A/N: We're so sorry for the delay - here is the long awaited final chap... and we do mean long, it's kinda epic ;)


~o~ Only the Beginning of What I Want to Feel Forever ~o~

Pulling up outside Rebecca's house, Booth shifts his much-missed SUV into park and relaxes back against the seat. He reaches across and takes Brennan's hand. "You okay, Bones?"

She rubs her thumb along his. "Fine, Booth. Are you ready?"

"Almost." He gives her one of his best smiles, then leans across, brushing her cheek and pulling her lips to his. One lingering, full-of-promise-and-love kiss later, he opens his eyes. "Now... I'm ready."

"Me too. Let's go tell your son everything." She smiles and reaches for the door handle.

"Well, not... everything."

She just winks and climbs from the truck.

"Bones!" he calls after her before quickly following her up the sidewalk.

~o~

He knocks on the door and feels her grab and squeeze his hand quickly, dropping it as the door rattles open and a blur of brown hair and cut-off shorts springs into Booth's arms.

"Dad!"

"Hey! I missed you, Bub!"

"I missed you, too! Even though it's only been a week. But it just seemed longer knowing you were away. Where'd you go again?"

Booth scratched his cheek and glanced at Brennan, who simply shrugged and smiled. "Well, Parks... that's what we came to talk to you about - Bones and I. We can't wait to tell you about our trip."

"Cool! Let's go! BYE, MOM!" he yells over his shoulder as he bounds down the steps toward the truck.

Almost immediately, Rebecca steps into the doorway, dish towel in hand, a knowing smile spreading across her face as she takes in her ex and his partner. "Seeley. Dr. Brennan. You guys look... well-sunned and rested. Nice trip?" She raises an eyebrow as the two partners exchange a glance.

Brennan speaks up. "I'll just go help Parker get buckled in. Nice to see you, Rebecca."

Booth clears his throat and points with his thumb in the direction of his retreating partner. "Thanks for letting us have him for a couple hours, Bec. I know it's not my weekend-"

"Us?"

He laughs. "You don't miss a thing, do you?"

"Well, if you're trying to hide something, Seeley, you might start with the permanently plastered smile on your face. I don't think I've ever seen you so openly happy."

"I am happy. And I'm... we're... not hiding anything. Bones and I... well, I love her. And the damndest thing... she loves me back. We're going to try to make this work."

Rebecca blinks and smiles. "Good for you, Seeley. Good for you both."

"Thank you. I-"

"Dad!" he hears Parker call from the lowered window of the car.

Laughing, he finishes, "I guess I'm being paged. We'll have him back in a couple hours - just getting some ice cream."

"Seeley, I'm happy for you." She lays her hand on his arm. "You deserve to be happy."

He smiles and nods and makes his way down the porch steps.

"Oh Seeley! Before I forget..."

"Yeah?"

"Some guy from the Army called here looking for you the other day." At his perplexed look, she continues, "I didn't really know what to tell him. And I didn't mention anything to Parker."

Booth's hand grips the back of his neck then shoves in his pocket for his keys. "Okay thanks, Rebecca. I'll take care of it." And with a wave, he's back to his truck, where his partner's smile and his boys chatter are the only things that matter.

~o~

"So Mom was right."

Booth couldn't hide his quick glance and uh-oh look to Brennan. "About what, bud?"

"I asked her a long time ago if Bones was your girlfriend and she said, 'No, but give it time.' So now it's time?"

"Yeah, Park, it's time." Booth reaches beside him and squeezes Brennan's hand. "And you're okay with this?"

"Sure. Why wouldn't I be?" he responds before quickly tracking a drip of Rocky Road down the side of his waffle cone.

Booth nods and puts his arm around Brennan along the back of the park bench they are all three occupying. He smiles and places a chaste kiss on her cheek.

"So, Parker..." Brennan begins. "I told your Dad I couldn't wait until we got home so I could tell you all about the Stenella longirostris we saw."

Parker just laughs and scrunches up his nose at the big words. "What's that?"

"Hawaiian Spinner dolphins."

"Cool!" His eyes as round as saucers.

"They were very cool. Booth arranged for us to be able to swim with them. Did you know that a possible reason for their spinning acrobatics is to attract a mate?"

"HA! No! What else?"

As Bones continues to share her vast knowledge concerning the dolphin and porpoise species, Parker leans into his father's side and whispers, "I'm glad you're home, Dad. You and Bones."

"Us too, Parker." Booth replies, ruffling his son's hair, listening and laughing.

~o~

When they've finally dropped Parker back at Rebecca's the shadows are lengthening into late-afternoon and the urge to go home and wash off their journey and unpack is strong. They'd caught a cab direct from the airport to Brennan's apartment to pick up the SUV and come to see Parker right away, and while Booth loved that she'd drop everything like that for his son, he was way past the point of exhaustion and needing to freshen up before they saw anyone else. With this in mind he suggests they've done enough truth-spilling for the day, but Bones is determined to at least tell their close friends. Then she does that thing she doesn't even know she does, that slight pout, and he's pointing the truck towards the Jeffersonian before he knows it.

They arrive still tired, yet buoyed by Parker's reaction to their news, exchanging knowing smiles as they check in with security and make their way down the long hallway leading to the lab. Booth's hand drifts from the spot on her back to which these halls are accustomed, further around to cup her hip and pull her closer in to his side. He can't help but whisper his love quietly in her ear.

