A/N Hello and welcome back! I know, it's been forever since I posted a new DPO chapter. I'm sorry about that; my Muse decided to take a hike and got lost in the woods…I had to hire a new one. :-/

That said, I struggled to crank this chapter out. Seriously, I had the outline and it all looked marvy, but then when I tried to actually write it, it wouldn't come to me. I hope, in the end, you like the result of all the labor-intensive love I poured into these pages… :-) (is that too much? LOL)

As usual, I don't own Bones or any rights to the U.T. Research Facility mentioned in my story. I'm simply taking characters that we all know and love and placing them in a very fitting situation.

Chapter 6 final moments:

"I love you, Bones," he craned his neck and planted a kiss on her soft lips. He didn't want to fabricate another lie about why he needed to get her away from the professor back there, so he did what always came naturally… He slid his tongue along the thin line where her lips met and when she opened to him, he brushed against her soft warmth, growling into her mouth while swallowing her responsive moan.

The news of one dick-wad Dr. Michael Stires would have to wait just a little longer…

Booth and Brennan spent the next several hours in back-to-back interviews with students and faculty currently involved with the Anthropology Research Facility. Agent Noggins had arranged for everyone to come in at specified appointment times, making the team's interrogations seamless.

For the most part, these early interviews proved of little interest to Booth; there were only a couple of possible follow-ups that he felt needed to be done, but he didn't get a feeling about any of them in the way of viable suspects. He did, however, feel his temper being pressed to the limits as the day wore on. Most of the students, and a handful of the faculty, were simply star-struck at Brennan's presence - not only was she an untouchable idol within the Anthropological Community, but she was a New York Times best-selling author several times over to boot. Several times, he had to remind their 'guests' that he and Brennan were the ones asking the questions, not the other way around.

'Do you base your character, Kathy Reichs, on yourself, Dr. Brennan?'

'Do you have the same adventurous events in your life as your character?'

'Do you base that character of Andy Lister on your partner over there?'

'Will you have dinner with me while you're in town?'

'Would you read my manuscript?'

'Have you ever been kidnapped like Kathy was in Bred to the Bone?'

That last question about the kidnapping struck a particular nerve with Booth, for obvious reasons, and he slammed his fist on the table, causing a booming sound to echo in the room.

"Dammit! What is with you people? Is no one bothered by the fact that a dismembered body was found buried in the supposedly empty chunk of land? Jesus H. Christ!" He shoved up from his seat and stalked to the young man sitting on the opposite side of the table, getting into the kid's face. "We are not here to talk about Dr. Brennan!" he growled through gritted teeth. "We are here to ask you questions about what you know regarding that body!" He spun the boy's chair so it faced him directly, turning the student completely away from Brennan, diverting his attention. "Now, you will answer my questions…Got it?"

"Y-yes sir…Yes."

The boy was scared, that much was obvious, but there was something about him that spoke to Booth. The Special Agent didn't think he was guilty, per se, but Booth felt that he knew something…

"Great," Booth forced a smile at the student. "Now, Douglas, tell me what exactly you do when you're over at the Anthropology Facility. According to my notes here, you are neither an Anthropology nor an Entomology student."

"That is correct, Agent Booth. I am a Forensic Biology major; specifically Forensic Botany. I am studying the effects that decomposing bodies have on the surrounding flora in an ever-changing environment. I visit the Facility once a day and record my findings related to the progression of the decomp results."

Booth nodded as he walked around the table and reclaimed the seat beside his partner. "And so, you were at the facility yesterday? That was the last time you were there?"

"Actually, no. By the time I tried to get on property, the cops had already refused entrance to any non-essentials. And that ban on students is causing me a problem, because now it's been two days that I don't have any field data for my research, and I guess we're being kept out until the case is solved. So, how long do you expect to be, before you solve it? The quicker you discover what happened, the quicker I can get back to work…" He raised an eyebrow at the partners, as if his research was the most important topic of discussion at that moment, causing Booth to harrumph at the ballsy attitude of the future scientist.

"Well, Douglas, if you and all your little counterparts had been more interested in the case rather than asking my partner here asinine questions when you were brought in here, we would have been done with this portion of our day already. Instead, we had to deal with unrelated queries and interruptions. Now that we're back on track, however, I have several other questions I'd like to ask you…"

Booth and Brennan proceeded to fire questions at Douglas, just as they had to all his predecessors that morning. Once they were satisfied with the answers, they advised the young man that he should remain in town, and that he may be called back for further questioning. After deflecting additional autograph and photo opportunity requests, Booth and Brennan were finally through with the list of interviews arranged for the early portion of the day. The late afternoon interrogations would likely be conducted solely by Booth, because Hodgins, Angela and Finn were expected to arrive by then, and Brennan would want to be at the scene with her team.

