A/N: Heartfelt thanks to Faux Maven for her beta help and patience! Thanks to Temper Temper and Anne Nonymous for encouragement and inspiration. Side note to cathmarchr: there's a little something in here for especially you, bloss - miss you! ;P

This is pure fluff - hope you enjoy :D

Disclaimer: The only thing I own is my soul, and I even lend that out on occasion, but only if you ask nice. Anything that even looks familiar in this story probably belongs to someone else (except the actual story - that's all mine, Mine, MINE [*maniacal laughter*]!)


Spice Trade: The Epilogue


Booth let the pads of his fingers rest lightly on the clear acrylic shield that formed a protective barrier around the boulder-sized sculpture. On one level, he appreciated that the artist appeared to be trying to convey some sort of inner struggle, but on the other hand it looked just like a big rock with some polished bits. The concourse at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport thrummed with people, some of them coming, some of them going, some of them just there to enjoy the art exhibit that changed every few months. Booth was there just trying to stay calm.

Brennan's flight was delayed and the customer service agents weren't willing to guess when – or even if – it would be landing in Atlanta. Two storm fronts had collided over Utah, forcing the plane to reroute around the wall of turbulence and there was even a chance the plane would be diverted to another airport. Booth pressed his lips together, irritation eating into his calm facade. For ten thousand miles and thirty-one and a half hours the plane had managed to stay on track and on schedule, and she gets delayed in US air space. His heart plummeted to his gut as a terrible thought occurred to him: what if she hadn't even gotten on the plane? He hadn't heard a word since the satellite link-up, apart from a message passed to him via DFMWR Admin with the flight details. But that was a good sign, right? He pushed himself away from the clear plastic wall, watching the film of moisture left by his fingertips ebb back into nothing.

A family of four finished their lunch and vacated a nearby bench, shedding taco crumbs as they left. Booth sprawled onto the meager seat cushions gratefully. If he stretched his neck a little to the left he could still see the screen with arrival and departure information. Over his right shoulder he just caught the moving walkway that disgorged weary travelers onto the concourse. No way would he miss her from here. His leg jiggled nervously and he took a deep breath, exhaling on a sigh. God, he hoped this went well.

He'd had three days to work himself into a lather of anxiety, wondering whether Brennan had changed her mind. Turns out one day would have been plenty enough time for his apprehension to overtake his anticipation. He'd spent most of the time trying to tamp down his expectations. He knew she loved him, he just knew it, but the next few days … God only knew what would happen between them. He swore to himself that he'd take it easy; let things play out as they would …

Booth let his head fall back, irritation creasing his brow. He did a double take as he saw a line of football-sized ants ascending a column, and his eyes followed their static trail across the ceiling incredulously until he realised they were cast metal and somebody's idea of art. He shut his eyes on the quirky exhibit with an ill-humored grunt, letting the cacophony that surrounded him back off until it was just a rumbling murmur. The muscles across his shoulders were corded with tension and he drew on an old sniper trick, tensing and relaxing each muscle group until his whole body was at ease. It worked too well and his eyes drifted closed, his edginess from the last couple of days finally catching up with him. He catnapped lightly; a soldier waiting, his senses on hold.

He was dreaming of picnics and laughter and Brennan's hair spread out across the blanket … and humongous ants. Something tickled his nose. His eyes snapped open.

"Hey." Her breath fanned his face.

"Bones? You're here."

"Where else would I be? I just flew in from Indonesia. Or, more accurately, Denpasar then Singapore then Tokyo and now here." She had dark circles under her eyes that contrasted dramatically against the blue grey of her irises, making them almost too bright to look at. Booth was rooted to the spot, his mouth gaping slightly; her pedantic self-correction barely registering on his astonished brain. Brennan frowned at him: she'd been hoping for a little more enthusiasm. "Booth?"

"No – I mean -" Booth gathered his senses, shooting to his feet and almost knocking her over in the process. His eyes danced over her crumpled clothes and untidy hair, checking arms and legs and finding her whole, before finally landing on her face. He drank in her familiar features eagerly, a grin splitting his face. They stood a few inches apart, each unable to break away from the other's gaze, both a little shy of one another. Slowly Brennan's lips curled delicately into a smile and the impasse was shattered as they fell into each other, reacting to a force more compelling than gravity.

"Temperance." He folded her into his embrace, his heart constricted by the depth of emotion he felt. She was really here. She was really here. She felt thin, almost insubstantial, until her arms reached over his back, returning his embrace, and the wiry strength of them reassured him. Brennan laid her cheek against his neck, and he felt the moist warmth of tears. "Bones?" His voice held a soft question and she nuzzled further into him without answering. "What's this, tears from my logical, rational scientist?" He teased her gently, barely getting the words past the lump in his throat.

She lifted her face then, her eyes still wet, and trailed whisper soft kisses along his jawline, but when she reached the corner of his mouth she stopped. Booth didn't even realize he'd been holding his breath, but when she hesitated, just for that second, he felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. "Don't you dare stop, Temperance Brennan. You're killing me."

"That's physiologically impossible," she growled against his lips. "Sexual frustration is not life threatening."

"It is if it's between you and me." He tightened his grip on her, crushing her torso against his chest, and this time she was the one who was left breathless. She watched in fascination as his smile deepened into a grimace and when he spoke his voice broke on a soft moan. "I've been on a slow burn for I don't know how long. If you don't kiss me soon, I will die of wanting you." Finally she slid her mouth across his, her lips soft and full, trembling against his. He kissed her long and hard and she wound her fingers around the back of his neck and pulled him closer, at the same time running her other hand down the centre of his back. He could feel the fullness of her breasts pressing insistently against his chest. Oh God. With a jolt he realised that she wasn't wearing a bra and the knowledge sent him into a spin. They both lost themselves in sensation, forgetting where they were for a long moment. It was Booth who pulled back first, reluctantly, muttering something incoherent about still being in public.

Brennan let her hands slide down his chest, palms flat as though she was trying to memorize the contours of his flesh beneath the fabric of his uniform. Her fingers snagged on the breast pockets and she traced the letters of his name with one finger, frowning at the black stenciled characters as if they were cuneiform that she had to translate. "I've missed you." She kept her eyes downcast, her lashes shielding their expression.

Booth swallowed hard. "Me too, Bones, me too. There were times I wasn't sure that I'd ever see you again."

Her eyes shot to his. "That was never in doubt, Booth. Regardless of how much distance we put between us I've known for a long time that I would always want you to be a permanent part of my life, in whatever capacity that had to be. There's always been something between us that's unique – something that I've never felt with any other person. For so long that confused me. I -" again she dropped her gaze, "I have found it difficult to accept that I might need anyone else in my life."

Booth was touched to hear her say those things; he was reminded again of how far Brennan had come, not only in distance but in personal growth. He wanted to tell her it would be fine, that everything was going to be okay, but he held his tongue. He knew the road ahead might be rocky – they held such different views of the world - but she was here now and that was all that mattered.

