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AN: A quick one-shot set after my Bones/Angel crossover 'The Sister in the Door'; if you've already read the story, this takes place some months after the last chapter, around the time of 'The Boy With the Answer', during the closing scene of that episode as Brennan reflects on the recent case to imprison Taffet (And if you haven't read that story, read it as soon as you can; it's vital to understanding what's happening here, although the essential points are that Booth is the now-human Angel who had to reveal his past after the First resurrected Angelus to attack him)

The Epiphany in the Darkest Hour

"I have this sense that... everything's changing, Booth," Bones said, looking on as their colleagues walked away, leaving him and Bones standing outside the bar.

Booth knew that it was ironic given that the last change he'd gone through had actually worked out to his benefit in the end, but he really hated change- after so long as a vampire, he supposed that it was easy to fall into old habits rather than bother trying to develop new ones-, and he had a feeling that the changes Bones was talking about weren't going to be good ones for them.

The last few months had been a chaotic series of events, to say the least; not only were the two of them still finding their way in their new relationship, but Sweets had been forced to take time off to adjust to both the loss of his leg and to receive some intensive therapy to cope with the fact that he had been tortured by Booth's exact physical double. Booth himself had spent a couple of weeks on suspension while the FBI went over virtually everything he and the Jeffersonian staff had to tell them about Angelus- while omitting reference to his vampire status, of course-, until everyone above Cullen was satisfied that Special Agent Seeley Booth hadn't gone homicidally insane and started to kill people. He still attracted a few suspicious looks from some agents given the lack of evidence about what had happened to his double- or even any real information about who that double was-, but in general things had gone back to some kind of normal now that Angelus was gone.

Angela and Hodgins's sudden marriage was one of the few definitively good things that had happened to them in recent months; some of their recent cases had been pushing the boundaries between the two worlds that the squints had learned existed on Earth more than Booth was comfortable with. That whole mess with that demon-like corpse had been a perfect example of why Booth hadn't wanted to reveal the existence of the supernatural to Bones given how long it had taken them to confirm that they weren't dealing with an actual demon, to say nothing of their more recent case involving a Wiccan corpse that had left him tempted to call Willow for an expert opinion.

Still, as far as good things went, the relationship between him and Bones these days was definitely one of the best that had happened to him since he'd become human. While she was still somewhat emotionally awkward- to the extent that she had difficulty even expressing her jealousy when that marine biologist whose name Booth couldn't even remember now had flirted with him during a recent case-, Bones was definitely enjoying his willingness to explore dates that both of them could enjoy, ranging from nights out on the town to visiting museums or other displays. On one occasion he'd even indulged her curiosity and brought her to a Caritas-like club to give her an example of demons in a more social environment rather than the violence of her original introduction, as well as providing her with a few books on demonic history and culture when they'd had time to spare.

Right now, however, all he could think of was that Taffet's legal manipulations had left him briefly wishing that he was still in contact with Gunn; even if he preferred not to use it these days, Gunn still had access to the legal upgrade he'd unintentionally 'betrayed' them for, and the additional legal support could have been useful...

They'd won the case in the end, of course, but Bones had really been through the wringer; to see Taffet so casually manipulate everything they had to throw at her to so nearly get herself off really hadn't been easy for her.

After all, when you got down to it, most of the criminals they dealt with were ruthless or impulsive but fundamentally stupid- even in the case of that mess with Michael Stires it had been Stires who'd been the smart one rather than the criminals, and Gormoggon had just been so obviously insane that his reasoning didn't matter, even if it had corrupted Zach for a time-; Taffet had possessed the kind of cold, reasonable insanity that was almost more terrifying because she could make the most twisted course of events seem logical.

And now, with Bones's earlier comments about how she felt like she had made more of an impact on the world with her anthropological work than her work helping him...

He got that she was having a hard time, but she couldn't leave him; what they did might be on a smaller scale to the work she'd started out doing, but that didn't mean that it wasn't important work...

"Well, not everything," he said, trying to sound reassuring as he looked at her. "Look, we're still partners, right? And-and Taffet, she's been put away. I mean, you're feeling good about that, right?"

"You almost died, Booth," Bones said, looking at him with a near-desperation in her expression. "That can happen again. What if, next time, I can't get to you?"

"I have a lot of experience at not dying, Bones," Booth said, looking at her with a slight smile. "Trust me, as much as I appreciate the help, I think I can handle myself."