Pushing back from the table, Booth swiveled in his chair to face his partner. "Whaddya say we go find someplace to grab a bite, Bones? I'm starving."

She nodded her head as she closed the notebook she'd been using during their sessions. "Perhaps we can ask if there's a diner nearby. I know how much you enjoy a big greasy meal after you've finished interrogating possible suspects." She grinned at him playfully.

"Yeah, and you certainly don't complain when I get a big helping of greasy French fries, do ya?" He teased as he pushed back from the table and stood by Brennan's chair as she tucked her book into her messenger bag. Booth chuckled when he saw his partner's cheeks grow pink with the 'uh-oh, he-caught-me'-blush, and he danced his fingers across her upper back lightly. With a wide smile, he nodded towards the door. "C'mon, we can ask Noggins where's a good place to eat." He rested his open palm against the small of her back and ushered her from the tiny room, out into the crowded hallway of the relatively small Agency.

When the partners entered the hallway, Booth immediately felt his protective instincts kicking in; several agents and visitors were bustling about and more than a few were giving Brennan an appreciative eye. Flexing his fingers against her suit jacket, Booth applied the right amount of pressure to direct his partner in the direction he wanted. To her credit, Brennan allowed him to take the lead without argument, feeling somewhat uneasy at seeing heads lean together whispering while eyes remained trained on them.

As Booth followed closely behind her, she glanced over her shoulder while continuing to walk forward. "It's like they've never seen partners from another field office, Booth…" She mumbled disapprovingly, letting her trademark "V" to appear between her eyebrows.

"No, Bones… They've seen other partners, but they've never seen partners like us." He shrugged as he glanced around, and nodded in greeting to a few Agents he'd met earlier that morning out at the Facility. "Correction," he leaned close to her and chuckled. "They've never seen a partner like you, Bones…"

Brennan cocked her head and stopped dead in her tracks, causing Booth to collide into her back while she simultaneously turned to face her partner. "Does this field office not employ outside independent contractors to assist on special cases? Surely they've seen, or been party to, partnering Agents with non-Agents on occasion, wouldn't they have, Booth?" She searched his eyes for an explanation of why the resident officers would be so interested in seeing her working with the best agent in the FBI.

"You being contracted isn't what has them interested, Bones… It's you they're interested in…" He ducked his chin and peered at her from beneath raised eyebrows and curled one side of his lips into a crooked grin as he spoke in hushed tones. "And if I wasn't already your partner, I'd be watching you the same way they are."

Ready for a rebuttal, Brennan huffed slightly and stood her ground, despite Booth's not-so-subtle nudging for her to keep moving. "Booth, don't be ridiculous. There's nothing about me that special to cause such a fuss…The men here are more likely intimidated by your higher ranking, you excellent skill levels, your mythological reputation and your radiating alpha-male personality. Especially-"

Taking a loose grip on her upper arm, Booth turned his partner so they could continue heading towards Noggins' office. "Nope, I'll tell ya later, Bones," he interrupted her rant before she turned completely anthropological and squinty right there in the middle of the hallway. He glared at one particular man who didn't even try to mask his interest in Brennan's physique and as the guy stepped closer, ready to offer an outstretched cup of what was probably eight-hour-old coffee, Booth placed himself in the direct path the southern-agent was taking. "Yeah, sure pal," he growled at the man who was about the same size as his own build. "Way to impress the visiting Anthropological expert – a cup of cold, stale government-issued sludge…"

"Wha-" the offended man's eye grew wide.

"Don't sweat it, man; we're off to lunch anyway; I'll buy her a good cup o' Joe…" Booth didn't give him a chance to interrupt, and he kept ushering his girlfriend forward. "Catch ya later, huh?" He ignored the insulted look on his counterpart's face as he continued walking at Brennan's side, slightly behind, as was usual.

Stopping in front of Noggins' tiny closet-like-office, Booth tapped on the open door to gain the young man's attention. Seemingly startled, he looked up and smiled at the partners as they entered the tight space. "Hi Dr. Brennan; Booth." Noggins nodded to them each in turn and motioned for them to sit.

"Aw, no, thanks anyway Noggins. We're gonna take a break and grab something to eat. We were wondering if there was someplace close by that you can recommend. A local hang-out, or a diner, maybe? Someplace that makes good home-cooked meals."

"Oh, sure. Ya'll should try Lorelei's Café over on Gardner. It's just two blocks south and one block to the east. You can't miss it; she has the A-Frame blackboard out on the sidewalk advertisin' her specials for the day. It's a peach of a place, my girl loves it; and at night they host live music performances, so check out her schedule when you're there; maybe you'll wanna head over there one evenin'." He beamed when he saw two equally satisfied smiles staring back at him.

