[A/N: Thanks for trudging through this story. Not thrilled with this ending, but it's time to tuck this story away in the stack of finished ones. This story was particularly fun to write, and your reviews made it doubly enjoyable to post. Thanks for keeping me in line and for pumping my ego up way more than was necessary. You guys are a credit to reviewers everywhere. You could teach lessons.

I really want to thank blindassasin once more for the time she spent reading and making suggestions about most of this story. Don't blame her for the angst (that's all me)—but please give her due credit for improving its packaging!

I want to go on record as saying that I would never intentionally copy anyone else's story. I read too many fanfics, and I worry that sometimes I might inadvertently "borrow" something. If I ever do that from your story, please tell me so that I can edit mine or acknowledge your story as inspiration. That said, if anything here or elsewhere sounds too close to something you wrote, let me know. Sometimes going back and re-reading my own drafts, I start to wonder if something I wrote had been somewhere else instead of in my own story. I'd never to that on purpose.

I don't own Bones, but I can't wait to see what the show does "post-Doctor in the Photo." I don't own the song "Try" either, but I highly recommend that you all go buy it. Hope this chapter FINALLY answers any nagging, cliffy questions—at least you'll find out what was in that box!]

Chapter 7

By the time Angela, Cam and Sweets had rushed forward, Booth had already started for the door and waved them off. He appreciated their unsolicited support, but he didn't need a pep talk. He didn't need any encouragement. The only thing… the only person he needed was the one hell-bent on running out that door.

"She took a right," Frank yelled to Booth as he raced toward the outer doors of the building. Not breaking his stride, Booth ran outside and down the steps and looked down the sidewalk trying to find Bones in the crowds of tourists and of locals traversing town. As he'd expected, she was striding angrily down the street without a jacket or any other protection from the winter's blustery cold.

Not bothering to put on his own jacket and too caught up in his thoughts to feel the cold attempting to seep into his body, Booth swallowed hard and slowed his pace a bit so that he could collect his thoughts and figure out what the hell he could say to her that wouldn't cause her to assault him again. Despite the stinging in his cheek that was certain to leave a bruise, he half-smiled at the memory of chasing Bones like this that day years ago when he'd had her detained at the airport so that he could entice her to work that second case with him. Performing surveillance by rote, he watched his target and adjusted his pace. His long legs made it fairly easy for him to keep up with most people, but he'd learned long ago that chasing "angry Bones" required more effort.

By the time she reached the middle of the mall, he'd closed the gap between them. He knew that she had long since realized he was chasing her because she had adamantly refused to slow down—even for traffic and crowds of small children. He'd called out to her a few times, but she had pretended not to hear. He didn't let that deter him.

As she walked nearer the edge of the reflecting pool, he jogged up so that he was walking beside her. She whirled on him instantly, angry and ready to tell him why, "How dare you!"


"How dare you say those things in my place of employment—in front of my colleagues and my friends!"

"But it's the truth, Bones. We've avoided the truth for too long."

"What do you know about the truth? You manipulate the truth to your own purposes. You've shown me that the truth about emotional matters is much less important than scientific or mathematic or other truths. Emotional truths don't really matter. They can be avoided and overcome or forgotten when one moves on. But the real truth is that you had no business sharing those things in public!"

"Bones, I screwed that and everything else up, okay? Will you just let me apologize for all of it? Will you just listen to me?"

"Why… why Booth? Why should I listen to you? Listening to you and believing what you say only causes me pain. You tell me love lasts forever and then you move on. You tell me you love me but that you can't be with me. You send me flowers and then leave the country to renew your commitment to the woman you really love. You don't even tell me where you're going or if you're okay. I was afraid something was wrong. I worried for days. I hate you… I hate you for making me care what happens to you when you obviously don't care what happens to me!"

With that, she turned and walked the rest of the length of the reflecting pool alone. He stood there for a long moment watching her before following along worrying that he'd finally pushed her so far away he'd never get another chance. He hadn't seen her this angry since that day at his fake funeral—when Sweets had decided not to tell her he hadn't really been dead.

When he reached her again, she stopped and the energy seemed to leak out of her completely. After staring at him for a long moment, she turned and walked over to the nearest bench and sat down, dropping her head into her hands. Terrified to see Bones refusing to fight but not even considering giving up, Booth sat down on the other end of the bench and looked over at her. Not having any idea where to begin, he blurted what popped into his head first. "Bones… You know how much I care about you. I care about you more than anyone else." When she did not look up at him, he sighed and tried to explain recent events. His voice sounded weary in his own ears; he felt the exhaustion of the last three days hit him and fought past it to talk to her, "I got home that night… Valentine's night… and I opened the package you'd delivered for Hannah."

