A/N: In hono(u)r of birthday girl number 1 (aka sunsetdreamer) this author's note might just end up being on the majorly long side. This little epic that you find herein is a birthday present, for not one, but two wonderful ladies, sunsetdreamer (who I already mentioned, natch) and Biba79.

Now, before either of them lynch me for combining their birthday treat (which, erm, I might have done a bad job of describing on twitter, sorry about that guys) - this fic is actually two separate stories (of a rather respectable almost 7000 words each!), albeit told together for reasons that will become clear. And not only have I arranged for them each to have their own story, I've also made sure that this is being posted at such a time that it's currently Ren's birthday in Ren's timezone and B's birthday in B's timezone - despite the fact that their birthdays are a day apart. Let's just say I'm glad someone spent a lot of money making me good at math. And google.

I won't explicitly say who's story is who's, but one is angsty and the other is sunshine and rainbows, so I know how it all goes in my head... :)

What follows will hop back and forth between stories a little bit, but wonderful (and I mean wonderful) beta Tadpole24 (yeah, okay, officially done namedropping now, sorry once again) has helped me make sure that they're a little more clearly signposted than I originally had it all set out. This also skirts around the edge of some adult-ish content, but I promise its plot-relevant. Just be aware!


Fear Of...

I.

It's so easy to wonder, what if.

(What if you hadn't said that? What if you had worked harder?

…What if you'd made a different decision?)

Except, the nature of life and the passage of time don't really lend themselves to this kind of introspection. It's easy to guess and to string together imaginary (and sometimes romanticized) accounts of where different choices might have lead, but is it as easy to admit that these accounts are so often misleading?

Sometimes, there's a moment – one where everything changes in a fundamental way – when these thoughts of what if and maybe if I had just… seem to find the most purchase.

Like a night on the steps, feeling as though they're the only two people in the world, when a man asks a woman just to give them a chance. When a woman tells a man that it could never work because she doesn't have his kind of open heart.

It's human nature to wonder what might have happened if the outcome were different – if she'd said yes or if they'd somehow worked things out between them.

But is it human nature to really examine the cost of this different choice?

There are two ways it could have gone. Two ways this man and this woman could have become something… so much more than they were before. There's the way it eventually happened – with grief merely a convenient excuse for something that had been a long time coming, with a baby and whole... life together straight off the bat.

Or there is the other way.

The other way, with this cold night and with his dark confessions of 30, 40 and 50 years.

It's so easy to think that this would have been just as simple, that they would have fallen together effortlessly irrespective of time or place.

But does it really work like that?

When comparing each of these opportunities and at each of these times, were they ever really the same people?

That too makes you wonder, doesn't it?

.

.

.

II.

It doesn't go anything like he imagined.

While he might have spent a little too much time refining the playbook in his head of how this moment should go, tucking Bones into a cab – alone – like this again had never figured anywhere into the scenes he'd once sketched out in some of his... weaker moments.

He'd taken his shot. With Sweets' words swirling around somewhere in his head, and – thanks to their little trip down memory lane – that dangerous amount of nostalgia enough to make a less romantic man prone to grand gestures, he'd come out with it somehow.

"I'm the gambler, I believe in giving this a chance. Look, I want to give this a shot."

"…You mean us? No. The FBI won't let us work together."

"Don't do that. That is no reason..."

And then he'd kissed her.

And she'd kissed him back.

That part had been right. As hard as he'll find navigating this change between them, as much as he'll struggle to discern the right thing to do at every twist and turn that's to come, kissing Bones like this was... well, kind of phenomenal.

They're so good at it – they move together well, they get so lost in each other so readily.

He had almost felt the moment when something had shifted between them – when her head kicked in and she'd begun to actively process what he'd asked of her. For a moment she pushed back, creating space, but then she'd been kissing him more, harder, until he's the one that had to break it off.

"Bones?"

She'd nodded. "Okay."

"...What?"

"What you said. I want to... try."

He'd fumbled.

It had struck him, right there, that this was not at all what he was expecting.

She was supposed to say no.

Not because he doesn't want this, but because in that part of him not prone to or dictated by romance, he knows that this is not a logical choice.

He is not a logical choice.

It doesn't make sense.

"Are you sure?"

The look she'd given him in response made him worry. She wasn't sure.

And that's okay, he'd decided standing there on the steps while the ground seemed to be disappearing from under him. This is new, this is big and a little bit of fear is normal. He could deal with a little bit of fear.

His hand had slid under her chin and he'd lifted her face to meet his eyes. "Hey, hey, that's okay Bones. This is... big. I get that."

She'd just nodded slowly, and overall he had got the impression that things in her head were moving a lot slower than they normally would for a certified, full on genius.

And then they'd just... looked at each other for a while, rocking on their feet and all but drowning in the silence that suddenly seemed to be hovering around them. It was then that she coughed out her request to go home, and he'd understood right away that she'd meant to do so alone.

So he'd hailed her a cab, tucked her inside and bit back on the irony that this was how the night had to end.

(You know that's not what irony means, Booth).

Just like before.

It's not like anything he imagined.

And now all he can do is laugh wryly to himself, shrug it off because of course they weren't going to walk off together into the night. Of course she wouldn't curl her arm into his, tuck her head into the crook of his neck, staying close to him as they walked.

He's spent too much time playing with this in his head and too much time indulging in fairytale.

He knows that now.

.

They decide not to tell anyone.

Half mutual agreement, half fear. Or something like that – he's not exactly sure.

From the first day he picks her up at home, the first day of this 'new normal' (as he's sort of decided he's going to call it) Bones leans over to him, distractedly returning his kiss to her cheek, and suggests (rather than asking) that it might be best to keep their new relationship to themselves.

"I'm just saying we should be careful."

"Careful?"

"Just for a while. I do acknowledge that it would be... very difficult to keep a secret of this nature for an extended period of time."

"Well, yeah."

He's pretty sure he'd find it hard to keep their relationship – his new ability to touch her and spend time with her and stake some kind of claim over her (as much as the idea might frustrate her) – secret for five minutes, let alone an extended period of time.

It's not... right.

"No matter what happens, this will affect our work. It will affect everything that we do and I just want to be..." She trails off.

He hears what she was going to say. She wants to be sure – sure that they'll work, sure that this is what she wants.

It makes sense (perfect, logical sense) but it also makes him uneasy.

Cutting into their silence, he doesn't give her a chance to finish – to put the words out there that he knows would come.

"It's okay. We'll wait, I get it."

She smiles. That same hesitant, almost watery smile from the night before. "Thank you."

He sees her logic, knows that this is a rational and well reasoned request that she has already measured in terms of right and wrong and repercussions – but he can't help the prick of anxiety that seems to rise in its wake. He knows well her need to process the more important issues in this manner – but it seems to stand almost in stark contrast to her method and her choices the night before. Makes them seem anomalous, wrong even, by her own standards.

