Cognitive Dissonance

By: dharmamonkey & Lesera128

Rated: M

Disclaimer: We still own nothing, obviously. And, no, we haven't left the sandbox that we crashed quite yet, and we haven't really decided if we're going to or not. We've grown rather fond of it, actually. So, there.

A/N: So, here it is...the final chapter. We bet you never thought we'd get here, huh? So, without mincing words, let's see what Booth and Brennan have been up to since last we left them...~

Chapter 20 - Hot Coffee, Cold Apples

The second time that Brennan awoke that morning, the first thing that she realized was that she couldn't feel her right arm. Blinking open her eyes, she yawned slightly as she realized that she was sleeping on her side, her right arm tucked underneath her. Her left hand was resting on the swell of her hip, intertwined with the fingers of Booth's left hand. His leg had snaked between hers as they slept, and the pair were now closely intertwined as they fell into a position of spooning one behind the other. Brennan could feel his warmth cocooning her as his body had melded to hers during their slumber. And, for a split second, she really, really didn't want to move. However, when her brain gave the command to her arm to move, and it didn't, Brennan made a face. She scowled in displeasure when something that seemed like it should be a logical manifestation of a simple action failed to materialize.

Forcing herself awake, Brennan shifted a bit in the bed and immediately felt another and deeper pang of annoyance shoot through her as she tried to move and realized that the position in which she had fallen asleep had decreased the amount of blood that circulated to her arm. The result was that her arm had gone numb, and Brennan knew the only way to decrease the numbness was to move and stimulate blood flow to that region. However, she also knew that she would be unable to achieve her goal without shifting her position more slightly than she had done thus far. And, so, yawning as she tried to move, reluctantly pulling away from Booth's embrace, Brennan eventually rolled to the opposite side of the bed. Unfortunately, she miscalculated slightly and pulled the comforter with her.

Whether it was from the absence of Brennan's body heat, or the warmth of the down comforter, a blurry eye cracked open from where Booth's head had rested on his pillow. He swallowed a couple of times as he blinked at her, squinting in fact, as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

"Mmmmmmmmm—" he finally managed.

Booth awoke with a fluttering blink to find a familiar pair of cool, light green eyes watching him, tracing their gaze along the contours of his face as if studying him, which by the looks of it, was exactly what Brennan was doing. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and smiled at her, and saw the corner of her mouth turn up in a grin, which made him smile again.

"Good morning, beautiful," he said to her, his sleep-soaked voice nearly a growl.

The vulnerability she saw in his eyes melted her heart a bit more in that moment. Not that there's not a lot left to melt anyway, Brennan thought. "Good morning," she finally replied.

"Where are you going with my blanket?" he murmured. "I'm cold."

"Sorry," Brennan said a bit sheepishly. "My arm—" she said, gesturing as she shook it a few times in the air to get the subtle, but stabbing, pins and needles sensation she felt to lessen. "I feel asleep on my arm and couldn't feel it."

"S'okay," Booth said through a yawn. "Better now?"

Rubbing her arm a few times, the annoying sensation that indicated circulation was returning to her arm lessened and she nodded.

"Good," Booth said with a light sigh. "Then, come back to bed and bring my comforter with you, you blanket-thief."

Glancing at the bedroom window, Brennan could see that the late-evening storms had continued. An ugly grey sky, overcast with heavy storm clouds still roiled with turbulence. Although the lightening had abated over the course of the night, an occasional rumble of thunder still made the presence of the storm known. In a single word, the day was perfect for staying in bed.

Looking around, Brennan frowned and realized how late it was. "We have to get up, Booth."

"Why?" he mumbled into his pillow. "Don't wanna."

"Because," she said, starting to feel more awake as her brain fired more of its neurons. "Don't you see what time it is? It's already past noon—"

Sighing, Booth reluctantly lifted his head off the pillow and glanced at his alarm clock. "Mmmmmmm, yeah, it is." Turning his head back to look over at Brennan, he then grinned as he said, "So what?'

Rolling her eyes, Brennan said, "We can't stay in bed all day."

Glancing at the window again, Booth sat up and yawned. He rubbed the back of his head, exacerbating the way that his bed head hair stuck up in every imaginable direction. Looking back at her, he said, "Why not?"

"Because," Brennan said, moving to get out of bed, and wrapping the comforter around her as she went, "It's a weekday, and the lab—"

"Hey!" he protested as she took the comforter with her. "I meant what I said earlier. Give me back my comforter."

Frowning, Brennan stood up and shook her head. "No way. I need to call the lab." She stopped and then frowned. "Wait, my battery is probably dead since I didn't charge the damn thing last night so—"

Brennan's verbal plan-making was interrupted as Booth leaned over, grabbed one of the edges of his comforter that dangled on the edge of the bed, and gave it a sharp yank. Not expecting Booth's movement, he caught Brennan off-guard and down she fell into a tangled mess of limbs and blanket back onto the bed's mattress. He smiled at her when her head finally popped up from the pandemonium that his efforts had wrought.

"That was a mean thing to do," Brennan scowled at him.

