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Love & Carbonite

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After stumbling up the stairs and fumbling with his keys, Aubrey finally unlocked his apartment door and entered the darkened living room.  He and Booth had been enjoying a couple of beers after the case was closed when Booth gave him the good news.  He, Special Agent James Aubrey, was up for a promotion and a transfer to the FBI office in Los Angeles.  

Throwing his keys in the dish on the console table by the door, Aubrey flipped on the lights and finally allowed himself an exultant whoop and a fist pump.  “Supervisor in the Los Angeles field office.

“Yeah, Baby…California, here I come…”

Throwing his suit jacket over a chair, Aubrey laughed as he looked around his sparsely furnished apartment.  At least he wouldn’t have a lot to pack when he moved.  In fact, except for his Star Wars collection, it might be easier to get rid of most of his stuff and start fresh in LA.  It was exciting to think about getting a new place, although he wondered if the rents would be higher and if he might have to settle for a smaller place.

Oh well, just another reason to get rid of some of his old stuff, right?

Aubrey gave up all pretense of being cool and calm about the promotion, happily laughing as he remembered Booth’s explanation.  One of Booth’s cronies, Tony Becker, had read some of their case reports and had been very impressed with their conviction rate.  Becker knew that Booth was absolutely ensconced in DC and couldn’t be tempted to move, but he’d sent Booth a couple of emails about his partner, wondering what kind of guy Aubrey was and wondering if he’d be tempted to move to a different office if he was offered a major promotion.  Even though Booth had been reluctant to lose a good partner, he said he’d pass the information on.

Grabbing another beer from the refrigerator, Aubrey plopped down on his sofa and thought about the past few years working with the senior agent.  Booth was a good man to work for...passionate about his work, compassionate toward other people, extremely intelligent, thorough, and detail oriented...and with a ridiculously high solve rate.  There’d been rough times and good times over the last three years, but Aubrey had begun to look on Booth as a trusted friend as well as a colleague.

Special Agent in Charge Booth was an exceptional agent, and Aubrey had to admit to himself that, perhaps, he’d managed to gain some of his own success by riding on Booth’s coattails a bit.  Of course, Aubrey realized he’d had several chances to prove his own worth, especially when he’d been named interim Special Agent in Charge when Booth had ‘retired’.  

‘Interim Special Agent in Charge’ ...much to his chagrin, Director Stark hadn’t given Aubrey the position outright, hoping that Booth would change his mind about leaving the Bureau, and that was exactly what happened.  Even with the awkwardness of having to give up a great office to make room for Booth when he came back to work, there were no hard feelings between the two men.  They’d made a conscious effort to work together as partners, and their friendship had weathered that little storm.

Of course, Aubrey didn’t really need a supervisor, having been in that position himself many times.  However, it seemed natural for him to fall into that pattern with Booth, especially since Booth was used to being completely in charge in most circumstances.  Shrugging as he sipped his beer, Aubrey wondered if he’d been overly deferential to Booth, when in reality they should be on more equal footing, but in the long run, it didn’t really matter.  Working with Booth had given him a huge advantage over several other candidates for the Los Angeles position, and Aubrey was going to get his promotion to Special Agent in Charge after all.  He was determined to savor the moment, no matter how it came about.

However, at that moment, he was also very drowsy, having had more than a few beers that evening.  He began to nod off as he sat on the sofa, only to be jolted awake as Skinner the cat jumped on his lap.

“Meow?”  The cat swished his tail, demanding to be fed, rubbing his head against Aubrey’s face and kneading his paws on Aubrey’s lap.

“Really, Skinner?  Can’t a guy take a nap on his own couch?”  

Aubrey put the cat down and shook off his sleepiness as he walked into the kitchen to find the cat food.  Pouring some kibbles into a small bowl, he put the dish on the floor and chuckled as the cat came running for his dinner.

“Yeah, that was what you wanted, right?”  Watching the cat enjoy his supper, Aubrey mused to himself as he talked to the cat. “I wonder how I’m going to get you to LA, Skinner.  I don’t even know where I’m going to live, you know?  I might even have to live in a hotel room for a while, and that’s really not a good place for a cat, is it?  I may have to find another good home for you.”

Hearing the cat purr as the bowl was emptied, Aubrey nodded to himself.  “I bet Jessica wouldn’t mind keeping you.  I know she likes cats…”

And then it hit him like a bolt of lightning.  “Oh, no!  Jessica!  I’m going to move all the way across the country, away from her, and...Shit!  What am I going to tell Jessica?!”


Jessica Warren couldn’t help but smile as she made her way into the Jeffersonian Medico-Legal Lab. It finally seemed like things were going her way.  She had a handsome boyfriend who loved her, a job she enjoyed, and her graduate work was moving along according to schedule.  She was truly happy for the first time in her life.

She hurried up the steps to the lab platform, buttoning her coat and smoothing her hair away from her face.  “Good morning, Dr. Brennan.”  Reaching for some gloves, she smiled at her mentor.  “Do we have a new set of remains this morning?”

“Oh, hello, Ms. Warren.”  Brennan acknowledged her intern with a slight nod.  “No, this set of remains is from Limbo.  I’d like you to take the standard skeletal measurements and record them in the “unknown” database.  If I have to spend less time taking measurements, I can spend more time discovering the actual identity of the deceased.”  

“I’ll begin right away.”  Jessica accessed the database on the computer and entered the case number so she could pull up the file.

“Excellent.  I need to work on the file of that movie producer who died recently.”  Pulling off her gloves, Brennan smiled at Jessica.  “If you’ll come by my office after lunch, we can discuss your transfer to UCLA.  I know several people in the anthropology department there, so we can easily arrange for the transfer of your credits so you can continue your graduate work in forensic anthropology.”

Thoroughly surprised, Jessica stared at Brennan, trying to figure out what she meant.  “Um, Dr. B...I’m very confused.  I don’t know why you think I’m transferring to UCLA.  I’m very happy here...unless...are you trying to tell me that you’re firing me?”

Brennan’s brow furrowed as she studied her intern.  “Well, since Agent Aubrey has received an offer for a promotion within the Los Angeles field office, I had assumed you’d be moving with him, especially since you’re involved in a monogamous relationship with him.  However, if you’ve decided to stay…”

“I haven’t made a decision yet.”  Jessica cringed slightly before continuing.  “To be perfectly honest with you, Dr. Brennan, Aubrey hasn’t mentioned a promotion or a possible move to me, so there’s no reason for me to make a choice at this time.”

“Oh…I’m sorry.  Booth mentioned Aubrey’s possible promotion to me last week, so I assumed that Aubrey had already discussed it with you.”  Brennan closed her eyes, cringing slightly as she realized her blunder.  “Well, if you decide to move to Los Angeles with Agent Aubrey, I’ll be glad to assist you in attending a different university in California.”

“Thank you.”  Jessica bit her lip, trying to keep from crying as she felt her world collapse around her.  “Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll get started on these measurements.”


“Hey, Jess.  What’s up?”  Aubrey smiled as he joined her at a table in the diner. “How’s my favorite intern today?”

Jessica stared at her coffee cup, pinching her lips together as she exhaled slowly.  “Am I really your favorite intern?”

“Yeah, of course.”  Aubrey’s smile faded as he realized his girlfriend was upset.  “What’s wrong?”

“Dr. B and I were talking today, and she told me that she’d be able help me make arrangements for my university credits to be transferred to UCLA so I could continue my graduate work there after I moved to Los Angeles with you.  She assumed I knew about your promotion.”  Jessica brushed away a tear.  “It was embarrassing for me to tell her that I had no idea what she was talking about…”

“Goddammit…”  Aubrey stared out the diner’s window, trying to find the words to explain what had happened.  “Look, I’m sorry, okay?  I really was going to tell you.  I haven’t said anything about the promotion because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet…and I’ve been so busy with the Kovacs case.  I just haven’t had time to bring it up...”

“Bullshit!”  Jessica’s hand trembled with anger as she took a sip of her coffee. Glaring at him, she clenched her jaw.  “We both know what you want to do.  You want to go to Los Angeles to take that promotion, right?  Fine.  Go to Los Angeles, but don’t expect me to follow on your heels like some pathetic lost puppy.”  

She started to rise from her chair to leave, but Aubrey took her hand.  “C’mon, Jess.  You know I wouldn’t take that job without talking to you first.  Please don’t leave…”  

Jessica reluctantly sat down but she refused to make eye contact with him as he continued to plead with her.  “Look, you’re right.  We need to talk about this, and we will.  I promise, okay?  Please don’t be upset.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.  I just wanted to be sure.  Let me put this Kovacs thing to bed...”

Sitting on the edge of her chair, Jessica nodded slightly.  “It’s okay if you want to go to LA…I’ll understand...”

“We’ll talk about it later this week.”  Aubrey hesitated a minute before he continued.  “Do you still want to go to Cam’s wedding with me?”

“Sure, I guess so.”  Jessica smiled faintly.  “I’ve been looking forward to it.”

“Great.  I’ll pick you up about four, okay?”

“Yeah.”  Jessica glanced at the time on her phone.  “I have to get back to the lab.”

“Okay. I love you, Jess…”  Aubrey gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

“Love you, too.”  Jessica got up and quickly walked away from the table without so much as a backwards glance, leaving Aubrey to wonder if his indecision about the promotion had ruined his life.


It was a few days later when Aubrey strode purposefully into Booth’s office, carrying a large carryout bag from the diner.  He laughed softly at Christine’s enthusiastic greeting as he held up the bag for her to see.

“Hooray!  It’s Uncle Aubrey!”  Christine, sitting in her father’s desk chair, grinned happily as soon as she saw her second favorite FBI agent enter the office.  “Did you bring us some sandwiches and lots of French fries from the diner?”

“Of course!  It wouldn’t be diner food without lots of French fries, right?  Hey, kiddo, I’m going to talk to your daddy for a minute and then we’ll have something to eat, okay?”

Christine nodded, smiling innocently as she played with her father’s phone, oblivious to his extreme agitation.  Aubrey, however, could see the pained expression and the tension in his partner’s shoulders and neck muscles as he stood nervously in the doorway.  He spoke quietly as the older man paced the office.  “You okay, Booth?”

Shaking off Aubrey’s question without an answer, Booth gently took his phone from Christine before picking up his suit coat.  “I’ve got to go to the lab.  I’ve got to see Bones…”  Glancing over his shoulder at his children, Booth turned back to Aubrey.  “I know it’s not part of your job description…”

“No problem, Booth...I’ll stay here with the kids, okay?  They’ll be fine.  If I’m needed for anything outside the Hoover, I’ll make sure there’s another agent with them at all times.  You go see Dr. B….”

“Yeah, thanks, Aubrey.  I appreciate it.”  After taking one more lingering glance at his children, Booth strode quickly to the hall outside the bullpen, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he waited for the elevator to take him to the parking garage.  He turned and waved at Aubrey before entering the car, and then he was gone.

Sighing softly, Aubrey tried to calm himself as he turned to Christine.  He knew the little girl was very perceptive for someone her age, and it was going to be difficult to carry on the pretense that everything was just fine when instead he was heartbroken by Jessica’s sudden announcement that she wanted to end their relationship.  

Opening up the bag, he concentrated on unwrapping a grilled cheese sandwich for Christine and then a hamburger for himself before pulling out the large Styrofoam container that held a huge pile of French fries, setting it in the middle of the table.  “Okay, here we go.  I got some extra ketchup, too.”  

Hearing Hank stir in his sleep, Aubrey made sure the little boy was sleeping snugly in the chair before turning back to their meal.  Uncapping a water bottle, he handed it to the little girl and grinned.  

“It looks like you’re missing some choppers there, aren’t you?  Want me to cut up your sandwich into little pieces for you?”

“Nah.”  Christine broke her sandwich into two large pieces and nibbled on the corner of one of the halves.  “I can just use these teeth here on the side.  Mommy says my permanent teeth will grow in soon and then I’ll be able to eat normally.”

Nodding in agreement, Aubrey took a bite of his burger.  “Yeah, I remember how that goes from when I was a kid.”

Grimacing slightly, he picked up some French fries and dipped them into his large puddle of ketchup.  Talking about teeth made him think of Jessica’s lovely smile, and he was crushed all over again when he realized he might never have another one of them directed his way.

“Uncle Aubrey, did you have fun at the wedding last night?  I did.”  Christine giggled happily as she rambled on about the wedding reception.  “Did you see that I got to wear Dr. Saroyan’s veil?  I looked just like a bride, didn’t I?  And Daddy let me take pictures with his phone, and I danced with Daddy and with Michael-Vincent, and I ate a lot of cake.  Did you dance with Miss Jessica?  She looked really pretty last night, didn’t she?  I like weddings.  They’re fun.”

Christine paused to eat some fries.  “Mommy says there’s a saying that the lady who catches the flowers that the bride throws after the wedding is supposed to be the next one to get married.  Maybe since Miss Jessica caught the flowers that Dr. Saroyan threw, now you and Miss Jessica can get married.  If you do get married, can I come to the wedding?”  

Christine tilted her head to one side as she studied her dinner companion closely.  “Are you sick, Uncle Aubrey?  You’re not eating your dinner.”

If he ever got married...that seemed unlikely now.  Aubrey’s stomach lurched as he realized Christine had unintentionally hit the nail on the head.  Jessica had looked beautiful last night, and instead of enjoying her company, he’d gotten himself rip roaring drunk.  Had that been the catalyst for the break up?  Had she seen all of his flaws and decided she could do better?

“I’m fine.  I’m just tired from being out late last night.” he lied.  “I think maybe I had too much fun at the party.”  Aubrey folded the wrapper around the leftover portion of his hamburger and dropped it back into the bag.  “My insides aren’t very happy with me today.”

“That’s silly.  Mommy says our body organs can’t talk.  Maybe you had too many of Uncle Jack’s special drinks.  Daddy said they were stiff, but I don’t know what that means.”  Christine continued to chatter about the wedding and the reception as she enjoyed her French fries.

“It means I made a mistake when I had more than one of those fancy drinks that Dr. Hodgins served at the party.”  

Too many stiff drinks, and not enough time talking to Jessica about their future together.  It seemed that had been the recipe for disaster that had ended his relationship with his girlfriend.  Preoccupied with his own sad thoughts, Aubrey tried to listen to what Christine was telling him, but his mind kept wandering back to everything that had happened that morning.

They’d been out looking at a set of remains when he’d told Jessica that he wanted her to move to LA with him.  She was less than thrilled with the idea at first, but it seemed like she might consider it if he played his cards right.  Then, later that day, out of the blue, she’d come to see him at the Hoover, telling him that not only would she be staying in DC, but that they were through...completely over.  It really stung to hear her say that there was no future for them as a couple.  He’d thought they’d come to an understanding about what they wanted out of their life together, but evidently he was dead wrong.  Shocked and speechless at the sudden turn of events, he wanted to say something...anything...to make her change her mind, but his goddamn phone rang, and he was needed elsewhere immediately.  

The more he’d thought about it, the more irritated he’d become.  After all their time together, did Jessica really think she could just break things off between them without telling him why?  He deserved an explanation.  It’d never occurred to him that she might say no to moving to California with him, and now all he could think about was how much he’d wanted her to say yes…to say that she loved him, and that she’d follow him anywhere.  

        He shook his head as he thought things through.  Maybe she could reconsider their being together if he decided to stay in Washington.  He was willing to do that for her, knowing that a big promotion wouldn’t mean much to him unless she was there to share his success with him.  He needed to talk to her as soon as possible...if only he could get her to answer her phone…

        “Uncle Aubrey?”  Christine tapped him on the arm.  “I need to go to the restroom.”

“Um, okay.  I tell you what, I’m going to have Agent Nelson take you so I can stay here with Hank, alright?”  

Aubrey went to the doorway and waved at a female agent.  “This little miss needs to use the facilities.  Can you take her?  I need to stay with that one…”  He pointed to the small boy curled up in the chair.  “Let sleeping dogs and sleeping children lie…”

“Yeah, believe me, after three kids, I know.  Come along, young lady.”  Christine took the agent’s hand as they left to find the bathroom.

Sitting in Booth’s chair, Aubrey sighed unhappily as he gazed out the window.  He’d always wanted kids of his own, and he’d let himself imagine what it might be like when he and Jessica had a family of their own...but that wasn’t going to happen now…

Groaning in frustration, Aubrey pounded the desk with his fist.  He couldn’t let things end this way.  He wasn’t going to just walk away from this relationship with his tail tucked between his legs.  He wasn’t going to give up on Jessica without making a stand.  They were going to finish the conversation they started in that interrogation room earlier that day, and he was going to make her listen when he told her everything he was feeling.  He was going to spill his proverbial guts.  He’d find out what had gone wrong, and then he was going to beg for a chance to fix it.  

If nothing else, he’d offer an apology for hurting her enough to make her break up with him.  He pulled out his phone to call her again when a panicked agent came running from the bullpen into the office.

“Aubrey...they need you to go…”  The distraught man panted heavily as he leaned against the doorway.

“What is it, Ellis?  What’s wrong?”  Aubrey rose from his chair quickly as a sense of dread filled him.  “Is it Booth?  Oh, my God...Kovacs?”

“There’s been a series of massive explosions at the Jeffersonian.  It’s bad...it looks like the whole building is on fire…”

“Jesus...okay, listen, I need you to keep an eye on this little guy for just a few minutes.”  Picking up his phone and keys, Aubrey was grim as he ran to find Agent Nelson.  He took her aside, speaking softly so Christine couldn’t hear them.  “Hey, I’ve got to go find out what’s happening at the Jeffersonian.  It sounds bad.  I need you to call Caroline Julian and get her over here for these kids.  Don’t leave the kids alone for a minute until she gets here, understand?”  

Nelson nodded as Aubrey hunkered down to talk to Christine.  “I’ve got to go do something important.  I’ll be back as soon as I can, okay?”

“Okay.”  Christine regarded him solemnly.  “Uncle Aubrey, are my mommy and daddy okay?”

He bit his lip as he thought about how to truthfully answer the child’s question.  “That’s what I’m going to find out, Honey.”  Patting her head, he jogged to the elevator, praying that his friends were safe as he headed for the Jeffersonian.


After weeks of mounting tension, there was finally some sense of relief at the offices of the FBI.  Mark Kovacs was dead, and his sister had been apprehended.  The Medico-Legal lab had been destroyed by a bomb, but work was already under way to restore it to its former glory.  All in all, things seemed to be returning to normal, with one notable exception.

Aubrey sighed heavily as he stood in Booth’s office, holding a potted plant as he talked with his friends about his decision to take a promotion in the DC office instead of the one in Los Angeles.  Caroline Julian grinned as she congratulated him on is good fortune.

“I guess your little redheaded squint is pleased with that bit of news.”  Caroline winked at him as she got ready to leave.

“Actually, um...she broke up with me.”  Aubrey was trying to hold himself together without much success.  His pain was palpable for his friends.

“Oh...I’m sorry to hear that.”  Caroline reached over and patted the younger man’s shoulder.  “Well, I’ve got to be going…”

As the prosecutor left, Booth glanced at his friend.  “Are you okay?”

“Nah…”  Aubrey was grim as he shrugged his shoulders.  “...but I’m going to be.  See you later…”  

Leaving Booth’s office, Aubrey made his way across the bullpen so he could go check out his new digs.  

“Hey, Aubrey…”

“Oh, hey, Karen.  What’s going on?”  It was a silly question, really, considering the two large buckets of fried chicken she was carrying.

“I wondered if you might need to engage in some emotional eating after your breakup, so I brought you some chicken.” Karen explained.  “Hungry”

Aubrey shrugged slightly.  “Yeah, I could eat.  Let’s go to my office…”

The feast was spread out all over Aubrey’s desk.  He leaned back in his chair, snacking on a drumstick as he watched Karen polish off a couple of wings.  “Thanks for the fried chicken, Karen.  It’s really good.  Nice of you to think about my need for emotional eating.  Pass the coleslaw, okay?”  

He put a couple of big spoonsful of the creamy mixture on his plate before eyeing Karen with mild suspicion.  “So...how did you know that Jessica broke up with me?”

“Oh…”  Concentrating on her mashed potatoes and gravy, Karen shrugged as she flicked her ponytail over her shoulder.  “She called me last night...she was really upset about the whole thing…”

“Jessica talked to you about why she broke up with me instead of talking to me.”  Pursing his lips as he wiped his hands on a napkin, Aubrey shook his head.  “Great.  That’s just great.”  

He groaned softly as he reached for his water bottle.  “I just don’t understand what happened between us.  I thought we were happy together, you know?  Things were going really well.  I mean, this break up just seemed to come from nowhere.  It was like one minute we’re fine, and then the next minute she says we have no future together.  I had no idea she felt that way.”

“Yeah, I know you didn’t.  I think that was part of the problem.”  Karen paused, trying to make sure she chose her words carefully.  

Taking a sip of water, she smiled gently at the confused man sitting behind the desk.  “Jessica cares about you, and she knows you care about her, but you seemed so unsure about what you wanted from her and from your relationship.  You said yourself you were avoiding her, right?  You were awkward and uncomfortable with what your promotion would mean for both of you, and you weren’t exactly honest about that.  She’s smart.  She figured that out very quickly, and it really hurt her feelings.  It’s kind of like you shut her out of your life.”

Pausing as he looked up from his ear of corn, Aubrey glowered at Karen.  “Did you two talk about me and her being a couple while I was passed out in your guest room? That’s hardly fair.  I didn’t even get a chance to defend myself.”

Karen grimaced as she shrugged her shoulders.  “Look Aubrey, I’m a psychologist.  People talk to me whether I want them to or not.  She told me that she wondered what she’d done to make you so uncomfortable...so unhappy with her...and she thought the reason you got so schnockered at the reception was because she’d caught the bouquet and it made you feel trapped...like she’d forced your hand on things when you weren’t ready to take the next step.  The panic on your face when you saw what happened with the bouquet didn’t help things, either.”  

Karen picked up another chicken wing.  “I think you should’ve talked to each other more…”

“That’s crazy, Karen.  I wasn’t unhappy with her.  I have no idea why she’d feel that way.  We talked all the time about all sorts of things.  We like the same things...we had fun together.”  Aubrey sighed heavily.  “I really enjoy her company.  I love her…”

“And I think she loves you, Aubrey, but I’m not sure she’s ready for some sort of committed relationship with you, and maybe you aren’t ready for one with her, either.  That was what you two really needed to talk about...the more serious stuff.  Jessica thinks you asked her to move to LA with you because of peer pressure...because everybody else expected it of you instead of because you really wanted her to go.  If that was true, there’d be a chance that you’d break up once you got there, and then she’d be stuck in LA after giving up her life here in DC.”  

Karen spooned some more potatoes onto her plate.  “She got really nervous, trying to decide what to do about the two of you.  She was waiting for you to say something more about your promotion and about her making the move with you, but you took a long time to say anything to her about it, and she felt like an afterthought.  Then, when you did say something about it, you wanted a decision right away, like you were forcing her into something she wasn’t sure she wanted.  I mean, asking her to move to LA while you’re out looking at a dead body isn’t really conducive to a meaningful discussion about life altering decisions.”

Aubrey cringed, knowing how ill-timed his request had been.  “I know...that was stupid…”

Karen nodded as she continued.  “I guess finally Jessica couldn’t see any way out of the situation other than ending your relationship.  It’s drastic, but it made sense to her.  She was upset, because she didn’t really want to break up with you, but it was like that whole ‘pulling off the band aid’ thing.  It hurt her badly, but she felt backed into a corner so she had to make a clean break.”

“But I’m not going to LA now.”  Aubrey took a chicken breast out of the bucket.  “I don’t see why things have to end this way.  I don’t understand why we can’t work things out.”

 Using his fork to move his baked beans around on his plate, Aubrey thought over the situation.  “If I could only get her to talk to me, maybe we could work it out, but she won’t even answer her phone.”  Chewing her lip, he tapped his fingers nervously on his desk.  “I really need to talk to her.”

Karen shook her head as she listened to Aubrey’s melancholy complaint.  “I’m not sure she wants to talk to you.  Maybe you need to give her some time and let her come to that idea on her own.”

“Nope.  I don’t want to risk it.  I got to try to make her see things differently.  We’ve had too many good times together for me to give her up after five minutes of discussion in an interrogation room at the Hoover.  She said we could finish our conversation later, but with the explosion at the Jeffersonian and everything that happened with Kovacs, we never got the chance.”  Aubrey suddenly wasn’t hungry any more.  “I got to see her one more time.  Maybe I can get her to meet me at the diner, or I could just go by her apartment…”

“She’s probably over at the lab right about now, helping them clean up.”  Karen sighed as she watched Aubrey finish his meal, wondering if he’d really want to hear what Jessica had to say.  “If you want to talk later, I’ll be here to listen, okay?”

“Yeah.  Thanks, Karen.  I appreciate it.  And thanks for the chicken, okay?”  Aubrey grabbed his keys and phone.  “I’ll talk to you later and let you know what happens.”

“Okey-dokey…”  Karen packaged up the leftovers and put them in the breakroom refrigerator, knowing that Aubrey might need to do some more emotional eating later, after Jessica told him what she really thought.


Standing in the doorway of a damaged office, Aubrey bit his lip as he fidgeted with his keys.  “Hey, Jess…”

She kept working, stacking some small boxes without looking up at him.  “Hi, Aubrey.  Listen, I’m really busy.  I don’t have time to talk.  I have to box up this equipment.”

“Look.”  He held up his phone.  “My phone is turned off.  We won’t have any interruptions while we talk, okay?  No running off to talk to suspects instead of talking to you.  I only need a few minutes.  Please?  For old times sake?”  He tried to smile without much success.  “C’mon, Jess.  What would Princess Leia do for Han Solo?”

“She’d probably tell him to go fuck himself.”  Jessica brushed her hair out of her face as she moved another box.  “Aubrey…”  She clenched her jaw as she tried to control her emotions.  “I’ve got a lot of work to do.  I don’t have time for silly chit chat.”

He took a step closer to her.  “I understand...I really do, but I want...no, I need to finish the conversation we started at the Hoover the other day.  I haven’t really gotten to see you since the explosion here and everything else that happened.”  

He desperately wanted to reach out and embrace her, but her body language made him think better of it.  “I’ve thought about it a lot, and I know I’ve been a real asshole, Jessica.  I know I haven’t treated you the way you deserve to be treated.  I don’t expect you to change your mind about breaking up with me, but I want you to know that I’m sorry I hurt you.  I should’ve been straight with you about the promotion from the beginning, but I wasn’t sure…”

“You weren’t sure you wanted me to be a part of your life anymore...not like that.”  Jessica sniffled, trying not to cry.  “I completely understand.  After all, I’m not sure I want you in my life like that anymore, either.”

“No, it wasn’t like that, Jess.  The problem was that I didn’t know if I even had the right to ask you to move with me...to take you away from your life here.  I guess I wasn’t really sure where we stood...where we stand...God, I’ve fucked everything up so bad…”

“Yeah, you definitely did.”  Jessica stood with her hands on her hips, nodding over her shoulder.  “I have lots of work to do.”

Aubrey wasn’t going to give up that easily.  “Listen, Jessica...you know I love you, right?  I was just scared that I’d do the wrong thing, you know?  It seemed like either way I’d be doing the wrong thing.”  He jammed his hands in his pockets, tapping his foot as he tried to figure out how to explain things better.

“I love you, too, James, but I don’t know if that’s enough right now.  If we love each other, but we’re both scared to make a move together because it might not work out between us, then we need to move on to something else, because what we have right now isn’t working.”  Jessica wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.  “I hate to say it...I really do...but as far as I can tell, there is no future for us together.  We don’t mean enough to each other to make that long term kind of commitment...to move across the country together.”

Aubrey suddenly realized Jessica hadn’t heard about his change in plans.  “Listen, I’m not going to LA after all.  Somebody’s retiring, and I got offered the same promotion here in DC.”  He saw Jessica flinch slightly before she moved another box.  “I know you said we have no future, but I was wondering if there’s any chance we could...if you’d consider...I mean...maybe we could keep in touch...see each other from time to time.  I really don’t want to give up on us, Jessica...not yet.  Would you consider giving us another chance?  Maybe a chance to see if we could grow into having a future together?”

“I don’t know.”  Jessica shook her head as she looked Aubrey in the eyes.  “I’ll have to think about it, but don’t hold your breath, okay?  I’m not sure that’s a good idea.  I think I’d rather be done with the whole thing.  I think I should let you go, and move on with my life.  Now, let me get back to work.  When I decide what I want to do, I’ll be in touch.”

Shoulders drooping, Aubrey nodded sadly.  “I understand.  Okay, see you around...maybe on a case…”

“Yeah.”  Jessica paused as she wiped her hands on her lab coat, watching him walk away.  “If we do see each other at work, we have to be professional, okay?”

“Just like always.”  Aubrey stared at his shoes, sighing heavily as he realized his efforts at a possible reconciliation had failed.

“And afterwards, maybe a cup of coffee?”  Jessica shrugged as Aubrey turned to look at her with a hopeful smile on his face.  “Not that we’ll get back together…”

“Yeah, of course.  No strings...no expectations...no rushing into things, right?  We can at least be on friendly terms.”  Aubrey grinned at Jessica as she tentatively nodded in agreement.

“Exactly.  Now, I really do have to get back to work.”  Jessica gave him an airy wave of her hand to dismiss him.  “Oh, by the way, when you see Karen, tell her I said hello.  I figured she’d tell you everything.”

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to tell me everything yourself, Jessica?”  Aubrey pretended to scowl at her as she smirked at him.

“You don’t always listen to me, Aubrey, but I figured Karen would ply you with food, and then, when you were comfortably full, she’d tell you everything.  She has the hots for you, you know?  She’s probably thrilled that we’re not together anymore.”

Arching an eyebrow, Aubrey chuckled as an idea came to mind.  “Yeah, I know.  You should’ve seen how much chicken she brought me to ease my broken heart.  Two family sized barrels of extra crispy, extra spicy recipe with all the sides and extra biscuits.  You’re right.  She wants me…”

“Two barrels?  Already?  Really?”  Jessica’s voice rose with indignation. It was obvious that she was not amused.  “With all the sides?  That must’ve cost a fortune.”

“And extra biscuits with honey butter.  All that food may have been expensive, but I guess she thinks I’m worth it.” Smirking at Jessica’s twinge of jealousy, Aubrey decided to tease her a little bit for old times’ sake.  “I know that doesn’t make any difference to you, does it?  After all, you’re not my girlfriend any more.  We’re merely work colleagues.”  

He flashed a dimpled smile at her as he ducked out of the way of her pretend slap on his arm.  “See you in a couple of weeks, okay?”

Smiling slightly, Jessica turned back to stacking her boxes.  “Okay, see you soon.”  She watched him leave out of the corner of her eye, wondering how long she’d actually be able to keep that man at arm’s length and completely out of her life.

Chuckling to himself, Aubrey glanced over his shoulder to see Jessica watching him.  He was well aware of the tiny seed of jealousy that he’d planted, and he thought maybe things might work out between them in the long run, but, if not, at least he could count on Karen to bring him some more fried chicken.

Sometimes, he thought to himself, a man just had to make the best of a bad situation.

Chapter Text


           “Not a bad day to go look at a crime scene, right, Ms. Warren?  I always say a little rain never hurt anyone. I’m glad we’re getting a head start on everybody else. Dr. Brennan and Booth are going to met us out there.”  Dr. Hodgins said while checking the map on his phone.  “The side road we’re looking for is about five miles up on the north side of the highway...”

            Preoccupied with other thoughts, most of which pertained to how much she missed her former boyfriend, Special Agent James Aubrey, Jessica Warren gazed out a backseat passenger window of the Jeffersonian Medico-Legal SUV as it sped toward the acreage where the body had been found.  She wasn’t really paying complete attention to what Hodgins was saying while he chatted happily with Fred, the technician who was currently serving as his driver.  Dr. Hodgins was enjoying the all the perks that went with truly being the King of the Lab as he described the new accessible van he’d purchased for the lab technicians and interns to use.  

           “...It’s also designed with hand controls for braking.  Maybe next time maybe I’ll be able to drive myself out to some vacant lot in the middle of nowhere.  What do you think about that, Jessica?  You wouldn’t mind going along for the ride when I try it out, right?”

          “Hmmm?  Yeah...whatever you say, Curly.”  Jessica said distractedly before realizing he was talking about his new van.  Offering a smile to hide her distractedness, she spoke further.  “Oh, I get it...your new van.  Are you going to train the rest of us to drive it, too?”

           “Maybe…although I was looking forward to driving myself most of the time.”  Hodgins replied with a shrug as the large Suburban turned off the main highway onto a narrow gravel road, rocking back and forth as it hit several potholes.  “Yeah, maybe it’d be better to let someone else drive.”  

           He laughed as the SUV bounced down the rutted driveway.  “Too bad you never got to ride in my Mini, Jessica. It used to bounce just like this even on a paved street.  It was a real cute little car, even if Aubrey didn’t like it…he said it was way too small...”

           His voice trailed off as he realized he’d said the wrong thing.  “Sorry...I didn’t mean anything by that…”  He grimaced as he looked out the front window.  “Well, that was awkward, wasn’t it?”

           Jessica shrugged slightly before turning to the window again. “Not a problem, Dr. Hodgins.  Aubrey and I aren’t a couple any more, but it’s not like he fell off the face of the earth.  I know you two are friends.”  She bit her lip and sighed softly, hoping to change the subject.  “So do you still have the Mini?”

          "Nah…”  Hodgins sadly shook his head.  “I couldn’t drive it anymore after I was injured.  Besides, there were constant issues with the transmission and the suspension completely sucked.  I ended up selling it to a collector who wanted to restore it.  Okay, here we are…”

          After parking the SUV on the edge of a grassy field, Fred hopped out and went around to the back of the SUV to pull out Hodgins’ wheelchair.  “Here you go, Dr. Hodgins.”  

          The entomologist situated himself in the specially designed wheelchair so that Fred could help him get the chair rolling over the grass.  Waving at the men who were already there, Hodgins motioned one of them over.  “Who’s in charge out here?”

          I’m not sure, really.  The county sheriff called the body dump into the FBI because this rural area isn’t equipped to handle something like that.  At first he thought the remains were that of a dead cow, but most cows don’t wear suits and ties.”  

          The officer paused as he looked through his notes.  “No ID on the body, and the face has been pretty much destroyed, but from what’s left of the clothing, and based on a recent missing person report, we have a good idea of who it is.”  

          The agent held up his phone to show Hodgins a picture.  “We think it’s Louis Vacchio. His wife said he was wearing a gray three piece suit and blue shirt the day he disappeared.  Vacchio was with the SEC...an upper level auditor who dealt with tracking fraudulent security schemes.  Nobody’s heard from him for 3 or 4 days.”

         The agent pointed over to a corner of the field.  “That’s why Special Agent Aubrey is out here...his division will be involved in the case if it really is Vacchio over there…”

          Hodgins called out to the men as he made his way over to the remains.  “Hey, Aubrey!  How’s it going, Buddy?  Long time, no see…”

          Jessica felt her heart skip a beat as she saw a familiar thin, wiry figure apparently giving orders to some other agents as they stood over the body.  She couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride as she watched him begin to lead the investigation into the decedent’s demise.  Smiling to herself as she listened to the friendly banter, she began to pull her equipment from the back of the truck.  She lifted one heavy case out and set it down before retrieving the second one.  

          Realizing she’d left some equipment in the passenger compartment, Jessica walked toward the front of the van, but stopped as she overheard two agents talking on the opposite side of the vehicle.  Not wanting to eavesdrop she turned away to leave until she heard a familiar name being mentioned.  Her curiosity got the better of her, wondering how the two men felt about their new supervisor, so she stopped to listen for a few minutes.

          Agent Sam Westbrook checked his phone for messages before pointing his thumb to the crowd of people standing around in the field. “So, what do you think about the new guy, Joe?  You think Aubrey is going to work out?”

          “Yeah, I think he’s going to be okay.”  Agent Joe Keller gave a noncommittal shrug.  “He’s a hell of a lot better than that nasty old bastard Halko.  I mean, Aubrey doesn’t take any shit from anybody, but he’s not near the hard ass Halko was, so I guess he’ll do.  What about you, Sam?  Are you going to be able to live with him being in charge?”

           Sam scratched his chin as he thought the situation over.  “Well, considering what we had to deal with before, yeah, he’s okay.  I mean, Halko was so bad he made Booth look like a sweet little buttercup, right?  So anyone would be better, but I tell you what, Joe...I sat in on an interrogation with Aubrey the other day, and he verbally nailed the guy to the wall, which really kind of surprised me.  I mean, the new SSA comes off as kind of easy going, you know?  Like he’s nothing special when you first meet him, but then BAM!  He’s like a tiger going in for the kill.  He may not be as intimidating as Booth physically, but he can be so intense when he’s on the trail of a bad guy that it’s kind of scary.  I wouldn’t want to cross him.  From what I’ve seen, he seems to know what he’s doing but he’s not all tight and pointy about how he runs things, and I can deal with that.”

           Chuckling, Joe cocked an eyebrow as he poked Sam in the ribs with his elbow.  “Hey, you want to know who else thinks Aubrey’s okay?  That profiler...you know, the tall redheaded chick?  The one with the big black glasses?  She likes him just fine...”

           “You mean Karen Delfs?  Really?  So what’s going on between them?”  Sam seemed somewhat confused. “She’s a psych consultant for the Bureau, right?  On a contract basis?  So it’s okay if they date…I guess the Bureau doesn’t care much about that shit any more, especially after Booth and his wife have worked so successfully together for so long.  Ms. Delfs is kind of odd, but she’s not bad looking.”

            Smirking, Joe nodded at his friend.  “Yeah, she’s a psych consultant, but I think he’s consulting her on things other than official FBI business.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t getting some nookie from her on a regular basis during his lunch hour.  I think he likes her profile just fine, if you know what I mean...”

           “You mean he’s banging the consultant in his office?  How do you even know that, Joe?  I will say that’s an interesting way to get something to eat for lunch.”  

            The agents both snickered at Sam’s joke.  “Jesus...no wonder Aubrey had the blinds installed on the windows flanking his office door.”  Sam laughed out loud at the thought.  “Hmm...looks like Special Agent Aubrey may be special in more ways than one if he can get away with having sex in his office like that…so he’s humping the help, huh?  See, it’s just like I said...he comes across as a mouse, but I guess he’s really a stud instead.”

            “Yeah...Steve Bower said Dr. Delfs shows up like clockwork around noon every day, stays for an hour or so, and always leaves with a big smile on her face.  That skinny little guy must be hung like a horse or something.”

             Thoroughly shocked and disgusted, Jessica couldn’t help but gasp out loud at what she’d heard.  Seeing the two agents turn toward the noise, she blinked back her hot, angry tears as she busied herself with looking through an equipment bag as they walked over to her.

             “Hey there, Sweetheart…”  Agent Keller flashed a big flirty smile at the intern. “Need some help with these heavy old bags?  They look kind of bulky for a cute little thing like you to be hauling around.”  He leaned toward her to read her name tag.  “Nice to meet you, Ms. Warren…”

             “I don’t need any help, thanks.  I can manage them by myself.”  Trying to hide her irritation, Jessica picked up the two large cases and walked across the field toward the ring of people surrounding the remains.

             “Aw, c’mon, Honey...we just want to help.  We won’t hurt any of your fancy toys.”  Sam turned to grin at Joe as he nodded toward Jessica.  “Hey, maybe later on, you can join us for a cup of coffee.  We’re both really nice guys.  We’re FBI agents, you know?  Perfectly trustworthy.”

              Jessica came slowly trudging up to the remains, glancing back over her shoulder as she put down the cases.  “No, thank you.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do….oh, hello, Dr. Brennan...I didn’t see you there…”  Setting the bags to one side, Jessica pulled on some exam gloves and hunkered down next to her mentor.  “I’d say Caucasian male...mid fifties?”

