An Author's Note (and explanation): Soooo…when I broke my long hiatus from 'Truth', I mentioned you might see something slightly weird get posted. Then I promptly forgot about my intention to do so. But I found it last night, read through it and, perhaps unfortunately, I'm still intrigued by it enough to post.

What happened here, as you will soon be wondering, is that I was having a discussion with a friend on AU fic in general (not even in the Bones fandom), and how I'm not really a fan. So then the discussion became more of a challenge…her asking me if I could ever write one anyway. If I could keep the dynamic and the characters true in spite of the 'alternate' part of AU, etc etc. A lot of my original prose work is young adult fiction, so it was sort of suggested that I channel that. In the end, this is what happened. It's actually about a three shot, completed, but for right now, I'll start with this. Story title and lyrics come from a Something Corporate song.

(The AU liberties I took are, beyond the obvious of course, with age difference, and setting, etc etc.)

Walking By

An experiment in the art of AU

She had warm summer eyes that flickered like fireflies,
when she stared at the world.

So why do you leave these stories unfinished,
my Cheshire cat doorstop with tears in her eyes?
Why do you look when you've already found it?
What did you find that could leave you walking by?

One of the most important events of Seeley Booth's life began with a pantsing.

It was Joey Dahl, forward on the John Adams High School hockey team, who ceremoniously looped his fingers around Harlan Kenny's stretchy belt and revealed, to a cheering cafeteria full of students, the kid's tighty whities that day at lunch.

But when the nerd haughtily approached the group of hockey players, hanging out at the top of the stairwell between classes, he seemed to have decided to seek his revenge on the collective group.

"I have something to say to all of you." Kenny announced, his voice already quivering in spite of the bravado he was attempting to project.

"Hey, Kenny," Joey leered, nudging Seeley. "Didn't quite recognize you with pants on."

Kenny lifted his face to Joey's, then let his eyes rest on each one of them, expression scornful. Booth almost had to give the guy credit for bravery.. Already a crowd had gathered around them on the stairwell, clearly anticipating more entertainment.

"An insult worthy of your intellect," Kenny simpered in the nasally voice that did him no favors. "As was that juvenile display in the cafeteria earlier. " For some reason, Kenny chose to pin his gaze on Booth as he delivered what he clearly thought was the crux of his brief monologue. "You're all a bunch of philistines."

Instantly, Booth bristled, recognizing the tone of an insult even if he didn't quite know the context. "I'm not Philistine, genius. I'm Catholic. And so is he." He jabbed a thumb in Joey's direction, then pointed to Tommy, the team's keeper. "And him."

For a moment, Kenny simply stared at them, openmouthed; then, he burst into hysterical, malicious laughter. "How kind of you to instantly prove my point."

Joey's face was contorted in equal parts confusion and anger. Before Booth could retort, his friend was stepping forward and seizing Kenny easily by the armpits. "You want me to give you something to laugh at, funny boy?"

In an instant, Kenny's breathless chuckles turned into shrieks of panic as Joey lifted the slight boy and dangled him over the stairway, three floors up.

Whoops and cheers went up from the onlookers. Kenny was thrashing his legs uselessly in midair, his Adam's apple bobbing with panic. Laughter rose from Booth's chest; he had to admit it looked pretty funny.

"You makin' jokes now?" Joey demanded from behind Kenny. His voice was harsh, but also amplified; he was clearly playing to the crowd.

"No, no, I won't, please, just let me down…" Kenny was begging, and suddenly Booth's laughter felt cold in his chest; Kenny was nearly hyperventilating, his eyes bright with genuine terror and what looked like tears.

"I don't know," Joey said flatly, his voice mock contemplative. "Anyone think he's learned his lesson?"

A chorus of no's rose up from the crowd, and Booth said nothing to contradict him. He kept the smile plastered on his face and tried not to look too hard at Kenny's expression.

Then, suddenly, a voice cut through the jeers. "Let him go, ingrate."

Startled, Booth turned, along with Joey, Kenny, and the rest of the gathered crowd, to see a younger girl glaring at Joey with a hot, dark gaze of smoldering hatred, even as she crossed her arms and sighed in a manner that conveyed utter boredom.

