A/N: This story was written in February 2010 based on the earliest spoilers for episode 100, and is therefore not consistent with events in the actual episode.
Booth wasn't sure how long he'd been staring at the empty shot glass in front of him when his cell phone rang. He glanced at the display, sighed and snapped the phone shut again. Bones. He should have known that Sweets would run straight to Mama Duck.
"Agent Booth, I just heard a rather – surprising rumor about you getting transferred, and I wanted to ask you –
"It's a promotion, Sweets, what's with the big surprise? Did you think I'd be stuck behind this desk for the rest of my life? I've turned down two offers during the last three years, but now that something has come up that suits me –"
"But… Philadelphia? That's quite a distance from –"
"Do you have a point?"
"Does Dr Brennan know?"
"You think I need her permission to accept a job offer?"
"Agent Booth, please listen to me. This is obviously a reaction to something that happened between you and Dr Brennan, and right now I'm not under the impression that you – "
"You know what, Sweets? Nothing has happened between us. Nothing. Zilch. And now excuse me, it's Friday evening, so I'm going to go home and get drunk."
He probably shouldn't have said that last bit, but right now he couldn't bring himself to care. The phone rang again; Booth switched it off without even checking the caller ID and went back to staring at the glass. He wasn't actually all that drunk yet; after the third shot, he'd started to see images of his glassy-eyed father stumbling into the living room on unsteady feet. It wasn't a memory that encouraged a guy to drown himself in a bottle of Bourbon, no matter how much he might need it.
A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. Booth ignored it, but the person outside was insistent; the knocking got louder until it sounded as if someone was pounding against the door with their fists.
Which could really only mean one thing, and perhaps he was an idiot for not expecting it in the first place. Then again, a lot of things had happened lately that he hadn't expected, which meant he was an idiot anyway.
Bones looked like she'd run all the way from the lab to his apartment. Her hair was a mess, her breath was going fast, and she had hectic red stains on her cheeks; her eyes were flashing with something that looked like barely contained fury.
"You're leaving?" It sounded like she'd been about to add me and had stopped herself just in time.
Booth shook his head to clear it; perhaps the alcohol was finally beginning to kick in, because he felt a bit dizzy. "You've heard, then."
"Yes, I had to hear it from Sweets, because you couldn't even tell me yourself!" Oh yes, she was angry, although there was a frantic edge to her voice that usually meant something had gotten to her. "Why, Booth? Am I not even worth telling me that?"
He suddenly felt deathly tired, tired of all this endless dancing around each other that would never, could never lead to anything, no matter how much he'd fooled himself into believing it. "Can you give me a reason why I should stay?"
All the color drained from her cheeks, but that was the only reaction he got; a part of him had still hoped she'd give him an answer that would set things right, but she merely stared at him with wide eyes and her hands clenched into fists. Booth held her gaze as evenly as he could manage; clean cut it was then, and it was probably for the best anyway.
"Goodbye, Bones." With that, he shut the door in her face.
He expected to hear retreating footsteps in the corridor, but there was nothing but silence on the other side of the door. Booth leaned his forehead against the rough wood and took a deep breath, fighting the urge to look outside again and ask her why on earth she was still there.
That was when he heard the sound, a kind of half-choked groan that immediately made his cop instincts take over. A split second later he had the door open to see Bones leaning against the corridor wall, one arm wrapped around herself and a hand pressed over her mouth. She looked for all the world as if she'd just been sucker-punched and was now struggling not to throw up.
Jeez, Seeley, way to be an asshole. Booth closed his eyes in resignation; clean cut or not, there was just no way he could leave with that image as his last memory of her. He'd hoped that he'd be able to avoid the mess he was about to wade into, but even though he might be an asshole, he'd never been a coward.
"Look, Bones, I'm sorry." She shrugged off his hand when he put it on her shoulder, but not before he'd noticed that she was shaking. "Can we talk?"
"Why do you think I'm here?" She stormed past him into the living room; by the time he sat down on the couch next to her, she had grabbed the Bourbon from the coffee table and taken a swig straight from the bottle.
"Booth, what's going on?" She didn't sound angry anymore, which somehow made it worse; her anger he could deal with, but the lost expression on her face was painful to watch. "Is this about Andrew? You said you didn't mind!"
