Brennan awoke several hours later to tropical bird calls and the rise and fall of human voices. She turned her head and found Booth watching her, a warm light in his eyes that made her smile, stretch, and curl her hand around his arm.
"Hi," she said. She liked waking up with him like this, sexually satisfied and eager to see what the new day would bring.
"Hi yourself." He leaned in to give her a light kiss. Moving away again, he sat up and reached for his shoes. "Ready to take on the jungle?"
"I've had food and water, a good night's rest, and several rounds of very satisfying sex." She gave him a quick, smug grin. "So, yes. I'm definitely ready."
He'd bent his head to work at his laces, but she heard his snort of amusement. "Glad I could help with that," he said.
"Yes, you were quite helpful." Dragging her eyes away from the play of muscles across his shoulders, she reached for her own shoes, checked them for insects, and pulled them on. "I trust you also slept well?"
"Like the dead."
"That isn't—" at his look, she shook her head "—you were being metaphorical again."
Shoes on, he glanced out toward the village. "You're the expert, Bones. Think they'll tell us how to get home?"
"They can't tell us because we don't speak their language, but they might show us. We've encroached on their territory, Booth, and even if they've chosen not to punish us, I'm sure they would prefer it if we left."
"So ... What? Are they going to give us a guide? Walk us back under armed guard?"
She pulled over the pack and reached inside for the insect repellent. "I don't know," she said, handing him the bottle. "But the river bottom is sandy here, so we probably aren't far from the coast. We may not even need their help."
"How far do you think we are from the dig site? Ten miles? Fifteen?"
She thought back, then shook her head. "There's no way to know without more information."
He sighed. "Yeah," he said. "That's about what I thought."
The way he said it made her look up from emptying the canvas bag. "Why?"
There was something wrong. He was tense, and he wouldn't look at her. Eyes narrowed, she studied him and tried to ignore the dread that flared in her stomach.
He blew out a breath. "They gave me ten days' leave," he said. "Starting on the seventeenth."
The words fell between them like anvils, shattering her mood. She felt herself closing off, clamping down. "Today's the twenty-fifth."
He nodded, finally looking over at her. There was regret in his eyes. "Sea plane's supposed to pick me up this afternoon. It's two days travel each way."
What happens if you don't get back on time?" Her voice sounded strained, even to her own ears.
His expression was somber. "Nothing good."
The suddenness of it stunned her. She should have asked earlier. Now it was too late, and all she could think about was how little time they'd had. What if this was it? What if one spectacular night was all they would ever have? Closing her eyes, she swallowed hard and concentrated on pulling herself together. She wouldn't fall apart. Not here. And certainly not now. She'd survived disappointments before, and she would survive this one the same way—by putting it away, locking it down, and doing what needed to be done.
"Then we'd better get moving," she said, relieved that her voice had evened out somewhat.
She rolled their dirty clothes into the plastic rain poncho and pushed them to the bottom of the survival pack. Then she replaced the rest of their gear, arranging everything neatly. By the time she was done Booth had finished with the insect repellent. He handed it to her, and she smoothed it onto her arms and legs before dropping the bottle back into the pack. She felt him watching her, but she refused to meet his eyes as she got to her feet.
"Bones ..." His hands landed on her shoulders, and the touch of his fingers on skin left bare by the sarong proved more than her fragile defenses could withstand. She dropped the pack and turned into his arms, holding him tightly, her head tucked against his shoulder while she fought back tears.
"I don't want you to go," she admitted, her words muffled against his chest.
"I know." She felt his sigh more than heard it. "I don't want to go."
She allowed herself a few more moments of self-pity before hardening her resolve and stepping away. They didn't have time for emotional scenes. She could handle this. Would handle this. For both their sakes. And that meant staying focused. She cleared her mind of everything except the now. They needed to get back to the dig site. That had to be their priority. Booth wouldn't miss his flight—not on her account.
She swiped at her eyes, picked up the daypack, and handed him the parang. She was moving toward the ladder when he said her name. Pausing in the doorway, she looked back.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
His concern closed her throat and made her eyes burn again. She nodded. "I'll be fine."