Before he knows what's happening, Brennan has pulled him through the door leading to the stairwell and pressed him into the concrete wall, her hands capturing his face and bringing him close. His arms instinctively wrap around her and begin stroking her back as he leans closer, aiming for her soft lips, reading her intentions.

But she pulls back, her lips upturned in a smile, one brow raised. "Does this seem familiar?"

His grip tightens, pulling her hips to his, and with an answering smile, "Slightly." He nuzzles her nose. "Seems like ages ago though."

She can finally wait no longer and draws him into a sweet kiss, full of soft lips and just the tip of tongues, relishing the moment... the last before sharing their secret with the world. Regardless, she can't help but appreciate that they have forever to be like this.

As soon as they break apart, Booth tilts her chin, looking her straight in the eye, with no hesitation. "I love you. I can't wait to let everyone know that."

She replies, with a knowing smile and a sparkle in her eye as she takes his hand and pulls him back towards the door. "Me too."

When they are greeted by a still, quiet and mostly empty lab, it's something of a disappointment. Footsteps are heading their way though, and Booth watches as Cam strides past them, her nose in a manila folder. She almost walks right on by, until Bones calls her name.

Brennan is pleased that it's Cam, because Cam is someone who doesn't know about them yet, and the prospect of telling her and witnessing her happy reaction is a pleasing one.

Booth, in truth, feels a little sick, because he's suddenly sure that he should have told Cam himself by now. Hadn't she been the one to help him at Sweets' wedding? Wasn't she one of his oldest friends? He wished all the squints were here and Bones could just tell Angela it was okay to let the raccoon out the box, or whatever, and her friend's patented over-enthusiasm could do the rest for them. But no; it has to be Cam.

He casts about for someone, anyone to back them up, but the place is still weirdly deserted. Cam pivots on one shiny, black heel, her eyebrows raised in surprise, and walks across to them.

"Booth, Dr. Brennan – you're back." She looks between them a moment. "And you're really, really tan. Did I miss the weather report where West Virginia got a heatwave?"

Booth glances at his partner and swallows, "Uh… Cam-"

"I apologize for my deception, Cam," Brennan cuts in. "Booth and I did not attend a partners' retreat in West Virginia."

Cam continues to look between the two of them and Booth steels himself for the moment the penny will drop.

"In fact," Bones says, as she turns to him with a smile so tentative and cute that he forgets to be nervous for a second, "we were in Hawaii."

"Hawaii," Cam says, her voice as strangely flat as the lab is quiet.

"Yes," Brennan tells her, and reaches for her partner's hand. "Together."

Booth waits for the explosion, and he's fifty-fifty on whether it'll be one of indignation or joy. But it never comes. At some point he has screwed his eyes tight shut like a girl, and now he pops one open to find Cam smiling serenely.

"That's great," she says, all calm like Bones just told her she won some fancy bone award or something. She keeps smiling the freaky, Valium smile and points to the ookey room. "Gotta go… cut up a dead guy. Welcome home, you guys." And she's gone.

Booth blinks. "What just happened?"

Brennan turns to him with a frown. "I have to admit, I expected a more dramatic reaction."

Booth plants his hands on his hips, his eyes narrowing. "Five years they've been poking and prodding and dropping their little hints," he complains. "Five years of pushing us together, and that's her reaction? 'Well done.'?"

"She didn't say-"

"Basically she did, okay, Bones?"

"There's Hodgins!" his partner interrupts, hurrying to dig in her pocket for her ID card, and rushing to meet their friend as he climbs up the steps on the other side of the platform.

"Yeah," Booth mutters, trailing after her, "and what are the odds Angela hasn't told him already?"

"Hodgins!" Brennan calls. "We're home!"

"Hey," Hodgins says, looking up from a box full of microscope slides, carefully slotted in side-by-side. "Good retreat?" He smiles warmly. "Team-build much?"

"Angela didn't tell you?" Brennan asks him, disbelieving.

"Tell me what?"

"Booth and I weren't at a retreat we were-"

She is cut off by her partner, who appears to lose his patience at this point. "Look," he says, stepping a little in front of her and counting off on his fingers, "No retreat, on vacation, sun, sea, sand, yadda yadda, Bones and I are a couple."

Hodgins' eyes narrow. "You don't say."

Booth nods. "Just did."

"Dammit!" the other man says, pointing at them with both hands. "I knew she was keeping something from me." And then he walks away, just like Cam.

Bones turns to him. "I don't-"

"Yeah." Booth scowls. "I don't know what it means either."

~o~

In the ookey-room, Hodgins finds Cam and Angela huddled together, barely suppressing their laughter behind a pair of files. On closer inspection his wife has her sleeve jammed in her mouth.

Angela lets out a muffled cry as he busts through the doors and presses his hands to his face. "Oh man, that was hard – have you guys got any idea how close I came to cracking up? Dr. B looked so…" He mimed a pout. "And Booth was all, 'There was sun and sea and sand and…'" He mimics his friend, counting off on his fingers.

"Stop!" Cam pleads, clutching her stomach. "You did great, Hodgins." She turns to Angela, who is only standing due to the support of the desk behind her, her shoulders still shaking. "It's your turn," Cam tells her, with some doubt. "You okay?"

Angela nods and takes deep breaths, then she stands straight and pulls an imaginary cord in front of her, instantly appearing serene and unaffected. It lasts all of two seconds.

"Oh God," she moans, as she laughs again, "I don't think I'll be able to keep a straight face."

"You have to say one thing!" Hodgins protests.

"You can do it," Cam assures her, pushing her through the door, then fends off her entomologist as he battles her for the best vantage point from which to peer around it.