"That sounds excellent, Agent Noggins," Brennan grinned and turned to Booth. "Oftentimes, owner-operated businesses with this kind of appeal will feature at least one or two meatless options for vegetarians or vegans. Especially located so close to the University – surely the owner will want to attract a wide variety of clientele."

"Bones, if you're happy with the way the place sounds, I'm fine with it." He had to stop himself from leaning in to kiss her softly, her smile was so captivating. But as he felt his body undeniably drawn towards hers, he caught himself, remembering that they were in another agent's office, in an FBI building that was not the Hoover, and kissing her at that moment would have been completely inappropriate…But the reality of the desire was unmistakable; and Booth was looking forward to an hour alone with his fiancée, even if it was in a public setting – he planned on stealing at least a few deep kissed to quench his thirst until later. Damn Cullen and his fucking request that we lay low

As the partners turned to leave Noggins' office, the young man called out to the visiting Special Agent. "Oh, Agent Booth? I texted you those details you requested." Noggins didn't explain further, suspecting that Booth would check his messages straight away. After Booth had asked him for any information regarding the arrival of the contracted specialist, the junior agent did some research, curious about why Booth was so interested in Dr. Michael Stires. It wasn't long before Noggins located the information on the Maggie Schilling case, in which case Dr. Stires was called upon to discount the evidence presented by Dr. Brennan and to discredit her in front of a jury by presenting himself to be more approachable and knowledgeable. Brennan had proved the victor, though the transcripts showed that it very well could have gone the other direction had the prosecutor not brought Brennan's personal history into the line of questioning. Brennan's response, which had captivated Noggins' attention as he read, offered insight to the woman that a lot of people might not know, unless they followed the team's cases or knew the woman directly. He felt a swell of respect for the expert anthropologist and grew even more curious about the partnership she had formed with one of the most successful FBI Agents in modern years. He hadn't had time to study further into their history, as they had actually interrupted his research when they approached him for a recommendation on where to eat…the young agent hoped he'd collapsed his computer screen before they could see that he was actually looking over their history. He sighed in relief when Booth curled one side of his lips into a tight grin and nodded his appreciation of Noggins' discreet comment.

"Thanks, man. I'll check it out."

As Booth and Brennan walked away from his office, he could hear the famous woman questioning her partner, "what information was Agent Noggins gathering for you, Booth? Anything we should discuss before going into any further interviews?"

"Nah, just some…stuff," Booth shrugged and brushed off her query with a wave of guilt, still uncertain how she would take the news that she'd be working in close proximity to Michael Stires by this time tomorrow.

B/B/B/B

They found Lorelei's Café without a problem and sat themselves in a quiet corner at a small, intimate round café table. "I like the ambiance of this place, Booth," Brennan spoke quietly as she looked around the cozy space. "It reminds me of an old coffeehouse – you know, the kind that evolved back in the 1950's and 60's, providing venues for acoustic musicians to play their sets…" She sat to Booth's right and studied the wall behind her partner, which had been covered with years of signatures and autographs, dates and hand-sketched figures and symbols.

From where he sat, Booth had an unobstructed view of not only the door, but also of the rest of the café. His keen observation skills allowed him to scan their surroundings and see a lot all at once. There were, perhaps, six tables including theirs, and only two others were occupied. He noticed against the far wall, there was a row of over-sized lounge chairs which were currently empty. Each seat was angled slightly, so that in the evenings, the occupants could face the stage at the far end of the restaurant and enjoy whatever entertainment was scheduled that night.

Decorating the walls was a hodge-podge of collections. There were old, obviously unusable musical instruments, framed prints and post cards, various memorabilia that appeared to be of entertainment-origin. Book shelves were scattered into every empty space, offering a wide variety of board games, puzzle books and several old and new novels and biographies. Bringing a smile to his handsome face, his eyes spotted a tattered copy of Cross Bones, his partner's second novel, which she'd very kindly dedicated to him, humbling him beyond words. His mind took him back to that evening in her apartment when he snuck a peek at her manuscript as it sat on her table, and he blushed at the memory of her brother standing at his side, oblivious to just how big a heart his little sister possessed.

Booth's eyes settled back on his partner as she sat next to him, still studying the wall behind where he sat. He paused in his roving observations and just watched her. He watched her pale blue-gray eyes dart back and forth and her lips move as she silently read messages left behind by unknown persons who sat here before.

Feeling his gaze on her, Brennan lowered her eyes and found that Booth was indeed watching her, smiling softly. "What?" She asked his cautiously, wondering what he was thinking about.

