Disclaimer: I own nothing, naturally

Feedback: I'm interested, believe me

AN: Well, here's the last chapter; hope everyone enjoyed this story (Hope this all works out; I wanted to get this finished before the Season Five finale aired, so it might be a bit rushed)

Facing Inadequacies

"So..." Angela asked, standing outside Brennan's office, looking at her friend with a curious smile the next afternoon as closing-time drew nearer- Brennan had been too focused on her analysis earlier to be in a particularly talkative mood, although she'd slowed her pace enough to make Angela feel comfortable enough to approach her now-, noting her friend's neater-than-usual dark blue blouse and trousers- she hadn't exactly 'dressed up' for work, but she definitely looked smarter than normal-, "how'd things go with your 'chat' with Booth last night?"

"My chat with Booth?" Brennan repeated, looking up at Angela with an uncertain stare as though she really didn't know what her friend was talking about.

"Come on, sweetie; you leave on time after a chat like the one we had a couple of nights ago?" Angela asked, raising an eyebrow as she smiled at her friend. "Seriously, you spent yesterday going over stuff with the kind of grim science-y look on your face I haven't seen since we thought he was dead, and now here you are, actually humming to yourself a little bit while you work..."

"Really?" Brennan asked.

"'Hot Blooded', I believe," Angela replied with a brief smile before she walked over to sit casually on the side of her friend's desk, smiling quizzically at her. "So, spill; what happened with you and our resident Agent Hot Stuff?"

"We... we talked," Brennan replied at last.

"And?" Angela asked, waving a hand promptingly. "C'mon, you don't expect me to believe that you're that happy just because you talked, do you?"

"And... we're going to finish our conversation tonight at dinner," Brennan replied with a slight smile. "Booth's made the reservations, and he'll be picking me up-"

"Hold on; that's it?" Angela said, looking at her best friend incredulously. "You just... talked? Sweetie, this is Booth-"

"Exactly, Angela; it's Booth," Brennan replied, turning around to look directly at her friend. "What we're trying to do here isn't exactly simple; we've still got some things we need to talk about before we can... well, Booth's still straightening out the necessary paperwork to get himself reinstated as our liaison-"

"Reinstated?" Angela cut in, a smile spreading across her face at her friend's words. "As in, he's not being reassigned from his role here?"

"Let's just say that I've... spoken with a few people; what happens afterwards is all a matter of patience," Booth's voice said from the door, prompting Brennan and Angela to turn and look at the FBI special agent as he stood there, his tie for once a more straightforward black one and his suit looking more clean than usual. "Ready there, Bones?"

"As I'll ever be," Brennan replied, smiling warmly at Booth while trying to fight down the metaphorical butterflies in her stomach- she'd never realised just where that phrase came from until now; it really did feel like she had a mass of winged insects flying around inside her- as she turned off her computer and walked over to join him in the door.

"See you tomorrow, Angela," Booth added, nodding briefly at the artist as Brennan took his offered arm.

"Hold on; tomorrow?" Angela asked, looking between the two with a smile. "As in..."

"As in, Booth and I have a few things to talk about and we're talking about them over dinner at a restaurant he knows," Brennan replied with a slight smile. "You'll find out how it goes later."

As the two of them walked off towards the Jeffersonian's main entrance, Brennan glanced back at her office just in time to see Angela shut the door and begin a strange energetic dance in the middle of the room; judging by the movement of Angela's mouth, she was also screaming for joy about recent events as well, but Brennan wouldn't like to swear to it.

Right now, all she wanted to focus on was her upcoming dinner with the most important man in her life; her friend's reaction to the news that she was having said dinner could wait until tomorrow.

As they sat down at their table in the restaurant, Brennan automatically picked up her menu and began to study it, Booth doing the same opposite her; both had agreed in the car that the serious conversation of the evening would have to wait until they'd eaten at least the main course to give them one last chance to think things over.

The only problem with the current situation, from Brennan's perspective, was the silence that had now settled over them; both of them might have agreed before coming here that anything relating to the much-overdue apologies that the other needed to hear should be saved for later, but at the same time they couldn't come up with an effective conversation topic to discuss now...

After a few moments' silence, Booth sighed.

"This is stupid," he said, putting down the menu and looking at her.

"Oh," Brennan said, a brief flash of pain crossing her face before she stood up. "I understand; I'll-"

"That's not what I meant, Bones," Booth interjected, reaching out to place a hand on her arm as she stood up, a slight smile on his face at her misunderstanding- a smile of compassion where another might have been tempted to make an at-least-teasing joke about her jumping to such a conclusion- as he subtly gestured for her to sit back down. "What I meant is that it's ridiculous for us to be this uncomfortable with each other. So it's a date rather than just dinner; so what? We've had these things pretty much consistently for the last five years; does that change just because... well, because a few semantics aren't the same?"

