A/N: So, this is it. Last chapter...I hope it doesn't disappoint. Thanks for sticking with me through my very first multi-chapter story. I can't tell you how much I have appreciated every one of your reviews and alerts. This has been fun. Oh, and I should also warn you that this story has, as my grandma would say, some language.
Chapter 11: The Modern Art of Negotiation
Booth stared dumbly at the closed door in front of him, immobilized by the pain in his partner's voice...for about ten seconds. His horror at how badly he had fucked this all up was quickly displaced by sheer joy at the realization that she loved him back. Suddenly, everything that just a few hours ago had seemed impossible was within his reach; he would be damned if he didn't grab it and hold on tight. A smile spread across his face and, for the first time in a year, he felt like he knew exactly who he was and where he belonged...and there was no way in hell a closed door was going stand in his way. Fighting the urge to do a little happy dance right there in her hallway, he opened the door and walked right through.
"I have a counter-offer."
"Booth!" Brennan whirled around at the sound of the opening door, looking stunned and confused. Her mouth opened as if to say something, but it was as if she didn't know where to start. Finally, she decided to go with the obvious. "How did you get in?"
He gave her a lopsided grin and stepped toward her. "You didn't lock the door. What have I told you about that Bones? Anyone could just wander in off the street, and I know you're some kind of ninja, but geez, must you insist on tempting fate? I mean, unless you left the door unlocked hoping I might walk back through it?"
Why? Why is he torturing me? She did her best to conjure up a glare, despite her puffy eyes and wrecked nerves. "I assure you that my failure to lock the door was an oversight...one I will not be repeating in the future. Now please, go home. I've been humiliated enough for one night."
But he didn't leave. He just stood there looking so sexy and adorable and... sure. Then he said the last thing she expected to hear.
"I lied about Catherine. I haven't seen her in weeks. I threw out her number." His smile was warm and kind as he whispered, "Aren't you even interested in my counter-offer?"
For the second time in as many minutes, she was reduced to simply gaping at him. A million thoughts were racing through her brain, but she couldn't process any of them. She looked at him with questioning eyes. "Why did you lie?"
He met her gaze and said simply, "Because I thought you wanted me to."
They stood staring at each other for a few moments, the space between them vibrating with all that had gone too long unsaid. This time, it was Booth that broke the silence.
"Bones, I know it's late, and I know this night has been hell. You're upset with me, and you have every right to be. I'm not so thrilled with myself. Still, I'm asking you as a friend, as a best friend, to hear me out." He gestured toward her sofa. "Can we sit?"
She surprised him by walking to the couch and sitting down without a fight. Her posture was guarded, but the fact that she had yet to kick his ass had to be a good sign. He followed her, and as he sat down, the fabric of his jeans snagged on something metal. He reached down and pulled the offending object from between the cushions. It was an old yellow notebook with the name Tempe Brennan printed carefully on the cover. "Hey, Bones, look at this! I think I found one of your old school notebooks. I should read through it, see if I can trace the development of your genius mind...."
Before he could open the cover, she yanked the book out of his hands. "It's mine," she said defiantly.
"Well, yeah, it's in your house, and it has your name on it...." God, here I go again. What's wrong with me tonight? I'm trying to make things right with the woman I love, and I'm wasting time talking about a notebook?
"It's where I write things." Her words were so soft, he almost couldn't make them out. "It's what I do when something bad happens."
It hit him what she was saying, and again he felt as though he were being gutted. "Like tonight."
She wouldn't look at him. "Yes, like tonight...or the night you were shot." She looked at him then, tears streaming down her face. "I did cry...you don't know...."
He couldn't take it. He couldn't stand being the cause of her tears. "I do, Bones. I do know. If anything ever happened to you.... I've imagined it so many times, all the ways I could lose you. I know, and I hate myself for doing that to you. I hate myself more for what you heard tonight. You have to know, Bones, that I didn't mean a word I said, okay? I was being a stupid asshole. I was trying to get Sweets to mind his own business. I am so, so, sorry. It had nothing to do with you and who I think, know, you are." He reached up to wipe away the tears as they rolled down her face. "I hate that I've made you cry. Please don't cry anymore."
She pushed away his hand. "No, those are the rules. I'm allowed to cry until I put the notebook back on its shelf." She looked at the ceiling. "Please go Booth. It's making it so much worse, you looking at me with pity."