"When you wrote and told me they were sending you back to the States, my first thought was that you would be disappointed. I know you saw your duty as being in Afghanistan, training men on the front line, saving lives." She gave him a look that melted his heart. "But objectively I wasn't sorry. I was relieved that you were going to be safe, out of the line of fire. The whole time you were over there, all I could think of was how you would never change; you'd always be the hero. I needed to know that you were safe and that you'd be there, as you always have been, for me." She went on haltingly, "If there's one thing that I learned from all of this it's that, although it doesn't make sense on any scientific level, you and I are - " Here she struggled for words to express what was, to her, still an alien concept.

"Soul mates?" he asked, only half joking.

Brennan smiled wryly at him but chose not to dispute his suggestion. "Angela said something to me when I left Washington. She said she hoped I'd find something that changed my perception of what it means to be human. I just now realised she didn't mean Homo flurensiensis. She meant you … us."

"Angela is a very wise woman."

"No doubt she will take a great deal of pleasure in reminding you of that fact when we're back home in DC." Back home in DC. Her words brought them gently back to the present and nudged them ever so slightly into their future. They shared a look of awareness that unnerved them both.

Booth watched the expression in Brennan's eyes shift from wariness to warmth and then morph into something approaching wantonness. A smile crossed her face but still he was unprepared for what she said next.

"Are we going to stand here all day, or are we going to find a hotel? I have a letter in my purse that posits a large number of scenarios and it seems logical to get a start on those without delay." She was already gathering her things, her eyes sparkling. "How much time do we have before you go back on duty?"

Booth should have known better than to be surprised by her bluntness, but he didn't need any more encouragement. "C'mon, it's all taken care of. I've got a three day pass before the new intakes arrive." He smiled. "And I've got somewhere way better than a hotel." He ignored her questioning look, grabbing her wrist with one hand and her backpack with the other. "Is this all you've got?" At her nod he set out determinedly, leading her through the crowded concourse like a man on a mission, which of course is exactly what he was.

~o0o~

Brennan was looking around with interest, watching the sprawling suburbs of Columbus flash by as they got closer to their destination.

She'd dozed on and off for most of the long drive back to Fort Benning, chatting in a desultory fashion about inconsequential things whenever Booth spoke to her. As if by tacit agreement they skirted the big issues, happy just to be together. She fell into a light doze an hour or so out of Atlanta, not even noticing when Booth turned the radio on low, letting the soft music lull her even further into sleep.

Now she spotted a checkpoint up ahead and squinted in the glare of the late afternoon sun, trying to read the sign: Fort Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence. She could just make out the shape of a tall tower, and see the insect-like figures of the parachutists practicing their trade on the far side of the sprawling military installation. The unmistakable pop, pop, pop of automatic rifle fire reached her ears then, the discordant sound muffled by distance.

"So that's Fort Benning? It's very … big." She craned her neck to look further down the wide avenue that led to the Infantry Hall, curiosity about this other life Booth had been leading without her lending eagerness to her voice. He couldn't help smiling at the back of her head, her ponytail swinging this way and that as she tried to take in everything. "What's that statue?"

"You mean Iron Mike?" Booth used the affectionate nickname for the 'Follow Me' statue that represented the infantry presence on the base. A second later it disappeared from sight as he drove past the checkpoint and along the base perimeter.

"Is that the name of a general or some high ranking official who has distinguished himself in war?"

"Nuh-uh. Not exactly." He kept driving, keeping an eye on the street names. "All those kind of statues are called Iron Mike. It's a thing."

Brennan smiled quizzically, but let it go. "Where are we going?" She placed a careless hand high on Booth's thigh, and wondered idly why the car veered a little from its path. She looked at him with mild curiosity but he kept his eyes front and center and refrained from comment.

He cleared his throat, letting the hint of a secretive smile play around his mouth. "You'll see. Look for 101st Airborne Road." Brennan made out the road and they turned into it, following a wide arc. The housing became more spread out until it gave way to open scrub. Booth turned one last time and pulled up at another gateway. There was a sign out the front: Uchee Creek Army Campground & Marina.

"We're going … camping?" Brennan's tone was doubtful.

"Trust me on this, Bones. You're going to love it." He was obviously excited at the prospect and she bit down on her disappointment; all those months under canvas in Maluku had left her longing for a comfortable bed and a proper bath. Booth jumped out of the rental and went into the country store that served as the office. She looked around in dismay at the motor homes and tents crowding the immediate area and then smiled ruefully. Did it really matter where they were, as long as she was with Booth? She relaxed back into the car seat, tiredness threatening to overwhelm her again.

Brennan was vaguely aware of the car moving but didn't actually stir until Booth placed a gentle hand of her shoulder. "We're here."

She looked around; gone were the tents and RVs and the noise of other campers. Booth had pulled the car up at a log cabin, a covered deck skirting each side. The only sounds she could hear were the tick of the cooling engine and the churr-churr-brrrt of a woodpecker calling to its mate. A lazy breeze shifted the Southern pines in time with its call.

"Booth, this is beautiful." Surprise skirted the edges of her voice.

"I told you. Didn't I tell you?" He rubbed his hands together with glee and led her up the front stairs and around to the wide deck at the back. A series of splashes drew their eyes to the water that lapped at the shore of the river and they watched as a blue heron soared above them, it's neck bent for flight in the shape of an 's' and its wings outstretched five or six feet.

Brennan laughed with delight. "It's all so lovely. I know it isn't an accurate statement because I just saw other campers, but it feels like we have it all to ourselves." She slipped her arm around his waist, enjoying the thrill of possessiveness that surged through her. It was still a novelty to have this level of casual contact legitimized. "How did you find this place?"

"It's the jewel of Muscogee County, Bones. One of the Army's better kept secrets."

"The Army?"

"The camp is mostly used by families visiting their soldiers." He threw an arm around her shoulders and pulled her gently into him as he said it. "Like you."

"Are you saying that I am your family, Booth?"

"Yes." He kept his eyes on the water while he waited for her response.

"Good." With a satisfied nod she led the way into dark interior of the cabin. The large open plan living room was spotless and welcoming. A faint hum confirmed that someone had been here and turned on the air conditioning so that the interior was comfortably cool. There was a bunch of flowers – daisies – in a jam jar on the kitchen counter and another on the casual table; a posy shoved uncomfortably into a large coffee mug. A bag of groceries on the counter and half a dozen thick towels on a side bench. Several bottles of her favorite red wine were racked nearby. There were touches everywhere that spoke of his thoughtfulness. She turned to Booth and smiled with pleasure.

He felt a little self-conscious. "I wanted to, you know, make you feel welcome."

She came to him then and wound her arms around his neck. "I feel very welcomed." She tilted her head slightly, unconsciously offering her lips to him, and he took up her offer. They clung together for timeless moments, mapping by touch what they'd each spent years trying to memorize from a distance.

"I was really worried you wouldn't turn up, you know." Booth finally confessed.