Angela finds the partners in the long corridor that runs behind the platform, which suits her just fine.

"Sweetie," she calls, "you're back!" They have decided she must appear at least a little enthusiastic or it will be too suspicious given her history of what Hodgins had carefully termed 'interest' in the partners' love lives.

"Angela!" Brennan calls, her face lighting up so sweetly Angela immediately feels guilty for what she is about to do. She squeezes her friend into a hug and pats her back. She is overwhelmed by how happy Brennan looks, it brings a lump to her throat and she pulls away, concerned she won't be able to hold it together.

"I can't stop," she tells her immediately crestfallen friend. "I have a meeting in Archeology – but meet me at the Founding Fathers later, okay, both of you? I want to know all about it."

Brennan nods, looking like she might cry and Angela reminds herself forcefully that it'll be worth it to see her face light up later. "Both of you!" she reiterates, before turning the corner and collapsing against the wall in relief.

Booth watches Angela leave with his brow set in a deep frown. Something is most definitely up. He slides suspicious eyes to his partner, but she looks so crushed he decides the investigation can wait until later. If Angela is still acting weird tonight, he'll find out why.

"Aw, Bones, don't look so sad," he tells her, sliding an arm around her shoulders and tucking her into his side. "I guess we're old news."

"I'm not sad," she immediately asserts.

"Okay."

"I'm – I'm not! Booth-"

"I'm a little disappointed," he confesses, watching as she meets his eyes finally.

She leans into him and hums. "Maybe a little."

"Come on," he decides, squeezing her then letting go. "Let's get out of here. We need to freshen up if we're meeting Angela tonight."

~o~

Bones' place is on the way from the Jeffersonian, so Booth drops her off with a promise to quickly unload his things and change and then meet back up with her.

As he enters his apartment, he can't keep his thoughts from drifting to packing boxes and furniture dollies, already creating a mental to-do list and counting down the days until he and Bones are living together. It feels almost crazy that they've finally made it to this point. He tosses the mail on the kitchen counter as he passes through, leaving his suitcase near the laundry room, only removing his toiletry bag to carry it to the bathroom.

After a quick shower and redress, he drops his socks and shoes beside the couch and steps into the kitchen to grab a drink, maybe a snack. A scan of his refrigerator doesn't end well. After being away for a week, subsequent to several days of non-stop preparations - well, put it this way, the contents of his fridge are a lot more green than usual, and not in the good way. He pops open a can of soda, telling his stomach to cool it until they get to the bar. Spotting the mail on the counter, he scoops it up and heads to the couch.

"Bill, bill, junk, bill..." he murmurs, flipping through the rather impressive week's worth of correspondence.

A white envelope with an official looking seal catches his eye, his mouth setting in a firm line as he reads the return address to himself. Secretary of Defense.

This can't possibly bode well.

He remembers Rebecca's mention of a phone call as he slips his finger along the sealed edge and opens the letter. Reading the typed request, liberally sprinkled with words like "duty"and "honor" along with well-chosen phrases like "saving lives" and "your country needs you", only sets a frown to Booth's lips and a furrow to his brow.

Not now. Not when... his son... his Bones... his job... his life.

Just. Not now.

He tucks the letter back in the envelope and quickly dons his (brightly striped) socks and shoes. Standing and picking up his jacket, he looks down at the letter on the table. He drops his coat and swipes the letter, crossing to his bookshelf and tucking it between a few copies of Bones' novels.

"Forget it for now, Seel," he whispers to himself, running his hand through his hair and grabbing his jacket and keys. Bones will be wondering what's taking him so long.

~o~

Booth swings the SUV into a parking space about half a block from the bar, kills the ignition and follows Bones' lead from the vehicle, unable to make it to her side before she's completely stepped out and waiting for him on the sidewalk. He smiles at her, thinking how some things will never change, and takes her hand.

Walking down the sidewalk in their town, the cool evening air surrounding them as they pass under the small elms growing out of evenly spaced planters, he thinks how refreshing it is to finally be out with their news. To finally be just another couple in love walking hand-in-hand along a busy street. To no longer have anything to hide - from each other and from the world.

Just before reaching the doorway, he tugs her hand lightly and pulls her with him towards the bus stop outside the bar.

"Booth?"

"Hey. It's fine. I just..." The light from the overhead street lamp illuminates her beautiful features. This woman he loves. Who loves him back. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are tonight?" He brushes her hair behind her ear before pulling her close and kissing her cheek softly, whispering, "Every night. Every day."

Her hands rest lightly on his biceps, feeling the soft leather of his favorite jacket as she ducks her head and leans into him.

He tilts her chin. "I love you, Bones. We're finally doing this. For years now, you've filled my life with joy and excitement and your own special brand of irritation..." He laughs as she smacks his shoulder, then lifts his hand to her cheek, his features sobering as he strokes her porcelain skin. "But over the past month, you've made me the happiest man alive. One of our best friends is in there and she's happy for us. They all are - even if their less-than-stellar reactions weren't exactly what we expected. This is still right. The rightest thing ever. You know that, right?"

She lifts her hand to his cheek, mirroring his caress, smiling softly. "I know, Booth." She takes a deep breath. "I think we've more than proven that to one another. And it's more than I ever would have expected... no matter how many times over the past years Angela tried to convince me to ride your train." He can't contain his guffaw, as she winks and smiles a lecherous smile that sends waves of warmth to settle in his belly.