He reached over and covered her hand with his, feeling the absence of her engagement ring on her finger, but knew she was wearing in on the gold chain that clung to her neck and disappeared beneath the lightweight V-neck sweater she wore. He knew that it would be nestled safely between the soft swells of her breasts and he felt himself harden at the memory of waking her that morning by tracing his roughened fingertips over the silky flesh just beneath those perfect mounds. Still grasping her left hand in his right, he leaned over with his free hand and tugged the gold chain out from its warm nesting place. He watched his own movements as he pulled the ring out and held it between his thick fingers, looking at the prisms it reflected against her pale neck, before letting it fall against the outside of her midnight blue sweater. He looked back up and saw she was smiling at his movements and a pale pink flush had filled her cheeks.

"I love you, Bones," he said simply and quietly, befitting the intimate seating. "I love you so damn much, baby."

Brennan's smile grew and she felt the flutter of excitement course through her body. It was the same exhilaration she always felt whenever her mate randomly declared his love for her, or complimented her appearance, even when she looked like hell at the end of a long day, or the times he brought her an unexpected surprise, 'just because'. She had an instant flashback to the day he gave her Brainy Smurf; he pretended he wasn't going to give her the toy and she reminded him that she liked Smurfette, anyway, not Brainy Smurf. It was then that he told her she was so much more than Smurfette, she had her looks and so much more… That little toy had become a precious possession to Brennan, a cherished gift from the one man who would help her evolve into the person she wanted to be. That was long before they began their personal relationship, but Brennan knew that Booth had always enjoyed surprising her, and he hadn't stopped just because he finally had her. He still brought home little tokens:

Hey, I found this little key chain with a skull and thought of you. [Said with a shy smile]

Look Bones, it's a Lego toy dressed like a scientist! [Boyish excitement radiating from his body]

This negligee…it's the same color as your eyes. [Undeniable deep desire shining in his eyes]

I know daffodils are still your favorite, but… [A small shrug as he handed her a single calla lily, like the one from the night he proposed]

"I know you do, Booth," she finally replied, a look of adoration filling her eyes. "I love you, too." She closed the short distance between them and pressed her lips to his as he palmed her jaw and cheek. It was an all-too-brief kiss, but they heard someone approaching and broke apart before things became heated.

"Hey y'all, welcome to Lorelei's," the middle-aged waitress smiled at the couple and raised a pot of steaming coffee. "Can I offer you some of my special blend?"

Brennan smiled and nodded, thankful for what smelled like real coffee, not that stuff the FBI served under the pretense of calling it java. "Yes, please, fresh coffee sounds wonderful."

Booth nodded as well and turned his coffee cup over, so the woman could fill it for him. "Yeah, thanks."

"Y'all aren't from around here, are ya? I don't think I've seen you here b'fore." She spoke as she poured their drinks and handed them each a small single-sided menu printed on average card-stock, perfectly typical of a 'mom-n-pop' type of restaurant. It brought a smile to Booth's face.

"No, we're visiting Knoxville on business, and we were advised to try your establishment. You come highly recommended." Brennan answered with a smile and her usual formality.

"Well, I'm glad to have ya. My name's Lorelei and this is my place," she waved her hand about in a flourish, obviously proud of her tiny restaurant.

"It's very quaint," Brennan responded. "I've been looking at all the signatures here on the wall. Are they local celebrities who've frequented your café?"

"No, ma'am, those there are the autographs of everyone who's ever performed on my stage up there. Local musicians, poets, storytellers… By day this is a café, and the lifeline - money-wise - to my business. But in the evenin's, this is a local hang-out for artists. Performers." She shrugged slightly, not sure about her guests and whether or not they ever listened to acoustic singer/song-writers; they seemed like city-folk – and not southern-city-folk. She was about to go into deeper explanation when the woman seated at her two-top table became outwardly excited and turned to her companion.

"See, Booth? I was right! It is a coffeehouse!" Brennan turned back to Lorelei and continued talking. "Do you have music every night, or just on the weekends?"

"Oh, honey, we have it every night. There are enough singers in this town that I wish there were more than seven days in a week, so's I could help promote more people." She smiled as she looked up at the wall of autographs. "There are a few almost-famous signatures up there, but mostly my guests are only part-time performers, holdin' down a day-job to pay the bills and performing in the evenin's for the sheer pleasure of it. Ya'll gonna be in town for a few days?"

Booth nodded, getting in on the conversation and knowing that he and his fiancée would be back to visit Lorelei again during their stay. "Yeah, we don't know exactly how long we're here for, but definitely we'll be here for a few more days."