Brennan's brows drew together, concerned that he had been worried, that she had left any doubt in his mind. "Booth, you should know me by now – once I make up my mind about something I rarely see the need to reverse that opinion." She raised herself up on her toes and nibbled at his ear, absorbing the clean scent of him that always helped restore her equilibrium.

"Bones, I need to get something off my chest." She shifted slightly, resettling her body to align more closely with his. "That night at your apartment, when we … got together … I'm sorry I just left the way I did." He'd replayed that scene over and over in his head so much it still felt like yesterday. He wasn't proud of the way he'd acted, but he recognized it was simple self preservation that had sent him running.

"Booth, no, don't be sorry. It was the right thing to do. I was … we were -" The rational anthropologist was flustered, remembering the frantic, primal heat that passed between them just before they'd parted ways all those months ago. She fell back on old habits and tried to smokescreen her discomfiture with science. "It was merely a neuroendocrine response to situational stimuli. We were both heading into dangerous environments and thus it was a time of heightened emotional construct. Studies have shown conclusively -"

Booth wasn't going to play that game anymore. "Do you really believe that? Do you believe that you and I fucking like that, like we were trying to crawl inside each other, meant nothing other than some animalistic response, brain chemicals, whatever?" There was something that felt righteous about needling her like this, forcing an answer. Damn if he was going to let her retreat into that comfortably familiar haze of denial she liked to take refuge in whenever he asked the hard questions.

Her hands stilled in their exploration of his back. She felt his tension through her fingertips and sensed the import of the moment, but she didn't know how to give him the answer he wanted. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this, so she only had one way to deal with it; honestly.

"No." The word was merely a husky whisper on the air that Booth had to bend his head to hear.

He pushed a little harder. "So, what did it mean? Tell me, Bones, what did it mean?"

Brennan found her eyes filming with moisture and she steeled herself to look up at him, directing her unwavering gaze straight into his soul. "Everything." The word tumbled out of her mouth despite the barrier of her brain and stunned them both.

Booth groaned at the raw emotion in her eyes and silently thanked God this gamble had paid off. He watched the dawning realization spread across her features.

"Everything, Booth." Her face shone with wonder at the truth of her statement. She grinned widely, for the first time in her life accepting without question the paradigm shift her heart had just made.

He let out a whoop of joy and lifted her up, swinging her around. Their lips met and the passion they shared flared instantly into a firestorm of lust.

"I can't wait any longer." Brennan's voice was frayed, her hands scrabbling at his jacket front as she toed off her boots. "How the hell do these things open?" She got her fingernails under the Velcro front closure and pulled it undone with a deeply satisfying ripping noise. The zipper slipped open on its own as she pulled the two sides of his jacket apart. She splayed her hands over his chest, eliciting a muffled groan that deepened when she pulled the soft sand colored tee shirt from the waistband of his cargo pants and followed the trail of her fingers with her mouth.

Booth smoothed her hair with one hand as the tension burst across his groin and he felt the muscles across his chest and abdomen ping in response to the impatient ministrations of her lips and teeth. He wanted so much to touch every part of her but he was almost overwhelmed by a feverish hunger that left him weak. God, it felt so good to be here, with Bones. Making love. His hands found their way to her breasts, teasing him through the fabric of her shirt, and she broke contact long enough to shrug off the light cotton jacket she'd worn all day. When he felt and saw her nipples through the thin knit of her sleeveless top, something snapped inside him.

With a groan he pushed her gently backwards onto the sofa, letting himself down slowly until he was crouched on the floor between her bent knees. She was watching his every move with an anticipatory gleam in her eye; a slight smile curved her lips. Booth pulled blindly at the toggles on his boots and slipped them off, tossing them to one side. She ran her tongue along her top teeth and adrenaline coursed through him at the sight. Its trail left a fine tremor in his hands as he reached out to touch her. He took a deep breath, willing himself to slow down. With deliberate movements he placed his palms on her thighs, smoothing the creases from her lightweight jeans, running his hands upwards and feeling the long muscles of her legs jump in response to his touch. He felt the heat of her through the lightweight fabric and he was mesmerized.

"You never cease to amaze me. You're so utterly beautiful, it terrifies me."

Brennan's laugh was uncertain and the fingers of one hand touched the neckline of her top absently. "I scare you?"

"Through and through, right to the bone." He grinned at her, making sure she knew he was joking. He ran his hands under her top, up and around her diaphragm, relishing the soft, warm sweep of the underside of her breasts against the backs of his hands as he explored further. "Hmm, soft and yielding underneath." Her breath caught and held, waiting for him to continue his journey upwards, but instead he swept his palms across her back and downwards. "Strong, but … I don't know … kind of fragile at the same time." His fingers came to rest on her hips; he was blown away by how tiny she felt under the wide span of his hands. He played with the button at the waist of her jeans with his thumbs, all the while studying her face. His temperate exploration was abruptly halted when Brennan grabbed his wrists, the sound of her breathing ragged and rasping in response to his touch.

"I won't break, Booth." She pulled him forward roughly and caught his torso between her thighs, startling him with the amount of pressure she managed to exert against his ribs. Her touch on his face when she cradled his cheek with her hand was feather soft in contrast. "Will you?"

The blood pounded in his head at the challenge those two words held and he lost the power of speech. All at once her hands were everywhere; touching, grasping, feeling. She slipped her arms around his neck, urging him up and closer and he let himself fall into her softness.

"Am I still scary?" she wanted to know, her teeth nipping tender places under his chin that sent him wild, before drawing his face down to hers. She focused her attention on his lips, unable to tear her eyes away from the shape of his mouth, a mouth she'd watched express so many emotions over all those years. She pressed her lips against his, her searching kiss eloquently expressing her hunger and need.

Booth returned the pressure of her mouth eagerly, running his tongue along the sensitive inner edge of her upper lip, his hands threaded through her hair. Her groan in response was his reward. He pulled back and smiled at her fondly. "Never more so. You're a total threat to my sanity."

She paused and looked at him through heavy lidded eyes. "I don't believe that you mean that literally, but I'm not so sure."

"It means, Dr Temperance Bones Brennan, that I will go totally nuts if you don't come to bed with me soon."

Brennan's smile widened, her face alight with pleasure. "That's an acceptable course of action." She let Booth pull her to her feet but then twisted in his arms, taking the lead. She held on to his hand with both of hers, spinning around towards the closest bedroom and pulling him behind her. He stumbled slightly, surprised by her strength. He had a feeling that there were going to be plenty of surprises tonight and he couldn't wipe the grin from his face at the thought.

They tumbled onto the bed, sending pillows flying, their laughter and delight at being together echoing through the rooms. Brennan straddled his hips, pinning him down as she peeled off her top. He matched her move and stripped his tee shirt off, eager to feel her, flesh against flesh. He took his time admiring the heavy fullness of her breasts and ran his hands slowly down her sides to her hips. Brennan's eyes drifted half-closed at his touch and she flexed her back as his hands moved across her ass. His erection pressed against her and she leaned towards him, her breasts grazing his chest, and he groaned as the movement of her hips caused him actual pain. She made a small impatient noise when she felt the hardness of his arousal and her hands scrabbled at the webbing belt of his uniform.