"I envy your ability to substitute optimism for reality," Bones said, in a sullen tone that Booth didn't like that much.

"You know what?" Booth said, trying to sound more upbeat than he felt at her mood. "Maybe we should just take some time off, go to a beach, lay in the sun...?"

"I might need more than a little time," Bones replied.

"Don't make any major decisions about your future right now," Booth said, staring resolutely at her.

"I'm just saying-" Bones began.

"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?" Booth said, looking firmly at her. "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."

As he reached for her hand, he briefly hoped that he had finally made it through, but she pulled away even as he reached out, walking over to the road as she held up her hand.

"No," she said, shaking her head. "I'm tired, Booth. I-I-I'm going to go home."

This was one of those moments that would forever define a relationship.

He could let her go, give her the time she thought she needed, let her cope with this whole mess the way that she felt she needed to cope with it...

"No, you're not," Booth said, taking a firm hold of her arm before she could reach the cab, choosing the second option without even thinking about it.

"What?" Bones said, turning to look at him as the cab she had been about to hail continued on past them. "Booth, I need-"

"This has been a bad case, Bones, but you do not get to try and run away and think that what we do means nothing" he said, staring resolutely at her. "The work's hard and difficult and sometimes we come face-to-face with people who can be such absolute bastards that we wonder why we even bother trying to help a world that can produce the likes of that, but we do it because we do make a difference; I get that you've hit a bleak patch right now, but that doesn't mean you just give up."

"I'm not giving up, I'm just-" Bones began.

"You were thinking about quitting because you thought that your emotions were clouding your judgement; that's giving up in my book," Booth said, staring back at her before he came to a decision and indicated his car. "Come with me; I want to show you something."

One benefit to revealing his real identity to Bones was that at least he felt more comfortable using his 'Angel stare'- the stare where he made sure that the people he was talking to knew that he was a very old man who'd done some very difficult things in a very long life-; when a person met with a stare of that intensity, it was hard for them to question whatever he wanted them to do now that they knew what was behind it.

He just hoped that what he was about to share would work...

Looking at the open park before her, Brennan wondered what Booth had been trying to accomplish by taking her here of all places. The National Mall park made a particular impression at night when the weather was good, she had to admit, but she failed to see why Booth, faced with the choice, had taken them to a random corner of the park and was staring out at the street before them, with nothing distinctive about it beyond some closed shops and a few passers-by walking around at this time of night.

"Booth," she said, looking over at her partner in confusion. "What... what are we doing here?"

"You need to know about my darkest hour as Angel, Bones," Booth said simply.

Brennan had no idea how she could respond to that.

It wasn't that she wasn't fully away of Booth's past as Angel these days; it just wasn't something that she spent much time thinking about. She'd appreciated the occasional glimpses he'd shown her of the world that the rest of humanity had relatively little idea about, but at the same time some of their recent cases had confirmed the merits of him keeping quiet; the entire team had spent some time trying to 'delay' their investigation into the horned corpse they'd found in a church until Booth had been able to confirm that no demon with that particular appearance had gone missing using some of his contacts in that part of society...

Given his reluctance to share anything about that time with her, what could have inspired him to do something like this now?

"Remind me," Booth said, looking back at her in a slightly quizzical manner, "when I told you about Connor, did I tell you how he was conceived?"

"Well... you mentioned that you thought that his birth was connected to a series of mystic trials you went through a few months before the conception took place..." Brennan said, confused about why Booth was bringing up something so apparently random at a time like this.

"But I never told you how he was conceived," Booth said, speaking as though he was finishing her sentence as he looked at her, a slightly grim expression on his face. "Did it ever strike you as odd that I had done anything that would result in conception? I still had the clause in my curse that would cause me to lose my soul if I experienced a moment of true happiness; why would I have sex with anyone?"

"Why... did you?" Brennan asked, realising that this was what Booth wanted her to ask.

"It started a few months before," Booth explained, his expression becoming even grimmer as he turned to look at the street before them, the passing traffic too distant for their words to be audible to others as he spoke. "Wolfram & Hart- the law firm that gave me so much trouble as Angel, you know- had brought Darla, my sire, dead for over three years after I staked her to save Buffy, back to life... and I mean literal life; she was a human being with the memory of what she'd done as a vampire."

"Oh," Brennan said, out of a lack of anything else to say to such a statement; even with her limited knowledge of magic, Booth had told them enough to assure them that resurrection spells like that weren't something that should be attempted on any kind of regular basis, but even the idea that it was possible under the right circumstances was uncomfortable at best.

