

--

As fortune would have it, it took only a few hours. Work was blessedly done for the day. He had changed into jeans, heated up and scarfed down some leftovers, and was getting ready to make a quick run to the beer distributor to pick up a case of Yuengling lager when she knocked on his door. When he opened it, she walked through and into his living area with nary a 'hello,' looking troubled.

"Hi to you too, Bones," he said slowly, shutting the door and turning to face her.

"I'm angry with him. It doesn't make any sense, but I am," she fretted, running a hand through her hair. She knew he'd know what she was talking about, and he certainly wouldn't pretend not to.

"It's okay to feel that way," he told her, moving closer and easing back on the armrest of the couch.

"No, no it's not," she insisted, pacing now. "My mother has been gone—dead--for years now. And my father is a very charming and attractive middle-aged man. It makes sense that he would enjoy the company of a woman, and that a woman would be interested in him. I shouldn't begrudge him that. But…"

"But…" he encouraged her, wanting her to get all this out.

"But…" She sighed frustratedly. "It feels like he's cheating. Like it's too soon."

"That makes sense," he soothed, standing upright again and moving to take her shoulders in his hands, guiding her to sit on the couch. "You haven't had as much time to adjust to the death of your mother as Max has. What has been almost two decades for him, has been just a few years for you. You had to grieve for her all over again."

"But that shouldn't matter," she sighed. "It has nothing to do with me." Pausing, she looked down. "He told me once that Mom was…his one true love. That he'd never felt that way about a woman before that, and he never would again. And you know I don't really believe all that. But…it made me feel good. I hadn't even considered the possibility of how it would feel--if he'd have feelings for someone else." She looked up now, and he settled in next to her with his hand on her thigh. "And I must say it feels uncomfortable."

"Oh, Bones," he sighed, putting an arm around her. "I'd be more worried if it didn't make you feel anything. He's your Dad. You're gonna be protective of him…and of your mother's memory. That's what happens when you love people."

She still looked unconvinced, but at least didn't argue with him this time. "You think?"

"Of course. Rational, logical…it doesn't apply to family.'

"Well I don't like it," she sulked, and he chuckled at her.

"That's fine. But do me a favor…don't be embarrassed to talk to your Dad? Because he loves you, too—and your Mom…and I suspect he already knows how you feel. And he's going to help you feel better."

She leaned against him just slightly. "I guess I could do that."

"And, who knows. Maybe what you saw today was a really bad date, and you won't have to worry about Mean Janine anymore."

That got a smile from her, and he felt inordinately proud of her. "She seemed nice enough, I guess."

"She's gotta be nice, to put up with your old man." Her laugh prompted his, and he squeezed a little bit before he released her. "No matter what happens, Bones—nothing and no one will ever take the place of your mother. For you or Max. I know it."

"Thanks, Booth. I'm glad to have you to talk to about these things." Her smile, as always, melted his heart, and he resisted the familiar desire to touch her hair, cup her cheek…pull her closer inch-by-inch until the space between them dissolved into a warm, wet bliss. Some day. He was simply so grateful to be the person she came to; the expert in matters of the heart.

"Anytime, Bones." The moment of intimacy hung between them for a few more blessed seconds before he needed to move on or risk doing something stupid. "Hey, you wanna go with me to grab some beers? I need to stock up for the weekend."

"Nah. Thanks. I think I should go talk to my Dad." She stood up.

"You don't waste any time, huh? You impress me." Rising to join her, he walked her slowly to the door. "Just be honest with him, 'kay? You'll be glad you did. Family trumps everything, Bones."

"So you say," she murmured, giving him one last grateful look as he held the door open for her. "See you tomorrow?"

"Of course. Can't get away from me even if you tried."

"I'd never try," she said simply before turning to leave, and he reveled in the power of her overly-literal honesty.

Upon her departure, he walked back to the kitchen to gather his coat and his wallet. That beer was really calling to him. Football, a cold one, a visit from Bones…it was shaping up to be a decent night.

Before he even pulled on his coat, a knock sounded again, and he smiled. "Need another pep talk, Bones?" he called out as he strolled across the living room to open the door again. "I'm a never-ending fountain of wisdom over he-…" He stopped short at the unfamiliar face that appeared in his doorstep. "Oh, I'm sorry. I thought…." He shook his head. "Can I help you?"

The woman…girl?...at his door was staring at him with big, round eyes, and seemed momentarily dumbstruck before she found her voice. "Are you…Seeley Booth?" She was standing ramrod straight, and gripped a piece of paper with both hands in front of her.

"Uh, yeah." He looked behind at the jacket he had dropped on the couch. "What can I do for you?"

Her hesitancy was making him impatient; if Bones wasn't here, all he wanted to do was get his beer. "I, uh…I was hoping we could talk."

"Talk? Listen, if you're selling something or want a donation, I really can't afford it right now, I got a kid and the rent in this city is crazy and I just don't have extra money…" Holding up his finger to her, he went to retrieve his coat before he returned. "And I was just about to step out, so if you don't mind…"

"I think you're my brother," she blurted out, effectively freezing him in the middle of his attempts at sliding on the coat.

It only took a second for his voice to return. "I think you got the wrong guy, hon." He shrugged the leather coat the rest of the way on. "I have a pain-in-the-ass brother, and that's about it. But I wish you the best of luck in finding whoever you're looking for…"

"Here." She thrust the piece of paper to his chest, shutting him up again as he held it to himself, staring at her. "Look," she encouraged. Her dark eyes were pleading.

He didn't want to look. Not now. He wanted her to take her big eyes and her mysterious papers and leave right this second. But now, holding it in his hands, he felt helpless. All she was asking was for him to look. A simple request, that cost him nothing. How could he not oblige?

Tipping over the glossy paper to reveal the front, his eyes turned down to it. A picture. The girl in front of him, looking maybe a year or two younger with longer hair, but certainly her. A woman with light chestnut hair, with a smile on the verge of laughing, her arm around the girl's waist. And on the other side, the recipient of the girl's embrace…

His father.

His heart slammed shut at the moment. The paper's edges crinkled under his fingers.

"Can we talk now?" the girl asked softly.

His eyes tilted back up to meet hers. The corners of her mouth tilted up in a conciliatory smile. She was as non-threatening a visitor as any to come to his door.

He shoved the picture back into her hands. "No," he whispered. "We can't."

And he slammed the door in her face.

--

A/N: In case you're wondering. Ahem. I have NOT forgotten about Be With Me. I know it would appear that I have. But the problem has been massive indecision on my part about where exactly I want to take it. But I'm in full brainstorming mode!!

This one is dying to be written, though, and wouldn't be denied. So here we are...

Loves to all.