Disclaimer: See part 1

Note: I don't usually do this but this is the part where I'll ask you to weigh in. I rated this story 'M for alter parts' and that carries a certain implication. We haven't gotten to 'M' but there's an amount of completeness to this chapter. So ... to go on or not? For the first time with this sotry, I'm not sure so I'll leave it to the spectators ;)

[6] already at last

He sets her spinning the length of an arm. She detours him the circumference of a circle, describing the lines with dancing soles, legs like a compass, bound by the axis of hip on hip. Ever circling.

They're the sort of people other people notice. Most days, the lingering glances reflect back and forth over their heads, bounced from knowing smile to knowing smile. Over them, passing strangers have met, sharing grins, wondering who he is to her and she to him. Looking, naturally, for the identity of one in the other.

They shrug and nod and wink at one another, security guards, waitresses, store clerks-brief connections like dipole moments and then gone again. They go about their business, routine and habit soothing the small disturbance that is Booth and Bones, the ripple of amusement or jealously, the secret thrill and resentment of someone else's romance.

Others look a little deeper. Friends, family, never-quite-significant-enough-others. They look long and hard from the corners of eyes, repelled and attracted, unable to look straight on. It's hard to look your greatest fear in the eye, almost impossible to stare down what could be a near miss.

But for them, the spin has never been a widening gyre. Gravity will win out. It's perfectly clear to all attending that they're moving toward the door.

Yes, the casual glance sees the couple too wrapped up in one another to hide it under professionalism and the familiar glance sees best friends and perfect partners and almost lovers. Two out of three ain't bad. It's the normal sort of good. The comfortable sort of imperfection. But almost is something else entirely. Two-and-a-half out of three. Rounded down from perfect.

And here they are a few steps from the door.

They linger like held breath.

They burn like an ache in the lungs.

###

"They're leaving," Hodgins says in a rush.

Daisy's gasp asks, "Already?" and Cam's sigh says, "At last."

But Sweets and Angela trade a look, it's one of lips pressed over the pressure in tight lungs. They are neither scientists nor cops. But they know about the power of observation, how something becomes real when there's someone to witness it.

You can leave a masquerade and go back to your real life, having left all the parts that didn't fit behind the closed door and inside the mask. You can leave by another door, by a window. The circus packs up and what happens in Vegas....

You can go right back to where you were before. No consequences.

Or.

###

When the song ends, she finds herself at the door. Is it time to leave already, time to leave at last?

At the edge of her vision there's Michelle, still here, mask propped up on her forehead, head thrown back in laughter. So it's neither early nor late. Still ten minutes to midnight, like their very own doomsday clock. For her, the end of the world means the end of everything, for him it means the end of this world and the beginning of another.

It's not the first time she's hoped he's right.

She tugs the ribbon knotted on the back of her head and it parts easily, falling away. The mask is more difficult, sweat has adhered her skin to the inside surface, stuck the way water does. So she peels off the mask and ... it doesn't hurt exactly, it smarts, tingles in the sudden air.

He laughs when she scrunches her nose and blows out her cheeks. It's funny, she supposes, to watch someone get reacquainted with her face. But before long he's looking around a little warily. To be at the party, you have to wear a mask.

So she looks up at him and holds his gaze, head tilted a little, eyebrows already poised and finally waiting.

###

It's not his fault, he'll think later, that it took him a moment to figure it out. He's been waiting so long now for her to catch on that it takes him a second to catch up.

In that second, she loses patience. She's never had to convince herself she needs permission. So her fingers are worrying the knot in the ribbon of his mask, the knot he let her tie for him. He hooks his own fingers through the mask's empty sockets and tugs as the knot comes loose.

The mask is still there, dangling from an index finger, when he leans over to kiss her. Her lips are the only thing soft in the kiss. Breath stops short in favor of clasping hands and closing eyes. All his awareness collapses in on his lips against her.

When they part, he drops the mask, hands busy holding her close. In parting, she'd caught his bottom lip with her teeth. It tingles in the sudden air.

His mask has dropped to the floor so his hand drops to the small of her back. This dance, this music, isn't for them anymore but there's still a harmony to their motion. He holds the door open for her. "To be at the party, you have to wear a mask," he says.

"Then I guess we don't have a choice," she says, pulling him through behind her.

And they laugh because she's wrong. They've always had a choice.

Always.

But they've already made it.