This is not what he wants.

The idea that her choice might be wrong somehow itches at him, makes him wonder why...

"Are you sure everything's okay Bones?"

Her expression solidifies, her lips firm. "I'm fine."

He'd always imagined shouting it (shouting them)from the rooftops. But, he decides, this will just have to do instead.

.

(What he doesn't know – what he will never know thanks to her remarkable ability to compartmentalize – is that more than anything, her choice makes her feel selfish.

That night, when he finally asked her to be open to something more between them, there had been a big part of her that had wanted to say yes. After all, his kiss had been pleasant (more than pleasant, though she'd struggled for a more appropriate word that didn't seem... foolish) and in one way or another, she'd been seeking some form of intimate closeness with Booth for what has felt like such a large amount of time.

(She'd seen inside his brain for goodness sake, literally been inside his head in this quest to know him more. She's watched on as doctors have done their work and held his hand when he remained unconscious for far too long.

She's always wanted to learn him, with the same intensity as she's wanted to learn about bones and truth and logic, she's wanted to learn Booth.

Being close to him – just like this – almost feels like she can crawl up inside him even further and get to learn every little part of which he is comprised.)

It's for these reasons, and for so many more, that she feels for him in a way that is... different to the way she's ever cared for other people. Though she may have a hard time categorizing it, there was unavoidably a part of her that had wanted to act on this knowledge when he'd pressed himself close to her and asked for his chance.

She almost hadn't wanted to acknowledge the fact that she wasn't ready. That she wasn't whole enough or good enough for a man like Booth who she had always known deserved so much more. Giving in would mean asking him to settle for less than he seemed entitled, it would mean staying the same when everything happening around her would demand change.

She doesn't know how to change.

Not even now.

Not even for Booth.

She doesn't have his kind of open heart.

It's all enough to have made her waver and for the longest moment, she'd been almost sure that she would have to say no.

Except she hadn't.

At the last moment, she'd relented somehow – and whether it was because it meant the chance at something she only wished that she could ever live up to, or because it seemed so much easier to make Booth happy in this immediate, suffocating moment rather than considering just how easily she fears she can hurt him, she leant into him that little bit closer and he'd seemed to understand.

She'd felt it straight away, the unavoidable knowledge that she'd made this choice for reasons that had so much more to do with her that him. It hasn't gone away even now, and every time she spends time with him it seems to be right there on her mind.

Selfish selfish selfish.

She's so scared. Scared of hurting him or losing him or just getting it all wrong. It's all she can do to keep enough distance, to try and prevent whatever terrible mistake she might make.

And though she can see that this new space between them has him at a loss, she's not sure what else she can do.)

.

The first time they have sex is, for the lack of any other term, bad.

What's worse is that he pretty much saw it coming.

("Angela has explained to me that it is customary for a new couple to engage in intercourse after three dates."

The way she says the word 'dates' – as though speaking of an entirely foreign and possibly distasteful concept, even when she knows fine and well what it means – is vaguely amusing.

She adds, "Thus far, we have been on two dates."

Her stilted and endearing pronunciation makes a repeat performance and Booth smiles.

"Sure, it's customary. But when have we ever been customary?"

It feels like the right thing to say. The dates that she's talking about were almost reluctantly arranged after a fair amount of prodding, and even at that, well spaced out. Though he can kiss her now – and does so whenever he gets the chance because it feels like the one thing he can get exactly right between them now – it's been this general reluctance, that same uncomfortable and startled look that hovers about her eyes and in the way she holds her mouth that has meant he hasn't pushed the sex thing particularly hard.

It's the one thing he can't risk getting wrong.

But now it's beginning to all feel a bit... stagnant. As though they're never going to get there if he doesn't push, as though that doe-eyed, frightened look is never going to go away if he doesn't take this chance to show her once and for all about making love and becoming one in that way that he'd once preached in the diner such a long time ago.

He wants that with her.

It's for this reason he catches himself – wavering and indecisive about how to approach this whole awkward discussion – wanting nothing more than to encourage her to bring herself just a little bit... closer. "But, yeah, three dates is... usual, I suppose."

She holds back on whatever it was she was going to say and her head draws back, mouth twisting into a thin line.

She considers what he has just said.

"And we will be going on our third date this weekend?"

"Well, yeah," he tries to gauge her reaction, "That is, if you still want to go...?"

"I... do." She nods a serious little nod.

"Okay then. Our third date."

His vagueness is a kind of compromise. He would feel endlessly guilty if he were to lead Brennan into something she didn't want, but at the same time her own uncharacteristic lack of decisiveness about the whole issue makes him want to just take charge and guide her and their relationship in a way that he's always done for her before.

When it comes to matters of the heart, she's always looked to him for help.

He just wants to get this right.)

Their date is mostly awkward.

Everything feels a little heavier, their conversation laced with a kind of accidental subtext no matter how carefully he uses his words and by the time he pays the check and drives her home, it seems as though they have little left to say.

The air is heavy. They know what's meant to come next.

He spends a lot of the night wondering if he was wrong not to refute her three-date suggestion right out of hand – if his deliberate vagueness, unable to quite decide on what might be the right thing to do and the right way to bring them closer, has set him up (and them up) for something they are not prepared.

As he pulls into his space outside her apartment, she turns to him, "You should come up."

It's thick, wavery, but clearly more of an order than a request.

"Hey, Bones... maybe-"

She cuts him off, repeating, "You should come up."

And so he does. It seems easier that way, not to resist. Just to go with what seems to be already decided for him, by accident or by the universe.

When she closes and locks her door, they stumble around each other. He sits on the couch and she wanders through to the kitchen. When she returns with nothing, she hovers by the door and for a while they just... wait.

He sees it though, the moment when she seems to decide the hell with it all and then she's striding purposefully towards him and he's striding towards her, her determination catching on as they crash into each other.

It's just like the first time.

Because they might not be all that great at this relationship thing just yet – she might still be hesitant and he might still feel at a loss for how to make it any better – but at the root of it, they're still two people who care deeply for each other and seem to all but incinerate there on the spot every time they get just a little bit close.

Lips and teeth and tongue all twist together as they trip over half the furniture in her apartment on the way to her bedroom.

Her bedroom.

By the time she gets him over the threshold she's already tugging at his shirt and he lifts his arms to help her pull it over his head. Once freed, his hand drifts down and makes its first experimental pass over her chest, slowing when she presses into his touch and then cupping her through the dress.

His free hand joins hers, now pulling at her hem and they get a little tangled as it too is swept up and partly over her head. His hands don't move at the right time and it gets stuck and stretched in ways the silky black material probably shouldn't.