"And I told you that I wanted my blanket back, Bones," Booth said with a grin. "Now, if you won't do a little thing like cooperate, you can't blame me if I have to take matters into my own hands."

Her frown deepening, Brennan immediately protested his words. "Booth. Come on. I'm being serious here."

"Nope," he said, reaching over and pulling her closer to him. "No seriousness is allowed right now. This is my bed, and I'm God of everything in my bed, and that means my word is law."

At his words, Brennan couldn't help it as she laughed. "See? I knew it."

"What?" he grinned.

"I knew you'd eventually verbalize the god-complex that you've manifested. I knew it was only a matter of time," Brennan laughed.

As he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a tight hug, Booth said, "We've both had a bitch of a week on the Lauda case and this new vic. There's no way that Caroline can get Robinson transferred to federal custody in twelve hours, Bones. So, I'll make you a deal. You promise not to do that anal retentive squint thing you do so very, very well just for today, and I promise I'll take care of everything else."

"That's a very vague offer on your part," Brennan countered. "I don't know if I can, in all good conscience, agree to such terms—"

Booth groaned at her words. "Bones, come on—" he lightly whined. "It's already past noon, it's still monsooning out, and we've kinda got a good thing going here that we'd be idiots to waste, so work with me a little bit, huh? For once, let's bend the rules just a bit, and not do the responsible thing—"

Whether it was his pleas or his lips on her neck that finally convinced her, Brennan really couldn't say.

"I really shouldn't—" she began in a soft, token protest.

"But, you will—" he breathed into the crook of her neck.

"You're having a very bad influence on me," Brennan said, as she tilted her head to reach for his lips. "Very bad."

"Mmmm, I know," Booth admitted. "And, it's only been eight days. Imagine what I'll have done to you by next week."

Although a small stab of panic shot through Brennan's body at the insinuation of his words, She pushed it away as she concentrated on the feel of his lips on her skin. Knowing she'd lost as soon as he started kissing her again, she pulled away slightly and looked him directly in the eye, "Fine. You win. I'll stay."

The toothy grin that Booth gave Brennan more than made her concession worth it as he leaned in and said, "God, I love you saying that."

"What?" Brennan chuckled. "Me telling you that you won?"

"No," Booth said with a shake of his head. "You telling me that you'll stay. I love it, Bones. Just friggin' love it."

"It is a rather novel concept, I'll grant you," she admitted. "But, there are a few conditions."

"What?" he said, narrowing his eyes as he wondered what Brennan was after.

"First," she said. "You're going to call Cam and dispatch to check in and take care of the details of us playing hooking."

"Hooky," Booth laughed. "Although hooking's not a bad metaphor of what I'd really like for us to be doing in pretty short order, I think what you mean is us playing hooky, Bones."

"Mmmm," Brennan shrugged. "Whatever." She then gave him a sly smile as she said, "Of course, if you play your proverbial cards right, I might not be adverse to the idea of you teaching me how to crosscheck you, Booth."

His eyes darkening a bit at her insinuation, Booth said, "Condition number two?"

"Food," Brennan said, and, as if on cue to illustrate her point, her stomach rumbled with loud emphasis. "I don't know how you can't be hungry since you haven't, to my knowledge, eaten anything but pie yesterday—"

Smiling mischievously, Booth waggled his eyebrows at her as he said, "I dunno, Bones. What I had yesterday was pretty good, and I don't just mean the cherry pie from the diner, although that was pretty awesome, too."

His words made her blush slightly, and she said, "I'm starving, so I want food."

"And, number 3?" Booth grinned at her.

"Warm clothing," Brennan said. "I want something warm to wear so I can get up and stretch a bit."

"Why?' he asked. "You can just stay in bed, and I'll bring you—"

"No," Brennan interrupted him. "Statistically, I believe my chances of getting a decent meal increase significantly if you know that I'm not naked and in your bed while in a receptive mindset for you to initiate another sexual encounter. Please, like I said, I want to stretch my legs a bit."

"Oh, fine," Booth grumbled as he released her with a sigh. "God, you are such a killjoy sometimes, Bones."

Throwing off the sheet, Booth threw his legs over the side of the bed and slowly stood up. He arched his back as he yawned once before he went to his dresser and pulled out the top drawer. Grabbing a fresh pair of boxers, he then reached into another drawer and open it. Rummaging around, he reached in and finally grabbed a royal blue t-shirt and tossed it to Brennan.

Looking down at the logo on it, she arched an eyebrow as she said, "The Phillies?"

"Quit complaining," Booth chuckled. "It's clean, it's warm, and it's just long enough to cover your ass, but will let me get a peek if you bend over the right way, huh?"

Brennan rolled her eyes as she pulled the blue t-shirt over her head. For his part, Booth pulled on the boxers, and then, reached into another drawer and pulled out a favorite pair of well-worn grey sweatpants. Pulling them on, he turned to her and said, "Ready now?"