She had to be a freshmen or a sophomore, which explained why Booth had never seen her before. She was small and skinny, almost unhealthily so, a fact that was only emphasized by the oversized clothing she was nearly drowning in.

Her hair was stick straight and hung halfway down her back, and she wore no makeup, a fact that only emphasized the almost otherworldly quality of her eyes.

She wasn't even looking at him, and yet Booth's throat narrowed simply from glimpsing that shade of blue. It made him think of oceans or sky…anything that went on forever, anything you could drown in.

~(B*B)~

Temperance Brennan had recently developed a savior complex.

It happened the first time she ever punched someone. Shana Lynch, reigning queen of the pretty, the popular, and the privileged at this particular high school, had been wandering around the school grounds with her posse after the final bell several weeks ago, and they'd taken a picnic table beside the one where Brennan was doing her homework (and avoiding heading home).

Immediately, Shana began a very loud and very nasty conversation, speculating as to what, exactly, had landed Brennan in foster care.

Never one to confront, Brennan buried herself deeper in her chemistry book for as long as possible until Shana's suggestion that Brennan herself had "killed Mom and Dad and dissected the bodies. You know, she likes dead things much more than live ones anyway."

Swallowing her own fear with pure fury, Brennan had approached them. Only when the girls, all seven of them, turned to look at her, did she realize something.

She was no longer afraid of any fellow high school student. The very idea that she might be was suddenly ludicrous.

So, very calmly and deliberately, she'd given Shana Lynch a bloody nose.

Now, three weeks later, she was on yet another crusade. Her newfound fearlessness was powerful thing. There was logic behind it; on the off chance that the bullies she confronted fought back (and, as Brennan was learning, it was statistically unlikely that they would), nothing they would do to her would come close to what Sean did to her, every night.

This was her fourth high school in two years, third since entering the system. As the frequent victim of petty teenage abuse, Brennan had taken to channeling her newly discovered courage into sticking up for her more fearful counterparts.

Like Harlan Kenny.

"Let him go, ingrate," she demanded as soon as she was able to shove her way through the crowd (quite a feat, considering she'd been within earshot of the entire exchange yet hadn't been able to approach).

The tall, stocky hockey player who was holding Kenny stared down at Brennan first in disbelief, than amusement. "What the hell do you plan to do about it?"

"Well you're going to let him down eventually," she said rationally. "Unless you want to potentially face charges of manslaughter or even attempted murder. The only question is…" Calmly, never breaking eye contact with the beefy jock, Brennan extracted her thickest textbook (pre-calculus) from her backpack. "…whether or not I'll propel the spine of this book into your testicles when you do so."

~(B*B)~

Booth's mouth fell open.

She'd really just said that. Some nobody freshmen/sophomore/whatever girl had just threatened Joey Dahl's testicles.

A low chorus of ooh's lifted from the crowd around them. Shock, uncertainty, and anger flickered across Joey's face in quick succession, but then he firmly fixed a cocky smirk on his face.

"Looks like you've been rescued Kenny," Joey said, his tone mocking. "Your knight in shining armor rode to the rescue." He lifted the sniveling nerd over the railing and set him on his feet, though he didn't let go of him yet. Joey looked at Booth and the other guys. "What do you call a girl version of a knight?"

"A knighta?" Tommy Briggs suggested.

"Knightress?" Paul Mensick guessed.

Booth grinned. "Knightessa, maybe." For the first time, the girl's vivid blue gaze flicked to him, the look on her face suggesting it was usually reserved for lower life forms.

Then, she returned the glare to Joey, ignoring the conversation. "I said let him go, not just put him down."

Joey rolled his eyes. "Whatever." But he instinctively drew his legs together a little even as he released Kenny from his hold.

A disappointed murmur swept through the crowd, and slowly the audience began to disperse. Kenny, though, his face beet red, was scowling at the girl.

"Who asked you to get involved, Mortitia?" He sneered. "Just because you're a charity case doesn't mean everyone is."