He looked unconvinced, but he sighed and adjusted his grip on the parang. "Let's see if we get that armed guard," he said.
The women were seated around the fire weaving strips of bamboo into conical baskets, but when Booth and Brennan appeared one of them called toward the pavilion, then rose to her feet and crossed to meet them. Brennan judged her to be in her early 40's, with the pronounced zygomatic arch and narrow mandible that marked the tribe's common ancestry. With a series of graceful hand gestures, the woman invited them to seat themselves near the fire.
As soon as the two of them were settled the woman returned to her work, picking up one of the partially completed baskets and weaving in a fresh strip of softened bamboo with quick, sure movements indicative of long experience. The women talked quietly among themselves as they worked, their fingers flying over the task, and while ordinarily Brennan would have been interested in what they were doing, today she chafed at the delay. Restless, she toyed with the straps of the daypack. They were wasting valuable time. They should have been on the move already. She was about to say as much to Booth when he touched her arm. She glanced over at him, but he was looking toward the pavilion, and when she followed his line of sight she experienced a twinge of unease.
It was the boy from the previous afternoon. His limp was more pronounced this morning, and Brennan wondered if the high humidity was aggravating his disability. Concerned, she laid her hand over Booth's.
"Are you okay?" she asked quietly, watching the boy's approach.
"Yeah, Bones." He gave her arm a quick, light squeeze, his fingers warm and firm against her skin. "I'm fine."
The boy set a food-laden bamboo tray on the ground in front of them, straightened, and turned away, but before he'd taken more than a few steps Booth was on his feet. He'd taken something out of the survival pack, which now sat open beside her, its contents spilling out onto the ground.
"Wait!" he called.
The boy stopped. Turned back. Brennan got to her feet. Booth wouldn't harm the child, but she felt a need to be close during their interaction, if only because Booth might find her presence reassuring.
Booth stepped in front of the boy, crossed his hands over his heart, and bowed his head, and Brennan wondered if he knew that bowing was a sign of respect normally reserved for one's superiors. That he was bowing to a child would be very surprising to the villagers. It would also be considered a great honor for the boy, even coming from an outsider.
She watched as Booth straightened, pointed to himself, and said his name. When the boy didn't react, he did it again.
"Booth," he said, and Brennan saw him drop his hands to his sides, palms open and facing out. It was a gesture Dr. Sweets had told her about once. It was meant to show openness and honesty. She waited, curious to see how the boy would react.
He hesitated, chin up, shoulders back, watching Booth in a manner that struck Brennan as significantly more mature than his age would seem to indicate. Finally, he nodded and jerked a thumb toward his own chest.
"Nakula," he said, accenting the second syllable and muting the others. He had a low, musical voice that was very pleasant.
Brennan couldn't see Booth's face, but the muscles across his shoulders relaxed, and she imagined he was smiling.
"Nakula," he repeated, with near perfect pronunciation. Brennan was impressed. She hadn't known he had an ear for languages.
Nakula nodded, but he still appeared wary, his gaze flickering uneasily from Booth to Brennan and back again.
Booth reached into his pocket, pulled out his knife and presented it to Nakula. It was a peace offering, she realized. Booth's way of apologizing for giving offense. Even here, in an alien world thousands of miles from home, his unique talent for understanding people served him well, and she felt a surge of pride as she glanced back toward the women and observed their rapt interest in Booth and Nakula's interaction.
Nakula examined the knife carefully, testing each blade against the pad of his thumb before folding it down again. When he finished he closed the knife and offered it back to Booth, but Booth shook his head and raised his hands, fingers open and relaxed, palms forward.
"Keep it," he said, taking a step back.
Nakula hesitated. Brennan saw him glance toward the women gathered around the fire. Finally he nodded, crossed his hands over his heart, and gave Booth a small, quick bow. Straightening again, he turned away, but not before Brennan saw the beginnings of a smile on his face.
She stepped up beside Booth. "That was very thoughtful," she said.
He looked over at her, then back toward Nakula's retreating form. "That's not what it was about, Bones. It was about forgiveness."