She would have told him it was impossible, but he knew better- his heart broke clean in two when she told him, so matter-of-factly, that she was allowed to cry until she put away her notebook. Before he knew it, tears were filling his eyes as well. His voice was ragged as he spoke, "It's not pity, Bones. I don't pity you...God, I'm in awe of you..and I'm just so...." He gently grasped her chin in his hand and turned her face to him. She kept her tear-filled eyes on the ceiling, biting her trembling lip as he spoke. "I know I've messed this up..big time. Okay, I know. I would deserve it if you threw me out of here and refused to speak to me ever again. I've been stupid and self-absorbed, and I've made every possible wrong choice. But here's the thing," his voice was pleading. "You have to forgive me. Okay, Bones? You have to forgive me. You have to give me a chance to make this right, okay?"
She finally met his eyes, and he gave her a smile, asking softly, "Are you ready to hear my counter-offer yet?" She gave a faint nod, and he continued (this is it, this one here's for the game), "You suggested that we get rid of our partnership in order to maintain my line. I propose that we keep the partnership and get rid of the line."
"Booth," there was a note of panic in her tone, "you shouldn't...."
"No," he shook his head and continued to cradle her face in his hands, "come on. It's your turn to listen to me. If, when I'm finished, you still want me to leave, I promise I will, alright? So, here's what I've been meaning to say...I love you. Not in a professional way. That may have been the dumbest thing I've ever said, and don't..." he placed a finger over her mouth, stopping the comment that he knew was coming, "...start cataloguing all of the unintelligent things I've ever said. Now's not the time." His eyes sparkled, and he gave her a smile before continuing, "No, I love you in a very, very personal way. In a way that has nothing to do with chemistry, or endorphins, or comas, or brain scans, okay?"
She remained silent, as he ran his fingers through her hair. He looked into her eyes, searching for understanding. "We're both grown-ups, Bones, and we're all too familiar with the frailty of feelings. I want you to understand that when I say I love you, I'm not just talking about feelings- although I have plenty of those- I'm also talking about commitment. I know that if this were a movie, now would be the time when the guy would say something hugely romantic and over-the-top, like 'I can't live without you', but I'm not going to do that. You wouldn't buy it anyway. We both know better than that. We could most certainly live without each other...I just...I just don't want to. I want us to choose not to. The thing is Bones, you make everything better. Every minute I spend with you, even if it's doing something horribly disgusting like digging a body out of a vat of grease, is better than any moment spent without you. Eating breakfast, doing paperwork, watching a movie with Parker- it's all better if you're there with me. So don't say we don't fit, okay? We do. We fit. We belong together, you and me. And I want you to know, that I will never purposely hurt you again...and if I ever accidentally hurt you, then you have to tell me the minute it happens, so I can fix it, okay?"
"Like the pie," she whispered.
Of all the ways she could have responded to his declaration of love, he hadn't anticipated a complete non-sequitur. He gave a panicked little laugh. "Huh? I'm not sure I follow?"
She looked puzzled, as though she were trying to work out a riddle in her mind. "Me either...," she answered slowly. "Gordon, Gordon was trying to make a point earlier, using a pie metaphor. I still don't quite understand what he was getting at, but it definitely had something to do with admitting that sometimes people misunderstand each other. Sometimes people get hurt, simply because there was a misunderstanding, and the best way to avoid that is to be honest about one's perception of the situation. You know, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. At least, that's what I think he was saying. Is that what you're saying Booth?"
He couldn't help but laugh. He was pouring out his heart, and she was trying to piece together a pie metaphor? God, he loved her. "Yeah, Bones. Something like that...but about everything else I said...I know it wasn't the most eloquent, romantic speech ever made, but it's 2:00AM on the longest night of my life, and I'm thisclose to finding out if I'm going to get everything I've ever wanted...so...do you....I mean, I know what you said earlier, but I'm not sure....Have any thoughts, Bones?" He realized he was as nervous as a freshman, asking a senior cheerleader to the prom. "Say something. Anything. Even if it's about pie."
She laughed then and flashed him a smile...one that actually reached her eyes. He had said everything she'd ever dreamed of hearing. Sure, she could choose to be scared, to imagine all the ways that everything could go wrong...or, for once, she could choose to be happy. Of course there would be times when one or both of them messed up, but you didn't have to always make every right move, did you? Sometimes it was sufficient that you cared enough to try. "I find the terms of your offer satisfactory."
Booth was glad they were sitting down, because the relief and happiness that flooded his system at that moment would have surely knocked him to the ground. "Is that so?" He felt that they could finally return to teasing, to being them. "Well, in that case, Dr. Brennan, I think it's time to seal the deal."
She was positively giddy, but desperate not to show it. She moved in close and raised her eyebrows. "And how, Agent Booth, do you suggest that we do that?"
"I could think of lots of ways, but every last one of them includes this." He closed the miniscule distance remaining between them, his lips crashing down on hers with all the energy of five years of pent-up longing and desire. Her arms wound around his neck as he continued to stroke her face. She pulled back to catch her breathe, and he dropped small, sweet kisses on her nose, her forehead, her eyelids. She let out a breathy little moan, and his lips met hers once again in a kiss that was anything but sweet.