              Joe wasn’t about to let a cute girl like Jessica ignore him for very long, especially since she looked so good in her Jeffersonian coveralls.  “One cup of coffee...c’mon, Sugar...one little cup...what’s it going to hurt?  After that, maybe a little lovin’ later...just me and you in the backseat of my SUV when it’s parked somewhere dark...”

             “Shut your goddamn mouth, Agent Keller.  Ms. Warren said no, so back off.  In case you’ve forgotten, the FBI’s policy on sexual harassment is very clear, and it extends to the consultants that work with us as well.”  Aubrey stood with his hands on his hips, angrily glaring at Keller.  “I think you need to make your apologies and go crawl back under your rock.”

            Mortified at being so harshly corrected in front of so many people, Keller stuck out his chin defiantly. “Geez, Boss...I didn’t mean anything bad.  You’re making a big deal over nothing.  She knew I was teasing her, even though I really would like to take her out for coffee.  She’s a cutie.”

            Keller winked broadly at Jessica before turning back to Aubrey.  “Anyway, Halko never cared how we talked to the squints.”

            “You don’t work for Halko anymore.  Right now, you work for me, but it may not be that way for very much longer if you don’t treat your coworkers with more respect.  I assume you still want a job?”  Aubrey tapped his foot as he stared at Keller, daring the man to say something else stupid.

             Agent Keller paused as he thought about what Sam had said.  Special Agent Aubrey was not the same kind of bad ass as Special Agent Booth, but he was obviously a man to be reckoned with when he was angry.  

            “Yeah, okay.”  Turning to Jessica, he mumbled an apology.  “Sorry.”

            “No problem, Agent Keller.”  Jessica stood up and opened one of the large bags, looking for some forceps as she avoided eye contact with Aubrey.  “I’m not easily offended, but I don’t want to have coffee with you.”  

             Clearing her throat, Brennan called Jessica’s attention to the remains before pointing to what remained of the left parietal bone.  “Ms. Warren, what do you make of this damage to the skull?”  

             Tilting her head to one side as she bent down to look at the skull, she thought for a few seconds before giving her opinion.  “I’d say gunshot at close range...maybe a large caliber pistol?”

             “Excellent.  I believe your description of the weapon is accurate.”  Brennan turned as she heard her colleague approach.  “What have you found, Dr. Hodgins?”

             “Based on the variety of insects I’ve found, I’d say our victim has been out here at least three days.  I’ve also found some scattered fibers around the body...possibly cotton, but I won’t know for sure until I get them back to the lab.  I’m assuming you want the FBI techs to scour the area?”

             “Yes, that’s correct. I’ll have Booth get them started.”  Brennan looked up at the sky as a light rain began to fall.  “Ms. Warren, could you please retrieve one of the plastic tarps from the SUV?  We need to protect the remains from the elements.”

             “Of course.”  Jessica stood and jogged over to the Suburban, not realizing that she was being closely followed by someone she knew.

             “Hey, Jess...sorry about that asshole Keller.”  Aubrey stammered nervously as he felt his heart racing in his chest.  “I guess Halko was a real jerk who didn’t care how his guys treated the techs.  I’m trying to clean that up that shit.  I can’t believe Joe was hitting on to you like that at a crime scene.”

             Remembering what she heard, it took everything not to burst into tears.  Taking a deep breath, she opened the back of the vehicle.  “It’s not a problem, Agent Aubrey.  I’ve had men hit on to me before, and in many unexpected places. Why should today be any different?”  

             Jessica pulled the tarp from the back of the SUV before she turned to face him.  “However, as a woman in a traditionally male field, I’ve learned to fight my own battles, and I’m in no need of your assistance.  I don’t need you to make some lame attempt to protect my honor by publicly humiliating an agent who works for you.  Now, if you don’t mind, Dr. Brennan needs this tarp…”

            “Wait, hang on a minute…can’t we talk a little bit?”  Aubrey moved slightly to block her way.  “I mean, I haven’t seen you in three weeks, Jessica.  Are you doing okay?  How’s the dissertation coming?”  He gave her a flirty wink.  “Have you missed me?”

            Feeling her composure lessening by the second, she steeled herself.  “I’m afraid I don’t have time for socializing while I’m working at a crime scene.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, Agent Aubrey, Doctor B needs me.”  

            She brushed past him without so much as a backwards glance, leaving Aubrey standing speechless next to the truck.  “What the hell is with the ‘Agent Aubrey’ shit?” he muttered as he walked back toward the remains.

            Standing opposite of Jessica with the remains between them, he tried to make eye contact with her.  However, she refused to look at him, instead conducting herself in a seriously professional manner as she discussed her findings with Dr. Brennan.  There was no smile, no glimmer of recognition, no funny comment, no hint that she remembered anything that had occurred between them in the past.  He felt a wave of nausea and sadness as she remained cool, detached, and completely collected, seeming to be unaffected by his presence.

            “So what’d you say, Bones?  Is it Vacchio?”  Seeing his wife’s annoyed glare, Booth chuckled slightly.  “Why do I even bother?  I know….let’s take everything back to the lab, right?”

            “You are correct, Booth.  Ms. Warren, I’ll need you and Dr. Hodgins to supervise the recovery, and then have the FBI technicians transport the body to the Jeffersonian.  Booth and I have a parent meeting at Christine’s school in an hour, but I’ll meet you at the lab after that.  Agent Aubrey, even though the face was damaged badly, I believe Angela may be able to tell you tomorrow afternoon if our victim is in actuality the missing auditor.”

            “Thanks, Dr. B.  Just ask her to call me know as soon as she finds out something.  Hodgins, is there anything else I can do to assist you and Ms. Warren in the recovery?”  Aubrey asked with a hopeful look at Hodgins, nodding his head slightly toward Jessica as she began to prepare the remains for removal.  “I’d be glad to help…”

            Seeing Jessica mouth the word ‘no’, Hodgins shrugged his shoulders sadly.  “I don’t think so, Aubrey.”

            The agent watched as Jessica put a nearby pen into an evidence bag and walk it to a table.  When she didn’t even offer another backwards glance, the hollow feeling in his stomach grew.  He was transfixed until he heard Hodgins speaking again.

            “Aubrey, don’t be such a stranger, okay?  You should come over to the lab once in a while, you know?  We could have drone races…you used to like that, remember?  We even let you win occasionally.”

            Shaking his head, Aubrey grimaced slightly.  “I don’t think so, Hodgins.  It feels weird showing up there now...like I don’t really belong.”  

            Hodgins looked over at Jessica before turning back to Aubrey.  “Dude, I don’t think she’s smiled once since you two broke up.  Don’t give up on her just yet.”

            “I’m trying, Hodgins, but…”  Aubrey said.  He stood with his hands in his pants pockets, watching Jessica work the crime scene as she purposefully avoided eye contact with him.  “Okay, well...if you don’t need anything...I’m going to go.”

             He hesitated for a few seconds, hoping that Jessica would give him one little tiny shred of hope, but she was resolute in ignoring him completely.  “Bye…”  

             Striding quickly to his car, he opened the door and got in, pounding on the steering wheel angrily as he thought again about what he’d lost when she’d ended their relationship a few weeks ago. He missed the smiles, her streams of consciousness when she let things build up or was really excited, and their game contests on his X-Box.  He loved their debates on science fiction, classic movies, and stories from her childhood at the cooperative, living there with her five older brothers.

            Aubrey could still feel Jessica’s satin smooth skin on his lips as he remembered his explorations of her body.  He couldn’t make himself change his bed as her unique pheromone remained on his sheets.  He thought of the bottle of cherry vanilla spray she accidentally left behind in his bedroom and the shower gel that remained in his bathroom shower.

             It was obvious that Skinner missed her, too.  More than once, Aubrey would unlock his apartment and open the door only to be greeted with the orange tabby walking away when he saw who arrived.  The cat slept all the time now on the Star Wars fleece cat pad she made him for Christmas last year.

             But most of all...he missed his best friend.

            Realizing he needed to pull himself together, the agent started the car.  Pulling away without even a glance at his rearview mirror, he missed the moment when Jessica brushed a stray tear from her cheek.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

             The redhead watched as the SUV drove away at war with herself.  She remembered what he said to her that last time they talked at the lab.  

            I know you said we have no future together now...but, I was wondering if there's any chance that we could...if you'd consider...I mean…maybe we could keep in touch...see each other from time to time...I really don't want to give up on us, Jessica...not yet. Would you consider giving us another chance? Maybe a chance to see if we could grow into maybe having a future together some day?

            More than once, she went over what he said in her head.  In the last week or so, she realized that maybe she’d acted too hastily.  She felt so sure that maybe with time they could find their way back to each other again.  

            Then she once again felt how deeply it had cut her to hear about him and Karen being together. However, he had a right to move on with his life.  After all, she was the one who ended things between them when she felt pressured about his request to move to LA with him.  

            They became so close after they decided to take a chance with each other, but it seemed that as time went on, he kept parts of himself from her.  When his father resurfaced, he seemed more insecure and constantly reassured her he would never be like Aubrey Senior.  More than once, she felt disappointment that he didn’t seem to fully trust her commitment to him.

            She hadn’t even got fully past that when she found out about Aubrey’s possible promotion to LA from Doctor B.  He didn’t even speak to her about her opinion of the change in their lives because he was consumed by the Kovacs case.  She was so angry with him for treating her like an afterthought as he kept avoiding her.  

            Then...the wedding and the bouquet.

            Commitment terrified her as it was with their limbo status but his reaction to her catching the bouquet...devastated wasn’t even the best word to describe it.

            She didn’t know where they stood, but did she ever take the bull by the horns and press the issue?  

            No, because she was also afraid of the answer and of the possible changes in her life the closer they grew.  She was afraid of what happened with her parents would happen with her and Aubrey.  She was afraid to lose the only man she ever truly loved.

            But she did.  Not only did she lose him to a woman whom she suspected now was only pretending to her friend, but she lost her best friend and it was her fault.

            Hearing her name, she turned and saw Hodgins waiting for her at the remains.  Gathering herself together, she forced herself to be professional as she went back to her other mentor.


            The next morning, Aubrey sat in his office with a cup of lukewarm coffee as he attempted once again to read Louis Vacchio’s case file.  It seemed there was nothing remotely interesting about the man...at least nothing that might’ve gotten the man killed.  

             Vacchio had worked for the SEC for twenty years, mostly in the accounting department.  Last year, he’d received a promotion to Special Investigations Auditor.  His caseload was centered on the fraudulent security schemes that often popped up on the internet.  

            The special agent accessed the case notes that the deceased auditor had entered into his work computer to see if there was anything that would point him toward the man’s killer, but found them to be of little use.  Everything seemed to be perfectly normal up to the day before Vacchio had died.  There was nothing to indicate any sort of motive for this man’s grisly death.  At present, the file seemed to be basically worthless in the murder investigation.

             After sending an email to Booth requesting more information about the case, Aubrey threw the file aside and shut down his computer.  Sighing softly as he watched the rain run down his office window, he knew the problem wasn’t really the absence of information in the file.  The real difficulty lay in his inability to concentrate on its contents.  

             He closed his eyes as he leaned back in his chair, wishing that he could forget the way Jessica had brushed him off while they were at the crime scene yesterday.  His bubbly girlfriend...check that...ex-girlfriend...his normally bubbly ex-girlfriend had frozen him out, treating him as if he didn’t exist.  She acted as if there had never been anything between them, like he was just another FBI guy working a murder case.  

             Of course, that sort of professional demeanor was to be expected between them at work, but she hadn’t even wanted to talk to him except to say that she didn’t need his assistance in dealing with obnoxious agents.  For her to ignore him so completely...to avoid even making eye contact with him...was devastating.  It seemed any hope Aubrey might’ve had at reviving his relationship with Jessica had been washed away by yesterday’s rain.

            Aubrey was fairly sure he knew what had happened.  Jessica probably had another man in her life now and she’d decided to make the clean break she’d mentioned when he’d gone to see her at the Jeffersonian after the conclusion of the Kovacs case.  

             Even after hearing her say that the chances of them getting back together were slim, he’d held out hope they could still be on friendly terms.  He knew that he could never be satisfied with merely being Jessica’s friend, but it would be worse to not have her in his life at all.  He’d planned on so much more from their relationship, and it hurt him deeply to know that those plans would never come to fruition.

             Aubrey glanced his watch and groaned softly.  Any minute now, Karen Delfs would be walking into his office for her daily visit.

             It seemed as if Karen had made it her personal mission in life to alleviate the searing pain he’d felt after his break up with Jessica.  The visits hadn’t bothered him much at first, and in fact, he’d welcomed the chance to talk to Karen, hoping that she might be able to give him some insight into Jessica’s state of mind.  

             Here lately, however, the profiler had made some comments indicating that she was becoming much more serious about him than he had ever intended.  They’d gone out for dinner a couple of times, and it had been fun, but it just wasn’t the same as spending time with his best friend.  Karen would never be able to take the Jessica’s place in his heart.  

             No one could.

            Glancing at the time again, he wondered if he might be able to duck out before she got there, but it was too late.  He heard her chirpy voice outside his door as she greeted Agent Bower before entering his office and settling in the chair opposite of him.  

             “Hi, James.  How are you doing today?”  Karen offered a sympathetic smile.  “I heard that you ran into Jessica out at the crime scene yesterday.  That must’ve been difficult for you.”

             Scoffing at the question, Aubrey hoped Karen wouldn’t notice how he was struggling to keep his emotions in check.  “I’m fine, Karen.  We’re both professionals, and we know how to behave appropriately in that sort of situation.  I mean, of course it was slightly awkward at first, but we managed.  It seems Jessica has moved on with her life, just like I have…”

            He paused slightly before continuing.  “I think she has someone new…”

             “Ouch.  That didn’t take long, did it?”  Karen grimaced slightly at Aubrey’s obvious discomfort.  “Well, I know just what you need to help you feel better, James.  I want you to come to Daisy Wick’s wedding with me. It’s in two weeks.”

             “Nah, I don’t think so.  Sorry, Karen.”  Aubrey shrugged off Karen’s disappointment.  “It’s going to be a long time before I go to another wedding.  I learned my lesson the hard way last time.  Weddings and wedding receptions just lead to really bad misunderstandings and the consumption of too much alcohol.”

            “I think you’re overreacting, Aubrey.”  Karen chuckled at his irritation.  “So you’re going to let one bad experience control the rest of your life? I don’t think that’s a good idea. That’s not the Aubrey I know. It’s one of those things, like falling off a horse.  You’ve got to get back on that horse, or you’ll be stuck with your failure forever.  In my professional opinion, since your behavior was less than ideal at the last wedding you attended, you need to go to another one and get over it.  Anyway, this wedding reception is perfect for that.  Do you who Daisy’s going to marry?”

             “I have no idea, and I don’t really care, since I’m not going…”  Aubrey rearranged some papers on his desk.  “I’m not going to change my mind.”

             “I think you should reconsider.  Daisy is going to marry Beau Pixler.  You know who he is, right?”  Ignoring Aubrey’s annoyed expression, Karen kept talking.  “He’s an offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins...pro football, you know?  Anyway, his condo is next door to Daisy’s and he helped her carry in some groceries one day, and one thing led to another, so now the director of the NFL is marrying someone who plays for the NFL. Isn’t that a hoot?  But that’s not even the best part. Guess what?”

             “Yeah, you’re right.  I can’t guess what the best part of that story is.”  Sipping his cold coffee, Aubrey cringed as he set his cup aside.  “I’m not going…”

             “Pixler’s loaded, and not just because he plays football.  His family owns Pixler’s Pig Out Palace...you know, that barbecue chain?  His family’s catering the reception.  It’s going to be an all you can eat barbecue buffet with all the trimmings.  Sounds to me like a perfect way to change your perception of weddings and wedding receptions.”

             “Wait...Pixler’s?  As in the Hog Heaven Ham Hocks?”  

              Aubrey could feel his strength of will faltering as he thought about the wonderful aroma of barbecue coming from an endless supply of slow roasted meat, but he was a man with scruples.  He couldn’t give in.  “Sounds tempting, but I don’t think so.  It’s easier just to go to the restaurant.  Less chance of drama there.”

             Seeing that Aubrey still had doubts, Karen continued.  “Besides, I’m sure Jessica will be at the wedding, since she and Daisy are such good friends, and she’ll probably have her new boyfriend with her.  You need to go to the wedding with me so you can show her that you’ve moved on, too.  Two can play at that game, right?”

             “Yeah...I guess so.”  Aubrey tapped his fingers on his desk as he thought through Karen’s plan.  Her logic was faulty, and he knew he’d regret what he was going to do.  However, his curiosity was getting the better of him, not to mention his love of barbecue, and he wanted to see Jessica’s new boyfriend for himself.  Finally, against his better judgment, he decided he had nothing to lose.

             “Okay...I guess you’re right.  I suppose I can go to Daisy’s wedding with you…”

             “That’s wonderful.  I know we’re going to have a lot of fun. You’ll see.”  Karen smiled happily as she rose from her chair and glanced at her phone.  “Oh, look at the time.  I’ve got to go.  I have an appointment with Agent Booth about another case.  It looks like you’ll have to eat lunch by yourself today, James.”

             “No big deal.  I’ll just order something in.  I need to go over the file for the Vacchio case again.”  Secretly relieved that Karen couldn’t go to lunch with him, he tried to look disappointed as he got up from behind his desk.  “I’ll be fine…”

             “Maybe I can come by after lunch today, if you’d like.  I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to carry around all of those unresolved negative feelings.  You probably still have things you need to talk through, and I’d be glad to listen.”  Karen giggled as she patted his shoulder.  “I’ll always be here for you.”

             “That’s okay, Karen, but thanks anyway. I’ll be fine by myself, I promise.  I’m going to be busy with the case so I won’t have any time for negative feelings.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

             As they walked through the bullpen, Aubrey cleared his throat. “Listen, Karen, I know you’re trying to help me deal with stuff, but I don’t think…”

             “Of course I’m trying to help you.  That’s what friends are for, right?  Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow and we’ll talk about it then.  Bye, James.”  Waving at him and at Agent Bower, Karen walked quickly toward the elevator so she could make it to her next meeting on time.

             “What?”  Aubrey glared at Bower’s snide chuckle.  “Mind your own damn business, Steve.”  

              After watching Karen enter the elevator, Aubrey went back into his office and shut the door before slumping into his chair.  Angry and frustrated, he stared at the ceiling, wondering once again how he had managed to fuck up his life so badly. 

Chapter Text

           Agent Aubrey sighed, feeling frustrated as he tried to find a place to park in one of the temporary lots set up around the perimeter of the Jeffersonian.  The repairs to the damaged building were being made rapidly, and it seemed that it would be only a matter of weeks until the entrance to the museum and the Medico-Legal lab were back to their former glory.  In the meantime, makeshift platforms, surrounded by movable dividers, were pressed into use as the members of the Medico-Legal team continued to lend their expertise as they assisted the FBI with some of their more difficult cases.  Crime didn’t stop just because the lab facility was in disarray.  The work had to continue, even as the building seemed ready to fall down around their ears.

           After locking his SUV, Aubrey trudged slowly into the building, trying to figure out where Angela’s new office was hidden in the controlled chaos that surrounded him. He’d hoped the sounds of the ongoing construction would distract him, but it seemed nothing could keep his memories at bay.  Even in its present bedraggled condition, everything at the Jeffersonian seemed to remind him of Jessica and how much he missed talking to her every day.  She had been an important part of his life for many months, and he was feeling adrift without her friendship.  

           It seemed that her love and affection had been as necessary for his happiness as food and coffee.  But I can’t do anything about that now, can I...that’s over...

           His sadness over the breakup had given him plenty of reasons to put off coming to the lab again, until finally he’d run out of excuses for avoiding the place.  Angela had called and asked him to meet her in her new office that morning so she could show him something she’d discovered about the Vacchio case...something she couldn’t or wouldn’t share on Skype.   

           Gritting his teeth as he strode across the lab, he tried to give himself a pep talk.  He was grown man...a highly regarded federal agent in a supervisory position, in charge of his own division at the Hoover.  He had an important case to investigate, and moping around like some lovesick teenager over his break up with Jessica just wasn’t going to cut it.  They’d always managed to maintain their professional behavior when they were a couple.  Surely they could do the same now that they were no longer in a romantic relationship.

           If anything, it should be easier, right?  We won’t be distracted by all the flirting and aimless chitchat or by being so near each other.  We’ll just say what we need to say and be done with it.  I have my own life now, and she has hers, and what happens outside of work isn’t important any more, is it? It’s none of my business, anyway. She has someone new, and I have to move on, too…

           After asking one of the new interns for directions, Aubrey stood outside an unfamiliar office space.  Peering around the door frame, he called out tentatively.  “Angela?”

           “Yes, in here.”  Angela smiled as she waved for him to come in.  “Long time, no see, Aubrey.  I was beginning to think you didn’t love us squints anymore.”  

            Swallowing hard, Aubrey grimaced as he watched her bustle around the small room.  “Nah, I’ve just been really busy. Taking over the new position has been a challenge, you know?  Getting things arranged like I want them...stuff like that.”  

            He pointed to the large computer screen hanging on one of the walls.  “I’m surprised you got all of your equipment up and running so quickly.  Very impressive.”

            “A lot of it is on loan from the University of Virginia and American University.  Brennan and Hodgins called in a lot of favors to get this stuff over here for me to use.”  Angela smirked as she accessed the case file.  “And I’ve kept secret backup files of everything on a set of flash drives that I’d stashed away in a special wall safe.  I’ve made extra copies of everything ever since Christopher Pelant hacked into the Jeffersonian computers several years ago.  All I had to do was install the programs in a temporary file on these loaners.  When our computers are finally replaced permanently, I’ll just pull the files off before I send these little jewels back home.  Oh, sorry…”  She gave him an apologetic smile as her phone rang.  “I’m expecting an important call from my OB/GYN about some lab results.  I’ll just be a minute…”

            “No problem.  Take your time.  That stuff’s important.  You got to take that call.”  Aubrey stepped away from her to allow her some privacy, stopping to examine some of the new paintings that graced Angela’s temporary office.  One in particular caught his eye.  It was an oil painting of a seascape, done in blues and greens.  It had a dreamy quality about it, and he found himself studying it closely, admiring the intricate brushwork.

            “Okay, all done.  I’m glad that’s over.”  Angela moved back to her computer and saw the question in Aubrey’s expression.  “Everything’s fine.  Oh...you want to know about the painting, right?”

            “Yeah, I really like it.  I wonder why I’ve never noticed it before…”  Aubrey moved closer to get a better look.  “I like the way the colors swirl together…”

             “Well, don’t get too attached to it.  Unlike my photographs, this painting isn’t for sale.  It’s a wedding gift for Daisy and her fiance’ Beau.  They’re going to Tahiti for their honeymoon, so I thought a picture of the ocean might be a nice way for them to remember the trip.”

             “Jeez...I just got them a set of steak knives…”  Jamming his hands in his pockets, Aubrey shrugged, slightly embarrassed as he explained.  “Not very romantic, but very useful, you know...very practical.  I’m not sure what Karen got for them…”

             “Karen?  As in Karen Delfs?”  Angela’s naturally inquisitive nature was piqued.  “Why would you wonder about her wedding gift for Daisy and Beau?”

             “Well…”  Aubrey bit his lip as he avoided eye contact with the artist.  “Karen and I are going to Daisy’s wedding together.  I guess you could say she’s my date…”

             “Oh…wow.  Way to go, Aubrey.” Angela exclaimed as she arched an eyebrow at him.  “Not wasting any time, are you?  Moving on quickly, I see.  No use crying over spilled milk, huh?  And Karen Delfs, right?  I guess someone around here has a thing for redheads.” She chuckled at his slight indignation.  “How long have you two been a couple?”

             “It’s not really like that, Angela…I mean, Karen and me...we’re not a couple, okay?  We’re not together like that, really...we’re just friends.  It’s hard to explain, you know?  I mean we hang out together sometimes, or have a meal together but...” Aubrey stammered nervously.  “Can we just get to work on the case?  I’ve got to get back to the Hoover.  You said you had something to show me...”

              They both turned as a soft cough came from the doorway.  Jessica was standing there quietly, wearing a pained expression, and Aubrey felt his stomach lurch as he realized she’d heard the discussion about his plans to go to Daisy’s wedding with Karen.  He took a deep breath, hoping to appear calm.  “Good morning, Ms. Warren.”

              “Agent Aubrey.”  Jessica nodded slightly before turning her attention to the computer screen.  “You wanted to see me, Angela?”

              “Um...yeah.”  Angela pretended to concentrate on accessing the file as she tried to ignore the obvious tension between her two co-workers. “Actually, I wanted to show both of you something.  Vacchio’s work and home computers, his tablets, and his phones have been wiped clean of almost everything useful.  Whoever did it was experienced in that kind of work. There’s nothing left to work with on any of them.  However…”  

               Angela pulled up another picture.  “Remember this pen that you found at the crime scene, Jessica?”

               “Yes.”  The intern sighed softly as she remembered the recovery and how painful it had been to see her former boyfriend at the crime scene.  “Why?  Is it important?”

               “Very.  This isn’t really a pen.  It’s a digital recorder...very high tech.  Probably government issue.”  Angela pointed at one end of the object.  “That’s actually a tiny microphone.”

                Aubrey’s brows knit as he tried to understand what Angela was telling him.  “So Vacchio was trying to gather some information from a contact without wearing a wire, right?  Were you able to get any of the information from it?”

               “Part of it.  It looks like it was stepped on, like maybe someone was trying to break it, but I was able to salvage some of the audio. Here, listen.”  She clicked on a sound file.

                A low, gravelly voice was speaking.  “I know what you’ve been doing.  Those securities...they’re fraudulent, right?  You’ve made millions by selling worthless pieces of paper to unsuspecting people.”  The sound was garbled for a few seconds.   “I also know who’s running the show.  He thinks he’s untouchable where he’s sitting now, but he’s wrong.”  After a few more seconds of static, the voice was heard again.  “If you turn yourself in and tell us what we want to know, it’ll go easier for you.  We can offer you immunity…”  

                Suddenly there was panic in the voice.  “Hey, wait...we can work this out...you don’t want to do that…”  Two loud shots were heard on the recording, and then there was nothing but static.

                “Wow…”  Aubrey shuddered slightly as he shook his head in surprise.  “I guess we just listened to the murder, right?  Angela, will you send me a copy of this?”  

                 He smiled as he turned to look at Jessica, but she studiously avoided eye contact with him.  “Excellent work, Ms. Warren.  I’m glad you were able to preserve this evidence for us.”

                 He was interrupted as Angela’s phone rang again.  She grimaced slightly as she checked her caller ID.  “Sorry.  I’ve got to take this call…Michael-Vincent’s school.”  Shrugging an apology, Angela stepped out of the office.

                 “I really should go as well…” Jessica began as she turned to leave.  “Dr. Brennan needs me…”

                 “Wait, Jess...can we talk for a minute?  How are you?”  Aubrey reached out and gently took hold of her hand.  “I’ve missed you…so much...”

                 “Really? You’ve missed me? Because you seemed to have adjusted quite easily to the way things are now…”  Jessica quickly pulled her hand away from him as she glanced toward the door, hoping to get away before her anger got the best of her.  “I hope you and Karen have a good time at the wedding.  She’ll be very happy with you as her date.  She’s crazy about you…”

                 “But it’s not like that.  She’s not really my date…”  Aubrey squirmed slightly as he tried to explain what he meant.  “It’s not the same as it was with you and me…not like we were.  I don’t feel the same way about her as I do about you.  I don’t love her...not like that...”

                 Jessica rolled her eyes as she laughed sarcastically.  “I see.  Well, I guess you’re right, Superman.  You really were faster than a speeding bullet when it came to getting over me, weren’t you?  So it’s not the same with her as it was between us, is it?  That must be true, because it appears that perhaps you feel more for Karen than you ever felt for me, especially since you have such an important date with her so soon after we broke up. It’s only been a few weeks, but you’ve already moved on, right? It sounds like Karen is taking the sting out of any hurt you might’ve felt over us splitting up, especially since it seems you’re spending most of your evenings with her.  I’m sure she’s been helpful in kissing away any residual heartache.  So much for the long term commitment you wanted with me, Aubrey, but I know it’s hard to resist a woman like Karen who thinks you’re just perfect, isn’t it?  And don’t lie to me about not having a date with her. That’s not what you told Angela.  You said that Karen was your date for the wedding.”  

                 Jessica finally looked up at Aubrey, trying to blink back her tears.  “I hope you have a lot of fun together.  I have to go help Dr. B.”

                 “So I’m supposed to feel bad about going out somewhere with Karen just because you’re jealous of her?”  Aubrey stood with his hands on his hips, angry and frustrated with Jessica’s tirade.  “You know, Jessica, you really don’t have a right to be angry with me about having a date with someone else for that stupid wedding.  You can’t have it both ways, okay? After all, you broke up with me, remember? That wasn’t my idea, was it?  I really didn’t want to end things that way, but that’s what you wanted, so now it’s over, alright?  We’re both free now to see whoever we want.  So why do you care what I do?  I’m not a part of your life any more, and it really shouldn’t make any difference to you if I go to the wedding with Karen or anyone else, for that matter.”  

                 He paused, exhaling slowly as he tried to calm down.  “But if you’d just listen to what I have to say instead of jumping to conclusions, you’d find out that there’s nothing romantic going on between Karen and me...and I don’t have anyone else in my life, either.  C’mon, Jess...surely you know how much I still love you...you should know I wouldn’t hurt you like that.  Jessica, please don’t walk away from me...I really want to explain what’s going on here…seriously, Jessica...please...”  

                “Sorry, but I have work to do.”  Shaking her head as she swiftly moved away from him, Jessica held up her hands to indicate that the conversation was over.  “You can explain things all you want, but I don’t have to listen.  Good bye, Agent Aubrey…”

                 “Jessica…c’mon.  Just give me a minute...”  Aubrey started to follow the redhead out of the office just as Angela entered.  “Great…of all the annoying, irritating women...she won’t even listen to reason...” he muttered to himself.  Realizing Angela might’ve misunderstood, he tried to smile.  “Everything okay?”  

                 Accessing the file again, Angela shrugged as she chuckled.  “A slight mishap at school, but no stitches this time.  Sorry.  No more phone calls, alright?  Now, where were we?”

                 As he watched Jessica walk away, Aubrey sighed deeply, hoping Angela wouldn’t see how upset he was. Pointing to the computer, he tried to focus on the case.  “Why don’t you play that recording again….”

 Oooooooooooooooooooooooo

                 Glancing at the time on her phone as she hurried down the street toward the diner, Jessica bit her lip nervously, hoping to avoid a fresh onslaught of tears.  After her argument with Aubrey in Angela’s office, she’d allowed herself the luxury of a good cry in the women’s restroom before returning to the lab platform.  Thankfully, Dr. Brennan had chosen to ignore the younger woman’s runny red nose and smeared mascara as she explained which technique she wished her intern to use when she defleshed the set of remains they’d recently received.  

                 Now Jessica was running late for her lunch appointment, frustrated with the situation at work and annoyed with herself as well.  Whether she liked it or not, she had to admit that Aubrey had been right this morning.  She shouldn’t have any interest in who he took to the wedding, or who he was seeing at the present time...and she didn’t need to know how he spent his evenings.  It truly was none of her business any more.  

                 She’d been satisfied that breaking up with him had been the right thing to do until she thought about him dating someone else.  Her confidence shaken, she tried once again to convince herself she’d been correct...that he didn’t really care all that much for her, or he would’ve asked for her thoughts about his possible move to Los Angeles before he’d said yes to taking the new position.  

                 Of course, he changed his mind about that, deciding to stay in town to take a similar position with the DC office, and for a brief moment in time Jessica had thought he’d stayed because of her...but now it was plain, no matter what he’d said this morning about how much he still loved her, that he’d stayed because of Karen instead.

                 Pausing as she reached the diner’s door, Jessica smiled ruefully.  Here she was, meeting Daisy for lunch to help with some last minute wedding details, and she wasn’t even sure if she was going to have the nerve to go to the ceremony by herself.  The thought of watching her Superman and Karen together, enjoying each other’s company in such a romantic setting, was almost more than she could stomach.  However, she’d offered to help plan the wedding since Daisy didn’t have any family, and she couldn’t back out now.

                 Daisy waved at Jessica, smiling broadly as soon as her friend entered the diner.  “I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about lunch.”

                  “No, of course not.”  Jessica forced a pleasant smile as she sat opposite of Daisy.  “Things are just crazy at work, you know?  Dr. Brennan has been on the warpath, trying to get things rearranged in the lab as it’s being rebuilt, and we still have cases coming in.  I had to set some bones to soak before I could get away, and it took longer than I expected.”  

                  Smiling at the waitress, Jessica ordered a chef salad for lunch.  “So where are we today?  You said something about last minute wedding details…”

                  Taking a sip of her water, Daisy shrugged.  “Well, everything seems set except for one tiny but very important detail that I forgot.  I need a maid of honor…”  She giggled softly at Jessica’s shocked expression.  

                  “How could you forget something like that?” Jessica exclaimed.  “Isn’t that usually the first thing you do after you set a date?”

                  “Well, I guess so, but Beau and I ended up doing the whole wedding thing kind of backwards, I guess.  We planned a trip to Tahiti first, and then we decided to get married before we went.  His parents are going to watch Seeley for us while we’re gone, but they wanted us to make our relationship ‘legal’ before we left in case something happened while we were gone.  Silly, right?  Anyway, Mrs. Pixler has helped me make most of the arrangements for the wedding and the reception, which will be held at their family’s estate, and I found a beautiful dress at a clothing consignment shop.  Everything was pretty much done, but I didn’t even think about a maid of honor until Beau said his brother was going to be the best man.”  

                   Daisy ate a French fry as she glanced out the window.  “The problem is who to choose?  It’s not like I have a lot of friends since I’ve been so busy with work and the baby over the past couple of years.  But after I thought about it for a few minutes, it was obvious.  I think you’d be perfect, Jessica.  So, what do you think?  Would you be my maid of honor?”

                   “Oh…”  Jessica gasped softly.  “Actually, Daisy, I was going to tell you that I can’t be at the wedding….something has come up, and I have to be away that weekend…”

                   “Really?  But I was counting on you being there…”  Daisy was obviously upset.  “Are you sure you can’t change your plans?  I’d really like for you to be there with me.  You don’t even have to get a new dress.  Anything you already have would be fine.  Please?”

                    “I don’t think I can…”  Jessica brushed away the tears clinging to her lashes, knowing that she owed her friend an explanation for her sudden change of heart.  “The truth is...Aubrey is bringing Karen Delfs to your wedding, and I don’t think I can stand to watch them having fun and enjoying each other’s company while I’m there all by myself.  I mean, Aubrey and I...we’re not together any more, but...it’s hard to explain…”

                    “You didn’t expect him to get over you so quickly, right?”  Daisy gave Jessica a compassionate smile.  “Well, I know just what to do to solve that little problem.  You need to get a date of your own for the wedding, and I know just who it should be.  Remember Gerald Maxwell?”

                    “You mean Gerald, the intern from the Antiquities Department?  Oh, Daisy, I don’t know…”  Jessica shook her head as she reached for her coffee cup.  “I mean, he’s cute…”

                    “Cute?  He’s gorgeous…every tall, well-built square inch of him is spectacular.  If I didn’t already have Beau, I’d definitely be very interested.  I mean, those green eyes, that tan, that perfect smile… all that old family money.  Rumor has it that he’s a lot of fun on a date, and I bet all you’d have to do is ask him to go, Jessica.  I’ve seen how he’s flirted with you in the past…”

                     Jessica blushed as she ate a bite of her salad.  “He’s asked me out in the past, but I was with Aubrey at the time.  Do you really think Gerald would go to the wedding with me?”

                    “There’s only one way to find out.  When you get back to the lab, you need to go find him and ask.  Then call me and tell me you’ll be my maid of honor, okay?”  Daisy giggled at Jessica’s shy smile.  “With Gerald Maxwell standing next to you in a great looking suit, you’ll forget all about what Aubrey and Karen are doing…”

                     “Speaking of which…”  Jessica grimaced as she saw Karen enter the diner.  The profiler smiled happily and waved.  “It looks like Karen is going to join us…”

                     Not noticing the uncomfortable glances between Daisy and Jessica, Karen came bouncing over to their table to join them.  “Imagine seeing you two here.  Finalizing things for the wedding, I suppose.  Oh, look…”  She pulled up a picture on her phone and handed it to Jessica.  “I’ve been shopping all morning but I think I finally found the perfect dress to wear…”

                     Jessica had to bite her tongue to avoid saying something unkind when she saw the hot pink satin halter dress.  The low cut bodice was embroidered with large purple and blue flowers, each set with a large faceted plastic jewel in the center.  There was matching floral embroidery accentuating the hem of the very short gathered skirt.  “It’s very...bright, Karen.  It’s definitely a fashion forward choice.  Not everyone can pull off a dress like that...”  

                    “Thanks.  I hope James likes it.”  Karen pretended to be apologetic as she patted Jessica’s hand.  “I’m sorry.  I hope you’re not too upset that he and I are going to the wedding together.  As a psychologist, I felt it was my duty to encourage him to get ‘back into circulation’, so to speak.”  

                    Karen smiled as she glanced at the picture on her phone again.  “He’s much too handsome to be on the shelf for long, you know, so I had to take advantage of the situation while he was still available.  I’m so glad he agreed to go with me.”  Apparently realizing she might’ve said too much, Karen tried to change the subject.  “It sounds like the weather will be nice for the wedding…”

                   “Yes, it does.”  Jessica concentrated on her plate as she listened to Karen chatter away about absolutely nothing important, until finally she couldn’t stand it any longer.  “It’s fortunate for Aubrey that he has someone like you to look out for his emotional well-being, Karen.  I’m glad he’s able to seek you out when he needs advice.”  

                    Karen gave Jessica an airy wave of her hand as she giggled coyly.  “Well, it’s not like that, exactly.  You know how stubborn men can be, Jessica.  They never think they need any help where their emotions are concerned, but we know better, don’t we?  I usually stop by the office to check on Aubrey every other day or so to see if he needs anything.”  

                    Startled slightly as her phone rang, Karen answered it before the second ring.  “This is Karen. Yes...okay.  You bet.  I’ll be right there.”  Flashing a dazzling smile, she quickly rose from her seat.  “James needs me to help him with the case.  Gotta run.”  Winking slyly at Jessica, Karen flicked her ponytail over her shoulder as she adjusted her glasses.  “See you at the wedding…toodles...”

                    Glowering at Karen’s back, Jessica stabbed the last bit of lettuce left on her plate.  “She helps him...with all sorts of things, I imagine.  Oh, Daisy...why did I let Aubrey get away?  And how do I get him back?”

                    Daisy shook her head sadly.  “I don’t know why you let him go...but I do know you’re coming to my wedding with Gerald Maxwell, right?”  

                    Leaning over the table, Daisy lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper.  “Just so you know, I didn’t invite Karen to the wedding.  I invited Aubrey, thinking he’d want to come with you, but not her.  I think Karen manipulated him into inviting her to be his date...maybe she told him we’re having barbeque at the reception or something like that.  In any case, you can’t let her get away with it.  You need to show up with a handsome man on your arm, and let Aubrey get a good look at what he’s missing.”  

                    Crossing her arms over her chest, Daisy gave Jessica a stern look.  “This is no longer just the Battle of the Sexes, Jessica.  This is WAR!”

Chapter Text

          After lunch, Jessica walked back to the Jeffersonian with a purpose.  She got into the elevator and took it to the second floor.  Getting off she headed to the antiquities wing.  When she got to the doorway, she looked around and wasn’t disappointed.