"I ah," Booth steps back and allows her to arrange herself, suddenly struck with the notion that this is the first time he's actually seen Bones in nothing but her underwear. She catches his look of appreciation and her coy little smile makes him feel a bit better as he steps in towards her again.

"Bones?" He tries to get her to meet his eyes.

But she doesn't, instead making quick work with this belt and pants, pulling them down with a determined frown that now seems affixed to her features. With little choice in the matter, he stumbles out of them as they pool at his feet.

And it's then, when his obvious... enjoyment of the situation becomes increasingly plain that she balks.

It's just a few seconds, but the panic on her face isn't exactly to be missed. Eyes wide, the look of determination gone and the discomfort in its place an unexpected tradeoff.

At the same time he's overcome with something akin to embarrassment. He can't help but feel as though this is his doing somehow – he's the one standing there in nothing but his underwear as she takes a good three steps in the opposite direction.

Oh god.

It's not meant to be like this, it's supposed to be right, easy...

But as quick as the look has arrived, it's gone. A renewed focus, that Bones-y concentration and sheer dedication to a task at hand seems to slide into place as Booth takes his turn to create space between them

"Whoah Bones, wait." His hands come up in front of him. "We need to just-"

But she pushes him backward, and he lands with her right there on top of him on her bed as she looks on expectantly.

So this is it. Apparently.

"Bones, you need to be-"

He wants to say sure but before he gets the chance her lips are on his and her hands sweep under the waistband of his shorts. He gasps into her mouth when her hands glance across bare flesh and she takes the opportunity to push for more, to work harder.

Barely breaking their kiss, she sits up, her fingers maneuvering the clasp of her bra until it's gone. She takes advantage of his more-than-stunned look in response to pull at his boxers, his hips lifting in time with her movement almost instinctively.

He knows that it should be different – that it should have been more natural, less of this obligation that they'd both unknowingly committed to – but when her panties are lost somewhere across the room and she's sliding over him and onto him, the matter is kind of taken out of his hands. She moves experimentally on top of him and while it does seem generally enjoyable, she doesn't quite respond, trying it again with the same scientific look of determination.

Trial and error, almost.

It makes him nervous.

Too nervous really, especially when he's meant to be thinking more about performance and less about the semantics. Their lack of preface – an absence of foreplay of any kind occurs to him amidst this haze and wary of this, his hand drifts down to where they are joined.

Before he gets too close, she catches his fingers, tangling them with her own and guiding him away. It's subtle, but still he's struck all of a sudden by the fact this must be how Temperance Brennan acts in bed. Never letting anyone too near.

Not even him.

He tries, as well as a man in his position can, not to let this get to him. She continues with the same, now practiced movement over him and they head towards what seems to be an... inevitable conclusion.

He comes first, almost taken by surprise – his mind too busy with these other things to focus properly on endurance. She follows, quietly, and what would seem for all intents and purposes, somewhat uneasily, with just enough conviction that he's mostly satisfied her performance was, for lack of a less delicate term, genuine.

Still all but upright, sitting over him, they are not close. They do not quite meet each other's eyes and they are not quite in sync.

It's a fucking disaster really.

She rolls off and heads straight for her bathroom.

And he stays there. In the dark.

.

.

.

III.

The first time they have sex, they've already agreed that it's the one thing they're not going to do.

For what seems like far too long – longer than his already uneasy heart can take – she cries into his chest and his arms move carefully, soothingly up and down her back to a rhythm that genuinely seems to help.

Her sadness has softened somehow, her tears have subsided and over the course of the night he's slid down or she's slid up and their foreheads are now pressed together as the occasional whispered word – a thread of discussion that they're able to maintain – moves between them.

She's curled into him in this way that she's not quite sure anymore where she stops and he begins but that's quite okay because right now, they both seem to need just that. They both need to feel each other and feel so close to each other because it's about the only thing that will help in light of all the horrible things that have happened over the course of the last day.

She feels calmer now, and with their heads level they stare into each other – for seconds, minutes and hours because it never gets old and never gets awkward. Sometimes they close their eyes, drifting towards sleep, but mostly they share this comfort.

It's all very... soothing.

It's almost a natural progression really – as he tires, his eyes and arms both heavy, he tightens the grip he has around her waist, adjusting and without thought, pulling her a fraction closer to him still. In response she tucks herself along his body, her forehead dipped as the space between her face and his seems to disappear. His mouth runs along her hair and something inside of her responds viscerally to the feeling and to the undeniable intimacy of the moment. Her head, until moments before almost buried in his neck, turns back up towards his, their lips dancing across each other unavoidably as she moves, and catching, pulling them both in.

A fluid motion. A careful and almost perfect kind of kiss.

It doesn't escalate right away – doesn't need to escalate – it just continues quietly and gently, with the practiced ease of two people who've been doing this kind of thing much longer than they really have.

It's an unfamiliar feeling for her, and it seems illogical – wanting to all but crawl up inside another person. This other person.

It takes her a while – minutes that she can't seem to count – to even consider that there might just be a way to get as close as she needs; closer than now, with almost every part of their bodies wrapped together in his bed. She pulls back – only far enough to slide her hand under his loose shirt and runs her fingers along his chest.

He responds – favorably – and the first burst of heat seems to run the length of her. This is not something that they do and yet it feels easy, kind of normal almost, and that excites her more than anything.

He follows her lead, his hand stealing across the front of his shirt – his shirt – as she presses into him, welcoming his touch. It's not just her breasts though – his hand scoops under the soft flannel and runs up and down her side, across her stomach in a way that makes something inside of her twist pleasantly.

It's... intimacy – not sex. It's one of the only ways she can find to explain it from a vast vocabulary of words.

(Words that are useless, right at this moment. Words that don't quite convey this mixed up feeling of being miserable and scared and worried and at peace and so... happy – in a way that doesn't feel nearly as inappropriate as it would seem.)

Their embrace continues and they begin to move. Over each other, around each other; feeling, exploring and testing the waters, passing all their little tests and encroaching over boundaries a lot more freely than she ever imagined they might.

They take the opportunity to be slow – careful without being hesitant – and it seems like a long time before his hands are toying with the edge of the sweater she's wearing, with this sense of almost natural progression.

And she wants him to pull at it like this – wants him to take it off, so when his head dips, curling into her neck and his hands disappear, she is inherently disappointed.

"Bones..." His words are hoarse, thick with the easy sleep that has fallen over their exchange.

"It's okay." She catches his fingers, drawing them back to where they were before he pulled back. Reassuring him.

She wants this. More than anything.

"I know. I... I do too, I wanna..."

He sort of smiles a little bit, his fingers skimming across exposed skin just below the hem.

She knows what he means.

