This is it – the final chapter of my first novel-length 'Bones' fic. *feels accomplished*

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Here's a big thank you to everyone who read this story, who put it on their alert or fave lists, and especially to those who reviewed – feedback keeps the needy author going, and I very much appreciate all the encouragement you gave me. To say it with Parker Booth, you're awesome :-)

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"You ready to face the Angelic Inquisition on Monday?"

Bones is busy loading plates into the dishwasher and doesn't turn around, but Booth can hear her frown in the tone of her answer. "I don't know what that means."

"I mean that unless she goes into labor over the weekend, she'll start pumping you for sordid details the moment you walk through the doors of the lab." He can't say he's thrilled about the prospect, but he knows that it's something he'll have to live with – nosy BFFs are the price every guy pays for having a woman in his life.

Bones straightens and glances at the clock on the kitchen wall. "It's not going to take that long – she and Hodgins left half an hour ago, so I estimate I have another ten to fifteen minutes before she has a chance to call me from a location where Hodgins can't overhear the conversation."

"Great." Booth tries not to dwell on it and holds up a half-empty salad bowl. "You want me to put that in the fridge, or should I find a vase?"

She shoots him a look. "Your constant jokes about vegetarian food don't change the fact that your preferred diet is going to cause you serious health problems in the long run."

"Hey, you've fed me more green stuff in the last two months than I've eaten during my entire childhood, so cut me some slack."

Her answer is cut off by the sound of her cell phone ringing on the coffee table. Bones seems startled for a moment; then, almost hesitatingly, she indicates the mess that surrounds them in the kitchen. "Do you mind if I just – "

"Looks like she got home faster than you thought." Booth takes her by the shoulders and shoos her out of the kitchen. "Go talk to her, I can finish cleaning up."

"Come join me when you're done." She brushes a quick kiss on his cheek and then makes a dash for her phone – probably to get the juiciest details covered before he's around to overhear them.

With that in mind, Booth takes his time clearing away the rest of the dishes and the uneaten food. He does his best not to listen to the snippets of conversation drifting over from the couch; whatever Bones is telling Angela to make up for keeping the news from her until tonight, he's pretty sure he doesn't want to know about it.

Still, he isn't planning to hide in the kitchen until the girl talk is over; once he's done cleaning up, he walks out into the living area, although he makes as much noise as possible so that Bones won't think he's sneaking up on her. She's sitting on the sofa with her knees drawn up to her chest and seems to be listening to some kind of lecture from Angela, because she keeps smiling and nodding without actually saying anything.

She gives him a little wave when she notices him; Booth gestures towards the bedroom, indicating that he's going to wait for her there, but she shakes her head and gives the empty space next to her on the sofa an inviting pat. When he hesitates, she raises her hand to wave him over; as soon as he's within reach, she grabs his arm, pulls him towards her and snuggles up to him once he's sitting next to her.

It's one of those moment when breathing becomes difficult because his throat suddenly seems to constrict; Booth wraps his arm around her shoulders and hopes it's enough to express how much he appreciates the gesture. Bones is giggling at something Angela is saying, and he can feel the vibration of her laughter against his chest. The sound of Angela's excited chatter on the other end of the line is loud enough even for him to hear, although he can't quite understand what she's saying.

Booth can't help thinking that doing all the talking yourself is a pretty crappy interrogation technique (not that he's going to mention that to Angela), because it takes a while until Bones gets another word in.

"I'm going to keep that in mind. We should finish now – it's past midnight, and I'd like to go to bed."

Booth winces a little – it's not hard to imagine what kind of answer Angela will have to that, and sure enough, Bones starts giggling again. "Ange, not everything in life is about sex! I was trying to – yes, I know, but… Ange, I've said it before, I'm not going to share that kind of information!"

Her brow furrows when she listens to Angela's reply. "I'm pretty sure there's no such thing as a 'girl code' in our legal system. I'm – what do you mean, a number? What kind of…" The sound of Angela's high-speed nattering is becoming louder, and Bones listens with the dirtiest smirk on her face Booth has ever seen from her.

"Okay," she relents at last, "given those parameters, I'd say fourteen – maybe fourteen and a half."

Angela's answering squeal is so loud that Bones yanks the cell phone away from her ear with a pained grimace; she shouts a quick "Good night, Ange!" from a safe distance and then ends the call.

Booth isn't sure whether he hopes or fears that her words meant exactly what he thinks they did. "Bones, did Angela just make you rate my… performance on a scale from 1 to 15?" He realizes belatedly that he just asked for a kick in his ego by assuming that it wasn't 1 to 20 – but then, he reasons, Angela's reaction probably wouldn't have been that enthusiastic.

Bones gives him a smug little smile that has just the teensiest hint of uncertainty to it. "No, on a scale from 1 to 10. Do you mind? I know you're private, but –"

"Bones," he cuts her off with a laugh, "I doubt any guy in the world would mind his girlfriend bragging about his bedroom skills." He can feel the heat rising in his cheeks, but damn, he's not going to feel embarrassed about this, no matter how many knowing winks Angela will give him the next time she sees him.

"I wasn't bragging!" she protests. "Bragging means unrealistic exaggeration in order to over-emphasize a specific skill or achievement and create unjustified envy, while I merely used hyperbole as a rhetoric device to convey a realistic assessment."