Booth had swallowed hard and tried not to recognize what was in the box immediately. Inside the shirt box was an olive green oversized shirt—one that looked like a lightweight military style jacket. It was an exact duplicate of the shirt he'd worn the night that crazy Pam had shot him… the night he'd taken a bullet for Bones. He'd never told Bones that he'd kept it. The bullet had entered his t-shirt and not torn the fabric of the shirt he'd worn over it, but Bones had eventually stripped that shirt off his uninjured shoulder and slipped it under and around him to use as a compress to try to stop his bleeding. Afterward, instead of discarding it, he'd scrubbed that shirt over and over again trying to erase the evidence of her handprints trying to save him from his injury. Finally convinced that he could not remove the stains, he'd hung it up in the back of his closet. He hadn't known at the time why he'd been unable to part with it. Yet to him that shirt had become a visible sign of their commitment—of the lengths each would go to save the other.

Hannah had commented on the shirt once when she'd seen it in the back of the closet, but he'd not said much aside from asking her not to throw it away. But now seeing a new, unstained version of that shirt available to him as a gift shook Booth to his core.

Hannah was offering him a replacement.

He'd never wanted one. He still didn't. He didn't want the new, perfect, unstained relationship he'd been building with Hannah. That's why he'd been subconsciously pushing her away these last few weeks. He wanted what he'd always wanted. He wanted to be with Bones. Seeing that shirt reminded him of the way that he'd moved without thinking, drawing his gun and putting himself in front of that bullet to save the woman he loved. It was a gesture of love as much as protection; he'd have done it a hundred times over without even caring if he lived or died as long as she was okay. He was also reminded of the way Cam had told him that Bones had grabbed his gun and taken a life without flinching in order to save him, to save them. Sure, he loved Hannah, he'd even saved her once, too, but this new shirt he did not want reminded him all too clearly that some things cannot be replaced.

Sometimes the original was worth more than any shiny new replacement that showed no signs of wear. Sometimes there was an extraordinary beauty in the knicks and the scratches and even the holes or the stains or the handprints on something well worn and enduring. To him the stains on that shirt were symbolic of the pieces of themselves they'd invested—they reminded him of where he and Bones had been and, more importantly, with whom they had experienced the things that really mattered. As that reality sank in, he considered for the first time in far too long that sometimes it was possible to feel overwhelming love even when two people had pretended that it hadn't been enough… that it still wasn't everything they needed.

After thinking about his feelings and finally deciding to act upon them, Booth had called the airline, booked a ticket that cleaned out his bank account, and packed two bags. One had held his passport, a few changes of clothing and his travel-sized hair products. The other had held most of Hannah's other belongings. He'd ship the rest to her later.

He'd flown out on the first flight to Jordan to break up with Hannah in person. He wasn't completely noble in that decision. He had felt compelled to let her know immediately that their relationship wasn't going to work. He simply had known that he could not wait until her return to put an end to their relationship. Hannah deserved the truth from him in person, and he had to end things with her as soon as possible and go back and fight like hell for what he wanted… what he'd always wanted… with Bones. Waiting one second more than was necessary was no longer an option.

"I just couldn't wait, Bones. I know I should have called you, but I had to do everything I could to get there and back to you as fast as possible. I didn't want that new shirt. I didn't want to replace what I already had…."

"I rushed out planning to find Hannah as soon as we landed, but I was detained at the airport. They wouldn't issue me a visa. With my military training and sniper experience, they were suspicious about my last-minute nongovernment trip. They thought I was a mercenary hired to come in and make a hit. I spent hours begging the embassy to cut through the red tape, but it didn't work."

"I finally called Hannah and asked her to come to the airport. When she did, I told her that I couldn't be with her anymore. She cried. Hannah… Hell, I didn't even know she could cry. But she did. She tried to convince me to change my mind until I told her that I was… that I am… in love with my partner." He paused only long enough to watch his words register with Bones. Then he jumped right back in to finish that part of the story, "When I was honest with her about my feelings for you, Bones, Hannah stopped fighting it. She looked resigned—as if she should have been expecting to hear me say that I was in love with you."