She pulls him into a tight hug and he smooths his hands across her back. When they pull apart and head towards the entrance, she wraps her arm around his waist and surprises him by asking, "They were never guy hugs were they, Booth?"

He pulls the door open, ushering her through with a grin. "No, Bones. No, they weren't."

~o~

Angela Montenegro (secretly -Hodgins) is growing seriously impatient by the time she spots the partners approaching the bar down the lamp-lit sidewalk. She squeezes Cam's arm and points through the window. Cam turns to Hodgins and he jogs to the far corner of the bar to deliver the message that their friends have finally arrived. There is a murmur of excitement from the back and Angela holds a finger to her lips as she and Cam tuck themselves behind a group of men apparently celebrating a colleague's promotion at the nearest table, hoping to remain hidden for as long as possible.

Booth and Brennan walk into the bar and Angela watches them closely, the corner of her mouth lifting in delight as they look about the place and can't find a familiar face anywhere. She feels a momentary stab of guilt at the look of disappointment on Brennan's face before watching with amusement as Cam carefully places two fingers to her lips and lets out a whistle any sports fan would be proud of. She and Cam surge forward on the crowd of their friends and colleagues that suddenly flood from the back of the bar and the looks of shock on Booth and Brennan's faces are utterly priceless.

"Surprise!" Angela cries, flinging her arms around Brennan's neck.

"Oh my God!" Brennan breathes, watching as anyone she can think of that she knows and cares about in D.C. fills the space around her and Booth. There's Cam and Angela and Hodgins and Sweets, but also all her interns and Michelle and even her father, who pushes through the throng to wrap her in a hug.

Daisy is carrying a large cake which gets slid on to the bar in front of them, emblazoned with the words, 'About Damn Time' in red frosting. Beside her, Booth is laughing and she leans into him, unable to take in everything that is happening. Apparently their friends not only care that they are together, but knew all along.

"You really think we wouldn't catch on?" Cam asks Booth, her eyes shining.

"Did Angela tell you?" Brennan asks, but Cam shakes her head.

"No need. You two are just that obvious."

Booth sighs and shakes his head with a grin and tugs Brennan into him, kissing her soundly to a rousing cheer from the assembled crowd.

Brennan pulls away, blushing, from his warm lips and indicates the cake. "Do we have a knife?"

~o~

An hour has passed and the crowd has thinned out, those that remain breaking into little groups. The usual suspects are gathered around Booth and Brennan.

"You really had no idea we all knew?" Cam is shaking her head, a fond smile for her friends' cluelessness.

"Obviously we knew Angela and Sweets knew," Brennan counters, and hearing her refer to them as 'we' all the time isn't weird at all, oh no. "But we didn't expect…" she looks around her at the brightly decorated bar, the nearly-demolished cake, the smiling faces of their friends. "This."

"Hang on," Hodgins cuts in. "No clue at all?"

Brennan frowns. "No, why?"

"Dammit!" he exclaims, turning on Angela with a playful glare. "Do you have any idea how much that thing cost?"

Angela giggles. "Oops."

Booth is confused. "What thing?"

Cam groans and lays a hand on Hodgins' shoulder. "The fruit!"

Sweets laughs out loud. "Oh man, the fruit!"

Booth gapes. "That was you? We thought it was from the resort!"

Angela points at Cam. "I told you I should have written the card."

"I was going for subtle," Cam complains. "I didn't think putting, 'You can eat it off each other' was quite the way to achieve that."

Everyone chuckles as Angela pouts. "Better than, 'With compliments.'"

Brennan nods. "Naturally we assumed-"

Cam sighs. "Naturally."

Brennan throws a smirk Booth's way. "The mangoes were good." Before he can react further than to drop his jaw in astonishment, she turns to Hodgins. "I will be quite happy to reimburse you."

Booth pulls a face. "Bones!"

Hodgins shakes his head with a smile, pulling Angela to him with an arm about her shoulders, stunning her into a yelp at his bold move. "It's no trouble, Dr. B, just treat Angela and I to the same on our honeymoo-oo-oon…ohhhh." He clenches his teeth and screws his eyes shut as the easy laughter in the group dies.

Booth is the first to recover. "You guys got married?"

Cam sits up a little straighter in her chair. "Oh, my God!"

Angela rolls her eyes and waves a hand at her husband. "Go ahead."

"Yeah," he laughs. "We did."

"Angela!" Brennan exclaims, crushing her friend in a hug. "When?"

"The night we talked before you and Booth headed off," Angela tells her with a grin. "I guess you guys inspired us."

"Look at that, huh?" Booth beams. "I always said we were an inspiration, Bones." He loops an arm around her shoulders, a little stunned at how good it feels to be free to do that in front of everyone, especially when his partner turns her body into his and slides an arm around his waist, pressing a chuckle into his neck.

Sweets turns from the partners' Public Display of Affection to address Angela. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"We wanted to wait for everyone to be together," Angela explains, with a soft smile. "Especially you, sweetie," she tells Brennan.

Cam claps her hands. "This calls for a double celebration!"

"Yes," Brennan agrees, "champagne. On us." She turns for the bar.

"Us," Hodgins chuckles. "This is going to take some getting used to."

Booth grins. "Nah, give it a week – most natural thing in the world." He watches his partner's retreating form with undisguised interest and Angela chuckles.

"And I thought you two were hot when all that sexual tension was unresolved," she says, with a wicked smirk. "Hoo-boy!"

Booth sighs, but with a smile. "Cut it out, Angela."