Shaking her head, Brennan smiled at him prettily as she raised her right leg and shook her foot at him. "My feet are still cold." This time, it was Booth's turn to roll his eyes at her as he returned to the dresser for a third time, reached inside, and pulled a pair of thick white crew socks out and tossed them to her. Brennan frowned as she caught them and said, "What? I don't get to wear any of your crazy-patterned socks?"

"Nope," Booth said, shaking his head. "Don't push your luck, Bones. I'm very picky about my socks. Now, either take 'em or leave 'em, but those are it if you want socks."

Brennan sighed in a very exaggerated manner as she quickly unrolled the socks and pulled them onto her feet. Shaking her head as she stood, she sighed, "I had no idea that you were such a diva about your footwear, Booth, although I should've surmised as much."

Nodding at the door, he rolled his eyes as he said, "Yeah, yeah. Right. Now, you hungry or what?

"Coming," she replied prettily.

Once they entered the kitchen, Booth opened the refrigerator and began to rummage through its contents. "So, what are you in the mood for, Bones? The pickings are kinda slim, but I've got some leftover pizza—"

"Breakfast," Brennan suddenly interrupted him. "Can we have breakfast?"

Letting the refrigerator door shut, Booth said, "Sure. But, I don't suppose you'd be happy with a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, right?"

At the mention of the sugary sweet cereal, Brennan made a face.

"Guess not," Booth laughed.

"How about some coffee to start?" she asked.

Nodding, Booth said, "Now, coffee I can do—and do, pretty damn well, by the way." Moving to a cabinet, he reached inside and withdrew a vacuumed sealed bag of Dunkin' Donuts whole bean coffee. "You're in luck, Bones, because I only do the good stuff where my Cup o' Joe is concerned."

"Good stuff?" Brennan asked curiously. "But, that coffee is marked as a product of Dunkin' Donuts, not Starbucks, Booth."

Sighing, Booth arched an eyebrow at her as he said, "You didn't complain about the DnD yesterday as I recall, Bones."

"It was half past six in the morning, I was tired, cranky, and significantly unsatisfied due to my very strong sexual arousal, Booth. I probably would've smiled and said thank you if you turned up with the swill that the FBI attempts to pass off as coffee at the Hoover Building," Brennan observed wryly.

Again, sighing, Booth took the fresh-ground coffee beans and began to measure them into his coffee maker, with Brennan watching with curiosity. Unlike most bachelor kitchens, as Brennan already knew from many early morning and late nights of case work over the years, Booth had splurged and invested a fair bit of money into the deluxe Kitchen-aid gourmet coffeemaker that sat in a well-loved spot on his counter top. After he walked over to the sink, and filled the carafe with water, he brought it back and dumped it into the machine.

Brennan quirked an eyebrow at him, but pursed her lips together to keep from saying anything. However, Booth noticed and wagged a finger at her.

"Go ahead," he said.

"What?" Brennan blinked at him innocently.

"I know that look, Bones—I know it very, very well, thank you very much. And that look says that you've got some smartass comment hanging on the tip of your tongue, so go ahead and just say it," he finished with a slight smirk.

"I didn't say anything," she began to protest.

"But, you want to," he said. "Very badly. So—just say it."

"Fine," she said as she relaxed a bit in her demeanor and continued, "It just seems to me like a waste of effort to go to all the trouble to ground coffee beans fresh and use a quality appliance to brew coffee and then just use standard tap water instead of filtered—"

Rolling his eyes at her, Booth said, "You're probably right...but, since I didn't have time to run to the store this week to get a replacement for my Brita filter, because, I was, uh—more than bit busy dealing with some real craziness at work—" He stopped, met her eyes with a knowing smirk, and then continued, "You're just gonna have to deal, okay?"

"Like I said," Brennan nodded at him, "It was just a simple observation, Booth."

"Nothing's ever simple with you, Bones," he said with a small smile as he shook his head. "Never." Pausing for a minute, he finished making the coffee and turned on the machine.

Within a couple of minutes, the pungent aroma of coffee had begun to percolate throughout the kitchen, sending a wave of familiar comfort over the pair. As Booth waited for the coffee to finish brewing, he reached into the cabinet and withdrew two mugs. Setting them in front of Brennan, he nodded at her and said, "So...aside from the cup o' joe, you want breakfast food, huh?"

She nodded.

"Okay," he responded as he walked to the refrigerator again. "So, that means I need to see what type of rabbit food I have in here...hmmm."

"How about some fruit?" Brennan asked. "Fruit's good."

"Oh, yeah," Booth said with a nod as he shut the refrigerator door and began to move back towards the far counter. "I don't have a lot of stuff, but I do have a few oranges...and some bananas. Becks has been making me feed Parker more potassium-rich crap so I've had to stock bananas here like I'm a friggin' zookeeper with a pet monkey or something. I might have an apple or two here somewhere too..."

He went to where a nondescript bowl of oranges sat on the counter. A large bunch of bananas hung off a banana keeper hook, and Brennan watched in mild amusement as Booth began to shuffle some of the oranges to at last produce a shiny Granny Smith apple.