"It's not just –" he began, but she kept talking right over him.
"I promised that I wouldn't discuss you with him again, and I haven't, but if it really upsets you so much I can stop going out with him altogether!"
"You would stop seeing Hacker if I asked you to?" He'd never have expected that – she might snub a guy like that horny little Brit for his sake, but he'd been under the impression that she was quite serious about Hacker.
"Of course I would!" She seemed taken aback that he could even think otherwise. "We're partners, Booth. Or… we were."
Funny how much that hurt even though he'd been the one to cut her loose. Nothing for it, then; they had been partners for five years, so she probably deserved to know the truth even if it wouldn't change anything.
Booth took the bottle from her and poured himself another shot; he was still way too sober to get through this. "Okay, Bones, listen – I know that we always say we don't keep secrets from each other, but there's something I haven't told you."
She took the glass from him and put it back on the table. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I didn't think you'd want to hear it."
She frowned. "You've already told me lots of things I didn't want to hear, so I don't see why that would stop you. What is it?"
Booth took a deep breath. "I love you, Bones."
Her frown deepened. "…in an 'atta girl' kind of way?" She sounded bewildered; something about her reminded Booth of a puzzled kitten trying to work out the cat flap. He decided it had to be the alcohol, or perhaps just his nerves; he hated cats, after all. "You've told me that before, remember?"
"No, not like that." Booth forced himself to hold her gaze. "I mean it the way a man means it when he tells a woman that he loves her."
"But…" He'd never seen her at a loss for words, not like this. "Since when – I mean, a few months ago you said…"
"I know." He still could have kicked himself whenever he remembered just how spectacularly he'd messed up back then. "I wanted to tell you the truth, but I – I guess I chickened out halfway through. I thought I'd wait for a better time, for when you were ready to hear what I really wanted to say, but then Sweets started grilling us about our first case together, and what you said then made me realize that you must never know."
"But – why? I don't recall saying anything…"
She didn't remember. She'd crushed all his hopes with just one sentence, and she didn't even remember because it hadn't meant anything to her.
Suddenly it was easy to look her straight in the eyes. "Yes, you did say something, Bones – you said that it would ruin our partnership."
"You invited Agent Booth to have sex with you after fighting with him throughout your first case??"
"I thought that was what he meant when suggested that we go for a drink afterwards! We clearly disliked each other, so I was merely trying to spare us the awkwardness of unnecessary social interaction since I assumed both our intentions to be purely physical, but he –"
"Bones, I was just trying to be polite, for God's sake! You'd been a real pain in the ass the whole time, but you'd been right about the murderer, so I –"
"Of course I was right, but you dismissed everything I told you!"
"That's why I tried to make it up to you, but I didn't mean it as an invitation to jump me! Besides, you'd made it crystal clear that you thought I was an idiot!"
"So? I wasn't planning on sleeping with you because of your intellect!"
"Dr Brennan, would you say that the fact Agent Booth refused your offer back then had an influence on the development of your current partnership?"
"Sweets, what the hell does – "
"Sorry, Agent Booth, but I believe I was addressing your partner. Dr Brennan?"
"Yes, I think so. Given what I now know about Agent Booth's character, I'm fairly certain that we wouldn't have been able to develop the close work relationship we have now if physical attraction had been a factor."
He'd known it, of course; deep down he'd always known that she'd never love him, that he'd always just be the guy she worked with, bickered with, had the occasional beer with, but never the man she took home with her – after he'd rebuffed her back then, she'd put him firmly in the no-go category, and he could either live with that or risk losing her altogether.
Bones' expression had changed completely; before, she had seemed uncertain and confused, but now she looked angry. "So you decided to walk out on me without even telling me because you didn't want to ruin our partnership? You realize that's completely illogical, yes?"
When he didn't answer immediately, she added bitterly, "And what about your son? Are you going to abandon him as well?"
He was getting angry now too; there was a lot he was willing to take from her, but this time she'd gone too far. "I have Parker every other weekend, I can just as easily manage that from Philly. I'll be only three hours away, I'm not abandoning my son!"
"Just me, then?" Her tone was icy, but he'd known her too long to fall for it; he could clearly hear the pain underneath.