"That's great," the woman replied. "We are open for lunch every day 10:30 – 2:30, then we close for a break. We serve dinner from 4:30 'til 8:00, and the singin' usually starts around 8:30 or so. On Tuesday nights we have Open Mic, which means you get a variety of performers, each one gets six minutes on stage to perform whatever their specialty. They sign up the week before and I post the schedule on Tuesday morning, so if folks wanna see a certain person, they know what time their guy or gal takes center-stage. Then on Thursday nights, we have Oldies Night – singers can only sing songs from the 1950's or earlier, but they can do their own spin on the tunes – makes for some interesting performances." Lorelei smiled when she saw the approval on Brennan's eager face. "The other nights all have a featured artist who will perform for about an hour and half – two 45-minute sets. Tonight's a real special night. We have The Polyphony Trio coming tonight; it's three young men, very well-respected in the local folk circuit, each of them a brilliant musician on his own, but together, they bring out the best in each other. If you're free tonight, and if you're interested, c'mon in and enjoy some good music." Lorelei was obviously a great supporter of local artists and took pride in promoting those she sponsored.

"Thank you, Lorelei; we don't know what our evening is going to bring, but we will definitely keep that in mind and discuss the possibility of coming back." Brennan responded for both of them before turning to Booth to gain his approval that she'd answered correctly.

He simply nodded at his partner, knowing from the look on her face that she was definitely interested in frequenting this little café while they were in town. He also knew that he would go along with whatever she wanted to do, so there was nothing really to discuss.

"Alrighty, then, enough talk; I'm sure you folks didn't come in her to listen to me chatter on and on," she grinned. "I'll give you a moment to look over today's menu. Did you see the specials on the board out front?"

"Actually," Booth smiled, "I don't need to look at the menu. I did see the board and I'd like to try your open-face roast beef sandwich." He smiled widely, causing the woman taking his order to involuntarily blush at the man's good looks.

"The Butternut Squash pasta on special, is that vegetarian?" Brennan interjected after the woman had taken her boyfriend's order.

"Sure is, honey," Lorelei smiled, "it's one of my most popular recipes."

"That sounds lovely. Thank you."

Handing the woman back the menus, the partners once again found themselves alone in their little corner, despite the fact that there were a couple of other tables occupied towards the center of the small eatery. Booth once again reached over and took Brennan's hand, dwarfing the daintiness of her surprisingly strong fingers with his much larger, veiny grip. She watched him chew on the inside of his cheek, lost in thought as he looked down to where he stroked his thumb over the back of her hand.

"Booth, are you alright?" she asked quietly, hoping to draw him out of his deep contemplation.

Raising his dark eyes to look at her, he smiled and sighed in resignation, knowing he had to just come out with it and tell her. "Bones, I have something to tell you; some news that is probably going to upset you…"

"You aren't leaving me, are you?"

"What?! No!" He sat straight up and crinkled his forehead in confusion. "Why would you think I'm leaving you, Bones? I love you; I'm never going to leave you, baby… I gave you that promise and I meant it." He turned in his chair to face her better.

"Well, you just said you had news that would upset me. The most upsetting news you could ever give me is that you were leaving… So, I just wanted to get that clear right away…" She raised an eyebrow and shrugged a shoulder. "You seem, I don't know…sad, somehow…"

"No, Bones, I'm just…well, I'm bothered by something that I have to tell you. Something that I've needed to tell you all day." He reached for his coffee and took a slow drink. When he replaced his mug in its saucer, he looked back at her and took a deep breath, but before he could get the words out of his mouth, she interrupted him, surprising the hell out of him like she always had.

"Is it about Michael coming out to study the bodies?"

Booth stared at her, his jaw slightly agape. "How did…when did you…who told you about Stires?"

She smiled slyly and eyed him knowingly. "You just did…"

"Bones. C'mon, how did you know that's what I needed to talk to you about?" He couldn't believe that he'd been dreading this conversation all day, and here, she already knew that the ass would be examining the bodies.

"Well, I didn't know for sure until just now, as I started to string together events. You acted very evasive at Dr. Mills' office today when we started to discuss the possibility of me sending for one of my interns. He said the University had already made arrangements to contract an expert to keep data records on the progress of the corpses. But before he could complete that conversation, you became suddenly claustrophobic – a trait that you've never really been prone to exhibit. Then, when I tried to get a copy of the list of permitted personnel from Agent Noggins, to ensure that my staff had been added to the list, he told me that he'd already reviewed the list with you, and that you had it in your file. He assured me that my people were on the list, but he wouldn't let me see his clipboard. In the interrogation room, when you opened your file, I saw a quick glimpse of it as you flipped through pages and certain names caught my attention: Angela, Jack & Mr. Abernathy, of course, but I was also pretty certain that I saw Michael's name on the list." She took a sip of her coffee and eyed her partner over the rim of her cup. "Then, when we stopped at Agent Noggins' office, I don't know if you noticed what he had on his desk, but I did…" When she saw the quizzical look Booth was giving her, she continued. "He had a yellow legal pad on which he had some notes scribbled – his handwriting is quite atrocious, by the way…" She shook her head in disgust but noticed the impatient look her boyfriend was giving her, so she continued. "Anyway, he had Maggie Schilling written down, which, as you know was the case in which I had to prove my findings to be correct and Michael's to be wrong." She shrugged, "So if Agent Noggins is looking into our past cases, specifically the one pertaining to my interaction with Michael, then it stood to reason that you mentioned to him that we knew Michael. And knowing you, you likely told Noggins to keep you informed of Michael's whereabouts and information on his arrival." She covered their joined hands with her free palm and leaned closer to Booth. "But it wasn't until just now, seeing you annoyed and worried to tell me something, that I put everything together."