"She wished us happiness, Bones. She was sad, but she really meant it. I went straight back through security and flew back on the first flight I could get on. I called and ordered the flowers just before my first flight took off. I wanted to call you, but I didn't know if you'd take my call or what I'd say to you with only minutes to talk."

His partner just sat there processing what he was saying. He gulped when he saw her staring over at him. At least she was listening. He stood up and walked a few paces away and then turned back to face her. God, he loved this woman. Knowing that she doubted that fact was turning him inside out.

"I am, you know. I'm in love with you. Nobody else. It's always been just you and me and us… what's ours." Pleading with her with his eyes to listen to him, Booth held up the jacket—the original one still stained with the blood he'd lost protecting her. "I don't want to move on. I don't want anything or anyone new. I never did. I was a fool to even try. There is no replacement. There never could be. You're it for me, Bones."

She just stared at him miserably. God, he wasn't getting through to her. He couldn't pour his heart out and have her reject it out of fear—not again. Afraid this was really his last chance, he opted to go alpha-male and get in her face instead of groveling, "I… I'm not taking no as an answer from you this time. We've wasted too much time, Bones. It's time we stopped pretending either one of us can be happy while the other is somewhere else, with someone else, trying to be happy without the other partner."

Suddenly emotional, he looked down at the shirt still clutched tightly in his hand. Smiling in amusement at himself and in hope he'd almost given up his tight hold on, he looked up at her and held the shirt out toward her again hoping she could see what a symbol it had become, "I carried this stained shirt halfway around the world and back just to feel closer to you while I was away. Just to remind me that what we have is real and that it will last—no matter how much we've screwed it up and no matter how many times we've pretended that we didn't still want it. I'm not that big a sap for anyone but you, Bones."

And even if it's hard, it's never goodbye
If you love someone, then you try try
Then you try

He watched her struggle. He could see how hard she was trying to stay angry with him. He knew this was too much—far too much information, far too public, far too dramatic, far too late—but he couldn't make himself care. He had a clear vision of the way things were supposed to be now, and he could only be so patient waiting for her to catch up with him and share that vision.

As usual, she caught on and caught up quickly, "So what do you mean, Booth?"

"We are going to give this… give us… a try. It means you need to trust me, Temperance. I'm not leaving. I'm here to stay. And you're the one I wanna stay with."

She wanted to believe him, but her heart was trembling with fear, "What about what I want? What if I've moved on? What if I don't want what you want?"

And even if it's hard, it's never goodbye
If you love someone, then you try try try
Don't throw us away just because we're broken
'Cause anything can mend

He'd expected as much. She wanted to know what he'd do if she refused him—if he'd just move on again.

"Have you, Bones? Have you really moved on? You're the scientist here. You tell me. Show me the evidence. Did I miss my chance…? Have we missed our chance?"

Tears filled her eyes afresh. She wanted to believe him, but she couldn't imagine that it could be that easy—that she could just give in and have what she'd wanted so desperately for far too long.

He felt nauseated. He'd thought she'd listen. He nearly panicked, afraid this would be yet another disaster—perhaps the one that drove them apart. In his frustration, he squeezed his fists more tightly and felt the fabric he hadn't let out of his sight for days. Yet again through contact with that tactile reminder of such a poignant memory, he was grounded, and he knew he had to reach her wherever she was at that moment, "Bones… If you're not ready… If you need more time, then I'll wait until you're ready, too. I will wait as long as you need. We can fix this, Bones. I promise I'll wait if that's what you want, but I really don't want to wait, Bones. We've waited too damned long already."

It was her turn to stand up and walk away. She walked a few steps down the path and stood with her arms crossed tightly across her body as if to shield her incredibly fragile heart.

When she found her voice, it was angry, "So you expect me to just accept your terms and what you're offering? Just like that? Just because you've decided?" she asked as she snapped her fingers once loudly for emphasis.

His heart beat even more loudly realizing that the words he said next might change his whole life.


"Yes? Yes? You're an arrogant man, Seeley Booth!"

"That's just one more reason you're perfect for me, Bones. I can't ever feel arrogant for long with you around to humble me."

She whirled on him, anger flashing in those eyes that held him captive, "Stop trying to placate me, Booth. And stop ordering me to jump just because you finally made a decision!"

"I don't want to fight with you, Bones. Can't we talk? Won't you talk to me about this?"

She'd been ready for him to get in her face. She was accustomed to arguing with Booth—sometimes violently. She'd been unprepared for tenderness and pleading. Booth could be tender, she knew, but he typically whined or cajoled or nagged or misdirected when he wanted something. This sincere plea from him deflated her anger better than he had hoped. She didn't feel equipped to sit and talk to Booth about this. There was no way to hide her upheaval and emotional imbalance from him. She'd be too raw and too exposed.