His anger evaporated as quickly as it had flared up. He'd known he'd hurt her, of course, but he'd told himself that she would be able to cope; this was Bones, after all, who prided herself on her rationality and let nothing but her genius brain guide her through life. What he hadn't considered was that she was also the fifteen-year old girl who had been abandoned by everyone she'd ever loved, the woman who had never let herself love a man she'd been with for fear of opening herself up to another betrayal. And yet she had trusted him, had counted on the fact that he would never betray her.
He couldn't leave her. The realization hit him like a punch in the gut; no matter what had happened, there was just no way he could walk away from her now and still live with himself, with the fact that he'd thrown her trust in him back into her face. He'd told her once that good people left marks on each other, and it was only now that he understood how deep those marks already went with the two of them.
Booth rested his elbows on his knees and hid his face in his hands. Here he was, stuck between a rock and a hard place with the woman he loved, but could neither have nor leave, and it was all so messed up that he was probably going to snap and start laughing any moment.
He must have made a sound, because he felt a light touch on his shoulder and heard her voice, all traces of anger gone: "Booth? What's wrong?"
Booth didn't look up. "Nothing – I guess I'm just resigning myself to never having sex again." He hadn't really meant to say that out loud, but perhaps the whiskey was finally getting to him.
"Why?" Now she sounded concerned. "Are there remaining neurological problems from your brain surgery? Because I'm sure that – "
The mad laughter option was becoming more likely by the minute. "No, Bones, that's not what I meant." He finally forced himself to face her; this was going to be awkward, but if he wanted her to understand, there was no way around it. "You sure you want to hear this?"
"There's no way for me to decide that before I know what it is." She had found her composure again. "So tell me anyway, Booth, because I still don't see how any of this could have made you choose to leave."
"I went on another date with Catherine the other night." Booth had secretly hoped for a reaction from her, but when none came, he added, "You remember her, right? Dr Catherine Bryar from –"
"Yes, of course I remember her; she seems very attracted to you. She got you a tie." He couldn't quite decipher the look she gave him. "So you failed to perform –"
"Jesus Christ, Bones!" he yelped. "Just listen, okay? After you said what you said in Sweets' office, I realized that things between us weren't ever going to be the way I wanted them to, so I told myself that I should deal with it and move on. And Catherine – well, she's pretty and smart, and she makes me laugh…"
"And she gets your jokes," Bones added with a smile that might have been the slightest bit forced, but perhaps that was just his imagination.
"Yeah." He did his best to smile back, although he suspected that his smile turned out even less convincing than hers. "First time we went out, nothing much happened – I mean, it was nice, and we had fun, but we just had lunch together and talked. The second time I got called away halfway through dinner because there was a case, but this time, she made it pretty clear how she wanted the evening to end. So I took her back to her apartment, and she asked me in."
"And you accepted her offer."
"Sure I did – that's the point of moving on, isn't it? So we're at her place, and she really doesn't waste any time, and –" Booth hesitated, inwardly cringing with embarrassment. This was turning out a lot more difficult than he'd imagined; even thinking back to those moments made him want to crawl into a hole and never come out again. "And I – well, I go with it, okay? That is, until she looks at me funny and asks me what I just said, and I realize that I said 'Bones' because the whole time, I've been imagining that it's you."
"Oh." She still had that false smile plastered on her face, although he couldn't for the life of him see anything smile-worthy in what he'd just told her. "And then?"
Booth shrugged. "I buttoned up my shirt and left with some lame-ass excuse. I mean, she hadn't made the connection, so I guess I would have been fine, but I'm just not the kind of guy who sleeps with a woman and imagines she's someone else. She didn't understand what was going on, of course – she seemed pretty pissed off, and I can't say I blame her. But that was when I knew I had to get out. Out of here, I mean."
"Because… you want to stop thinking about me when you're sleeping with someone else." She spoke slowly, as if she were trying to work out a difficult scientific puzzle.
"Look." Booth was beginning to feel desperate; couldn't she understand what he was trying to say? "Bones, before that evening with Catherine, I thought that things could eventually go back to the way they were before, where I could have someone in my life and you as my friend and partner like always."
"But they won't, because you're leaving." She said it as if she were stating a fact about one of her skeletons, and with even less emotion than she usually mustered for her bones.