"Huh, Bones," he grinned at her as he tossed the apple in the air and jovially caught it with his hand. "Here we shiny green apple just for you."

He tossed it to her, and Brennan caught the apple with a sharp flick of her wrist. She stared at it for a moment before she frowned a bit. "It's warm," she told him.

Tilting his head at her, he shrugged, "Yeah so?" Another thought then occurred to him as he said, "Wait a minute... you don't want to eat it whole, right? You want me to cut it up for ya, Bones? 'Cause, I can do that—no biggie. Give it here."

Booth reached for the apple, but Brennan moved a bit as she shook her head. "Well, yes, I do prefer my apples cored and sliced—"

"Then, give it here, Bones, and I'll slice and dice it for you," he said with an indulgent smile clearly present on his face.

Still, Brennan refused to hand over the apple as she repeated her earlier statement. "But, it's warm, Booth."

A look of non-comprehension fell across his face as he said, "So?"

"So," Brennan nodded. "I don't prefer to eat most of the fruit I consume at room temperature...particularly apples. I actually only really eat them when they're cold."

"Wait," Booth said with a shake of his head. "You don't like your fruit cooked, but you also don't like your fruit at room temperature?"

"Not all fruit," Brennan clarified. "But, apples—particularly Granny Smith apples, I prefer cold."

"Oh, for God's sakes," he said as he shot her a look of exasperation. "You're kidding me, right?"

"No," she said with a shake of her head. "I'm not."

At her words, Booth reached over and quickly swiped the apple from her hand, walked over, and tossed it in the freezer. "God, you're just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

Brennan scowled at him as he returned to the counter where the coffee maker sat and reached for a box of cereal.

"Booth?" Brennan asked when she saw what he was doing.

"Yeah, Bones?" he responded as he reached for a clean bowl.

"Aren't you going to wait for me?" she asked, a small frown crossing her face.

Nodding his head at the freezer, he said, "You're gonna have to wait for your apple to cool down, and I'm sorta hungry now."

"So, the answer would be no then," Brennan scowled.

Sighing, Booth set down his box of cereal as he said, "Ya know, Bones, you were the one who said she wanted food. I was fine in bed—minus you stealing my blanket."

"Booth," Brennan said, now taking full advantage of her ability to pout a bit to get what she wanted. "Come on...I'm hungry."

With another sigh, Booth rolled his eyes as he said, "Oh, fine. But, just so you know, this little pouting thing of yours is only working because you're in my Phillies shirt, so don't get too used to it."

At this, Brennan's visage brightened as she grinned. "So, other suggestions for breakfast would be?"

Snapping his fingers, Booth suddenly moved to the breadbox on the counter. "Hey, wait a minute. I forgot. I've got some bagels left in here that should still be good."

"Multi-grain?" Brennan asked hopefully.

Booth stopped mid-stride as he turned his head around and said, "No. Cinnamon Raisin or water bagels. But...I do have some cream cheese spread...strawberry and cinnamon sugar, I think."

"I normally prefer either low-fat plain or honey and almond if I'm splurging and not going with a light butter topping, Booth," Brennan said.

Growling a bit in frustration, Booth suddenly stalked over to where Brennan was and pulled her roughly against him. "God, you are a pain in my ass, you know that?"

Lifting her head so that her glance met his, her eyes were playfully shining as she said, "How about we do what we just should've done in the first place, and we call the diner for delivery?"

"Breakfast still?" Booth asked, considering the idea.

Brennan nodded. "Uh huh... I can get my oatmeal and fresh squeezed orange juice and you can have one of those disgustingly-filling caloric feasts you love with eggs and bacon and hashbrowns and—"

"You order," Booth said as he gave her what was to be a quick kiss that soon turned more passionate. His hands had just started to toy with the hem of her t-shirt, when she reluctantly danced out of his grip and gave him a playful wink.

"Later," she said. "Food first, play later."

"Then, you better hope that damn delivery guy gets here quick, because I can't make any promises as to how long I'm gonna behave, Bones," Booth told her.

"All you need to do is behave a little bit longer, and it'll be worth it," she told him with a grin as she reached for his cell phone from where it lay on the counter since hers was—as she'd likely surmised without having charged overnight—completely dead. "I promise."

Returning to pour them some of the coffee that had finished brewing as they'd discussed the persnickityness of Brennan's AM food appetites, Booth muttered, "And you better keep that promise, Bones. Or, I'm gonna be bad...very, very bad."

Shooting him a teasing look as she waited for the diner to pick up the other end of the phone, Brennan chuckled as she said, "Can I get that in writing, Booth?"

His responding look gave her all the promise that she needed.

About an hour later, the breakfast cartons lay scattered on Booth's coffee table. Brennan held her nearly empty coffee mug in her hands, watching her partner munch on his fourth strip of bacon from the diner's take-out box. As he greedily chomped on the crisp piece of meat, she couldn't help herself as she made a face.

"You know," she began. "Studies have shown that there is a definitive link between the onset and development of articular scelorsis and a diet high in fatty red meats and fried foods, Booth."