"I don't want it to be about... or because of this, you know?"

And she nods, because she does and because in spite of everything, a very new part of herself feels exactly the same.

"...Okay."

He still explains though. Even though he knows that she's agreeing with him, he takes her hand and tells her with not too many words that it's the one thing he wants more than anything. That he can't have this be anything less spectacular than it ought to be and than it will be, once he rids them of Broadsky and once they rid themselves of this horrible, heavy grief.

It's there, somewhere in the back of her mind to dismiss his suggestions as hyperbole or as conjecture, the kind of romantic nonsense that people are expected say in these moments. Except she can't.

She kind of thinks he's right.

So instead she kisses him. Not to try and undermine him, not to lure him into the one thing he says he can't give her tonight, but because she agrees with what he has to say and it makes her want to be... close again.

"Booth?" She breaks their kiss long enough for a few gentle words.

He meets her gaze.

"I..." she swallows, and almost smiles. She's sure. "I love you."

And for so long, they're just close. They kiss and they touch and they know what they've agreed – but all the same, they can't really help it. Before long, they're back at the same juncture once again, but this time they can't stop. Don't want to stop.

They've already agreed that this isn't going to happen, but that just feels like only half of the battle – only part of the whys and hows of what has grown between them. Their agreement means they've acknowledged that it's more than their grief, better than their grief. That they're prepared to draw lines about what it is and isn't.

And that, in itself, is enough.

His shirt sweeps over her head and his mouth is drawn to the creamy skin exposed above her bra. Her fingers braid themselves into his hair while his tug at the drawstrings of her pants, pulling them down and away from her body.

It occurs to her for a fleeting moment that four hours of what amounts to foreplay has them both more than ready for what is to come, and it makes her more eager, clawing at his shirt and sliding her legs down his own in some kind of protest against his loose-fitting pants. He seems to get the hint and makes quick work of what he's wearing until they're finally, finally skin to skin between his sheets.

It's an electric kind of feeling.

His hands are everywhere – between her legs, testing, caressing gently and she moans in this kittenish way that makes him laugh softly.

She laughs too and it strikes her then that despite Vincent and Broadsky and all the evil that they have to deal with, that they're having the kind of sex where they can just... laugh.

They slide fluidly into place – he's on top and she fits perfectly underneath – but she shoots him this coquettish look that suggests he probably shouldn't get used to this particular arrangement.

Meeting her eyes – twinkling still from their little moment before – they press closer together and with a careful tilt of his hips, he slides home.

And it's all kinds of wonderful.

They move well together. His thrusts are gentle but certainly effective, and as their momentum hurls them even nearer to a climax, she maneuvers herself to just the right position. Their gasps are almost simultaneous as he finds himself pushing deeper, as the tight, delicious friction seems to get that bit better...

Her eyes are open – the whole way she keeps them open and fixed on his, urging him on and inviting him in.

She gathers his hand – the one that isn't doing kind of amazing things right where they meet – and their fingers lace together. Their last few moments are a frenzied sprint of sorts and there's an undeniable synchronicity when they both tip over the edge together – surprisingly quietly, but warmly, satisfyingly.

He kisses up and down her neck a final few times, breathing heavily, before rolling and tucking her into his side.

When his breath returns a good few minutes later, he tries to explain, "I didn't say it."

"What?" Brennan's voice is thick with the fog of sleep.

"I just want you to know that I didn't not say it back because it's not true."

Still sleepy, but mostly content, "I know."

"...I don't want to say it for the first time and have it be a 'me too' thing. I want you to... remember it."

"I will."

"'Cause I do, you know. A lot."

It's not like anything he imagined.

But mostly, it's better.

.

They don't need to tell anyone.

Aside from Angela who hears it straight from the horse's mouth, most of their friends catch on when they do an all-round terrible job of keeping their hands off each other.

(Her hand tucked into his elbow as they see off Vincent's coffin, his face too close to hers when they work at the lab, an arm thrown across the back of her seat in the diner.)

But then, it's not as though they make a conscious effort to hide it.

They're not about fanfare and they don't feel it's the place of others to somehow celebrate this development. So they just... are – they act the way they want and in a way appropriate for whatever environment they find themselves.

The great majority of people seem to take it with the same 'about time', generally satisfied mentality. Mostly like Booth and Brennan, they're happily surprised by this turn of events and most are wise enough not to intrude. Sweets freaks out a little bit, partly because he didn't see it coming and partly because neither of them seem to need (or perhaps, want) much of his help transitioning from just partners to partners – a fact that bothers him in a manner that he's not very good at concealing.

And then they find out that Brennan's pregnant and they end up about eight times more happy than they were when they started. Between them they decide to keep this particular development to themselves; for health reasons, to give them time to adjust, but mostly because they discover that having a quiet little secret is kind of fun and that they want to enjoy it while it lasts.

When they get scared they talk about it, sometimes they hug each other and mostly everything works out just fine. They still bicker and disagree and snipe, but at the end of the day they go home together.

It's a comfortable, happy kind of life.

.

Their first fight is unavoidably serious – and at the time, it all feels a lot bigger and a lot darker than it will after a little bit of hindsight.

The first several months of their relationship are spent closely – working side by side each day and sharing a meal and a bed at night. An easy routine develops, weekends are accounted for and 'normal' for both of them becomes an entirely new construct that involves the other, planning for their baby and generally offering a little bit more of themselves and their space.

The fight is a casualty of this closeness and in the grand scheme of things, a rather easy mistake to make.

Their weekend has been spent at her place – with Parker at his mom's there's nothing to keep Booth from her much bigger, much nicer bathtub and the promise that it will be put to good use later that night. Brennan has spent most of the day working on her laptop – her book mostly – while Booth has generally been able to relax, her (surprisingly large) TV pulled from its cupboard and a number of sports games to be watched. They might not necessarily be doing the same thing but they're getting pretty good at sharing the same space, at doing things together without it having to be the same activity.

It's a pretty reasonable compromise for two such different people.

By the time they decide what to eat, there is fifteen minutes left of Booth's game and he's a little reluctant to miss the end. Brennan goes off to pick up the last of what they need to cook later and leaves him quite content to be on his own.

That is, until the game finishes and he has precisely nothing to do.

For a while he channel surfs, but nothing seems to catch his interest.

(News, music, bad acting, more news...)

Across the room he spots Bones' laptop, the quiet hum of a fan suggesting it's still switched on, even though the lid is dipped closed. It's a rare indulgence for someone who's normally so diligent about waste, but he knows that the seconds spent waiting for it to power on annoy her more than the loss she associates with leaving running if she doesn't plan to be away for long.

He wavers for a moment on checking his email for work – it's not something he makes a point of doing on the weekend, but he is expecting something vaguely important and it might be worth the heads up before he gets in on Monday.