He put his arm around her waist, and she leaned into him, letting her head rest against his shoulder. Together, they watched the boy pick his way back to his own hut. Only when he'd disappeared from sight did they return to their places by the fire, where the women gave them shy, approving smiles and encouraged them to eat, their delicate phalanges almost seeming to dance as they waved first toward the food on the tray, then toward Booth and Brennan.
They were finishing the last piece of fresh pineapple when Scar appeared and gestured to them to follow him. Relieved to finally be moving, Brennan picked up the pack, and Booth the parang. They got to their feet, nodded their thanks to the women, and fell into step behind Scar.
Twenty minutes later they emerged from the jungle onto a wide strip of sandy beach. The sky was overcast, the air thick and muggy, but the ocean was calm. Scar led them to a pair of hand-dug canoes near which a trio of village men stood waiting.
"Looks like maybe we get a ride after all, Bones." Booth sounded relieved as he guided her toward one of the canoes, his hand at the small of her back.
"We need to find a way to thank them." It was the correct thing to do. She knew that. They should be grateful for the villagers' help and express themselves accordingly. So why did she experience a flash of disappointment?
"Got it covered." Booth flashed her a quick grin. She didn't ask about his plans. He'd behaved admirably with Nakula. She had no doubt he would do the same with Scar.
He stopped her beside the first canoe and pulled her into his arms. She looked up at him, startled by the unexpected display of affection in front of the villagers, but he didn't seem to care as he gave her a swift, hard kiss that made her hands curl around his arms and sent her heart into a wild, leaping tattoo against her chest wall. Almost before she could respond it was over. He lifted his head, looked into her eyes for a brief, intense moment, and then smiled.
"You know," he said quietly, "they might just be taking us to another island, someplace dark and mysterious where they intend to lop off our heads after all."
She grinned, but it felt a little forced, and her hands tightened around his arms as an ache of loss she couldn't quite subdue tightened her chest. "You've been watching too many movies."
With a low chuckle he dropped his hands away from her and stepped back, moving toward the other canoe. "We'll see."
Three hours of hard paddling later Brennan finally spotted the dig site. Hot, sweaty, and thirsty, she plied her paddle with new determination. The muscles in her shoulders and back screamed for relief from the punishing exercise, but she refused to quit, determined not to give their guides any cause for complaint. Still, she couldn't deny the relief that washed over her when the canoes finally nosed into the beach. Ignoring her exhaustion she rolled her legs over the edge of the boat and into the water, grateful for the cool wetness against her heated skin. Survival pack in hand, she stretched the kinks from her back and shoulders, bowed her gratitude to the villagers, and turned to watch Booth.
He was out, too, and standing beside the other canoe. She saw him nod to Scar, who returned the gesture without smiling. Booth retrieved the parang, hesitated, and glanced over at her. Guessing his intentions, she gave him a slight nod and saw a flash of approval in his eyes as he turned back to their host.
Chin down, eyes averted, Booth extended his arms toward Scar, the gleaming parang balanced on his open palms. Anthropologically speaking, it was a remarkably submissive gesture, especially for an alpha male like Booth. Perhaps Scar recognized that, too, because he only hesitated for an instant before taking the parang from Booth's hands, and when Booth lifted his head the two men exchanged a glance that spoke more of mutual respect than animosity. Without taking his eyes from Booth's, Scar issued a sharp order to the other men.
As soon as the canoes were out of sight Booth waded to shore and dropped to the sand.
"Well," he said, on a long sigh. "That was fun."
She knelt beside him, her movements constricted by the borrowed sarong. "No," she said. "It wasn't fun at all. It was very hard work."
"I was being sarcastic, Bones." He sounded as worn out as she felt.
She looked out over the blue-green ocean, listened to the hushed whispers of the waves against the sand, and let herself lean into him. His arm encircled her waist, fingers splayed wide over her hip, and when she turned her head to press her lips to his shoulder he skimmed his fingers up her side in response, pausing to caress the outer edge of her breast. She inhaled sharply at her body's instant reaction, and he drew back to look at her, awareness in his eyes. Then he shifted his weight, freeing his other hand to trace the line of the sarong across her chest, his fingers lingering against her skin and making her long for far more intimate contact as her pulse began to race and her breathing grew shallow.
