Disclaimer: For the last time (literally), they don't belong to me.
Author's Note: This is the final chapter of this story.
Chapter 11 – Tying Up Loose Ends
"Sweets! Come on, we're going for coffee."
Only one person would make such an imperious demand and expect it to be followed immediately. Dr. Lance Sweets masked the sudden unease he felt seeing that Booth had finally come to confront him. "Agent Booth, I'm kind of in the middle of something."
Being invited outside the Hoover was a signal for off-the-record; or possibly the ruse that would lead to his untimely disappearance. Sweets cautiously watched Booth enter his office, searching for the signal that would tell him to run for his life.
But Booth wasn't angry, exactly. There was a definite intensity and the sense of carefully controlled energy in the way he moved, yet anger was not there. He appeared quite neutral, in fact. His game face firmly in place, the only clue to what Booth had in mind came from a deep question hidden in his eyes. "Whatever it is, it can wait. Come on, up! Chop-chop!"
Sweets stood, steadying his nerves with a carefully released exhalation. He seriously considered pulling his last will and testament out of the bottom desk drawer and leaving it where it could easily be found because he knew Booth could make sure his body wasn't found at all.
They left the Hoover together, each immersed in contemplative thought. Sweets was seeing his life flash before his eyes; Booth was working out just how he was going to get what he'd come for. As they entered the Royal Diner, Sweets exhaled again in relief. Booth wouldn't shoot him in public.
"So I have a question for you," Agent Booth announced when they were both seated at the table he usually shared with Dr. Brennan.
"Shoot," Sweets invited, then winced when he heard his own Freudian slip. Crap, wrong thing to say. Way wrong. Don't give him any ideas. He shook his head quickly. "Uh, what's the question?"
Booth regarded the younger man curiously. "You okay, kid. You look a little queasy."
"Must be something I ate," Sweets muttered. Or stark, raving terror, his brain taunted right back.
"Vera might have something for that if you ask her."
Glancing at the aging waitress who had served Booth and Brennan for years, Sweets couldn't help reaching out for salvation. Or at least a solid witness who could testify she'd last seen him alive in the company of Special Agent Seeley Booth.
"Yeah, maybe some Tums." Xanex? Valium?
Booth flagged Vera over and requested coffee and Tums for Sweets, simply coffee for himself. When she'd departed, he got to the point. "What I need to know is, what were you doing last week. That thing about breaking the stalemate."
"Uh, yeah, maybe I was a little bit impulsive there. You know, caught up in the moment."
Booth sat back, his laser gaze pinning Sweets to the back of his vinyl and steel diner chair. "Cut the crap, kid. How did you see that playing out?"
"Um," Sweets found himself stalling, sweat breaking out on his brow. He wondered if Booth would allow him one of those lifeline calls like they did on that millionaire game show. He should have pushed for going to Gordon Wyatt's restaurant, Sweets suddenly realized with regret. Having the esteemed former Doctor—now Chef—Gordon Wyatt on hand would have given him much-needed back up. It was half Wyatt's fault he was in this plight to begin with. Plus it didn't hurt that Wyatt had six inches and 100 pounds on Booth.
"I don't know," he finally stammered. "Not good…?"
The older man shook his head firmly. "Not good the first time. A complete disaster the second time."
And there it was, the first real hint of something other than casual conversation between friends. Darkness tinged Booth's blunt statement, yet his outward demeanor remained calm. Sinking back, waiting for what came next, Sweets pulled out every psychological trick he knew to see where this was going. Booth was guarding his intentions very closely, casting Sweets back and forth between hope and terror.
Vera interrupted the tense moment by dropping off two cups of coffee and a rattling bottle of Tums.
Booth's hard glare made Sweets swallow down another gulp of fear under the guise of taking the antacids. He nearly choked before he remembered he was supposed to chew them first.
"Is that what you wanted," Booth asked dangerously. "For us to end badly?"
"No!" Sweets squealed. "No. Not at all. I swear!"
"What game are you playing?"
"Why does everyone keep asking me that?"
Booth leaned over the table, his menace unmistakable. "I need to know what you were planning to do if your comment to me resulted in our partnership ending."
Eyes wide, the baby duck shook his head. "It wouldn't. Nothing would break up your professional partnership, Agent Booth. Any idiot with a degree in psychology can see that."
"Really…." Sounding skeptical, Booth dumped two packets of sugar into his coffee and stirred it absently as he drew out the non-agreement. "You see, I can think of something that would."
Grabbing his cup with both hands and lifting it as a child would, Sweets clung to its reassuring warmth to steady his hands and nerves. He was starting to think that maybe Agent Booth wasn't planning to kill him, that he wanted something else instead. Information. Reassurance? Yes, reassurance!
"You two are solid," Sweets insisted. "The most solid team in the Bureau."
He took a sip of his coffee, then set the cup down with a slight clatter. "Then why would you want to break us up, huh Sweets?"
"What? No! I'm not trying to break you up! Why would you say that?"
Booth leaned in, eyes hard and sharp. "Because that's what happens when partners get romantically involved."
Sweets gulped again, seeing the rug had been pulled out from under him so fast he was flat on his back. "Uh…" His mind went completely blank.
What do I say? Sweets wondered frantically? What answer is not going to get me killed? Suddenly he latched onto what Booth had said earlier. "Wait, I thought you said it was a disaster."
"There's more than one kind of disaster," Booth remarked coolly. "What I need to know, is what kind of disaster you were angling for? The kind where I make a move, she turns me down, and we both trudge miserably along day after day until we can't stand the sight of each other, and we split up? Or the kind where she says yes and the FBI breaks up our partnership because the rules are, no romantic encounters between partners."