"Just wait, Tem." He placed his large hands over her smaller ones, trying to still their frenetic movement, but she pushed him away roughly.

"I don't want to wait." Brennan was breathing hard, as if she'd run a marathon. She frowned, concentrating on her task. "I've waited too long." With a few deft movements of her fingers she flipped the clasp of his belt and attacked the button at the waist of his trousers, staring almost dumbly at it when the fly stayed firmly closed.

"There's a drawstring, Tem." Booth leaned back and put his hands beneath his head, feigning far more restraint than he actually felt. In reality his skin burned at the merest glancing touch of her fingers, but the prospect of those talented fingers going to work on his clothes kept him still. "Drawstrings on the cuffs as well." Smug satisfaction colored his tone; her fervor both amused and excited him but this time he was damn sure they were going to take things nice and slow. The intricacies of his uniform seemed to be the only thing that was stalling her at the moment.

"Oh, of course." She went to untie the knot but her hands stilled, hovering over her target. "Wait, what did you call me?"

"Tem." He ran his hands down her arms, tensing slightly. The diminutive of her name had just slipped out from his subconscious; Tem had inhabited his dreams since he'd met her, every bit as much as Bones had occupied his days. "Don't you like it?"

"No one's ever called me that." She tipped her head to one side as she contemplated it and then she smiled at him, her eyes wide. "Actually I like it very much. Almost as much as when you call me Bones."

Booth relaxed, the warmth of her smile reassuring him. "I thought you hated that?"

"I accepted that it was a nickname, and sobriquets are often given as a measure of affection. Besides, only you call me Bones. That's what I like about it."

"Well, Tem -" he closed the gap between them, suddenly impatient for the satiny warmth of her skin against his. "Then that's something that really is just between us, when we're together like this." She looked disconcerted at the possessiveness in his tone. Then her face cleared as she considered the implications. She found that she was not disturbed in any sense by her conclusions.

"What should I call you?" She asked hesitatingly, a little out of her depth.

He nuzzled her jaw, his tongue following the sinews of her neck. He felt her shiver as he continued to leave a trail of feather light kisses along her collar bone. Clavicle. The term sprang into his mind out of nowhere and he smiled ruefully. "Anything you like, babe. As long as when I wake up in the morning, you're here next to me."

"Booth, that's irrational." Her voice was husky, and the need to set him straight niggled at her. "The power to accurately predict the future doesn't exist, except mathematically, so I am unable to make any sort of guarantee that -" He smothered her demur with his kiss, extracting a promise from her mouth that her brain had difficulty justifying.

Brennan's nails raked his back, leaving stinging trails of sensation; all thoughts of taking his time disintegrated into nothing. Excitement surged in every part of his body and when Brennan wound her arms tightly around him, he felt lust rip through his gut. He needed to be inside her. Now.

"God, Tem, I want you so much it hurts." This time it was his turn to fumble at the waist of her jeans. They slipped off easily, but his fingers were thick and useless when he tried to undo the drawstring of his own trousers. Brennan artlessly leaned in and used her teeth to loosen the knot, her hands clasping his hips. Booth felt the breath freeze in his chest as she gave a little shake of her head to break the grip of the knotted cord. A low moan escaped his clenched teeth. Brennan looked up along his body, and their eyes met with a jolt of awareness.

With a muffled snarl of impatience he stripped off the rest of his clothes, growling as the drawstring on the cuffs of his cargo pants snagged on his feet. He pulled them off roughly without bothering to untie them. He tumbled her over until she was pinned beneath him, egged on by the eagerness shining on her face. Finally all the barriers were gone and they looked at each other, a little in awe of the moment.

Then Brennan's gaze snagged on his mouth and her expression altered. Abruptly her hands were on his body, exploring by touch, her fingers nimble and quick. There wasn't anywhere that her hands didn't reach, so eager was she to feel the texture and warmth of him. Her fervour caught him unawares and it took a few seconds before he responded, before they were in sync. They kissed and touched and tasted, studying each other through tactile exploration.

"Damn, Tem, I don't think I can keep this up for much longer. I need you now."

"Then don't wait." She opened to him then, wordlessly, her eyes fierce with heat … for him. That knowledge almost took him over the edge then and there and he surged into her, riding on a tide of emotion so raw it hurt.

Her body rose to meet his and their eyes locked together, each bemused by the jumbled mixture of feelings that engulfed them then. Brennan's eyes searched his, vulnerability and desire flitting across her face. He understood; he felt the same way. They had been a part of each other for so long, held at arm's length. This moment of their coming together took their breath away; a maelstrom of feelings that threatened to overwhelm them.

The staccato of her breathing began to accelerate and a low moan escaped from her lips; an incendiary to his desire. Moments … hours? … later he felt her shudder as convulsions took hold of her and she called his name, and then he felt himself start to come apart.

He clasped her to him, never wanting to let go, as their movements slowed and calmed. Their bodies relaxed but they didn't move apart. Brennan peppered his chest with soft endearments, carried on breathless kisses as Booth's heart rate slowly returned to normal. He was flooded with a strong sense of completeness that swept through him. It felt so right to be here with this woman, his lover, his love. He looked at Brennan and found her smiling happily at him, replete.

Pleasure and contentment swelled inside him and he laughed out loud at the world. "Argh – why do I feel an overwhelming urge to roar like a caveman?"

Brennan drew his face to hers, her hand cupping his cheek. The kiss she gave him was gentle and sweet, and the huskiness of her voice belied her next words. "Men are genetically programmed to consider themselves the protector of their mates." She was still panting, trying to get her breath back but couldn't ignore the urge to matter-of-factly clarify his impulse. "Also, higher testosterone concentrations are present following a period of sexual abstinence. Added to that, fluctuating concentrations of adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, prolactin and luteinizing hormone are liable to increase protective, risk-taking and aggressive behaviors in adult males."

"Ah Bones, can you maybe keep the science stuff out of the bedroom." Booth rolled his eyes at her but couldn't resist a smile.

"It's who I am; I was only stating the facts. You asked a question and I gave you the answer." She yawned widely, snuggling into his side. "You know, I always wondered whether you were as much of a prude about sexual matters as you appeared to be. I now have evidentiary proof that is definitely not the case."

Booth was stretching his cramped muscles but her words stilled the movement. He put his arm around her shoulders and drew her even closer. "I never liked talking to you about sex, Tem, because I always wanted to be the one you were having sex with. Besides, its private … between two people."

"Well, I think the subject might come up between us with a great deal more frequency from now on." He felt her smile against his neck. "And maybe I won't have to be quite so dependent on Angela for ideas about the sex scenes in my next book. Your letter provided me with enough source material for several books. All I have to do now is complete a sufficient amount of research to supply me with irrefutable empirical results."