"Well..." Brennan began, before she shook her head and smiled slightly at him. "You're right; this... discomfort is a bit foolish..."

"Exactly," Booth said, sitting back and smiling at her. "So, as long we're talking, what did you think of...?"

The conversation progressed fairly smoothly from that point onwards, with only the occasional minor interruption as the two ate their food after it arrived. Both of them shared a few of their more pleasant childhood experiences from back before things with their parents became less pleasant- Booth was particularly amused to learn about a couple of times that Max had gone off on a couple of school trips with his children in his role as a teacher-, and even exchanged the occasional reminiscence about their thoughts on some of their past cases, the conversation varying between the personal and the professional with an ease and fluidity that neither of them could entirely recall feeling on a date before.

It was only after the dessert menus had been placed before them and the few small remnants of their main courses taken away that Booth, looking

"Look, Bones..." he began, looking slightly awkwardly at her, "as long we're opening up about stuff... I'm sorry I started dating Cam without telling you back when she first started working with us."

Brennan blinked.

"What?" she said in confusion. "Booth, you don't have anything to apologise for; you both had a former relationship that you clearly still had feelings about, and we were only partners-"

"I know I don't have to; it's just that... I thought you deserved it," Booth replied with a slight shrug. "Looking back, I'm not sure why I started it- we'd ended it long before I even started working with you and she was the one who actually got us started up again; I was fine the way things were-, but..."

He sighed. "I dunno... it had been almost a year since my last date, and I guess I was just... y'know, wanting to feel wanted at the time..."

"I can understand that," Brennan replied with a slight nod; she briefly thought about elaborating with similar examples of her doing the same thing, but that just led into thoughts about what she'd done with Hacker that she wanted to put aside and forget as soon as possible. "But Booth, you don't need to feel guilty about that; we-"

"Doesn't mean I don't feel like I need to," Booth said simply, pausing for a moment before he spoke again. "Just like I think I need to say sorry about Zach."

"Zach?" Brennan repeated, further confused at Booth's sudden shift in the conversation. "What do you have to-?"

"If I'd discouraged him from going off to Iraq instead of just passively encouraging him, maybe he-" Booth began.

"No," Brennan said, shaking her head firmly as she looked at Booth; as far as she was concerned, Booth apologising for Zach's actions was ridiculous to the extreme. "There is no way that anything you did could have had an impact on what happened to Zach, Booth. What Zach did was the result of a whole multitude of factors that we couldn't possibly have predicted or foreseen coming together when he was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong company; you cannot blame yourself for that."

For a moment, the two of them simply sat in silence as they looked at each other, Booth reflecting on what Brennan had just said as she waited for him to respond, before he finally smiled at her.

"Thanks, Bones," he said. "I... I think I needed to hear that."

"You're welcome," Brennan replied, before she lowered her head for a moment, still uncomfortable with what she was about to say, before she nodded resolutely. "On the topic of apologising, I'm sorry I went out with Jared..."

She couldn't help but feel a slight quiver in her throat as she looked up at him, suddenly understanding how Booth had felt regarding Cam; even if he'd never brought it up after the incident was over, that didn't stop her from feeling ashamed of her actions and needing to apologise for them regardless.

"And... that I... gave the impression I believed him," she finished, staring at Booth with a simple open sincerity that she could only hope he understood in full. "Anthropologically, I could defend it on the grounds that he had more immediate access to the 'evidence' than I did..."

She shook her head resolutely as she looked at Booth, forcing that train of thought out of the conversation as she continued speaking. "Whatever my reasoning then, that doesn't excuse what I said to you; I should never have listened to him for even a moment... and I've never considered you a loser."

"Hey, Bones, you don't have to-" Booth began, reaching out a hand to comfort her.

"I'm also sorry about just... asking you to... donate... so that I could have a baby," Brennan continued, trying not to look at him so that she could avoid the expression of disgust that she was certain would appear on his face at her current confession; if she was going to settle how she felt about Booth once and for all, she wanted to be sure that he knew what he would be staying for no matter how she was starting to feel about her past. "I just thought that... I'm not sure what I was thinking there; maybe it was the only way I could be sure you wouldn't leave me... I was so desperate to make sure that I'd have something of you in my life... even if you weren't there for me... you'd never leave your child... and then the tumour..."

"Yeah?" Booth asked, his tone giving nothing away about his feelings regarding the 'plan' that she'd just confessed to him; Brennan wasn't about to kid herself that she was totally off the hook after what she'd just admitted to, but the fact that he was still here was at least a point in her favour.