"Hey." Booth, on the verge walking away, suddenly whirled, towering over Kenny. "How about some manners? Or some fucking gratitude, coward?" He looked back at the girl, who looked genuinely taken aback. "Now can I hit him?"

Moving her eyes from Kenny to him, with that same dismissive look, she shook her head once, then calmly drove her fist into Harlan Kenny's throat.

As he crumpled, gagging and choking, she turned her heated gaze on Booth. "That won't be necessary." She turned on her heel, not sparing him another glance as she added, "For future reference, a philistine isn't a religious affiliation."

~(B*B)~

"So who was she?" Booth asked at first opportunity, careful to hide the eagerness in the question.

The hockey team was in the locker room, suiting up for practice, and Harlan Kenny and the confrontation at the staircase was the subject of scrutiny.

One of the sophomore second stringers, Ryan Kirk, spoke up, eager to provide Booth, a senior and team captain, with information. "Some genius foster kid. She's a sophomore, but she's in all these advanced classes…and everyone says she's a real creep. Obsessed with dead things."

"It's true," one of the other sophomores, whose name Booth couldn't remember, put it quickly. "My friend was in her bio class, and apparently she wanted to reassemble some dead cat skeleton she found for extra credit. And the teacher let her. She, like, brought in all the random bones and stuff."

The others were off, discussing the girl's apparent obsession with bones and death, her foster homes, and her "hilarious" confrontation of Joey.

But all Booth could think of was the pang that hit him somewhere in the chest every time the girl looked directly at him, no matter how hostile her gaze.

~(B*B)~

"So what is it?"

Brennan jumped. She was in the library, during free period, poring over an SAT practice test, when the voice came from directly behind her.

She turned in her chair to see one of the hockey players from yesterday, the one who'd offered to hit Kenny after his idiotic insults.

She narrowed her eyes at him, suspicious. "What is what?"

"A philistine." He came around in front of her, leaning on the table she'd commandeered for her various textbooks. "If it's not a religion, what is it?"

Brennan sighed, "Are you familiar with a dictionary?"

"Won't it be easier for you tell me?"

"Not for me," she stated bluntly.

The boy raised an eyebrow, then grinned. "Fair enough." He paused long enough to take a breath, then asked, "Would it really have killed Kenny? If Joey had dropped him?"

"No, not from that height," she answered absently. "Though he would have been injured…he could have potentially fractured his cuboids, or his fibulas, or possibly even, depending on the landing, a femur. There would have most likely been some vertical compression of the vertebrae as well."

The older boy gaped at her. "Huh?"

"They're bones," Brennan explained impatiently.

"Bones, huh?" He repeated, amusement flickering in his eyes for some reason.

"Could you please go somewhere else?" she asked without preamble. "I allocated the full time of my free period for studying."

For a moment, he looked like he might protest, but then he just shrugged. "Sure. I'll see you." He turned around, revealing the name on the back of his hockey jersey: Booth.

Then he was gone, leaving Brennan distracted with the memory of symmetrical features, and the surprising softness of them, up close.

~(B*B)~

The next day, Booth was pulling out of the parking lot after practice when he saw her. Although it was two and a half hours since the final bell had dismissed classes, it appeared the girl who'd hit Kenny was only now leaving school.

On foot.

Booth leaned on the horn before he could consider what he was doing. "Hey!" She didn't turn . "Hey!" He cursed under his breath; two days and he hadn't been able to figure out her name. Suddenly, without thinking, he yelled out, "Hey, Bones."

She hesitated, slowing, and then turned around just as he pulled up beside her, shooting her his most winning smile.

Booth could almost see the walls go up; she tensed instantly, eyes narrowed, bare, ungloved hands clenching into fists. "Did you just call me Bones?"

"Yeah," Booth admitted with a smile. "I needed to get your attention, and I don't know your name. It worked, right? You answered."

"What do you want?" she demanded suspiciously, her tone suggesting he'd cornered her in an alley with a weapon.