Abruptly, his hand dropped away and he got to his feet, pulling her up beside him. "I could use some water," he said. "You?"
She blinked, caught off guard by his swift change of mood, but he was right. They needed the hydration. And he should eat something before he got on the plane.
As they moved through the work site Brennan evaluated the quake damage. Some of the shelters needed minor repairs, but Tia appeared to have observed proper storage procedures before she'd left, so the artifacts were safely secured. There was some cleaning up to be done as well, but that could wait until after Booth left.
Inside the dining hut Brennan tossed Booth a bottle of water, opened one for herself, and rummaged through the supplies for something to eat. She felt a growing sense of urgency with each passing moment, an aching awareness that their remaining time together was slipping away. He'd said the plane was due in the afternoon, and she'd been in Maluku long enough to know that afternoon, in island time, meant a roughly six hour window of possibilities—a window that had opened before their return in the canoes. They were, as Booth would say, living on borrowed time.
"What are you looking for?" he asked, lowering the half-empty bottle of water from his mouth.
She didn't look up from what she was doing. "Something to eat." She'd found some packages of dried fruit and one of trail mix. She was reaching for a container of jerked shark meat when his hand closed over wrist, startling her.
"I'm not hungry," he said, holding her gaze with his. There was a look in his eyes that made her stomach muscles constrict, and despite her best intentions she found herself staring at his mouth and wishing for its touch against her own. Frustrated by her lack of self-control, she forced her attention back to the matter at hand.
"Booth. You need to eat. You have a long trip ahead of you."
He shrugged and glanced at the pile of packages she'd assembled. "They're portable, right? So I'll eat on the plane." His thumb brushed across her wrist, and she had the odd sensation that the spot was directly connected to her uterus, which tightened at his touch. She bit her lip.
He thrust his bottle of water into her hand. "Drink," he said. "That we do need."
She felt his eyes on her while she swallowed, and when she finished he tossed the bottle aside and handed her another. She shook her head.
"Shower," she suggested instead, and remembered what his river-dampened skin had felt like beneath her fingertips the night before. She set the unopened bottle aside, picked up the packages of dried food, and pulled him with her out of the hut.
"You have showers here?" He sounded surprised. And intrigued.
"Of a sort." She threw him a quick smile over her shoulder. He'd apparently reached the same conclusion she had. "I'll show you."
They stopped at her tent long enough for Booth to tuck the food into his duffle while she collected toiletries and a change of clothes. There was a charged awareness between them that shortened her breath and weakened her muscles so that twice she dropped her bottle of deodorant. It frustrated her. She wasn't ordinarily given to clumsiness. But when Booth handed the bottle back to her the second time she saw in his eyes that he knew exactly what she was feeling. He grinned, picked up his duffle bag, and waited for her in the doorway.
The bath house was small, rustic, and almost hidden in the tangled undergrowth. Two fifty-gallon rain barrels on the roof provided the only water supply, but both would likely be full.
"There's only one shower," she said over her shoulder as she led him inside, automatically checking for the snakes that had a marked preference for the terminally humid interior of the small building. "We'll have to share."
His quick response made her smile. "Is that supposed to be a bad thing?"
She dropped her clean clothes on the bench and unwrapped the sarong. She was already hanging it up by the time Booth had latched the door and set down his duffle bag. She turned to him, glimpsed the heat in his eyes, and stepped into the shower stall.
"It's a low-flow, gravity driven system, so the water pressure isn't very high," she said, struggling to keep her voice even. "But it'll get the job done." She pulled down the chain that opened the valve, latched it, and lifted her face to the weak stream of tepid water.
"I don't care about the damned water pressure, Bones." Startled by his vehemence, she turned to find him waiting, naked and fully aroused. He dragged her into his arms and buried his fingers in her hair, turning her face up to his. "I care about you." And with that his mouth crashed down on hers and she forgot about priorities and practicalities. He dropped back against the wall, taking her with him, his hands digging into her hips before sliding up her back and around to her breasts, shaping and kneading with impatient fingers.