Sighing and looking at the clock (still a good ten minutes before Bones can be expected home) he flicks it open.

And then he stops.

Using her laptop had always been okay – one less thing for him to lug back and forth as part of their mostly unspoken living arrangement – but it's almost immediately clear that she hadn't planned on him borrowing it while she ran errands.

Her email is open, all her messages stacked down the left hand pane with the most recently received opened to full size in the right. His throat gets a bit thick as his eyes inadvertently skim over the words in front of him, then pulling the screen back down with a little too much force.

Offer.

Travel.

Months.

These are not words that sit particularly comfortably with him.

Stepping back from the computer, he goes off to wear a hole in the floor.

.

By the time Bones get home, he's had far, far too much time to think it all through.

(Far too much time to come to errant conclusions with insufficient evidence.)

The second she steps through the door he accosts her – he's almost jumpy on his feet and he ducks around furniture to the door with a little too much gusto.

"You're home!"

She gives him an almost startled look, "I am," adding after a moment, "If you're that hungry, I can get started now. It'll only take twenty minutes or so."

He just nods, at a loss for what exactly it is he's meant to be saying.

Giving him one last slightly confused look, Brennan ducks past him into the kitchen.

He watches her as she open cupboards, pulls ingredients down onto the counter but his brain doesn't seem to make all the right connections that would see him rightfully offering her some help.

Instead he just... waits.

It's a few minutes before it gets to be too much. Before familiar anxiety begins to claw at his throat and chest and mouth, betraying his promise to approach this calmly.

All of a sudden there are a whole lot of words in his head all looking to escape. As hard as he tries, right in that moment he can't seem to string them together in a way that doesn't sound kind of accusatory, or worse, scared.

All the same, they begin to bubble out.

"...Can we just, y'know, talk. For a moment?"

She looks over him carefully. "Booth?"

"Just sit. Just... please?"

Following him back into the main living area, she sits.

And then it begins to leak out, word by word and a little too quickly.

He looks at his hands as he explains, "I wanted to borrow your laptop while you were gone."

She nods at him like he's a bit of a crazy person (mostly because he's been acting like a crazy person – that much he can admit) obviously waiting for him to continue.

"I was just going to do some stuff for work but your email was open..."

And it's then that she begins to understand. The breezy, composed look on her face falters.

"...and I shouldn't have looked, but I couldn't help it 'cause it was just there and I saw there was this trip-"

She interrupts him with a tone much more direct than his own. Not yet annoyed, but as though irritation is waiting there in the wings. "And you've clearly come to some form of conclusion about Dr McEwen and his project in Egypt."

He bristles. Her words are slightly too sharp for him not to become a little concerned. "So you're actually going?"

For some reason, her anger rises quickly – too quickly to ensure them the rational conversation that this ought to be. There is something about his suggestion that makes her respond defensively. "Does it matter? It seems you've already made up your mind."

"Whoah, that is not what I said. Not by a long shot."

"You sound rather convinced." She throws a look at him that is hard to decipher, before adding a little more weakly, "I'm glad you have such a high opinion of me."

His retort catches in the back of his throat and his cheeks turn hot with anger.

This is so not how this was supposed to go.

He's not able to stop his next words before they leave his mouth. Somewhere in between anger and frustration and fear they seem to leak out unbidden, without thinking of what he would in any other situation knowto be significant consequences.

"Can you blame me? It certainly wouldn't be the first time it'd happened."

She nods to herself, as though convinced of something. The bitter little tip of her head sets him more on edge – this is not the kind of conversation that either of them can take lightly.

"So that's what this is about? Because if I remember correctly, I wasn't the only one who decided to leave. In fact, I wasn't even the first one to make that decision."

"No. No – you were the one who started all of that. Don't go trying to suggest that I made all the decisions." Booth's jaw tenses, "Afghanistan was never going to be something I did lightly, so if you're gonna try and pin this on me-"

"That is not what I'm doing! I'm not doing anything! You're the one who went through my email."

"By accident. I found it by accident and I just wanted to have an adult conversation about what it means. It's not just you anymore Bones, okay? There's a baby. There's a baby and there's people other than you that get to make decisions about that baby."

She hasn't done it in weeks – months, maybe – but he can almost see the fetus quip balancing on the edge of her lips. A nice, easy shot and a sure-fire way to get on his nerves.

At the last moment she falters, seemingly deciding against some kind of remark. Her anger does not soften any however and her glare is still tight and icy when she takes a large step away from him and crosses her arms.

"I am perfectly capable of making decisions about the baby, Booth."

"Decisions that involve two and a half fucking months in Egypt?"

And then she shuts down.

He's not seen her wall come up like this in such a long time. Maybe even before Hannah (as much as the idea makes him horribly uncomfortable) but he can't be sure.

She takes this big breath, composes herself and then perfectly calmly and frighteningly coolly replies, "I would like for you to leave now."

"What?"

"I would like for you very much to leave my home. Now."

Still half jacked up on anger, with that icy swirl of fear beginning to leak into his veins, he fixes his jaw from its formerly half gaping position, throws her one last look and storms out through the door without another word.

.

It takes her about eighteen minutes – give or take – for her to realize that it was a really bad idea to ask Booth to leave.

As serious as it felt at the time, she's beginning to realize that it was all a bit of a stupid fight and not the kind of thing that should ever have warranted her throwing Booth out of her (their?) home.

Except she did. And now he's gone.

It's been a long time since she felt this twisty, hollow kind of feeling – the one that despite many years of higher education and a very successful writing career, she has never quite been able to explain. She is... alone.

Not just independent, not just free from a reliance on others, but actually, properly alone.

She curses her own stupidity, because after all, there really is a baby to think about and though she knows that Booth would never abandon his own child, she's not even sure what will happen now. She prides herself on being prepared for most eventualities, but this she has not even considered.

This is not something she ever imagined happening.

(It's her own fault really. There was once a time when she would scoff at the notion of having faith in another person. Even Booth.

She should have known.)

But now he's gone and part of her – the part that is a little less proud and a little less logical – wants to take her words back. To make things easy the way they were before their fight.

Determinedly trying to out-logic the errant tears she feels gathering in the corner of her eyes, she half-cognizantly begins the ritual of putting away all the fixings for dinner she'd set out only half an hour before.

She has no idea what else to do.

.

It takes him about fifteen minutes – partly because he is a little less exact than his famously precise other half and partly because he tends to work that little bit more quickly when it comes to matters of the heart – for Booth to realize the whole fight was a clusterfuck of epic proportions and that he never should have walked out.

Bones, he knows, does not deal well with people leaving. Especially with people walking right on out in front of her.

He can only imagine the rather frightening conclusions she might have come to in his absence.