"When did you become such a brilliant investigator, Bones?" Booth looked at her in astonishment, she had it all figured out and he hadn't said a word.

"I have a very steep learning curve, Booth. We've discussed this…" She beamed, knowing she'd surprised him. Hell, she had surprised herself, but she was most proud of shocking her ever-observant boyfriend.

"Well, yeah, you do, don'tcha?" He raised both her hands in his and kissed her knuckles. "I know how much he hurt you before… he's such an ass," he felt that old anger boiling to the surface, but swallowed it quickly. "I just don't want you to be hurt again."

She smiled sweetly, "he can't hurt me anymore, Booth; you won't let him."

"Damn right I won't, baby," he leaned over and pressed a firm kiss to her lips. "No one hurts my girl…"

"I'm hardly a girl, Booth…" She started to retort, but the Special Agent was spared from a lecture, thanks to the timely arrival of their lunch, which looked mouth-wateringly delicious.

Lorelei smiled at her guests as their eyes grew wide at the ample servings she was placing on the table. She offered more coffee and left the patrons to enjoy their lunch. When she walked back behind the counter, near the tiny window that looked into the kitchen she smiled at her husband. "I think they were impressed with the presentation, dear. I wish I could figure out who the woman is, I know I've seen her somewhere…" She glanced back over her shoulder at the partners, happy to see the good looking couple obviously enjoying their lunch.

Booth and Brennan made a silent pact to cease talk of Michael Stires for the course of their meal, instead focusing on the case and the details they'd gathered while interviewing that morning.

"You're interested in that last young man, Douglas, aren't you?" Brennan asked in between bites of her mind-blowingly good butternut squash penne pasta dish.

"You know, there's somethin' about him…" Booth mixed rich brown gravy into his mashed potatoes. "I don't think he did it – you know, I don't think he is guilty of cutting up and burying that woman. But he knows something. He might not even realize it, but… there's something there; I just can't put my finger on it yet." He took a bite of his homemade-style meal and closed his eyes in appreciation. "Oh my god, these are good potatoes…"

Brennan laughed at his antics, knowing that she only ever had to worry about Booth having a love affair with food, never with another woman. "I take it, that means there are lumps in there? Proving that they are real mashed potatoes, not fake flakes?"

"Oh, these babies are real, alright… MMmmm…" He grinned and winked in her direction. "Not quite as good as yours, but damn close. The closest I've ever tasted."

She smiled, knowing how much he loved her mashed potatoes. "Well, I'm honored to know that you still prefer mine," she playfully responded. "Mine are real too, Booth." Her whispered innuendo almost made him choke as his eyes were immediately drawn to her cleavage as she leaned forward against the tabletop. Then, as quickly as she had turned the conversation sexual, she did an about face. "It takes a special knack to get the consistency just right. I never told you my secret ingredient." She took a bite of her lunch and glanced over at him, seeing he was still slightly stunned by the switch in discussion tones.

He squinted an eye in her direction, seeing the happiness written all over her face at their frisky banter. "Oh yeah? And what's that, Bones? What's your secret ingredient?"

Indignantly, she stared back at him. "If I told you, it would no longer be my secret, now would it? If I tell you, I'd have to kill you…"

Laughing out loud, Booth sat back in his chair and looked at his partner. "This is why I love you so much, Bones. You're not afraid to threaten a Federal Agent… just like you weren't afraid to blackmail me all those years ago."

Just then a text came through on his phone. With a frown, he sighed. "No rest for the weary, Bones… our next interview has been pushed up… for 20 minutes from now… I guess we better get wrapped up here." He sat up and dug into his meal with gusto, intent on cleaning his plate just as he would at home; Pops had taught him that there was no greater compliment to a chef than to see a clean plate, and he definitely wanted to compliment Lorelei's chef, who just happened to also be her husband, he would later learn.