"Yes," she said, when his mouth left hers to mark a heated path down her neck. And "Yes," again when he worked his way first to one breast and then the other, suckling hard enough to make her whimper as she bowed back and pushed her hips forward into his, her hands gripping his arms so tightly that a distant part of her mind cautioned against bruising.
His mouth found hers again, his tongue driving deep inside, and she wrapped her arms around his neck with a low, hungry moan that made his erection pulse against her stomach.
She dragged her mouth free and reached for the soap, lathering his skin and then rinsing the suds away with quick, efficient movements of her hands, resisting the temptation to linger. Finished, she replaced the soap with her mouth, tasting him again and again, using her lips, tongue, and teeth to discover the spots that made him groan and the ones that made his body jerk against hers. She stopped at one nipple, swirled her tongue around it, and bit down just hard enough to make him suck in a breath. She did the same thing to the other one, and he growled her name, his arms tightening around her shoulders, his head dropping back against the wall.
Her hands moved over his body, smoothing across his chest and ribs, pressing into his stomach, and then slipping down to comb through dense pubic hair before finally circling his phallus and giving it a single, gentle pull.
"Shit." He stretched the word out on a hiss. Ignoring his tug at her shoulders, she dropped to her knees and traced his length with the tips of her fingers, then ran her tongue along him from base to tip, listening to his groan as she circled his glans and licked away the moisture that already gathered there. Wrapping her fingers around his base, she squeezed lightly and took him into her mouth.
His low, harsh growl echoed through the bath house and stoked the fire between her legs. She pulled back, circled his glans with her tongue again, and then drew him deep once more before backing off and looking up at him.
If she'd thought his eyes would be closed, he proved her wrong. He was watching her, his gaze dark and glittering. She licked her lips and lowered her head again, pulling him in as far as she could, her fingers tightening around him as she palmed his scrotum with her free hand.
"Bones ... " His voice sounded strained. Hoarse. "Damn it. Wait."
But she only drew back, her teeth scraping lightly along his length, and looked up at him without getting to her feet. "I want to do this," she said. "Let me."
He stared at her for a long moment, jaw tight, before finally giving her a reluctant nod. But before she could return to what she'd been doing he reached for one of the towels and dropped it beside her.
"For your knees."
She smiled her gratitude and wedged the towel under her knees, protecting them from the rough bamboo slats. Then she returned her attention to him, running her fingers up and down his shaft again before taking him in once more, concentrating only on him, cataloging his reactions to her every move and taking note of which ones seemed to give him the most intense pleasure. Gradually, she increased her speed, her hand moving in concert with her mouth as she sensed his impending orgasm.
He swore when he came, and she pulled her mouth away, using only her hand now so that she could look up at him, memorizing the expression on his face and the way he threw his head back against the wall and thrust his hips forward into her touch, his fingers clutching first at her shoulders and then at the wall behind him. He groaned her name, and she knew it was a sound that would keep her awake at night during the months ahead, forcing her to find solace in her own touch when he was half a world away.
When he finally sagged against the wall, she kissed her way up his stomach and got to her feet, ignoring the faint stiffness in her knees as she leaned into him and felt his arms slide around her waist. She tilted her head up and kissed him, gently this time, letting his breath sigh into her mouth. She was pleased that she'd been able to satisfy him this way, and content to rest against him until he recovered.
She felt him trail his fingers up and down her spine before sliding over to brush against the outer curve of her breast. Easing his fingers in between her stomach and his, he slid them up and curled them around her breast. The move was gentle. Caressing. She sighed and shifted, and he took advantage of the moment to catch her shoulders and turn her so that her back was against the wall. Water flowed over his back and shoulders as he lowered his head to kiss her.
"Your turn," he murmured against her lips, and when she would have shaken her head, he stopped her, his hands bracketing her face. "Let me," he said, and she smiled at the way he'd returned her words to her. He dropped one hand to her shoulder, ran it down her arm, and linked his fingers with hers. "I want to know how you taste."
The way he said it, his gaze locked on hers, sent a rush of heat to her core.
Letting go of her, he picked up the bar of soap and pulled her under the water with him. "I've wanted to do this with you ever since that day you stormed into my bathroom," he said, as he ran the bar across her shoulders and down her arms. "You were furious, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to drag you into the tub with me."