            Gerald Maxwell.  6’3”, blond hair, broad shoulders, green eyes.  His family was one of the biggest donors to the Jeffersonian.  He was also a bit of a ladies’ man.  Sure, he was fun on a date…until he found another interest...or another pretty face...

            Every time he flirted with her, she got bored as he mentioned his father’s new yacht in Richmond, or the latest trip he took to Aspen.  He was intelligent, but also arrogant.  However, she wasn’t looking for everlasting love…just a date for Daisy’s wedding.  If Aubrey could bring a date, she sure as hell would, too.

            Suddenly, doubts arose as she remembered what Aubrey told her earlier.

            If you’d just listen to what I have to say instead of jumping to conclusions, you’d find out that there’s nothing romantic going on between Karen and me...and I don’t have anyone else in my life, either.  C’mon, Jess...surely you know how much I still love you...you should know I wouldn’t hurt you like that.  

             She wanted desperately to believe him, but then she remembered what she’d heard the agents discussing at the crime scene.  Steeling her spine, she entered and headed over to the intern.

            “Hi, Gerald.  Got a minute?  I need to talk to you about something...”

            The intern turned around and gave his perfect toothpaste smile in return.  “Jessica Warren…what brings you over to my neck of the woods?”

            Pushing aside the nausea in her stomach, the redhead gathered her courage.  “I wanted to ask you if...you...had any plans next Saturday?”

            “Not that I’m aware of.”, Gerald said in reply.  “Why do you ask?”

            Jessica took a deep breath.  “I wanted to know…if you…wanted to go to Daisy Wick’s wedding with me?”

            Gerald smiled.  He had been wanting to get into Jessica Warren’s good graces…and her bed...since she came to work at the Jeffersonian almost two and a half years ago.  She always acted like she had better things to do, but he knew her reputation.  Before she started dating that FBI agent, she was a friendly girl around the Jeffersonian…one he could have fun with.

            Now, he had his chance.  He’d already made a date with Audrey from Paleontology for next Saturday, but oh well.  He’d just call and cancel.  No big deal.  “Of course, Jessica.  I would be honored.  When and where?”

            “I’m the maid of honor, so I’m spending the day with her getting ready and the wedding’s at 2:00 on the Pixler estate.  Do you mind meeting me there?  You can give me a ride home if that’s okay.”

            “Sure, not a problem.”

            “Great.”, Jessica said without much enthusiasm.  “We’ll coordinate more as we get closer to the wedding.”

            “Perhaps we can get together before the wedding...you know, we could get to know each other better...”

            “Um, we’ll see.”, Jessica said.  “I’m swamped with helping Daisy, so I don’t have much free time with the wedding and my dissertation. Oh, look at the time.  I have to get back to the lab.”

            “I’ll see you soon, Jess.”

            Nausea, followed by white hot anger balled up inside her.  “My name is Jessica.  Not Jess.”

            Gerald realized he’d miscalculated badly and he quickly backtracked.  “My apologies…Jessica.”

            “Thank you.”

            Before Jessica could change her mind, she hastily walked back to the lab, not seeing the smarmy grin the antiquities intern was wearing.


            Over the next several days, Jessica and Aubrey managed to successfully avoid each other.  However, unbeknownst to the other, they still followed each other on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  

            Jessica was playing around on Instagram Tuesday when she saw Aubrey had updated his page.  When she went on, he had just posted a video of Skinner dragging himself across the couch.  She could hear him laughing in the background and she cracked up, too.  That cat was his baby...and he’d become hers, too.

            Or was.  Now he would be Karen’s baby.  Just like the special relationship she once had with his owner, Skinner was gone, too.  That thought made Jessica break down as it began to sink in what she had lost.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

             Aubrey was at home Wednesday night when he got an update on his Facebook.  When he looked, he saw it was from Jessica’s account.  Unable to stop himself, he opened it to be greeted with photos of what looked like Daisy’s bachelorette party.  Andie, Cam, Brennan, Angela, who was holding what looked like a Sprite, and Jessica were surrounding the anthropologist who was wearing a rhinestone crown that said BRIDE.

            Jessica looked slightly buzzed, but she seemed to be having fun.  Her smiles...her infectious laughter...her stream of consciousness…

            The more he thought about what he had lost, the closer tears came before a few fell.  He remembered what she said that night they kissed for the first time...that what they had was special.

            It was...and his life would never be the same without it.


            By Thursday, each was dreading Daisy’s wedding, but they kept their feelings to themselves.

            At the lab, Jessica was reexamining the bones of their victim in the Bone Room.  Using her emotional instability to help her focus, Jessica made quick work of documenting all minutiae she found on the bones.  She hoped that would bring the killer to justice.

            Any victim that was a member of a law enforcement organization always affected her deeply.  She knew it was because Aubrey was in law enforcement.  Of course, he was well trained, and he took good care of himself, but it was a worry she had every day.

           She scolded herself as she shook off those thoughts.  James Aubrey wasn’t hers to worry about anymore.  Karen Delfs had jumped in and taken her place with ease, almost as if that had been the plan all along.  Putting her feelings aside, the redhead was almost finished with her exam when she heard what sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.

            “Hi, Jessica.  I hope I’m not interrupting something important...” .

            Stiffening her spine, the squintern slowly turned around.  “Hi, Karen.  What can I do for you today?”

            Wearing a broad smile, Karen casually strolled over to Jessica.  “I was hoping to get your advice about something...that is, if you have time.  We don’t want to keep you from your work, do we?”

            Taking a deep breath, the intern clenched her fists as she steeled herself.  “Sure.  What can I help you with?”

            Karen held up a fashion magazine.  “Which kind of necklace do you think goes the best with my new dress?  I don’t want to embarrass James at the wedding.”

            Jessica felt tears well up at Karen’s use of Aubrey’s first name, something she only called him when they were alone, but she refused to let them fall.  Taking the magazine, she looked at the options and strongly considered sabotaging the woman.  However, she realized it wasn’t right, especially when Karen could sabotage herself all on her own.

            After a brief perusing, she pointed to a small square amethyst pendant on a silver chain.  “This one.  It will go with the color of your dress but give a little contrast.”

            Karen smiled.  “Oh, thank you, Jessica.  You’re being so understanding about me going to the wedding with your ex-boyfriend.  I feel just terrible that things didn’t work out with you two, but perhaps it’s for the best.  You are 28 years old and still a graduate student.  James will be turning 33 next month and he needs someone more settled, don’t you think?”

            “Of course.”, Jessica said in an unconvincing tone.  Feeling suffocated, she took a step back.  “Here’s your magazine. I have to get back to work, Karen.”

            “Oh, of course, of course.”, Karen said.  “Maybe we can get together for lunch next week?  I need some good gossip about James, and who better to provide that than his best friend?”

            “I don’t know.  I-I’ll check my schedule.”

            “Thanks so much.  I’m glad we can still be friends. Call me and let me know about lunch, okay?”

            “S-sure.”, Jessica said.  “I have to get back to work now.”

            “Oh, of course.”, Karen said before walking out.

             The redhead took a deep breath to steady her nerves.  When she felt emotionally stable…or as stable as she was going to get, she returned to her duties.

 */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Karen stepped out of the Bone Room with a self-serving smile on her face.  Confident that she’d hammered another nail in the coffin of James Aubrey’s relationship with Jessica Warren, she walked out.

            However, she missed Temperance Brennan standing to the side, arms crossed with a look of annoyance on her face.                


           “She came to visit you at the lab?”, Daisy said as she arranged her pillows on Jessica’s bed.

            “Yeah.”, Jessica said while plugging in her phone.  “She made sure I knew how much more suitable she is for Aubrey than me.  She even asked me to help pick out jewelry for her to wear with her dress tomorrow.”

           “That bitch!”, Daisy said before getting into bed.  “At least you have Gerald as your date.”

            “Daisy…I’ve got a vibe telling me that bringing him is not a good idea…”, Jessica said with a worried look.

            “Why not?  If Aubrey can bring that annoying See You Next Tuesday to my wedding as his date, then you can bring Gerald.  It’s not like you’re going to marry the guy.”, the future bride proclaimed.  “Just have a fling with him.  You’ve earned it.”

            “I don’t want that, Daisy.”, Jessica said with a slight choke.  “I want Aubrey, but he’s…”

            “Have you told him about the shit she’s pulling?”, the other woman asked.  “I’m not his biggest fan right now, but I can’t see him condoning any of this.”

            “No, because who he sees is no longer any of my business.  I just have to ignore her.  Obviously…he moved on from me if he’s going out with her.”

           Daisy hated seeing her friend hurt.   “Jessica, I can make sure she’s turned away at the wedding tomorrow.”

            “No, don’t.”, the redhead said as she got into bed.  “That wouldn’t be fair to Aubrey.”          

            “Are you sure?”, Daisy said.  “Or I can sneak some eye drops in her champagne and give her a wicked case of the runs.  She’ll shit all over that ugly dress while running to the bathroom!”

            The two ladies laughed loudly with the bride-to-be holding her stomach and Jessica crying tears from cackling.  After about a minute, they calmed down.

            “Thanks, Dais…I needed that.”

            Daisy laid down in the bed.  “I needed it too.”

            “Why?”

             The other woman was quiet for a minute before she talked.  “Oliver came by before I headed over here to spend the night.”

            “Oliver Wells?  Why?”

            Daisy took a deep breath.  “To tell me I was making a big mistake marrying Beau…that I need someone who challenges me...”

            “Like who?  Him?”,  Jessica said as she faced her friend on the other side of the bed.

            “I asked him that and he said nothing.  Now that I’ve moved on to a great guy, he wants me.  Fuck him.”

            The redhead debated for a moment before deciding to speak up.  “Daisy, Beau is a nice guy, but is he really the one you want to spend the rest of your life with?  Marriage is a pretty big commitment and this wedding came on pretty fast.”

            “Yes, I’m sure. Beau is kind, considerate, gorgeous, wealthy, and he’s good to Lance.  I’m marrying the cream of the crop tomorrow.”

            “Okay.”, Jessica said, conflicted.  “We should probably get some sleep.  We have a big day tomorrow.”

            “That we do.”, Daisy said.  “Thanks for letting me crash here the night before my wedding.”

            “That’s what friends are for, girlfriend.”, the redhead replied before turning out the light.  “See you in the morning.”

            “Night, Jessica.”

            Both ladies turned over in the darkness so their backs were to each other.  However, neither one got much sleep that night.


            Fourteen hours later, Aubrey was shaving as he got ready for the wedding.  He was happy for Daisy but he really didn’t want to go.  Even the barbecue Karen had used to entice him didn’t sound very good anymore.

            Today was the day...the day when he saw Jessica’s new beau…and it made him want to vomit.

             For the last several days, he’d been second guessing his decision to accompany Karen to the wedding.  Yes, there was going to be a lot of good food and his curiosity over his ex-girlfriend’s new significant other was driving him crazy.  However, he kept recalling Jessica nearly in tears in Angela’s office after she found out about the two of them going together to the wedding.

            She wouldn’t listen to him when he tried telling her that he and Karen were just friends.  Jessica was stubborn that way sometimes.  If she would just quit being unreasonable and listen to him, they could clear everything up quickly and then get back together.  She infuriated and frustrated him like no other person ever had.

            But he missed it…and her smiles…and her anthropological theories when she applied them to science fiction and things like Star Wars.

            He missed his best friend…and it was killing him emotionally.

            It didn’t help that Karen was becoming even more of a pest than normal.  Ever since he’d agreed to go with her to the wedding as ‘friends’, she’d called him several nights a week to talk to him.  She offered to come over and sit with him so he wouldn’t be lonely, but he always gave excuses for her not to.  She also hinted at an invitation to spend the night with her tonight after the wedding…one he played dumb with.

            He didn’t want a one night stand with Karen…he wanted to make love with Jessica.

           After this weekend, he knew he needed to sit Karen down and lay down some boundaries.  It was becoming obvious that she wanted more than friendship from him, but he just wasn’t interested.  He was looking for a friend, but her presence seemed to make him feel worse.

            More than anything, he didn’t want to go with her to the wedding.  He had a gnawing suspicion that it was going to be a bad idea.  However, he was a gentleman.  He promised Karen he would go with her to the wedding and it would be rude to cancel on her at the last minute, making her go alone.

           Even so, when she hinted at riding together, he made an excuse of other plans so he could meet her there.  His instincts were telling him that letting her know where he lived would also be a bad idea.

            After he finished in the bathroom, he went into his bedroom where Skinner was laying on the bed watching him.  He had just put on his boxers when he heard a knock on his door.  Surprised, he put on his bathrobe and walked to the door.  Looking in the Judas Hole, his eyes widened when he saw who was standing there.  With a heavy sigh, Aubrey opened to the door.

            “Karen…I…thought I was meeting you at the wedding?”

            The profiler walked in and almost blinded the agent when one of the plastic jewels on her dress reflected the afternoon sun as it shone through the living room window.  “I know, but I thought I would just wait for you here while you got ready, so I looked up your address in the FBI database and took a cab here.  That way we could talk and hang out before the wedding.”

            “Great…”, Aubrey said with a pained smile, but the profiler didn’t notice as she continued speaking.

            “How do you like my dress?” Doing a model’s twirl, Karen smiled at her date.   “I picked it out just for you, Aubrey.”

            The man struggled to keep from laughing as he took in the fluorescent pink…thing Karen was wearing.  It was two inches too short and more appropriate for a teenager.  Even worse, it looked like a Bedazzler threw up on it.  She’d finished off the outfit with a rhinestone necklace with a big magenta jewel in the center.

            “Do you like it?”, Karen repeated.  “I know you like shorter dresses on women.”

            ‘Yeah, on Jessica.’, he thought.  Her dresses, while short, never strayed from tasteful and she had a great pair of legs that her attire showed off.

            Strong legs from yoga that had on more than one occasion wrapped around his shoulders, neck, or waist while they were intimate.

            He didn’t want to hurt the woman’s feelings, so he thought quickly.  “It’s definitely an eye-catcher, Karen.  That’s for sure.”

            “Great.”, Karen said before noticing an orange tabby cat come into the room and rub against Aubrey’s leg.  “This must be the infamous Skinner.”

            The profiler called the cat over, but he refused to leave his owner.  Frustrated, she tried calling him again.

            “He’s not a super social cat, Karen.”, Aubrey said.  “He tends to take a while to warm up to people.”

            “I don’t believe that, Aubrey.  Animals love me.”, she said.  “Quit being stubborn, Skinner.  You know what.  I’ll just come to you.”

            The profiler stepped closer but stopped in her tracks when the cat let out a low growl.  Stunned, she stepped back.  “Aubrey, your cat is not being very friendly.”

           “Skinner!”  Aubrey knelt down to stroke his cat, pretending to scold him while holding back a snicker.  “That’s not nice.”

            The two watched as the cat swished his tail with indignation while he sauntered away back into Aubrey’s bedroom.  “Karen, I’m sorry.  He can be a bit…persnickety around new people.”

            “If he was this way with me, I’m sure he was a major bitch with Jessica.”, Karen said before putting her hand on her mouth.  “I’m sorry, Aubrey.  I probably shouldn’t mention her...”

            “It’s all right, Karen.”, Aubrey said

             The agent remembered how Skinner took to Jessica when Hodgins first brought him back to the Jeffersonian after his original owner was murdered.  The first time his former girlfriend came over to his apartment after he adopted the orphan cat he immediately jumped on her lap and purred.  More than once when she stayed over, he slept with her instead of his owner.

             It was obvious Skinner missed Jessica, too.  However, he wouldn’t tell Karen that.

            “Well, you should finish getting ready, Superman.”, Karen said.

            “Don’t call me that!”, Aubrey snapped.  Immediately feeling bad for his emotional response, he gulped.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”

            Karen took his emotional outburst in stride.  “It’s okay.  I should come up with a new nickname for you since we’re closer now.”

            “Aubrey is fine, Karen.”, the agent said, feeling a wave of nausea in his stomach.   Going into the kitchen, he gave Skinner extra food so he wouldn’t be awakened early the next morning.  “I have to finish getting ready.  Make yourself comfortable.  My remote is on the end table.”

           “Thank you, Aubrey.”, Karen said as she watched the man walk back towards his bedroom.  ‘I can’t wait to get my hands on that cute ass of his.’

            The woman looked around at the simple décor.  Her mood changed when she saw a group of pictures on the wall that consisted of the object of her affection and Jessica.

            “These photos need to go.”

            Karen walked over and removed all the pictures from the wall.  Stacking them neatly on the couch, she then looked around and saw a green and white blanket folded on the other end.  Opening it up, she became more annoyed.

            “A Syracuse alumnus with a Michigan State blanket?”, Karen asked to herself.  “No way.”

            Wrapping the pictures up in the blanket, she shoved them into the living room closet before shutting the door.  Snooping around, she saw a room with a door opened.  Pushing the door, she saw it had a small futon bed.  On the walls were various science fiction movie posters along with film noir from the 1940s.  There were three bookshelves full of Star Wars action figures along various movie props and memorabilia.  Walking in, she went to the shelf and picked up a couple of figurines.  Shaking her head, Karen turned to her right and got a shock as she came face to face with a seven foot tall statue of Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

            “It’s okay, Karen.”, she said to herself.  “Just Harrison Ford from that Star Wars thing.  Jessica may have tolerated that sort of thing around here, but I won’t.”

            Deciding she didn’t want to be caught snooping, the profiler made a hasty exit.  She looked around and smiled.  ‘Much better place to come back to after the wedding.  The kitchen looks it will be easy enough to get around when I make Aubrey breakfast tomorrow morning after we have another round.’

            “Are you ready?”

            “Huh?”, Karen said, startled before she had to contain the drool she felt coming.

            Aubrey was dressed in a pair of gray pants and dark blue button up shirt with the first two buttons undone.  He completed the look with a black sports jacket.

            Karen wanted to gobble him up.  However, she decided she’d do that later.  Now, she had other plans.  Smiling brightly, she picked up her purse.  “Yes, I’m ready.”

            Aubrey was too distracted by the prospect of seeing Jessica and her date to notice the changes Karen made to his living room.  Grabbing his keys, phone, wallet, and gift, the two walked out the door and locked it.


           Twenty minutes before the wedding, Jessica finished putting on her maid of honor dress.  Looking at herself in the mirror, she stared.

            Her A line dress was knee length and made of chiffon.  The color was called ‘Garden Green’ and it had a cascading ruffle in the front.  It was simple and beautiful.  Her hair was pinned up in a French twist and she wore diamond studs earring with a single diamond pendant, a gift from Daisy, thanks to her fiancé.

            Once again, vibes were telling her that something was going to happen tonight…and it wouldn’t be good.  The closer the wedding came, the more she regretted being talked into asking Gerald Maxwell to be her date.  She knew his reputation and hoped he didn’t expect to get more out of her than time spent at a wedding.

           But Aubrey didn’t need to know that.  Knowing Karen, she would be offering to drop her panties for him in her ugly ass, way too short dress for him to regret much.

           Hearing her friend hyperventilate again, she turned around and got the paper bag.  “Daisy, breathe into the bag.  Andie will be back soon with some champagne.”

            “OMG…I’m so nervous.”, Daisy said, fluttering her hands in front of her face.

            Andie came back into the bridal suite wearing the same dress as Jessica except in a shade of violet called ‘Orchid’.  “Here Dais…drink this.”

            The bride grabbed her flute and chugged it.  After about thirty seconds, she relaxed.  “Thanks…I needed that.”

            Jessica put the glass down and pulled on her friend’s arm.  “Come on, Daisy.  It’s time to get you in this dress.”

            Andie pulled it over and laid it gently on the floor.  “All right, Daisy, step in.”

            When the bride stepped in, her two friends helped pull it up.  As Andie held it together, Jessica pulled on the lace for the corset.  When Daisy said it was snug but she could still breathe, she tied it before Andie put the jewel flower covering it on the back.  When the three looked in the mirror, they were awestruck.

            Daisy’s silver dress was strapless and satin.  It had a sweetheart neckline and a Watteau train that glided behind her endlessly.  There was ruching on the bodice with ruffled lace.

            “Girl, you are so beautiful.”, Andie said.

           “Yeah, you are, Daisy.”

            Andie snapped out of their moment.  “Oh Jess, your date is out there if you want to talk to him for a minute.”

            “O-okay.”, the redhead said.  “Can you help—“

            “I’ve got this.”, Andie said as she helped Daisy with her jewelry.  “Just bring us back a bottle of champagne, all right?”

            “Got it.”

            Jessica walked out and headed for the ballroom where the guests were waiting due to a last minute rainstorm.  She spotted Gerald and walked over.

            “Hi, Gerald.  Glad you got here okay.”

            The intern smiled.  “Not a problem.  My family’s estate is only five miles from here.”

            “Okay, so there’s champagne.  At the reception, Daisy and Beau will have a table of their own and the attendants have one of their own where they can sit with their dates.”

            Gerald put his arm around Jessica, making her jump as he brushed her breast with his fingertips.  “Sounds wonderful.”

            “Jessica!”

            Feeling sick to her stomach, she turned and saw Karen with Aubrey.  Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the agent looking very handsome in his attire.  Forcing a smile, she pressed on.  “Hi Karen…Aubrey.”

            For the agent, he was blown away by Jessica’s appearance.  The dress was classy, stylish, and accentuated her lithe figure to perfection.  The green was a perfect shade to make the color of her eyes pop.  She looked absolutely amazing.

            Then he took another look at her date and felt some insecurities.  ‘That son of a bitch didn’t wait long to move in on Jessica.  Perfect hair, perfect smile…the perfect Ken doll.’

            “Hi, Jess.”

            Karen grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing waiter.  “Jessica…who’s your friend?”

            “This is—“

            “Gerald Maxwell.  He’s an intern in…antiquities at the Jeffersonian.”, Aubrey said while barely holding back his snark.  “It’s…antiquities, right?”

            “It is.  I’m in my fourth year while I’m studying for my PhD at George Washington University.  My family is one of the biggest contributors to the Jeffersonian.”, Gerald said before looking at Aubrey while tightening his hold on Jessica.  “So what is it that you do…Aubrey?”

            “James Aubrey.”, the agent said, trying to control his jealousy and the urge to shoot the smile off the bastard’s face.  “I’m the Special Agent in Charge of the Major Crimes Division of the FBI DC Field Office.  I collaborate frequently with the lab.”

             Gerald continued to play stupid as he flashed his perfect teeth.  “Yes, I think I remember hearing about you once or twice.”

            Jessica wasn’t in the mood for the dick measuring contest that was commencing.  “I have to get back to Daisy.  Excuse me.”

            Aubrey didn’t miss the small shove Jessica gave as she got out from under Gerald’s grip and walked away.  ‘Jess never liked being paraded around like a prize at the county fair.’

            “A little feisty, that Jessica.”, Gerald said, appreciating the view as she quickly walked away from him.

           “Well, she grew up in a house with five older brothers.”, Aubrey said.  “She’s very independent.”        

            “Well, I always did like a challenge.”, Gerald said as he spotted one of his father’s business associates.  “Excuse me.  Gotta make nice with the old guys.”

            The two remaining figures watched the intern’s kiss up act.  “Fucking asshole.”, Aubrey muttered.

            “I thought he was very pleasant, Aubrey.  Jessica was kind of rude to him, shoving his arm off her like that.  She needs to be more appreciative with men.”

            “Excuse me?”, Aubrey said, his hackles raised.

            “Well, I mean, she should be grateful that any man will spend his time with her with the attitude she has.  She needs to get over herself and be more demure with her dates.  By the way, what the hell is with that green toenail polish?  She’s at a wedding, not an MSU pep rally.  Have some class, little girl.”

            ‘Like you do?’ Aubrey thought as he glimpsed his date’s attire again.  Honestly, he found Jessica’s sense of style sexy as hell because she didn’t care what others thought.  Before he could stop himself, he grabbed a glass of champagne and told Karen exactly what he was thinking.

            “Jessica does things like that because she’s confident in herself and it shows in everything she does, but especially in her appearance.  Yeah, to some her sense of style may be immature or not ‘politically correct’, but it’s always tasteful.  She doesn’t feel the need to have her breasts hang out or wear skirts she can’t bend over in.  She can be simply dressed and still be absolutely stunning.”

            Appropriately rebuked, Karen grabbed another glass of bubbly and the two drank in strained silence.  Aubrey glanced over at his ‘date’ in her gaudy dress, wishing more than ever that he was back home with his cat on his lap as he watched some old movie on television.

            As he looked around the ballroom, he thought of Jessica looking gorgeous and elegant in her beautiful green gown, almost like she was taunting him.  The thought of her being with Gerald after the wedding was enough to make the agent lose his appetite for barbecue.  However, there was nothing he could do about it now except to acknowledge the regret he felt over what he’d lost.

            Finally, the wedding planner called for everyone’s attention.  “Ladies and gentlemen, it seems the storm has passed.  If you’ll take your seats, we’re about to begin the ceremony.”

            “Thank God!”, Aubrey muttered under his breath.  “The sooner Daisy is married, the sooner I can go home.”  Turning toward Karen, he sighed.  “You ready?  Let’s go.”

             Disappointed in the fact that Aubrey still insisted on defending Jessica, a subdued Karen nodded as she followed him to their seats.  It seemed she still had some work to do to make him forget his former girlfriend, but she was up for the task.  She was determined to make him forget all about that nasty little squint before the evening was over.

Jessica's Bridesmaid Dress “image” Daisy's Wedding Dress

Chapter Text

          Three hours later, the reception was in full swing in the beautifully decorated main ballroom of the Pixler estate. Then it came time for the speeches, with Beau’s brother standing up first to speak as best man.  Of course, his speech ran too short and then it was Jessica’s turn.  Standing up, the redhead took a deep breath and spoke the speech she memorized.

          “What can I say about Daisy?”, Jessica began.  “For those who don’t know, we met when I came to the Jeffersonian back in 2014.  On my first day, I went on a date with her ex-fiancé.”

          There were laughs in the room as Jessica continued.  “Obviously, Sweets and I weren’t meant to be together.  He got back with Daisy and they had a beautiful son.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

          At the Jeffersonian table, Karen scoffed.  “Of course she doesn’t mention that Lance Sweets knocked Daisy up as he and Jessica started dating.”

          Aubrey saw the looks everyone was giving them, so he turned to the woman next to him, whispering furiously.  “Obviously Beau’s family doesn’t need to know that part of the story, okay, Karen?”

          “My apologies.”, the profiler whispered to the table, which consisted of Booth, Brennan, Angela, Hodgins, Cam, Arastoo, Clark, and his date.  However, she was annoyed as they only responded with dirty looks before turning back to Jessica’s speech.  As she turned to Aubrey, she was frustrated even more to see the sheer adoration in his eyes as he watched his ex-girlfriend speak.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

          “Love is fun…passionate…scary…infuriating…but it’s also the best thing in the world, especially with your best friend.”  Jessica couldn’t take her eyes off Aubrey as she continued to speak.  “If you ever have that, you hang on tight.  Daisy and Beau will do that…together.  Congratulations, you two.  May you live a long, happy life together.”

          As everyone toasted the couple, Jessica sat down and took a breath to steady herself.  Feeling an arm around her, she turned to her right into the bright white smile of Gerald Maxwell.

          “Would you like a drink, Jessica?”

          “Yes.”, the anthropologist said.  “A shot of Jameson, please.”

          “You got it, Sugar.”, Gerald said.  As he got up, she stopped him.

          “Make it two, please.”

           ‘Yes!  Easy lay tonight.’  The antiquities intern thought to himself. “No problem.”

           As the dance floor was opened after the traditional first dance of the married couple, Jessica looked in her bag for a small mirror, hoping her eyes weren’t red.  Suddenly, she heard a voice next to her.

          “Jess, that was a…really good speech you made.  It was very beautiful.”

          Turning, she saw Aubrey standing next to her, with his hand on the back of her chair.  She took a deep breath to control her emotions.  “Thank you, Aubrey.  I meant every word.”

          The agent felt a little emotional as well.  “Maybe later on we can talk...about things.  I mean—“

           "There you are, Aubrey.  Let’s go dance.  This is one of my favorite songs.”

          The estranged couple turned to see Karen moving her hips along to the music of DJ Snake & Lil Jon ‘Turn Down for What.’   As she continued with twist her body as she ‘danced’ , Aubrey shook his head.

           “Sorry, Karen, I don’t dance to this…shit.”

          The profiler had noticed the slight thawing of the ice between the couple and was determined to freeze it back.  Reluctantly, she stopped dancing.  “Well, then let’s get drinks.  Come on.”

          It was then that Gerald returned with four shots of Jameson’s.  “Here you go, Jessica.  Two for me and two for you.”

          “Thank you.”

          “Come on, Aubrey.”, Karen said as she pulled the lanky man with her.

          Seeing her ex-boyfriend with Karen reminded Jessica once again what she’d lost.  In rapid succession, she tipped back both shots and turned to her date.  “Thanks.  I needed that.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

          Later on, Aubrey was finishing a beer when the song changed to Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’ , Karen grabbed her date’s arm.  “Come on, Aubrey.  We’re dancing.”

          “Sure, why not?”, the agent said as he put down the beer bottle.

          The two walked to the dance floor and Aubrey held his dance partner at arm’s length as they danced to a song he and Jessica had made fun of more than once.  Turning, he saw his ex dancing with Gerald.  A few seconds later, he saw the intern’s hand move down by the redhead’s posterior, making steam come out of his ears.

          Jessica danced with Gerald but her heart wasn’t in it.  First of all, she hated the song.  More than once, she and Aubrey had mocked it together.  Then she spotted her former boyfriend and his date on the dance floor and her heart sunk.  The last time she and Aubrey had danced together was at Cam and Arastoo’s wedding and he was already buzzed, but he seemed to be making an effort to stay sober this evening.  

          He probably doesn’t want the alcohol to affect his love machine tonight…

         Her thoughts were interrupted when she felt a hand on her ass.  Immediately, she moved her hand and bent his fingers back hard, a move her brother Aaron showed her years ago.

          “Ow…what the fuck…”  Wincing in pain, Gerald flexed his injured fingers as he glared at Jessica.  “That hurt!”

          “Keep your hands off my ass, Gerald.  Maybe some women like being groped on the dance floor, but I’m not one of them.”

          Aubrey saw what Jessica did and chuckled while Karen scowled.


          Ninety minutes later, Jessica and Andie were talking to Brennan, Cam, and Angela when there was an announcement being made.

          “It’s time for the bride to throw her bouquet…”

          “Come on, Jessica.”, Andie said.

          “No…no…not again.”, the redhead said.  “Obviously,  bridal bouquets and I don’t get along.  You go, Andie.”

          “Fine.”, Andie said before she looked out toward the dance floor.  “Oh my God, is Karen hyped up on something?  She looks determined to get that bouquet.  She just might hurt someone who gets in her way.”

          “Then get it from her, Andie.”, Angela said.  “That twit has gotten on my last nerve tonight.”

          The oncology nurse walked out and joined the others, standing next to Karen.  She almost laughed as she saw her look like a rabid bull getting ready to charge a matador.  When the flowers were tossed, the profiler knocked several women over in a move that rivaled one of Beau’s NFL teammates.   Andie laughed as she saw where the bouquet landed.

           In Jessica’s arms…again.  

           Andie watched as the redhead stood in shock while Brennan and Angela smirked at the fact she caught a bouquet by accident a second time.  When she saw Wendell coming to help her, she put her hand up to let her boyfriend know she was all right.  When she stood and saw how pissed Karen was, she laughed even harder.  ‘Karma’s a bitch, Karen.”

          Across the room, the guys went back to talking as Aubrey stood transfixed on a very flustered Jessica.  When the garter toss was announced, Booth, Wendell, Arastoo, and Clark pushed their reluctant friend onto the floor.

          “I don’t want to do this, guys.”, Aubrey groused.  “This is a stupid tradition, anyway…”

          “Sure you do.”, Clark said, grinning as he elbowed Wendell.  “You don’t have to lie to us.  We’re your friends.”

          “No, I don’t, because I’m not looking to get married, all right?”, Aubrey said, feeling defeated.  “I—“

          The agent was interrupted when the garter landed like a ring around his beer bottle.  Aubrey stood grinding his teeth for a second before turning to his friends, who were laughing at his discomfort.

          “Not funny, guys…”, Aubrey said, pulling the garter from the neck of the bottle as he walked back over to join them.

          Suddenly Karen appeared and gave her object of affection a knowing look. “Look at that, Aubrey.  You’re next to get married.”

          Turning to his right, he saw the shell shocked look on Jessica’s face as she stared at the bouquet she caught.  Not wanting to make things awkward for her and trying to quell the nausea from Karen’s last comment, Aubrey decided he had enough ‘fun’ for a while.   

          “I need some air.”

          The profiler watched her date slam his beer bottle down before storming off to go out on the side porch.  Forming a plan, she smiled, biding her time.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

          An hour later, Jessica was helping Hodgins and Angela put a few things in their car.  Booth and Brennan along with Cam and Arastoo had left about thirty minutes earlier.

          “Okay, Chica, I think we have everything here.”, Jessica said as she helped shut the trunk.  “So you guys heard Daisy and Beau aren’t leaving until Monday, right?”

          “Yeah.”, Angela said.  “Beau is third string for tomorrow’s game against Philadelphia.”

          “Yeah…I get the feeling that football will rule that household.”, Hodgins said.

          “Jessica, are you sure you don’t need a ride home?”, Angela said.

          “Yes, Gerald is taking me home.”, Jessica said.  Seeing the faces of the couple, she qualified her remark.  “Taking ME home, not taking US home.”

          “All right…if you’re sure.”, Angela said.  “Call Hodgins and me if you need us.”

          Jessica hugged the woman she considered her surrogate older sister.  “I will.”

          After they let go, Hodgins opened the  car door with his fob.  He pulled himself in the driver’s seat of the custom designed Toyota Prius they’d purchased recently for the entomologist so he could drive by himself.  He attempted to put the wheelchair in the back seat by himself but he struggled, finally giving up in frustration as he threw his hands in the air.  Angela came around and helped him put it in.  When she backed away, he pushed a button so the specially designed gull wing door closed.  

         “He’s still getting used to putting the chair in the back seat.  Another week and it’ll be nothing.”

         “With Hodgins, I totally believe it.”, Jessica said.

          After another hug, Angela got into the car.  After he started it up, they drove away.  Watching them leave, Jessica waved goodbye before going back inside to get the rest of Daisy’s stuff.  As she walked by, she caught the sight of Aubrey leaning back against a wall as Karen kissed him.  Feeling bile in her stomach, she felt the warm feelings she had for her ex earlier ice over again.

          She needed Gerald’s keys so she could load up the car and get out of there.  Looking around, she found her date…up at the bar putting down more shots of Jameson.

          “Gerald…what the hell?  You’re supposed to be my ride home!”

          The muscular man turned to the redhead.  “Well, my plans for tonight also included sex but that’s not happening since you’re such a damn prude.  So, I’m making my own fun.”

          “Well, give me your damn keys then so I can load the car and go home.”

          After her drunken date gave her the keys, she grabbed Daisy’s stuff from the bridal suite and walked out towards the circular driveway.  Unlocking the trunk of his red sports car, she threw everything in there.  Resolving to leave Gerald’s drunken ass there at the reception, Jessica opened the car door and groaned.

          “Son of a bitch!”

          “Jess, what’s wrong?”

          Turning around, she saw Aubrey standing there looking concerned.  She wasn’t sure if she felt more relieved or embarrassed.

          “My date is wasted and I want to go home.  Of course, Gerald drives a stick and I haven’t driven one since I was seventeen years old.”

          Aubrey wanted to be relieved, but he was angry at Gerald for putting Jessica in this position.  “I can take you home if you want.  Karen and I are ready to go…well, I am.”  He pointed to the packages in the sport car’s tiny trunk.  “Let’s just put this stuff in the back of the SUV…”

          Jessica was going to say no, unable to stomach being around the two in a confined space.  Then, she saw the woman in question sauntering over like a cat about to mark her territory.  Suddenly, she didn’t feel so sick anymore.

          “Yes, Aubrey.  Thank you.  It would be appreciated.”

          Aubrey didn’t see Karen’s eyes narrow, but Jessica did.  No matter how she felt about her ex-boyfriend, he was being the gentleman he always was.


         The ride was silent except for Karen’s chattering about the wedding.  Jessica saw Aubrey tighten his hand on the gear shift the longer the profiler talked, a sign he was getting irritated.  However, he chose her, so Karen was his problem now.

          In the driver’s seat, Aubrey was tuning out Karen’s annoying chatter as he glimpsed back at Jessica, who was staring out the window.  He recognized the sadness in her expression.  While he hoped it was because of missing him, it was obvious that it was because her new boyfriend was an asshole who’d gotten drunk even though he was supposed to be getting her home safely.

          But he couldn’t talk because he had gotten himself shitfaced at Cam and Arastoo’s wedding, embarrassing Jessica in the process.  What was it she had said?  She and Karen were afraid he was going to throw up in the cab, so they’d gone to the profiler’s apartment instead of taking him home.  So I’m just as much of an asshole as Gerald, right?  He’d messed up badly and now he had to live with it.

          Spotting Jessica’s building, he pulled into the parking lot of the Korean grocery store she lived above.  As he was putting the car into PARK, Jessica opened the door, desperate to get out.

          “Thanks for the ride, Aubrey.  Have a good one.”

          “Wait.”,  Aubrey said as he got out.  “I’ll walk you to your door.”

          “That’s not necessary—“

          “Yes it is, Jessica.”, Aubrey said as he stood next to her.

          He followed her up the steps and waited as she unlocked the door to enter the stairwell to her third floor apartment.  After they started up the stairs, he continued to think of Gerald taking his place and with each floor, he grew more infuriated.

          ‘Why the hell was I dumped for some rich asshole who groped her in public and then got trashed?  She deserves so much better than that.’

           While they did the short walk to her door, Jessica pulled her keys out of her purse.  Turning around, she couldn’t look him in the eye.

          “Thank you for the ride home, Aubrey.  I might have been stuck waiting for a cab for quite a while.”

           When the agent heard the overly polite tone, the dam finally broke. “Jess, what the fuck do you see in that steroid pumped, toothpaste ad Ken doll?  I can’t believe you dumped me for that piece of crap!”

            Fury rose up in Jessica as she took a deep breath to keep from punching Aubrey.  “Me?  What about you?  You pledged a long term commitment to me but you are now spending time with that clingy, annoying twit.”

           All of Aubrey’s insecurities came to a head and he couldn't stop the words. “You dumped me, Jessica!  I guess it happened because I wasn’t perfect enough for you, huh?  Guess if you are looking for something perfect without any brains behind it, Gerald is your man.  Must be a stud in bed—“

          Jessica snapped and smacked him across the face.  She could feel the tears in her eyes as she spoke.  “You have no right to lecture me on who I sleep with, especially with Miss Katy Perry wannabee in your car with that hideous dress.  Obviously you want someone who hangs on your every fucking word and thinks you’re just perfect.”

          Aubrey saw the tears in her eyes and realized he’d gone too far.  “Jess, I’m so—“  He reached out to embrace her.

          The redhead pushed his hand away.  “Get away from me, Aubrey.  Apparently what is good for the FBI agent isn’t good enough for the anthropologist.  You’re a hypocrite and I want you out of my life for good!”

          Quickly unlocking the door, she slammed it in Aubrey’s face.  Losing her composure, she cried as she slid down on the floor with her back to the door.

          Outside, Aubrey heard her crying and felt tears well up in his eyes as well.  What he’d said to her was uncalled for and unacceptable.  Any hopes he had of her getting back with him were now gone.

          He wanted more than anything to knock on the door and plead his case, but he’d blown it…and it was all his fault.  Losing her as a lover was bad enough, but it was obvious now that he lost her friendship and it devastated him more.