"That dream you had..." she continued, trying to hold back her tears as she dug down inside herself to reveal herself in a way that she'd always been afraid to do so ever since she'd lost her parents, reveal herself in the manner that Booth deserved to see her if he was genuinely going to stay, "I was so scared I couldn't live up to your fantasy... afraid of what you might... expect from me because of it..."

"I didn't expect anything, Bones-" Booth began.

"Then I was going to visit you..." Brennan continued tearfully, barely even acknowledging what he'd just said; having started her confession, she just couldn't bring herself to stop. "I heard some of the doctors discussing your case... they mentioned that you might have created an 'ideal woman' in your fantasy... the woman just happened to have my face, and..."

"And you ran off to Guatemala to give me time to 'clear my head', huh?" Booth finished for her (He wondered how he should feel about the fact that she'd essentially done what Sweets and Cam had later encouraged him to do; give him time to confirm how he felt before he committed himself to anything), looking sympathetically at her.

He wasn't sure how she'd felt at that news, but he could imagine how he would have felt if he'd been in her position; thinking that the person you loved might only feel the same way about you because of some screwed-up lump of brain tissue...

"I don't even know why I'm here..." Brennan whispered weakly.

"Huh?" Booth said, looking at her in confusion as she suddenly began to cry again, derailing his train of thought before he could follow it through any further; all that mattered right now was working out what Bones had meant by that last statement.

"I've... I've hurt you so much..." Brennan said, her head lowered and her shoulders shaking as she spoke. "You've been there for me... you've trusted me... you helped me solve my parents' disappearance... you took a bulletfor me... you told me you loved me... and I just... I just keep..."

Before Booth could stop her, Brennan had stood up and ran from the table towards the restaurant door, leaving him to glance over the menu long enough to pull a few notes out of his wallet to cover the cost- he was probably overcharging a bit but this was more important- before he hurried after her, finally catching up with Brennan despite her head-start as she was about to run around a corner.

"Bones!" he said, grabbing her by the shoulder and spinning her around so that he had a hold of the other one before she could run any further.

"Let me go..." Brennan sobbed, her legs shaking so badly underneath her that Booth wondered how she was able to keep standing. "I have to leave... I can't hurt you... I can't..."

"Bones, look at me," Booth insisted.

For a moment, Brennan couldn't bring herself to follow Booth's request/order, but finally she looked up at him, expecting to be met with the cold stare he'd given her earlier, only to find herself looking into the same warm, compassionate eyes of the man who'd been there for her since that fateful day when he'd been blown up by her fridge simply because he'd wanted to protect her, the man who'd held her when she'd been told that her father had killed her mother, the man who'd been there for her through the most emotionally intense five years of her life...

"You didn't do any of that to be deliberately cruel to me, did you?" Booth said, his gaze fixed on hers with no trace of deception in his intent.

"No," Brennan replied, shaking her head urgently even as she ever-so-slightly pulled against his grip on her shoulders. "But I-"

"I'm not saying what you've done didn't hurt, Bones, but intent is as important as anything else," Booth interjected, his gaze fixed on her as he spoke. "Remember what I told you when you when you shot Epps's assistant; the fact that you killed a guy to do the right thing is what makes you different from him."

"I hurt you..." Brennan protested weakly.

"Yeah, I get that, and I'm not saying it didn't hurt at the time, but...." Booth began, before he sighed and shook his head, a slight chuckle coming from his lips as he looked at her. "Y'know, for a genius, you really miss some obvious points, don't you?"

"Such... such as?" Brennan asked, swallowing slightly to try and regain control of herself.

"Such as the fact that, leave me to my own devices- by which I mean barring unforeseen instances such as me getting shot or getting sick- and there isn't a single thing in this world or the next that could drag me away from you," Booth said, smiling slightly at her as he spoke. "You want to know the real reason it didn't work with me and Catherine, Bones?"

"What?" Brennan asked, a part of her feeling as though she was already aware of what he was about to say.

"She wasn't you," Booth said simply. "I tried to move on at the time, believe me, but I always hit that stumbling-block; Catherine was great, but she could never be anything close to you. You're not just the standard to me, Bones, you're the ideal; if I can't be with you, I can't be in a relationship, period."

"But I... I hurt you..." Brennan protested weakly, even as she couldn't help but feel touched at his words; to have someone say that she was their first choice like that, even after she'd assumed that Bryar would be a far better match for him on a personal level than she could ever be... even after she'd hurt him so badly...

"No offence, Bones, but after some of the occasions I've been through where people wanted to- and often did- hurt me on purpose- admittedly that was primarily physical, but they often did it for a pretty long time-, the stuff you've done to me because you're a bit of a screw-up doesn't exactly push you that high up my list of people to avoid," Booth replied, the slight smile on his lips contrasting with the slight pain in his eyes before he shrugged with an at-least-slightly-feigned nonchalance.