She remembered the ridiculous hat, and the comic book, and that awful cigar. "I would have liked that," she said. "Though I didn't know that I loved you then, so it probably would've been crappy sex."
He laughed softly and ran the soap across her breasts, flicking his thumb over her nipples and making her gasp. "Oh no, Bones. We will. Never. Ever. Have crappy sex."
She considered that, biting her lip as she tried to ignore what he was doing with the soap long enough to analyze his words. "Are you sure about that? Because I'm fairly certain most couples have crappy sex at least once in a while."
"I'm sure." She heard the soap hit the floor as his hands chased the last of the lather away. He backed her against the wall again and bent his head to hers, using the weight of his body to hold her still while his hands traveled over her skin, leaving trails of fire in their wake. "You said it yourself," he said. "We're the best."
Before she could reply his mouth settled on hers and his hands moved to her breasts and she forgot what they'd been arguing about. He traced her lips with his tongue, then probed deeper, and she met him, her tongue sliding along his, barely aware of the brush of his fingers against her hips and stomach. Then he cupped her pubis, his fingertips curling between her legs, and she inhaled sharply. He drew his head back to smile at her.
"Brace yourself," he whispered. "It's going to be a wild ride." His voice was full of brash self-confidence that made her smile as he kissed his way down her body. Cocky, indeed.
At the first brush of his mouth against her hip she whispered his name. He nudged her legs apart, then ran his fingers lightly over her skin, stopping just short of the apex of her thighs before smoothing his fingers back down again. He repeated the action, drawing slow, climbing circles with his thumbs, and she bit her lip, determined not to beg. His mouth was busy too, and she struggled to keep her eyes open as he worked his way down her hip, but when he slipped his tongue between the folds of her labia majora she gave up with a quiet, desperate moan.
His hands returned to her hips, thumbs pressed into the dip just beyond the bone as he held her still against the wall. He slid his tongue through her folds again, and when he ended by flicking its tip against her clitoris she gasped. He did it again, and her knees went weak, forcing her to push back hard against the wall lest she fall. Even so she slid down enough so that his hands tightened at her hips, supporting her as he thrust his tongue into her vaginal canal.
She loved sex. All kinds of sex. But the feel of a man's tongue swirling inside her was a particular favorite.
"Yes," she said, the word little more than a whisper. "Do that again."
He obliged, and she felt the thrust of his tongue several more times before he backed off and replaced it with a finger. Her hands curled into the wall behind her, fingers clenched tight, but every muscle in her body strained toward him. She couldn't think about anything except the way he felt inside her, the way her body shivered and trembled at his touch.
"More." Unable to help herself, she bent her knees, trying to draw him deeper. He added a second finger, then a third, and she felt his tongue brushing against her clitoris—hot, hard, flickering pressure that threw her with unexpected suddenness into a shattering climax.
His tongue slid against her over and over again, drawing out her orgasm until the sensations became too intense and she stopped him, her hands at his shoulders, her knees all but giving way. She sagged against the wall, pleasantly exhausted, as he got to his feet, and when he pulled her into his arms she wrapped hers around his neck. He guided her under the water, letting it rinse them clean.
"Definitely not crappy sex," she said when she could breathe properly again.
He laughed softly. "I'm glad to hear that."
"Yes," She nodded against his shoulder. "I don't think I want to try it in a bathtub, though. I find them too confining."
"I thought you liked to experiment."
"I do." She wrinkled her nose. "But the logistics don't work. Especially in that rinky-dink bathtub of yours. I believe it would be incredibly awkward."
"Rinky-dink, Bones?" There was a smile in his voice. "We'll just have to try it, won't we?"
It stopped her for a moment, the thought of being back in Washington with him, and she looked up.
"Everything's different now, isn't it." She hadn't really thought about it before, but now she realized that the past week had changed her in ways she didn't entirely understand.
He kissed her forehead. "Yeah, Bones. It is." He picked up the shampoo, poured some into his hands, and started working it into her hair. "Are you okay with that?"
Eyes closed, she relaxed against him, enjoying the feel of his fingers moving against her scalp. "I think so," she said, and then on further thought. "Yes, I think I'm very okay with that."