"Anyway," Booth continued, "after I found out that she was back, I took those mystical trials because she was dying of syphilis- the same disease that had killed her when she was alive; her body had come back in basically the same condition it had been in when she was originally turned-, but they couldn't give her life because she was already on her second chance. I was willing to sit there with her while she died- be there as she accepted her death-, but one of the staff decided to bring in another vampire to turn her back, and, with me having failed to save Darla..."

He sighed. "It's not my proudest hour, but, looking back, I'd become too invested in saving her; I figured that, if I saved the woman who made me what I am now, I could also save myself in the process, and my failure left me in a dark place. Convinced that redemption was impossible, I fired the rest of the team and became exclusively focused on the mission, ignoring human contact, pushing myself to my limits, relying on more brutal methods to take out my opponents..."

"What changed?" Brennan asked, looking uncertainly at Booth.

As disturbing as the image of Booth cutting himself off from humanity was- one of his major strengths was his ability to connect with others, even if he assured her that she had a similar talent and just expressed it differently-, she found herself recognising some of the point that she thought he was trying to make; she might not have dealt with the same situation, but she supposed that her thoughts of returning to her roots could be considered 'cutting herself off'...

"Things came to a head," Booth said simply. "After I acquired a ring that basically served as an inter-dimensional 'ticket', I was all set to launch an attack on the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart, armed with a gauntlet that could destroy the demon form they used to manifest in this dimension- got in an elevator that was meant to take me to their head office, accompanied by one of their senior staff-, but when I got to the final destination, their 'head office'... was the street that I'd left."

"What?" Brennan said, looking at Booth in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"The guy just casually informed me that the world didn't work in spite of the evil created by Wolfram & Hart; it worked because of the evil they created," Booth explained, his head lowered as he spoke; evidently what he was discussing was highly difficult for him. "As far as he was concerned, everything about the world we lived in was designed for those who knew how to work it, and the multitude of evil I faced would never cease, making my attempts to improve things pointless as there would always be something else there to threaten the world..."

He sighed as he continued speaking, still staring dejectedly ahead. "I found Darla in my room when I got back- we'd had a bit of a fight earlier-, and... well, I had sex with her, because I just wanted to feel something- anything-, and... well, a part of me probably figured that it'd be easier to be Angelus in a world that didn't care."

"What... what happened?" Brennan asked, after Booth had sat in silence for a few moments, giving her a welcome opportunity to process what she'd just heard; the thought of Booth essentially committing suicide...

"Well, it didn't work out like Darla or I had expected," Booth said, smiling slightly at her as he turned to look at her for the first time since he'd started speaking. "I woke up the next morning, my soul still intact- what we'd experienced was just me hitting rock-bottom rather than achieving any kind of happiness, never mind perfect happiness-, and I realised something."

"What?" Brennan asked, looking at him uncertainly.

"Basically, I realised the same thing that you were saying earlier," Booth said, looking at her with a slightly grim smile. "In the greater scheme, in the big picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan, no big win; your parents leaving you wasn't 'meant' to happen any more than Howard Epps was 'meant' to get out or any kind of crap like that."

"And the knowledge that there's no point to anything made you feel better?" Brennan asked, looking at him incredulously.

Quite frankly, she wasn't hearing anything to suggest that her earlier reflections about the pointlessness of their jobs wasn't an accurate assessment of the world around them...

"Well…" Booth said, one corner of his mouth turning up in a smile as he looked at her. "I guess I kind of worked it out later. If there's no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters… then all that matters is what we do."

He shrugged slightly at the simplicity of it. "'Cause that's all there is. What we do. Now. Today."

Staring out at the street before him, he leant forward, his hands clasped before him as he contemplatively took in their surroundings while he continued to talk. "I fought for so long for redemption, for a reward, finally, just to beat the other guy…"

He sighed slightly as he shook his head. "But I never got it."

"And you do now?" Brennan asked, looking inquiringly at him.

"If you're looking for some big insight into the meaning of life you've got the wrong guy; it's been almost a decade since I was first asked that question, and I still don't get it completely," Booth said, looking at her with a smile as he shook his head, before he turned back to look resolutely at the street before him. "In the end, all I want to do- all I've wanted to do ever since I saw Buffy on the steps of her high school and realised that I could help her survive in the world she was about to get dropped into- is help people. I want to help because…"

He paused for a moment, as though trying to think of the best way to say this, before he sighed and nodded in resolution of his choice of words as he continued speaking. "I want to help because I don't think people should suffer as they do. If there's no bigger meaning, if nobody has any kind of plan and there's no real reason for us to do anything other than because we want to do it, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world… and I want to be able to provide that act for somebody."