          Deciding to offer her the one gift he could give, he walked away quietly down the stairs and headed to his SUV.   When he opened the door, Karen was re-applying her make up.  Suddenly, the sight of her made him sick.

          “I bet Jessica was grateful for the ride home.  Too bad her boyfriend got drunk.  Definitely her type.”, Karen said as Aubrey started the motor and drove out of the parking lot.

          “Karen, I don’t want to talk about Jessica anymore.”, the agent said as he white knuckled the steering wheel.

          Karen misread Aubrey’s expression and decided to make her move.  “I bet you could use some company tonight.”  

           ‘I just want to forget for a while, but not with Karen.’  Aubrey thought.  “Actually, no.  I think I need some time alone.”

          Undeterred, she continued.  “How about tomorrow we go to Satay Sarinah for dinner?  I know you like pigeon heads and then we can go to a movie or take a walk…”

          Aubrey felt his stomach churn.  He would not go to Satay Sarinah again…never.  He couldn’t...not after losing Jessica.  “No thanks, Karen.  I have things to work on tomorrow in my apartment.”

          “Maybe I can come over tomorrow and help you…”

          “No, Karen.  I’ve got it.  Thanks, but no thanks.”  Aubrey said while trying to avoid being an ass when he felt her suddenly groping his thigh.  “What the…”

          “I’m wearing hot pink panties under my dress, Aubrey.  I bought them just for you.  I would love to show them to you tonight…at your apartment…I could make us breakfast in the morning.”

          ‘Whoa…okay, too much information.’ Aubrey thought.  'When Jessica would say things like that it was hot, but from Karen it’s just…creepy.’

           Suddenly, he felt her hand move inches away from his genitals but managed to grab it just as she was about to close in.  “Karen…stop!”

          “You need a woman who will give you what you need….like I can.  Let me help you forget that flighty redhead by being with a real woman tonight.”

          At his breaking point, Aubrey pulled the car into a parking lot and hit the brakes hard.  Turning to Karen, he let loose all of his pent up anger and frustration.

          “I’m not interested in a one night stand tonight, Karen…or any night.  I’m in love with Jessica and right now, she’s the only real woman I want to make love with.  I know you’re interested in being more than friends with me, but I’m not interested in you that way.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.  It was bad enough you ambushed me with a kiss out of nowhere at the reception, but now you’re crossing a line here.  I’m willing to forget all this ever happened, but don’t ever overstep again.  Do you hear me?”

           ‘That bitch got to him, but I can fix that.’  Karen thought.  “Of course, Aubrey.”                 

          “Good.”, Aubrey said.  “We’ll be at your apartment in a few minutes.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

          Thirty minutes later, Aubrey walked into Founding Fathers and sidled up to the bar.  Seeing it was 11:30, he figured he had some time.  He just needed to forget for a while.

          “Aubrey, what can I get you?”, the bartender asked.

          “Double shot of whiskey, Mike.”

          Mike pulled out a bottle Jack Daniels and poured a glass.  Aubrey immediately tipped it back.  “Again.”

          “Almost out of Jack and the shipment doesn’t come until tomorrow.  All I have left is Jameson.”

          Aubrey thought of Jessica again.  His heart hurt and he needed the pain to stop.  “Works for me.”


          At midnight, Angela put her magazine when she heard the knock at her door.  Opening the door, her heart went out to the redhead with tear-stained cheeks and red eyes.

          “I’m sorry, Angela.  I didn’t mean to wake you, but I…”

          The artist merely pulled the young woman, wearing a Michigan State hoodie with a tank top and yoga pants, into the house.  Setting her down, she walked into the kitchen and brought out a fifth of whiskey and a glass.  Pouring a shot, she gave it to Jessica and watched as she tipped it back.

          “Do you want to talk about it?”

          Jessica nodded, then told her friend about what happened at the wedding and her argument with Aubrey.  “....and then I slapped him hard,” she sniffled,  “...and I told him I wanted him completely out of my life…but that’s not really what I want, Angela.  What am I going to do?.  What if I’ve ruined everything between us?  What if he hates me now?”

          “Oh, Sweetie, I’m so sorry…”  The more Angela listened, the more she wanted to wring Karen Delfs’ neck.  It was obvious from tonight that the FBI profiler was way more into Aubrey than he was into her. However, Jessica was in no condition to hear that now.

           “Hodgins, Michael Vincent, me, and the baby are all here for you, Jessica.  You’re part of our family…you know that.”

          “C-can I stay here tonight?”

          “You know you’re welcome anytime, Jessica.”  Angela said.

           Giving the redhead a chance to compose herself, the artist grabbed the glass and liquor and put it back in the kitchen.  Returning, she sat with her another few minutes until she stopped crying.  After giving her another hug, Angela walked her upstairs to one of the guest rooms.  

          “Here’s your room, Sweetie.”

          “I’ll call a cab in the morning.”, Jessica said as she crawled under the covers.

          “No, you won’t.  You’re having breakfast with Hodgins and Michael Vincent.  You’re also going to help Brennan and me assist Daisy with organizing her gifts.”

          Jessica groaned.  “I left her stuff in Aubrey’s trunk.”

          “I’ll take care of it tomorrow.  Now, get some sleep, okay?”  Angela said.

          “Okay.”  Jessica said before turning over.

          Shutting the door, the artist walked back to the room she shared with her husband and got into bed.  

         “How is she, Angie?”

          “Devastated.”

          Hodgins listened as Angela told him about what happened with Jessica and Aubrey earlier.  He groaned, but said something else.

         “Doctor B said she saw Karen talking to Jessica at the lab Friday.”

          Angela growled.  “I’m going to kick Karen Delfs’ ass, Hodgins, when I’m no longer pregnant.  That bitch is messing with Aubrey and Jessica and I don’t like it.  I’m--”       

          Hodgins stopped his wife’s diatribe with a kiss.  “Angie…as King of the Lab, I will consider it an honor to take care of it if she shows up again.”

          Angela kissed her husband again.  “Our hero…”


         Around 1:00 AM, Booth walked into Founding Fathers and instantly found what he was looking for.  Walking up to the bar, he saw an inebriated Aubrey ask for another shot.

          “Aubrey, you’re done for the evening.”, Booth said.  “Come on, I’ll take you home.”

          “Don’t want...to go...home, Booth.”, the lanky man slurred.  “I want another shot.”

          “No, I’m driving you back to your apartment.”

          Booth pulled Aubrey off the stool and almost fell from his dead weight.  Booth pulled his arm over his shoulder and walked them out.  “Thanks for calling, Mike.”

          “Have a good one, Booth.”

          Booth had Aubrey about halfway to his SUV when the younger man vomited on the sidewalk.  Shaking his head, he pulled his former partner to the passenger side and stood him up.  “Do you have to puke again?”

          “I…..I….don’t….think…so.”

          Booth made a decision.  “Forget your apartment.  You’re coming back to my house so I can make sure you don’t drown in your own puke.  Hopefully, you fed your cat before the wedding.”

         Aubrey gave Booth a drunken grin.  “Always…Skinner is my sweet widdle kitty cat and I wuvs him so much...I wuv my good kitty to pieces....”

        “Right…whatever you say, Buddy.” Booth said while opening the car door. “Okay, here we go.”

         As he got the man into his passenger seat and buckled him in, he heard it.

         “I love my Jessie, too….I miss Jessie’s pretty red hair...her pretty green eyes...God, I just love her so much, you know?  What am I gonna do, Booth?  I miss her so much...and now she hates me because I’m such a fuck up...”

         Shaking his head, Booth got into his side, got situated, and started the vehicle before pulling out into the street.

         “If you puke in here Aubrey, I’m going to kick your ass.”

Chapter Text

          Aubrey heard a drum blasting in his head and he groaned, hoping it would stop.  Then the pleasant blackness was overtaken by a bright light.  He tried blocking it out with a pillow to no avail and he slowly became conscious.  When he opened his eyes, he looked around and groaned again as he recognized Booth and Brennan’s guest room.  

         “This can’t be good…”

          Turning his head, he saw the trash can beside the bed and remembered drinking copious amounts of whiskey the night before.  There was a faint memory of his shoes being pulled off his feet and what sounded like Booth saying, “Don’t puke in my bed.”

          Startled when he heard the front door slam hard, Aubrey looked at his phone, where 11:15 glowed large on his screen.  He realized that Booth was home from Mass…and possibly getting ready to kick his ass because he’d had to come get him from the bar late last night...no, make that early this morning.

          ‘Man...I’m in deep shit now.’, he thought, cringing at the thought of what would probably happen next.  ‘Time to face the music.’

           Slowly, he got out of bed and shuffled out towards the living room.  In the kitchen, he saw Booth with his back to him, making coffee.  When he turned around, Aubrey realized that his friend looked exhausted.

           “Good morning, Aubrey.  Must be nice to sleep past 11:00.”, Booth said before pointing to the center island, where a bottle of water sat.  “There’s some aspirin for you.  I’m making a pot of coffee so you can get your bearings, and then we’re going to have a little chat.”

           The younger man’s head bent down.  “Shit.”, he said in a low tone before walking over to the counter.  Hoping to delay the inevitable, Aubrey changed the subject.

           “Where’s Doctor B and the kids?”

           “Hank and Christine are next door and Bones is out of town.”  Booth said before taking a breath.  “Russ called us about 4:00 this morning.  They had to take Hayley to Duke University Hospital.”

           “That’s your niece, right?”, Aubrey asked.  “The one with cystic fibrosis?”

           “Yeah.”  Booth nodded as he poured two cups of coffee.  He brought one to Aubrey with a shaker of cinnamon.  “She’s developed pneumonia and whatever antibiotic they gave her by IV is giving her issues with her kidneys.  She’s getting another antibiotic now to see if that can be used.”

           “How old is she?”

           “Fifteen.”, Booth said.  “Bones went down to help with Emma while Russ and Amy are camping out at the hospital.  She also called a specialist friend of hers that is at Duke right now with Hayley.”

           “Sorry, Booth.”, Aubrey said.

           “Thank you, Aubrey.”, Booth said.  “Now finish your coffee.”

           For the next ten minutes, Aubrey nursed his coffee. By the time he finished his cup, he graduated from praying for death to feeling like hammered shit.  He got up and moved slowly towards the coffee machine.  As he poured another cup of the sweet nectar of life, he saw Booth watching him intently.

           “Booth, stop staring at me.  It’s creepy.”

           “No problem.”, the other man said.  “Now sit down.”

           Aubrey knew better than to fight with his ride home so he sat down and faced to his friend.  “I’m ready.”

          Booth leaned against the sink and crossed his arms as he glared at his friend, just like he did when he wanted to make a suspect squirm.  “I was not happy to get a phone call from Mike at 12:30 in the morning saying that a fellow Special Agent in Charge was wasted at his bar.”

           It was the first time Aubrey had an inkling of what a suspect felt like in a Booth interrogation.  “I…had a bad night.”

           “Oh, I remember Karen annoying the hell out of you...and all of us at the wedding, but that’s not why you got yourself so drunk you couldn’t even walk.  What really happened, Aubrey?”, Booth asked before he made a realization.  “Jessica...something happened with her, didn’t it?”

           Taking a breath, the agent told Booth about Karen kissing him, taking Jessica home, and Gerald’s presence.  He hesitated, but then told him about the fight they’d had.

           “She slapped you?  Jessica?”, Booth said.  “Jesus...I guess you must’ve really fucked up good.”

           “Yes…I did, and I deserved what I got. I practically called her a whore and I was an asshole.”  Aubrey moaned before putting his head in his arms.  “My life is a big clusterfuck right now and I can’t figure out why.”

           Booth stared in disbelief.  “Really?”  

           “Yes, really Booth.”, Aubrey said.  “Professionally, I’m now the SAC of the Major Crimes division, one of the youngest in FBI history.  I’m going places, and I know I should be happy, but my love life sucks.”

          Booth took a drink of his coffee and decided to poke the dragon.  “It can’t be that bad since you have Karen now.”

           “I have Karen?”, Aubrey asked, staring at his friend in surprise.  “What are you talking out, Booth?”

           “Karen…your very annoying girlfriend?  You remember...tall, big glasses, never knows when to shut her mouth...”

           Aubrey’s eyes got large.  “She’s not my girlfriend, Booth.”

           He hated to lower the boom, but the older man knew it had to be done.  “That’s not what the scuttlebutt around the office is saying….”

           It took a second for Booth’s words to sink in.  “W-what?  What are you talking about?”, Aubrey stammered.

           “You really don’t know, do you?”, Booth said.  When Aubrey answered in the negative, he continued.  “Apparently you’re carrying on a hot affair with Karen Delfs almost every day in your office at lunch.  Really like those redheads, don’t you?”

           “Why do people keep saying that?”, Aubrey said, obviously irritated.  “Karen and I aren’t having any kind of affair, Booth.  I went out to dinner with her twice as friends because I needed someone to talk to about Jessica and we hung out a few times to talk.  I figured since she and Jessica were friends, maybe she could help me get her back.  I’ve never been interested in Karen in that way…ever.  She’s nice, but really irritating after a while.”

           “Well, she visits your office almost every day…”

           “Because she has made it her mission to ‘console’ me.”

           “So, you’re figured out finally that she’s interested in you as more than a friend?”, Booth asked quietly.  “If you are not into her that way, tell her, Aubrey.”

           “I did, last night after the wedding when she tried grabbing my junk and told me about her pink panties.  I think she was trying to turn me on so I would invite her home with me for sex.  A hook up with Karen? I would rather eat soy cheese.”

             “What else is going on, Aubrey?”, Booth asked.  “Angela said you and Jessica had a bit of a…discussion in her office last week, too.”

          The younger man took a drink of his coffee.  “She overheard me telling Angela that I was going to the wedding with Karen and it upset her.  I tried to tell her it wasn’t a date but she got on her high horse about how quickly I moved on from her, how I was full of it when I said I loved her and wanted a commitment, but moved right on to Karen, who thinks I’m perfect.”

           Booth nodded as Aubrey continued.  “Where does she get off getting all high and mighty?  She dumped me, remember?  She said we had no future together…not in LA and not in DC.  At the Vacchio crime scene, she completely froze me out.  Of course, it’s probably because Gerald Maxwell’s her new boyfriend.”

           “He wasn’t just her date for the wedding?  Did she tell you that they’re now together?”,  Booth asked.  He was really surprised.  From what Bones had said last night, Jessica hadn’t gone on any dates since she broke up with Aubrey.  

           “No.”, Aubrey said, his voice cracking.  “She didn’t have to.  Why else would she ignore me at the crime scene like that?  She wouldn’t even…look at me, Booth.  She just acted like I was just a bee buzzing by her head.  If it wasn’t for the fact Gerald got shitfaced at the reception, he would have taken her home and spent the night.”

           “Why did you go to the wedding with Karen, Aubrey?  Hell, why did you even go?”,  Booth asked.  “You were dead set against going when I asked if you wanted to come with Bones and me, saying you had better things to do.”

          Aubrey began to squirm.  “Because the Pixlers were having barbecue at the reception, obviously.”

          Booth took a drink and pressed further.  “Is that the only reason, Aubrey?”

          The younger man tried avoiding Booth’s eyes, but they dogged him.  “Karen thought it would be a good idea to show Jessica I’m moving on, so she suggested we go together.”

          ‘This just keeps getting better.’  Booth thought to himself.  “Wait, you didn’t ask her to be your date?”

           “No, Booth.”, Aubrey said.  “I didn't want to go at all, but...I needed to see this guy Jessica decided was better for her than me.  Out of all the guys, she chose that conceited, one night stand butthole.  God, he was such a pig.”

           “You went to a wedding with someone you can barely tolerate just to see the supposed new boyfriend of your ex-girlfriend that you’d never heard about by name until you got there?”,  Booth asked, dumbfounded at his friend.  “When you got there, did you ask Jessica if she was seeing him or did she come out and tell you they were an item?”

           Aubrey grabbed a nearby napkin that he started to wring before ripping it into little pieces.  “No, because Gerald kept...touching her...looking at her like a piece of meat...trying to grope her in public.   Ugh….what does she see in that veneer clad, fake tan, asshat piece of shit, anyway?  Besides, Karen was always close at my heels, so it’s not like I actually had a minute to even talk to Jessica about anything important.”

           “Was Jessica being close with Gerald, or was it all on his end?”, Booth asked, incredulous that his friend was such an idiot.  “Did it look to you like she was enjoying what he was doing?”

           “No, but it wasn’t like I was watching her all night.”

           “Bullshit, Aubrey.”,  Booth said.  “You were watching her all night just like she was watching you when she thought no one was looking.”

           Aubrey felt a flutter in his stomach, but pushed it away.  “Did not.  I had a date, you know.”

          “Believe me, Aubrey, we know.  Karen stalked you all night like a cat watching a mouse hole.  My God, did she even let you take a shit by yourself?”

          “Booth!”,  Aubrey said.  “Karen and I aren’t like that.”

           “So, you’ve said.”  Booth replied.  “When did you start going to Karen for advice about Jessica?”

           “I don’t know.  I didn’t really come right out and ask Karen for advice, you know?  But I was kind of worried about where Jessica and I were going in our relationship, because right before Jessica left for the University of Edinburgh...I tried telling her how I felt but when I said I was serious about her, she froze.  Of course, then she was offered that last minute spot in that bone calcification class and accepted it without even asking if I minded her being gone for three weeks. Not that I would have told her not to go, but it would have been nice to have my opinion be considered.  I’m just glad I had you guys and Karen to talk to while she was gone.  So while Karen and I were working a case together, she asked how things were going between Jessica and me, and since I thought they were friends, I asked her if I’d done the right thing, and she said yes.  Then, when Karen brought me chicken after Jessica dumped me, we talked some more...”

           “Wait, didn’t you and Jessica talk to each other almost every day while she was over there?”  Booth asked.  “I remember more than once you in your office talking to her before going home because Scotland is five hours ahead of us.  You even got up at the butt crack of dawn a few times.”

           “Yeah, but Jess and I couldn’t talk too long because she had class.”

            Patiently, Booth continued his line of questioning.  “Did you call Jessica when your dad was arrested?”

           Aubrey took a breath.  “Yeah.  She apologized for not being here but when she offered to get on a plane home I told her not to.  I promised her I was fine because I had you guys if I needed anything.  We ended up talking until like 2:00 in the morning before she had to go to her class.”

          Nodding, Booth continued.   “Did you two talk about your dad after she got home?”

           “Yeah.  She kept forcing the issue even when told her I didn’t want her involved in all that crap.  When I would reassure her that I wasn’t my dad, she got offended.  I mean, what was so wrong with that?”

           “Did you ask her about it?”, Booth asked.  “Maybe there was a reason she was upset when you would do that.”

           “No, because...well...after a while it didn’t matter, Booth.  Things were going well, but then that promotion to LA came up.  Yeah, Doctor B accidentally told her before I could, but when we talked later, she seemed okay with it.”

           “She found out about it from Bones, ripped you a new one six ways from Sunday, but later after you talked...Jessica was ‘okay with it’?”   

           “Yeah.”,  The younger man said before taking a drink of his coffee.  “I didn’t talk to her right away about moving with me, but I thought it was implied.  It was a little quick and…I wasn’t ready to live together but I thought we could still date in LA.  Eventually, we would probably get to living together and maybe more down the road.  I didn’t want to ask her to move to California with me at the crime scene, but Hodgins and Karen pushed me into it and it needed to be done.”

           Booth made a realization.  “I know we talked about you and Jessica going west.  I’m also remembering that you talked to Caroline, Karen, and Hodgins before Jessica caught the bouquet at Cam’s wedding.”  

             “Yeah…”, Aubrey said.  “What’s your point?”

            “My point is that you talked to four people about asking Jessica to move with you before you discussed it with her...the person it would affect the most.”  Booth put his cup down and looked Aubrey in the eye.  “Did it occur to you that your squintern might have been extremely hurt that you talked to everyone else but her, Aubrey?”

             “I needed advice, Booth.  I didn’t know what to do.”

             “I told you to talk to Jessica right away before making any decisions.  Why did you feel the need to not follow my advice?”

             “I…”,  Aubrey responded slowly, unable to come up with a good answer.  “Shit…”

             “Exactly.”  Booth saw Aubrey’s hesitation and decided he had a question that he needed answered.  “I’m going to ask you something and I want you to be honest with me.”

           The younger man couldn’t look his friend in the eye.  “All right.”

           “Before Jessica broke up with you, if she said she couldn’t come to LA…would you have stayed?”

           Aubrey didn’t hesitate.  “Yes.”

           “Even though you didn’t know there would be a promotion for you here at the DC field office?”

           “Yeah.”

           “Does she know that, Aubrey?”, Booth said.  “Have you told her that?”

           Aubrey shook his head.  “It doesn’t matter now.”

          “How do you know that?”, Booth said.  “You should tell her, Aubrey.”

           “And risk her telling me that I’m too late because she’s all into Asshole Maxwell now?  She’s moved on and I need to also.”

           Booth looked at his friend and decided he needed to know some hard truths.  “James Aubrey, grow the fuck up.”

           Shocked, Aubrey’s eyes bulged.  “Excuse me?  I’m the one with the broken heart here.”

           “Yeah, you are…because you’re being a dumbass.”

           “I’m not a dumbass, Booth.”

           Booth finished his coffee.  “You’re right.  You’re a bratty, immature dumbass!”

           “Bite me, Booth.”,  Aubrey said, pushing away from the counter.  “I don’t have to listen to this.”

          To the younger man’s surprise, Booth gripped him and held his arm to the counter.  “Yeah, you do, Aubrey.  Either you sit and listen to what I have to say or I’ll drop you off halfway to your apartment and you can walk the rest of the way home and find another way to get your government issued SUV.  Your choice.”

          Aubrey knew that Booth wasn’t bluffing.  Taking a deep breath, he sat back down.  “Go ahead, Booth.”

           “It seems to me you’re sad about the break up, but you’re also pissed off at her…maybe even trying to punish her.”

           Aubrey shook his head.  “No!  I would never do that to her, Booth.  I love her—“

           Booth didn’t let up.   “Then why are you throwing Karen in her face?”

           The younger man continued to be in denial.  “I’m not doing that.  I went with her to a wedding—“

           “Where Jessica just happened to be the maid of honor...where she would see you with another woman.  Not just any woman, but one that she knew has been pursuing you for months.”,  Booth said while tapping his finger on the island to make his points.  “Now, when did you find out she actually had a date?  Not when you thought, but when you…actually…knew.  Think carefully about your answer.”

          As he considered Booth’s question, Aubrey came to a realization.  “When I saw him at the wedding.”

           “I see.”,  Booth said.  “Now, you said Jessica overheard a conversation you had with Angela saying that you and Karen were hanging out, doing stuff, but not dating, right?”

           “Yeah, Jessica overheard it and got on her high horse.”

           “Got on her high horse.”, Booth said with a nod.  “Tell me, what did you and Jessica do before making things official?”

           “We used to go out most Fridays after work to Founding Fathers, hang out, have dinner…”,  Aubrey said before trailing off.  “...but I tried telling her it wasn’t like it was with Karen and me, and that I was still in love with her, but she got all pissed off.  She threw the things I said to her, like wanting a long term commitment, back in my face and yelled about how I moved on so quickly.”

             “So you responded how?”

             “I told her that she had no right to judge me and that I had the right to do what I wanted since she was the one that broke up with me...which I didn’t want.  Then I tried to apologize and get her to listen to me so we could get back together but she didn’t want to hear any of it.”

             “So Jessica blew you off after hearing all this and didn’t swoon over you.  What a shocker.”, Booth said sarcastically.  “What else did you do, Aubrey?  Don’t lie to me.”

             Aubrey developed a large knot in his stomach as he thought about those first few weeks after the breakup.  “I may...have...told her...right after we broke up that Karen had brought me a few meals just to let her know I’m a catch, but she has no right to be mad because she dumped me!  Now Karen’s thinking we’re a couple and we’re so not.  Why couldn’t Jessica just listen to me when I tried talking to her?  We could be together and happy now instead of both of us being miserable.”

             Booth knew he needed to be blunt.  “I see what’s going on now, Aubrey.  You stoked some jealousy in Jessica because you were angry and hurt that she broke up with you.  You went to Karen for advice because you wanted your squintern back.”

             “Yeah, I’m in love with her and I was desperate--”

             “But...instead of going to Angela, Daisy, Andie, or even Bones for advice, you went to someone that obviously had feelings for you other than friendship...someone who just happened to spend some time with your now ex-girlfriend.  Instead of just a dinner or one sit down, you went to multiple dinners together...alone.”

             “I didn’t want my business all over the FBI.  I don’t understand--”

             “You used Karen, Aubrey.”, Booth said bluntly.  “You don’t have any romantic feelings for her, but Karen’s interest in you flattered you.  Yes, you wanted Jessica, but you were hurt and alone, so you enjoyed another woman’s attention and interest while getting what you wanted.  However, you didn’t consider the consequences of your actions because you were so caught up in ‘me, me, me’.  Now, your little ego boost and childish antics have blown up in your face because Karen seems to think there’s more between you two…as does Jessica.”  

             “You make it sound—“

              Booth felt like he was talking to Parker instead of a man in his early thirties.  “You’re not in junior high anymore, Aubrey.  You’re an adult who should have outgrown this stupid shit by now.”

             “But Booth--”

              “You were right in your argument with Jessica that you had the right to date anyone you wanted and that what you did shouldn’t matter to her anymore.  But as much as you love her, you wanted her to hurt like you were hurting, and you succeeded, beautifully.  Congratulations. You’re officially an asshole.”

              “I didn’t--”

              “What...you didn’t know that Jessica had been hurt?  Then she finds out that her ex-boyfriend, whom it's obvious to everyone she still loves, is taking someone who is supposed to be her friend to a wedding where everyone will see them together?”

               “But Booth--”

              “Also, here’s a news flash for you, Dumbass.  Jessica doesn’t have a boyfriend nor has she gone on any dates since you two broke up.  Bones said a couple guys from work have asked her out since the breakup, but she’s turned them down.  She and Angela also told me that she didn’t have a date for the wedding until she found out YOU had one...with the one person who always had her eye on you before and during your relationship.”

          Surprised, Aubrey became dumbfounded.  “But—“

          “Oh, and Daisy let me know at the wedding that Karen wasn’t invited.  She manipulated you into inviting her, probably to rub Jessica’s nose into the relationship rumor that you unknowingly encouraged.  You, being the idiot who assumed things, were easy pickings.”

           “I didn’t mean to—“

           “Almost forgot.  Bones also said that Karen has been bothering Jessica the last few weeks.  She ran into her and Daisy at the diner the day you two had that blow up in Angela’s office, showing off her dress and bragged about how much time you two spend together.  She topped that off with a phone call she said was from you calling her back on important FBI business.”

           “I didn’t talk to her at all that day—“

           Booth continued, knowing how important it was to make Aubrey see things as they really were.  “She came to the lab on Friday.  Bones doesn’t know what was said, but Jessica was very upset afterwards.”

          Aubrey felt his stomach drop.  “I…I…”

          “My opinion, that rumor about you two?  Not only is Karen visiting you because she’s interested and knows it will start gossip, I think she started it.  You want to know how I heard about it?”

           Aubrey took a deep breath.  “Hit me.”

           “At the Vacchio crime scene.  I overheard Agents Keller and Westbrook talking about it…quite vocally with a couple of other agents.  Let’s just say they were really blunt about how they think you spend your time with Karen during lunch, and it doesn’t involve food. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jessica overheard them, too.  Hodgins said when she saw you working the scene she smiled and kept peeking at you.  Then after she came back from getting equipment, her whole demeanor changed.  After you left, she was very quiet and obviously upset.”

           The younger man let Booth’s last words sink in before remembering that day.  She seemed pleasant from what he observed when he arrived, and he’d enjoyed checking her out when she wasn’t looking.  Then, after he got after the two agents for harassing her, she was surly and completely shut him out.

           Sitting back, he felt tears in his eyes as he finally hit him how bad things were.  Gulping, he looked to his friend.  “Booth…what do I do?”

           The older man set his cup down.  “First, own up to what you did.  Jessica fucked up, too but you were an asshole with both her and Karen.  If you had let it lie, you two may be back together now without all his drama...or at least rebuilding your friendship.  Karen should have known better but she did take advantage of you.  However, you did the same thing and you owe her an apology.”

             When Aubrey nodded, Booth continued.  “Which leads to my next point.  You didn’t mean to, but you led Karen on so you need to nip this Karen problem in the bud now.  Don’t be available for her to visit for lunch or be so willing to go to dinner with her.  Go to lunch with Bones and me or come over for dinner here sometimes.  You’re the SAC of Major Crimes and have more to do than have some profiler fawn all over you.  Hopefully, that will work.  If not, you’re going to have to be blunt with her, even to the point of hurting her feelings.

          “I told her last night I just wanted to be friends after she...you know.”

           “Good, Aubrey.  Good start.”, Booth said.  “Next, leave Jessica alone for a few days.  She needs some space, buddy, because I think she’s been bombarded enough of late.”

           Aubrey was shaking his head.  “But I need to apologize--”

          “Yeah, you do, but don’t do it at the lab or the FBI.  Maybe call her in a few days and ask her to meet you somewhere away from work.  If she won’t, write her a letter if you have to.  Just remember that when you do finally talk to her, don’t make excuses but be honest.  You fucked up good, Aubrey.  She’s not innocent of blame, but you have to take your share of it.  Not just for this weekend, but for your break up, too.”

          Booth finished his coffee.  “Finally, you need to do some long and hard soul searching.  A relationship takes two people, Aubrey.  I can’t see her not being ready to move with you to LA being the main reason for this break up.  Be honest with yourself, because in my opinion, neither of you two are ready for a real relationship.”

         “Why do you say that?”, Aubrey said.

           “Aubrey, when two people are in a relationship, they talk to each other before making big decisions that affect the other.  They communicate to each other when they feel something is off or are uncomfortable, not to everyone else.  Both of you swept things under the rug out of fear.  Why?  That, my friend, is what you need to figure out.”

             “Yeah…”,  Aubrey said with a nod.

             “When you do that, then think about what you want for your future with Jessica, whether it is professional, friendship, and/or being lovers again.  Yeah, you’re in love with Jessica and it’s obvious she’s still in love with you, but a real relationship takes work, Aubrey.  It’s not just great sex and doing nerd shit together.  It’s hard, occasionally painful, but the best thing in the world.  Anything easy is not worth much and I think you’re finding that out now.”

           The younger man traced his finger across the counter.  He had a question in mind, but debated on how to ask before deciding to go for it.  “Is that what you and Doctor B did after you two came back from Afghanistan and wherever she was all those years ago?”

           Booth wasn’t prepared for that question.  It was a time in his life he and his wife tried not to discuss because it only brought up old hurts.  However, his friend needed honesty and he would give it to him.

             “We...were both hurting.  Hannah was a lifeline when I needed it the most.  I was so determined to move on past Bones that I built this...dream around Hannah and worked my tail off to make things perfect.  Bones was...an intrusion into that perfection.”

             “Why?”, Aubrey asked.  “She was your best friend.”

            “Because Aubrey, she broke my heart and when I had found someone I could maybe build something with, Bones...made it messy and complicated.  Then, when she told me during the Lauren Eames case that she missed her chance...a part of me resented her.”

             The agent was confused.  “I would have thought you would be stoked.”

             “Back then, I wasn’t stoked.  I was angry that my attempt at moving on with my life was blown up in a few seconds.  Plus, I was involved with someone else and I wanted to honor that commitment and yes...I was angry at her for her timing.  However, it wasn’t until later that I realized that part of the issue was me.”

            “How?”, the younger man asked.

             “Because, Aubrey, the night I told her how I felt, I should have said I loved her and I would wait for her until she was ready.  Instead, I pushed and told her to take a damn chance on me.  I knew how Bones was about love, but I didn’t remember all that.  I had this vision that I needed to have marriage or nothing at all...that I needed the white picket fence...but I didn’t.  I really just needed her, but I was too stupid to figure that out.  So we just went along being friends and partners.”

              “That must have...been really difficult.”,  Aubrey said.  “But you two got together after Hannah left, right?”

              “Not exactly.”,  Booth said before crossing his arms.  He looked down for a minute as he chose his words before looking up.  “When Hannah left, I was so angry at the world...at love…the women I wanted to give myself to didn’t seem to want me.  The night Hannah turned down my proposal--”

               The younger man almost dropped his coffee cup.  “Holy shit, you proposed to her?”

               Booth answered by leaning in.  “Do you want to hear this story or not, Aubrey?”

               “Sorry…”, Aubrey said.  “H-how did you two work it out?”  

               “Hannah called Bones, and later that night she found me drunk at Founding Fathers, much like I found you last night.  I gave her the choice to stay and drink or leave and we were no longer partners.  Bones didn’t leave...just sat with me and drank shots.  After that, no matter what I was feeling, she was there, Aubrey.  She helped me get through Valentine’s Day and each day after that.  After a while, we started putting our friendship back together.  We hadn’t forgotten about our feelings for each other and we knew we needed to talk, but getting there…”

             Booth took a breath.  “One day, we got stuck in an elevator during a blizzard while bringing my stadium seats up to my apartment.  Sweets hounded us to talk about stuff, but when he brought up Hannah, I threw some frozen peas at him.  When he left, we talked a little bit, but we figured out who our killer was when the electricity came back on.  After arresting our suspect, I was given medication because I was exposed to some Conga virus--”

              “What?”, Aubrey asked.

             “Never mind.”, Booth said.  “Anyway, we went up to my apartment and had something to eat.  After we settled in, we finished our talk.  It was awkward, but we made a decision to work on our difficulties with the goal of someday being together.  We never stopped talking after that and we kept our lines of communication open, Aubrey.  By trusting in our friendship again, it helped guide us to where we got Christine, a life together, then Hank.”

             Aubrey thought how the world dropped out from under him that day in the interrogation room.  As he looked back he realized he was so caught up in his hurt about Jessica, he didn’t see how confiding in Karen and her presence had made things worse.  It shamed him as she realized Booth was right about his actions with Karen.  He knew how the other woman felt about him, but he didn’t care.  He just wanted his ex-girlfriend’s attention and was going to get it, no matter what.

             Maybe Booth was also right about Jessica.  Perhaps deep down, he was angry that the redhead broke through his defenses and left him behind.  All he wanted was for her to reconsider so the emptiness would be gone and instead it blew up in his face and alienated her.

           “Do you think Jess and I will get back together?”, Aubrey said as a tear fell.  “I love her so much it hurts and to think I hurt her that much kills me.”

           Booth crossed his arms.  “No guarantees…but I think if any two people can do it, it’s you two.  I just hope you two can work through your stuff so you don’t wait years to be together like Bones and I…or even Hodgins and Angela.  Most important, Aubrey…don’t rush her.  You tell her you will wait as long as it takes because it’s going to take time for both of you to move past all this, whether you get back together or just be friends again.”

           “Okay.”, the younger man said as he wiped his tears away.  Getting up, he rushed Booth with a bear hug.

          “Whoa….whoa.”, Booth said.  “Okay…Aubrey, enough hugging.”

           “Sorry.”, he said.  “Can I get a ride to Founding Fathers now to get my SUV?”

           “Sure.”, Booth said.  “I just have to run next door and let them know I’m leaving for a bit in case the kids need something.”

           “Wait, Booth?”, Aubrey said.  When the other man turned around, he spoke.  “Can we stop at the diner first?  I’m kind of hungry.”


           Ninety minutes later, Aubrey walked into his apartment with an invitation to dinner later with Booth and the kids.  He still felt like crap, but not as badly as this morning.  As he shut the door, Skinner greeted him with an accusing meow.

           “Hey buddy.  Sorry Daddy wasn’t home.  I got drunk because I was sad about your Aunt Jessica.  Let’s get you some food, shall we?”

           The agent fed his cat, who munched happily.  Realizing that he had some time, he decided to get his apartment to rights.  He put fresh towels in his bathroom, gathered up clothes and other items to do laundry, scooped out Skinner’s litter box, and cleaned out the fridge for trash collection the next day.

            When Aubrey went to strip his bed, he stopped.  Not yet.  He wasn’t ready.

 */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

          By 4:00, he had finished putting the last load of laundry away in his dresser and was ready to chill for a few before showering.  Going into his living room, he plopped down in the chair.  He felt a sense of accomplishment, something that hadn’t been around since the breakup.  He was hopeful for the future after his talk with Booth.

             Seeing he had a text message, he saw it was Angela asking him to drop off Daisy’s stuff at her house.  It burned for a moment that Jessica couldn’t ask him, but she needed some space and he couldn’t blame her.  Responding back, he let her know he could do it on his way to Booth and Doctor’s B’s for dinner.

               Putting his phone down, he looked up at his wall and his eyes got large.  Getting up, he moved over to be sure but there was no doubt.  

               All his pictures of him and Jessica were gone.

              Nothing else was missing, so what the hell was going on?  He searched his living room for several minutes before going into his spare bedroom.  Looking at his Star Wars lunch box and his Ewoks, he saw they had been moved and it hit him.

              Going back out, he looked into the living room closet and saw the wrapped blanket on the floor.  Picking it up, he recognized it as one of Jessica’s old ones.  He knew he should tell her she forgot it but he couldn’t part with it.  Feeling the weight, he carried them to the couch and unwrapped the blanket gingerly, where the photo of him and Jessica at Booth and Brennan’s backyard picnic they had the weekend in June revealed itself.

           They had so much fun that day and it spilled over as they made love the first time that night at Jessica’s apartment when he took her home…and twice more after that, including once that next morning.

           He knew it had to be Karen who’d tampered with them while he was getting dressed yesterday.  Who else would remove only Jessica’s pictures?  Holding back his fury, he hung them back up where they belonged and set the blanket on the couch.  Sitting down, he contemplated his next move.

          This was obviously done before he told her he wasn’t interested, so he would just make himself unavailable to her unless it was work related.  Perhaps that would clear things up.  If it didn’t, he would go further, but he hoped to avoid that.

           Making his decision, he walked back into the bathroom to take a shower and get ready to head over to the Booth-Brennan home for dinner.


            At 10:30 pm, Karen was in bed going over notes for profiles she needed to present to Charlie Burns in International Operations and for the joint case for Aubrey’s Major Crimes and Booth’s Homicide Divisions.  When satisfied, she put them aside and thought about Aubrey.

           He said he wanted to be friends, but he didn’t call her to yell about his missing pictures from the living room.  Surely, he noticed it by now while with his asshole feline.  When she and Aubrey made things official, the first thing to go would be that fucking cat.  She wouldn’t tolerate disrespect and the agent would get over it in time.  Cats were a dime a dozen.

           She knew she’d gone too far at the wedding.  In her eagerness to imprint herself in James Aubrey’s life, she overstepped by criticizing Jessica in front of him and his friends.  She knew that in time she could win them over.  All she needed to do was have patience and continue to keep the forensic anthropologist intern off kilter.

           However, her patience with the man was wearing thin.  She needed to find a way to speed the process along.  It was getting more difficult to keep that flighty redhead angry at her ex-boyfriend.  It was even more difficult to keep her hands off her Aubrey and that ass…

           She tried implanting a subtle wedge between the two during the summer after she returned from Kansas City.  It took all she had to tolerate the indifferent attitudes of Jessica’s friends.  She was a brilliant psychologist, though, and played up to what the redhead needed, which was another older sister.  However, nothing had worked so she decided to be Aubrey’s friend instead.  Once his father was arrested, she put her feelings aside to be there for him.  

           Even when Aubrey’s LA promotion came up, she played his friend, especially once she realized those two could self-destruct on their own with their neurosis.  Aubrey’s reaction at the wedding and his intoxication had helped her a great deal.  Being goaded into asking her to move with him at the crime scene was even better.