"Don't think you and I don't need to have a talk, by the way," Cam tells him suddenly, poking him in the chest with one finger.

"Ow! What – why?"

She mimics, "I'm going on a forensic training course thingy with my squints, Assistant Director Hacker, why don't you ring Cam if you bump into one of them at the Diner and wonder why the hell I'm still AWOL."

Booth winces. "Ooh."

"Yeah, ooh." Cam tries to keep her face stern but it doesn't last long. "You owe me, big time."

"Aw, Cam, come on," he tries, "what are friends for, right? You know I'd do the same for you."

Cam nods, a grin forming. "Uh-huh? The guy asked me on a date. You willing to go that far?"

"Ouch," Booth says.

"Hmm."

"You take payment in chocolate?" he tries.

She pretends to mull it over. "I prefer a check."

Sweets clears his throat. "Uh, Agent Booth?"

Booth's smile dies at the serious look on the kid's face. "Really?" he asks. "We gonna do this now?"

Sweets shakes his head, holding up his hands. "I just wanted to let you know that it is my professional opinion that this relationship will have no impact on your partnership – on the contrary, I can only see it making you stronger."

Booth nods tightly, uncomfortable with discussing this in public, yet grateful for the therapist's assessment. "And Hacker?"

Sweets nods. "Leave him to me."

Booth can't help but laugh at the kid's show of bravado but he cuffs the younger man in the shoulder regardless. "Thanks, Sweets."

"Champagne!" Brennan exclaims, just in time to cover the furious blush creeping across the psychologist's face. She has returned from the bar with two bottles, trailed by a young man with a tray of glasses, which he places carefully on the table they are seated around.

"And it's the good stuff," Hodgins praises.

"Only the best… for the best," Brennan agrees, with a tentative smile.

Booth leans close to murmur in her ear. "How'd you even know that's the best stuff?"

She leans just as close. "I didn't. I asked."

He chuckles, and presses a kiss to her hair. He adores this woman. Angela coos and he shoots her a playful glare, to the amusement of everyone there.

"Hey, it's your favorite part of the evening," he tells Bones fondly, pressing a hand to her back as she leans over to fill the last of their glasses. "Got one of your famous, anthropologically-significant toasts for us?"

She straightens with a glass of her own and looks around at their friends, then holds it up and slides her gaze to his. "To love," she decides, to the flip of his stomach.

"To love," their friends repeat and Brennan sips at the pleasantly dry champagne, letting it fizz happily on her tongue as Booth leans close again, murmuring sweet things in her ear about just who he loves best of all.

~o~

A little later and the party is back in full swing. All around Booth his friends are drinking and laughing and generally reveling in the happy occasion, yet he finds himself subjected to that most dreaded of things, the father-son talk – and the absurdity of receiving such a thing from Max Keenan, of all people, is not lost on him.

"Are we seriously gonna do this? The old fatherly advice?"

Max's blue eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles. "Just humor me, son. I never got to do this when Temperance was a teenager."

Booth chuckles. "If you put it like that…" But he can tell he and Max are thinking the same thing in that instant – that if he'd been there for her, like a father should be, as she struggled through those years after he and her mother abandoned her, then she would have had his protection when life was hard, and she would never have been subjected to the cruelty of the world and the people in it in the way she had.

Max settles a strong hand on Booth's shoulder and, even though both men know he is no physical match for the agent, Booth allows it.

"Now listen to me, son," Max begins gravely, holding his gaze. "You take care of my daughter. If I ever find out you've hurt her, there's a spot on a rooftop waiting for you."

Booth raises an eyebrow. "As far as these kinda talks go I gotta admit you've got the edge." He can't quite keep the humor out of his eyes, he knows, and Max fakes innocence and then a growl.

"You know I'm serious, son."

Booth shakes his head and laughs. "Come on – you know the last thing I'm ever gonna do is hurt her." He sighs. "But you know what? In all seriousness? You're a good father, Max."

Max sobers instantly and steps back. "You have no idea how much that means to me, Booth, coming from you." Booth has nothing to say to that so merely nods, sensing Max has more to say.

The old felon looks away over his shoulder a moment, and Booth knows he is watching his daughter. "I know I have you to thank," he says, eventually. "For Tempe letting me back into her life. I'll never forget that."

Booth nods. "She's better off with her family around her."

Max grips his shoulder again briefly. "Right you are, son." He clears his throat. "Right well, I think it's past my bedtime. I'm an old man now, you know."

Booth chuckles. "Okay."

Max nods with a smile and moves away. "Tell Tempe I said bye, she seems to be busy." Then he turns back and laughs, leaning close with a stage-whisper, "Hey, you know where to find me when you want to ask for her hand."

Booth grins. "I think we both know Bones better than that, don't we, Max?" Because, joke or not, even if Bones would marry him some day - if he was ever that goddamn lucky - he sure as hell knows better than to ask her father's permission. He prefers his balls attached to his body, thank you very much.

Max laughs and shakes his head, heading for the door. Booth finishes his drink in quiet contemplation. His thoughts wander once again to The Letter, and now to his promise to Max, never to hurt Bones. Their conversation may have been mostly jokey, but about that he has very serious intentions indeed.

Hurting Bones is just not an option.

~o~

Daisy Sweets' eyes are bright when she traps Brennan at the corner of the bar. "Dr. Brennan," she squeaks. "I know it's a special night, but I simply cannot wait to talk to you about the Maluku Island project – you have heard it's going ahead, right?"

At her words, Brennan feels the same slight twinge of regret she felt both when she first heard about the project, and when she subsequently turned down the offer to lead it. "Yes," she says carefully.