"Really?" he said, reaching into the box to retrieve the last tiny sliver of crispy bacon and popping it into his mouth with a smirk. "Studies have also shown a definitive link between a diet high in protein and ripped abs like these." Booth casually scratched his belly and leered at her with an arched eyebrow.

"It's not good for you, Booth, but you know that," she said with a disapproving frown on her face. "Besides, I'd like to know what studies you're citing. Web blogs from The Onion don't count, especially when I've been reading the New England Journal of Medicine." She paused and then said, "And, I'm not taking issues with the muscular tone of your abdominal musculature, Booth, so quit trying to distract me."

"You're only bitter because my distractions are so effective," he quipped, taking a sip of his coffee.

Draining the last of her coffee, she reached over and set the mug on the table and shook her head. "I've been accused of being many things in my life before, Booth, but I can honestly say that being bitter isn't one of them. Besides—" she stopped and narrowed her eyes as she tilted her head at him. "We both know that the only reason that you want to distract me is with the hope of achieving the second and third of your three primary goals for the day, since you've crossed off the first of them with that massive consumption of carbohydrates you just proverbially inhaled."

Leaning against her with his shoulder, he said, "Hey—protein, carbs, caffeine, and bacon are the four breakfast food groups, at least as far as the Booth food pyramid is concerned, I'll have you know." He grinned and shrugged. "But, you're right. Now that we've fed the beast, the beast is getting a little restless again." He reached over and tugged gently at the hem of his well-worn, royal blue Phillies T-shirt.

Rolling her eyes a bit, she sighed with a small smile as she said, "I was wondering which of the remaining goals would take priority for you—sleep or sex."

Booth chuckled. "Well, there's always enough time for sleep," he noted. "Besides, this little DnD caffeine buzz has got me kinda awake at the moment. Not sure I'm ready for a nap yet. I feel like we just woke up." He reached up and pulled at the collar of the T-shirt, sliding his hand under the fabric and stroking his index finger along her collarbone. "You have any ideas?"

"Stop that," she said with a playful swat of her hand. "You're awfully sure of yourself to think you can just blink those brown eyes of yours at me and expect me to fall into bed with you again, Booth. I'm not that easy, you know," she finished.

"Really?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye. "So you're saying it won't work? Or that you're not easy? Because, in either case, I'm not sure I follow you there, Bones."

"I believe that when you begin with our first sexual encounter in the SUV last night, combined with the efforts you exerted on my behalf last night when we returned here and our morning activities, I'm somewhat well satiated, Booth. I'm not certain I'm in as much desperate need of another orgasm as I was approximately twenty-four hours ago," Brennan blinked at him, trying to tease him a bit by maintaining as straight a face as possible.

Not to be outdone, Booth threaded his fingers through his hair and sighed. "Okay," he said, standing up and grabbing his coffee cup. "Well, I know I've got more than a little extra energy to burn off, so maybe I'll just go for a run."

Glancing at the clock, she frowned as she saw that it was now well past two o'clock. Her eyes darted out the window, and her frown deepened when she saw that it was still raining.

"So, is this your way of asking me to take pity on you, Booth?" Brennan asked as she turned her head back and looked over at her partner. "Since it would be a highly illogical decision to go for a run in this type of inclement weather, despite how much in need one might be of cardio exercise, this isn't your way of trying to manipulate me, is it?"

"Nope," he said with a shake of his head. "I already tried propositioning you directly, and sense, I guess you're not...well, ya know, in the mood—I'll just take care of business in some other way."

Arching an eyebrow, Brennan asked, "Is this your way of telling me you need to resume...well, how was it that you put it last night? That you've been 'jacking off every morning and night this week'?"

She looked at him, the picture of innocence as she waited for Booth to respond.

Although he flushed a bit at her words, Booth didn't miss a beat as he said, "No...I wasn't thinking about taking are of that type of business...unless you wanted me to?" He finished his offer with a suggestive leer, and when Brennan rolled her eyes at him in response, he shrugged. "Well, you can't blame a guy for trying, right?" Brennan again gave him a simple look by way of response. "So, answer your earlier question, when I said I might have to go take care of business another way was that I mean that a buddy of mine gave me a free pass to his gym, which is right down the street from here. And they've got these handy, new-fangled machines that you might not've heard of called treadmills, which let you jog indoors in any kind of weather. Even though I usually like running at the Greenbelt or at Rock Creek, I'm thinking today might be a good day to burn that free pass." He stopped, wondering how long they'd carry out the teasing. He then softened his voice as he looked at her and said, "Unless you've got a better idea?"

No way you're winning this one, Booth, no way, Brennan thought to herself. Her resolve hardened, Brennan nodded at him. "Ahh," Brennan said, standing up as she replied, "No. It sounds as if you have it all thought out, Booth, and well, then I should wish you luck with that."

For a split second, Booth had a strange look on his face, and Brennan's heart skipped a beat as she started to second guess herself. Wait...did I misread him? He was just joking, right? Oh, Godwhat if he wasn't? What if he's serious?

