Theory and Practice
The alarm clock interrupted her restless slumber with a merciless beeping, marking the end of a night way too short. Another one. Temperance Brennan groaned in deprecation and tossed around in her rumpled sheets. Her body tingled in frustration, and she felt unpleasant heaviness in her head.
Ever since the demanding Dr. Sweets had explained his theory that she was in a kind of surrogate relationship with her partner, part of her couldn't stop thinking of it, thinking of him. She and Booth had become very close in the past four years, and Brennan trusted him like no one else in her life. But he seemed to have an opinion about every man she chose to date, and this made it more and more difficult to separate her personal life from work. Because work was what she had with Booth, right? A very functional work-related relationship. Not a surrogate for anything else.
Brennan sighed and made her way out of the bed. 'One way or another, this has to stop,᾽ she decided. If Booth keeps intruding on her personal life, she will die of sexual frustration long before her hair will have turned gray. Brennan padded into the bathroom and turned the water in her luxurious shower as cold as possible. Entering the stall, she had to gasp as the ice-cold droplets hit her aching body. 'Maybe dying of a heart attack is more likely,᾽ she resumed her cynical musings.
She wondered briefly if it wasn't Booth's fault alone. Perhaps Sweets had been partly right, and she herself had gotten so comfortable around Booth that nobody else could come between them anymore. Was a surrogate relationship with her partner more appealing to her than the real thing with another man? Her foggy mind couldn't find a satisfying answer to that, and so she turned the water to a warmer temperature and lathered her slender body with creamy vanilla-scented soap. 'Vanilla is known to have aphrodisiac properties.᾽ Her brain relentlessly provided her with that fact, and Brennan sighed again. This was going to be a long day.
Impatient knocking interrupted her thoughts, and she recognized it immediately. Wrapping a large towel around her body, she headed to the apartment door. Standing there, looking as bright as the morning itself, was her partner. Seeley Booth held a coffee to go and a little brown bag in his outstretched hands.
"Hi, Bones, it's the early bird that catches the worm."
Ignoring the bag – probably a bagel – but taking the coffee out of his hand, she groaned, "I don't know what that means, Booth, but since you're here, come in."
Brennan opened the door for him, and Booth noticed her state of dress – or undress – for the first time. His eyes seemed to be glued to her silhouette, but as soon as he noticed her irritated look, he tried to maintain his glance above her shoulder level – nevertheless, it had been enough to cause vibrations in her hypersensitive body.
"Uh, Bones, am I interrupting something... again?" He smirked at her, thinking of the morning he had found the muscular deep sea welder in her apartment.
She chose to ignore his attempt at teasing her.
"Yes, my shower."
"Are we a little bit grumpy today, Bones?"
"I don't know if you are grumpy, Booth, but I had trouble sleeping."
Brennan took a sip of her coffee and burned her lip.
"Damn it. Today seems to be one of these days."
Booth regarded her enquiringly. Swearing was so uncharacteristic for her, and he wondered what could have upset her this morning.
"Are you okay, Bones?"
He caught her chin with his fingers and tilted her head to get a better look at the reddened skin. Her lips parted in surprise, and one more time Booth was very aware of the fact that she was still dripping wet, clad in only a towel. Probably naked underneath it. A lump formed in his throat, and he swallowed hard.
"It doesn't seem that bad," he finally managed to say.
His thumb grazed her lip softly, causing her eyelids to flutter. Booth looked at her in pure adoration. He couldn't put Sweet's idea of their surrogate relationship out of his head, and seeing Temperance Brennan like this evoked the wish to erase the word "surrogate" and the line he once had drawn now and forever. 'But she's my partner, and it may never happen,᾽ he forced himself to remember. Besides, it wasn't as if he really had the ghost of a chance with her. She was way too brilliant, way too beautiful, way too special.
Booth released her chin with a last caress, and her big, blue eyes focused on him once again.
"Why are you in my apartment at this time in the morning, Booth? Do we have a case?"
"Yep, some bones were found, and your valuable expertise is needed."
"Fine, I'll be ready in a few minutes." She turned into the direction of what he assumed was her bedroom. "Make yourself comfortable."
Alone in her room, Temperance Brennan took a deep breath. Booth's touch had only fueled her confusion, and she renewed her former decision. This really had to stop.
Booth plopped himself onto her couch, waiting for his partner to get dressed. He had really tried his best not to look at her bare skin too much, but the few glimpses he had gotten had burned themselves into his retina. Lately he found it more and more difficult not to think of her. Not to imagine her. Tension built in his temples and he rubbed them with a heartfelt sigh, forcing himself to keep his thoughts purely work-related.