He ignored the hostility, however, and pressed on, not stopping to question his own motives as he offered, "I could give you a ride somewhere, if you want." Booth gave her a quick once over; Bones (as he now referred to her in his head) had on a jacket that, in spite of being at least two sizes too large for her, was far too thin for the below freezing weather. Her black Converse (not boots) were sunk into snow, probably getting soaked. She had a charcoal gray fleece cap on her head, slightly askew, and her cheeks were pink. "It's pretty cold out."

"I'm fine," she said churlishly; not at all as though he was offering to do her a favor. Something akin to annoyance flared in Booth's chest, suddenly, and he rolled his eyes, scowling.

"Forget it, then. I try to make a nice offer…you know what you're like? You're like Kenny. Unappreciative. It's below freezing out, if you didn't notice, and I thought I'd save you the walk."

For a long time, she simply stared at him, expression still defensive, but Booth could feel the power of her eye contact draining his anger.

Finally, without a word, she stepped off the sidewalk and got in the passenger side of Booth's car.

The surge of triumph that swept through Booth was disproportionate to what he'd just accomplished, but suddenly he was grinning in satisfaction as he put the car in drive.

His triumph was perhaps premature; next to him, Brennan was curled in on herself, huddled against the door, looking ready to fling the door open and run for it at a moment's notice.

"Do you ever relax?"

"Not when I'm in an uncomfortable situation," she retorted, not looking at him.

"Uncomfortable? Jesus," Booth muttered, taking his eyes off the road to glance at her."I offered you a ride. It's not an abduction attempt."

At that, Brennan turned and fixed him with a contemplative, deliberate look. "Why?"

"Why is not an abduction attempt?"

"Why did you offer me a ride? You don't even know my name."

Booth was quiet for a moment, uncharacteristically thoughtful. Dozens of easy answers danced on his tongue: It's freezing out, I'm a gentleman, you looked cold. Instead, what he said was, "I guess I just…I've been wanting to talk to you."

He paused, but she didn't fill the silence with instant questions, like most girls would. She just continued to stare at him, piercing and intense, waiting.

"What you did the other day, with Kenny, that was…that was a really good thing you did for him. And I just…I want you to know, that I know, Joey was out of line."

"You were laughing," she told him matter-of-factly, no accusation in her voice; it was a simple statement of fact.

"Yeah, and I…I shouldn't have." Booth paused, hesitated. Then, with his eyes on the road, he admitted, "I…I've been thinking about it a lot, and I just want you to know…I wish I could have done the brave thing. Like you did."

For a moment, silence hung between them. As Booth eased up to a stop sign, he chanced a glance beside him; Bones was staring, and for the first time, her blue eyes had softened in his direction.

Swear to God, Booth felt his heart turn over in his chest.

"Thank you," she said finally.

Booth smiled clumsily at her as he eased the car forward again. "I just wish he'd been a bit more grateful," he muttered then.

"I don't care about that." Her tone was genuine, and dismissive. "Gratitude was not a motivational factor in my decision to intervene."

She talked like an essay, all formal syntax and complicated vocabulary. It threw Booth off, a little, and he wasn't used to that.

He remembered, though, the way the sophomores in the locker room had mentioned her being extremely smart; but they hadn't been nearly as interested in that as they had her alleged 'creepiness'.

This made him think, again, of Kenny, and the humiliated and hateful tone of his voice when he told her to butt out, calling her Mortitia, and suddenly Booth felt himself flush. "I'm sorry I don't know your name."

She gave him an odd look. "How could you? I never told you." Before he could respond, she added, "I don't know your name."

"Really?" The question, conceited as it sounded, was out before Booth could stop it, and he winced instantly.

But Booth couldn't pretend to be unaware of his status at school. He was the golden boy, the popular senior, football and hockey star (depending on the season).

Brennan, though, merely shrugged. "No, how could I? Actually, minor correction, I know your last name is Booth, but that's only because it was on your hockey jersey yesterday. Anyway, that's how I've been mentally referring to you since then."

Immediately, Booth grinned, arching an eyebrow in her direction. "So. That means you've been thinking about me, huh?"

At the strange spluttering sound of protest , Booth glanced over; Brennan's face was flushed, and for the first time, he seemed to have surprised her.

Proud of himself, Booth grinned. "Not such a philistine now, am I?"