Refusing to bite her lip as a sign of some of the uncertainty she felt since she wasn't quite certain what was supposed to happen next in the grand scheme of things between them since she'd apparently misread the situation, Brennan instantly started to revert to type as she fell back on old habits...and old crutches. "I believe I'm going to take this opportunity to get dressed and head home for a quick shower. I think I could use a few hours of uninterrupted sleep before I attempt to get some work done this evening."

Following Brennan's movements, Booth stood up, reached down, grabbed the two empty styrofoam take-out boxes and stacked them, before he looked over at his partner. He saw the slight crinkling of her forehead and in those fine lines read a certain anxiety in her expression. "Bones," he said softly, straightening up to a standing position, leaving the take-out boxes where they lay. "You know I'm kidding here, right?"

Feeling a flush of anger at the realization that not only had Booth actually won their little teasing standoff, but that she'd automatically second-guessed herself and thought the worst of things, Brennan looked away from him as she muttered, "You said things were about give and take between us, Booth. So, if you want to have sex because that's something I can give you, fine. You just have to tell me. But...if not, I'm not sure what the point is to merely engage in intercourse just because you have some excess energy." She took a step away from him and was only halted when he called out her name.

"Bones," Booth began. "Hey, wait a minute here."

"What?" she asked, finally looking at him, although she'd stopped moving.

Shaking his head, he said, "Hey, what's going on, huh? You were fine ten minutes ago. We finish eating and now it's like something's happened to flip a switch. What's up?"

"I—" Brennan stopped, sighed, and then said. "I'm not certain." Looking over at him, she asked, "Booth?"

"Yeah, Bones?"

"In all seriousness, I have a question that I'd like to ask you," she asked as something that she hadn't known until that very moment that she'd needed to know popped into her head.

Nodding at her, he replied, "Sure. What is it?"

"Putting aside the fact that it really would've been more appropriate for you to say that I was coming home last night to spend the time having sex with you—not that I mind that, by the way—" her voice trailed off, becoming a bit softer as she took a breath before continuing. "So, my question is...I did what you asked. I stayed. I've tried to stop counting. But, now, here we are—and what happens next?" She stopped and then took another breath before she looked up at him earnestly as she added, "When we leave here, what happens next? When I walk out that door, or you walk out that door, we both agreed we didn't want to go back to the insanity of the past week, and I do agree with that, wholeheartedly. But, how do we do that? Tomorrow's Friday. How do I go back into the lab with everything that's changed between us? What happens? What do we do?"

"Look," he said, taking a step forward and closing the distance between them. He raised his hand and gently clasped his fingers around her arm just above the elbow. "It's a rainy, dreary day. I was thinking we'd go into the bedroom, snuggle a little—" He smiled and raised his eyebrows, assuming she would figure out he meant more than a little snuggling would occur. "And then, well, maybe we make some popcorn, see what's on TV and maybe watch an old movie on TCM or something." He looked at her expectantly. "There's no agenda, Bones. No list of to-do's or things we have to accomplish today. Let's just hang out and enjoy each other's company, alright? Caroline was able to get Robinson transferred to federal custody, so we can deal with him in the morning. I called dispatch to check in like you wanted me to, and even texted Cam to let her know that we were gonna catch some sleep since we were out in the field so late. So, we're good now. All the craziness of the world will start up again first thing in the morning. Let's take the rest of the afternoon and just be, Bones. Just chill and enjoy things—enjoy us...just for the rest of today, okay?"

Brennan paused, considered his words, and then sighed. "We already did, that, Booth," Brennan began, the hesitation clear in her voice. "This morning, remember? The snuggling in the bedroom, and the sex that ensued...we did that once already, and I gladly did so,'ve got to remember I'm not like you. I can delay thinking about things for a little bit, but, it's going to start driving me nuts if a big issue like this is hanging over me for the rest of the day. I need to have at least some type of idea of where I stand...where we stand with things." She stopped and then nodded at him and said, "You said I needed to tell you when I needed your help, Booth. Well, here it is—if you want to stop me from doing that thing I do and stressing myself out, I need to know...even if it's just a little bit, what comes next. If you want me to be able to enjoy thing, I need some idea of what happens next, even if it's just in a very vague sense."

Running his hand through his hair with a sigh, Booth tilted his head at her as he said, "So, I guess this means we have to do the 't-word,' huh?" What are you trying to tell me here, Bones? he thought to himself. "Hey, Bones," he said. "Look, we're in this together, right? We're going for a different outcome here, right? We're together, Bones. Whether we're in bed, sitting here on the couch eating carryout, watching a movie, kneeling in the dirt at a crime scene, or standing around the lab with the squints—we're gonna be together, alright? Things aren't going to go back to the way they were. We're moving forward, you and me, together." He cocked his head and pursed his lips as he scanned her face for a response.