When Brennan emerged from her room twenty minutes later, her hair dry, wearing dark blue jeans and a red blouse, her face was a mask of professionalism. Apparently she had applied some make-up as well and seemed ready to start the day.
Booth joined her on the way to the exit front door, and his hand found its way to the small of her back on its own accord – a gesture he had made so often in the last years, but suddenly she was aware of his light touches. They were innocent enough, but Brennan wondered if they actually were a way to mark his territory, to show the world that she belonged to him.
When they reached the crime scene, Brennan was somehow glad to flee the narrow space of Booth's black FBI car. Anxious to occupy her mind with work, she approached the dusty skeleton lying on the ground, eager to find out what had happened to this poor... male, as she noticed with a quick glance at the pelvic bone.
As always, her partner lingered nearby, awaiting her findings or further instructions. She used to like this almost symbiotic relationship, but suddenly his undivided attention made her nervous.
"Male. Approximately forty years old. Severe trauma to the fifth vertebra," she uttered in her clear voice.
"Anything else, Bones?"
She cast him an ironic glance.
"Yes, he's dead, Booth."
"Oh, you are so humorous this morning," he mocked. "It's not my fault that you couldn't sleep."
'If only you knew,᾽ she thought bitterly. Although the rational part of her acknowledged that she could hardly blame Booth for her momentary distraction, another part begged to differ. 'If Booth didn't look at me in this irritating manner from time to time, Sweets' theory about the surrogate relationship could be dismissed easily. And if he hadn't shot that stupid clown, we never would have met any psychologist in the first place.᾽ Of course it didn't help that she responded to Booth's particular habit of looking at her so well... But no way she would tell him that.
"No, it is not your fault, but isn't there anything else you have to do? Aren't there any witnesses to question?"
Booth felt a sting at being sent away so rudely, but turned around to give her some space. 'If only I knew what's gotten into her...᾽
Finally left alone, Brennan could fully focus on the remains, and soon she was lost in work.
At 5 pm that evening Temperance Brennan was ready to shoot somebody. They had made no progress with the latest victim so far, but when Booth had called for the sixth time to ask if she had already determined cause of death, she had lost her temper and yelled at him. He was probably mad at her now. Great. She had just decided to call it a day, when Cam turned up in the door frame.
"Dr. Brennan, you're not ready yet?"
Brennan frowned and tried to remember what the other woman was talking about.
"Ready? For what?"
"The fundraiser event you and Booth are scheduled to attend? FBI agent and forensic anthropologist – the city's secret weapon against murderers and hoodlums?"
"Oh," Brennan's face fell, "that was today?"
Cam nodded with fierceness that made it clear she wouldn't tolerate any whitewash to back out.
"Yup, in exactly two hours you'll look adorable, Booth will be handsome, and the two of you will charm the money out of the old guys' pockets."
"Cam, I'm really not feeling well -"
"Then make sure that at seven o'clock sharp you feel fine again, Dr. Brennan," and Cam spun around on her heels.
Brennan conceded defeat and groaned once again. The night promised to be lovely. Or not...
Booth was just as enthusiastic as his partner about the prospect of spending the night with her in her current mood. Under different circumstances it could be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the view of Temperance Brennan in a dress. Good food, excellent wine, and maybe they'd even dance. However, of late, being around her equaled sitting on a tinderbox.
Matters were complicated further by the fact that his own perception of her had somehow shifted. He refused to put his finger on it, but suddenly he noticed her scent when she entered a room, and it made the hair on his neck straighten up. Her laughter caused his heart to skip a beat, and the silkiness of her curls enticed his fingers to touch them. Booth had no idea if Sweets' words were the reason for those changes, or if they had just opened the lid of a box whose contents he and Brennan had been ignoring for too long.
Eying the black tux he had rented for this evening, Booth made the decision to keep things light tonight, to avoid any potential pitfalls in the best possible way. He really missed their easiness.
They had agreed to meet at the location, and when Brennan stepped out of her taxi at 6.55 pm that night, Booth was already awaiting her. The tux suited him perfectly, and she inhaled a sharp breath. He looked so stately, so male, and the woman inside of the anthropologist melted at his sight. She greeted him with the hint of a smile that softened his heart.
"Good evening, Booth."
"Hi, Bones. You look... beautiful."
She who was beautiful almost blushed at her partner's words, and it only heightened her bloom. The strapless emerald dress she had chosen to wear emphasized her narrow waist and female curves in the most stunning way. A lace-trimmed hem waved around her knees, and elegant high heels lengthened the graceful legs, bringing her almost on eye level with him. Said eyes were looking at him right now, and Booth found himself mesmerized by the bright sparkles in her blue orbs.