Her gaze skirting away, Brennan murmured, "I never called you a philistine."

"Yeah, I know."

"I don't know you well enough to draw that conclusion."

Booth drove in silence for a moment, biting back a grin. Then, he offered simply, "Seeley."

"I don't know what that means."

"That's my name," he explained. "Seeley Booth." His face split into a smirk. "But just Booth is fine. I know you're used to it now."

He didn't have to glance over; he could feel her smiling.

"This is the part where you tell me your name," Booth prompted teasingly after a moment. "Unless you want me to keep calling you Bones."

"Temperance Brennan," she answered softly, the way she'd tell a secret. "But I have no preference as to what you call me…" Her voice trailed off as the car slowed to a stop. "Where are we?"

"Huh?" Blinking, Booth looked outside and realized, belatedly, that he'd driven automatically to his own house. "Oh, uh…sorry. I didn't know where you live."

"You didn't ask!"

"And you didn't tell me!" He shot back, the barest hint of amusement in his voice. He'd been so preoccupied with the conversation, her very presence in his car, that he'd been driving on autopilot.

For a moment, Booth sat stagnant in the driveway, then, spontaneously, he turned off the engine. "You want to come in for a minute?"

Her suspicion back, Brennan regarded him dubiously. "Why?"

Booth was already out of the car, grinning down at her. "You gotta have a reason?"

Left with no choice, Brennan got out of the car, pulling her overloaded backpack over her shoulder as she followed Booth up the driveway of the unfamiliar house.

Brennan lingered several paces behind Booth as they went inside. She was utterly unfamiliar with this social situation; these days, when she entered strange homes, it was because she was moving in with a new foster family.

She couldn't remember the last time she visited the home of a peer. Brennan couldn't even really remember the last time she had a friend.

Not that Seeley Booth would qualify as such. She barely knew him, and frankly, his sudden interest made her a bit apprehensive. Brennan had observed enough about high school social status to get a sense of the hierarchy. Her position in the high school caste system was comparable to the Untouchables, so that even bullied Harlan Kenny looked down on her.

And from what she observed, Seeley Booth was about as far in the opposite direction as one could get.

Still, in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that some instinctual part of her was already worried about what Sean would do when she was arrived home so late, Brennan did not stand by the car and insist he take her home. She didn't turn around and start walking to the nearest bus stop.

Instead, she followed him inside the house and found herself being introduced to his grandfather.

"Hey, Pops!" Booth called as soon as they were inside. "I'm home." He dumped his backpack and duffel bag full of hockey equipment unceremoniously in the foyer.

"Good timing, shrimp, dinner's almost ready." An older man appeared in the doorway to the kitchen; he stopped when he saw her. "You didn't tell me you were brining company."

Booth grinned. "It was kind of an accident. Pops, this is Temperance Brennan. Bones, this is my grandfather."

As he grasped her hand, Booth's grandfather studied Brennan intently. Then, his face broke open into a smile. "You can call me Hank."

"Nice to meet you, Hank," Brennan repeated automatically.

"You'll stay for dinner." It wasn't a question, but Brennan's protest was instantaneous.

"Oh, I'm expected back home-"

"Call your parents and ask!" Hank said cheerfully, already returning to the kitchen. "Plenty of spaghetti for everyone, right, Seeley?"

Brennan turned, instinctually, to look at Booth. He just shrugged, unperturbed. "He's pretty persuasive, Pops." Noticing her hesitation, Booth softened his voice, "You should stay. Really."

The moment he'd said it, Booth realized how much he genuinely wanted her to hang around. He liked trying to fluster her; he liked trying to get her to look at him without defense or suspicion.

He liked her, period.

Slowly, the reservations drained from Brennan's eyes, and Booth knew he'd won. "There's a phone right in there, you can call home."

Booth disappeared after his grandfather, leaving Brennan standing in the living room, staring at the phone. She lifted the receiver, mentally sifting through excuses.

She tried, rationally, to tell herself that this wasn't worth the trouble of lying to Sean, of potentially angering him. She knew she should merely thank Booth and his grandfather for the offer, but she had to get home.