~o0o~

Booth woke abruptly, the grumbling in his stomach reminding him it had been hours since either of them had eaten. Brennan was curled on her side, turned away from him. He propped himself up on one arm and let his eyes trace her outline, limned in silver by the moonlight. He couldn't see her face properly, only one rounded cheek and those impossibly long, thick lashes. Her hair was spread riotously over the pillow, in total disarray, and Booth couldn't help a sappy grin at the memory of the passion they'd shared that helped get it that way. She had her hands bunched pugilistically in front of her face, ready for anything, even in sleep.

Something disturbed her dreams and she made a tiny fretful sound. Booth held his breath, and her sigh ended on a whimper. He scooted closer to her, concerned, but before he could reassure her with his touch she rolled towards him, whispered his name and curled into him. She was still fast asleep. He pulled the sheet up and tucked it gently around her and slipped out of bed.

He padded to the kitchen and raided the refrigerator, loading a plate with meats and salads they'd picked up along the way. Propping himself on a stool at the kitchen counter he was about to start digging into his midnight feast when he heard Brennan call his name.

She appeared at the door of the bedroom. "What are you doing, Booth?" Her hair was a confusion of waves and she'd pulled on his tee shirt to cover her nakedness, her long legs bare and pale gold, stretching on forever. Booth thought his heart just might stop at the picture she made standing there in the half light, all tousled and sated and thoroughly fucked. He was overtaken by a sense of pride that he'd put that look on her face, but as soon as the thought occurred to him he was embarrassed by the arrogance of it.

He cleared his throat to cover his confusion and indicated the plate of food in front of him with a wave of his fork. "You hungry?" Before she could answer he was on his feet, spooning generous servings of salads out onto another plate. "Sit down and eat something; you're wasting away to nothing. Didn't they feed you at that dig in Mabubu?" Now he had his arm at her back and was ushering her towards the counter.

"Maluku." She corrected him automatically, looking slightly bemused by his attentions. She was going to resist his urging but then gave in gracefully when she saw the contents of the plate. "Actually, I am pretty hungry. But you know you don't have to look after me like this. I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself."

"I like looking after you." Booth settled her onto another stool and dropped a light kiss on top of her head. He grabbed an extra knife and fork and a napkin and placed them next to her plate before bending over the wine rack and running his finger along the bottles.

"You do?" Brennan's top lip started to curl, her smile infused with doubt. He made his selection, an Australian Shiraz that he knew she was fond of. She continued uncertainly, "Is that your 'White Knight' syndrome that Sweets is always talking about?"

Booth was preoccupied with the corkscrew. "No. It's my 'I'm in love with you' syndrome that we haven't actually got around to talking about yet." He shut his mouth with snap. What was it about middle of the night conversations that always cut through the crap?

Brennan kept her eyes downcast, toying idly with the food he'd so carefully selected for her. He sighed and poured a glass of wine for each of them, the sound of the ruby liquid hitting the bottom of the glass preternaturally loud in the silence that followed his words.

"Bones, talk to me. You were about to say something on that sat link last Tuesday. Something really important." He reminded her gently. His heart plummeted to his gut when she was obviously discomfited by his prompting, struggling to find the right words to answer him. "Have you changed your mind?"

Brennan's eyes shot to his. "What? No!"

"Then what?" He tried to keep the impatience out of his voice but failed.

"Booth, please -"

"Bones, do you love me?" It was time for some straight talking. He felt like a heel forcing the issue, but they'd danced around each other for too long and he couldn't bear to watch her wrestling with her emotions like this.

"You deserve more than I can give you Booth, you need someone with an open heart and I don't know how to be that person. I'm scared I don't know how to change."

"I don't want you to change. I like you just the way you are." He put his hand over hers then, rubbing his thumb along the inside of her wrist. He felt her tremble under his touch.

He drew a deep breath and asked her again. "Do you love me?" He kept his gaze locked onto hers, watching her steadily from under his brows and involuntarily holding his breath while he waited for her answer.

Her voice was husky when she replied, a tremulous smile gentling the lines of anxiety from her face. "Yes, Booth. I love you. But I -" He put a finger to her lips to shush her, and followed the touch with his lips. He realised she was still battling to understand her feelings, but tiredness was etched on her face. Time to take the pressure off; she said she loved him and, let's face it, they both needed a little time to get used saying that out loud.

"That's a good thing, okay? Don't look so worried." He leaned in to her until their noses were virtually touching, sending her slightly cross-eyed and making her smile despite herself. "And I love you and that's all that matters. Look, its two o'clock in the morning Georgia time. I have no idea what that is in Makukoo -"

"Maluku."

" time but you must be exhausted. I don't know about you, but I think we need just to relax. What say we take this feast I prepared here out on the deck and look at the stars? Everything looks better under the stars. We'll have a little food and we'll have a little wine and we'll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Okay?"

"I'm scared of letting you down, Booth." Her brow was still crisscrossed with worry.

"Ain't going to happen, baby. We're already way out in front of the herd." He swaggered a little as he said it, hamming it up for her to ease the mood, and was rewarded when she started to chuckle at his antics. He came around and looped his arms around her shoulders, drawing her into the comfort of his embrace. "C'mon. I know all this is overwhelming for you, but I honestly believe it's all going to work out fine, Bones. Trust me on this, okay? You made it this far, the rest is going to be easy."

Brennan was watching him closely. "You know, I once asked your friend, Sergeant Nakamura, whether it was worth it to have your own happiness so contingent upon another human being." She looked away from him and he watched the smile fade from her face, replaced by a tiny frown that dented a 'v' between her brows as she remembered the context of that conversation.

"Yeah?" He placed a finger under her chin and raised her face up to his. "And what did Nak have to say?"

"He said if he was willing to give up his life for his sister, why wouldn't he be willing to risk his happiness for her." She gave him a look that grazed his soul. "If I trust you with my life, Booth, how can I not trust you with my heart?" He hugged her again, touched to the core by the uncomplicated simplicity of her reasoning.

They settled themselves on the swinging chair on the rear deck, stealing from each other's plates and letting the starlight work its magic, ably assisted by the wine. A comfortable silence fell between them, filled with the sounds of frogs and owls and the occasional ominous splash from the other side of the lake.

Suddenly Brennan touched Booth's arm, motioning him to stay still and quiet. A white- tailed buck and its mate hesitantly approached the circle of light that spilled from the cabin. Then incredibly, a huge swamp rabbit, its rusty brown fur still damp from the lake paused on its foraging expedition to watch them curiously, before hopping away, disinterested. The movement was enough to startle the deer, sending them hastily back into the night. Before Booth could comment, an armadillo and its half grown pups waddled into sight, snuffling the ground blindly in search of insects to feast on.

"You've got to be kidding me." Booth whispered incredulously. "How did we get in the middle of a Disney movie?

"Huh?" Brennan was too enthralled to take in his question.