"Thank you, Booth. You're not so bad yourself."
"Yeah, Bones, all it takes to keep abreast of you. Shall we?"
He offered her his arm with a charming smile, and she accepted it thankfully.
As soon as they were inside and had gotten rid of her coat, an important looking man in a gray suit tried to drag Brennan away, but she refused to let go of her partner's arm. She was polite but tersely so, and after a few minutes the man strolled away. Booth guided Brennan to the bar.
"I hate events like this, Booth," she confessed.
"They're not among my favorite ways to spend an evening either, Bones, but look at the bright side. I am here, you are here, the bar is here," Booth tried to lighten her mood.
She smiled at him.
"I'm sorry for my harsh behavior today, Booth."
"Yeah, now that you mention it, what was that all about?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I don't know, but lately I find it hard to concentrate."
"Hmm," accepting two glasses of champagne from the bartender, he handed one over to her, "there have been some strange vibes lately. Maybe we should-"
"Dr. Brennan, Agent Booth, it is such a pleasure to meet you."
Brennan rolled her eyes inwardly. Great, now she would never now what they "should" because a wealthy looking elderly couple she had never seen before demanded their attention. She really disliked events like that.
After an admittedly delicious meal and some more boring conversations, a string quartet started to play, transferring the general attention to the dance floor. Brennan sighed with relief, and Booth's arm came around her waist, squeezing her reassuringly. She allowed herself a moment of peace and shifted her head until it rested on his shoulder. Her eyes closed under long lashes, and she yawned.
"This is so tiresome, Booth."
"Hmm," he agreed, and his fingers started to draw circles on her dress. This time his feather-light touch didn't create disturbing stirrings in her body, it just lulled her into a state of deep relaxation, and she snuggled further into his side, enjoying his unique strength underneath the expensive clothes he was wearing tonight.
"You wanna leave, Bones?" he asked, noticing her sleepiness.
"Of course I do, but I'm sure Cam won't be satisfied with us leaving so early. She can be quite an irritating woman."
"Then dance with me? Because I can spot Dr. Jackson Walker heading into our direction again, and I bet he has a similar plan in mind."
Immediately, she was on alert.
"Oh no, I don't think I can stand talking to him one more time, let alone dance with him. The man seems to have a distinct affinity for garlic, and I really don't approve of the way he looks at me."
"I don't like it, either. Come on, let's dance, Bones."
He took her hand and led her to the dance floor, avoiding the eager Dr. Walker as well as possible. They blended into the crowd until the swaying couples on the dance floor shielded them from any prying eyes to Booth's entire satisfaction. He truly disliked other men devouring his partner with their gaze, and now that she had sensed it as well, his protective instinct had only increased.
He encircled her waist with his hands, and without hesitance her bare arms slid around his neck. Brennan's head occupied its place on his shoulder again, and she hummed in contentment. Strands of her auburn hair tickled his nose, but Booth enjoyed the sweet sensation, and as the first trace of her exquisite scent hit his nostrils, he drew her even closer, caressing her temple with his cheek. He didn't care that this subtle display of affection was presumably slightly inappropriate for this setting – he just cared about having her in his arms.
Brennan sighed at the contact with his smooth cheek. Her nose found its way to the crook of his neck, and she locked her wrists behind his back to keep him as close as possible. He rocked them gently to the music, and intuitively she followed his movements. Booth's body warmed her through their clothes, and she felt truly protected.
As the dance continued, one or two curious pairs of eyes noticed the two partners, so completely lost in their own world. Most of the others recognized the famous crime-solving duo, and more than a few wondered if the bond between Temperance Brennan and Seeley was stronger than known to the public – but, to be honest, nobody felt anything else than pure sympathy for the two people who did such an important job and seemed to care about each other so much. Somebody who fought against the roots of evil day after day deserved some happiness, was the common opinion.
Oblivious to the thoughts around them, Brennan and Booth kept on swaying to the music. Somehow her exhaustion had knocked her brain out, and Brennan could do nothing but feel.
The touch of his hands on her sides, the soft hair covering his neck under her fingers, his breath next to her ear, his heartbeat so close to hers.
Feeling Booth was so overwhelming, and she had stopped paying attention to the music or their surroundings long ago, so it took her by surprise when Booth suddenly stilled.
Reluctantly, she lifted her head, searching for his eyes, and mirrored in them was everything she felt as well. Her head started to spin, and she used his strong arms to steady herself.
"What's the matter, Booth?"
"Uh, the music stopped, Bones. The band is taking a break."
Brennan looked around in astonishment.
"Oh... right. Yes."
"You wanna get out of here?"
"Yes, that sounds like a good idea."