B/B/B/B

As they pulled into the FBI's parking garage, Booth looked over at his partner. "What time do you expect Ange and the boys? Do you have time for the next few interviews or do you want to take the truck back over to the site?"

"They won't be here for another two hours, so I'll stay with you. If the interrogations run longer, I'll leave and come back to get you when you're through."

"Bones, they are interviews, not interrogations at this point. No one is a singled-out suspect yet, so we're just conducting interviews."

"Yes, well, 'a rose by any other name,' Booth. Call it what you will, it's still the same thing. You are smelling out the possible suspects…"

He cut her off as they entered the building, "Sniffing, Bones. I'm sniffing out possible suspects, not smelling out…" He placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her to the elevator that would take them up to their destination.

"Oh, right…That's what I meant." She had long ago stopped blushing when she made colloquial mistakes around her partner, but the prospect that someone else with whom she was not acquainted might have heard, caused her cheeks to redden immediately.

Booth stood by her side as they waited for the elevator and bumped her shoulder knowingly. "Don't worry about it, Bones," he mumbled quietly. "I hear people down here marry their cousins…"

"Booth!" She turned to him in shock.

"What? That's what I heard. I'm not saying it's true, I'm just saying that's what I've heard…" He glanced around, glad to see that no one had heard him as he cracked a joke at their expense for the sheer purpose of making his fiancée feel better about herself. "But you never know…I'm just sayin'…"

B/B/B/B

The next two hours were filled with somewhat more productive interviews than those they'd conducted earlier. Booth had his eye on a couple of students and three faculty members. All of them hit a nerve with the agent for various reasons. When they were finished with the meetings, it had just bypassed the two-hour mark that Brennan had been aiming for, and after confirming that their small team had landed and were arranging for a rental car, they all agreed to meet at the Research Facility.

Walking down the hallway towards the exit, Booth spied Noggins and waved him down. "We're heading back over to the Body Farm," the reference to the controversial nickname, which Brennan detested, earned him a swift punch in the bicep from his partner along with a hiss that sounded somewhat like his name. "Uh, 'scuse me, we're heading back over to the Research Facility," he glared out of the corner of his eye at his partner for a split second before looking back at the young agent. "The rest of our team just landed and will be arriving there shortly. I trust that your forensics lab is aware that we will need a transport van to move everything back over here to their lab?"

"Sure thing, boss, Rice said to call him when you're ready and he'd send his team out."

"Great, thanks man," Booth started to continue down the hall, but Brennan lagged behind, causing him to turn in his tracks and see her approach Noggins very slowly, like a cat on the prowl.

"Did you find anything interesting, Agent Noggins?" Brennan asked pointedly, with a raised eyebrow.

"Beg your pardon, ma'am?" Noggins became instantly nervous at the predatory look the visiting consultant was giving him.

"In your research, Agent Noggins…You were looking for more information on Booth and me, and I was wondering if you found anything of interest?" Brennan was feeling a little on the ornery side and decided that, since it had worked on Booth, she would practice her new-found assumption skills and conduct a little experiment. She wanted to see if she could get Noggins to give himself away, just as Booth had done when she questioned him about his plans to break the news on Michael's appointment by the University.

"Umm," Noggins could feel beads of sweat starting to form at his temples. "Well, Dr. Brennan, I was just looking at your closed cases…some of them…to see if you and Agent Booth…to see if…" he was stuttering and suddenly realized that when he accessed their history, it must have alerted someone who, in turn, contacted them to inform them of the inquiries made into their past cases. "I wanted to be able to help…if I could…"

"Bones," Booth approached, "leave the kid alone." The senior agent frowned at his sly partner, knowing exactly what she was doing, but recognizing immediately that it was no different than what he'd done to poor J.J. back home at the lab. He knew that Brennan was having her own kind of fun at Noggins' expense. "C'mon…" he tugged at her arm gently, shaking his head at the same time.

"IFoundOutThatYouTwoAreInAPersonalRelationshipToge therWithSpecialPermissionFromThePresident!" Noggins burst out, running the words together in sudden fear that if he didn't disclose his findings, she would somehow hurt him…He remembered the warnings that Booth had given the other officers down at the site early that morning, pertaining to Brennan's ability and tendency to hurt people. And he had read that she had once shot Booth. And that she was a black belt in several forms of martial arts. And that she was suspected of blackmailing an unnamed Federal Agent, but was deemed untouchable and shortly thereafter became Booth's partner. And that her father was a suspected murderer who was found Not Guilty only after she tried to deflect the blame onto herself by introducing a shadow of a doubt into the jurors' minds. And that she had a higher top-secret-clearance level than her partner. Frankly, Junior Agent Edward Noggins was afraid of Dr. Brennan.