"Never mind." The armadillo and its young entourage ambled towards them, apparently detecting no threat. Booth leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "Damn but they're ugly things; look at that armor plating." The armadillo apparently took offence at his comment and lumbered off, seeking the cover of nearby bushes.

"Ossification – the laying down of bone just beneath the skin that forms the hard shell – takes place as they grow." Brennan whispered back, enjoying the novelty of seeing these strange creatures up close.

Booth grinned at her, captivated by her enthusiasm for the animals. Ever the scientist Brennan felt obliged to add, "You know armadillos often carry leprosy. Their low body temperature and weak immune systems make them perfect hosts for the M. leprae bacilli."

Booth pulled back as if he'd been bitten and looked at Brennan in disbelief. "No way!"

She pursed her lips, looking back at him archly. "Way."

He stood up hastily, "Yeah, well I think I've had enough of the great outdoors anyway." He scratched frantically at an insect bite on his forearm, drawing blood. "The mosquitoes are eating me alive. Aren't they eating you alive?" He put his hand on the small of her back and ushered her towards the back door. "I think it's about time for us to get some sleep anyway." He edged towards the back door of the cabin, gesturing with his hand for her to follow him.

Brennan couldn't help laughing. "There's nothing to worry about, Booth. You need an open wound or prolonged contact, poor hygiene and a complete lack of treatment to be even the slightest bit concerned about infection. Besides, only ten percent of the human population is genetically susceptible to infection from the bacteria." She tilted her head to one side as she considered the facts. "Of course, it hasn't yet been irrefutably proven exactly how the infection spreads."

Brennan heard the screen door snick closed and a few moments later the sound of running water as Booth got under the shower.

An idea popped into her head, and with it her tiredness evaporated. The smile that crept over her face was decidedly mischievous. "Hey, Booth." She raised her voice slightly to get his attention, the wine and jet lag adding more volume than she'd intended. She could hear his tuneless humming through the spray.

"What, Tem?" He resumed the humming, the shower mercifully muffling the song.

She leaned a shoulder against the side of the cabin and spoke to him through the screen door. "I'm not really very sleepy anymore. I think I'm ready to attempt the scenario expressed in the penultimate paragraph of your letter."

The steady beat of water as it hit the floor of the cubicle filled the air while Booth gathered his senses. When he answered his voice was strangled by shock. "Um, I thought you said it was physically impossible."

Brennan's tone dropped to sultry. "I'm willing to test your hypothesis."

The sound of running water ceased instantly, accompanied by unidentifiable thumps and bumps as Booth scrambled to dry himself off. "I'll be right there."

She collected their empty wine glasses with a satisfied smirk and stood for a moment on the top step, watching the ebb and flow of light from the stars in the night sky. She grinned into the darkness, relishing the ease that she felt between them at this new level of their relationship. Then she felt a strange warmth that started in her abdomen and spread across her chest. With a start, Brennan realised she was … happy.

~o0o~

Booth came to by degrees, his body aching pleasurably. His outstretched hand met the cool emptiness of Brennan's absence and he sat up, disconcerted. He waited for sounds of activity but the cabin remained still and quiet.

The hair on the back of his neck stood up and he scrabbled around on the floor for his shorts, pulling them on impatiently before heading out to the large deck at the rear of the cabin.

The morning light bounced a golden halo around Brennan's hair as she crouched at the edge of the water, trailing a stick in the shallows. She'd thrown on a pale, satiny wrap that moved fluidly in the light breeze, making it hard to see where the water stopped and the garment started. For a split second he was mesmerized but the sight, but his over protective alpha male persona kicked in almost immediately. Acting purely on instinct, Booth leapt over the deck railing and ran the few short steps to the water's edge, swiftly gathering her up and taking her back up the steps.

"Booth – put me down! Are you completely crazy?" She sounded pissed, but she wasn't struggling to get out of his arms.

"Only about you." He kissed her soundly, letting her slide down the length of his body and come to the ground gently. "What are you doing up at this hour? Did you manage to get any sleep?"

She shook her head. "Jetlag always plays havoc with my body clock. I'll be okay in a day or two. Why did you just do that, run and pick me up?"

He kissed her again, brushing the hair out of her eyes. "Alligators."

"What are you talking about?" She had that look on her face that told him she thought he was delusional.

He flicked a finger towards a sign further along the edge of the water, photoluminescent pigment still glowing weakly in the pale light. "Under Georgia law 27-3-170 it's unlawful to feed the alligators. Three hundred dollar fine or thirty days in jail. I'd probably have to arrest you, even if you made a very tasty meal." He watched her face; she still didn't quite know whether to take him seriously, sign or no sign.

"I very much doubt that, Booth, we are too far north to see alligators here and besides, the water temperature in this part of the river would only get to about 55 degrees during the day, and despite abundant sources of food it's unlikely that there are actually any alligators here. I believe you are – I think the appropriate colloquial expression would be – 'trying to make me consume a lie'." She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a skeptical look.

"There really are alligators here, Bones." He tried to keep a straight face, but started laughing, holding his hands up in surrender at the look on her face. "Okay, the guy at the store said the last one was sighted a couple of years ago. Doesn't mean you don't take it seriously; there've been a few farm animals go missing near the lake just recently. And it doesn't mean I wouldn't 'wrassle' a gator for you, should you ever need me to."

"Thank you." She screwed up her face comically. "I think. Anyway, you can't arrest me; you're no longer a federal agent."

"It'd have to be a citizen's arrest then. I still have my handcuffs." His grin bordered on smug.

Brennan looked at him, speculation dancing across her features. "Ahh, scenario number ten. I concur, provided I get to use them first." She extended her hand to him in the time honored way to seal a contract. "Deal?"

He grasped her fingers and tugged hard, overbalancing her until she tumbled straight into his arms, right where she belonged. "Deal."

~o0o~

They were lying in the bottom of the boat, supported by a dozen cushions, while the water lapped lazily against the hull. The remains of their picnic lunch were packed away and Brennan trailed her fingers up and down Booth's bare chest. She'd finally fallen asleep around eight o'clock and had slept through until the early afternoon. Booth had used the morning to buy some more groceries, check out the marina and hire a boat for the rest of the day.

The boat was anchored in the middle of Lake Uchee, making lazy figure-eights as the cool Chattahoochee River tide swirled and mixed with the warmer lake water. They were making out and bickering about pretty much everything, punctuating their conversation with quick dips in the lake to cool off. Their conversation ebbed and flowed; now they were nibbling at the edges of their future.

"… anthropologically speaking eighty-three per cent of societies are polygamous." Brennan's tone was matter-of-fact, maybe even a little smug.

"We've been down that road before Bones. Isn't there any such thing as personal anthropology? You know, where it applies to real actual people? Like you and me?" He was shaking his head at her, loving that he knew she wouldn't be able to resist elaborating.

"Of course there is, although Applied Anthropology looks to method and theory to analyze and solve practical problems such as the relief of poverty or distress, or for the active recognition of human dignity. It's not generally something that's applied to individuals per se."