Still, Brennan began to dial.

~(B*B)~

The second Booth stepped into the kitchen, Pops was asking what kind of salad dressing his "friend" wanted, so Booth doubled back to ask.

He froze just outside the living room as Brennan's voice, on the phone, floated back to him. Her voice was small and quiet.

"Yes, sir, just a study session. Yes, I know. I know, I should have told-. No, sir. I-….No more than an hour or two. Yes, I know I'll still do the dishes. No, of course.. Yes, sir, straight home after. Thank you."

She hung up, turned and nearly collided with him.

"Sorry," Booth muttered, embarrassed to be caught eavesdropping. "Were they…is it okay for you to stay?"

"It's fine," she answered, schooling her face into an impassive expression.

"Good," he offered her a smile and immediately changed the subject to salad dressing as they walked back to the kitchen.

Booth launched himself onto a stool at the bar, relaying Brennan's salad preferences to his grandfather.

Brennan, though, hovered awkwardly in the kitchen, feeling oddly bereft without her usual list of pre-dinner chores to get through. "Do you…need help with anything?"

Hank Booth smiled at her. "Don't worry about a thing. You just have a seat next to Seeley there."

Obediently, Brennan took the stool beside Booth's, and for the next five minutes, Hank asked her questions and kept her talking.

Brennan was in the midst of an explanation of how, exactly, she was taking college level calculus classes as a sophomore, to the amusement and fascination of both Booth men, when Jared Booth flopped into the kitchen, emerging from his room, and instantly froze.

"What the hell?" he blurted out without thinking, his eyes wide and fixed on Brennan.

Booth whirled, fixing his brother with a murderous look as Hank growled, "Jared Thomas Booth, you will watch your language."

Jared, though, continued to stare openmouthed at Brennan as though she was some sort of museum exhibit. Finally, he dragged his gaze to meet Booth's. "Seriously, Seeley, what is this? What's with Morticia?"

"Shut up, Jared," Booth snarled, menacing, his eyes flashing a clear warning just as Pops barked at him to remember his manners.

Brennan's face was flushed, yet she was staring directly at Jared, outwardly calm.

"Enough of that," Pops said firmly, dismissive. "Who's turn is it to set the table?"

The brothers answered at the same time.

"Seeley's."

"Mine."

Hank nodded once, then smiled at Brennan. "Temperance, you can go wash up…just down the hall there, last door on the left."

As Brennan disappeared, Booth instinctually turned toward his brother (who was, he had belatedly realized, in Brennan's year at school) to set some ground rules for this dinner, only to see Jared retreating down the hall after her, his stride quick and purposeful.

~(B*B)~

Brennan had just finished washing her hands when, turning to reach for a towel, she glimpsed Jared Booth leaning against the bathroom doorframe, watching her.

She jumped slightly, taken aback by his presence. Recovering quickly, she merely said, "Hello."

"Hello," he parroted, tone clearly mocking. Jared was smirking at her, and he didn't move from the doorway.

Ignoring the sense of discomfort slowly crawling the length of her spine, Brennan shifted her weight slightly, waiting for him to move. When he merely stared at her, Brennan stated, "You're in my health class."

"Yeah, I know," Jared replied. "So why are you in my house?"

"Your brother invited me."

"Hmmm…" Jared grinned, seeming to consider this. "Well. I for one can't wait to see what the game is. Should be hilarious."

Irritated and slightly nervous, Brennan found herself glancing over Jared's shoulder, hoping Booth would appear. "I don't know what that means."

"Well, it's some kind of set up, that much is a given," Jared continued conversationally. "Could just be some sort of bet, you know? See if the big man on campus can convince even a supposed genius that he'd actually want to go out with her. Or maybe it's bigger than that…maybe he'll end up taking you to prom and they can, you know, dump the pig's blood or whatever? Like that Carrie movie?" Jared laughed nastily. "Not that you'd mind much, I guess. Probably a fan of blood, aren't you?"

Brennan clenched her jaw, dragging her eyes away from Jared. She had no idea what movie Jared was going on about, but it hardly mattered. She understood his implication.