"Besides," he continued, his voice softer as he walked forwards slightly so that he was standing in front of her, his eyes fixed on hers as he spoke, "that's the thing about love; it isn't always easy, and sometimes you get some serious kicks in the teeth because of it- metaphorically, anyway, although I've definitely taken a couple of kicks there working with you over the years-, but it can also be... unpredictable... unexpected... unreasonable... and, most importantly..."

"What?" Brennan asked, after Booth had simply stood in front of her in silence, a smile on his face that she'd never seen before.

"Unconditional," Booth whispered at her, before he finished his steps towards her and their mouths met, igniting the same spark that Brennan had felt the last time that Booth had kissed her with the exact opposite results.

Whereas before she had pulled away from that spark, this time she welcomed it, wrapping her arms around Booth and holding him to her, revelling in the feeling of his lips on hers, his tongue stroking and caressing hers, the sheer intensity of the emotions he was awakening in her making her feel a pure, unadulterated joy that she could never recall experiencing before...

Finally, the two of them separated once again when oxygen was starting to become an issue, leaving Brennan unable to do much more than smile slightly shakily up at Booth.

"Wow..." she said, feeling stupid even as she said it but unable to come up with something better.

"I second that," Booth replied, nodding at her with a slight smile before he assumed a more serious expression as he looked at her. "I'm not saying that... what we've got... is going to be smooth sailing all the way, Bones; what I do know is that it's not going to be anything if we don't try to have something."

"True..." Brennan replied, nodding slightly as she looked uncertainly at him.

"So," Booth said, holding up one finger as he looked pointedly at her, "if we're doing this, I've got one condition I'd like to make."

"Which is...?" Brennan asked, slightly apprehensively.

"No second chances if one of us leaves again," Booth replied simply, his gaze fixed on her as he spoke. "We've coped with a lot to get to this point, Bones, but..."

He didn't finish it, but he didn't have to do so in order for Brennan to understand what he meant; they might have come this far despite their 'misunderstandings'- the term might have been an understatement for the messes they'd experienced, but it was the best she could think of-, but if what they'd just gone through emotionally hadn't been enough to convince her that Booth wasn't going to leave her in anything less than extreme circumstances, nothing would.

"I know we could be great, Bones, but we need to show that we're committed to this," Booth said, staring resolutely at her as he spoke. "The first time one of us acts like an idiot and walks out on this because we're scared, or because we think the other person doesn't get us, or because we think they don't deserve us, or anything like that..."

He shook his head grimly. "That's it; game over. If we can't trust each other that we're never going to leave each other after this..."

His voice trailed off after that comment, but Brennan understood what he meant.

"We won't," she said, reaching out to place a hand on Booth's cheek as she stared at him with a small smile. "I... I love you, Booth; I'd never... I can't..."

"I know, Bones," Booth replied, wrapping her in his arms as he held her close, faint tears trickling from her eyes as she held him so tightly he wouldn't be surprised if a rib or two wasn't cracked when he was released...

She loved him.

It had taken her a hell of a long time to admit it- and he still had to sort out the paperwork back at the Bureau to complete his transfer back to the Jeffersonian-, and he still couldn't help but feel slightly bad about the emotional pain he'd caused her while leading up to this moment- just because she might argue that she deserved it after what she'd done to him didn't mean he felt the same, even if it had helped to reassure him that she didn't see him as worthless-, but right now, all that mattered was that she loved him; everything else was superfluous as far as he was concerned.

It might be corny, but right now, the words of a song he'd heard on the radio a while back were the best summary of his feelings right now that he could think of.

I don't care who you are,

Don't care where you're from,

Don't care what you did,

As long as you love me...

It might not make any sense, but whatever she'd done to him in the past out of a misguided attempt to 'protect' him since that last confession...

No matter how much it had hurt at the time, he had never been able to stop himself from loving her, and he couldn't foresee anything happening in the future that would change that resolution any time soon.

"I love you too," he whispered in her ear before he pulled back slightly to kiss her again, revelling in the feel of lips underneath his that he'd never been able to forget since that incredible Christmas two years ago. "I love you too..."

She'd taken him on an emotional rollercoaster these last few weeks, but right now he couldn't care about that; all that mattered was that Doctor Temperance Brennan, the woman who had captured his heart, mind and soul more than any other woman on the planet ever could, had told him that she loved him...

Right now, aside from focusing on enjoying the way her lips tasted, the only thing on Special Agent Seeley Booth's mind was how long he should wait to give her time to adjust to the idea of them dating rather than just being partners before he found the time to show her what he'd meant about breaking the laws of physics...