Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: Sorry for the extended delay…still shaking off the rust…Timeline is in flux, but no baby on Bones and no declarations of love on Castle.

Castle nodded his head in agreement. "I know the perfect place-Remy's. Best burgers and shakes in the city…" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Beckett's eyes slightly narrow. Castle realized that he had just offered up "their" spot. He quickly added, "Or we could do something else…Thai? Sushi?"

With his trained eye, Booth noted Beckett's mild annoyance. Pointing at his partner, he quickly said, "Vegetarian, so maybe something else?" Brennan started to interrupt him. She could find something on any menu, but she caught Booth's slight shake of his head and let it go.

"Chang's in Chinatown? It's kind of a hole in the wall, but the food more than makes up for the atmosphere." Castle glanced around the table. Everyone seemed to be in agreement. "You can follow us, ok?"

"Sounds like a plan," Booth said as he stood. Brennan followed suit. With a somewhat resigned sigh, Beckett stood as well. She knew Booth and Brennan weren't to blame for this distraction, but she was still annoyed that once again her alter ego, Nikki Heat, was pulling her away from her work.

Castle opened and held the conference room door. Booth and Brennan made their way to the elevator. He shifted slightly to prevent Beckett from exiting. Sheepishly he said, "I know you hate this stuff..."

Beckett could see him trying to contain his curiosity about their counterparts. She knew under any other circumstance he would be peppering them with questions, but for her sake, he was reigning himself in. She felt like a bully. This wasn't his fault and, as Booth had said, the sooner they started, the sooner they would finish. "It's fine...and I could go for some Chang's Chicken…" she said with a small smile, hoping he would take her words for what they were…a peace offering. She was rewarded with a grin from Castle as he moved so they could walk to the elevator.

Booth watched the interaction between Beckett and Castle with mild interest. Angela was a fan of Castle's books and avid reader of TMZ. When she heard about this assignment, she had readily provided some background on Richard Castle. One of his books had just been optioned as a movie. He had somewhat of a reputation as a playboy, but there was some speculation in the media about the true nature of the relationship between the author and his muse. Watching the two of them, Booth could understand why. It was obvious the two were in sync, each adjusting to the moods and feelings of the other without a conscious thought. Booth knew that being partners with a member of the opposite sex often meant an assumption of something more. He was used to having to defend the platonic nature of his relationship with Bones, even if sometimes disagreed with his own defense in his head. He idly wondered if Detective Beckett faced the same dilemma or if there really was more to their partnership. Before he could give it another thought, the elevator doors slide open.

As Beckett wove in and out of traffic, Castle asked the question he had wanted to ask but couldn't in front of Booth and Brennan. "So you read Dr. Brennan's mysteries too?" Beckett's comment about page 187 had resonated with him.

"Did you think you were the only author in my life, Castle?"

"No…I just…" he stammered.

"You know I enjoy a good mystery and no matter what the good doctor says, there is a lot more going on in her books than science. That Detective Ryan of hers…well, Agent Booth certainly does him justice." From the corner of her eye, she saw Castle grimace. She smiled to herself. She did enjoy ruffling Castle's feathers. It was normally the other way around. "Now that you two have been introduced, maybe you could do a crossover or something. Two worlds collide…art imitating life and all that…" Beckett flashed him a mischievous smile.

"I think Rook would strongly object to the introduction of any other detectives..."

Without thinking, Beckett jokingly interjected, "Detectives or men, Castle?"

As tended to happen with them, the conversation abruptly turned from playful to loaded with subtext. Castle caught Beckett's eye. "Both, Kate. Nikki and Rook have enough to deal with without introducing a diversionary significant other, don't you think?"

Keeping her eyes on the road, Beckett responded, "Have a little faith, Castle. Nikki is a one-man woman."

Booth followed the Crown Vic in their rental car. Entertainment Weekly was picking up the tab for this little publicity stunt. He knew the only reason the Deputy Director had approved EW's request was the recent negative publicity about the bureau. Given that both Castle and Brennan had books headed to the big screen, public interest was at an all time high. The fact that all parties involved were photogenic didn't hurt either…at least that is what Brennan's agent had told them. He hated the idea of exploiting their partnership, but he knew he didn't really have a say.

Brennan interrupted his wandering thoughts. "I find it odd that Mr. Castle has been shadowing Detective Beckett for so long. Given the length of time, one could reasonably expect Mr. Castle has sufficient research for his books. And since he has no discernable skill set that would facilitate her investigative process, why would she continue to allow him to shadow her?"

"Give the guy a break. Not having a badge or doctorate doesn't mean he isn't a good partner. They have one of the highest solve rates on the force. That counts for something."

"I wasn't discounting his contribution. However, Detective Beckett seemed annoyed by our presence and this project. I can't fault her with that. If Mr. Castle were no longer shadowing her, then she wouldn't be in this current predicament. It would seem that he is the one benefitting most from this arrangement."

As usual Brennan was honest in her assessment and it was up to Booth to temper it with the human element. "They're partners, Bones. They both obviously bring something that the other needs to the table. That's how it works. Give and take. It might not be obvious to us, but it works for them." He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye before continuing. "You could say the same thing about us."

"The expertise offered by the Jeffersonian as it relates to murders investigated by the FBI is why our partnership works, Booth."

He was shaking his head in disbelief even before she finished. "So any Squint and any FBI agent could do what we do?" Leaving on hand on wheel, he gestured at the space between them.

"Of course not, Booth. I'm one of the leading forensic anthropologists in the world." She seemed slightly offended that he had grouped her in with the general Squint population.

"Oh, so I guess in this case, I'm the one benefitting most from this arrangement?" His tone was neutral, not offended. He knew Brennan well enough to know that she was most comfortable defining their partnership in terms of their official titles. He also knew they were so much more than scientist and special agent.

His mater-of-fact question took Brennan by surprise. She realized the implication of his question and knew it was an unfair characterization-one she had to rectify. Turning to face her partner, she said, "No. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Before we started working together, everything I did was about understanding the past, but now our work is about so much more. We bring closure and some semblance of peace to families whose lives have been ripped apart by violence. Our partnership is a balance of purpose and understanding."

Booth nodded in agreement. For someone who so often doubted her ability to relate with the world around her in a meaningful way, he was once again struck by her depth and compassion. He wished, not for the first time, that she could see herself through his eyes.