            Of course she helped him when he and Jessica broke up because he needed someone to talk to.  She cared enough to be honest with him when he asked her advice.

           Then, when they didn’t get back together within a couple of weeks, she knew she had a chance.  If they were so meant to be then they should have been a couple again by now.  In Karen’s view, Jessica had her chance and blew it.  Now, it was her turn.

            Karen wanted to be there for him in his time of need, but he seemed to be taking her for granted.  She pondered for a moment before coming up with a solution.  Maybe the problem was she was too available for him.   

             Yes, she needed to send him a message that she would not be ignored just because he was having second thoughts about their evolving relationship.  Aubrey needed to realize that the person he needed in his life...and in his bed, was not some flighty redhead but a woman whom would be more suitable for his future.  It was time she got something for herself and the Jessicas of the world could find another Star Wars geek of their own.  She wanted a prize that she could show off for a change.  

             James Aubrey would be hers...and only hers.

             Now, how to accomplish that?  She was thinking when her phone rang.  Seeing who it was, she picked up.

            “Hey, Jake.  What’s up?”, Karen said.  “No kidding…of course I can.  I have my profiles done for IO and the Vacchio case for Agents Aubrey and Booth.  I’ll email them tonight and leave my number for any questions.”

            The profiler jumped on a website.  “Yeah, I’m looking at flights now.  I’ll take the expense report to the Seattle office for the ticket.  Am I just taking Janis’ room at the hotel?”

            Karen listened as she picked her flight.  “Great.  Yes, I’ve got my ticket now to fly out at 9:30 AM.  I’ll just get a car at the field office…no problem, Jake.  I’m a team player, remember?  All right.  Tell Janis I hope her daughter is okay and I’ve got her back…no problem.  Good night.”

          Karen hung up and chuckled.  The perfect answer to her issue.  Since Aubrey thought women like her grew on trees, she’d just make herself unavailable because she was needed by the Seattle field office.  By the time she got home, he’d regret blowing off a chance at sex with her.

           Saving her profiles, she sent them to the agents along with an explanation of where she was going.  Remembering to leave contact information, she finished the emails and shut down her laptop.  Getting up, she grabbed her small suitcase and began packing.

           Aubrey would miss her and her sage advice so much that he’d be waiting desperately for her phone call.   Then, when she returned, she’d have him back.

Chapter Text

                  On Wednesday morning, Jessica Warren grumbled to herself as she walked up the steps to the lab platform, wishing that she hadn’t glanced at the calendar in her locker.  This coming Saturday had been circled several times with a red marker, and she’d even gone so far as to draw hearts around the number.

                  “So stupid...making a big deal out of a day of the week.”  

                   Drawing a shuddering sigh, she tried to convince herself that it was no big deal, but without much success.  She had been looking forward to going to the Star Wars Convention with James for months.  They’d decided what their costumes would be and had looked over the agenda carefully to choose which breakout sessions they’d wanted to attend.

                   Of course, that was before all Hell broke loose with Booth’s suggestion that he take a promotion and move to Los Angeles.  Now they were no longer a couple and her ex-boyfriend would probably want to share his love for the movies about a galaxy far, far away with Karen instead.  

                   Shaking her head as she pulled on her exam gloves, Jessica scolded herself as she prepared to assemble a random set of newly cleaned bones into a skeleton.   

                  ‘I broke up with him because I thought it was the right thing to do, and now I have to deal with the consequences of that decision.  Our relationship wasn’t going anywhere, and I want something different from my life. I’m an adult, and I understand that it’s natural that he’d want to move on to someone new.  I can’t have it both ways…maybe I need to find someone new as well…’

                  “Are you alright, Sweetie?”  Walking onto the platform, Angela smiled kindly at the young intern.  “You seem upset.  Anything you want to talk about?”

                 “Oh.  Hi, Angela.”  Pinching her lips together, Jessica quickly turned away from her friend and continued her work on the remains.  “I’m fine.  It’s nothing…”, she sniffled.  “I’ve just got something in my eye, that’s all.”  

                 “I know better than that, Jessica.”  Angela came over to stand next to her young friend.  “I think something else is bothering you.  You’re not still upset about Aubrey and Karen being at the wedding together, are you?  Because I know for a fact he did not enjoy spending time with her at the reception.  He was miserable, okay?  She was pretty obnoxious, and I think there were a couple of times when he was ready to choke her…”

                  “I’ve gotten over that whole wedding date thing.  Aubrey can date whoever he wants. I don’t care about that anymore.”  Jessica knew she was lying, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit the truth, not even to Angela.  “It’s just...this is so silly...we were supposed to go to a Star Wars convention together this weekend, and now we’re not a couple, and it makes me sad…we always had so much fun together when we went to things like that...we made plans months ago, and now...”

                  Angela nodded as she commiserated with Jessica.  “I understand.  Sometimes that’s the hardest part about breaking up...changing the long range plans you’ve made...lots of plans had to be changed, right?”  

                   Seeing Jessica quickly wipe away a tear, Angela continued softly.  “I guess you could go by yourself…or maybe you should call Aubrey and ask him about it.  I bet he’d be thrilled to go to the convention with you.  He probably doesn’t want to go by himself either.”

                   “Actually, I don’t think I’ll go at all.  It wouldn’t be much fun to go by myself, and I think it would be really awkward to call Aubrey and ask him to go with me, especially if he’s serious about Karen.”  Jessica tried to shrug off her tears as she ignored Angela’s irritated glare.   Sniffling again, she quickly turned back to the skeleton.  “I need to focus on my work right now anyway…”

                   “Okay, if you say so, Sweetie.  Personally, I think you’re making a big mistake when it comes to Aubrey.  I know he still loves you very much.  He couldn’t take his eyes off you at Daisy’s wedding.”

                   He still loves me, huh? Jessica thought as she examined a femur.  If he’s still so in love with me, why hasn’t he tried calling me, or emailed me an apology for his shitty attitude after the wedding?  Why isn’t he trying to win me back?

                    Obviously, it was because he’d found himself another quirky redheaded chick.

                    Hearing Jessica’s exasperated sigh, Angela nodded as she picked up her tablet.  “I guess I’ll go work on the facial reconstruction.”  Reaching over to pat Jessica’s hand, the artist tried to comfort her friend.  “You know, I think everything’s going to work out just fine.  You’ll see.  You and Aubrey belong together.”

                   “Thanks, but I’m not going to hold my breath when it comes to us getting back together.  Now, I really need to take these measurements.”  

                   When her friend walked away, Jessica began to closely examine the wound tracks on the bone.  Dr. Brennan had often commented that concentrating on her work had often helped her forget about things that bothered her.  However, it remained in her thoughts.

                  ‘Maybe Angela is right and I should go to the convention by myself.  Why should I miss out on something I love just because I’m no longer with Aubrey?’

                   It annoyed the intern that she couldn’t totally commit to that idea.  Deciding to put those thoughts aside for the time being, she sighed softly as she picked up a fibula to examine it under the microscope.  She was so intent on her task that she didn’t hear her visitor approach.

                  He finally cleared his throat loudly.  “Good morning, Jessica…”

                   Startled, she turned quickly toward the man’s voice.  “Oh….hi, Gerald.”  Trying to hide her disappointment, she adjusted the focus on the microscope and continued to study the bone.  “I’m really busy right now.”

                  “I know...but I wonder if we could talk for a few minutes.”  Gerald shifted from one foot to another nervously.  “Or, rather, maybe I could talk to you, if you don’t mind, that is.  Listen, I know I was a jerk at the wedding…”

                   Flipping her ponytail over her shoulder, Jessica gave him a cold glare as she turned from the microscope. “Yes, you were a real jerk.  I was so embarrassed by your crude behavior.  I mean, first you were pawing at me in front of everyone, then you got so drunk you couldn’t take me home like you’d said you would and I had to beg for a ride with someone else.  That’s not really the way to impress your date, is it?  Anyway, I have work to do, so...”  She removed the specimen from the stage, and replaced it with another bone.

                  “No, you’re right.  I know I made a bad impression, but I was nervous.  I mean, you’re really cute and I wanted to be smooth, you know? And then meeting your old boyfriend kind of put me on edge, and I just didn’t handle things well.”  

                  Obviously surprised, Jessica turned back toward Gerald. “How did you know he was my old boyfriend?”, she asked impatiently.

                   “I remembered seeing him on the news and I overheard a couple people talking about him...how you two were an item.”  Gerald managed to look suitably contrite as he continued.  “Anyway, I was wondering if I could have a second chance with you.”  

                   Seeing Jessica’s scowl, he held up his hands in surrender.  “I know I don’t deserve it, but maybe we could hang out together this weekend...that is, if you’re not busy.  You’ll see...I’m not really a bad guy…”  

                  “Really?”  The redhead replied as she crossed her arms.

                  Gerald responded by flashing a brilliant smile and going for the jugular.  “C’mon, Jessica...it’ll be fun.  You aren’t going to just sit around this weekend waiting for that idiot to call, are you?  I mean, I’m sorry to say this, but I think he’s really into that weird chick he was with at the wedding...”

                  She thought over Gerald’s invitation carefully, realizing that this might be the opportunity she needed to move on, especially if Aubrey was now interested in Karen.  

                 “Well...I was thinking about going to the Star Wars Convention at the Dulles Center this weekend...maybe you could meet me there about ten Saturday morning.”  She gave him a shrug and a small smile.  “A lot of people attend in costume, if you’re into that sort of thing…personally, I love cosplay.”

                 “Yeah, that sounds like fun.”  Gerald nodded enthusiastically.  “I’ve even got a costume to wear.  Okay, great.  10:00 on Saturday morning.  I’ll call you when I get there.”

                 “Okay.”  Jessica nodded toward the bones.  “I have to get back to work…”

                 “Yeah, I do, too.  Dr. Miller can be a pain in the ass if he thinks I’m slacking.  I’ll see you Saturday.”  

                 Waving at Jessica as he left the platform, Gerald smirked to himself as he walked back to the antiquities department.  Spending Saturday afternoon with a bunch of geeks wasn’t really his cup of tea, but it would be worth it if it got him into Jessica’s pants that evening.  He’d heard the rumors that she was a great lay and he couldn’t wait to find out for himself.


                  Thursday morning, Brennan returned to DC.  After a quick lunch with Booth, she returned to the lab to get caught up on things due to her unexpected absence.  Everyone was happy for her as she talked about Hayley’s dramatic improvement after her specialist friend switched her niece’s protocol with a new antibiotic.  

                 As her mentor was working in her office, Jessica was helping Hodgins set up a demonstration to determine the distance of the assailant to the victim.  Aubrey’s thoughts were if it was at close range, then the victim knew his killer.  The artist could do a demonstration on the Angelatron, but Hodgins had a better idea.

                “So, Curly, we’re using these silicone Spam blend heads to measure distance?”

                The entomologist wheeled his way over with the last dummy.  “Yes, Jessica.  The silicone spam simulates human tissue on the cheap.  Plus, it’s a lot more fun than a computer simulation.”

                “Cool.”

                Hodgins looked around.  “Crap, forgot the blank ammo.  Can you finish setting up the wall behind the targets while I get the ammo?”

                “Sure can, Curly.”, Jessica said.

                As the scientist wheeled away, Jessica worked on the final touches of stabilizing the wall.  She loved helping Curly with his experiments.  They both believed Aubrey’s theory was correct, but as Hodgins said a long time ago, ‘…these experiments are vital for confirming our data.  You can never be too thorough.’

                 As she worked, she looked up and saw her ex enter Brennan’s office.  She felt a little wave of excitement but she pushed it down, trying to focus on the task at hand.  She assumed that when he was finished talking to Dr. B he would stop by and apologize for what happened Saturday.  Jessica smiled to herself. She wouldn’t let him off scot free but she knew he was a gentleman, and he didn’t mean the things he said.  

                When she finished setting things up, she turned around only to see her Aubrey leaving the lab, and she was furious.  He was an ass to her Saturday night and apparently he came by today to spy on her with some stupid excuse regarding the case.  Before her mind wandered further, Hodgins arrived back and the two arranged their weapons to get the correct angle.

                “Ready to shoot some Spam, Ms. Warren?”

                “More than ready, Curly.”, Jessica said as she aimed at her target with glee.

                 The self-proclaimed “King of the Lab” noted the redhead’s extreme enthusiasm for the targets and her impressive aim.  He realized she probably saw Aubrey talking to Brennan earlier and decided it was time to take the gun away.

                “Well, Jessica, the bullet entered the victim at a distance of no more than two feet.”

                 “So Vacchio knew his killer.”, Jessica said.  “I had a vibe that he had to know his assailant to allow the shooter to get so close.”

                 “I think your vibe is right, Jessica.  Now, I’ll clean this up and you call Aubrey with what we found.”

                 “Um….”, Jessica said.  “I can clean this up, Curly.”

                 “I got this.”, Hodgins said, knowing what the redhead was up to.  He felt for her but he had to be her boss at that moment.  “Please call Aubrey immediately...that’s not a request, Jessica.”

                 “Of course, Dr. Hodgins.”, the redhead replied, embarrassed at her chastisement.

                 “Thank you.”  Hodgins said before going to work on the mess left by their experiment.

                 Pulling off her gloves, she tossed them in the trash before washing her hands.  When done, she pulled out her phone.  Without thinking, she found him on speed dial and pushed his number.  Hearing it ring, she felt butterflies in her stomach.  When she heard his voice mail, she felt a mix of relief and regret.

                 “Aubrey, this is Jessica.  Curly and I did an experiment and figured out that Vacchio’s killer was no more than two feet away from him.  It was definitely someone that he knew.  Just wanted to let you know.”

                 The redhead hung up the phone.  Before she could put it in her pocket, she felt a buzz.  When she read the text message, she felt her blood begin to boil.

                 Have hot d8 w Aubrey Sat nite.  Going 2 VS l8r.  What kind of panties does he like?  We’re so going 2 fuck.

                 Jessica let out a loud growl and she barely held herself back from throwing her phone.  Turning around, she saw Doctor B and Angela walking towards her.

                 “Ms. Warren, you seem stressed.”, the anthropologist said.  “However, I do need an update on your findings for the case.  How about we get a cup of coffee?  It’s a lovely day out.”

                 Embarrassed for her emotional outburst, she put her phone in her coat pocket.  “Sure.  Sounds good.”


                Twenty minutes later, Brennan and Angela were enjoying coffee while Jessica had her catnip tea in the courtyard.  The older women listened to the younger one vent her frustrations.

               “It’s bad enough she acts like she’s my friend, but now Aubrey’s dating her, although he denies it.  He also brought her to Daisy’s wedding but according to him it wasn’t really a date.  Then he got his boxers in a twist because I brought Gerald, accusing me of wanting him because he was perfect.  I mean, what the hell, right?”

                 The two women merely nodded.

                 “He says it’s not the same as it was with me.  Apparently he misses me so much and he still loves me, but he’s boffing Karen in his office almost every day.  It didn’t take him long to go back into circulation…”

                “Wow…”, Angela said.

                “Yeah…get this.”, Jessica said with a sniffle.  “He said if I wouldn’t jump to conclusions and actually listen to him, I would know that there’s no one else in his life and he would never hurt me like that, but he did.  He always shut me out in regards to his father and constantly reminded me that he wasn’t like the fucking douchebag, because apparently I’m shallow that way.  First he doesn't tell me himself that he may accept a promotion 3000 miles away, so instead I find out from my graduate advisor.  Then, he avoids me because he’s too much of a chicken shit to talk to me about it…”  

                 Brennan had a comment, but kept it to herself.  Instead, she and Angela took simultaneous drinks of their coffee as the intern continued to speak.

                 “...Now, we can’t forget Dr. Saroyan’s wedding where he talks about me to everyone except me about how he feels about things, and then he gets shit faced after I catch the bouquet. He was terrified that I might think that stupid tradition might mean something, I guess. Then he asks me to move all the way across the country with him…at a damn crime scene and only after Curly and Karen push him into it.”

                “Hmm…”, Brennan said.

                “Obviously, I did the right thing breaking up with him because if we loved each other enough, I would have moved with him to LA or he would have stayed here for me, but we didn’t.  I actually thought for a minute that he may have stayed in DC for me, but he stayed for Karen.  She’s obviously his new flavor of the month…one who thinks he’s just fucking perfect.”

                 “Jessica,”, Angela said.  “He told me they are not a couple and got really upset when I teased him about it.  How do you know Aubrey and Karen are hooking up?  Did she tell you herself?”

                “No.  I overheard two asshole agents at the scene talking about how she comes to his office every day for lunch and the curtains are drawn.  Apparently, it’s common knowledge at the Hoover.  It seems that Aubrey viewed our relationship differently than I did.”

                 Brennan looked at the young woman, who was wiping her eyes with her sleeve.  “Did you ask Aubrey about this or did you just assume it was true?”

                “Two of his agents said he was.  I think it’s fairly obvious, Doctor B.”, Jessica said before wiping her eyes again as fresh tears began to fall.  “All this talk of wanting a long term commitment and a future together was all bullshit.”

                Angela was about to speak when Brennan held her back.  “Ms. Warren, may I speak freely?”

                Jessica relaxed.  While she wrapped it up in clinical terms and was blunt, Doctor Brennan always knew what to say, as did Angela.  “Of course.”

                Remembering words of wisdom from Pops, Brennan spoke.  “Grow up and get a pair of steel ovaries.”

                Jessica’s eyes bugged out.  “W-what?”

               “It occurs to me that all of your issues with Aubrey are not based on fact, but on possible half-truths and rumor.  Not once have you faced him with your questions.”

              “Because I didn’t need to.”

               “No…because it was safer…easier.”, Brennan said in a serious tone.  “It’s easier to place all the blame on Aubrey instead of facing up to your part in your breakup and this current situation.”

               Her mentor’s words struck a nerve with the young woman.   “He’s the one who jumped into Karen’s panties after the wedding—“

               “Which he has a right to, since you are no longer a monogamous duo, but you have no confirmation of this other than innuendo and rumor.”, Brennan said firmly.  “However, I know for a fact he didn’t go home with Karen after the wedding.”

               “Yeah, how?”

               “Booth had to pick him up at Founding Fathers around 1:00 Sunday morning because he was extremely inebriated.  My husband said all he talked about on the way to our house was how much he missed and loved you...when he wasn’t talking about his cat, that is.”

                Jessica thought for a moment.  “He did?”

               “Yes, he did.  After Booth returned later from Mass and dropped our children off to our neighbor’s house for a playdate, he had a long, frank discussion with a very hungover Aubrey.  It seems that he was quite upset about seeing you with Gerald at the wedding.  I can also tell you that Dr. Delfs made a few derogatory comments about you at the wedding and Aubrey defended you.  Yes, they kissed, but according to Aubrey, it was uninvited and unwelcome.  Furthermore, that profiler”, Brennan said with a tone that made Angela smile.  “...made another sexual pass after he took you home, which he rejected, choosing instead to get himself inebriated.”

              “Oh.”, Jessica began.  “I--”

              “I’m not done yet, Ms. Warren.”, Brennan said firmly.  “He wasn’t planning on going to Daisy’s wedding, but he was quite upset after you were rude to him at the crime scene.  Of course, like you, he assumed that it was because you wanted a clean break with him and you had a new boyfriend.  It seems that Dr. Delfs talked him into attending with her, saying something to the regard that he needed to show you that he could move on, too.”

              “She probably used the fact there would be barbecue there.  Aubrey loves barbecue, especially Santa Maria style.”, Jessica said with a catch in her throat.  “But…”

“After listening to your account of the situation, it seems to me that perhaps Aubrey is just doing what you requested of him.  He is respecting your wishes by giving you space--”

              “Giving me space?  He’s using work to spy on me here.”, Jessica said in a halting voice.

              “How is that, Jessica?”, Angela said.

               "He came by work to see Dr. B earlier today, and he didn’t even look at me…he ignored me...”, Jessica said sadly.

               “Like you ignored him at the crime scene, Jessica?”,  Angela asked.  When she saw the realization in the redhead’s eyes, she continued.  “You can’t have it both ways, you know.”

                Jessica’s cheeks turned red as she realized her friend had a valid point.  Before she could ponder further, Brennan pressed forward.

                “As for your other theory, he was not here to spy on you.  He brought over some paperwork Booth needed me to sign, and then I gave him money to go to Philadelphia tonight to pick up my anniversary present for Booth.  He’s on a flight there now and is doing it so my husband won’t suspect anything as a favor to me.”

                Jessica felt a major case of the stupids come over her.  “Oh…”

                “As part of their discussion Sunday, my husband advised Aubrey about the rumors of his alleged sexual relationship with Karen.  Needless to say, his response after vigorous denial ranged from guilt over inadvertently leading Karen on to anger that you heard about it.”

                “But she always visited him for lunch--”

                “According to Aubrey, it was never due to invitation from him, but on her own in her attempts to ‘help him’.”, Brennan said with quotations.  “From what Booth told me, Aubrey at first welcomed her friendship in an attempt to help him possibly convince you to resume your relationship.”

                “Really?”   Jessica said.

                “Yes, really.”, Brennan said as she chose her next words carefully.  “However, after a couple of dinners, Aubrey started to become uncomfortable with Karen’s actions and her almost daily lunches.  Of course, he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but it was obvious he was also vulnerable after your breakup.  Karen undoubtedly saw that, and as one whose career is tied to a soft science, she used it on both of you by playing on Aubrey’s emotions as well as yours with her multiple contacts with you.”

                 “Multiple?”, Jessica asked.  

                 “Daisy told us about her running into you two at the diner.”, Angela responded.

                 “I also saw her talking to you here one day and I don’t know what she told you, but whatever it was had you very shaken and upset.”, Brennan said.  

                 “She asked me to help her pick out a necklace to wear to Daisy’s wedding before bringing up the fact that he’s almost five years older than me and that he needed someone more suitable than a graduate student.”

                 “You picked out that thing she wore?”  Angela asked.

                 Jessica merely shook her head in response.  Brennan saw this but continued.  “There was a lot that Aubrey didn’t know which Booth explained to him Sunday and when he finished it seemed that Aubrey was upset and shaken as well.”

                 “So, Jessica wasn’t the only one to buy into rumor and assumptions?”,  Angela piped in.

                 “Correct, Angela.  As for his lack of contact today, Aubrey was following the advice of my husband.  Booth suggested not only that he back off from you for a few days but also that when he was ready to talk to you about what happened at the wedding and later that evening, to suggest a venue other than the FBI or here at the lab.”  Brennan said.

                 “I...I...I didn’t know…”, Jessica stammered.

                 “Of course not, Ms. Warren, because you were too busy trying to justify your actions as it now seems you had second thoughts about ending your relationship with Aubrey.”,  Brennan said bluntly before pressing forward.  “Before you broke up, did you want a future with him?”

                   Jessica wiped a tear.  “Someday…I just wasn’t ready to move in together or get married.  I thought he was going to ask me to marry him after we found out his father had come back.  It freaked me out but then he didn’t say anything about it.  After that, sometimes he seemed to put me at arm’s length and we were like in some kind of relationship limbo.  If I’d gone to LA with him, we probably would have broken up by now, and I would be stuck there alone.”

                 “When you went to the class that I recommended you for in July, did you discuss it with him?”

                  Jessica was confused.  “No, it was for my career.  It sucked that we would be apart for three weeks, but he understood.”

                 “Even though it was at approximately the same time his father came back to the States?”, Angela said.  “He had to arrest his own father while you were gone.”

                 “I don’t understand—“

                 “Did you ever talk to him about how you were feeling about being shut out from issues with his father?”,  Brennan said.

                 “No…because he never wanted to discuss it.”

                 “Did you ever talk to him about feeling rushed that night you thought he was proposing?”,  Angela said.

                 “No, because he never brought up being serious again.  I told him when he asked if he said the wrong thing that it was okay…because it was…but there was a lot going on, you know.  We were already exclusive anyway.”

                  Angela took Jessica’s hand.  “Did you ever think that maybe he was afraid to bring it up again in fear of spooking you?”

                 “Or that maybe he didn’t want to bother you about his father because…his return possibly brought up a lot of feelings that he found overwhelming?” Brennan said.  “He may have been scared…that he would be like him…or…”

                 “Or what…”, Jessica said.

                  Brennan hesitated to say it, but knew she had to as she had personal experience.  “Or perhaps he was afraid that you would run away and leave him behind like his father left his mother and him?”

                  “I would never have---“

                 “Maybe not, but Aubrey never knew that because you were scared to talk about your fears.  It’s a dangerous thing, Jessica…”, Angela said.  “…to let your fear of the unknown push you towards running away from the man you love because the complications scare the hell out of you.  It’s easier to break up…emotions and commitment isn’t all sunshine and roses.  It’s hard work and sometimes, it’s painful, but…it’s so…beautiful…magical…wonderful when you have that person to share yourself with.  When you do hit a bump in the road, you have to fight together, especially best friends.”

                 “Aubrey didn’t trust the friendship you two had, Ms. Warren.”, Brennan said.  “However, it seems you didn’t trust it either.”

                 Jessica sat as the wise advice from the two women sank in.   “So what do I do?”

                 Angela turned to her best friend, who years earlier said that she couldn’t connect with people.  With pride, she watched her put her hand on the intern’s shoulder and give sage advice to someone who needed to hear it.

               “It’s easier to blame Aubrey for everything, Ms. Warren.  However, the things you’re faulting him on though, you’ve done them also, so you need to take your share of the blame for your failed relationship with him.  Then, I think you need to figure out what it is that will make you whole.  It’s only then you will know what to do about your conundrum with Aubrey.”

                 After the three women finished their beverages, they went inside.  As Jessica went back to her earlier task, she realized that she had a lot to think about.  However, not all of it put her in a positive light and it shamed her as she realized it.                 


               Ninety minutes later, Aubrey got off his flight and checked his phone.  He saw the number and he got hopeful.  Listening the voice mail, his enthusiasm tapered down as he heard Jessica’s message about their victim.

                 As he got into a cab, he continued thinking about what Booth said.  He also knew he had to apologize to Jessica.  It killed him not to talk to her today, but he couldn’t approach her about what happened at the lab.  Booth was right about that.

                 Maybe Jessica would go to the Star Wars Convention this weekend.  If they saw each other, maybe he could talk to her.  At the very least, he can apologize for being an ass and hopefully get their friendship back.  He ached for more, but he would take what he could get.  Not having her in his life left a hole that couldn’t be filled with anything...or anyone else.

                 When the cab arrived at the destination, Aubrey got out and headed in.  Booth was going to shit when he saw his wife’s wedding anniversary gift to him.


                 At 11:00, Jessica got ready for bed before stripping down to her underwear.  Opening a drawer, she grabbed a t-shirt to wear when she saw another one.  Touching it, she admired it for a moment.

                 It was one of Aubrey’s favorites...an old fraternity shirt from Kappa Rho when he attended Syracuse University.  He gave it to her to wear one night at his apartment when they were going to bed, but she stole it.  Jessica had a moment of guilt when she realized that she should have given it back to him, but she couldn’t make herself part with it.

                 Putting it on, she smelled it and detected his pheromone mixed with his aftershave.  She missed sleeping with him.  He always pulled her close to him, saying he always slept better with her.  Usually, Skinner would then snuggle up by her belly and the three of them would stay close all night.

                Suddenly a few tears fell as she realized that was done now.  She’d messed up and she needed to move on with her life.  She would do what Doctor B recommended.  Maybe someday, they could be friends again.  She missed his arms around her, but she missed his unconditional friendship more. 

Chapter Text

           Groaning as her alarm clock went off early Saturday morning, Jessica slapped at it before falling back against her pillow.  She stared at the ceiling, trying to decide if there was any way she could get out of going to the Star Wars Convention with that idiot Gerald Maxwell.  However, she soon realized it was too late to do that without looking like a total bitch.  She’d already accused the antiquities intern of being rude to her, and there was no way she wanted that label thrown back in her face. It seemed this was one of those ‘you made your bed, you lie in it’ times that she’d often heard about as a child.  Her father had used that expression many times, and Jessica had often wondered if he was referring to life in general or his marriage in particular.

           At least the good news, if there was any for the day, was that she was meeting Gerald at the convention.  That way, if the date turned out to be a dud she’d be able to get a cab home without having to rely on him.  After the fiasco at Daisy’s wedding, that seemed to be a prudent plan.  She doubted he would get drunk at the convention, but he could be pompous and overbearing, and it was nice to know that if he became too obnoxious she could leave whenever she wanted

           Grabbing a box of cereal from the kitchen cabinet, she poured herself a bowl and made herself a cup of tea.  Even though she tried to be excited about her date today, she couldn’t help but wonder what Aubrey was going to do that afternoon.  The original plan was that they would go to the convention together, but Jessica suspected he’d find someone else to go with him instead...probably Karen.

            Sighing heavily, Jessica thought about her discussion Thursday afternoon with Angela and Dr. B.  It was upsetting to realize that her friends had been right...she was as much to blame for the break up with Aubrey as he was.  In fact, maybe in some ways it had been more her fault than his.  

            She’d cried herself to sleep last night, wishing that things could be different between them.  However, it was probably too late for regrets, especially since she’d lost her temper and slapped his face after he’d gone out of his way to help her get home after Daisy’s wedding.  Cringing as she sipped her tea, she had to admit to herself that Aubrey would be within his rights to hate her.  He’d done her a favor that night, taking her home when Gerald had left her high and dry, and she’d been ungrateful.  

            While it was true that what he’d said was crude and disrespectful, she’d gone too far, letting her emotions get the best of her.  No matter how frustrated and hurt she was, it had been wrong for her to lash out at him the way she did.  No wonder Aubrey already had a new girlfriend.  He was a great guy, and he could have any woman he wanted.  He didn’t have to tolerate the antics of a childish brat who acted so badly, hitting someone when she didn’t get her way.

            After carrying her dishes to the sink, Jessica ran the back of her hand across her eyes, trying to wipe away her tears.  She sniffled as she walked to her bedroom.  As she thought about her actions while they were together, she wondered if he deserved someone better than her.  First she couldn’t find the words to tell him how she felt about him, and then, when she realized how much she cared for him, she got scared and metaphorically ran in the other direction.  It seemed obvious now that Aubrey needed more than fantastic sex, concerns about his diet, and consolation over his father to show him how deep her feelings were for him.  

           Now it was too late to tell him, because her time with Aubrey were over.  Someday soon, she would apologize for treating him the way she did.   She owed him that much, and maybe, in time, they’d get to a point where they could work on repairing their friendship.  As much as she missed being with him as his girlfriend, it hurt more to not have her best friend by her side.   

           Today, though, she needed to start moving on with her life.  Maybe the date with Gerald would help her do so.  She had another vibe that it wouldn’t go well, but she pushed it aside as she got dressed.  As Dr. B  had said, it was time to grow up and develop a pair of steel ovaries, whatever that meant.

            She would be strong and courageous at the convention, just like her hero, Princess Leia. 


 

           Aubrey’s government issued SUV cruised slowly through the parking lot surrounding the Dulles Expo Center as he searched for just the right spot to leave his vehicle.  He didn’t want to walk a half mile to get to the front door, but he didn’t want to be too close, either.  The fewer people who noticed his massive company car, the better off he’d be.  

           He wasn’t sure anyone would understand this personality quirk of his and he figured it might be better if he didn’t call too much attention to himself this afternoon.  He knew it really wasn’t anybody’s business if he liked cosplay, but he also realized something important about his hobby.  No way did he want word of his participation in any of the day’s festivities to get back to Booth, or he’d never, ever hear the end of it.

          After finding a good spot, Aubrey turned off the car and hopped out.  Hiding behind the heavy car door, he quickly pulled some shiny white plastic shin guards and thigh guards over his black jeans and fastened the Velcro snugly for the lower part of the white plastic armor around his slim waist before buckling the upper body portion of his armor over his long sleeved black tee shirt.  The white plastic gauntlets and upper arm guards went on next, and then it was time for the crowning glory.  

          Wearing a silly grin, he reached over to the passenger seat for his helmet.  Pulling it on, he checked out his image in the side mirror and laughed happily.  Mild mannered Special Agent in Charge James Aubrey had just been transformed into a fearsome Stormtrooper direct from the Death Star, ready for an afternoon of fun with hundreds of other fans who appreciated George Lucas’s body of work as much as he did.

           He hesitated as he locked his car, taking a deep breath as he took one last look at his reflection.  He’d looked forward to attending this convention with Jessica, but since they were no longer together, that wasn’t an option.  After spending many hours in indecision about what to do, he’d finally decided to attend alone, even though he realized it probably wouldn’t be as much fun.  He needed to get used to doing things by himself now, and this would be a first step toward accomplishing that goal.  Squaring his shoulders, he made up his mind. He was going to have fun today, no matter what happened.

           Aubrey chuckled to himself as he joined the large crowd filing in for the annual Imagicon Star Wars Convention. He’d been to many Star Wars conventions over the last several years.  However, over a decade had passed since he’d gone to a convention in costume, when he and two of his fraternity brothers from Syracuse had gone to New York City for the weekend to attend their first Star Wars convention.  

           Gibby had gone as Luke Skywalker, and Rodney had been dressed as Han Solo.  Perhaps overly concerned about what people might think of almost grown young men pretending to be movie characters, Aubrey had chosen to be a Stormtrooper so he could wear a helmet that covered his face, hoping to keep his identity safe from the public eye.  He’d been in the process of applying to law school, so discretion seemed to be important at the time.

           Smirking as he remembered that evening from so long ago, he had to admit the costumes had definitely served their intended purpose, which was basically to attract interested females.  They’d introduced themselves to three attractive young women who were dressed as Jabba the Hutt’s slave girls.  The girls had certainly appreciated the young men’s outfits, and they definitely hadn’t been shy in expressing that appreciation later that evening. What a wonderful night that had been…remembering it still made Aubrey grin.

           In the ten years or so that had passed since that memorable convention, the three friends had since gone their separate ways.  Gibby was in marketing with a professional hockey team in Canada and Rodney was an associate rector for a large Episcopal church in Boston.  

           Aubrey nodded to himself as he waited in line to purchase his ticket.  Maybe he’d get in touch with those guys soon, just to talk about old times.  Maybe they could get together for a weekend, just to have a few beers and to swap a few stories about the good old days.  After all...I’ve got plenty of time on my hands…now that Jessica has Gerald to hang out with…

           Nostalgia washed over Aubrey as he entered the cavernous hall and for a moment it seemed the year was 1993 and he was ten years old all over again.  

           He’d had a really bad case of chickenpox that year, and his mother, desperate to keep him entertained while he was away from school, had borrowed a neighbor’s VCR tapes of Star WarsThe Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi.  After watching the videos over and over again for the next week while he recuperated, he’d become obsessed with the stories of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo.  He soon had a Star Wars lunch box, Star Wars pajamas, a boxed set of the Star Wars videos and an almost complete set of Star Wars action figures.  

           Chuckling to himself, he realized that even though the pajamas had been outgrown long ago, he still enjoyed having the lunchbox and the action figures in his collection of movie memorabilia.  Maybe someday he’d grow up, but it wouldn’t be today.  Today he was going to enjoy being a small child in a grown man’s body.  It was time to have some pure escapist fun.

           Aubrey walked around the hall, enjoying the several booths with their different displays of articles for sale.  There were board games, bobble head toys representing the different characters, accessories for costumes...the assortment of Star Wars themed merchandise seemed endless. Every episode and version of Star Wars seemed to have at least a dozen different vendors peddling everything from full sized droids to Millennium Falcon replacement parts.  The variety was both entertaining and dizzying.  After making his initial inspection of the show, Aubrey decided it was time for lunch, so he headed toward the concessions area in the back of the hall.

           He ordered his normal four chili dogs with all the toppings, a supersized bag of French fries, and a large soda.  After surveying the dining area, he finally found a table in a darkened corner and sat down to enjoy his meal.  Grimacing slightly, he realized his helmet wasn’t designed for actually eating something, so he pulled off his helmet and put it on the chair next to him.  He hated to break character in front of everyone, but lunch was a more pressing matter.

           Taking a big sip from his soft drink, he admired the dining area’s decor.  It had been arranged to look like the Cantina from A New Hope, complete with dim lighting and a central bar where the food and drinks dispensed.  Tables were set around the room and customers in various costumes swayed to the piped in mood music as they ate their lunch.  The effect was amazing.  It almost seemed that he was on some faraway outpost in a distant galaxy, watching as individuals from the various star systems tried to arrange transportation home.

           As he dunked his fries in some ketchup, Aubrey made a mental shopping list of the things he wanted to check out.  Definitely the Darth Vader coffee mug for work...a Lando Calrissian action figure if I can find one….some sort of Jedi socks for Booth…maybe a little something for Michael Vincent, Christine, and Hank...Booth might not be pleased if I make Star Wars fans out of his kids...he seems more like the Battlestar Galactica type…  

           Nodding to himself, Aubrey figured maybe he’d take in an hour of shopping before he went to hear Mark Hamill and maybe Rick Baker, the artist who’d designed the make up for the original franchise.  That would work...he could spend a couple of hours enjoying the convention by himself, just to prove that he could…just to show himself how well he’d moved on.

           But then he saw her.  

           Jessica Warren stood in the entry of the Cantina, dressed as the young Princess Leia Organa.  Her filmy white gown flowed gracefully from the belt around her slender waist as she moved toward a table to sit down.  Somehow the redhead even managed to arrange her hair into the type of braids that Leia wore, which were partially hidden under her loose cowl.  Aubrey was completely entranced.  He’d always thought Jessica was beautiful, but for some reason, wearing the simple white robe of a make believe space princess, she looked incredible.

           Shrinking back into the corner, Aubrey watched as she sipped her water while she checked her phone.  Probably waiting for that lummox, Gerald, he thought bitterly. It was almost more than he could stomach, thinking about Gerald Maxwell escorting Jessica around the convention hall instead of him.  He was seriously rethinking his own convention plans when he heard her phone ring.  He just couldn’t resist the urge to eavesdrop.

           “Hello?”  Jessica said with an obviously irritated tone.  “Let me guess.  You overslept, right?  Okay, never mind.  I’m in the concessions area, so why don’t you just meet me here?  It’s in the back of the hall.  Yes, I’m sure.  Bye.”  

            She puffed out a sigh as she ended the call, taking another swig of her water.  “Two hours late and he doesn’t get why I’m annoyed…”

            Deciding it was time for some FBI Special Agent reconnaissance, Aubrey casually wadded up his food wrappers and placed them on his tray.  Putting his helmet back on, he stood up and slowly carried the remnants of his lunch toward the trash container near Jessica’s table.  He paused as he disposed of the wrappers, wanting to catch a glimpse of the cocky bastard as he made his way across the floor of the convention center.

            Finally, Aubrey’s patience was rewarded as a breathless Gerald came racing toward the Cantina, flushed and sweaty from his exertion.  When the agent saw the other man’s costume, his mouth dropped in shock and disgust.

           ‘What the hell…’

            “Sorry I’m late, Jessica.  I overslept, and then I couldn’t find part of my costume, and I had to get gas on the way since I’ve been riding on E for a couple of days….”  Gerald pulled on the hem of his bright red shirt before pointing to the Starfleet insignia on his chest.  “Whadd’ya think?  Looks pretty good, right?  Almost like the genuine article.”

            “What are you wearing?”  An incredulous Princess Jessica stood with her hands on her hips as she cast a critical eye at her perspective date.  “Isn’t that a Star Trek Red Shirt uniform?”

             “Yeah, of course.  You said we were going to be at a Star Trek convention, right?”  He gave her a puzzled look as he noticed her costume.  “Funny...I don’t remember anyone on any of the shows dressing like that…not even on Next Generation...”