The next time he came up for air, her shirt had somehow managed to find its way off her body, revealing the sexiest emerald-colored bra he had ever seen, and his Cocky belt buckle was lying on the floor. "Bones...this isn't why I came here tonight...I mean, if you want to take it slow."
"Seeley Booth," she gazed up from her position underneath him, grabbing a handful of his hair and pulling him back down, "I swear, if you try to leave now, I will hunt you down and shoot you with your own gun."
"Oh, thank God," he was back on top of her, lost in a tangle of hands and skin and clothes.
Later. Much Later.
Temperance Brennan was on her side in her bed. For the first time in a long time, she wasn't alone. Her head was on her partner's chest, tucked under his chin. His arms held her close to him, as though he were cradling something precious. This could work. I could do this forever.
"Bones," her partner teased, "I know you're still awake. Whatcha thinkin' about?"
She twisted in his arms and smiled up at him. "Monday," she answered honestly.
"Ugh," he groaned. "Why are you thinking about Monday on Saturday?"
"Well, I guess I was wondering," she traced the contours of his superiorly constructed mandible, "is this one of those things that's just ours?"
"Are you asking if I think we should tell everyone about our change in status from just partners?"
She sighed, "Yes...I suppose. What if they want to split us up?"
He pulled her tighter. "Ha! Fat chance, Bones. No one is splitting us up. We're the best. Besides, they wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Take the Jeffersonian, for instance. That place has obviously never heard of a 'no fraternization' policy. It's like friggin' General Hospital up in there."
"Oh! I know that one! It's that melodramatic television show with the bad acting. Sometimes Hodgins sneaks into Angela's office when she's out to watch it on the Angelatron."
Booth smirked. "He does, does he? Good to know, Bones. We can definitely use that. Anyway, the Jeffersonian isn't a problem, and neither is the FBI. Lucky for us, Hacker already made a point of declaring that there are no policies about FBI personnel dating staff from partnering entities. It would be bad form for him to take that back now. I would say we're in the clear."
"Still, it hardly seems fair after all the grief they've given us. Booth, can you imagine the gloating when they find out?"
That's my girl. "See, Bones, there's that competitive streak I know and love. We should stick it to 'em. Play with them the way they've been playing with us." His thoughts wandered back to what seemed like a lifetime ago and the last conversation he'd at his apartment. "Maybe not Caroline, though. We should probably tell her. I'm afraid she'll hurt me."
Brennan laughed and patted his head. Booth had told her about Caroline's role in the evening. She still hadn't decided how to thank the woman. Would Caroline like a rolex? "Well, if we're telling Caroline, we should probably tell Angela."
Booth snorted in disbelief, "Angela! Telling Angela would be like taking out a billboard!"
"She's my best friend, and she nearly broke up with me over a pig. I don't want to take any chances."
"Fine," Booth agreed reluctantly. "Angela's in, but that means Hodgins is too."
"I know," she nodded, "and, you know, Cam's powers of observation have always been quite astute."
"Okay, we'll tell them all. Everyone but Sweets."
Brennan looked up at him with her best impression of puppy dog eyes. "Poor Sweets," she said sadly.
"Poor Sweets! Poor Sweets? Are you kidding me, Bones?" Booth looked at her in mock horror. "I cannot believe I have never noticed the depth of your soft-spot for the kid." He shook his head. "I expected more from you."
She laughed. "I'm willing to compromise on Sweets. We'll tell him, but that doesn't mean we can't make him squirm first. You know, play some sort of trick?"
"Bones, I like how you think. Deal. I draw the line at the squinterns though."
He gave her a patient sigh, "The squinterns. You know, the squinty interns? Crazy Daisy...Wendell...the dude with the fake accent...the other dude, with the real accent."
She laughed when she caught on. "You mean my students. I see. That's funny. Anyway, I concur. There is absolutely no reason to discuss my personal life with my students."
"Good. I win that one" Booth threw his hands up to signal a touchdown.
"Oh look who's competitive now! You know, one more thing...our behavior at work?"
He answered quickly. "Purely professional. We're not like the rest of those sex maniacs. We have self-control. Besides, we wouldn't want to lose the sexual tension completely. It would confuse everyone."
She nodded, "I think that's wise.... Our behavior at home?" She gave him a mischievous grin.
"Oh Bones," he dropped a kiss on her bare shoulder, "purely," followed by her collarbone, "unprofessional," and another on her neck. "You should rest up, you know. It's not Monday yet... and this weekend? It's all ours."
A/N: Thanks again for reading! I think I'll take a couple of weeks to just enjoy the show, but I'll be back soon. I already have another story outlined. Are you guys excited for Thursday, or what?