One more time he took her hand to escort her to the exit door, and this time it felt so natural that she didn't even notice it.
The cold air cleared her head somehow, and Brennan took a deep breath. It was a beautiful night, and myriad of stars glistened in the sky above them. Her mind wandered back to the strange events of the day. First, the frustration and annoyance; then, their quarrel – and suddenly, this almost intimate closeness. She didn't know what to make of this.
Booth was pretty occupied with his own musings. He thought about his reluctance to spend the evening with her in the first place. Just the same reluctance he had felt again – the moment he had to let her out of his arms. This woman seriously confused him, and he wondered if the night was still young to provide enlightenment.
"Do you want to go home immediately, or are you in the mood for a late night coffee, Bones?"
She regarded him with a profound expression.
"A coffee would be nice."
Miraculously, they managed to find an open coffee house nearby and took a seat in a quiet corner. The bench was plushy and comfortable, and Brennan slid deep into the cushion, allowing her exhausted body to rest for a moment. Booth simply looked at her slightly disheveled but still gorgeous form.
"Bones, we have a problem."
Her eyes flew open.
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know what that means, but look at us. Ever since Sweets announced his stupid idea of our surrogate relationship, we slip from tension to awkwardness to attraction and back in one blink. One moment you are yelling at me, the next we are dancing, and the rest of the world fades away."
"Booth," she protested, "several hours had passed between me yelling at you and our dance."
Booth registered that she didn't comment on the "world fades away" part.
"Too literal again, Bones. But what about the rest? We used to get along so well, but lately this," his hand gestured between the two of them, "has gotten out of order."
"I know Booth, I noticed the change in our behavior as well. And I absolutely blame Dr. Sweets for it."
Booth silenced for a moment, deep in thoughts.
"Yeah, but consider it for a second: Why would his words affect us so much if they did not have a grain of truth?"
"So you think we are stopping each other from bonding with other people? But why would we do that?"
"I don't know, Bones, why would we?"
Silence settled over them, as they drank their coffees.
"I only see one solution for our problem, Booth."
He raised an eyebrow at her.
"We have to conduct an experiment. Our behavior can only be explained in two ways."
Booth encouraged her to continue.
"First alternative: We are both scared of meeting other people with the potential of falling in love and getting hurt, so we've made ourselves comfortable in our friendship."
"Fine, but as you never fail to point out, you don't even believe in love, you're just looking for company."
"Yes, but – lowering myself to the level of psychology – maybe this is just my rational way of dealing with whichever subconscious issues I cannot resolve, maybe underneath it my desires are just the same as yours."
"Okay, I can accept that. But why would it cause tension between us?"
"Because our relationship is perfectly balanced, and any change poses the danger of causing disequilibrium."
"OK, this sounds pretty weird, but go on. What is option number two?"
"This would be that we... feel more for each other than we dare to admit. That we are in a surrogate relationship because what we want in truth is a real relationship... with each other."
Booth shivered at her words, but he tried to stay calm and follow her logic.
"That would pretty much explain why the world simply faded away when we were dancing."
"And it makes clear why you interrupt every date I have."
"Yes, but according to your theory, the first alternative would give an explanation to that as well."
"You're right. We will never know, which brings me back to the experiment."
"What kind of experiment?"
"An experiment that will show us if we are holding each other back or if we should... talk about... us."
Booth's voice got husky as he bent over the table and captured her hands.
"And what if we find out that we should talk about us, Temperance?"
Brennan lost herself in his eyes for a moment.
"Then we are going to do that with the needed precaution and honesty. Agreed?"
After another minute of galvanic glances, Booth broke the spell and leaned back.
"Agreed, but so far you haven't said what this little experiment looks like."
"Oh, that's pretty easy. Now that we are aware of the possible reasons for our behavior, there are two things for us to do. First step: We both have to go on dates with people we feel attracted to. Second step: We have to go on a date with each other."
Booth almost choked on his coffee and wondered if the sleep deprivation had turned his brilliant partner into a crazy version of herself.
"Seriously? That's your great plan? Somehow feels like cheating to me."
"Why? Because it's basically like dating two people at the same time."
"Let's say we have the liberty to end the experiment if it turns out that the first date has been a success. In full awareness of the whole situation it's unlikely that we'll continue disturbing each other – if option one is true. If not, then it would be just another date that has failed."
"Okay, maybe I'm just as crazy as you, but I agree. Let's do it."
So Temperance Brennan and Seeley Booth clank their cups to seal the deal and start their little experiment. Their friends might have felt the need to slap their heads had they known, but the two partners congratulated themselves on their flawless logic.
You don't like them going out with other people? Trust me, neither do I ;-)