"You're going?" Daisy asks, with the kind of question that isn't really a question. Brennan realizes the younger woman expects nothing less of someone in her position. The discoveries on the island have already proven exciting beyond an anthropologist's wildest dreams.

She sighs. "I am not."

Daisy's brow crinkles into a startled frown as she looks up at her. "Because of Agent Booth? Because I'm sure he wouldn't want to hold you back."

"Booth is not holding me back," Brennan protests, wishing Daisy would leave her alone. "Did you bring this up because you hope to be included?" she asks, hoping to draw the younger woman away with her favorite topic of conversation – herself.

"I already have been included," Daisy says, proudly. "You wrote my reference."

Brennan blinks. "It was generic. I didn't realize it was for that project."

"Isn't it exciting?" Daisy nearly shrieks, drawing the attention of the others at the table.

Brennan steps between her and Booth so he won't overhear, but catches his eye in the process. He appears to be engaged in conversation with her father, but takes a moment to shoot her a quick smile that she returns. Satisfied that his attention is elsewhere, she addresses her young intern. "How long do you plan to go for?"

Daisy grins. "The whole year."

Brennan frowns. "What about Lance-a-lot…uh… Dr. Sweets?"

Daisy nods. "He was disappointed at first, but he understands that anthropology is my passion, Dr. Brennan!" She clutches her hands to her breast like a Jane Austen heroine and sighs. "And Lance is going to visit me lots. It'll be hard to be apart, but we will be okay," she adds, so sure of herself. It makes Brennan feel inexplicably sad.

"Anyway," Daisy says, brightening. "I had hoped you would be going. But I guess they'll find someone else. It won't be the same without you, though, Dr. Brennan." She smiles a sad little smile and steps around Brennan, leaving her standing frozen by the bar, unable to organize her suddenly rushing thoughts.

~o~

Their drive home is mostly silent, each of them lost under the weight of their own thoughts, but the connection between them remains. Her hand rests on his thigh, thumb stroking idly as she watches but doesn't really see the passing lights of the city out her window. Her minds-eye insists upon blocking out the concrete jungle in favor of the real hot-humid-and-leafy one - complete with groundbreaking finds, both literal and anthropological.

His larger hand envelops hers and remains there for the rest of the drive, but his mind is also elsewhere. Lost in a replay of formal, typewritten attempts at military persuasion. The pros vs cons list that he can't help but make in his head is still heavily skewed towards con, in large part due to the woman beside him.

He squeezes her hand as they near her place and she turns to face him, head resting against the seatback. "I want you to stay."

He gives her a smile in return, though his blood chills a bit with the potential double meaning of her words. Lifting her knuckles to his lips, he slows to make the turn into the parking area.

They enter her apartment and he makes sure the door is secure, before allowing her to lead him down the hallway to her room. Together they prepare for bed as if it is the most natural thing. They clean their teeth over the same sink, and as she's brushing through her hair, he palms her hip and moves past her into the bedroom. He undresses to his boxers, folding his clothes over the chair and sliding into bed, the assembly of thoughts resuming... until she enters the room.

He watches uninhibitedly as she moves naked before him, opens a drawer and slips into a silk pajama set. The pale blue camisole and shorts carry an air of simplicity and innocence, perfectly matching her soft smile as she crawls in beside him. He can't help but touch her, welcome her, his hands smoothing across her shoulder and down her side, the transition between skin and silk nearly indiscernible.

Brennan cups Booth's face and kisses him gently, then tucks her head into the space between his chin and shoulder, inhaling - his solid safety and warmth - and exhaling deeply - her worry, indecision and concern. If only it were that easy.

He kisses her hair and focuses on clearing his mind. On breathing. It's so easy to do when she's beside him, each lungful full of her. Inhale. Exhale. In and out. Cleansing. Full.

"I saw you speaking with my father." Her whispered words blanket his expanded chest.

Exhale. "Yes."

Her warm palm rests lightly on the skin and muscle above his diaphragm. They feel the rise (inhale) and fall (exhale) together.

Inhale. "And?"

Exhale. "Your Dad loves you, Bones. He just wanted to make sure I knew that."

Inhale. "So it was the anthropological, 'What are your intentions with my daughter,' conversation."

Exhale. "Not in those exact words, but yeah. He knows I love you. He has for a long time now."

He rolls and pulls her atop him (inhale), kissing her nose and wrapping his arms around her (exhale). "Now can we please not talk about your dad in bed?"

She pulls back and their eyes connect and hold. In the dim light, they are together on so many levels - and yet they are each holding something back. To the point where their focus blinds them to the fact that the other is dealing with the same thing.

This love that they make, with tender kisses and light caresses - it's more about giving than receiving. It's not urgent, yet still contains hints of desperation they feel no need to hide. Thorough exploration, loving touches, and yet through it all, without speaking a word aloud, without losing an inch of the hard-fought-for balance that defines their relationship, they still feel a heavy weight between them. Both think it's their own worries they are allowing to get in the way. And both decide they need to push them aside and be what the other needs for tonight.

They do their best to make the other feel their love as a palpable thing filling the minute spaces between them and as it expands, with nowhere else to go, it enters them, from one to the other, him filling her, her filling him.

And in that moment he doesn't see how he could possibly be without her. He thinks about how it would be if he did leave, did go to Afghanistan. He feels a whole new level of connection with her, and as she responds to him, he sees she's just as needy as he is. Just as desperate. In this moment, nothing is more important. Nothing.