"I'm scared, Booth," Brennan finally admitted, both to him and to herself in that moment, as she spoke in a very soft voice. "And, I know that you know that, but I'm scared...and I keep pushing that feeling in the pit of my stomach away, but I don't know if I can ever completely get rid of it. So, I'm...I'm afraid that when we walk out that door, you won't still be able to help me like you said you would—" her words trailed off, and she felt a renewed stab of panic at the idea of the life preserver that she'd latched onto the previous night—i.e., the life preserver of Booth's help to keep her from becoming unbalanced in the light of her emotional turmoil—would just suddenly disappear and leave her even further off course, adrift, than she'd been before she'd agreed to try to do as he'd asked of her and stop running.

Booth stared at her for a minute as she talked, feeling a tugging at his heart as he saw her struggle with not only telling him of her fears, but with the fears themselves.

"And, I don't know what to do about that but to try and reassure myself that things won't go back to how they were because I know the direction in which things are proceeding, and can take comfort from the fact that they are actually different from what's come before," Brennan said in one long-winded diatribe. "I need you tell not just tell me that we're moving forward, but I need to know how we're going to do that. And, more importantly, how do we do that without everyone in the world knowing it, Booth? Because, I have to tell you that I'm so embarrassed about how things stand in my professional life right now because of how I've acted this week, I can't even process it. I need to be able to fix that, and I can't fix that until I know my going on another human imitation of a sine wave in some grand display of random emotional inconsistency."

Booth listened to her and felt his heart clench, knowing she was trying so hard to make sense of everything that had happened to them in the past eight days. He could see from the look in her eyes and the tension in her jaw that she still felt wildly untethered, uncertain and directionless, and a part of him wanted to do anything he could to give her the clarity and direction she sought.

But another part of him, the part of him that had for decades coped with the uncertainty and randomness in his own life—going back to his boyhood days, really, when he never knew from one hour to the next what to expect when his father walked through the door at the end of a long day giving haircuts at the barber shop—by living his life in day-tight compartments. It was, Booth knew, his own kind of compartmentalization, and he felt a certain lightheadedness when he suddenly realized what Brennan was asking of him. He wanted to lose himself in her, and to forget about the world around them for just a day. They'd figure out tomorrow when tomorrow came, and next week when the new week rolled around, but for now, he just wanted to focus on now and the moments immediately following. But, hearing the waver in her normally measured voice, he knew he had to give her this.

"Bones," he said gently, a distinct tremble in his own voice as he spoke. "You want a plan?" He stroked his thumb under the hem of the T-shirt's sleeve and feeling the goosebumps that covered her silky skin.

She nodded, her eyes wide with trepidation and hope. "Yes—I-I...I need to know what comes, some plan of action would be very, very helpful please."

"I—well," he said, hesitating. "I really don't know. I—" He felt a shiver as she blinked at him expectantly. "I normally lead with my heart on these kind of things, Bones. You know? But—well, look. If you want something more, well, structured I guess, then—" He swallowed and gave her arm a gentle squeeze. "Then I can do that. We can keep this thing, us, you know, on the QT for a while as we figure things out, because that should make it easier if it's just us, right? And—"

"On the QT?" she looked at him strangely as she suddenly interrupted him. "What...what does the mean?"

"It means that we'll keep things just between us," he explained, a grin breaking across his lips for the first time in several minutes. "After work, in the evenings, we'll be together, you and me, like this." He gestured vaguely in the space between them as he felt a warm pulse in his belly at the thought of he and Brennan being together, really together. The word itself gave him a tremendous satisfaction that he knew he could never articulate for her. "But at work, when we're on the clock, when I come over to the lab, it'll be us, just the way we've always been—before last week, that is." He smiled wryly. "And you'll know that, no matter what, no matter when or where, you can always pull me aside or call me, if you need to talk. Or tell me if you need a little space, okay?" He paused, letting go of her arm and rubbing his palm against her back. "As long as you talk to me, alright? Don't keep me in the dark, okay?"

She simply nodded.

"Because that whole thing where you let this stuff rattle around the inside of your cranium—"

"Booth," she said. "You know there's really not a lot of free space between the bone of the cranium and the dura mater that—" He rolled his eyes. "Oh, metaphorically speaking. You're doing that again, because you do that a lot, don't you?" She asked with a tilt of her head. "Right."

Moving his hand to lightly cup her jaw, Booth said, "Yeah, normal humans do have a tendency to do crazy stuff like that like that."

She rolled her eyes at him as she said, "Well, excuse me for being such an exceptional individual."

"Never," Booth said, as he let his hands drop to her hips as he pulled her into a lose embrace. "Never. I don't want you to change one bit."

"You sure about that?" Brennan asked. "Even when you said I'm being a pain in the ass?"

"Well," he said with the beginnings of a sheepish smile coming onto his face. "Okay, maybe just a little bit."

Frowning, Brennan moved to escape his grasp, but Booth held her firmly as he said, "Not so fast, Bones."

"What?" she asked. "I'm just—"

"Nope," he said with a shake of his head. "We're not done with the serious stuff yet, and I think you know that."

"We're not?" she said, a bit of a frown returning to mar her beautiful face.