"Oh, come on," Jared continued after a moment. "You can't seriously think there's nothing behind this. What, did Seeley just start up a conversation out of the blue? Offer you a ride or something?" Jared laughed. "Convenient, right?"

Heat rising to her cheeks, Brennan ducked her head and shoved violently past Jared, barreling down the hallway, grabbing her backpack, and exiting the house with a complete disregard to the manners that were so emphasized in foster care.

~(B*B)~

Booth was just finishing setting the table when he heard a door slam somewhere in the house. Startled, he glanced down the hallway, calling, "Bones?"

Instead, his younger brother emerged, doing a poor job of concealing the grin on his face. Narrowing his eyes at Jared, Booth demanded, "Where's Bones?"

"Why do you keep calling her that? Everyone else just uses Mortitia." When the serious expression on Booth's face didn't change, Jared rolled his eyes, "She took off, I think."

Booth groaned. "What did you say?" he demanded, not sticking around for an answer as he headed toward the front door.

She was walking swiftly, already halfway down the street when Booth emerged from the house. He sprinted until he caught up, panting slightly. "Where are you going?"

"Home," Brennan gritted out, not looking at him, not slowing her pace.

"You were supposed to stay for dinner!" Booth blurted stupidly.

Instantly, Brennan whirled on him, her eyes blazing. "Oh, save it. I'm not interested in whatever manipulation you're planning. I won't be the center of some ritualistic humiliation for jocks. I'm not Harlan Kenny."

Booth gaped at her. "What? Where is that coming from?" His eyes hardened. "Jared's an idiot, okay? He doesn't know what he's talking about."

Walking off again, Brennan shot back, "He certainly seems familiar enough with your typical behavior."

"Oh, come on, don't be like this, Bones-"

"Don't call me Bones!"

Frustrated, desperate, Booth kept pace with her. "Look, just come back to the house, okay? Or at least let me give you a ride home and we can talk about this…" He reached out, instinctively, to grab her arm, trying to still her.

The second Booth touched her, though, panic swelled. Brennan jerked back, a startled sound rising from her throat, her entire body tensing as she stumbled away from him, eyes wide and fearful.

Instantly, Booth froze, and for a long moment they stood in the middle of the street, staring at each other. He recognized the automatic defensive movements, the instinctive assumption. He recognized the fear in Brennan's eyes

After all, it was a fear that had once been his own.

"Hey…" Booth held up his hands, softening his voice. "I'm not going to hurt you." Slowly, Brennan lifted her head and met his eyes. Tone heavy with significance, Booth added, "I wouldn't."

Brennan crossed her arms tightly, almost cradling herself. "Sorry," she muttered, though neither of them knew exactly what the apology was for. Glancing away, Brennan said quietly, "I need to get home."

His instinct was to argue, but somehow Booth understood that he wouldn't be able to change her mind at this point. "I'm sorry, about Jared," he told her earnestly. "Really, I…I don't claim relation, most of the time." Brennan glanced at him uncertainly, not smiling, and Booth added, "Maybe…you could stay another time. For dinner. I…I'd really like it."

When she stared at him then, it was as though he'd just presented a particularly difficult math problem, one she couldn't quite figure out.

"Can I at least give you a ride?" Booth offered quietly after the silence stretched on.

"No, I'll take the bus." Brennan hesitated, then added, "Thanks anyway." It was the closest thing to a reconciliation she had offered.

Booth stood on the edge of the road, then, watching her walk away, startled by the strength of his disappointment, but taking comfort in a newfound resolution.

Tomorrow at school, he would seek her out. Apologize again. He would make her trust him. Maybe make her smile. Laugh, even.

Funny how these things seemed so suddenly important.

A/N: Well. Needless to say, that's pretty different from my usual fare. You may notice I used Sean Lowell...this was during 'Truth' hiatus, and I was hoping to get myself back into it. Anyway, this whole thing (including the next two parts) were written in a frenzy of experimentation following the mentioned discussion, so none of it is taking away from the upcoming chapter of Truth. In spite of myself...I'm curious as to what you thought, if you somehow made it through.