Booth can't help it, he has to pull her close and kiss her. "You know, I could definitely get used to you stroking my ego."

"I was doing no such thing," she points out with a grin, "I was only telling the truth."

"Okay, then thanks for telling only the flattering bits of the truth." He keeps his tone light, but she still understands, because she becomes serious.

"What's between us is ours, Booth – I haven't forgotten that."

"I know." They're both silent for a moment; then Booth decides they've tackled enough loaded topics for the night. "You do remember that we still have a bed to christen?"

"Of course I do," she replies with a smirk, "although I don't see what a Christian ritual would have to do with us having sex in our new bed, considering the general attitude –"

"Whoa, no spoiling the mood now!" Booth leans in and gives her an exaggerated leer. "Come on, baby, I've got a fourteen-and-a-half rating to maintain."

She nods solemnly, although her eyes are sparkling with mirth. "I guess it would be irresponsible of me not to support you in such a –" Her words end in a surprised shriek when Booth jumps to his feet and lifts her bodily off the couch.

"Booth, put me down this instant, you're going to throw out your back!" In spite of her protests, she doesn't struggle – on the contrary, she wraps her arms around his neck and holds on, and her laughter in his ear is enough to make him forget that he may very well regret this little stunt tomorrow.

As he carries her off to the bedroom, he declares with the cockiest grin he can muster, "You know what, Bones? Let's aim for fifteen tonight."

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Booth feels the shift in the mood the moment he steps into the bedroom with her. Bones draws in a sharp breath and stiffens in his arms; he puts her down quickly, and although she keeps her arms around his neck, she turns her face away and refuses to look at him.

He's standing frozen, stunned by his own stupidity. He should have expected the other shoe to drop, should have known better than to believe that anything could ever be this easy for them – Hacker, the squints, Sweets, it all went without a hitch, and he has only himself to blame that he was foolish enough to let his guard down and allow himself to be lulled into a false sense of security. He scared her away once when he asked too much of her, yet here he is, carrying her over the threshold like a blushing bride in a movie from the Forties without thinking of how it must come across to her.

Please promise me that you won't let me ruin us.

It's the memory of her words to him on the bench by the Reflecting Pool that snaps him out of his stupor, and he draws in a deep breath and tries to rein in his racing thoughts. Whatever happens, and no matter how badly he just screwed up, he's not going to let himself break his promise to her.

"Bones." He keeps his voice even, hoping against hope she won't notice that his heart is suddenly in his throat. "Are you still afraid that… that it's all going to go horribly wrong somehow?"

She moves closer and hides her face in the crook of his neck, and Booth feels her tremble when she whispers against his skin, "Terrified."

He pulls her into his arms and feels the fear he has managed to ignore for a while settle like a familiar weight on his shoulders. "Glad it's not just me."

Her arms tighten around his neck; he presses his face into her hair and just breathes her in as she clings to him, neither of them moving or making a sound.

At long last, it's Bones who breaks the silence. She seems close to tears when she lifts her head, but she holds his gaze without flinching, and her expression is open and heartbreakingly hopeful when she says, "Perhaps – perhaps that's going to make it easier, being afraid together? Like it did for Jared and you?"

It takes Booth a moment to understand what she's talking about, to remember snippets of the drunken conversation he had with her that night after they identified his father's bones. He has often regretted telling her all those stories from a past that's best left alone, but now he's suddenly grateful that she was there to listen, to understand, and to hold on to what he shared with her that night.

Booth looks at her and realizes that he has never told her he loves her, and that he's not sure if he ever will. He remembers a time when he was certain that he knew what it meant to love a woman – it was so easy with Rebecca for a while, and sometimes he still gets tiny flickers of something that used to be there when he sees her these days. It seemed easier still with Hannah, although the way it fell apart left him disoriented and uncertain of himself as if he'd woken up from a beautiful dream to a reality in which he could no longer trust his own feelings. Bones is different – she doesn't fit any concept, defies every belief he has held throughout his life, and every declaration he could make sounds empty and meaningless when it comes to her. Whatever he once thought he knew of love, it doesn't apply to her – she isn't any of his dreams come true, she just is.

He realizes that she's still waiting for him to answer, but he can't think of anything to say; he just gives her a smile and sees it reflected in her face.

"Booth?" She hesitates, as if it took all her courage to say what's on her mind, but finally she asks, "Do you still have faith?"

God doesn't always answer your prayers by giving you what you prayed for. It's what his mother used to say whenever he asked her why God hadn't listened when he'd asked Him for something; it wasn't much consolation to him as a child, and later he used to think that it had been her way of holding on to her own faith in spite of everything life had thrown at her, but now it seems to him that for the first time, he understands what Mom might have been trying to tell him.

Do you still have faith? He looks at her and realizes there's only one answer he can give her – he'll probably never get to say those words to her in a different context, and even though it's not what he would have chosen if the choice had been his, somehow this is okay too. They're not supposed to be said after you've carried the woman you want to spend your life with into your bedroom, either, but somehow the two of them have always done everything backwards, so perhaps this is exactly how it's meant to happen for them.

Bones has tears in her eyes now, but she's smiling through them, and Booth rests his forehead against hers and whispers, "I do."

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FIN