He should have stayed, should have stood his ground or talked her back down in that way he knewonlyhe could, but his blood had boiled well beyond its flashpoint and to be quite honest, he'd been grateful for the space to muddle through his thoughts.

With his thoughts un-muddled however, he is more than aware that it was an entirely bad idea. Which is why he finds himself – after a brief but thundering power-walk around the block – hovering outside her door.

It takes him some time to work through what happens next and to work up the courage to knock. She could well be mad, still, but he wants to be equally prepared for the rather more likely, and slightly more upsetting scenario that she's hurt and locked down as tight as a fortress.

It takes him five minutes or so, enough time for her to very nearly catch up to his line of thinking on the other side of the door, but when he raises his hand to knock – gently and carefully – he's ready.

She's slow to answer the door.

"What- What are you doing here?" she asks, as soon as she sees him standing on the other side.

"Can I come in?"

She looks at him a little dazed.

"Please?"

Still without saying anything, she steps back from the door and pulls it wide to let him through. He follows her in, keeping what he hopes is a respectful distance.

He starts carefully. "I shouldn't have left Bones."

It takes her a moment as she distractedly settles herself on her sofa, but she eventually looks up and meets his eye. "...I asked you to leave."

"I shouldn't have listened."

"I... shouldn't have asked."

He smiles just a little; this concession is more than he could have hoped for and more than he would have expected from the steely Temperance Brennan he once knew. She's changed a lot, he realizes – both lately and even over the last couple of years, since that night and Maluku and Hannah.

He's lucky. A goddamned lucky son of a bitch to have her and her great big heart that seems to have grown a hundred sizes just for him.

There's quiet for a moment and he moves towards the couch where she sits. Carefully, and so as not to be presumptuous, he positions himself on the opposite end, tucking one leg under his body so he can turn and face in her direction.

Her voice is soft – uncharacteristically so – when she finally says, "I'm glad you came back."

He remembers the look when she opened the door – the surprised and the uncertainty that had been plain for someone that knows her as well as he does.

"I was always going to come back, Bones."

Her immediate reaction is fleeting, and quickly masked by a much more neutral look composed carefully upon her face. But Booth doesn't miss it.

"It's okay that you're not... used to that idea. I know that there are a lot of other factors in play here but I will Bones, I will always come back."

She considers this – for longer than her super-genius brain would normally dwell on these kinds of things – before nodding slowly.

"I believe that you feel you are being truthful with your words."

"I don't just feel Bones, I know this. That is just a fact, and you're going to have to get used to it."

He reaches his hand across the couch, and she offers hers in return.

"Well then we will just have to... agree to disagree."

He smiles, "I'll show you Bones, I will."

She returns his smile – it's more hesitant, but all the same it's her special Booth-is-such-a-romantic-fool smile. He kinds of likes it.

Confident that the waters have calmed somewhat, he gives himself a moment to think – to properly gather his courage and his thoughts once more and to finally press forward. "I think we need to talk about... what happened. The fight. The only way we can be sure it won't happen again is to talk it out – just this once. Learn from our mistakes."

Her slow nod makes a return as she indicates her almost-but-not-quite reluctant agreement with his suggestion. Mirroring his earlier movement, she angles her body towards him and seemingly waits for him to begin.

"I didn't... deal with it very well last time you left. Or rather, last time we were apart."

In contrast to his quiet, calm tone, her adamant words break in, "But I wasn't going to go. Not this time. It didn't even cross my mind!"

"I know that now. I think I knew that about four seconds after I walked out your door, but I couldn't stop thinking about how it felt last time – to be apart, to come back. God – it was so hard to go and then so easy to pretend that it didn't matter once I was there. My head was messed up and I just... I just don't want anything like that to happen ever again. I get that I freaked out a bit on you, and I'm really sorry, but I guess I just want you to know why."

"I understand. I... share your apprehension about our time spent apart."

"I was a total asshole Bones. When I got back I acted like a bit of a jerk because it was so much harder to keep all of the balls in the air when you were right there. And I don't really know how to deal with that." He sighs, "I haven't dealt with that and it gets at me – a lot. But I feel as though I don't know how to make it right."

There is this moment – Brennan is looking at him and into him almost, with her eyes all wide and a serious expression on her face – and then she half shrugs and says, "That's not how I see it. It was a... very difficult situation. Perhaps we didn't handle it particularly well but that time has passed, and I don't think it's worth dwelling on now."

"I am going to deal with what happened Bones, I'm not going to let it happen again. I mean, look at tonight – I kind of flew off the handle there cause I'm still not... there yet, y'know?"

"I think you're pretty there Booth," she smiles, leaning into him with a small amount of hesitancy but the right amount of innuendo.

He laughs in response, "Almost, maybe. I'll... work on it. And then we won't have to have this fight again, okay?"

Brennan pauses for a moment, as though weighing her next statement. After a few seconds she begins, "I don't think tonight was... all you. I am willing to admit that in light of my current physical state that my hormones might have... made me more prone to bursts of less rational anger."

He smiles. Again. It feels good.

"Hormones, Bones? You're gonna blame this on pregnancy hormones?"

"I think that's perfectly acceptable for a woman in my position. Angela has informed me that as you are the man responsible for impregnating me, you must accept this particular argument without question for the duration of gestation."

"Oh, she did, did she?"

Brennan smirks, "And I find that there is merit to her suggestion."

"That's just great."

He sidles closer on the couch and for a little while they're just content to be. They've not had a fight like this before – sure their bickering and sparring hasn't subsided any since they've come together this way – but it's never been this 'I'm so mad at you, get out of my house' kind of serious.

And just for a short little moment they are glad that they have been able to overcome this – she's glad that he came back (that she again has faith that he'll always come back) and he's glad that he's been able to say those things that have been wearing at him for so long and that she understands now what it means – what they mean in, even when they're angry, even when he has to step out and clear his head for a little while.

"...Booth?"

"Yeah?"

"What is it that you'll have to do... to make your amends?" It seems like a genuinely curious question but he also feels a slightly weighty edge riding underneath her words.

"I guess... I guess I'll have to work a bit harder. Talk about things with you when I have a problem – be a good person, something like that."

She looks confused. "You already do all of those things."

Her earnest look, the little crinkle between her eyes – he can't help but believe that she's telling the truth – the best truth she knows.

Yeah, he's pretty sure they're gonna be just fine.

.

.

.

IV.

Their first fight also happens to be their last.

It only takes three months – three short stupid months and a handful of slightly less efficient than normal cases – for Brennan to reach her breaking point.

It's the Gravedigger that finally gets them there. The whole trial he won't leave her alone for more than five minutes, always hovering, always asking questions. He's trying to be there for her Angela has explained not long before, but it troubles her that Booth can't see that this behavior is only making this whole trial harder for her. Only making her feel even less at ease.