Booth pulled her across his chest, nuzzling her ear until she almost forgot what she was talking about. "Well, I'm feeling distressed that you haven't kissed me for at least ten minutes, and it sure would help keep my dignity intact if you didn't make me beg."

She laughed at his joke as he had intended, and did her best to help him avoid the whole begging thing with long lazy kisses in the sun. They drew apart eventually, lips tingling, and Booth closed his eyes and basked in the warmth of the sun on his face, drifting off into a light doze. Brennan lay on her back with her head on his chest, her legs bent at the knees, one crossed over the other. One foot tapped the air in time with the lapping of the water while she turned something over in her mind.

"I believe I could be content living here." She announced, apropos of nothing.

"And do what – knit?" Booth's peace was well and truly shattered with that pronouncement. Where had that come from? If there was one thing he knew about Bones it was that she needed the intellectual stimulation of something other than handicrafts.

"I don't know how to knit but I suppose I could learn. How would that be beneficial? I actually thought that I could utilize my time effectively by writing another book. Or find some other suitable form of regional employment." She turned onto her side and hugged into his chest, warming to her theme and sending the tiny craft rocking crazily. "Is that why you suggested knitting?"

"Careful Bones, this is only a small boat." He tried to move so that he could see her face properly, but there wasn't enough room.

"Besides I am extremely wealthy. I don't actually even need to work." She kept her face averted as she spoke and it was then he realised that there was a subtext here that he wasn't quite getting.

"Bones, be serious." He swallowed hard, trying to understand. Was this her way of giving a commitment to him to stay with him here for more than just a few days? "I could maybe book the cabin for a few more weeks?" He stammered, hoping he was on the right track. When she didn't answer his heart fell and he reminded himself of his silent promise not to try to push her into anything before she was ready. He tried to lighten the mood. "Anyway you don't make life choices without a Boolean flow chart; I know that and you know that."

Brennan was silent for a long moment before reaching her arms around him and gathering him close. "I would like very much to stay here with you until your time is up, until the Army lets you go and we can return to our lives in DC." Brennan looked up at him then, still so unsure of herself. "If you'd like that, I mean."

"Wow." Booth tried not to make a big deal of the giant emotional leap she'd just made but in truth he felt joy pulse though his veins. In one fell swoop she'd just swept aside what he thought would be a major stumbling block between them. He beamed back at her. "Yes, Tem, I'd really like that. The base is only, what, fifteen, twenty minutes away. Easy commute." Of course he'd have to get permission to live off base, but he was hoping that was just a formality. Suddenly everything looked as bright as a shiny new penny.

"And we could have intercourse whenever we liked."

"Wow." He actually wasn't capable of articulating what was going through his head at that moment.

Now that the matter of staying was settled satisfactorily, she relaxed against him, her mind going back to one of his earlier comments. She raised one eyebrow skeptically. "Do you even know what a Boolean flow chart is?"

Booth chuckled at the change of pace. He should have been used to it, but the way her mind worked often still took him by surprise. "Nah, I just like saying Boolean. Boolean." He rolled the name around his tongue experimentally. "Boo-." He said again, stretching the first syllable out, his lips pursed in an exaggerated expression. Brennan laughed delightedly, and brushed her lips over his.

"I love it when you talk dirty." She breathed the words into his mouth, sending shivers of awareness down his spine.

"Yeah? You do?" He brightened up perceptibly, delighted by her joke. "I got lots more. What about Schrödinger?"

"Wave Mechanics? An interesting strain of science that has practical applications to many facets of our investigative work." She screwed up her nose delicately and let one of her fingers trail circles around his left nipple. "Not bad, but that doesn't really arouse me."

"Hmm, right." He chewed on his bottom lip, wracking his brains to summon another name. "Ah … Fermi?"

Brennan screwed up her nose endearingly and kissed him for his efforts anyway. "It's my experience that atomic physicists rarely acknowledge the validity of any other field but their own. I find that intensely annoying."

"I can see that you would." The irony was lost on her but Booth had another point he wanted to make. "Never mind. I kinda like the sound of that guy's name." Brennan looked confused until Booth took her hand and directed it south. Comprehension cleared the frown from her forehead and she stroked him gently, enjoying the hard softness of his erection.

Another name popped into his head without warning and he blurted it out. "Hey, what about Emil Kraepelin? Didn't he do something scientific?"

"Stop it, Booth!" She rewarded him with a pinch for his efforts. "Psychiatry. Now that really is crap." She looked down her nose at him, her expression sour.

"Oh-ho, very punny, Bones." He grabbed her hand playfully, threading her fingers through his, and took a moment to kiss the tip of each finger. "Hey, I've got one that'll float your boat: Claude Levi-Strauss."

Brennan's eyes widened with surprise and she growled with exaggerated pleasure, rolling her palms over his chest and down his stomach.

Booth made a small guttural sound and involuntarily held his breath. She really had very talented fingers. "Ahhh, I'm glad I kept that one until last if you're going to react like this. Although why you should be turned on by the guy that invented blue jeans beats me."

"Claude Levi-Strauss is the founder of Structural Anthropology so I hope you're joking about the blue jeans." Brennan sat up in her eagerness to expand on her point, sending to boat into paroxysms of rocking. "His theory of Structuralism redefined anthropology in the sixties. His book Tristes Tropiques positioned him as one of the central figures in the Structuralist school of thought, where his ideas reached into fields including the humanities, sociology and philosophy."

"Hey careful, Bones. You'll have us in the drink. Anyway, that all sounds a lot like psychology to me." Booth teased, not really listening to what she was saying. He decided she could lecture him all day, every day, if it meant that he'd get the same view he had now of her breasts in that bikini top. Their rounded fullness quivered with the animation in her voice, punctuating her enthusiasm as she continued with a smile.

"He argued that the 'savage mind' had the same structures as the 'civilized' mind and that human characteristics are the same everywhere."

"You know, we're really going to have to have a chat about your pillow talk."

"What do you mean? We're not in bed. Anyway, you started it, talking about Structural Anthropology."

Her comment pleased Booth for reasons he didn't pause to examine. "Yeah, I s'pose I did." He pulled her back down until she lay along his side. She threw one arm over his hip, lazily massaging his ass. Booth wasn't sure what her intention was, but the rhythmic movement of her hand was driving him wild. "What were you saying about the savage mind, hmm? I'm feeling pretty savage right about now. What are you going to do about it?"

Brennan's hand paused while she thought it over and then she smiled wickedly. "Proposition thirteen?"

"Yeah. Lucky thirteen." He grinned and sat up, almost tipping the boat completely over in his haste. "I'm game if you are." He pulled up the anchor, powered up the outboard and they made it back to shore in record time.

~o0o~

Brennan rolled onto her side, pushing the sweat dampened sheets away to let the air cool her body. "I'm surprised that you knew all those theorists." Booth stayed spread-eagled on his back, taking a few moments to get his breath back. She frowned at him accusingly. "Have you been googling again?"