Despite herself, Brennan couldn't help but smile at the thought of Booth's last statement; when you got down to it, that was a good way to look at the world around them...

"And... why are you telling me this?" she asked looking uncertainly at him; even if she thought she could see where he was going, she wanted to be sure she understood him.

"The point, Bones," Booth said, now looking firmly at her, "is that, even when you think you aren't accomplishing anything on a large scale... you are accomplishing something. I'm not saying that what you do as an anthropologist isn't important to help us understand the past and how we are what we are, but that's just academics; what you do as an investigator gives people answers where they had none, puts away criminals who have definitely killed before and might go on to kill again- or confirm that those already locked away deserve to be there-, gives everyone involved closure..."

He shrugged. "There's a whole bunch of spiritual and personal reasons that we could get into here, but the important thing to remember is this; maybe they'll always be criminals, thieves and killers in the world, but that's why it has champions like us."

"Champions?" Brennan repeated, unable to stop herself from smiling slightly as she looked over at her partner. "I thought you said that you gave up that role after you brought Los Angeles back from Hell?"

"Hey, I don't have to be the vampire with a soul to be a champion, Bones; being a hero doesn't have to mean kicking ass with superhuman strength, you know," Booth said, smiling teasingly at her. "We're champions because we live as though the world is the way that it should be even when faced with clear evidence that it isn't... so that maybe, some day, some time, our example will help people realise what it can be, and give them the courage to help us get there."

It was a simple statement, but something about the sheer faith that Booth had in her when he said it made Brennan almost forget what she'd been thinking about earlier.

They were there to inspire others...

She had to admit, she liked the idea of them fulfilling that kind of role.

"And as far as your earlier thoughts go, Bones, relationships don't make us weak; they're what makes life worth living," Booth said, looking solemnly at her once again. "If nothing else, think about this; in the end, even if Taffet had managed to secure her freedom in that courtroom, what would she have to enjoy once she was out?"

"Money?" Brennan pointed out. "She did make a lot of money with the Gravedigger kidnappings and the ransoms..."

"And that's it," Booth said nodding firmly at her. "She'd have a lot of money, and nothing else; even if she was cleared, virtually everyone knows that she committed the Gravedigger crimes, so nobody would trust her to do anything legal, the only people inclined to spend any more time with her than they had to would be just as deranged and untrustworthy as she is, and she wasn't exactly a social person even before we caught her."

He shrugged nonchalantly. "We've had some difficulties, but we're together because we all know that we can count on each other, and we can count on each other because we care about each other; we're not just here because it's a matter of convenience or anything like that."

Reaching over, he placed a hand on his partner's shoulder with a smile. "We have trouble sometimes, Bones, but that doesn't mean that we should give up; that just means that we have to try a bit harder. What we do isn't easy, and we sometimes can't see the relevance of it, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try; even if we can't help everyone, that shouldn't stop us from trying to help anyone."

After a moment's silence as she turned over his words in her mind, Brennan smiled at him.

"You... you make a good point," she said, smiling warmly and uncertainly at the former vampire. "I mean... it can be... difficult... but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to keep on doing what we do..."

"Right," Booth said, grinning at her. "We have some trouble at times, but that doesn't mean we give up when the going gets tough; this was a hard case, and I respect that, but it's no reason to completely ditch what we do best."

Leaning over, he gave Brennan a brief kiss- Brennan felt silly even thinking it, but something about Booth's kisses seemed like they were driving out even the memory of any other lips she'd kissed before- before he pulled back, raising a curious eyebrow at her. "Of course, that doesn't mean I wouldn't say no to the chance to use some of her constantly-accumulated vacation time; any ideas where to go?"

"A few places spring to mind..." Brennan said, smiling back at him in a slightly teasing manner.

She had no real idea where they were going with this relationship at times- they'd already lasted far longer than any relationship she'd had in the past-, but, wherever it was going, she was still certain that she wanted to be there with Booth.

He had introduced so many strange and confusing things to her life, but, amid the world of murderers, psychopaths, and even the supernatural, the one thing that she would never change, even if she had a choice, was her relationship with Special Agent Seeley Booth, regardless of what he called himself or what he was.