They finished their shower, took turns with the one remaining towel, and dressed. Brennan experienced a twinge of regret as she folded the borrowed sarong. It would have to be cleaned and returned, of course, but she very much liked the way Booth had looked at her when she wore it. Perhaps she would purchase one of her own. Emerald green would do nicely. Something shimmery and soft. The thought of wearing it out to dinner with him, and the look on his face when she leaned over and told him she wasn't wearing anything underneath, made her smile. Yes. She would definitely purchase one … or two, of her own.
"What are you thinking about?" He was watching her, his fingers hovering on the zipper of his duffle bag. "You've got that 'woman of mystery' thing going on. It's making me nervous."
She laughed and leaned over to kiss him. "I'm considering an addition to my wardrobe," she said, and pulled the door open without waiting for his reply.
"Okay, now that's not fair," he protested, following her out with one hand at the small of her back and the other wrapped around the handle of his duffle. "What kind of addition?"
She shot him a teasing glance. "Nothing specific."
"Nightgown?" he asked hopefully. "Something slinky?" When she kept walking, he stepped in front of her, forcing her to stop. "Come on, throw a guy a bone."
She was about to reply when the sound of an approaching engine drew her attention skyward. An instant later a small float plane passed over their heads. She looked at Booth, her smile fading. She had a sudden, irrational urge to grab his hand and pull him into the jungle, away from the plane, away from their obligations, away from reality.
"That's your flight," she said, forcing the words past the sudden ache in her throat.
He nodded and reached for her hand, and she wondered if he was thinking the same thing she was. "Yeah."
She appreciated that he didn't try to give her hope where there was none, but the look in his eyes, a mixture of pain, loss, and regret, was more than she could bear. Dropping her gaze from his, she swallowed hard. Nodded. "We should get back."
They started back down the path, but their light mood had evaporated and their steps dragged. By the time they emerged from the trees the little plane was already nosing up to the beach, its propeller winding down. Booth squeezed her hand, then let her go and went to talk to the pilot. As she turned to set her things on one of the work tables Brennan's eyes dropped to her wrist.
She was wearing his watch. She'd put it on after their shower without thinking. She had to give it back to him. He couldn't go into a war zone without a watch. How would he know when backup was coming? How would he know when it was time to eat? To sleep?
How would he know when it was time to come home?
She fumbled at her wrist, but she couldn't get the catch to release. She cursed. Tried again.
She had to get it off. It was his. Not hers.
She jumped when his arms came around her from behind. She hadn't heard his approach. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she blinked back tears.
"Keep it," he said, his hand coming to rest over hers on the band. He drew her back against his chest. "Social contracts, remember?"
She turned into his arms with a shudder. Drawing in a breath, she fought to control her voice. "No, Booth. You need it."
"No." She felt him shake his head. He pressed a kiss into her hair, his arms tightening almost painfully around her. "I have my army issue watch in my bag. That one's mine, but I want you to hang onto it for me." He leaned back then, his hands shifting to her shoulders, but she couldn't bring herself to meet his eyes. "I am coming back," he said firmly. "This isn't the end for us. Not by a long shot."
She nodded, but all she could think about were suicide bombers and insurgent attacks, roadside bombs and automatic weapons fire.
He shook her, his voice raw with pain, "Damn it, Bones, look at me!"
Startled, she did as he asked. His jaw was set, his eyes grim, but when he lifted his hand to the side of her face, his touch was achingly gentle.
"I'm not your parents," he said, the words measured, precise, almost angry. "And I'm not Russ."
The observation confused her. "I know you aren't."
He shook his head, his fingers combing through her hair before coming to rest against the back of her neck. "Then don't assume I'm going to do what they did."
"You're going back into a war zone, Booth." She pressed her hand against his chest, just above his heart. "If anything happens to you ..." Her throat ached with the effort to hold back her tears.
She had to be strong. It was what he would do for her. She took a breath. Let it out on a slow count of three, and drew herself in, gathering the shredded remnants of her self-control until she could look into his eyes without falling apart.