She walked away from him again, but he followed her. He wasn't going to stop following her—not now, not ever.

"I'm not asking you to do anything too quickly, Bones. Six years is glacially slow—even for us. You're the scientific, logical one. What if you and I… what if we can't evolve any more without each other? We've both hurt each other, and we've both tried to move on, and it isn't working. What if the only way we can adapt and evolve is to do that together? And if we're going to do that, I think logic would dictate that we just cut the crap and give this a shot… give us a damned good shot by admitting that the evidence is all in and that we need each other."

Out of breath physically and metaphorically, he looked at her, hoping against hope she was really listening and that his attempt at a somewhat squinty explanation would ring true for her.

She stared at him as if scrutinizing his features might provide her with more evidence about the workings of his heart. He was infuriating. He'd hurt her so badly. He seemed intent on shattering her pride and her self-control and her ability to stay sane and still work with him. He'd opened her up and made her suffer terribly for it. She should hate him. Part of her hated him.

But far more than that she loved him. It was illogical and risky, but it was true. As she took in the shadow of his unshaven beard and noticed afresh the fact that he looked as if he'd worn those clothes for days and as she saw plainly the fear in his eyes as he waited for her to say something… anything…, she knew. As frustrating as he was, as difficult as he'd made things for them, as terrified as she was that she'd fail him or he'd hurt her or that they'd do something to put an end to the partnership she valued above nearly all else, she knew. Fighting with Booth and being hurt by Booth was far better than being alone or than spending time with anyone else.

Only he would try to use logic to explain the illogical way they seemed bound to one another—and to do it for her benefit. He'd broken up with a woman he loved for her. He'd saved that shirt she'd actually prayed would help save him so long ago. He'd stayed and been her partner even when doing so had made him feel the way she'd felt lately. He loved her despite all her faults. And she loved him because of his.

He was stunned to see the faintest glimmer of hope finally start shining in her expression. Well, I'll be damned, he thought as he finally closed the gap between them.

They stood about an arm's length apart regarding each other for a long moment. Then, he pulled her into a hug and held her tightly for a long time. Neither noticed the cold or the people around them. Each only held onto the person treasured more than any other.

Eventually, he pulled back to look into her eyes and found them sparkling and quite happy for the first time in… forever. He thought he'd burst from sheer happiness.

Tears of relief and of affection streaming, she smiled up at him and said, "What you said is entirely logical, Booth."

"It is?" he asked as he tenderly wiped stray tears from her beautiful cheekbones with the pads of his thumbs.

"Yes. It would seem that you and I need to adapt. I… I have found myself unable to stop regretting my decision not to pursue a relationship with you last year. Given another opportunity, I think it would be foolish of me not to pursue it."

"Did you just say out loud that I'm right AND that you'll give this… give us a shot?" he asked, the earliest glimmers of a cocky grin shining in his expression.

"Yes," she whispered, taking note of the instantaneous change in her partner's stance and posture. He hugged her again, and she couldn't resist teasing him as he did so. "Of course, my judgment may be impaired. It appears that my neurotransmitter receptors become quite overloaded with hormones when you speak to me about science and logic."

He laughed out loud. Inspired by her humor and the hope it inspired in him, he spoke loudly to her and to the coffee cart vendor who had been watching the whole exchange and to Angela, Cam, and Sweets who had stumbled down after them and had failed miserably to hide behind some shrubs nearby and to anyone else who happened to be within sight or hearing. He spread his arms wide and spun around crazily a few times, exclaiming loudly, "I'm calling a mulligan!"

"Why on Earth would you call an Irish relative at a moment like this?" Temperance asked as he spun into her and crushed his lips to hers. For once, she forgot all about her unanswered question as Booth's tender touch and his able kissing answered all of the other questions she'd wondered about for so long.

She catalogued the evidence as she dismissed all her doubts and fears one by one.

Yes, they really loved one another the way that Booth wanted. When he kissed her, really kissed her without fear, without desperation, without intoxication, she really did feel as if those things he said about fate and magic and lovemaking and love that lasted might be possible.

Yes, he needed to be with her as much as she ached to be with him. As he cradled her head gently in his hands and caressed her lips apart so that he could explore her warm waiting mouth with his tongue, she felt adored, respected, and very much loved. She also felt him tremble with the realization that they were finally crossing that unnecessary line and that they'd never look back.