Sweets nearly collapsed in relief. "You're worried you're going to lose the working relationship?"
"The way I see it, either way I'd lose my professional partnership with Bones. Right?"
Oh, thank God! I can manage this, Sweets reassured himself. Gathering up every scrap of dignity a 24 year old man could muster, he lifted his gaze and attempted to salvage his questionable reputation as a man with deep psychological insights. "Agent Booth, I wouldn't have suggested you make a move if I didn't have official approval already secured."
Booth stared at him with all the intensity of a master interrogator. Sweets forced himself to meet the assessing stare head on, knowing his life depended on being believed.
"Whose approval?" Booth demanded.
"Assistant Director Hacker."
"Hacker approved it?" His surprise was complete, along with a sudden expression of primal male victory. The mood at their little table lightened considerably.
"He said he was only surprised it took this long."
"Ha!" Booth sat back, clearly amused with this turn of events. "So it's okay?"
"If you're asking what the FBI's position is in regard to you and Dr. Brennan becoming involved romantically, they will officially be looking the other way—as long as you comport yourselves as professionals and your solve rate continues as it currently stands."
Nodding, the agent glanced out the window, then around the Diner with a sniper's attention to environment. He returned his sharp gaze to the young psychologist and instructed, "This conversation is off the record. It'll be easier for them to keep looking the other way if there's no official record."
"Of course," Sweets agreed hastily.
Booth tossed back a couple of swallows of his coffee, leaving his cup nearly empty. "Thanks, Sweets. You've been a great help."
"So … you're not going to kill me?" He couldn't quite contain the needy hope that infused his query.
"Of course not. Bones wouldn't like it." Booth slapped Sweets on the arm and strode off to the door. "See ya around, Sweets. Oh, one more thing…."
Coming back, Booth leaned down and caught Sweets by the eyes. "Don't think I don't know what you were doing. You are very lucky that it turned out okay between us. There will be no more counseling sessions. What goes on between Bones and me is ours. You understand?"
"Yes," Sweets confirmed without any hesitation, glad to find himself still breathing and all his limbs still whole. He sagged back against his seat once Booth departed the Diner, exhausted.
Vera came back for a refill, remarking, "He looks happy. Something finally happen with that partner of his?"
Mouth falling open in shock, Sweets gaped at her. "How did you know?!"
She laughed. "I've seen those two in here just about every day for the past four years. Even a blind donkey could see they're head over heels for each other. But I never saw him look this happy."
"He didn't look happy, he looked like he was ready to kill me!" Sweets exclaimed.
Ruffling his hair like a fond mother, Vera clucked her tongue. "Aw, he's just protecting what's important. The happiness was right there in his eyes. Besides, I'll let you in on a little secret."
Hardly daring to ask, Sweets raised his hands in a shrug and waited.
She bent down to whisper her secret. "I saw them in here two hours ago, kissing and nuzzling like two teenagers who know mom and dad are in the next room. Now, don't you tell anyone."
Laughing, Vera whisked away her coffee pot and resumed taking care of her customers.
"Dr. Saroyan, I'm heading out for the evening."
Given the relatively early hour, the speaker was quite unexpected. Cam looked from the clock on her computer monitor that declared 17:55 to the woman standing just inside the doorway to the autopsy suite.
"Dr. Brennan. This is a bit out of the ordinary." Cam regarded the anthropologist warmly, noting the remarkable transformation that had taken place just since lunchtime yesterday.
"I'm meeting Booth for dinner," she admitted, unable to stop an elated smile from breaking through.
"You've worked it out, I see." Cam's happiness at this development was all the more genuine given how little hope she'd detected a scant few days ago.
She nodded, her effusive delight seeming to expand and fill the room. "Yes."
"I'm truly happy for you both."
"Thank you." She turned as if to leave, but then paused. Brennan hesitated in the doorway for several seconds before turning back.
"Cam … thank you."
She had suddenly grown so serious that Cam knew this wasn't a casual thanks. Brennan clearly meant something more. Curious, Cam asked, "For what?"
Brennan regarded her former rival gravely, knowing that many layers of communication were passing between them. "You've been good to him, you've helped him. You've helped me, too, I suspect. I won't forget it. I am honored to call you a friend."
"You're a good friend also, Temperance. And I am truly, deeply gratified to see how this has turned out."
Though it had been difficult between them at first, an understanding had been reached. Somehow over the years their goals had aligned until they were facing the same direction, working together for the same cause. Both women had settled into roles of complementary dual leadership in the laboratory, and each had found her place in Booth's life. Brennan knew that she and Cam had become good and loyal friends, their rapport understated but strong just the same. They both just knew it, and somehow that felt just right.
"Now, I think Booth has waited for you long enough." Cam waved her hand in dismissal. "Off you go."
Brennan turned again, her parting words drifting back on a wave of gentle laughter. "I've been waiting just as long for him."
Author's Note: I really enjoyed writing this last chapter, with its shades of Poe's, 'Tell Tale Heart.'
Hopefully you all enjoyed reading this (except for those angst-filled middle chapters) as much as I did writing it. Once I unraveled the string, I felt like I finally understood what was going on during seasons five and six. Though I still think they could have resolved it much better than the way it finally did end, this story is my act of forgiveness towards Hart Hanson and Stephen Nathan.
"True forgiveness is when you can say, "Thank you for that experience."
Thank you to all of my readers, reviewers and lurkers alike, for spending your valuable time on this story.