Booth paused in his tracks when Noggins blurted out their not-so-secret secret. He glanced around and didn't see anyone of interest, and it seemed no one was really paying attention to the trio as they stood down at the end of the hallway. "Yeah, about that…"

Noggins interrupted. "No, I saw the notes. I saw that your boss had it notated that you were instructed to play-down your personal relationship, to not make it obvious. And may I congratulate you on your ruse… You fooled everyone this morning. We had heard that the two of you bicker a lot. And that you were fiercely protective of each other, but that last bit about the relationship was conveniently omitted from the briefing that we'd received from Kingsley."

"What file are you reading that you saw the notes that were made by Cullen regarding our instructions for discreetness?" Now it was Booth's turn to intimidate the young agent, only now it wasn't about play; Booth wanted to know exactly what Noggins had been reading.

"I didn't mean to pry, Agent Booth, honest. I just got so wrapped up reading about the two of you, it was like reading an adventure novel… and one file led to another then to another. Then I read that y'all had a private meeting with the President and Director Williams, where you received a special pardon and permission to enter into a personal relationship." He looked guiltily at the intimidating look, understanding why a criminal would crumble under such pressure, explaining the success rate that Booth had at gaining confessions from suspects. "Since I am an Administrative Agent as well as a Junior Field Agent, I have access to some things that not everyone else can read. That's how I know about the conversation Cullen had with Kingsley, when he promised to ask the two of you keep your relationship somewhat under wraps, to avoid a rush of agents here from submitting requests for an override as you two did." He shrugged, feeling defeated. "I'm sorry Agent Booth, Dr. Brennan…" Eddie Noggins was certain he'd signed his own dismissal letters by looking into the history of the FBI's top partners, and he waited for the fall of the metaphorical guillotine.

"You share this information with anyone else?" Booth asked point blank, his voice low as he stood close to the younger man.

"No, sir. No need to."

"Good," Booth nodded, hiding the smirk he felt trying to break free, "let's keep it that way, huh? If people find out on their own, so be it, but let's not make an announcement, m'K?"

"You got it; I'm good at keeping my mouth shut." Noggins was eager to assure his superior that he was a man of honor, someone they could trust.

"Good man," Booth slapped him on his back, smiling just like nothing had happened. "Now, we gotta get going. You mind calling Rice for me? I don't think he likes me much…" Booth winked as Noggins agreed to make the call, and the partners continued the short distance to the stairwell they'd opted to take, rather than the elevator.

"Ya'know, Bones, you're getting a little too good at that." Booth smiled as they walked down the stairs.

"Too good at what, Booth?" she wrinkled her eyebrows as she glanced over her shoulder as him as he followed behind. "And besides, is there such a thing as being 'too good' at anything?"

"You're getting too good at making people fess to things you don't know for certain…you did it to me earlier and you just did it to that poor kid." He laughed, knowing that she was having fun.

"I'm just putting into action, all the things you've taught me during our time as partners: powers of observation, intimidating stances, assumptions to already knowing the truth when questioning, bullying…"

"What? I don't bully!"

"Oh, you're a bully, Booth…when the occasion calls for it, you're the meanest kid on the playground." She grinned as she slipped into the passenger side of the SUV, pulling her jacket closed to keep out the chill.

Booth pouted as he slid into his seat, glaring at his partner's smugness. "I'm no bully…" he mumbled.

"Don't pout, Booth, it detracts from your scariness," Brennan teased as they pulled into traffic and turned towards the University. "Though I do find it…adorable when your lower lip protrudes like that."

"OH HELL NO. I am NOT 'adorable', Bones. Puppies are adorable. Kids are adorable. You're adorable when you snore. But men are NOT 'adorable'."

"What?! I do not snore!"

Postscript A/N

Ahhh, I do love Bickering B&B.

So, the gang is finally in town; their secret is no longer secret to at least one FBI Agent; Lorelei at the Café recognizes Brennan, but doesn't know from where; they have a couple of suspects; Brennan knows that Michael Stires is coming, but they really didn't discuss that in further depth…

Not a lot happened in this chapter, but at the same time, there was quite a bit of little goings-on.

Please review & let me know your thoughts. I appreciate it.

Oh, and to my new 'friend' "GUEST", (and I use the term 'friend' very loosely), yeah, you know who you are – you left me 15 bashing reviews in one day…you don't need to review anymore. I don't really care if you read or not, I don't care if you find fault with my mechanics and grammar or if you think I write OOC, or if you think my scenarios are too far-fetched… What I DO think, is that you can fuck off and go to hell. Since I couldn't respond to you directly, seeing as how you were too cowardly to sign your criticisms, I had to do it here.