This is deeper - she can't stop thinking about how much she'd miss him, miss this, if she accepted the invitation to the Maluku project and was gone for a year. She thinks of them in separate places, different worlds, and it hurts; a literal, physical ache. She pulls him closer and, no matter how irrational it may be, thinks about never letting go.

And when they lay together, spent, their heavy exhalations mingling, their limbs still entangled, neither makes an attempt to move. They cling to one another, to this relationship, to them. If they could only know the true depth of this, how closely their thoughts are mirrored. How to make it all work out...

Instead, they hold to the memory of the past week and how everything seemed so much easier, so much more manageable when they were still a secret.

~o~

On Saturday morning, Booth finds himself a Jeffersonian widower. He drives home to wash and change and do the laundry he'd left waiting, but as soon as he's through with those tasks he is at a loss. He sits on his couch without his partner, and tries to distract himself from thinking about The Letter. He watches SportsCenter until the same news rolls around on repeat. He walks through each room making a mental list of what he can and can't stand to throw out when he moves in with Bones, but even that prospect can't cheer him. He vacuums Parker's room clean of stray cheerios, is inspired to eat two bowls of cereal and immediately does two hundred crunches to make up for it.

When he finally finds he can put it off no longer he pulls The Letter from between the copies of her books he loves so much and puts it on the table. He eyes the plain white envelope sitting there and thinks about the best way to tell her about it without freaking her out. Once he thinks he finally has a plan he grabs his keys, weapon and jacket and heads out the door.

The lab is quiet again, not even the most dedicated of squints works on a Saturday; no-one besides his squint. He thinks she hasn't noticed him arrive until she speaks without looking up from the bones before her.

"I thought I wouldn't see you until this evening."

He moves close and props himself against the edge of the examination table. "Guess I missed you." He doesn't smile.

Brennan frowns, nudging him away from the table with her hip. She snaps off her gloves. "You want to have some coffee upstairs? I was just going to take a break."

"A break?" He smirks. "Who are you and what have you done with my partner?" At her utterly puzzled expression he sighs. "Coffee would be great."

The lab below is quiet but light. The sun streaming in through the high windows of the atrium catches not a speck of dust in the sterile air. Booth leans on the cool metal of the railing as Bones makes the coffee at the counter behind him.

"Here," she says at last, and he turns to find she is already sitting at the comfy couch that rings the small area, waiting for him.

"Are you okay?" she asks, once he has settled beside her and taken his first sip.

"Yeah."

"You seem pre-occupied."

His hand catches at the back of his neck and he sighs, digging into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. "I have something to show you," he admits, laying the letter on the table in front of her.

She eyes it cautiously. "What is it?"

"Open it, Bones." He puts a hand on her wrist as she reaches for it. "But before you do, you should know I already said no."

Now her frown really deepens, and she snatches the letter up, opening it and reading it quickly. "They want you to go to Afghanistan? To train new recruits?"

It is physically impossible, but as she reads the words before her over-and-over, Brennan feels like her heart has dropped somewhere near her knees.

Booth's fingers wrap around her wrist and he tugs the letter from her grasp with his other hand. "I said no," he repeats.

"Why?" she asks, looking up and into his eyes.

He pulls a face. "What do you mean, why? You want me to go?"

She shakes her head quickly. "Absolutely not. Quite apart from the fact that I have no desire to be apart from you, returning to the Army – to train soldiers to kill as you have, no less-"

"Jeez, Bones-"

"-is a terrible idea."

He smirks. "Terrible?"

She nods sincerely. She's quite sure he wouldn't seriously consider it. She knows only too well the cost of his military career to him. Unless… "Do you feel it is your duty to return?"

Booth sighs and pushes back on the couch, slipping the letter back into the white envelope she pulled it from and tossing it on the table. "I think I paid my dues," he murmurs.

She reaches out and covers one of his hands with her own. "So do I."

He smiles, and leans in to press a kiss to her hair, before reaching for his coffee and taking a sip. "So there you go. I should have told you last night, it's kinda been bothering me, but I needed time to think."

Brennan thinks about the Maluku Islands, and she understands. "Did any part of you want to go?" she asks, quietly.

Booth meets her eyes steadily, his as warm and reassuring as ever. "No. I've got too much to lose. You know?"

She nods, feeling a rising panic that he's going to hate her when she tells him what she's decided. That he's going to be hurt because it will seem like she is making the exact opposite choice he just has. But she isn't, not really… she hopes he'll see that, hopes he'll let her talk long enough to understand.

"Hey, what's up?" he asks, shifting closer so their thighs press warmly side-by-side, and brushing his thumb against her cheek, his palm against her face.

She has no idea where to start, so she chooses the beginning. "I have also been handed an… opportunity."

He says nothing, but she watches his features slacken a very small amount. She has no idea when she got so good at reading his face that she notices this tell-tale sign of the dread she's sure he's suddenly feeling. She decides to employ his tactic. "Before I go any further, I am not leaving you," she tells him and he sits back, nodding his head reflexively but still looking terrified.

"So what is it?"

She proceeds to tell him – probably in more detail than is strictly necessary, if the look on his face throughout is anything to go by – all about the Maluku Islands project, about the incredible nature of the find and what it means for her field.

He listens quietly until she is done, then scrubs a hand over his mouth. "They want you to head it up, huh?"

She nods. "It's a great honor. But more than that – I want to be in on this, Booth. It's – it's incredible!"

"How long?"

"They want me for a year."