             Rolling her eyes at her ‘date’, Jessica clenched her fists in frustration.  “It’s Star WARS, Gerald...not Star TREK!  They’re like two completely different Universes! You must be some kind of stupid moron!  First you practically stand me up because you overslept, and then you don’t even know what we’re supposed to be doing together…I distinctly said Star WARS.  Surely even an idiot like you would know the difference. Have you been living in a cave while you studied all that old crap at the Jeffersonian?”  

             “Where the fuck do you get off talking to me like that?”, Gerald retorted angrily.  “I made a mistake.  So what?  It’s not like this stupid convention is anything important.”

              Jessica merely scowled at him as she continued her tirade.  “Did you even listen to what I was telling you at the lab or were you too busy thinking about getting me into bed?”

              “Listen, you crazy bitch…”  Frustrated, Gerald’s voice rose in anger as he shook his finger in Jessica’s face.  “If you were even halfway normal instead of being some sort of nerd freak who spends all her time watching old sci fi flicks, maybe that FBI agent would still be your boyfriend instead of nailing that other chick and probably getting all the ass he can handle…”  

              “You don’t really want a relationship with me, do you?  You were just going to humor me before using your supposed charm to get me to drop my panties for you.”  Jessica stood with her hands on her hips, feeling stupid for ignoring her earlier vibe.  “You rat bastard…”

               Grimacing in disgust, he waved his hand to dismiss her complaint.  “Of course I don’t want a relationship with you.  My parents have social standing in this town and I need someone normal, not some weirdo dork who gets her kicks by dressing up like some stupid character in a movie.  You act all high and mighty now, but I remember how you much got around when you first started at the Jeffersonian. You were an easy lay back then and I bet you still are now.  You’re nothing more than a good blow job or a quickie in the bathroom--”  

               Gerald was suddenly interrupted by an angry Stormtrooper’s hand grabbing a fistful of his red shirt.

               “You watch how you talk to her, you big ape.  You don’t want to spend time with her, fine, but don’t treat her like she’s some sort of cheap slut…”  Aubrey was fuming, forgetting where he was as he stood between Gerald and Jessica.  “You need to apologize to the lady and then you need to leave her alone…”

                “Who the hell are you, anyway?” Gerald blustered.  “She’s my date, and I’ll talk to her anyway I please.”

                Chuckling under his breath, Aubrey decided to play a bluff.  “Ms. Warren works for the Jeffersonian, right?  Just like you do…”

                Gerald paused, looking over the Stormtrooper suspiciously. “Who are you? How do you know where I work?”  

                “That’s not the point, is it? You don’t need to worry about who I am.  I’ll tell you what you really need to worry about instead.  Federal employees, like those who work at the Jeffersonian, have a code of conduct for their public behavior.  As an FBI Agent…”  

                 Aubrey heard Jessica softly giggle behind him when she realized who he was.  “...I have the authority to enforce that code.  So if you want to keep your internship at that museum, you better do as I say and apologize to Ms. Warren before you beam yourself out of here.”

                 Gerald hesitated, clearly flummoxed by this new bit of information.  He shrugged slightly as he flicked his eyes toward Jessica.  “Um, sorry…”

                 “Is that satisfactory, Ms. Warren?  Or would you like to file a formal complaint?”  The Stormtrooper tapped his foot as he turned to Gerald.  “Please?  I’d love to take this jackass down a few notches…”

                 “That won’t be necessary.  I think you’ve made your point, sir.” Jessica stated primly, biting back her grin before her countenance changed as she glared at the other man, who was burning with embarrassment.  “Gerald, I don’t have anything more to say to you.  Good bye.”

                  “You heard her, Gerald...get lost…”  Aubrey pointed toward the door.  “Hopefully you won’t be attacked by some rabid Ewoks on the way out.”

                  Laughing at Gerald’s hasty retreat, the agent pulled off his white helmet and ran his fingers through his thick dark hair as he grinned at Jessica.  “I thought he’d never leave…”

                  “I know this goes against the grain for Princess Leia, but I have to say it...you’re my hero, Mr. Stormtrooper.”  She giggled again as she gestured for him to sit down at the table.  “So what is all that garbage about the federal employee code of conduct?”

                  “Did you like that?  Not bad for thinking on my feet, right?  I learned that from Booth. He’s always making up shit to tell suspects when he wants them to squeal.”  

                   Jessica rubbed her finger up and down her water bottle.  “Booth has taught you very well.”

                  “Thank you.”  Fidgeting with his helmet, Aubrey glanced shyly across the table.  “So...since I’m already here alone...and you’re already here, and now you’re alone...and originally we planned be here together...would you like to take a little walk with me?  I have a list of things I want to look for at the vendors’ booths…”

                  “I think I’d like that, Aubrey…”  Jessica bit her lip as she avoided eye contact with him.  She gathered her belongings from the table and put them into her bag.  “That is, if you don’t mind...I mean, I was going to be someone else’s date, you know.  I...I don’t want you to feel like an afterthought...like you’re second fiddle…like maybe the only reason I’m hanging out with you is because I got ditched by a loser.”

                  He nodded, understanding what she meant.  “Nah, it’s no big deal.  I’ll be glad to have the company.  I’ve got to say, though, Jess...what’s up with that guy?  I mean, not knowing the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek is just weird, isn’t it?  Although, since he works in antiquities, maybe he’s not up on modern stuff, right?”

                 “Right.  I guess you could say that...but I think he’s just a jackass.”  Sipping her water, Jessica pinched her lips together as she studied her nails.  “I’m surprised you didn’t bring Karen with you today…”

                 Aubrey sighed heavily, gently putting his hand over hers as he spoke quietly.  “Jessica, I want you to listen to me carefully, okay?  I’m not interested in Karen like that.  I never have been.  After we...when we broke up, I was trying to figure out what went wrong between us.  I thought that since you two were friends, she’d be able tell me how to fix things so you’d take me back.  That’s it, okay?  Nothing else.  You believe me, right?”

                The squintern thought once again about what her friends had explained to her.  The time for relying on rumors and hearsay was past. Pushing all her old hurts aside, she listened to his words and his voice and she knew he was telling her the truth.  Nodding slowly, she looked into Aubrey’s blue eyes.  

               “Yes, I believe you...and I’m sorry I hurt you, James…”

               His heart skipped a beat as he saw her brush away a tear, but he wanted to avoid appearing desperate.  “Don’t worry about it, okay?”  Smiling, he stood up and put on his helmet.  “Let’s go shopping!  C’mon...it’ll be fun…”

                Picking up her keys and her purse, she smiled as she rose from the table.  “That does sound like fun.”  After hesitating slightly, she nodded in agreement.  “Alright.  Let’s go shopping.”

Chapter Text

          Jessica couldn’t help but smile as she watched her former boyfriend move from one vendor to another as he looked for the perfect little trinkets to give Michael-Vincent, Christine, and Hank.  Aubrey had already picked up a pair of Yoda socks for Booth, and had found what he hoped would be an interesting book for Dr. B.: The Cultural and Anthropological Implications of Star Wars: Classic Tropes for Modern Times.  Musing on the mouthful of a title, Jessica shook her head, certain that Dr. Brennan would be the only person in this or any other galaxy to understand the author’s point.

          However, as an anthropologist herself, Jessica had enjoyed seeing Aubrey in a completely different cultural setting than normal.  He was enjoying himself immensely, even more than he did when they’d gone to see the Star Wars movie marathon last May.  She knew that he’d been introduced to the story of Luke and Leia as a child, just as she had been, and he’d enjoyed the escape the movies had provided from the family problems of his real life.  She’d been in a similar situation in her youth, having used the story of how Luke had overcome a difficult childhood as a touchstone.

          If Luke Skywalker could do great things, so could I, right? She wondered if George Lucas had any idea of how many people his movies had impacted that same way.

          Observing closely as Aubrey tried to decide which bobble head character doll would best suit Hank Booth, she thought once again about the conundrum that was their relationship.  Even though on the surface James appeared to have an easy going personality, she’d quickly come to realize that he could be very intense if he cared about something or someone.  

          She knew he’d brought that intensity into their relationship when they made love for the first time.  Aubrey had alternated between tenderness and unadulterated passion on that hot June night in her apartment.  She could only moan and scream his name as he mapped out her body with his lips, his long fingers, and, of course, his wickedly talented tongue.  After coming down from her multiple orgasms, Jessica knew the sex with him was different than it had with anyone else in her past.  

          The redhead now realized it was because she had never ‘made love’ with anyone until she came together with her best friend.  Even then, she was in love with him although she couldn’t say it out loud.

          She also knew that Aubrey loved her just as much.  Once again, that same intensity had become apparent when he’d told her, much to her surprise, that he was serious about wanting some sort of long term relationship with her.  She wasn’t sure that they were ready for that step, even if Aubrey seemed to be.

          But if he really was serious about her like he told her that night by the subway, why did he wait so long to tell her about the promotion he’d been offered?  Why was he so reluctant to talk to her about moving to Los Angeles?  Had he changed his mind about wanting to be with her?  Didn’t he care for her anymore?  Why was he so upset when she broke up with him if he didn’t want to talk to her about important issues? Did she break up with him out of anger or out of fear, as Angela and Dr. Brennan believed, or was she really convinced they had no future together? 

         Why didn’t he ever say those three little words to her? 

         There were too many questions and not enough answers, so she’d decided to end their relationship.  However, she soon found that she’d made a terrible mistake.  She wasn’t ready to let her Superman go...she loved him too much.  No way was she about to let Karen, or anyone else, move in on her territory and steal him away from her.  

         And so now, here they were, keeping each other company at a convention for movie fans.  Maybe someday she’d understand what they meant to each other.  For today, however, this was not the time for thinking about those things.  Today she would just have fun hanging out with her best friend as they enjoyed a common interest.  She smirked as she saw him adjust his helmet and body armor.  The fact that he looked very cute in his Stormtrooper costume didn’t hurt, either.

 Oooooooooo

        This is so weird. Aubrey thought to himself as he stole a furtive glance at Jessica.  For the first time since he’d met her, he couldn’t really think of anything to say to her, and she seemed to be having the same issue. An awkward silence had settled between them as they walked among the booths that were set up around the hall’s perimeter.  

        We’ve always been able to talk about things...but then it hit him like a ton of bricks.  They’d always been able to talk about things that weren’t really important, but when it came down to the nuts and bolts of their relationship, neither one of them had been very good at communicating what they’d truly felt.  He knew that would have to change if he wanted to share a life together with Jessica.  Maybe Booth was right...maybe it was time to grow up, and maybe today would be the day...but first, it was time to attend to the important matters at hand.

       “Oh, wow...look, Jess...Star Wars Monopoly!  I had one of these when I was younger, but it got lost when we moved.  I have to get this.”  He grinned at the thought of the two of them playing a round of the game on some cold winter’s evening in front of the fireplace before adjourning to the bedroom.  

        Whoa!  Hold your horses there, buddy!  You’ve got to make her like you again first!  

        Slightly embarrassed by his flight of fancy, he paid the vendor and picked up his game, hoping she hadn’t noticed his blush.  “What else do you want to look for, Jessica?”

        “I think I want some new light sabers, and I’d like to look at that stall that has the costumes.  I really liked some of the things that Padme’ Amidala wore, and I want to see if they have anything like that.”  Seeing Aubrey roll his eyes, she chuckled.  “I take it you weren’t fond of her costumes…”

         “It was her makeup...it was just too strange.  I read it was based on Japanese geisha stuff, but that didn’t help me understand why they chose that style.”  

          He stopped at a table that had some collectible figures strewn about.  “Okay, here’s something that was on my list...Lando...and here’s Jar Jar Binks.”  After looking through the packages and picking out what he wanted, Aubrey gasped in surprise.  “Look at this, Jessica...it’s a phone charger...and it’s Darth Vader.  How cool is that?”  

          The vendor smiled as she picked up the box to show them.  “A real collector’s item here.  They didn’t make many of these.  That’s a good price, too…”

          “Seventy five dollars?  Wow…”  Aubrey grimaced as he gently set the box down.  “Maybe not today...hey, do you have any Boba Fett figures?”

           Jessica strolled across the aisle, stopping to look at some necklaces that were made of glass beads painted to look like planets.  Finally finding one she liked, she handed it to the salesperson before reaching into her purse for her wallet.  “Oh, my God, Aubrey...look at this!”  Laughing out loud, she held up a set of keys.  

          “What is that?”  Walking over to join her, he squinted at the key fob.  “Aren’t those your keys?”

          “No...this is a key for an Alfa Romeo, and look at the initials on the key ring.  G.  M.  These are Gerald’s keys.  He must’ve dropped them on the table while he was yelling at me, and then I picked them up when you and I got ready to leave the concessions area.  He drives that little red sports car, remember? It has the stick shift?”

          “So how did he get home if he didn’t have keys?”  Aubrey chuckled softly.  “I guess maybe Scotty really did have to beam him up, right?”  

          “Maybe so.”  Jessica shrugged shyly as she slowly walked onto the next booth.  “Not our problem, I guess.  Gerald doesn’t seem to have a lot going on upstairs, but he should be able to figure something out.  Anyway, I’m glad we’re here together…”

          “Yeah, me, too.”  Aubrey desperately wanted to take Jessica’s hand and pull her close for a kiss, but he knew this wasn’t the time or the place.  He cleared his throat softly.  “I want to go get one of those Darth Vader coffee mugs…”

          “Okay.”  Giving Aubrey a quizzical look, Jessica smiled.  “You never struck me as the ‘I love Darth Vader’ type, Superman…”

          “Um, yeah, well...he’s always in charge, and he doesn’t take any shit from anybody.  I like that, you know? He would’ve made a great G man.  Don’t you know that as I walk down the halls of the Hoover, his march is playing in my head?  Dum dum dum dum de dum dum de dum…”  Aubrey pretended to stride down the halls toward his office as he walked toward the next stall.  “That’s why I’m a Special Agent in Charge, right?  Oh, look...laser blasters!  Want to play?  It’s like laser tag...”

           The man running the booth grinned at Aubrey.  “Want to win something for your girl, soldier?  Just hit all of the targets. It’s not as easy as it looks…”

           “We’ll see.”  Shouldering the ‘blaster’, Aubrey aimed at the targets and pulled the trigger. “Take that, rebels.”  Satisfied with his perfect score, he nodded to the proprietor.  “Not too shabby, I guess…”

           “Yeah...so pick your prize.”  The man waved at a selection of toys hanging overhead.

           “I’ll take one of those Leia dolls, please.”  Grinning proudly, he handed it to Jessica.  “There you go, Darlin’.”  He shrugged shyly.  “She’s almost as cute as you are…”

           “Sweet talker…”  Jessica grinned broadly as she admired her gift.  “You’ve been practicing at the range, haven’t you?”

           “I’ve been bored, so I’ve spent some time practicing.  I guess it paid off.  Now I can tell the agents who work in my division that practice does make perfect.”  Aubrey glanced at the time on his phone.  “Hey, if we want to get good seats to see Mark Hamill, we’d better head towards the auditorium.”

           “Could you go ahead and then save me a seat?  I need a restroom break…”  Jessica batted her eyelashes at Aubrey a bit.  “I won’t be long…”

           “Sure thing, but hurry.  You won’t want to miss anything…”

           “Okay.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”  Glancing quickly to make sure he wasn’t watching her, she smiled to herself as she rushed off before the main event began.

Oooooooooo

           It was almost five when the last session ended, and people started filing out of the auditorium.  Jessica was the last person to have her picture taken with Mark Hamill, one with just them and one of her and Aubrey without his helmet with the actor.  Beaming proudly, she watched as Aubrey admired the images on her phone.  “You’ll have to send me those, Jess.”

          “I will.”  Jessica glanced at her phone again before dropping it into her purse.  “I had a lot of fun today, Aubrey.  I know this may sound strange, but I’m glad Gerald turned out to be a loser.  I can’t imagine being at this convention with anyone else but you.”  

          Blushing, Aubrey managed a shy smile.  “Me, too.”

          Rearranging the different packages she was carrying, she chewed her lip slightly.  “Anyway, Gerald was supposed to be my ride home, and he let me down again...so I’m going to catch a cab.”

          Aubrey wasn’t ready for his time with Jessica to end.  He felt like they were finally back to being friends again, and he was anxious to maintain that connection.  “You don’t need to call a cab, Jess.  I tell you what...why don’t we go get some dinner?  I’m getting hungry…”

          They slowly made their way to the exterior doors of the convention hall.  “I don’t know, Aubrey.  Do you really think it’s a good idea for us to have dinner together?  I mean, I’m hardly dressed for it…this costume isn’t exactly what people wear at the diner…and you know...things have been kinda weird lately...with everything going on…”

          “Aw, c’mon.  We can go have a burger at the diner.  They know us there, and they won’t care what we’re wearing, right?”  Aubrey didn’t understand her hesitance until he watched Jessica reach up to play with her hair before she remembered how she was wearing it, a sure sign that she was nervous.  “Look, I know things have been awkward between us lately, Jessica, and I don’t want to make it worse.  If you don’t want to go to dinner with me, I’ll understand, but at least let me give you a ride home.  No strings attached, okay?  After all, cab fare can be expensive.”

          “Yeah, you’re right..it’s very expensive.”  Jessica hesitated as she thought over her choices.  She had enjoyed Aubrey’s company, and she really wanted to extend their time together.  “Actually, I’m hungry, too, and I think a burger sounds good...that is, if you don’t mind some company.”

           Aubrey sighed in relief as a grin spread across his face.  “I’d love some company.”  He opened the door and gestured for her to walk ahead of him.  “Shall we?”

           “Yes.”  Jessica giggled as the ‘Stormtrooper’ stood at attention while the Princess passed.  “I guess I’ll have to go back to being just Jessica…”

           “That’s a good thing.”  Aubrey pointed to the other side of the parking lot.  “I did park kind of far away from the door…”

            Laughing and talking, they made their way across the parking lot toward Aubrey’s SUV, only stopping to let a tow truck go by.  “Uh oh…” Aubrey began.  “Looks like maybe someone parked in a tow away zone.”

            “I don’t think so, Aubrey.  Does that red shirt look familiar?”  

            The agent’s gaze followed as Jessica pointed to a man standing beside a small red sports car.  Suddenly it clicked.  “That is awesome…couldn’t have happened to a better asshole.”

           “Well, we now know that Gerald finally figured out how he’s going to get home.”  Giggling, she shrugged at Aubrey. “Do you think I should return his keys?”

           “As tempting as it is to tell you to toss them in the garbage, you should return them.  We don’t want him to think you stole them, do we?”  

            They quickly jogged over to the truck, where the tow truck driver was having a difficult time attaching the hook to the car’s bumper.  It was obvious that Gerald was practically beside himself as the driver struggled.  

            “You idiot...you’re going to pull the bumper off my car...look at the scrapes you’ve put on it…”

             The burly driver just shrugged as he turned on the winch, dragging the car up onto the back of the truck.  “Not my fault you drive a tin can, man…”

             "Gerald, I’m so glad we caught you!”  Jessica gave him an artificial smile.  “Look!  I found your keys.  You must’ve dropped them on the table in the canteen when you left in such a hurry…”

              Grabbing the keys from her, Gerald clenched his fists in frustration.  “So you’ve had them the whole time?  Why didn’t you let me know?  All you had to do was call me.  I think you stole these keys from me to get back at me for leaving you with this jackass.  I’m going to press charges!  Look at the damage to my car.  Do you have any idea how much it’s going to cost to fix this, even with insurance?”

              “Calm down, buddy.  This isn’t her fault.  Jessica picked up your keys by accident.  You could’ve called her to ask if she’d seen them, but I suppose you were in too much of a hurry to leave…”  Aubrey crossed his arms over his chest as he glared at Gerald.  “Why didn’t you just call someone to bring you an extra set?”

              “Do you really think I’d want my family to know where I’ve been all afternoon?  That I was here, at a movie convention, with people like you?”  Gerald puffed out a sigh as the tow truck driver turned off the winch and locked the Alfa Romeo into place on the truck’s skids.  “Never mind.  You’ll be hearing from my lawyer, Ms. Warren…”

              “Whatever, Gerald.”  Jessica rolled her eyes as she listened to her fellow intern’s bluster.  “Good luck getting your car home.  C’mon, Aubrey.  Let’s go have some dinner.  I don’t want to be seen in public with people like him.”

               As Jessica and Aubrey walked away, the tow truck guy laughed hysterically while Gerald was turning red with anger and embarrassment.  “That cute little redhead has your number, all right.”

              “Shut up!”, the intern fumed as the truck driver took down his credit card information.  “Just get me the hell out of here before someone else sees me.”

 Oooooooooo

               An hour later, the patrons at the Royal Diner didn’t give Aubrey and Jessica a second glance as they walked in and sat at their favorite table.  Joanne smiled as she quickly took their order, and it wasn’t long before they had cheeseburgers, French fries, and chocolate shakes sitting in front of them.  Grinning at each other, they dove into their meals with gusto.  

              “God, this is so good. I was really hungry.”  Jessica chuckled as she tried to wipe some ketchup from her chin.  “I don’t know why these burgers taste so much better than the ones I make at home.”

              “Yeah, it may be that we don’t want to know.”  Aubrey grimaced as he nodded toward the kitchen.  “Frankie has his secret ingredients, I guess.”   He took a sip of his shake.  “Are you worried about hearing from Gerald’s lawyer?  Because I can be a character witness if you want…”

               “Oh, I’m sure that’ll do a lot of good.”  Rolling her eyes as she dunked her fries in her garlic mayo and ketchup mix, Jessica smiled as she popped them into her mouth with a flourish.  “But if his lawyer does contact me, I’ll be sure to let you know so you can vouch for the fact that I didn’t steal his keys.”

               “Okay.”  They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, neither one wanting to spoil the good time they were having by saying the wrong thing.  Finally Aubrey cleared his throat.  “Hey, you know what?  It’s a nice evening.  Maybe after dinner we could go for a walk along the Mall.  I haven’t been down there in ages.”

                “That might be nice.”  Jessica paused as Aubrey’s phone rang.  He checked the caller ID, grimaced slightly, and then put the phone in his pocket.  “Do you need to get that? I won’t mind…”

                “Nah, it wasn’t anyone important…”  He cringed as he suddenly remembered standing in the interrogation room with Jessica that afternoon when she’d broken up with him, wondering how things might’ve been different if he’d waited until later to take that call.  “I figure right now you’re more important than anyone who might be calling me…”

                 Jessica blushed under his tender gaze.  “James...work is more important…”

                “Not right now, it’s not.”  He ate his last few French fries and finished his shake.  “C’mon...let’s go for a walk.”

Chapter Text

           Aubrey and Jessica walked along the Mall, enjoying the pleasant Indian summer night.  They’d settled into a comfortable pace, chatting quietly about nothing in particular.  It seemed they both had something on their minds, but each needed some time to get their thoughts together.   As they got closer to the Lincoln Memorial, Jessica stopped and gazed thoughtfully at the imposing marble structure.

           Aubrey soon realized she wasn’t walking next to him and turned to see where she was. “Jess, why are you staring at the Lincoln Memorial?”

            She continued to look for a moment before turning to her companion, pointing toward Lincoln’s chair.  “You see right there, on that side?  When I was younger, before I left for MSU, I used to go there a lot.  I guess you could call it my “thinking spot”.  It was where I could escape from my life at home.”

           “Yeah, I get that.”  He waited patiently until she was ready to continue.    

           “Do you remember me telling you about how my mom has Bipolar II Disorder?”  Jessica spoke so softly he could barely hear her.  “When she was on her meds, she had her moments where she was almost like a real mom.  However, when she wasn’t, it’s hard to describe how bad it was at my house.” 

            The redhead took a breath to calm her nerves.   “My mother constantly kept our household on eggshells.  We constantly had to think about what to say to her and how to say it.  When she was in one of her depressions, we had to try to avoid her at all costs because she was so angry or sad.  It was like we just instinctively went into survival mode, I guess.  My dad tried to be both parents to us, and he did the best he could, but it wore him down.  Michael and Stephan say they can remember when my mom wasn’t as bad, but by the time Jason and I came along, I don’t think she cared anymore about putting up a front.   All she knew was she hated her life, and she blamed all of us for that...it was usually my dad’s fault or something one of us kids had done that had ruined things for her.”

           Jessica glanced at Aubrey, relieved that he was listening intently.  She took another deep breath before she continued.

           “We always knew when Mom had stopped taking her meds.   She’d try to hide it, but we learned how to tell when she was in one of her hypomanic phases.  One time she decided to repaint the living room at 1:30 in the morning, or there was the time she decided that she wanted to write a composition on our concert grand piano.  Every time something called her away, she got mad and did what she had to do to get back to that damn piano.” 

            Jessica took a deep breath to control her emotions.  “Of course, I can’t forget when I was twelve and I had my first period.  I wasn’t going to tell her but she figured it out, and then decided we had to go shopping for sanitary supplies at 3:00 in the morning because she wasn’t tired.  The next day she went out to buy new outfits for both of us because she’d decided to put together a last minute dinner party for my father’s department for that evening.” 

           “He was head of the Neuroscience department at George Mason University, right?”,  Aubrey asked.   

           “Yeah, he was.”, Jessica said.  “He was the department chair for several years.” 

           “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”, Aubrey said with an apologetic smile.  “I’m sorry.” 

           “It’s okay, Aubrey.”, Jessica replied before continuing.  “So, she decided to put together this big dinner party because she thought her ideas were always so spectacular and she just knew everyone loved her so much that they’d be excited to cancel their plans and come.  She gave my dad about four hours’ notice to let everybody know.” 

           Aubrey could see the reticence in Jessica.  He gave her time to compose her thoughts before she continued. 

           “She was so angry when no one showed up...we had all this leftover food that would probably go to waste.  Of course, she screamed at my dad because according to her, it was all his fault because he’d deliberately ruined her plans by not telling anyone about her invitation.  It didn’t matter to her that no one had enough notice to make plans for babysitters and things like that.  Nothing is ever her fault, you know.” 

            Aubrey nodded sympathetically.  “Yeah, I get that.  It must be difficult to deal with that sort of thing.”             

            “My mom used to get depressed a lot, too, where she’d just sit by herself in the living room, staring off into space.  When she wasn’t angry with all of us she would just be....numb.”  Jessica closed her eyes for a moment before she continued.  “One day when I was fourteen, my Mom was depressed, and she accused my father of putting rat poison in her food, when in actuality it was just Metamucil for himself.  He denied it but she didn’t listen, saying that…” 

            Aubrey could see that what she was trying to explain was painful for her.  “Jess, we don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to--” 

            “But I am ready to talk about this, Aubrey.”, Jessica retorted.  “I need to tell you....” 

            “All right.  I’ll be glad to listen.”, he said, waiting for her to speak. 

            The redhead took a deep breath before continuing.  “She said he wasn’t going to be able to kill her because...she would do it herself instead.  Grabbing the glass of water I had nearby, she broke it and tried to…cut her own throat before my father stopped her.  He had to admit her to the psych ward that night.”

           “Jesus…”, Aubrey said quietly.  “That’s terrible…”           

           “Yeah, it was, especially since it wasn't the last time she tried to...end things.” Jessica sniffled a bit as a tear rolled down her cheek.  “When the doctors put her on an anti-psychotic drug in addition to her lithium, life at our house became much worse.  Mom would go on and on about how the meds were making her life more difficult...how she couldn’t drink any alcohol because of the drug interaction...how she’d lost her sex drive…random stuff that her kids really didn’t need to know…”

           Jessica couldn’t stop her herself as she continued to share things she’d never told anyone.   “After that, she stopped taking her meds frequently.  When she went into hypomania, because my father couldn’t keep up with her…you know, sexually...Mom had several extramarital affairs, and she didn’t care who knew about them.  As she grew older it seemed she resented us even more because we were a reminder that her life didn’t turn out as she’d expected.  So when she got intense or when my parents would scream at each other behind closed doors, I would hop on the Metro and come here.”

           Aubrey knew how she felt, having had a difficult childhood of his own, but that was a story for another day.  He nodded silently as she continued.

           “I didn’t feel like such a burden to anyone here.  I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to take care of me. My dad had enough things to do without worrying about me more than he already did, you know?  When he wasn’t wrapped up in dealing with my mom’s shit, he worried about us kids, particularly Jack, Aaron, and me, because we were child prodigies like he was growing up.  We were different enough without people treating us like we were some sort of science experiment.  Being with other kids like us at the cooperative was so nice.”

           Aubrey knew what it was like to feel different as a kid, but they could talk about that later.  For now, he decided it was more important to listen to what Jessica had to say.

           “I’d just sit here and think about escaping somewhere where no one knew our family.  I just wanted to go to a place where I could be just be...me.  I’d be gone for hours, but eventually, one of my brothers or my dad would come into DC to get me and we would drive back to Bethesda...back to our house at the cooperative, and then we’d all try to act like nothing had happened.”  She paused to wipe some tears from her cheek.  

            “I’m so sorry, Jess.”  Wanting to comfort her, Aubrey pointed to a nearby bench.  “Let’s sit here for a minute, okay?”  He handed her his handkerchief.  “Here…”

            “Thanks.”  She smoothed her gown as she settled next to him, shrugging slightly as she stared at the sidewalk in front of her.  “I’m sorry...I guess I’ve been babbling.”

            “I don’t think you’re babbling.”  Aubrey shook his head as he looked out over the Mall.  “I think we’ve needed to have this talk for a long time.”

            “Yeah, I guess so.”  Jessica sighed softly before continuing.  “As you can imagine, I stuck out like a sore thumb at Michigan State.  I was fifteen years old, but my peers were eighteen or nineteen.  They were all eager to party...to try new things...to have sex.  I got there eventually, but it seemed most cute and interesting guys weren’t interested in a girl who was usually smarter than them or who liked stuff like science fiction and graphic novels.  The few who did like me made me really uncomfortable. One got so clingy that I felt like I couldn’t breathe and then, after my dad’s stroke, it was just easier to keep things casual because guys would get sick of me after a while, you know? As one of my former boyfriends said, I was the fun and quirky party girl who was good for a casual lay, but I had too much emotional baggage to really be anyone’s girlfriend.”

             Aubrey was disgusted.  “What an asshole!  You didn’t deserve to be treated that way...”

             The redhead chuckled.  “I know that now, Superman, but at the time, it really hurt.  I told myself that I liked having my options open and that being tied down to one guy kept me from what I wanted to be...a kick ass anthropologist like Doctor B.  She was why I got into forensic anthropology in the first place, you know?”

             “It’s so cool that you get to learn from a world famous scientist like her.”  Aubrey said.

             “Yeah, it is. I was so pumped when I got accepted into the program.  Anyway, when I got in at the Jeffersonian lab, I still felt the same way about guys.  I didn’t want to be tied down.  Sweets was fun, but after three hook ups with him, he came to me and told me that Daisy was pregnant.”

              She saw the irritation on Aubrey’s face and put her hand up to quell his outburst.  “He didn’t sleep with her when we were together, I promise. It was the same old story, though. He liked me, but he was in love with Daisy.  It was obvious and I wasn’t going to stand in the way of that, so I told him to go to her.”

              Jessica laughed again.  “I had to work with her a week later, and it was really weird. We had to examine a set of remains together, but we didn’t really talk to each other for over an hour.  Then she asked me what it was like to go to school in Michigan for seven years as compared to American University.  That eventually led to us talking about guys...which naturally led to us talking about Sweets.  When we were done for the day, we went out for drinks...well, a beer for me and club soda for her, and that was the start of our friendship.  She never held it against me...you know, that I’d been with him.”

              “I’ve always wondered how that came about.”  Aubrey said with a chuckle.  “I’m glad you girls worked that out.”

              “I promised myself after that little fiasco that I would put all my focus on my internship, because relationships scared me to death.  I didn’t want to be like my parents and constantly fight with someone I was supposed to love, and it seemed to me that I was meant for casual relationships because I wasn’t going to dumb myself down for any guy.”           

              “Good.  I like you just the way you are.”  Aubrey reached over to pat her knee.  “Don’t sell yourself short, okay?  If a guy can’t handle you being a genius who got into Mensa when she was 17 years old, he doesn’t deserve you.”

               Jessica smiled as she turned to Aubrey.  “So now we come to you...this really cute agent that I met during the Hayes Robertson case who shocked me by being such a sweet guy.  After that case, you’d come by the lab just to tell me jokes and to chat, remember?  Then we worked together for the first time on the Hodsell case...and I knew. Oh, did I know…”

              “I don’t get it.”  Obviously confused, Aubrey shook his head.  “You knew what, Jess?”

              “That you were different from all the other guys I’d ever known.  You didn’t treat me like some weirdo prodigy.  You seemed really interested in what I had to say and you liked me for who I was.  I’ve never trusted someone like I trust you, James Aubrey.  When you told me about your dad, I knew I could talk to you about my mom.  After I did, you didn’t look at me with disgust or make an excuse to leave.”           

               “Why would I do that?”, Aubrey asked.  “It’s not your fault your mother is mentally ill.  Just like when you told me that I’m not my father, you’re not your mother, Jess.”

                Jessica hesitated for a moment, choosing her words carefully. “When Caroline asked you to do that background check on me, it shook me up a bit.  I thought, ‘this is it, he’s not going to be my friend anymore.  I’m going to screw things up for him so he can’t run for Congress.’”  

                Blushing slightly, Aubrey cringed at her remark.  “I was such an idiot…I really feel bad about running that background check on you...poking into your business like that...”

               “But then you sent me that gift bag with a white flag and a stuffed pigeon toy with that note saying no crow was available for you to eat but you would eat a whole pigeon.  You charmed me into that first date, Aubrey.”

                Aubrey shrugged shyly.  “Because I liked you...a lot, Jess.  I was just intimidated, that’s all.”

                She rolled her eyes at the silly man next to her. “Why?”

                Aubrey looked at her, once again dumbfounded.  “You really don't see it, do you?”

               “See what?”, Jessica said.  “I know you think I'm pretty but--”

               “You’re not just pretty, Jessica.”, Aubrey said quietly.  “You are beautiful...outside and inside.  Plus, you’d had all these adventures while I was this staid, normal FBI agent.  A girl like you could have any guy she wanted.”

               Aubrey’s words cut Jessica to her core.  “No, I couldn't, Aubrey, because when I finally found someone who said he loved me and meant it for more than to get me into bed, I panicked.  I had a knee jerk reaction, not just because you felt so strongly about me, but also because I felt that way about you.  I went to that class in Scotland all tied up in knots because I didn't know what was wrong with me.  I know now I shouldn't have gone to that class, Superman, because I wasn't here for you when your dad showed up…”

              “That’s in all the past, okay, Jess...”

              “No, it’s not okay...”,  Jessica sniffled as she wiped her eyes with Aubrey’s handkerchief.  “I practically abandoned you…”

              “Hey, enough, alright?”  Aubrey put his knuckle under her chin, gently lifting her face so she could look into his eyes.  “You don’t have to worry about that any more.  Doctor B recommended you for that class, and I would have been a shitty boyfriend to stand in the way of an opportunity for you to study at such a great university.  Anyway, you had no way of knowing when my dad was actually going to show up, okay?  Stop beating yourself up over that.”  

               Jessica sniffled a little bit as she continued.  “But I just left you to fend for yourself, Aubrey.  I didn't think to talk to you about how you felt about things.  You must have been hurt when I just announced that I got accepted for this class and took off three days later, especially since it was right after you tried to tell me how you felt about me.”

              Aubrey couldn't deny what she said.  “I felt...well, it just reinforced what I thought after that night...that I was pushing you too hard, like maybe the stuff with my father was too much for you to handle.  That’s why whenever you wanted to talk about him and how I was coping, I changed the subject.  Of course...I didn’t want to push you away, but I ended up doing that anyway.”  

              Shifting nervously on the bench, he reached over to take Jessica’s hand. “Listen, there’s something I need to tell you, okay?”  He exhaled slowly, trying to calm himself.  “I want to apologize for ruining what we had together.  I know I screwed up badly with how I handled that whole LA promotion thing.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through everything in my head, wishing I could go back and change things.  I’m so sorry for being such an asshole.  I didn’t ever want to hurt you and I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness.  I just wasn’t sure what to do, you know?  I knew I wanted to have you with me, but I wasn’t sure just how involved we should be…we both seemed to have our doubts...”

              Jessica looked at him with tears in her eyes.  “James, if you had said that to me when we first discussed your promotion, it would’ve made a difference.  I would’ve said yes to moving with you.”

             “What?”  Aubrey was stunned.  “Seriously?”

              She nodded.  “Yes.  Instead, I felt rejected, like I was just an afterthought.  You know, get a fancy new promotion...check. Move clear across the country...check.  New apartment...check.  Figure out how to move the cat...check.  Girlfriend...oh, shit.  Got to tell the girlfriend.”

              “Jessica…”  He knew he’d done exactly that.  “You’re right.  I know I should’ve told you sooner, but I was so….afraid, I guess.  I mean, I really wanted that promotion.  I thought I wanted to go to LA, and I knew I wanted you to come with me.  However, I also knew that would be difficult for you to do that with your internship at the lab.  I thought maybe I’d stay to be here with you, but you seemed panicked at the thought of us having a serious relationship and I didn’t want to pressure you.  I was trying to take some time to think it through, but I guess it would’ve been so much easier to have been honest with you from the beginning so we could’ve decided things together.  Instead, I ended up shutting you out.”

              “I don’t ever want to feel that way again.  I hated it...that feeling that you didn’t trust me enough to confide in me.”  Jessica crossed her arms across her chest.  “And if you didn’t trust me to tell me about how things were with your dad, or about a possible promotion, how could we ever have a lasting relationship? I felt pushed into a corner, and I couldn’t see any way to get out of this mess except to make a clean break from you.”  She sniffled slightly as she brushed tears from her cheek.  “I didn’t think you wanted me anymore.”

              “No, I’ve always wanted you.  I didn't want to drive you away.  The way I feel about you, Jessica...it’s so hard to explain.  All I can say is that I’ve never felt this way about anyone else...and I never will.  It’s like you complete me...you soothe my soul, you know?  I’m not sure I can live without you.”

               The agent sat for a moment to gather his thoughts, blinking back a few tears.  “It was hard, because I knew I wasn't ready to get married or even live together.  I wanted you, but I didn't realize how much I needed you until you told me no and said we had no future together in LA or anywhere else.  I didn't just lose my lover, Jessica...I was losing my best friend.  Then when we were at the crime scene and it seemed like you were freezing me out, it just about killed me.”

               “But you had Karen…”, Jessica began softly.

               “No, I never ‘had’ Karen. I picked her brain because you two were friends and talking to her about my dad after I saw him at the diner helped me a lot. I didn't want to go with Karen to Daisy’s wedding, but like an idiot, I let her talk me into it.  I didn't ask her, by the way.  She suggested going with her as a way to move on from you.  I thought she was invited, I swear.  Then when we got there, you had that jackass Gerald with you as your date…”

               “Yeah…that was a mistake...” She grimaced at the thought of the crude antiquities intern.

               “He’s always been after you, Jess.  It made me feel so insecure sometimes.  I mean, the guy looks like he should be on the cover of GQ.”

                “Aubrey, you’re twice, no, ten times the man he is.”, Jessica said.   She fidgeted with her purse, not wanting to look at him.  “You know, I overheard about you and Karen from those agents while we were at the crime scene and it made me so angry.  Then you came up to me all charming and asking how I was, but I was so hurt and mad at myself that I took it out on you.”

                “Why were you mad at yourself?”  Aubrey gave her a quizzical look.  

                 Surprised at the question, Jessica turned to the agent and laughed.  “Don't you know?  You’re a catch, James Aubrey. I had the pick of the litter and instead of talking to you about things, I freaked out and broke up with you.  Then, to make matters worse, it looked like you had quickly moved on to someone else.  I’d lost my best friend because I was too scared to take a chance on you.  Dr. B was right.”

                “About what?”  Now Aubrey was really confused.

