Thanks for the continued feedback. It's greatly appreciated. Sorry for the delay. I was fired yesterday and really didn't feel like writing last night.

The following takes place after "The Dentist in the Ditch," but any episode prior is fair game, too. Enjoy!

VVVVV

"I think dinner went well," Brennan stated as Booth pulled the SUV onto the main road.

"Yeah, except for some of the personal things you told Jared and Padme."

Brennan'd had a habit of doing that, especially recently. He couldn't blame her, really. She was making an effort to relate to people, though it seemed that in most social situations, Booth was the common denominator, and therefore, the only thing Brennan was truly comfortable talking about, outside of her work.

"But you said you were 'in,' Booth, that you didn't want there to be any secrets."

"What I said was I support Jared and Padme's decision to be open and honest in their relationship."

"That's very commendable, but shouldn't the same hold true for all relationships?" Brennan questioned.

"Yeah, but they don't need to know everything about my personal life."

"You tell me things about your personal life," she supplied, matter-of-factly.

"That's different, Bones. I want you to know those things."

"So you tell people what you want them to know but expect them to tell you everything? Padme's past as an escort, for example? It wasn't exactly fair for you to run a background check on her."

Booth groaned, sensing an argument. "That's what I do, protect the people I care about."

"At the risk of complete alienation," Brennan sighed. "I know you think you're doing what's best for everyone, but sometimes, Booth, you just have to let things happen."

He sighed in response, knowing she was right, even if he didn't like admitting it. "I am the protector, Bones. It's what I do, who I am."

"But you can't protect us all the time."

"Us?" he repeated, intrigued by the fact that she'd included herself in the group of people he was determined to protect.

"You know what I mean…" she trailed off.

"No, I don't. You're usually direct and upfront. Evasive Bones, that's one I'm not familiar with."

"I know you have a list of people you'd do anything for. Parker, Jared, me, even Cam, Sweets, Angela, Hodgins, and the rest of the squints. The point is, everyone has to make their own choices. It's not a matter of being right or wrong," she said, referencing their conversation from earlier in the evening, before Jared and Padme joined them. "It's about learning valuable lessons."

"I can't not try to protect the people I care about, Bones."

"I know."

"Again with the un-Bones-like answer?" Booth smirked. "Usually I get more than a two-word response from you."

Brennan's only response was an eye roll, which Booth couldn't see in the dark.

"How'd you know? Did your gut tell you that?" he continued.

They both remembered those words from long ago, though neither was as staunch in their belief sets now as they were all those years ago. The years of partnership had brought about compromise and understanding, bridging the gap between matters of the mind and matters of the heart.

"Guts don't have the actual ability to speak," she told him lightly, combining words from a past persona with the less rigid, slightly more socially adept and colloquially evolved one of the present. "I'm quite capable of observation, Booth, so of course I notice that you exercise your need to protect whenever you get the chance."

"Aha!" he exclaimed. "There's the Bones I know and…know," he trailed off, nervously licking his lips and hoping she didn't catch his near-slipup.

"Isn't the phrase 'know and love?'" she asked.

So much for slipping that past her.

"It's okay to say you love me," she told him honestly, surprising him to the extent that he swerved into another lane, drawing angry honks from nearby drivers. "Booth, watch out!" she exclaimed, reaching out to brace herself for a possible collision.

"Sorry about that," Booth muttered, clearing his throat and righting the SUV's path. "I'm just not used to you admitting I was right."

"You have an unnatural fixation with being right," Brennan sighed, slowly relaxing against the seat. "Though, I don't recall saying that you were right."

"Earlier tonight and then again just now. You admitted--in a roundabout way--that love exists." He snuck a peek at her, unsure of what he would do if she caught him doing so. Luckily, her eyes were straight ahead, possibly fearing another erratic driving tactic on his part.

"What I said was that I can accept and appreciate your theory that love exists."

"But you just said you were okay with me telling you 'I love you.'"

"Yes, because I know feelings are important to you, and if you believe something, then for you, it's true."

"But not for you? Come on, Bones, you can't tell me you don't love me. Not after that toast."

"I won't deny that I have a certain…attachment to you, but the toast was for the benefit of Jared and Padme."

"Then why did you look at me every time you said the word 'love?'"

A barely audible gasp escaped through her lips. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You're a bad liar," Booth stated with a wry chuckle.

"If I did that--and I'm not saying I did--it was purely unintentional. Obviously, since I was referencing your theory, it makes since that I occasionally glanced at you."

"Uh-huh," Booth said sarcastically. "It didn't have anything to do with love?"

"I've acknowledged your theory of love. Isn't that enough?"

Knowing he'd pushed her more than he probably should have, he backed off. "You know what, Bones? Yeah, for now, it's enough."

VVVVV

Thanks for reading!