"No, they won't, because I know I can't have you, and I realized I don't want anyone else." And I can't leave you either, because I know what it would do to you, and what it would do to me if I didn't have you in my life any more, even if all we ever do together is bicker and solve murders and have beer and fight about religion.
Fuck, he wasn't ever going to get any again.
Of course, like almost everyone over the age of thirty he had realized at some point that sex wasn't actually the most important thing in the world; some people even seemed able to give it up altogether without going stir-crazy. Booth couldn't imagine how they did it, but obviously it was possible. He would have to ask a priest if there was a way – preferably one where you didn't end up finding altar boys disturbingly attractive.
Her voice, sharp and much louder than before, snapped him out of his musings. "What do you mean, you know you can't have me?" He really hadn't expected her to get mad at him over this, but the anger flashing in her eyes was unmistakable. "It's not like you've ever asked!"
"I – what?"
"You were the one who kept talking about lines, and strings, and people you just couldn't sleep with! I always thought it was absurd, because sex is just sex, it's emotional attachment that gets in the way if you're trying to be professional, but you never had a problem with that, you even encourage it! It doesn't make sense, Booth!"
She paused and took a deep breath, visibly struggling to calm down. "I concluded that while you care for me as your friend and partner, you just aren't attracted to me physically."
"What?" He knew he was repeating himself, but he couldn't think of anything else to say.
She crossed her arms over her chest. "I made it clear after our first case that I found you physically appealing, but I accepted that you weren't interested. I'm good at compartmentalizing, as you know, so it has never impaired my ability to behave professionally around you."
"Whoa, Bones – wait." His mind had gone strangely blank. "Are you saying that you're… I mean, you're still –"
"Attracted to you sexually?" She sounded as if he'd asked her about her favorite color or something of that kind. "Objectively, you are very attractive, Booth, and I'm sure you're aware of it, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to you. It has nothing to do with my emotional attachment to you, of course; our friendship is precious to me, and I accepted that there was no physical element to it."
"Because you're so rational."
"Well – most of the time," she conceded. "I'm a human being, I'm affected by my body chemistry just like everyone else. For example, when I had to undress you after that incident where you got the remains of a blown-up bank robber on your clothes, I experienced a rather intense physical reaction, I just didn't let it influence my behavior."
Booth didn't know what to think any more. "You got turned on by peeling me out of my clothes?"
Was it his imagination or was she getting a little flustered? "It's just hormones and endorphins, Booth, and I was able to deal with it in a perfectly professional manner! It was you who seemed quite uncomfortable, but I assume that was because of your general repressed –"
"You're calling me repressed because I was uncomfortable? You practically had your nose in my crotch!"
"Which means I could see up close that you were physically unaffected!"
"Unaffected?" He found it hard to believe that even Bones could be this dense. "If I hadn't concentrated on reciting saints, the evidence of my… affection would have poked you in the eye!"
He had moved towards her without really meaning to, and it was only now that he noticed they were almost nose to nose and that his voice had risen to the point where he was all but yelling at her. She looked pretty riled up herself; the way her eyes were flashing reminded him uncomfortably of the expression on her face right before she'd slugged him at his fake funeral. Maybe he was in for another right hook, but he'd be damned if he backed off now, after she'd all but told him that –
He never got to finish the thought, because in the next moment her mouth was on his.
Somehow, it seemed right that she would kiss like she fought, forceful and passionate and furious, her hands clenched in his hair until it hurt and her teeth leaving marks on his skin, marks that at last were no longer just on the inside. It was like stepping off a cliff; once you realized you were falling, there was no way to turn back, you could only keep speeding up until you crashed, and he let himself fall because there was nothing else left to do. The floorboards were rough under his knees and elbows, but it didn't matter, not when the warmth of her skin was everywhere, when the frenzied staccato of her heartbeat was right against his, pulling him in, pulling them both under.
During his days as a Sniper, Booth had developed a knack for noticing when he was being watched. He couldn't have described how he did it, but the feeling of someone's eyes on him always set his teeth on edge. It was a feeling that had saved his life several times, but somehow he hadn't expected that he would ever experience it while waking up in his own bed.
Booth carefully opened one eye and saw Bones' face inches away from his own; she had her head propped up on her hand and was studying him with an expression as if he were a specimen on her work table at the lab.