"Nope, not yet," he said. "We need to make certain that we're on the same page here, because this is too important to have a miscommunication about, right? Because, you and I both know that thing we did all this week where each of us spent all that time thinking about what had happened and how we were feeling, but neither of us talked openly to the other about it?" He shook his head at the thought of how they each had behaved outwardly since the morning, almost exactly a week prior, when she had left his apartment. "It didn't turn out worth a shit. But this—us talking, being open with each other and ourselves—this is the only way we can make it work." Booth stopped, and gave her a lopsided grin as he said, "Because, you know, Bones...we can make this work."

Unable to help herself, Brennan smiled a small smile as she said, "Even if we don't know what this is?"

"Yeah," Booth grinned at her. "Sure. Part of the fun in figuring it out's the not knowing, right?"

"Okay," Brennan said. "Then, for now, I think your suggestion that we keep the change in the status of our relationship just between us for now to be one that has merit." She stopped, looked away from Booth and said in a bit of a quieter voice. "Now that I think about it, it will also allow me the added benefit of being able to separate my personal and professional lives because they've bled far too much into each other over the past week for my liking, Booth."

Pausing, she raised a hand and smoothed her hand over one of the the wayward strands of his hair that was sticking straight up.

"That, of course," she said softly. "Doesn't mean that I regret the mixing of personal and professional that have led us to this juncture in our relationship, Booth—not at all. You know that, right?"

Smiling, he nodded. "Of course, I do, Bones."

"Good," she said. "Then, you also know how important my professional career is to me. In the past week, I've done a lot of damage to my reputation and my standing in the eyes of my colleagues and staff at the Jeffersonian. I need to make it a priority to repair that damage by reestablishing a pattern of calm and logical rationality in my professional demeanor so that any trust I've weakened...any doubtful opinions that others have developed of my work...can be corrected. I-I...I've got to make that a priority in the short term."

Booth nodded. "Don't worry, Bones, I get it...and I won't take it personally," he said with a small nod. "You've gotta do your thing in the land of Squints so your status as Queen of Squintland isn't in jeopardy. No problem. I've got no doubts whatsoever that you'll do what you need to do to get done what needs to get long as you make ample time for me after hours."

"That shouldn't be a problem," she said with a familiar glint coming into her eyes as she licked her lips at the thought and her pupils started to dilate.

Booth had to resist the slight tug that he felt in his groin at the darkening of her eyes. Still needing to hear her say the words, just so there were no misunderstandings, Booth reluctantly pushed the subtle signals Brennan was sending him about things other than talking away. "So," he said, pursing his lips as he gathered his thoughts. "Are we okay here?" She blinked in momentary confusion. "I mean, do you feel a little better now, Bones?" he clarified. "I mean, that we kinda/sorta have a plan for how to work our way through this? Because I think, you and me, Bones, we can do anything we set our minds to, as long as we're in it together. Just like we always have." He smiled and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. "Are we good, Bones?"

By way of her answer, Brennan leaned in and gave Booth another gentle kiss. Sucking on his bottom lip for a minute, when she pulled away, she gave him a bright smile as she nodded. Standing up, she took a step away from him, and used both of her hands to reach for the hem of her t-shirt. Pulling the t-shirt up and over her head, she let it silently drop to the ground. Raising her hand, she crooked her index finger at him as she gave him a very sexy 'come hither' look.


His eyes still round as he watched her without so much as blinking once, it took him a moment to process the fact that she'd actually spoken to him.

"Booth?" she repeated, a playful tone coming into her voice.

"Uhhhh," he finally looked up at her eyes and said, "What?"

"You know," she began. "I'm thinking that I might have a little extra energy to burn so...I think...if we wanted to try to see if we were still able to go for a different outcome again, I'm...I think I'm game to prove it again."

Her eyes lightened as she realized she'd used the correct euphemism. Winking at him, she turned and walked in the direction of the bedroom, leaving Booth standing alone in the living room.

"Booth?" Brennan called from the bedroom, her voice already husky and rough as she spoke. "Are you coming? I'm naked, spread out on your bed, and very, very sexually aroused? Where are you?"

With a blink towards the bedroom, it took Booth only a few seconds before he began to jog across the living room calling out as he closed the distance between them, "I'm there."

~The End~

A/N2: We really want to thank everyone who stuck with us through this long, crazy piece. (Long, as in really long—the equivalent of a short novel—and crazy because we took our heroes through the full gamut of angst, anger, love, tenderness, hope and every damn thing in between.) Without you, the readers—giving us your feedback and fueling our muses to continue as we endured the marathon of writing this kind of piece—we never would have been able to do it. So, for that, thank you. We hope, in the end, the journey was worth it.

Now, that the pleasantries have been gotten out of the way—the next question that we're sure is on everyone's mind: what comes next? Well, the honest answer is that it's up to you. Yes, we have a bucketful of ideas of what to do next...but, the next important question...does anyone want to see what comes next? If so...even if you've written a kind review (or two, or three, or four...or more)—well, we still need to hear from you. So, click that little 'review' button below...and let us know what you think of where we've been, where we are right now, and where we might go from here.

Yours in fanfic goodness, the erstwhile Lesera128 and dharmamonkey.~