Yes, they were meant to share far more than just friendship and partnership; they were meant to be together as a man and a woman intimately. As he slipped his hands lower and around her waist and pulled her body flush against his muscular one, her body informed her brain that she craved him physically as much as she'd ever treasured their friendship. When he held her so possessively and her body responded to his strength and attractiveness and skill with more and more desire for him, she believed that the laws of physics might really not be strong enough to contain the heat and the raw need that now flowed so freely between them.

Yes, this flawed, imperfect relationship was sturdy and reliable enough for her to trust it—she could trust him with all this and more. They might make mistakes, but they were their mistakes and they'd work through them. As he pulled back to look down at her and evaluate how she felt about that kiss, she tugged him back to take him under once again. She now knew that they were true partners, equals, best friends, and soon-to-be lovers. She was no longer afraid to consider that it would be worth risking her heart to share such a deep and profound connection with this man who held her so close. They were already connected. They always had been. Without realizing it, she'd given him her heart years before. She couldn't imagine trying to do without him any longer.

Yes, she truly loved him enough; she could be enough for him. As he pulled away again to hold her chin tenderly in his hand and to whisper to her that he loved her… that he'd always love her, she knew that she loved him just as much. She pulled his lips back down to hers and molded her body to his. They fit perfectly. She'd always suspected that they would. She now had physical evidence… and that realization made her laugh out loud. The low rumble in Booth's chest as he responded to her laughter and pressed her even closer told her that he had uncovered that same evidence as well.

No, she would not spend her life haunted by past mistakes and intolerable regrets. Now that she was satisfying part of her emotional longing for him and building more and more intimacy and physical need for him, she knew that she would no longer have any regrets. She felt a peace and a relief—this was the right decision. She only had that type of clarity when she'd made an incontrovertible decision about something. No matter how things turned out for them down the road, somehow she simply knew that becoming something more than just partners with Booth—by finally giving in to the seemingly unstoppable attraction and life-altering friendship that bound them tightly together against the odds, neither one of them would regret taking that step and trying to give them a chance at happiness and a future together.

Lost in one another and dizzy from epinephrine and other chemicals whose names she would now have great difficulty reciting, the partners stood there as if time had been suspended. They ignored their stunned but happy friends who were looking on excitedly as they discussed what was happening with the now-grinning coffee cart vendor. Those who knew them and quite a few who did not watched in amazement as the pair intimately exchanged more tender words, shared affectionate and passionate touches, and reveled in finally being together without any barrier or restriction.

Eventually they turned to walk back toward their friends, and Booth put an arm around her shoulder to pull her close. He planted a kiss in her hair and relished the fact that he now had permission to do that and so many other things he'd longed to do for years.

Just before they got close enough to be mobbed by the eager people still watching them noticeably from a safe but quite noisy distance, Booth stopped and turned to face the woman of his dreams. "What? What's wrong, Booth?"

"Nothing's wrong. Nothing may ever be wrong again, Bones," he said with a genuinely happy smile. "But I do have a question for you."

"Okay. What is it?" she asked, concern still tempering her expression.

"Bones… Temperance…," he said, enjoying the feel of her given name on his tongue spoken in adoration instead of sympathy or comfort. He'd screwed this up the last time, but he was going to correct those mistakes for what he hoped would be the final time around. He took her hands gently in his and looked down at her adoringly, "I want to be clear this time. I'm asking you to be my girlfriend. I want to date only you, I want to take you out dancing and to movies. I want to kiss you, cook for you, work with you, tease you, make out with you, make love to you…. I want so much more than that, but I can be patient. What I'm asking is for you to try to commit to me… to us. Because that's what I'm doing here. I know that's huge and that you might need some time for all of it, but will you give it a try? Will you finally try being my girlfriend?"

Surprising him, she avoided complaining about the term or asking questions about what it meant. Instead, she launched herself into his arms and kissed him with a ferocity that sent both of them staggering backwards a few steps.

"I'll take that as a yes," he mumbled into her mouth before kissing her even more deeply.

The End.

[A/N: Hugs to you all for making it through. Hope this brought a bit of enjoyment along with the agony and angst I can't seem to contain. Thank you all so much for reading!

If you're reading this long after it was posted and you enjoyed it, I'd really appreciate your taking a moment to let me know your thoughts about what you read—even if you want to yell at me for torturing you! Thanks again! ~ MiseryMaker]