A smile replaced the serious look as soon as she noticed that he was awake, and she leaned in to press a chaste little kiss on his lips. The gentle touch finally convinced him that this was real and not just some particularly nice dream; after a moment's hesitation, he pulled her closer to deepen the kiss, morning breath be damned.
Bones didn't seem to mind. When they finally broke apart, she was grinning. "I get the impression that you're well rested. Good morning, by the way." Her tone was light, but there was an edge to it that told him she wasn't quite as relaxed as she wanted him to believe. Perhaps he wasn't the only one who hadn't fully processed the events of the last twelve hours yet.
Booth raised a hand to push a strand of tangled hair out of her face. "You're really here, yes? Somehow, I was afraid that last night was just another hallucination."
Her expression softened. "The tumor is gone, Booth, you're done hallucinating."
"Yeah, I know." He still had trouble grasping the enormity of the fact that he'd just woken up to Bones next to him in his bed, so he did his best to angle for normalcy.
"Why were you looking at me like that? Did I talk in my sleep?"
She shook her head. "I was merely reexamining an assessment I had made yesterday, after you fell asleep." Noticing his puzzled look, she added, "I did a lot of thinking last night, and I –"
"Whoa." Booth wasn't sure he liked the way this was going. "You were in any shape to do serious thinking last night? After –"
"Of course," she interrupted him matter-of-factly. "I've always found that satisfying intercourse stimulates my thought process, and since last night was very stimulating, I concluded that it was a good time for me to reevaluate our relationship in the light of this latest development."
Booth had never before realized that one could need subtitles for pillow talk. "You mean you were thinking about… how you feel about me now that we've slept together?"
"No, not quite," she replied with a frown. "The sex was merely a tangent; I was mostly trying to categorize my feelings for you, given that I now seem to have all the relevant facts as far as your feelings for me are concerned."
"Oh – okay." He had a sneaking suspicion that this meant the other shoe was about to drop. "And?"
Bones inhaled audibly; the way she suddenly avoided his eyes did nothing to loosen the nervous knot in Booth's stomach. There was a lot he could cope with, but if she was going to shoot him down now, after…
"I'm not sure." She still wouldn't look at him. "From the way most people describe it, this is something I should be able to identify based on some inborn instinct, but I'm not – I can merely assess the sum of my emotions and then draw a conclusion based on theoretical knowledge. I mean –" she sounded downright apologetic now "– I have no practical experience in this area, so I have nothing to compare it to."
He suppressed a groan. "Bones, you're killing me here. What are you trying to say? In English, please?"
She bit her lip, but at least she wasn't avoiding his eyes any longer. "I've come to the preliminary conclusion that I love you."
Booth felt his jaw drop; her words seemed to reverberate in the sudden silence between them. Out of nowhere, he found himself caught up in the memory of how it had been almost ten years ago when Rebecca had told him she was pregnant: like being hit over the head with a baseball bat, with just an aftertaste of giddiness. It wasn't all that different from how he felt right now, although there was probably a bit more giddiness and a bit less baseball bat. Still –
"I just don't know, Booth!" It had been a while since he'd last seen her this frustrated. "Romantic love seems to be a clearly defined emotional state for everyone else, but I – I don't know what it means! I know that I trust you with my life, and that I would do anything for you, and the sex was fantastic, but it's like – like I'm dealing with an unknown disease, and I can only categorize the symptoms, but not the underlying…"
She faltered when she saw his expression. "That wasn't a good analogy, was it?"
Booth stared at her, uncertain whether he should laugh or bang his head against the wall. "You think??"
"I'm sorry." She flopped back onto the pillow and pulled the blanket up to her chin. "I'm really bad at this."
"Hey." He'd never been able to see her miserable without trying to do something about it, and he wasn't going to start now. "It's okay, Bones. C'mere."
She glanced at him doubtfully, but when he held out his arm towards her she still turned into his embrace like she always did. She snuggled up to him when he drew her closer, and this was new – warm, smooth skin against his own, the softness of her breasts against his chest, her hair a sheet of silk over his shoulder where her head was nestled in the crook of his neck. Booth breathed in her scent and realized that right now, it was enough; there'd still be all kinds of stuff to work through, but that could wait until later. "You're a genius, you'll figure it out eventually. And I love you too."