("He's your boyfriend Bren, it's what he's supposed to be doing here."

"I- I find that this is not what I expected when I agreed to pursue a relationship with him. It's as though he believes that I have become a different type of person, just because I agreed to... more. To whatever this is."

Angela had just given her this look in response – a bleak and worried kind of look that Brennan understood did not mean good things.

She changed the subject after that.)

But it's not just him and it's not just her – instead it's their whole balance that seems to have suffered. She doesn't deal well with his kind of closeness. He doesn't seem to pay enough heed to her discomfort. Between them, they don't quite get it right.

They're in her office and it's late. She's been going over the details of this case for what feels like far too long and they're beginning to tire – it's all beginning to get just a little bit frustrating.

He's hovering again, in that way he does, this time bringing Chinese food and quietly nagging at her to eat. Normally this kind of act between them would be easy – it would be normal and appreciated – but as he sits that little container there in front of her she feels the first prickle of apprehension.

He won't give her room to do anything for herself. He won't give her quite enough room to breathe.

She doesn't think about it, when she finally makes her observation. This case is all she's been able to think about, and all she's wanted to talk about since Booth arrived in her office. Taffet's comments in court from earlier that day – her little taunts about the things she hasn't been able to find or do – are still bothering her and she doesn't think about how what she has to say might come across as unfeeling. She doesn't think about the consequences it may have.

But out of a kind of jealousy, or as a little rebellion to Booth's rather suffocating presence, she finally explains, "She may be amoral, but she is brilliant."

His reply is direct, but wary. "Well, you're more brilliant."

"What if her dispassion makes her more logical? What if that gives her an advantage over me?"

It's then that he begins to get worried.

"Wait a minute, now you're upset because you're not more like a psychopath?"

"I just think... maybe I've lost my advantage because of all the people I'm involved with now. All of the relationships. They complicate logical thought."

He hears what's implied – loud and clear.

And amidst such an impossible case, it comes like a sock to the gut.

Of all the relationships she speaks of, it's theirs that's bothering her the most.

"You don't mean that," he hits back.

She observes him for a moment and though she's hadn't wanted to upset him, she's not ready to offer a reassurance either.

Instead – for the second time that day – she tries to change the subject. "Can we please just work?"

He looks over her, and for a few seconds, there's something on his face that makes her think that he's going to let it go. But then his eyes harden and his jaw sets into place and he replies, "Do you really think that? That our relationship makes you worse at what you do?"

She finds it difficult to respond. "...I think that the degree to which I experience human connection affects my judgment. That is what I'm saying."

Tersely, "That's the same thing."

She can't find a way around his logic. She doesn't say it to hurt him in anyway but she's not had enough time to grow and to get to that place where sometimes, logic can be ignored and people can be pacified. "Well in that case, I suppose that must be what I'm saying."

"Right. So that's all I am. I'm just a weakness – an inconvenience?"

"N- no Booth, that's not..." She struggles for words.

"You can't even say it! You can't even stand there and tell me that's not what this is about."

Rubbing at his temples, he paces the length of her office in silence.

In a much smaller voice he finally begins, "I never got it, y'know? I never got why it was that you said yes to me that night, it never made sense for you to do that."

Though her eyes grow big and an almost panicked look sets across her face, she has nothing that she can say.

He continues, "I ignored it – I probably shouldn't have, but it was just a whole lot easier not to question what was happening. It was too... hard to think about it any other way."

Booth rounds the sofa, holding the back of it so that he can lean over and meet her eyes.

"But that's not how you work, is it Bones? When it comes to you, trying to avoid the logic of things just doesn't... fit. And I'm not a logical choice – our relationship wasn't a logical choice. No, not when I'm just some degenerate gambler, not when it affects almost everything about our work-"

He stops abruptly before coughing out his last, bitter point, "Not when you weren't ready for anything like this, Bones."

It's as though something truly horrifying has fallen over him. Abruptly, he freezes up as the last few details fall into place and he hovers there on the spot for just a moment, before turning on his heels and disappearing through her door.

He doesn't come back.

.

He leaves before they can talk a little more about the case. Leaves before they can find the connection to the last boy and Taffet's other victim Terrence Gilroy.

And for the next few days, they just kind of... drift.

He wants to go back to her, he longs to make it right but the weight of his realization, the knowledge that he might have made this horrible mistake by pushing things between them just makes it all too hard.

Every conversation between them is awkward, stilted. They make little progress with their case without any more evidence and without working together to find that last little connection that Taffet had once wanted them to find.

With each day in court their opponent seems to look a little more smug. They're losing, and they know it. Nerves fray and it makes it even harder to bridge the rapidly growing divide that has opened up between them.

And then it all falls apart – their evidence, followed by their case and later that night in a bar, their partnership.

After court, he takes them all for drinks – tries to rally the troops with a speech about how there are other victims out there still unaccounted for that they'll find, other pieces of evidence that they'll be able to present, other ways in which she's slipped up somewhere, if only they all take the time to look.

It doesn't seem to help much.

Across the table, he sees her looking dejected and though he doesn't know how to make things right – how to make them right – he can't help but reach out to her.

"Are you okay Bones?"

It's a silly question all things considered, but it seems to be all that he's got.

Her response doesn't offer much, "I'm just tired."

(She hasn't been sleeping all that well. Not with him – not while everything between them seems to be in such a mess.

But he doesn't know that.)

"Yeah. Yeah. It's been... It's been a tough case."

She hesitates, reaching for the right words. "It's not just the case. I'm tired of...of all of it. I'm tired of dealing with murders and victims and sadness and pain."

"Well, Bones, that's what we do. Alright? We catch the bad people and we make the world a better place." There's something very panicked to his tone.

Her reply is firm, "No, Booth. That's what you do and somehow I got caught up into it."

"Wait a sec- Hold on, you were dealing with dead people long before we got together." The double meaning of his words falls messily into the space between them.

"As a researcher, an anthropologist. That's how I can make the world a better place."

He doesn't have much he can say to that right away, not when his throat suddenly feels thick with worry and sadness and too many other things.

She begins to collect together her things, and following her lead, he flicks a few crumpled bills onto their table to cover their drinks. He follows her as she makes her way to the door and pulls up beside her as she stops on the sidewalk outside.

Standing there outside, he can see her gathering her courage, reaching for words she must have been worrying over for days.

"...I have this sense that everything's changing, Booth."

His stomach twists.

He says the only thing that seems to make it through his muddle of thoughts. "Well, not everything. Look, we're still partners... right?"

And though it was meant as a kind of retort to her suggestion, it comes out as a heavy question – a serious one. After everything that has happened since this case began her response seems to be so much more important than anything else.