He sucks in his cheeks in shock. "A year? Bones, don't ask me to be apart from you for a year, there's no freaking way."

She wonders briefly if it is wrong to be thrilled by the dark look on his face and the conviction in his tone, then she smiles tentatively. "I've told them three months, and-"

He nods, but he still looks a little like he wants to cry. "Okay, three months. We – we can do three months, right? It's not long at all. There'll be email and phone calls, right? You'll have a phone?"

"The project is very well funded. I expect the technology available will be exemplary, but Booth-"

"Nah it's – it's okay, Bones. I'll cope." He takes her hands in his and she has more to say but she's captivated by the look on his face. "You know, your passion for your work. It's one of the first things I ever loved about you."

He can't possibly know what it means to hear him say that, and Brennan is lost for words for a long moment, her eyes pricking with tears. "Thank you, Booth. It means a huge amount to me that you would be okay with me going."

"Would be okay?"

He doesn't miss a trick. She smiles. "It is not my intention to go alone."

"You taking a squintern?"

"Actually yes, Daisy also has a place on the project, but-"

"Daisy? Oh man, she is going to drive you nuts, you'll wring her neck within a week."

Brennan pokes him in the chest. "Booth!"

"Ow, what was that for?"

"You're not listening."

"I'm listening just fine."

"I mean – I have more to say and you're… I planned how I was going to ask and now it's all gone awry."

He chuckles. "Awry?"

Insufferable man. She takes a deep breath and lets the words tumble out in a rush. "I want you to come with me."

Booth stares. "To Ma-ka-poo-poo?"

She rolls her eyes. "Maluku."

"Me? Come on one of your digs?"

She shrugs. "Why not?"

"What would I do?"

"Nothing – everything. Be there with me."

He smiles, wide and beautiful, and tugs her against him. "Yes."

She grins and pulls back to kiss him hard. "You will? And you're sure? Will Hacker allow it?"

He wants to kiss her again, for surprising him, for needing him… for not calling Hacker 'Andrew'. Instead he shrugs. "I'll take a leave of absence. I think we're owed a little slack, and it's not like my partner will be around anyway."

She laughs, delighted. "You'll be bored."

He leers at her and grins. "No I won't."

She chuckles. "They do need someone to set up the security at the site – I suggested you might be the right man for the job."

"Oh, okay, now I see. You just want me for my badge." He sits back, patting the thing fondly. "Nothing to do with missing me at all, is it?"

She glares playfully at him and stands to clear away the coffees they barely touched. "It's everything to do with missing you," she tells him seriously when he joins her at the counter. "I told you, I have no desire to be apart from you, but I can't miss out on this."

"I know," he tells her, wrapping his arms around her and pressing his forehead to hers. "I wouldn't want you to. But I am very, very happy you want me there with you."

She's not sure she knows the words she needs to articulate just how right he is, just how much she does want him there, so she settles for showing him instead, wrapping her arms around him and not letting go for a very long time.

~o~

Two months later…

Cool water laps at Brennan's ankles as she watches the sun sink behind dark clouds drifting at the horizon. The heat and over-bearing humidity of the day is replaced, here at the ocean's edge, with a whisper of a breeze and she tips her head back, stretching muscles aching from repetitive strain and smelling the wood smoke from the fire at the camp. Her stomach rumbles, reminding her that she has worked non-stop since Daisy brought her a light lunch before noon.

Thinking of work reminds her that she wanted to finish cataloging the new remains they excavated that morning and she begins a mental check-list to just that end as she turns back toward the camp, but runs immediately into a warm, solid body.

Booth smiles, his teeth white in the dying light and against tanned skin. "Stop working," he chides, pressing a finger to her forehead.

She smiles tiredly. "There's so much to do."

He nods. "And so lots of time. Come on, Tri said to tell you dinner is ready."

"I am hungry," she concedes, looping an arm through his as she replaces her sandals and allows him to tug her up the rough little beach and back to the track that leads to their camp.

"Yeah," he agrees, "ancient hominids can wait 'til tomorrow. Right now it's hamburgers all the way."

She raises an eyebrow. "You got your burgers?"

"Tri picked them up in Jakarta." He rubs his hands together in delight.

She shakes her head. "Philistine American, that's what he'll be calling you."

"Don't care, totally worth it."

"Booth," she murmurs, pulling on his arm until he stops and turns to face her.

"Yeah?"

"I was thinking, before, at the beach."

He nods, smoothing a hand down her arm.

"We've been here a month today."

He does the mental calculation and grins. "Hey, you're right – we should celebrate." He waggles his eyebrows and she rolls her eyes.

"All that about day-by-day, week-by-week," she tells him. "It makes little sense when we've been sharing a tent for a month – when we plan to live together when we return to D.C."

Booth wraps his arms around her and pulls her into a hug, his voice close to her ear. "Hey, Bones, you don't need to put a label on it – let's just be, yeah? We seem to be managing okay so far."

She pulls away and presses a hand to his cheek, his island-cultivated stubble rough against her palm. "Yes, we do."

She leans in and kisses him, losing herself in the moment. She likes his no-labels plan.

Forever is a much less scary word, when you don't say it out loud.

FIN.


A/N: Well, folks - that's it! We'd like to take this opportunity to thank each and every person who stuck with this story, especially those who reviewed and kept us going.

For the entire 106 days we've been writing this, it's been nothing but fun - and since that's the only thing TT and I truly set out to accomplish, we feel this partnership is a success. We hope you'll follow us and stay tuned for our future endeavors!