Whatever she'd been about to reply was cut off by a very audible growl from her stomach. Without missing a beat, Booth sat up and continued as if he'd been planning to announce it all along, "And now I'm going to make breakfast."
Bones gave him a sheepish look. "I skipped lunch yesterday, and Sweets showed up before dinner." She sat up too and let the sheets pool around her hips. She didn't clutch them to her chest like Rebecca had always done, and Booth found that he liked that – not only because she had really nice breasts, but also because it was such a Bones thing to do to be completely unselfconscious about her body around someone she was comfortable with. The fact that she was so comfortable with him made it perfect.
She ran a hand through her messy hair and frowned when her fingers caught on a tangle. "I think I'd like to take a shower first." Her voice dropped a notch when she added in a very different tone, "Care to join me?"
The warm, content feeling that had been happily bubbling in Booth's stomach until now abruptly moved southward, picking up heat along the way. "You know how small my shower stall is, yes?"
He'd never have thought that the Temperance Brennan he knew would be capable of a dirty grin like the one she was flashing him now. "To be perfectly honest, I was counting on it."
In the end, it turned out that the shower stall was way too small, but even though Booth's back wasn't happy at all about ending up against the floor tiles, he figured it was a price well worth paying.
Booth glanced over his shoulder to see Bones standing barefoot in the kitchen door; she had commandeered his bathrobe and was drying her hair with a towel.
"No it's not, it's just a spatter of pancake batter that got on the stove." He turned to face her and started to laugh. "What happened to your eyes?"
"Huh?" She wiped at them with the towel and frowned when it came away with black smears. "Seems I didn't get off all the mascara…"
Sniggering, Booth went back to his pans. "You're a genius, but you haven't worked out how to use a mirror? You look like a raccoon!"
She made a face at him. "I wouldn't if you ever cleaned your bathroom mirror – all I could see in there was ossified toothpaste!"
"That's because not everyone is loaded enough to hire a housekeeping squad, Miss Rockefeller! Besides, shouldn't you be nicer to the guy who's making you breakfast even though you stole his bathrobe?"
She sauntered closer, black-rimmed eyes sparkling mischievously. "Do you want it back?"
Booth winked at her. "I'll get back to you about that once we've eaten. And now go dry your hair, you're dripping all over the floor."
She swatted him on the shoulder with the towel and left. Booth closed his eyes for a moment, breathing a sigh of relief; he had been a little worried about how things would be between them once the first rush had passed, but this was all right, it was still familiar and comfortable and them even after everything that had happened.
When she returned a few minutes later, she was wearing one of his t-shirts and a pair of his socks. Booth raised his eyebrows at her, even though he secretly thought she looked dead sexy like that. "Glad to see you've made yourself at home in my closet, Bones. Want my pants too?"
"Not just right now." She stepped up behind him, wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her forehead against the bare skin of his shoulder. "This is nice, you know."
Booth wondered whether she'd been worrying about the same thing he had, but this wasn't a conversation he wanted to have while he was cooking breakfast, so he decided to make light of it. "You really like my acromia, huh? I looked that up, you know."
She chuckled low in her throat, and he had to take a deep breath to steady himself because it was a sound that went straight to his nether regions. It didn't help that she was now running her hands over his shoulders, gently poking at the knots in his muscles. "I do, but you're extremely tense –"
Booth yelped when she dug her fingers into a spot underneath his right shoulder blade. "Right, Bones, about that – in the future, let's not keep our floor-to-bed ratio at two to one, okay? Because it's really doing nothing for my back."
She chuckled again, and damn, it would be the kitchen floor next if she didn't stop this immediately. Booth felt both relieved and disappointed when she moved away a little and asked, "How about after breakfast we go back to bed and I give you a proper massage? I'm very good at it."
"Yeah, I know." Abandoning the frying pans, he caught her around the waist and kissed her – not so much because of her offer, but just because he could. "And now let's eat, I'm starving."
From the look of it, she'd been starving too because she was putting away the food on her plate at remarkable speed. She made a move to snatch the last pancake just as he reached for it, but then paused as if something had suddenly occurred to her. "Booth?"
"Hmm?" Booth swiftly retrieved the pancake – not that he wouldn't let her have it if she wanted it, but it was a matter of principle. "What?"