She looks at him, as though deferring to him for some kind of answer. He tries to find something he can say to her to make it all seem just a little bit better, but nothing seems to come.

Finally – as a last hope – he begins, "You know what? Maybe you just need to take some time off. Go to a beach. Lay in the sun."

He can't miss the darkly serious look falls across her face. "...I might need more than a little time."

Desperate, "Don't make any decisions about your future right now."

"I'm just saying-"

But he doesn't let her finish – can't let her finish. "You know when a dentist gives you anesthetic and tells you not to operate any heavy machinery or make any important decisions within 24 hours? Alright, this case was bigger than a root canal. Come on, let's just go back inside and have one more drink. Come on. Just one."

He reaches for her hand – their first real contact since all this mess began – but she pulls away. Instead her arm swings out to hail a cab.

"No. I'm tired, Booth. I- I'm going to go home."

And like that, there's nothing he can do.

Despite his best intentions in the bar, he's not really sure how to fix this mess. Now that he knows – now that he can't avoid the fact she was never ready for what happened between them or that she can't change (and he doesn't want her to change) enough to be a person fit for their kind of relationship, he doesn't know what to do.

He can't contend with that.

A cab pulls up to the curb.

Fumbling over his words, he pulls open the cab door, "Alright. Come on. Let's- We'll get you in the cab."

It tastes kind of like admitting defeat.

All the same, he can't help it – he needs hope and again he repeats, "I know, it's- it's been a long, long day."

Tucking her inside, he makes sure she's okay. Just. The cab goes to leave, he asks, "Hey, I'll see you tomorrow, alright?"

She doesn't answer.

And as the cab drives off, she doesn't look back.

.

The offer for Maluku comes just a few days later.

She saw the defeat in his eyes that night, she's seen the way that they've done nothing but struggle since their fight – the way things have never been even close to right.

They're not together anymore. That much is clear.

She doesn't think twice about accepting.

.

.

.

V.

That's the problem really.

Had it gone differently for them that night on the steps outside the Hoover building, would she really have made the right decision? The logical decision?

Because at the end of the day, when given this choice, she said no. She weighed her options and even though she might have written a life with Booth as the ideal life and her ultimate fantasy – even though she might have loved him in a way that only Gordon Gordon Wyatt could have known – logic (and heart) still dictated that she ought to say no.

She wasn't ready.

Had she said yes, they might never have known that no argument is insurmountable, and they might never have known how to go back fight to maintain what is between them. It will take the knowledge of a different kind of separation — miles and wars and reporters — to bring them back together again each time, willing to work, wanting to try.

Had she said yes, she might never have been able to be the partner he needed. In that time her fear of love still posed an obstacle just a little too large to overcome and she would have been distant, she would have found it hard to communicate and she would never have been able to adapt.

While so much progress had been made since her days arriving at the Jeffersonian, it will take the intimate knowledge of something worse – after Maluku and after Hannah – for her to begin the growth into a person worthy, and a person ready.

She will know what it is like to have less and to lose, and she will become an even stronger (but maybe less impervious) person, ready for what comes.

And when he holds her that night, when the stick turns blue and when she faces down their life together, she will be ready.

.

.

.

VI.

"Bones would you-" Booth sighs, "Would you please pass me the hammer."

He beckons towards it in her hand, but Brennan just shakes her head.

"Let's just set some ground rules for this thing, okay? You are seven months pregnant – you do not need a hammer."

This time he reaches out to grab the offending implement from her hands, but at the last moment, anticipating his plan, Brennan swings it back and out of reach.

"Hey, whoah, whoah. Watch where you swing that thing, would you?"

She blinks at him, noticeably calmer than he is watching her manhandle heavy duty tools. "It's hardly my fault; your movements startled me. It's natural that I would react the way I did."

He considers arguing her point for a couple of seconds before thinking better of it. "Look, we're putting a crib together, not tearing down our house. This is the kind of job that requires a little more... subtlety." Booth's voice goes smooth on a charming lilt as his hands skim down her arms, teasing them – and the hammer – back in his direction. "We need screwdrivers and Allen keys, not hammers, okay babe?"

He nods hopefully while she shoots him a dubious look. She knows exactly what he's trying to do.

He smiles wider.

She surrenders the hardware.

It only takes a second or two for his charm to wear off and anticipating the reveling that might come from his little victory, she's quick to explain, "I'm aware you wouldn't use that kind of implement for this work – it was just sitting there on the top of your toolkit and I was merely moving it out of the way when your overly protective alpha make instincts lead you to react in a manner far disproportionate to the situation."

It's been seven months. He knows better than to rise to her bait.

"Right."

He goes back to the panels in front of him, rich and sturdy wood with a gorgeous creamy finish – little pieces of a crib puzzle waiting to be put together. They'd only picked it out earlier that day, with Brennan having reasoned (quite logically) that she would be uncomfortable stocking up on too many of the 'big' baby things too early in her pregnancy, lest anything go wrong.

Except it hadn't.

And here they were.

When she'd conceded, earlier that Saturday morning, that it was finally an appropriate time to go and buy things like their daughter's crib, he'd all but leaped out of bed and into the shower, determined to get a start on their shopping. He's longed for this opportunity to contribute actively to their impending parenthood – building cribs, decorating rooms – because after all, Seeley Booth has always felt better doing.

He takes on most of the manual work and Brennan pretends not to notice she's been left with the more menial tasks. Though she will never admit to it out loud, she finds that this far along in her pregnancy her range of movement has become somewhat limited, and given the pressure hovering somewhere about her bladder all morning, she knows she might just be a little more comfortable stepping back. Instead she devotes herself to a job for which she's much more suited – deciphering the instruction manual (something she's less than impressed with given just how much money they spent on their purchase) and organizing the screws by size and order of use.

She'd been a little reluctant when Booth had insisted in the store that he would assemble the crib himself, rather than paying (what she had concluded was) a very reasonable fee to have the same work done for them by an expert from their high-end baby boutique. Now that she sees it coming together, she's beginning to understand his insistence.

The pieces of the crib slot into place and like everything else – their job and their partnership and their life – they work together.

.


A/N: Believe it or not, this fic actually ties in with my submission for the extravaganza that is bones_ga Love Month over on Live Journal. My day is this Sunday the 14th of August, so you should come check out my epic post of love for the show, filled with fic and other goodies.

Also, let me know what you thought, I tend to worry over my epic fics like these. Too long? Too mushy? I also realise this might be a somewhat contentious take on season 5 events and it's not something I would have considered before seeing Brennan's subsequent development in season 6, so feel free to let me know if you agree/disagree. Even just drop a line to wish B & Ren a Happy Birthday - I'll be sure to pass it along!