Booth had the grace to look sheepish. "Maybe."

Brennan was mystified. "Why?"

"Three days, Bones, three days. I had to do something to keep my mind occupied. Otherwise, you know, the rest of me got sorta - " He pulled a face, reluctant to put into words the condition his body had recently demonstrated so succinctly.

"Frustrated?"

"Something like that."

"Well, then …" Brennan didn't bother with niceties, scooting down the length of his body until her breath beat hotly against his thighs. "I don't want to be held responsible for causing you any further discomfort." She trailed her tongue along his length. "Or for any more googling."

"Bones, Bones … Tem – stop!" Booth was laughing and squirming away, trying to hold her searching lips away from the general area of his groin. "Gimme a break – I need some recovery time, babe."

Brennan's head bobbed up and she fixed him with that coolly dispassionate stare he'd missed so much. "Oh. I'd momentarily forgotten your advanced age and general physical deterioration." She watched the indignation flood his face for several moments, only dropping her chin and letting the smile widen her mouth when her lover growled as he reached for her. He rolled on top of her, pinning her beneath him and proceeding to prove without a shadow of a doubt that he'd had all the recovery time he'd needed after all. And that effectively took care of propositions three and four simultaneously.

~o0o~

They ate alfresco on the deck, watching the sun as it started to descend over the hills on the far side of the lake. It was the last evening of Booth's leave and he was back on duty tomorrow. He would be coming home to her again tomorrow night, but they both felt the poignancy of the moment and fell silent.

"Why did you leave, Bones? Why was it so important to go to Maluku and look for those bones?" Booth's voice was raw; the question that had been uppermost in his mind for months just erupted out of nowhere.

Brennan took a deep breath. "It was a full set of inter-species hominid bones, a find of such anthropological significance as might not be discovered again in my lifetime. The anthro team could well find evidence of the hominid species with which Homo flurensiensis mated. It was a major discovery, something that could have changed the course of history." Even to her own ears, her voice lacked the enthusiasm she'd had several months ago when she espoused the same reasoning.

"Tem, that's a load of hooey."

"It is not! I am a very rational person and I was merely outlining – rationally – my reasons for taking part in the dig in Maluku." She had spent so many hours convincing herself that it was the right thing to do that she didn't really pay attention to the reasons any more.

Booth's temper flared, recognizing her answer for what it was; a well rehearsed plausible excuse. "No, Tem, you were rationalizing. That's a different thing altogether and you do it all the time! I asked you why you left; why you broke us, the team, up?"

Brennan paused to examine his statement; she wasn't sure she liked hearing what he was saying. Did she do that when it came to interpersonal relationships? Try to excuse her reasons for keeping her distance, rather than acknowledging that true intimacy with another person - with Booth in particular - could fracture the cool, remote façade she presented to the world? She faltered at the thought, her voice wavering. "It could have changed history."

"Oh right." Booth heard the pain in her voice and immediately regretted his spur-of-the-moment outburst. He let her off the hook with as much good grace as he could muster. "I'm sorry, you're right. You're an anthropologist and you have to go where the stuff is. I get that."

"Causal determinism, Booth; we are hardwired to require answers."

He didn't know whether she was talking about her going to the dig or his wanting to know why. "You don't owe me any explanations." He battled to keep the resentment out of his voice.

"Your words indicate one thing, but your tone signifies something quite different." Brennan frowned, trying to process what he wanted from her and failing miserably. "Sometimes it's like my brain performs reverse osmosis when I try to apply accepted emotional criteria to myself."

"Huh?" Booth screwed his face up in confusion, not missing the irony when he went on, "I don't know what that means."

"Reverse osmosis involves a diffusive mechanism so that separation efficiency is dependent on solute concentration, pressure, and water flux rate."

"Are we still talking about your brain? C'mon Bones, you're not a science experiment that has to fit into certain parameters. You're not an organism, you're a person. Give yourself permission to be happy."

"Well, strictly speaking, an organism -"

He cut through the scientific smokescreen firmly. "You're a person, Bones. With faults and prejudices and personal agendas and doubts, just like everyone else. Just because you're the best at what you do, doesn't mean you're perfect." He traced the back of his finger along the curve of her cheek tenderly. "And that's okay, sweetheart."

When she looked at his face, his eyes sad and his lips pressed tightly together as if to try and stem the questions, she dug deep to try and find the right words to explain it all to him. "I've always taken care of myself. My life experiences taught me that there was only one person I could depend on; me. And I've always assumed that making a commitment to another person meant subjugating a part of myself to that person." She dropped her eyes to the glass in her hand and swirled the contents absently. "I saw it with my parents, with the foster families that I was placed with … all the time."

"Ah, Bones, it doesn't have to be like that -"

She held up her hand to stay his words, and steeled herself to continue. "I extrapolated from my observations that the chances of my future involving a commitment to another person were extremely low."

Booth turned his face away and tried to focus on a flock of teal ducks taking flight to the west. He wasn't ready to examine whatever expression was in those beautiful eyes; he could feel the tension coming off her in waves. He gave a start when she placed her hand on his cheek and turned his head back so that he was looking straight at her.

"That is, until I met you." Her eyes were round and serious, but a smile lightly curved her lips.

Booth kept quiet, willing her to keep opening up to him emotionally, the way she had opened up to him physically. She had so much capacity to love unreservedly; he knew that for a fact. It hurt him to see her stay so buttoned up; it always had.

"I think our partnership has proved to me that being in a close relationship with someone does not make you a different person or dependent on someone else. At least, not in the way that I've always supposed. Booth, you have opened my mind to concepts that I have always dismissed as merely transitory and insignificant; you have been the one person who has proved to me that love isn't just a chemical reaction.

"I was wrong when I said I couldn't change; I didn't understand that it had already happened. I have changed, Booth. Knowing you has changed me. Maybe I won't ever believe in all the things that you do, but I believe in you. I love you. I think that is all that I need to be happy."

"I'm never going to stop loving you."

"And I will never believe in absolutes." Her smile edged on apologetic.

Booth's eyes narrowed and he pinned her with the brown intensity of his gaze, humor lurking behind his eyes. "You know, you say that, but that's an absolute, isn't it?"

He drew her onto his lap, and she folded herself across his legs. He tucked an arm under her knees and settled her more comfortably against his chest. "Do you still think I need protecting from you?"

She chuckled. "Probably."

He returned her smile, gently resting his forehead against hers. "Maybe we can just look out for each other."

"Like we always have." She gave him a grave look, turning the full force of her beautiful eyes on him and melting his heart with the openness he saw there.

Booth returned her look with equal solemnity. "Like we always have. You're the center of my life, Bones."

"As are you, to mine. I find that reassuring." She snuggled into him and sighed happily, the tension leaving her body with the exhalation of her breath. "Life is very good."

"Yeah, life is very good."


Well that's the end ... or at least, the ending we'd all like. Would love to hear your thoughts, and thanks for reading! :D