"You're not taking that new job now, are you? Because you never really said –"
"Jeez, Bones!" He pushed his plate away and reached for her hand. "You didn't really think I'd leave you after… after this?"
"Not really, no," she replied in a small voice, "but I'd still feel better if you told me yourself. Besides, can you even still refuse the job? Sweets said that you've already accepted the offer, and –"
"Nothing's official yet," he interrupted her. "I told my boss yesterday afternoon that I'd take the job, but they won't get started on the paperwork until the beginning of next week, so there's still time to tell them something came up at the last minute. Which," he quickly added when he saw how she still hadn't relaxed, "I'll do first thing in the morning on Monday. Boss won't be happy with me, but he hardly ever is anyway."
At this, she finally smiled. "Except when we solve another case, I hope."
Booth grinned and squeezed her hand. "Yeah, there's that."
"I'm glad." From the way she held on to his hand, he could tell that there was still something that unsettled her. "You know, when I came back from the bathroom I checked my phone, and there were about a dozen 'where the hell are you?' messages from Angela."
He sighed. "This is why I'm not switching the damned thing on again until the weekend is over."
"But what if there's a case? If –"
"Bones," he cut her off, "forget about work just once, okay? With my luck, there's going to be a case the moment I check my phone, and I'm not leaving now even if they've got dead bodies piling up right in front of the White House. Did you answer Angela?"
"Just a text message to let her know I'm okay. Still, this is something we need to discuss."
"Yeah, I know." Booth had been waiting for the subject to come up ever since he'd woken up next to her. "Do you want to tell them?"
"Do you?" Her tone was even, and for once he could read nothing in her expression either; she clearly wanted him to put his cards on the table first.
"Yes, I do." He was well aware that this was an issue that went way beyond the question of workplace gossip, but he was done hiding from her what he really wanted. "I don't want to be your dirty little secret, and I don't want you to be mine either. I want this to be real, you know?"
He took both her hands in his, hoping with all his might that he wasn't pushing her too far. "I want to be able to tell the Andrew Hackers of the world to back off because you're mine, and I want to tell the Catherine Bryars who try to chat me up that they're out of luck because I'm yours." His heart was in his throat, but there was nothing for it now – at least she finally knew.
She still kept her poker face as she pondered this, but she didn't let go of his hands. "And the FBI? Won't you get in trouble at work if they know you're sleeping with your partner?"
Booth shrugged. "I doubt it; most of the guys at the Hoover think we've been doing it for the last five years anyway."
At last, she was smiling again. "Plus we've got the FBI shrink on our side."
"Who has just proven he can't take the idea that Mommy and Daddy might split up," Booth added with a smirk. "Now all I have to do is pray that Hacker isn't the vengeful type."
He'd hoped that this would make her laugh, and it did. "I think he already suspects that you're the reason why he hasn't made much progress with me. Andrew's a good man, Booth, he won't take it out on you."
"Yeah, I don't really think so either," he agreed with a grin, but then became serious again. "I've said my part, Bones, now you need to tell me what you want."
She was quiet for a moment, as if to organize her thoughts. "What I want," she finally said, "is for us to keep working together like we always have, even though we now also have –" she hesitated, clearly searching for words "– us. I don't want to choose, Booth, I want it all, and I want us to find a way to make it possible."
"We can do that." Booth fought the urge to lean over the table and kiss her senseless, because she had said nothing about going back to the way things had been before, because she wanted it all, because – well, because, but he knew this wasn't the time. "We're both professionals, we can keep our work relationship and our private relationship separate."
She didn't seem convinced. "It's not like we've ever really done that before, is it?"
"Okay, right, but what I actually meant was –"
"I know what you meant," she shot back with that same dirty little grin he remembered from before. "You were saying that what we need is a 'No smoochies at the workplace' policy."
Booth snorted. "Smoochies? What are you, eight?"
"I heard the term from my brother's stepdaughters," she admitted. "I thought it was cute. Still, moving past the question of word choice, I think the principle is valid. Don't you?"
"Sure." He raised his hands in mock surrender. "No smoochies at the workplace will be our official Prime Directive. 'Star Trek' reference, sorry," he added quickly before she could point out that she didn't know what that meant. "To be strictly observed at all times at the Jeffersonian, any FBI building, crime scenes –"
"Your car too?"