                “I was scared to death of how I felt about you.  It was easier to justify breaking up with you because it hurt so much to realize that I caused all this mess, and then I lost you and then I slapped you…I’m so sorry...”

                Aubrey couldn't let her take it all on herself.  “I deserved to be smacked for what I said after the wedding, Jessica.  I was jealous and it was disgusting and uncalled for.  No...we both did this.  Booth was right about that.”

             It was Jessica’s turn to be confused.  “Booth was right about what?”

             Aubrey leaned back and closed his eyes.  “It was both of us.  Love is supposed to be a wonderful thing between two people...but all it did was freak us out.  It was easier to have great sex and hang out like always without ever having to make a commitment.  Booth said I needed to grow up...and he was right.  You weren't the only one placing all the blame, Jess.  It was easier to convince myself that you were overreacting over nothing and that you just needed to get over yourself.  When Booth told me about the crap going around about me and Karen, everything made sense.  No wonder you didn't believe me when I said I wasn’t with her.  You were right when you thought I was a douche bag--”

             “I didn't think you were a douchebag--”

             “Fine...an inconsiderate asshole, then.  I wanted to make you jealous...and to hurt like I was hurting... so I threw Karen in your face.  However, all I did was alienate you and make her think I was really interested in her.”

              Jessica couldn't contain her curiosity.  “Yeah, I saw she kissed you at the wedding reception.”

             “Yeah...on the lips...hard!”, Aubrey said with a shudder.  “That wasn't the worst of it. She tried to jiggle my jewels...”  When he described what happened after their fight, Jessica laughed out loud.

             “So not funny, Jess.”  Aubrey tried to look annoyed.  

             “So very funny, Aubrey.  Man, we both got groped Saturday night.  Daisy’s wedding really sucked for both of us, didn’t it?”

              Suddenly, the two of them were laughing so hard they had tears streaming from their eyes. It felt so good to laugh together again, but when they calmed down, reality hit them.

             “So what do we do now?”, Jessica asked softly.  “Are you still interested in me?  Do you still want to be friends with me?”

             “Oh, Jess...I’ve never wanted anything more in my whole life.  I just want to be with you, okay?  No promotion is important enough for me to lose you.  When I realized I might not have you to share my success with, I didn’t care about it anymore.  It doesn’t mean anything without you.  That’s why I’d decided to say no…because you didn’t seem interested in moving…”

             “No?  You were going to say no?  But it was a great move for your career…”  Jessica shook her head in disbelief.  “So you changed your mind?  You were going to stay no matter what?”

             “Yeah...”  Aubrey stared out across the Reflecting Pool as he remembered that awful day.  “...but with everything that happened, you know, with the Jeffersonian being bombed and all, I didn’t get a chance to tell you.  We were supposed to finish our conversation later, but things went to hell…”  He sighed as he studied his shoes.  “So if I had asked you the right way, when I first found out about the promotion, you would’ve gone with me to California…”

             “And if I’d given you a chance to explain instead of making assumptions about what you wanted, you would’ve told me that you were going to stay here in DC, no matter what.”  Jessica didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.  “And Karen…”

             “Karen is not my new girlfriend, and I’m guessing that Gerald is not your new boyfriend, so there we are.”  Aubrey ran his hand down his face.  “It seems our communication skills suck.  I’d say we need some major improvement in that area.”

              “You’re right.”, Jessica agreed.  “We’ve been stuck in this mess for too long...not talking to each other...not saying what we mean or how we really feel.”  Giggling softly, she smiled sadly at Aubrey.  “It’s like carbonite, isn’t it?”

              “Carbonite?”  Puzzled, he turned to her for an explanation.

              “You know, we’ve been stuck in a rut, going along like usual, each hoping the other knows what we’re thinking and feeling, like Han Solo and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. They don’t say anything about how they truly feel about each other until Darth Vader is going to freeze Han in the carbonite, and then Leia says….”

               “I love you.”  Aubrey finally understood.  “And Han says…”

               “I know.”  Jessica continued softly.  “If we don’t say everything...if we don’t tell each other the whole truth, feelings and all, we won’t ever know if we can make it together as a couple.”

               “Yeah, you’re right.”  Aubrey studied his fingernails for a few minutes.  “Booth thinks neither one of us is ready for a relationship until we figure out why each of us did what we did.”

               Jessica sighed.  “Dr. B said the same thing.”

               Aubrey hoped he wasn't breaking a confidence.  “Have you heard about how strained things were with Booth and Doctor B after she’d turned him down when he wanted to be more than friends?  Or what happened after Booth got back from Afghanistan and Dr. B came home from that island she went to with Daisy and when his new girlfriend showed up…”

              “I’ve heard most of the story from Daisy, but she said it wasn’t something to bring up to Booth or Doctor B.”

              “Well, things got really bad until he broke up with that reporter he was living with….Hannah Burley...you know from TV?”  When Jessica nodded, he continued.   “After she left, their relationship improved somewhat, but they still didn’t talk about how things were between them, you know?  Booth said one day while they were stuck in an elevator during a blizzard, they laid everything out on the table, including the all the issues that were keeping them apart.  He said it was awkward as fuck, but once they talked it all out, they decided to rebuild their friendship while working on their own stuff, and it took the pressure off.  Only then, when they knew they were ready, would they try to be together.”

              “Really?”  Jessica was astonished.  “That must’ve been really scary for both of them.”

              “Yeah.  He said they’ve always talked and been open with each other after that, no matter how uncomfortable it was. It must’ve worked because now they’re married with two kids and they managed to get back together after Booth fell off the gambling wagon a year and a half ago.”

               Both were quiet for a moment as they contemplated the situation before Aubrey’s phone rang.  Looking at the caller ID, he quickly pushed the IGNORE button before putting it back in his pocket.  “You know I love you, don’t you, Jessica?  Being really in love with you is exhilarating, but it scares the shit out of me...

               Jessica brushed away a tear.  “What are you trying to say, Aubrey?”

               Aubrey looked into her worried eyes and tried to smile. “I know I'm not ready to be in a relationship with you...or anyone else for that matter.  I need to grow up and I need to figure some things out first.  We both need to figure things out.”

               The redhead finally understood what he meant.  “You mean...we work on why I'm so scared to make a commitment and why you keep holding things back from me?”

              “Yeah.  Booth made me realize if we have any chance of being together, we have to work on ourselves first before we can be together or otherwise, we’ll just fail again. I can’t take that risk...I couldn’t handle losing you again.”

               Jessica nodded resolutely as she made her decision.  “We’ll just start over.  For right now, we’ll be friends, but we’ll work on our communication.  When we get our own problems worked out, we can work on being together.  The big question is this...what do we do if people start sticking their noses into our business?  Aren’t you afraid that we might feel pressured into rushing things again?”

               “First, we only tell people we choose to tell.  Second, if anybody gets nosy, we tell them to mind their own damn business and then we talk it over with each other.  Shitty communication got us in this mess, Jess.  We can’t let things slide, okay?”, Aubrey responded.  “I can't guarantee the future, but I think we can do this.  If we can have one tenth what Booth and Doctor B have, then...we can do anything.  Above all else, I will wait as long as you need me to...you know that, right?  When I commit to something, I don’t quit.”

                Jessica’s heart melted when she heard his simple, heartfelt declaration.  Never had anyone considered her needs that important.  She couldn't help the tears that rolled down her cheek.

                Aubrey thought he said the right thing, but he felt sick when she started to cry.  “Oh shit...I said the wrong thing again, didn’t I?  Jess, I’m so sorry--”

               “No, no you didn't.”, Jessica said as she wiped her eyes.  “James Aubrey, you said the most perfect thing any man could ever say to a woman.”

                They smiled at each other before Aubrey realized how dark the Mall was.  Looking at his phone, he gasped in surprise.  “Crap, Jess, it's almost eleven o’clock.”

                “I totally didn't notice how late it was.”, the redhead said as she shivered slightly.  “Getting cold, I notice.”

                “Nice Yoda.”, Aubrey said before pulling off his top section of armor and gently placing it around her upper body.  “A little heavy, but it's warm.  Doesn’t do much for the dress, though...”

                “Thanks, Boyfriend.” Jessica couldn’t help but grin at Aubrey’s bashful smile.  “You don’t mind if I call you Boyfriend, do you?”

                “Of course not….Damn it!”  Their tender moment was broken by Aubrey’s phone ringing again.  Picking it up, he groaned before putting it back in his pocket.

                “It was Karen, wasn't it?  She’s the one who’s been calling you all evening…”

                "Yes.”, Aubrey said.  “I guess she was sent to work at the Seattle field office this week.  Now she’s back...and my peaceful week is officially over...”

                 “It’s probably because you missed your hot date tonight.”, Jessica said with a chuckle.

                 “Hot date?” Aubrey looked confused.  “What are you talking about?”

                 “Well, your ‘girlfriend...,”, Jessica said, as she made quotation marks in the air. “...sent me a text Wednesday asking about...you know what, it’s better if I just show you.”           

                  Jessica pulled out her phone and found the text in question.  Showing it to Aubrey, she saw the annoyed look in his eyes.

                  “What the--”

                  “Did you develop some sort of panty fetish within the last month or so?  She’s very concerned about making her underwear appealing to you, Superman.”

                  “The only underwear I want to see is yours, Jessica.”, Aubrey said as he rubbed his face in frustration.  “Great.  She stalks me at work, shows up at my apartment without calling, pisses off my cat, annoys the shit out of me at Daisy’s wedding, hits on me more than once, rearranges the pictures in my living room, and now this…”

                  Jessica moved down the bench closer to Aubrey.  “She rearranged things in your living room without your permission?  That’s just creepy. What are you going to do?”

                  Aubrey made a snarky face.  “Booth said I should try not being available for lunch and that I should be strictly professional at work.  Hopefully that will take care of it.  I've already told her I just want to be friends.”  Aubrey shrugged casually.  “It's my own fault that I led her on, so now I have to deal with it.”  He decided to change the subject.  “So what are you doing tomorrow?”

                  “Working hard on my dissertation since I’ve let that slide lately.”  She gave him a hopeful wink. “However, maybe we can have dinner together.”

                   “Can't.  Having dinner with Booth, Dr. B and the Mini Booths, but can I call you tomorrow night?” 

                   “Sure.”, Jessica said.  “What are your plans next week?” 

                  “I have lunch meetings all week, you know, so I can dodge a certain profiler.”  He gave Jessica a wink.  “However, it's Retro Science Fiction night Wednesday night at the Cineplex.  They’re showing The Thing From Another World.  I love that one...”

                  “Me, too.  Diner for dinner first?”, Jessica said with a smile.  “My treat…”

                  “Well, in that case, definitely dinner first.”

                  “Okay, it's a date, Agent Aubrey.”, Jessica said.  “Just don’t tell Obi-Wan Kenobi.  I don’t think he’d understand why Princess Leia would go out with a Stormtrooper...even if he is cute.”  She giggled as he pulled her up from the bench.  “You know, the Princess wouldn’t make that sort of pact with the enemy.”

                   Aubrey flashed a dimpled smile as he bumped her shoulder with his.  “C’mon, Princess.  I’ll take you home.”

                   The two friends walked away arm in arm, both feeling positive about their relationship for the first time in a long time. 

Chapter Text

          It was 8 am Sunday morning, and Aubrey was sound asleep as Skinner stood on his chest and stared at him. Hearing his phone buzz, he ignored the cat walking on him as he reached over to grab it. He groaned softly as he saw who the message was from.

         Where were u last nite?

Aubrey knew Karen was annoyed because he hadn’t answered any of her four phone calls last night, but he didn’t care.  It really wasn’t any of her business where he’d been.  He thought about not answering her text, but decided it would be easier to get it over with.

            Out w/ friends.  Back late.

            Feeling Skinner head butt his ass, the agent got up to feed him and make some coffee.  After filling the bowl, he heard his phone buzz again.  Reading it, he shook his head in frustration.

            Who were u out w/?

             Aubrey wasn’t going to lie, but he wasn’t going to drag Jessica into his drama either.  Typing a text, he sent it.

           A good friend of mine.

            Hoping she would take the hint, Aubrey got out the coffee beans and cinnamon from the cupboard.  As he finished grinding the beans, he heard another text come in.  When he saw the message, he quickly graduated from frustrated to very annoyed.

            Any 1 I know?

            “Take a fucking hint, Karen.”, the lanky man muttered to himself before sending a simple message.

            An old girlfriend.

            When the coffee was brewed he poured a cup before taking the box of Lucky Charms down from the cupboard.  That’s when he heard the phone again.  Picking it up, he read the message.

           Got back from WA last nite.  Sorry unavailable last wk but FBI needed me more than u.

            “Hmmmm, nice try but sorry, no guilt.”, Aubrey said before turning to his cat.  “Skinner, I think that Karen lady you don’t like is pissed at Daddy.”

           The agent smiled as the orange tabby’s fluffy tail started flicking hard back and forth before he ran off to use his litter box.  Chuckling to himself, Aubrey sent another message.

            It’s OK.  I managed all rite.  Bureau comes 1 st .

            Aubrey ate his breakfast quickly, knowing he had chores to do before going to Booth and Brennan’s.  After putting his empty bowl and coffee cup in the sink, he jumped in the shower and got dressed.  When he brushed his teeth, he got another text.

            How about dinner @ Satay Sarinah?  A date w/ pigeon & u could b fun.

            Aubrey took a deep breath.  She knew the significance of that place for him and Jessica and it infuriated him that she was playing this game.  Needing a break from her, he replied with the following:

            No thanx.  Have plans l8r.  

           Satisfied, he got his laundry together before turning to his bed.  Coming around, he stripped the sheets that had been there since he broke up with Jessica.

           He had a strong hunch she would be with him in that bed again one day in the near future.


           Karen saw Aubrey’s last message and fumed.  She’d left for a week to teach him a lesson, but it obviously went over the agent’s head.  However, remembering his reaction when she was blatant about her intentions, the profiler knew she needed to keep her cards close to the vest.

            She thought she would have him when she suggested dinner at Satay Sarinah.  He loved their pigeon.  Yeah, he had a date with that flaky forensic anthropologist there...big fucking deal.

           The profiler recalled Jessica’s attempts to get her boyfriend to have a healthier diet.  She laughed as she remembered that the redhead bimbo had wanted a virile man like Aubrey to survive on black kale chia smoothies.  How stupid was she to think her boyfriend would permanently drink something like that?

            Then the bitch interrupted her diner time with the agent by bringing in healthy meals like vegetarian lasagna and American goulash with lean sirloin 2 or 3 times a week.  Because of that, Aubrey wasn’t going out as much, even for his morning coffee time, which she had learned to time for her ‘accidental meetings’.  The few times she was able to join him for lunch when Jessica, Booth, or that holier than thou Dr. Brennan couldn’t be there were now gone.

            Suddenly, it came to her.  To win him over, she had to use his love of food.  To her knowledge, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t eat, so she’d bring him lunch like Jessica used to and that would get his attention again.  Of course, he would whine about that flaky redhead, but Karen knew she had to be his friend before she could get him into bed.

           ‘ After all, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. ’, she thought to herself, smiling as she remembered her grandmother’s words of wisdom.

           Then he’d know what he’d been missing while he was with that graduate student.  From what she found out through the grapevine and from talking to Aubrey, Jessica graduated from Michigan State on full scholarships with two bachelors and one master's degree, all summa cum laude and at the top of her class.  What pissed Karen off even more was that the redhead got a full ride while she’d had to struggle to get grants and other types of aid.  Of course, she now had mountains of student loan debt but the FBI was paying $10,000 per year of it for the next six years.

           ‘Child prodigy, huh?’,   Karen bitterly thought to herself.   ‘More like probably fucked her way to her honors.  Wonder who she jumped to get her internship at the Jeffersonian?  Probably that Angela Montenegro so she would put in a good word with Dr. Brennan.  Rumor has it she used to swing both ways before marrying that crazy Dr. Hodgins.  I could totally see Jessica doing that.’

           Wanting to make sure Aubrey would be available for her call, she sent him a text message.

            Making you chicken 4 dinner.  Come by around 5:00 PM  :)

           Grabbing her laptop and coffee, Karen started researching recipes to make for Aubrey.  He said he was busy, but no way would he turn down a free meal.


            Aubrey played with Christine while Booth and Brennan were making dinner.  Tonight they were eating garlic shrimp Alfredo and he was salivating at the wonderful aroma.  As the agent was ready to take his turn in Candy Land , his phone rang.  Seeing who the caller was, he ignored it and set it down.

            “Uncle Aubrey, your phone is ringing.”, Christine said.

            “I know, Christine, but I’m busy having fun with you right now.  They can leave a message and if it’s important and I can call them later.  After all, I don’t to miss my turn in the game...”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Thirty minutes later, Aubrey was sipping his wine with dinner when he heard his phone buzz.  Concerned it might be work, he checked it, but when he saw who the caller was, he set it back down without answering it.

            “Aubrey, you can get that if you need to, especially if it’s work.”, Brennan said.

            “It’s not important Dr. B.  They can leave a message.”, the agent said before looping more wheat linguine onto his fork.  “My mother always said that answering a phone call during dinner, unless it was truly important, was rude.”

            As he ate, he finished his comment to himself.  ‘But of course, my father had a different definition of important than we did.’

            “You would rather eat dinner with us than talk on the phone?”, Christine asked in surprise.

            “Most definitely, Mini Booth number one.”, Aubrey said, smiling as he popped another shrimp in his mouth.


           Jessica was incredulous.  “So she called you how many times today?”

            “Four or five, Jess.”, Aubrey said as he sat in his living room watching the Simpsons with Skinner.  “That’s not counting the text messages she sent me starting at 8:00 this morning pumping me for info on who I was with yesterday.”

            “What did you tell her?”, Jessica said as she opened her fridge.

            “After she hounded me, I told her the truth...that I’d gone out with an old girlfriend.”, Aubrey said with a laugh.  “She deserved it after that nasty text she sent you about our supposed date Saturday night.  Then she replied with….here, let me forward it to you.”

            Aubrey forwarded Karen’s text to Jessica and waited for a moment.  He didn’t have to wait long for a response.

            “Ouch…that’s some hot shade she shot your way, Superman.”

            Aubrey took a drink of his beer.  “Even after I told her I had plans, she sent me a message that she was cooking chicken for dinner and I needed to be at her apartment by 5:00.  She called twice while I was at Booth and Dr. B’s, and that was her who tried calling me a few minutes ago.  Obviously she didn’t like that I didn’t show up for dinner.”

            “Well, we need to ask the all-important question, Superman.”,  Jessica said as she grabbed carrots and cream cheese before kicking the door shut.  “Does Skinner approve of her?”

            “He hates her guts.”, Aubrey said with a chuckle.  “You’re his favorite.  He misses you, Jess.”

            The redhead set her things down on the table with her laptop.  “I miss him, too.  Let him know I’ll see him soon.”

            “Okay.”, Aubrey said with a smile.

            “Listen Superman, I have to get back to my dissertation.  I know you were going to call me, but I couldn’t wait to talk to you for a bit.”

            “I’m glad you did.”, Aubrey said.  “Are we still on for Wednesday night?”

            “Uh, yeah, Aubrey.  I haven’t seen The Thing From Another World in a while.  Barring a case, you’re taking me to that movie, buddy, so don’t bother trying to weasel out of it.  Especially if I’m buying dinner at the diner beforehand.  A date’s a date.”

            Hearing the word ‘date’ made the agent feel warm and fuzzy all over.  “That it is.  I’ll call you Tuesday, all right?”

            “Cool.”, the redhead said as she dipped a carrot in her cream cheese.  “Night, Superman.”

            “Night, Jess.”,  Aubrey responded.

             The agent ended the call and smiled.  Last Sunday he was recouping from a hangover and one of the worst nights of his life.  Tonight things were definitely looking up.  Talking to Jessica always made him feel good, especially when she set aside time from working on her dissertation just to talk to him.

            Then another feeling made its presence known and he couldn't ignore it.  Aubrey lifted Skinner off his lap as his phone rang again.  When he saw the name, he groaned.

            “Sorry, Karen, I’ve got better things to do right now.”

            The agent got up and walked into his bathroom.  Skinner followed him and pushed the door open before entering.

            “Skinner…can’t a man do some things in peace?”


             Throroughly annoyed, Karen threw her phone down.  She’d made extra chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans to accommodate Aubrey when he came by for dinner.  She told him 5:00, so why didn’t he come by for dinner?  Surely, whatever plans he had didn’t take precedence over a free meal.

            The profiler considered the situation as she put the food away.  “He was probably busy with work.  He is the SAC of the Major Crimes Division and handling a major joint case with Booth’s Homicide Division.  Yeah, that’s it.”

            After she finished cleaning her kitchen and put the leftovers away, Karen found the recipes she discovered online.  Getting the needed items out for Monday’s lunch, she got started on the vegetarian lasagna.  Tonight she would prep it and tomorrow she could bake it at Quantico in the break room oven one floor below hers.  Aubrey will be so excited to have a hot, fresh meal and of course, he’ll ask her to join him.

            That flaky anthropologist wasn’t the only one who could charm James Aubrey out of his pants with food.


            Monday morning, Aubrey got up early and arrived at his office at 7:00 to finish payroll and other administrative tasks.  When 11:30 arrived, he grabbed his jacket, phone, and overcoat before leaving to have lunch with Booth at the diner.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Karen arrived at the Major Crimes Division at her usual time of 12:15 with an insulated bag containing the lasagna.  Walking straight through the bullpen, she arrived at Aubrey’s office and was surprised to see the light off and door closed.  Turning the knob, she was surprised again to find it locked.

            Seeing an agent walk by, Karen flagged him down.  “Excuse me, where’s Agent Aubrey?”

            Agent Baker shrugged his shoulders.  “He left to go to the diner for lunch with Agent Booth.”

            “Great.”, Karen said.  Thrusting the bag toward the agent, she couldn’t hold back her annoyance.  “Make sure your boss gets this and let him know it was from me.”

            “Sure, Dr. Delfs.  Any message?”

            “No, Agent.  Thank you.”, Karen said before walking away, her spine stiffened.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            When Aubrey returned about 12:45, Agent Baker greeted him with a present.  “Boss, Karen Delfs from the BRIU left this for you.”

            The SAC took the handles and twirled the bag around.  “Anyone know what it is?”

            “Not sure, but I think it’s supposed to be lasagna.”,  Baker said.  “She seemed annoyed you weren’t here.”

            “Well, I’m entitled to go have lunch with Agent Booth or any of my other friends.”, Aubrey said before going further to dispel any more rumors.  “It’s not like she’s my girlfriend or anything.  Whatever she wanted to discuss I’m sure we’ll talk about later.  I’ll put this out in the break room.  Between us, Homicide, and International Operations, I’m sure someone will eat it.”

            Aubrey carried the bag into the break room.  Opening it, he looked at the platter and the sauce, which smelled like it was burned.  Taking a fork, he poked through it and saw some very mushy carrots and peppers.  As he got it close to his nose, he made a face.  Not only was the sauce burned, but it smelled like she used some sort of cheap grated parmesan and cheddar cheese.  However, the cheese also looked funny.

            Then it hit him...Karen had used soy cheese.  Soy cheese was bad...very bad.

            On the other hand, when Jessica made Vegetarian lasagna, the sauce was made with fresh grated Parmesan mixed with Asiago and Romano cheeses.  The vegetables were crisp and she put Portobello mushrooms in it.  One time she made it with an Arrabiata red sauce with just the right amount of bite in it.  What was on the plate in front of him didn’t even come close.

            Not wanting to hurt the woman’s feelings, he left it out on the community counter and passed the word around that it was for everyone.


            Tuesday Aubrey was gone from Major Crimes the entire day.  He had arrived at the Hoover at 6:40 for the DC field office’s quarterly meeting, which started at 7:00 in the 6th floor conference room.  Here he was joined by Booth and the Special Agents in Charge from the other divisions along with the Assistant Deputy Director, Deputy Director, and Director.  The agent remembered how much Booth dreaded these.  

            At 9:00, they broke for a few minutes and Booth introduced Aubrey to the other SACs as he munched on his early morning snack.  An hour after that, he almost fell asleep while Hacker talked about the progress of the Human Resources department.  

            To get through the windbag’s lecture, Aubrey walked up to the cart in the back of the room.  Pouring two cups of coffee, he gave one to Booth, who expressed his gratitude silently.  Sitting down, he drank before he quietly sent a text message to Jessica, who was attending an anthropology lecture with Brennan and Daisy at American University's Hamilton building.

            If u think u may need zzz aid in future, I can rec’d Hacker talking about HR

            Feeling a buzz, Aubrey checked his phone when Stark and the other directors weren’t looking and almost cracked up laughing.

            All set.  Guest lecturer made me & Daisy doze off.  Almost put Dr B 2 sleep 2.  

            When Booth inquired, Aubrey showed him the message and both agents snickered until they saw a warning look from Stark, who looked ready to pass out himself.  About thirty seconds later, Booth sent him a message.

            Did any 1 eat your gf’s food in break rm yesterday?  It looked nasty when I saw it.

            Keeping a straight face, Aubrey responded to Booth’s text.

            Maybe 1 or 2.  Put the rest in fridge 4 u 2 enjoy later.

            Booth sent a simple response, which he qualified with an emoji of the middle finger.

            Fuck U Aubrey.

            Aubrey bit his lip to hold back another laugh as the two SACs turned their attention back to Hacker and his explanation of Human Resources’ new system of filing.

            Lunch couldn’t come fast enough.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Karen arrived at the Major Crimes division of the 4th floor around 11:30, this time with bags from the Royal Diner.  She’d gotten Aubrey his favorite triple bacon cheeseburger, fries, onion rings, fruit salad, and a chocolate shake.  Determined to get to him before he left for lunch again, she rushed to his office, only to see the blinds drawn and the door locked.

            “Grrrr.”, the profiler growled in frustration.

            Walking back into the bullpen, she came up empty until she found Agent Genevieve Shaw in her office eating at her desk.  “Excuse me, where is Special Agent Aubrey today?”

            Genny was not Karen’s fan at all.  The woman always rubbed her the wrong way and she knew the profiler was stalking her boss.  It was obvious he still loved his former girlfriend, but she realized she had to be professional.

            “He’s at our field office’s quarterly meeting with the various directors on the 6th floor and will be gone all day.  I’m Acting SAC today.  Is there something I can help you with?”

            “You’re in charge of his division today?”

            Genny kept a straight face.  “Yes, Dr. Delfs.  I’m the ASAC for Major Crimes and part of my job is to run things when the current SAC is unavailable.  Agent Aubrey said all inquiries were to go to me today and I would make the final call on whether to pull him out of his meeting.  Now, what can I help you with?  If it’s in regards to the profile you are doing for us on the Vacchio case, no new evidence has come in from the Jeffersonian yet.  However, if we require your services for another case, we will call you at the BRIU immediately.”

            Karen didn’t like the younger woman’s condescending attitude and intended to have a discussion with Aubrey about his second in command’s lack of respect.  “I have his lunch.  What time do they break for lunch?”  Karen asked impatiently.

            It took all the patience Genny had to remain professional.  “I’m not sure when they break for lunch, Dr. Delfs.  What I do know is the Bureau usually feed the department heads a catered lunch at these meetings.”

            Karen took a deep breath.  “Well, I’m sure he will sneak away for a while.  Can you unlock his office for me so I can put this in there?”

            “I don’t have keys to my supervisor’s office, Dr. Delfs.”  Genny said with an easy smile.  She was lying because Aubrey gave her his spare office key if someone needed to go in there but the profiler didn’t need to know that.

            Karen kept her cool.  “Fine, I’ll just send a text that I’m in the break room and I brought him lunch.”

            ‘Did she not hear what I just said about the catered lunch?’, Shaw thought, but decided not to argue with the woman.  “Sure, no problem.  Have a good one, Dr. Delfs.”

            Recognizing she was being dismissed, Karen walked back to the 4th floor break room.  Spreading everything out, she sent a message to Aubrey.  Pulling out her briefcase, she took out files to work on while she waited for the agent.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            As Aubrey was listening to SAC Burns talk about the latest system change in International Operations, his personal phone buzzed.  Turning it, he read it before groaning inwardly.

            I’ve brought u lunch from RD.  In break rm w4u.

            “What is it?, Booth whispered.  Aubrey showed it to him and Booth shook his head.  “What the hell is that last one?”

            "Waiting for you.”, Aubrey whispered back before they read it again.

             Pulling his phone back, Aubrey tried to be discreet as he sent a response.  He then sent a message letting Jessica, Genny, and the lab know to reach him on his FBI phone or email the rest of the day before turning his focus back to the meeting.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Karen was reading over some notes when she heard her phone buzz.  Reading the message, steam came out of her ears before she dropped her phone hard on the counter.

            Thx but FBI serving lunch shortly.  U can have what u brought me.

            James Aubrey was trying her patience.  

            She had brought him lunch almost every day since that twit Jessica broke up with him and let him pick her brain on how to get the bimbo back.  Next, she agreed to be his friend after Daisy’s wedding even though it ruined the plans she made for him.  The least he could do was not accept the lunch the FBI paid for and instead come down from his meeting, have the meal that she purchased, and spend some time with her.  

             In a pique, she shoved all her work into her briefcase.  When done, she grabbed her lunch and stormed out of the break room, leaving the rest behind.  

             “Aubrey better learn to appreciate me or we’re going to have some major issues.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            The rest of the day was quite informative for Aubrey.  Booth asked Charlie Burns to join them during lunch and they compared notes on cases before the second half of the day began.  When the meeting concluded at 4:30 PM, he walked out with Booth.

            “Wow…”, Aubrey said.  “Talk about overwhelming…”

            “Yeah.  A lot of good information mixed in with some crap.”, Booth said.  “You did good when you had to present for Major Crimes, Aubrey.”

            “Thanks, Booth.  I was really nervous.”, the younger man said before switching gears.  “Hacker was long winded, but I liked what was coming out of International Operations, and the Finance and the Cyber divisions both have some interesting stuff in the works.  With Vacchio working for the SEC, that could come in handy.”

            “Good idea, Aubrey.  I’ll call Agents Ross and Elias tomorrow to set up some meetings if that works for you.  I’ll suggest lunch meetings if it fits with their schedules.”            

            “Thanks, Booth.”, Aubrey said with a smile.  As the two arrived at the stairwell, he opened the door.  “By the way, how’s your niece?”

            A minute later, the door opened at the 4th floor and the two men entered the hallway.  “Hayley is responding well to this new antibiotic.  Russ said the doctors are very optimistic for her.”

            “I’m glad Hayley is doing well, Booth.”

            “Me too, Aubrey.”, Booth said as they arrived in the middle of the floor.  “Are you free this week to go over what our departments found with the Vacchio case?”

            “I’m meeting with Angela and Genny tomorrow for a lunch time meeting to go over the Rhodes case.  I’m free for lunch Thursday and Friday, but I can move some stuff around if your schedule sucks.”

            “Thursday, Bones and I are going to Richmond to talk to a witness in the Weeks case, so it maybe be an all day thing.”, Booth said.  

            “That’s the one where the IT worker was found in the US Botanical Gardens, right?”

            “Yep, Bones and Hodgins found some particulates on the remains that Hodgins said this witness we’re talking to has experience in.”, Booth said.  “How about Friday?”

             “Sounds good.  Karen is supposed to have the profile done by Thursday morning, so that will give us both time to go over it.  If we get a major break we can meet sooner.”

            “Want to do it over lunch at the diner?”, Booth said.

            “Most definitely.”, Aubrey said.  

             Booth looked at his watch.  “Well, I’ve been here since before quarter to seven, so I’m out of here.”

            “Me, too.  Bye, Booth.”

            The two men parted and Aubrey headed through the bullpen to his office.  After unlocking the door, he went in to check his voicemail messages before leaving for the day.  He wasn’t long into his task when he heard a knock.  Looking up, he was grateful to see Genny.

            “So Acting SAC, how did things go today?”

            “Smooth.  Oh, the lab called about the Vacchio case, but Angela said she would just email it to you since you were in a meeting.”

            “Yeah, I read it when I checked my email during the afternoon break.”,  Aubrey said.  “It’s not much, but right now any lead is a good lead.”

            “Here’s your spare key, Aubrey.”, Genny said before giving it to her boss.  “Dr. Delfs left your lunch on the counter in the break room today.”

            “Seriously?”, Aubrey asked, incredulous.

            “Seriously.”, the woman said.  Pondering what she wanted to say next, she decided to just be honest.  “Thank you for trusting me today.  Halko didn’t trust anyone to run his division if he was gone.  I was promoted to be his ASAC in April and he wouldn’t show me how to do payroll or anything.”

            Aubrey was dumbfounded.  Based on the short time they worked together and Booth’s opinion of her, Agent Genevieve Shaw would make an excellent SAC after more experience.  “Well, then we need to make time so I can show you payroll, case audits, and other fun administrative jobs that an SAC does.  A couple months before Booth retired, he started showing me that stuff and let me do them occasionally so I got some practice in.”

           “I’d like that, Aubrey.  Thanks.”

            The agent felt bad for his second in command dealing with Karen today.  “Genny, if you’ve got nothing pressing, go ahead and take off for the night.  It’s the least I can do for you covering for me today.”

            “Thanks again, Aubrey.”, The woman said.  “Have a good night.”  

            “You, too.  Bye.”, Aubrey said before the young woman walked out the door.

            After checking his messages, Aubrey gathered his stuff, walked out of his office, and he locked his door.  As he walked down the steps to the parking garage, he hoped Karen would get the message that she needed to back off.  He didn’t want to embarrass her because she was a friend to him those first few weeks after he and Jessica broke up.

            Part of him wanted to tell her that he and Jessica were friends again and working towards resuming their relationship.  However, he didn’t want to get the intern involved in his mess.  Besides…he enjoyed having his time with the redhead to himself.  He felt confident that when the two of them were able to get past their issues, they could work on being together.

            He was in no rush.


            Wednesday, Karen arrived at the Hoover 12 noon with an extra-large Meat Lovers pizza from DiAngelo’s. No way would Aubrey be able to resist this.

            As she was waiting in line to walk through the metal detector, she realized that she forgot her badge and security refused to let her through without it.  After running back out to the car, she was forced to wait in an even longer line as some idiot kept tripping the detector, cleaning out his pockets and shoes before showing he had a metal plate in his head.  She appealed to the security guards to try to sneak through because they knew her but they stuck to their protocol.

            Finally getting through, as she got to the reception desk, she saw a woman delivering what looked like Chinese being given a pass and directions to a location.  She waited impatiently as two more people were being issues visitors’ passes as Aubrey’s pizza started to cool off.  It took over ten minutes to finally get signed in.

            Finally arriving at the 4th floor, she first checked the break room, but only found two agents she recognized from Homicide and International Operations.  Heading out of the shared room, she walked straight ahead towards the Major Crimes Division.  She tore through the bullpen before finally arriving at Aubrey’s office.  Today, the door was open and the light was on.  However, the agent was nowhere to be seen.

            Looking on the other side of the bullpen, she spotted Aubrey in their conference room.  As she got closer, she saw that Angela Montenegro in between him and Agent Shaw showing them something on a laptop.  On the table was a box and several files.

            Opening the door without knocking, she greeted everyone.   “Hello, Aubrey.  Ready for some lunch?”

            “Hi, Karen.  I didn’t know we had plans for lunch.” Aubrey said with a raised eyebrow.

           The profiler noted several open Chinese boxes and three cans of Sprite together on the table.  By each person were the missing cans from the six pack.  “Actually Aubrey, I decided to surprise you since we keep missing each other.  So I’ll grab some plates from the break room and you can grab a couple of those Sprites before we meet in your office--”

           “Actually, Karen, I’ve already ordered Chinese for the three of us because Agent Shaw, Angela, and I are having a lunch meeting to go over one of Genny’s cases.”

            “Now Aubrey, I took time from my busy day to bring you your favorite pizza from DiAngelo’s.”, Karen said like she was talking to a petulant child.  “I doubt these ladies need you here the whole time so let’s go to your office so we can have lunch.”

            The agent took a deep breath.  “Karen, I appreciate the fact you made a special trip for me and that you brought pizza, but I am needed here for the whole time.  Angela has a doctor’s appointment later but was nice enough to make time to come here and help us.  Plus, as I’ve already said, we already have Chinese since we are working through lunch.”

             Not ready to give up, Karen pressed forward, knowing that if she pushed hard enough, Aubrey would come around.  “Maybe I can come by after my meeting in the Cyber division around 2:00. That should give you plenty of time with this stuff here.”

             Aubrey didn’t want to embarrass her, but his hints weren’t getting through.  “Unfortunately, after this lunch, I’m going to read the profile you emailed me an hour ago.  Then I set aside 2:00 on to train Genny on how to do case audits for when I’m out of the office unless something emergent comes up.  I’m sorry that you went to so much trouble, but I can’t have lunch with you today.  You should have called first.”

            Annoyed at the atypical resistance from Aubrey, Karen pressed forward while keeping her smile on her face.  “Well, there’s can’t be too much need for Angela here.  I’ve completed the profile for the Vacchio case and no one has sent me any updated information.  I’m sure she would welcome the chance to rest up.”

            “I’m pregnant...not dead.  Besides, I’m here because we’re going over one of Agent Shaw’s cases.”,  Angela said, wanting to get a dig in after what the profiler did to Jessica.  “You probably didn’t know this, but the Jeffersonian assists with multiple cases at a time in different divisions, including International Operations and the Financial Division.  This one in particular required my computer expertise, but not a profiler, Sweetie.  However, if you want to join us for lunch, there’s plenty.”

            “Well, Chinese is nice when you’re in the mood.  However, I’ve brought this agent his favorite pizza for lunch.”,  Karen said insistently.  “Come on Aubrey…let’s sneak a slice in your office.  I miss our lunches together.”

             The profiler’s words reminded the agent of what Booth warned him about regarding the rumors about him and Karen.  Aubrey knew he had to be firm to squelch those rumors.  Before he could follow through, Karen spoke again.

             “James Aubrey, come on.  It won’t kill you to step away from this meeting for a few minutes.  Now get up and have some pizza with me.”, the profiler said in an overly sweet tone, with a hint of impatience slipping in.

             Annoyed with the woman’s inability to understand the concept of ‘No means no.’ , Aubrey clenched his jaw.  He used to give in, but not anymore.  He had too much to lose.

            “Karen,” Aubrey said a little more forcefully, his patience running thin.  “For the last time, I can’t join you for lunch today.  As Angela said, the three of us are going over Agent Shaw’s case right now and I have a lot of things going on today.”

            “Oh, I see.”,  the profiler said primly.  “What’s your week like?”

            ‘Doesn’t she ever quit?’   Aubrey thought.  “It’s pretty full this week, Karen.  I’m consulting with the Cyber division during lunch tomorrow.  Friday I’m meeting with Booth over lunch to go over your profile for the Vacchio case and make a plan since we’re sharing the case.  On top of that, I have a meeting with Deputy Director Stark tomorrow as well as a meeting with Booth and Charlie Burns from IO on Friday to start brainstorming ideas for a new orientation system for incoming agents from Quantico.  Stark asked the three of us for suggestions by the end of the month with the hope of it being in place by December to implement for 2017.”

            “Wow, they must think really highly of you to ask you to do that.”,  Karen said to flatter Aubrey.

            “Thank you, but Booth, Charlie, and I are going to be working on it together.  Now, if there’s nothing else--”

            “Just that it’s time to partake in this pizza I brought you for your lunch.  It’s getting cold, Aubrey.”, Karen said in an almost whine.  “You don’t want that…”

            “Just put it in the break room, Karen.  I’m sure some of the other agents will eat it.”  Aubrey replied before taking a sip of his pop, frustrated that Karen wouldn’t leave him alone.  