"I'll be careful," he said, wrapping his fingers around hers where they rested against his chest. "But you have to promise me that you'll look out for snakes and spiders." He flashed a quick, wry grin that made her heart twist in her chest. "And don't go reaching into woodpiles without checking for bugs first."
"I won't." She turned her hand over and folded her fingers through his, holding on for just a little bit longer. "I promise."
Their gazes met. Held. She lifted her head to meet his kiss, her lips moving softly against his as she tried to tell him all the things she didn't know how to say with words. His free arm settled around her waist and he pulled her close, deepening the kiss himself as she relaxed against him, then drawing it slowly, reluctantly, to an end. With a sigh, he touched his forehead to hers.
"Six months," he said softly.
She managed a shaky smile, remembering. "At the coffee cart. I know."
He straightened and brushed his thumb along her cheekbone, his jaw clenching, his eyes dark with what she thought might be grief. Or maybe loss. Abruptly, his hand fell away from her face and he turned. He was halfway to the plane before she gathered her wits enough to call out to him.
He stopped. Turned back. "What?" There were tears in his eyes. She hadn't expected that, and it brought her up short.
"I have something for you." She hesitated, suddenly uncertain, but already the plane's propellers were starting to turn. There wasn't time for second guesses. "Just … Stay there for a minute." Without waiting for his response she turned away, then called back over her shoulder. "Don't go anywhere."
She took off at a run, scrambled into her tent, and ended up dumping half the contents of her trunk onto the floor before she found what she wanted. She fumbled at it for a second, metal clinking against metal. Then she was up and out again.
He hadn't left. He was standing right where she'd left him.
She approached at a fast walk, ignoring the pilot's curious gaze through the cockpit window, ignoring the slowly turning propeller, ignoring everything but Booth. Coming to a stop in front him, she took his hand in hers and dropped her gift into his cupped palm. Before she could change her mind, she closed his fingers over it.
"I have your watch," she said, with a self-conscious shrug. "This makes it an even exchange."
He opened his hand, and she watched a slow smile spread across his face as he examined her gift. "It's a skull," he said, his eyes lighting with humor as he looked back up at her. "Seriously, Bones? A skull?"
"What? I like it!" Then she realized he was teasing her, and she shook her head with a grin of her own. "I bought it from a street vendor in Guatemala." She watched him turn it over in his palm. "It isn't human bone, you know. That would be illegal."
"Ah. Well. Thank you for clarifying that." He picked it up, and the single key she'd left attached glinted in the sunlight. "What's this go to?"
She hesitated, unexpectedly nervous. It wasn't like her to act so impulsively. Maybe it was too soon. Too much. She should've waited. Why hadn't she waited?
"Bones?" He was studying her the way he sometimes studied suspects in the interrogation room, eyes narrowed, head tilted a little to one side. She half expected him to fold his arms across his chest.
Gathering her courage, she lifted her chin and met his gaze, determined to look confident, even if she didn't feel that way. "My apartment."
She didn't know what reaction she'd expected, but it wasn't the sudden warmth in his eyes or the careful way he curled his fingers around her gift before tucking it into his pocket. Then he pulled her into his arms, holding her so tightly that her ribs protested, but she didn't complain. Instead she hugged him back, her grip on him almost desperate, her throat clogged with tears she refused to shed.
"Six months, Bones." His voice was little more than a whisper at her ear. "And you'd better be at that damned coffee cart, or I'm going to come looking for you."
"I'll be there," she said, her arms tightening convulsively around his neck.
When he loosened his hold and stepped away she summoned a shaky smile. "And bring me back my key."
He grinned at her over his shoulder—swift, boyish … cocky. "Baby, if that key gets me into your apartment, I'm not letting it out of my sight."
She watched him swing up into the plane and forced herself to stay where she was so that she could wave him off. Not until the little craft disappeared from sight did she let down her guard, sinking to the ground as the tears she'd been holding back all day broke free.
The incoming tide forced her to her feet a sometime later. She brushed the sand off her legs and let out a long, slow breath, her gaze on the empty sky. He'd gone, but she didn't feel abandoned. Only very, very alone. Tucking her hands in her pockets, she started toward the supply shed.
She had work to do.