"Definitely, unless you want that backseat to see a lot of action."
Bones burst out laughing. He'd never really realized before just how much he loved her laughter – loud and raucous, totally un-ladylike and just so very much her. Following that line of thought, he spoke up before his rational mind could catch up with his instincts.
"We'll make this work, yes?" He knew he sounded pleading, but he didn't care – she'd already seen him at his weakest, so there were no appearances to be upheld between the two of them. He wasn't sure what kind of answer he expected (an anthropological diatribe about polygamous species and the implausibility of long-term relationships, most likely), but he felt that he needed to give it a try, if only to let her know how he wanted things to be.
She fell silent for a bit, but then her answer was surprisingly simple. "Yes, we will. I can't know for certain, of course, but… I have faith."
Noticing his incredulous look, she clarified, "Not in God, I mean – in you. Us. This. Although I suspect you're still going to thank God for it."
Leaning in to finally get that kiss from her, Booth couldn't help thinking that nothing short of walking all the way to Jerusalem on bare feet was ever going to do this one justice.
Camille Saroyan cared a lot for Seeley Booth, she really did; perhaps even more so now than she'd ever done while they'd been together. Still, starting off her Monday with him dragging a decomposing corpse into her lab and shouting for her team to ID it right then and there was not her idea of a good morning.
"What's the rush, big guy? I promise that whoever he is, he'll be just as dead two hours from now, so you can damn well stop harassing my people!"
In spite of Cam's admonition that everyone remain focused on the task, the nervous energy radiating off Booth was hard to ignore. Vincent, babbling under his breath, scurried back and forth with an apprehensive look on his face, as if he were afraid Booth would hold him personally responsible for any delay. Hodgins had quickly disappeared with a jarful of maggots cradled lovingly to his chest; Angela at the computer was very careful not to look up from the missing person files she was checking.
Dr Brennan alone seemed unaffected by the way her partner was breathing down their necks on the platform; she was studying an exposed part of the skull with the tiny frown she always had on her face when, as Cam had once put it, the bones were talking to her. Not that Cam would ever have wanted to be like Dr Brennan, but during moments like this, she envied her for her ability to shut out the entire world and concentrate on nothing but her work.
Booth, however, was obviously determined to keep getting on everyone's nerves. "Listen, squint squad, I wouldn't ask you to speed things up if it wasn't important! I need to know if this guy is the person we're looking for, because if there's even a chance that he is I have to arrest his ex-wife before she does a runner and –"
Cam didn't even look up from her examination of the victim's intestines. "Can someone please shut him up already?"
At this, Dr Brennan abandoned her study of the skull and announced calmly, "I can do that."
She snapped off her gloves, walked over to Booth and grabbed the lapels of his suit. Cam wondered briefly whether she was trying to push him bodily off the platform (which seemed about as likely to succeed as an attempt to kick down an oak tree), but instead Brennan pulled him towards her and pressed an open-mouthed kiss on his lips. For a moment, Booth stood stock-still like a deer caught in the headlights; then his hands came up to cradle her face, and he leaned in to kiss her back.
The kiss only lasted for a few seconds, but when they broke apart, the lab had gone so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
Booth was grinning his best cat-that-ate-the-canary grin; thanks to the absolute silence, Cam heard him whisper to Dr Brennan, "So much for the Prime Directive, huh?"
Brennan cocked her head to the side as if she were considering the remark. "I was merely trying to make a point."
Chuckling, Booth indicated the slack-jawed expressions all around. "I guess you made your point all right."
"Well, bugger me blind." That was Vincent, sounding almost awed; Cam wasn't sure whether he expected a reply, but she never got the chance to speak up anyway because Angela let out a shrill whoop, rushed over to where Booth and Brennan were standing and caught each of them in a one-armed hug that almost knocked their heads together.
Cam finally decided she'd had enough of this madness. "Okay, everyone, please remember where you are! This is a forensics lab, not a schoolyard, and you're professionals, not hormone-crazed teenagers, so I expect you to behave accordingly!"
She paused for greater emphasis, cast a dark look at Booth, Brennan and Angela, and then added in the sternest tone she could manage, "And just so we're clear, I'm the boss here, so I'm the one who gets to tell Sweets."