            “But I got this pizza just for you, Aubrey--”

             “Karen, open your ears!”  An irritated Angela scowled at the profiler.  “Aubrey’s busy, much like you should be.  Now, I have a lot of information to cover with these two in the next 45 minutes, okay?  After that, I have a 1:30 ultrasound appointment and I have to chug three cans of Sprite before I get there.  I’m uncomfortable because I can’t pee and I’m irritable because I’m really hungry, so is there anything else you need to stalk Aubrey for or can we get back to work?”

           “I’m not stalking my friend...Angela.” Karen said, her face red with embarrassment.  “I’ll leave this pizza for you in your office, Aubrey.  I’ll call you later.”

            After Karen walked out, Genny burst out laughing.  “Boss, I think she’s a bit cray cray…”

            “Shit...quit making me laugh or I’ll wet myself.”  Angela said before she controlled herself.  “Watch out for Skinner, Aubrey.”

            “Hey hey hey…enough.”,  Aubrey said before taking a bite of his Princess Chicken.  “Let’s get back to work.”


            "Wow…she really expected you to stop working just to eat some pizza with her?”, Jessica said as she drank some of her shake.

            “Yeah.  I told her I was busy, plus there were six open cartons of Chinese on the table and we had files spread out all over the table.  She still kept pushing until Angela embarrassed her enough to make her leave.”  Aubrey said before grabbing a French Fry.  “Karen thought the pizza going cold would change my mind.”

            “She doesn’t know you well enough to know that cold pizza isn’t much of a deterrent for you when it comes to food.”, Jessica said as she stole one of his fries and dipped it in his garlic mayo.  “I’ve seen you eat a pizza sitting out all night and the fact you didn’t get gastroenteritis is a miracle in itself.”

            “I have an iron stomach, Jess.  I’ve never had an issue with food poisoning.”

            Jessica munched on her fry.  “Well, you will and when that day comes I’m going to say, ‘I told you so.’

            “I’m thirty-two years old, Jess.  If it hasn’t now, it will never happen.”, Aubrey said.


            Thirty minutes later, Karen Delfs was walking down the street when she decided to get a cup of coffee from the Royal Diner for the rest of her walk home.  As she was almost to the crosswalk, she saw her object of affection sitting alone at a window table.

            ‘Oh, he’s eating by himself.  I guess I could save a phone call and swing by to keep him company before convincing him I shouldn’t walk home alone.’

            As she got to the crosswalk, she saw a familiar person with red hair walk up to his table and talk to him.  ‘That bitch is trying to steal back what she threw away.  Not on my watch.’

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Aubrey was checking his phone when Jessica came back over to the table.  “I’ve settled the bill, Superman.  You were a cheap date for me tonight.  No pie...very unlike you.”

            “Hey, we’re going to the movies.  However, I’m going to stick to popcorn and less junk food because someone convinced me that I should try to eat better...”

            Jessica’s face turned beet red with embarrassment.  “Thank you.”

            “...but I’m still not drinking any more of those nasty Black Kale Chia smoothies, though.  They smell like toxic camel butt.”

            The couple shared a chuckle as Aubrey helped Jessica with her coat.  After getting his own on, he placed his hand on her back to guide her to the door.  Acting quickly, he held the door for Jessica to exit.

            “Such a gentleman.”

            “I aim to please, Ms. Warren.”  Aubrey said before following her.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Karen watched as the couple left the table.  When they walked outside the diner, they linked arms before walking towards the opposite direction.   Realizing she was grinding her teeth, she struggled to controlled her anger.

            “Time to play hardball.  This is my time with Aubrey, you little redheaded bitch."

Chapter Text

            Thursday was a crisp, sunny, and the usual hectic day for Jessica between Dr. B’s morning class and her afternoon at the lab.  Usually she’d be working with Hodgins, but since she was gone Tuesday morning, he was gracious enough to give her time with her mentor.  

            Her day brightened when Aubrey surprised her with a last minute invite to lunch before she started work.  He’d picked up the food and they sat together in one of the nearby courtyards of the Jeffersonian, finding a secluded spot that gave them privacy as they enjoyed the weather.  

            “Thanks for bringing me soup from Founding Fathers, Superman.”, Jessica said.  “I’ve been craving their crab chowder for a while.  I’m so glad your meeting with the Cyber division got pushed back to this afternoon.”

            Aubrey finished his grilled cheese before starting on his tomato soup.  “Not a problem, Jess.  I would have got some, too, but I’ve had a craving for grilled cheese and tomato soup is a necessity with a grilled cheese.”

            “You’ll be hungry again in a couple of hours.”

            “I know.”, Aubrey snickered as he got ready to slurp a spoonful of the rich red mixture.  “That’s why I have an Italian sub from DiAngelo’s to eat later, plus one of their Cobb salads to munch on.”

            Jessica chuckled.  “Only you, Aubrey.”


            Karen was driving on Massachusetts Ave, feeling  a massive case of road rage building inside of her.  She had places to go and not a lot of time on her lunch hour.  If she was going to pull off her plan, she needed to get there, now.  

            When she had to slow down again, she beeped her horn.  “Get the molasses out of your ass!  I have places to go.”

            Then traffic began to move again and the profiler smiled.  Her plan was perfect...and all it took was her knowledge of the human psyche.  It wasn’t a great plan, but it would work.  If Jessica’s reaction was like it was last time, the twit would be toast.

            She did feel bad for Aubrey, but he didn’t appreciate her efforts, so she needed to take the bull by the horns.  As she thought of the object of her affection, traffic slowed to a crawl again.  

            “Damn it!”


            After an all too short lunch, Aubrey said goodbye to Jessica at the parking garage before rushing to his meeting with the Cyber division.  When his taillights disappeared from view, Jessica drank her catnip tea from lunch while hurrying into the intern locker room.  Quickly taking off her fall jacket, she put on her lab coat and made sure she was presentable.  Chugging the rest of her beverage, she tossed the empty cup, washed her hands, and headed out to the lab.

            As the redhead got up on the platform, Brennan saw that her intern was almost glowing.  She’d seen Aubrey sneak away a few minutes earlier and suspected he was the reason for the intern’s gradual return to her cheerful self over the last four days.  However, she let the two have their privacy, remembering what it was like for Booth and her when they first got together.

            “Your timing is excellent, Ms. Warren.  We have received three sets of remains that were found yesterday in a mudhole on the North Carolina side of the Great Dismal Swamp by a group of American University students on a field study.  I have Dr. Wells working in Modular Bone Storage now and I’m going to be reviewing a previous case for the appellate court.  Please conduct the initial examination and leave your findings with me when you’ve completed the task.”

            Jessica’s smile became even brighter.  “Yes, Dr. B.”

            Looking inside one of the crates, she was momentarily hit by the smell of 150 years of mud and decay, but recovered quickly.  Closing the crate, she gingerly carried it with her to the nearby bath.  After preparing the enzyme solution, she started the water bath and mixed the solution in with the water.  When the liquid reached the needed temperature, she slowly added the bones to clean all debris attached to the remains.  Setting the timer, she made her initial notes on the condition of the remains in the first of the three binders for each decedent.  As she was about to remove one of the phalanges, she heard her name and immediately recognized the nails on the chalkboard voice.  Turning around, she put on an artificial smile that hurt on her face.

            “Hi, Karen.  What brings you around here?”

            The profiler took a step back when she saw what the intern was working with.  “I’ve just returned from lunch with Aubrey at the diner.  He wanted me to check in to see if there are any more updates in the Vacchio case.  He feels my profile and assistance is important to the case.”

            ‘What a liar!’  Jessica thought, but decided to have a little fun.  “Angela and Dr. Hodgins are at the diner now, as was Dr. B with Agent Booth earlier today.  If they couldn’t tell you anything, then unfortunately Aubrey had you waste a trip.”

            The profiler became embarrassed at her faux pas, but pressed forward with her plan.  “Oh...well...Besides, my other reason for coming here is I wanted to see how my dear friend Jessica was doing. After all,  I haven’t seen you since Daisy’s wedding.  I hope you aren’t feeling awkward around me now that Aubrey and I are lovers.”

            Jessica started to laugh, but changed it to a cough into her arm due to her heavy gloves.  “Sorry, I have a tickle in my throat.  No, Karen, I’m just busy with working here, being Dr. B’s TA, and other stuff.”

            Karen was befuddled by the younger woman’s calm demeanor, so she pressed further.  “I was worried because you didn’t get back to me with Aubrey’s favorite type of panties for my date with him last weekend.  After the hot night we had after the wedding, it’s important to keep him happy, you know.”

             Jessica barely kept a straight face at Karen’s desperation, but she knew maintaining her cool was key, especially since she knew where the FBI agent had spent his Saturday night and whom he’d really spent it with.

            “Of course...of course.  I know it’s important to you that Aubrey remains happy.  However, like I said, I had a busy weekend.  So how was your date?  Do anything...special?”

            “Oh, it was excellent.”, Karen said while playing with her ponytail.  “Aubrey came over for dinner about 6:00 and I made him lasagna.”

            ‘Hmmm, that was when we were at the Royal Diner having burgers.’  Jessica thought but kept the smile off her face.  “Making Aubrey dinner is always good, Karen.”

            Karen pushed harder, frustrated to not see Jessica all stricken and upset like her previous visit.  “We didn’t eat until about 9:00, though because he got so horny that he bent me over the counter in my kitchen and we made love...well, after he pulled my panties down to my knees and went down on me while I leaned up against it.  God, his tongue is like magic down there.”

            ‘Yes it is, Karen.’, Jessica said in internal agreement as she almost laughed at the impossible logistics of what the profiler just described.  Taking out two ribs with the tongs, Jessica laid them carefully on the tray while maintaining her countenance.  “Well, he believes in doing a job right.  Once he starts something, he always finishes it.  That’s why he’s a Special Agent in Charge now.”

            ‘Where are the damn tears?  Where is the trembling lip I got from her last time I was here?’  Karen didn’t like the other woman’s subdued reaction and decided to provoke her further.  “It gets even better.  He loves how adventurous I am.  He was thrilled with the Brazilian wax job that I got just for him and he told me last week that my big titties were the best he ever nuzzled…oh, I’m sorry, Jessica.  I’m sure Aubrey wasn’t thinking when he told me that.”

            It took all the redhead had to not laugh her ass off at how pathetic the other woman sounded.  “Of course, Karen.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Nearby, Brennan came out of her office and observed the two women speaking together.  She walked up and greeted a returning Angela and Hodgins, who were also witnessing the confrontation.

            “Dr. Hodgins, Dr. Delfs has no need to be here--”

            “Enough said, Dr B.  Come on.”

            The three headed that way until they were unseen but could still hear what was being said.  They observed Karen becoming more irritated as Jessica remained calm while doing her job.

            “Dr. Hodgins, I don’t want certain people interrupting the work of our interns for their selfish purposes, and her topic of discussion goes beyond the realm of good taste in the workplace.  I’m going to put a stop to this.”, an irritated Brennan said.

            As she started to storm over, Hodgins held up his hand.  “Wait, Dr. B.  Jessica is doing just fine.”

            “Bren, she needs this.  I think our young intern there has earned the right to put Karen in her place.”, Angela said before leading the way for the others.  “Now, I don’t know about you two, but I want a front row seat for the show.”    

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

             As Karen continued to talk, Jessica checked the temperature of the enzyme bath.  “He kissed you passionately at Daisy’s wedding reception?  You don’t say, Karen.”            

             “That was only the beginning.  After he dropped you off at home, I showed him my panties.  It really excited him and he responded by touching me down there while he was driving.  When we got back to my place, we had hot monkey sex.  We had to stop for condoms on the way, though because he used up the ones he kept in the glove compartment when he was with you.  I didn’t mind waiting, though.  The anticipation just made the sex more spectacular.”

            ‘Funny….we trusted each other completely, so we chose not to use condoms because I was on the Pill...’  Jessica thought.  “...and Aubrey was drunk as a skunk after the wedding and crashed at Booth’s and Dr. B’s place.  This bitch is so desperate...but she’s getting on my nerves and making Superman look really bad.  Enough is enough.”’

            Her action planned, Jessica smiled at the other woman.  “Well, Karen, I’m glad you had a fun night…”

            “Oh, I did…”, Karen said with a smile of victory.

            “...dreaming up all this bullshit about Aubrey.”

            The profiler’s smile fell as Jessica’s words hit her like a slap across the face.  “What did you say?”

            “You’re full of shit, Karen.  You must feel so threatened by me.”, Jessica said as she pulled a femur out of the solution.

           “I’m so not threatened by you, little girl.”, Karen responded in a low, threatening tone.

            The redhead turned back to the profiler and merely smiled.  “Oh, but you are.  I’m sorry Aubrey’s not interested in you, but that’s life.”

           “You’re wrong, Jessica.”, Karen said as she slammed her hand down on a counter, attracting the attention of a few nearby workers.  “He’s always telling me how much he loves to fuck me and that is what he tells others!”

           Jessica gave Karen a patient smile.  “No, he doesn’t.  Aubrey is a private person who doesn’t treat making love so crudely nor does he kiss and tell because he respects all the women he’s been with.  Obviously you don’t have the same respect for him.”

           “I beg to differ--”

           “Well I do differ, Karen.”,  Jessica said in a strong tone.  “Because there’s no reason for you to come down here and brag about the non-existent sex you’re having with Aubrey unless you want to ruin my friendship with him and our feelings for each other.”  Shrugging as she removed another bone from the bath, she sighed.  “That’s just really pathetic.”

           Karen’s cheeks grew red as her plan began unraveling.  “You are the one who can’t stand the fact that I’m the one he wants to be with, you twit, not you.  I’m the one whose panties he wants to see on…and off me.  But most of all, I’m the one who gets to be the recipient when he’s horny now, not you!”

           “You sure are obsessed with panties, Karen.  You should get help for that.”  Getting bored with the exchange, Jessica turned her back on the profiler.  “Might also want to get some new perfume, too, because jealousy and desperation are really stinky...even stinkier than the remains here.”

           “You’re the one who’s stinky with jealousy.”, a frustrated Karen said.

           “Keep telling yourself that, Karen.”, Jessica said while pulling out both patellae and placing them carefully onto the table.  “I know this is hard for you to hear, but the friendship Aubrey and I have is much stronger than the mind games you’ve played with both of us, which ends now by the way.”

           “Mind games?  Really, Jessica?”,  Karen growled.  “You make me sound like some diabolical mind.”

           “Not a diabolical mind, because that would insinuate there’s intelligence under your cranium.  On the contrary, I think you’re just desperate and sad.”,  Jessica said.  “As I was saying, someday when Aubrey and I work through all this mess, we’re going to be together.  My advice is to accept it and move on before you lose the friendship he’s trying to offer you.  Now, I have work to do, just like you do.  The exit is over there.  Don’t let it hit you in the ass on the way out.”

            Karen was infuriated at the younger woman’s dismissal of her.  Grabbing Jessica’s arm, she whipped her around.  “You listen to me, little girl.  Aubrey is mine now.  You can’t have him, do you hear me?  If you keep trying to interfere, you’ll regret it.”

            Jessica looked down at her arm before looking back at Karen with hardened eyes, barely keeping her temper in check.  “Yes, I hear you, Dr. Delfs.  Now, you will listen to me.  James Aubrey is a real person with real feelings and a heart.  Yes, he’s handsome, but he’s also kind, funny, thoughtful, and always looking out for others.  He deserves someone who obviously loves and respects him as an individual, not an FBI profiler who thinks of him as nothing more than eye candy to screw and show off.”

            “Shut up--”

            The redhead steeled her spine.  “Also, I could kick your ass six ways from Sunday, but my internship is too important to me to lose from wiping the floor with your desperate, whiny ass.  Now, you have five seconds to let me go or you’ll regret it.”

            “Really?”,  Karen snarled.  “What are you going to do?  Protest like you do for one of your causes?”

            “I won’t do anything…but he will.”, Jessica said while pointing behind her with the tongs.

            Karen turned around and saw Hodgins wheeling up in his chair, with Angela and Brennan in the background.  Immediately, she let go of Jessica.  “Good afternoon, Dr. Hodgins.  I---“

            “Save it, Karen.”  Hodgins said.  “As acting head of this lab, I’m ordering you out of here right now.”

            Karen turned on her smile and the ditz routine that usually got her out of trouble.  “I didn’t do anything—“

            “Except for disrupting other people’s work with the scene you’re making and committing battery against one of my employees.  In case you didn’t know, this is a federal facility and any illegal activity that happens here is under the FBI’s jurisdiction.”

            “I think there’s been a misunderstanding--”

            “Get the hell out of my lab, Dr. Delfs.”  Hodgins said calmly.  “If I have to ask you again, I’ll call those two guards by the platform to escort you out and next I will be filing a complaint.  I’m sure that’s not going to look very good to your employers at the FBI.”

            Knowing she was trapped, she got halfway down the steps before Jessica stopped her.  “Karen, didn’t you need to check with Dr. B, Angela, or Dr. Hodgins regarding any updates to the Vacchio case?  That was why Aubrey had you stop here, wasn’t it?”

            The older woman merely gave a dirty look before turning around to walk out.  However, this time she was stopped by Brennan.

            “A final warning.  If you ever attempt to impede my intern’s work again or if your obvious jealousy ever affects how we handle a case, I will personally go to Deputy Director Stark to file a report against you.  Do you understand?”

            “You can’t just threaten me, Dr. Brennan.”

            “Oh, but I can, Dr. Delfs.  My husband is the Special Agent in Charge of the Homicide Division and is good friends with your boss, Jacob Tanner.  He also has the complete confidence of Deputy Director Stark and the Director himself.  Being fired from the FBI wouldn’t look good on your resume.”,  Brennan said.  “You may go now.”

            As they watched the profiler storm out, Angela ran up to the squintern as she rubbed her arm.  “Jessica, are you alright?”

            “Better than I have been in a long time.”, Jessica said before seeing Hodgins wheeling away.  “Curly, where are you going?”

            Stopping his wheelchair, he turned around.  “I’m King of the Lab, ladies.  One of my duties is to maintain the safety of all employees.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

            “Curly, it’s not worth getting her into trouble.”,  Jessica said, who was now joined by Brennan.

            “Oh, I’m not reporting her, Jessica.”,  Hodgins said. “I’m just making things more difficult for her.  No one gets away with threatening any of my employees.”


            One hour later, an irritated Karen returned to her desk at the BRIU.  As she sat down to check her email, one in particular struck her eye.  Opening it, her eyes widened.

 

To:  Karen Delfs (Karen.Delfs@fbi.gov)

Cc: Dr. Camille Saroyan (c.saroyan@ji.edu )

From:  Dr. Jack Hodgins (j.hodgins@ji.edu)

Subject:  Access to the Jeffersonian Medico-Legal Lab

Good afternoon, Dr. Delfs.

This email is to inform you that effective immediately, your access to our facility is terminated.  Any future visits will have to be approved by myself, Ms. Angela Montenegro, Dr. Temperance Brennan, or Dr. Camille Saroyan when she returns from her leave of absence in March 2017.  If a visit is approved, you must be accompanied at all times by either myself, one of the people listed above, or someone assigned by myself or by one of the people above.  Any attempt to visit this facility without previous approval will result in a permanent ban from all areas of the Jeffersonian Institute.  A phone call to your supervisor at the BRIU, SAC Jacob Tanner will also occur.

I do regret the necessity of this action, but the safety and security of our employees must be my top concern, no matter who else is involved.

Any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Dr. Jack S. Hodgins IV, PhD.

Acting Director of Jeffersonian Medico-Legal Lab

Phone: (202) 555 – 1572

Fax: (202) 555 – 9696

 

            “Tattletale.”, Karen said to herself.  “I’ll show her.”

            Karen went into the contractor database but was surprised to find her access blocked.  Trying a back way in, once again, she was blocked.  Frustrated, she sat back at her desk and called IT.  When she got someone, she explained the issue but was surprised at the response.

            “So my access to the FBI employee and contract profiles are blocked?  Who requested this?”, Karen asked before listening to the response.  “My supervisor, huh?  Sure...sure I’ll speak to him.  Thanks.”

             Karen hung up the phone before checking her email.  Sure enough, there was an email stating that starting immediately, all profilers’ access into the contractor's database was now limited on a case by case basis.  To get access one would have to go to their supervising agent.  

             Deleting the message, she considered her options.  “You’re not taking him away from me, you skinny little bitch.  I’ll find out all there is about you and when I do, Aubrey will want nothing to do with you.”

Chapter Text

            The bright sunlight was filtering through the blinds across a rumpled bed.  Aubrey’s eyes slowly blinked open as he yawned.  Stretching lazily, he enjoyed the luxuriant feel of his colorful quilt and Egyptian cotton sheets on the cool Sunday morning.  

            He glanced at his clock...9 am.  He grinned as he scratched his belly under his tee shirt.  Normally he was up at a reasonable hour on the weekends, mostly because a hungry Skinner was pestering him.  However, this morning he’d been able to ignore the cat’s loud meows for an extra ninety minutes.  Comfortably ensconced in his bed, Aubrey lay with his left arm behind his head, smiling as he thought about the previous week.  

            Last Saturday’s discussion after the Star Wars Convention had been a turning point in his relationship with Jessica.  They were finally on the same page, working toward a common goal.  The date they’d had on Wednesday had been a lot of fun, and he’d enjoyed having lunch with his favorite squint on Thursday as well. It seemed that clearing the air between them, and letting go of all the overwrought expectations they’d had for their relationship, was just what they’d needed.  Things were so much easier now...

            He sighed quietly as he tried to tickle his cat’s chin, but Skinner was not amused by Aubrey’s attempt to play. The cat was currently laying on the man’s abdomen, blinking his green eyes as he flicked his tail in annoyance.

            “MEOW!”, the cat cried as he started kneading his owner’s chest.  “MEOW!”

            “Okay!  I get it!  You’re starving.”  Pushing the cat off, Aubrey sat up and dangled his feet over the side of the bed, wiggling his toes as he yawned and stretched again.  

            He smiled to himself as he thought about the evening before.  It had been a late night, but he’d enjoyed every minute of it.  Skinner, however, was in no mood for reminiscing, insistently rubbing his head all over his owner’s arms and chest.  Rolling his eyes, Aubrey rose from the bed and made his way across the creaky wooden floor to the bathroom.  Peering into the mirror on the tiny medicine cabinet, he shrugged, deciding he didn’t look any worse for wear.  The cat wound between his legs as Aubrey answered Nature’s call.  

            “You better look out, cat...you’re going to get stepped on…or get an unpleasant shower.”

            Finally, Aubrey strolled into his kitchen and started a pot of coffee before he fed his very impatient companion.  “Here you go.”  He chuckled as he watched the cat make quick work of his meal.  “I know...it’s all my fault, right?  I should’ve fed you before I went to bed, but I was busy…”

            Standing at the sink as he sipped his coffee, he gazed out the kitchen window down onto the tiny patch of grass behind the brownstone buildings that held his apartment, enjoying the pleasant view that Sunday morning.  

            Many years ago some enterprising person had bought two buildings that shared a wall and converted the two single family homes into four apartments.  Aubrey’s place was one of the upper units.  It was slightly rundown, but the rent was almost reasonable, and it was close to work.  A two bedroom space with air conditioning where he could keep his cat and pay less than 2000 dollars a month was a bargain in DC, even if it was a little seedy.  He was an adaptable man, and he’d made the best of the apartment’s quirks.  The scratched floors were creaky and the ancient faucets dripped constantly. The apartment’s small rooms were often stuffy in the summer and always drafty in the winter, but overall he loved his apartment.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was home.

            Pouring himself another cup, he laughed as his now contented cat rubbed up against his leg and purred.  “I know, buddy...you feel better, right?”  

            He reached down to scratch Skinner’s ears.  “Your Aunt Jessica asked about you last night.  Sometimes I think she cares more about you than she cares about me.”  

            The cat responded by shaking its head and running off to take a bath.  “Yeah, I see how it goes…you only love me for my cat food, right?”  

            Aubrey sat at his kitchen table, smiling as he thought once again about the previous evening.  

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

             Wanting to do something different, he and Jessica had gone to a local tavern within walking distance of her apartment for open mic night.  Anyone brave enough to get up in front of a crowd of people and play some sort of music was welcome to give it a try. They’d listened to several different groups play a variety of music as they enjoyed their beer and a wide assortment of appetizers.  

            Open mic lasted until about eleven, and then it was time for Karaoke.  After listening to a couple of drunk girls butcher some Katy Perry songs, Jessica was ready to go, so Aubrey walked her home.

            It had been a clear night with just a hint of chill in the air...just enough chill for her to want to have his arm around her as they walked together.  “I guess I should’ve brought a heavier coat, Boyfriend…”

            “Nah...I knew you were planning on using my jacket, just like you always do.”  He smirked as she pretended to pout before he handed her his windbreaker.  “I had a great time tonight.  I thought that Celtic group was pretty good.  They really made the place jump, didn’t they?”

            “Yeah, but I also liked the guy who was doing the Bob Dylan set.”  Jessica glanced up at Aubrey shyly.  “You play Dylan, don’t you?  Maybe you should try to do the open mic next Saturday night.”

            “I don’t think so.  I mean, it’s one thing to play for your friends, but for a whole bunch of strangers...well, that’s not really my style.”  He shrugged as he saw her disappointment.  “Tell you what...come to dinner next weekend, and I’ll break out the guitar…”

            “I’d like that.”  She giggled as she saw his embarrassment.  “I think you’re very good, you know.”

            “Really?”  Aubrey wondered if she could see his blush in the dim light.  “Um…thanks.”  Feeling awkward, he decided to change the subject.  “So I heard a rumor that Karen got banned from the lab.  She must have done something really outrageous.”

            Jessica nodded in agreement, biting her lip as she tried to decide how much to actually tell Aubrey.  

            “She was bothering me while I was working on some remains…her excuse was you two had lunch at the diner before you asked her to run to the lab to check for updates in the Vacchio case.”   

            “Wait a minute…”, Aubrey began as he gave her a confused look.  “I was having lunch with you…” 

            “I know.”  Exhaling slowly, the intern continued.  “After some bullshit of asking me how I was, she began telling me all about how you two have been engaging in some pretty amazing sexual adventures...you know, how talented your tongue is while you were going down on her in the kitchen after she made your dinner last Saturday...how you made love to her for hours after Daisy’s wedding…how you told her that her big boobs were the best you ever nuzzled...that you loved the look of her new Brazilian wax job...how you had to stop for condoms because you used all yours up with me.  The best one though was that after we fought the night of Daisy’s wedding, she flashed her new, special panties at you, which enthralled you so much that you played with her hoo-ha while you drove back to her apartment...there was a lot of graphic detail.  It was actually pretty disgusting if you ask me.”

            Angrily sputtering his denial, Aubrey turned bright red with rage.  “I didn't do any of that shit!  Jess...you know that’s a goddamn lie…”

            “Well, part of it is.”  Jessica gave him a naughty grin.  “She was telling the truth about how talented you are with that tongue…”  

            “Jessica!”  Aubrey admonished her sharply, even though he was secretly pleased with her appreciation of his talent.

            ‘What?”  Chuckling at his irritation, she shrugged her shoulders.  “Relax.  I knew she was lying, so I just kept working on the remains.  I remained calm and professional, for the most part, and it really irritated her.” 

            “Wow…”,  Aubrey said quietly.  “Way to play her…” 

            “I know, right?  But eventually I got tired of listening to her ramble on, so I called her a liar to her face, and then I said that she was just saying those things because she’s desperate, and possibly delusional. I also told her that I was tired of her telling tales about how much you love to ‘fuck her’ because she’s so ‘adventurous’, especially when you were with me or with Booth when all that supposedly happened.  She was making you look bad, Superman, and I didn’t like it.”  Jessica laughed quietly as she once again recalled the shocked look on Karen’s face.   

            “Really?”, Aubrey asked, feeling warm and fuzzy because Jessica stuck up for him.  “You did that for me?” 

            “Yes, really.  By this time, I just wanted her gone so I could get my work done, so I turned my back on her, telling her to leave and not let the door hit her on the way out.  I guess that really pissed her off, so she grabbed my arm...”

            “She assaulted you in the lab?”  Aubrey stopped and turned Jessica to face him.  “I can’t believe she was that stupid.”  He muttered angrily as he clenched his fists.  “That’s it.  I’ve had enough of her antics.   I’m having a meeting with Karen and her boss at the BRIU next week...”

            “Aubrey...please don’t.  Curly’s already dealt with it, okay?  I don’t want to get her more pissed at me than she already is.  Come on.”  She winked at him and smiled.  “You know Hodgins will follow through…” 

            “I guess so.”  The two started walking again and Aubrey kept his mouth shut as he listened to Jessica finish her story. 

            “Anyway, she grabbed my arm and spun me around to look at her.  For a few seconds I thought she might hit me, but instead she just yelled at me, telling me that you belong to her and I should just give up on having any sort of relationship with you.  I don’t stand a chance, according to her.  Then I told her that it was a good thing I wanted to keep my internship, because otherwise I’d kick her ass all over the lab.” 

            “That redheaded temper came out to play, did it?”, the agent said with a smile. 

            “Hey, I was trying to be nice, Aubrey and you know it takes a lot to set me off.  However, I’m not going to put up with her trying to make me jealous with those ridiculous stories about the two of you being together, and I’m definitely not going to tolerate her attempts to make you out to be some pig who brags about his sexual conquests.  She’s trying to drive a wedge between us, and I’m not going to let the bitch get away with it.  Basically, I told her that our friendship was stronger than her antics, that you belong to me, and it’s too damn bad for her, but that’s the way it is, and she’d better just accept it and move on.”

            Aubrey couldn’t help but grin as he imagined Jessica chewing out Karen in front of everyone.  “Wow...you really let her have it, didn’t you?  I bet she wasn’t expecting that, either.”

            “She was shocked, especially since Curly backed me up and Dr. B threatened her, which was really cool.” Jessica gave her companion a sideways glance to see how he was reacting to the story.  “The two of them and Angela witnessed Karen threatening me, so Curly wrote a formal letter to her stating any future visits to the lab had to be with prior approval from him, Angela, Dr. B, or Dr. Saroyan.  Furthermore, if she returns, she has to be escorted at all times. If she doesn’t follow these new rules to the letter, he’ll get her banned from all of the Jeffersonian and will call her boss at the BRIU.  He was really upset by the whole thing…”

            “I guess so.  Well, I’m glad Hodgins is looking out for his employees.  I feel better about that.  And you know everything she said was a lie, right?  I mean, I never…Jesus, you’re right.  That is disgusting.”  Aubrey swallowed hard, hoping that Jessica believed him.

            “Of course I know that, Superman.  I’ve already told you that.  She was just trying to make me upset.  She’s crazy about you, and she’s going to do anything she can to get you, including making me hate you so I won’t speak to you anymore.  ”

            “Or she’s just crazy.”  They walked in silence for a few minutes before arriving at the Korean grocery store.  “Okay, here we are…”  He walked her up to the third floor and when they reached her door, she took off his windbreaker and handed it back.  As he took it, he waited as she unlocked the door.  

            Hesitating slightly, Jessica turned to face him.  “Do you want to come inside for a minute?”

            He looked into her beautiful green eyes and felt his heart start to race.  Are you kidding me?  Of course I want to come inside.  I want to carry you off to your bedroom and make love to you for hours...of course I want to come inside...you…

            He sighed softly, shaking his head slowly as he looked away from her warm gaze.  “I don’t think so.  It’s kind of late…”

            “Oh, okay…”  Jessica shrugged slightly as she tried to hide her disappointment.  After all, they were ‘just friends’, but she missed lying in his arms after they’d made love.  “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

            “Yeah, great.  I’ll look forward to it.” He was so tempted to pull her close and kiss her good night, but they were still in friendship mode.  Shoving his hand in his pocket, he took out his car keys.  “Tomorrow then…”

            “Tomorrow.  Good night, James.”  She gave him a small wave as she went inside, locking the door behind her.

            “Good night.”  Feeling frustrated in more ways than one, he made his way downstairs and out to his car, groaning as his phone rang.  “Jesus...really?  I don’t want to go look at a dead body right now...Hello?”

            “Aubrey?  It’s me.”  Jessica laughed as she heard him grumble.  “Its five minutes after midnight, so it’s tomorrow, and I said I’d call you tomorrow.  I wasn’t really ready to say good night…”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            They’d talked until three in the morning.  Aubrey laughed to himself.  It had been a long time since he’d played the game to see who was going to hang up the phone first, but with Jessica it seemed fresh and new.  She was going to call him that afternoon before picking up Daisy and Beau from the airport about making some plans for later in the week.

            However, right now, Aubrey’s plans involved satisfying his ravenous hunger.  He needed some groceries, but he wanted breakfast first. Glancing through his cabinets, he realized the cupboards were really bare...he’d eaten the last of the cereal yesterday, and had been in too big a hurry to stop by the store on the way home Friday night.  

            Puffing out a sigh, he went back to his bedroom and changed into some beat up jeans and a ratty grey sweatshirt.  After finishing his coffee, he grabbed his jacket, keys and phone.  He figured he’d walk down to the cafe on the corner of his street for some sausage, eggs, and pancakes before visiting Mr. Leonelli’s store for some essentials on the way home.  

            He nodded to himself as he stroked his cat.  His apartment wasn’t in the best shape, but it was in a good location, making it easy to get the things he needed.  Maybe he’d sign another year’s lease…

            Glancing at the time, he cringed as he realized how late it was.  “See you later, Skinner.” Aubrey said as he rushed out the door to do his errands.

Oooooooooo

            Ninety minutes later, Aubrey was whistling Blowin’ in the Wind as he carried some bags of groceries upstairs to his apartment.  He was preoccupied as he came home, contemplating his best friend’s beautiful green eyes and how much she liked his versions of Bob Dylan’s songs.  Thinking of how he might need to brush up on Lay, Lady, Lay for her enjoyment, he wasn’t paying too much attention to his surroundings until he got to the landing outside his apartment. Stopping short, he realized something wasn’t right.  His apartment door was standing slightly ajar. 

            I know I locked up before I left.  Dammit!  I wish Mrs. Hall would install the security system I asked for... He grimaced as he realized he’d left his gun locked up in its box on the upper shelf of his bedroom closet.  Shit...now what am I going to do?

            He knew he’d have the element of surprise on his side, and he hoped that would be enough to frighten the intruder.  He crept up to the door and listened intently for a minute or two.  

            Maybe I shouldn’t go in...maybe I should call 911...yeah, the locals would love that, right? The FBI guy needs help to scare off a robber...

            He was trying to decide what to do when he heard a loud crash coming from inside the apartment.  Skinner yowled in anger, and then he heard that voice…the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.

            “You stupid cat!  Get out of my way and you won’t get stepped on…”

            Puffing out an exasperated sigh, Aubrey pushed the door open.  “Karen!  What are you doing here?  How did you get in?  I know I locked up before I left…”

            Looking slightly flustered and disheveled, Karen brushed her hair away from her face as she mopped up the water that had been spilled from Skinner’s water fountain. 

            “Oh, hi, James!  I, um...I came by to surprise you!  I brought you some lunch, you know, because I’d missed you at the office earlier this week.  I thought you were home since your car was here, so when you didn’t answer the door, I was worried that something might’ve happened to you, so I walked downstairs to your landlady’s apartment and she came up to let me in so we could check on you.  She was really relieved that you weren’t here, lying injured in your bathroom or something.  In fact, the way she was raving about how wonderful you are, if I didn’t know better, I’d think there was something going on between you, and I’d be really jealous.  Anyway, she said you’d probably just gone to the store down the street…”

            Aubrey was obviously angry as he put his groceries on the kitchen counter.  “That’s kind of a stretch, Karen.  I mean, there’s all sorts of reasons I might not be here, and none of them are any of your business.  You really aren’t justified in breaking into my apartment…”

            “I didn’t break in.  Like I said, I just wanted to bring you some lunch.  I haven’t gotten to talk to you all week, and I missed you.”  She shrugged as she pointed to the stove.  “I just wanted to share...this makes too much for just one person, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather share my meals with…”

            Clenching his jaw, Aubrey walked over to the refrigerator to put the milk away.  He was still really pissed about Karen’s stunts with him and at the lab with Jessica.  However, he’d brought it all on himself by not being honest with her from the beginning.  Taking a deep breath, he mustered up some patience to deal with the uninvited guest and turned around.

            “Listen, Karen...this is just...really awkward, okay?  I appreciate the nice gesture, but it’s really not necessary…I can make my own meals.”

            “I know it’s not necessary, but that’s what makes it fun.  Look…”  She pulled some foil away from a glass dish that was sitting on the stove.  “Tuna fish and broccoli casserole.  I found the recipe online.  It’s got onions, sliced mushrooms and stuffed olives in it...just like what you have on your pizzas.  I added some red peppers for color…and some pepper jack cheese...all mixed together with cream of chicken soup.”

            “Hmm...too bad I already ate…I just came back from having a big breakfast.”  Aubrey grimaced slightly at the pungent aroma coming from the dish.  Not wanting to be further traumatized, he turned away from her as he put the rest of his groceries away.  “You really should’ve called first…”

            “But you don’t always return my calls, James.”  Karen stood with her hands on her hips, annoyed that he was ignoring her.  “Anyway, it’s no big deal.  This casserole reheats well, so I’ll just warm it up for us later.”

            “What?  Later?  No…”  Aubrey shook his head vehemently.  “I’ve got stuff to do today, Karen.  I’ve got to do laundry, and defrost the freezer…”  He paused, trying to think of something awful so she’d want to leave.  “I’m going to clean the bathroom, vacuum, clean out Skinner’s litter box, and maybe dust the furniture if I have time…”

            ‘Poor Aubrey.  He needs me so much...I just need to push him a little more is all.’  Karen thought blissfully.   

            “That’s okay.  I don’t mind.  I think it’s kind of cute, you know?  I mean, you being so domestic and doing your little housekeeping chores while we spend the day together.  It’s just so normal, right?  Like what millions of couples do together every weekend.”  Karen wrapped the foil tightly around the dish.  “So I’ll just put this in the fridge and we’ll have it for dinner this evening.”

            “No, we can’t have it for dinner this evening, either.  Look, Karen...”  Aubrey paused to make sure she was listening to him.  “...I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.  I do, but...”  

            He clenched his fists as he spoke slowly, choosing his words with great care.  “This is all my fault.  See, when Jessica broke up with me, I was completely shocked. I had no idea she wasn’t happy being with me, and I needed help to figure things out.  That’s why I wanted to talk to you about things, since you’re her friend.”   

            “I was her friend, but she has been quite rude to me of late, James.  Besides, I think my time is better spent cultivating our relationship.” 

            Aubrey saw the smile on her face and grimaced, embarrassed by his own behavior, but knowing he had to explain what had happened. 

             “I’m not proud of it, but I think maybe I led you to believe that I’m interested in you being my girlfriend, and if I did that, I’m really sorry.  It wasn’t my intention to hurt you, but that’s not what I feel for you, Karen.”  He shrugged a shoulder as he continued.  “I was an asshole, and you have every right to be angry with me.  If you never spoke to me again, I’d certainly understand...”  

            He paused as his phone rang.  “Aubrey...oh, hey, Booth...yeah...yeah, I’ll be right there...fifteen minutes.”  Putting his phone back in his pocket, he gave Karen an apologetic smile.  “Well, there go my plans for cleaning my apartment.  Booth needs to talk me about something…”

            Karen was suspicious of his explanation for the phone call, but she knew as Special Agent in Charge, Aubrey might be on call for the weekend.  “I see.  Well, I’ll just leave this casserole here, and you can bring me the dish when you’re finished with it.”  

            She picked up her purse and jacket and started for the door before she turned to face Aubrey.  “Just so you know, I could never be angry with you, James.  I care too much about you.  Someday you’ll get tired of putting up with Jessica’s silly whims and emotional immaturity, and then you’ll appreciate how much I’ve done for you and what I can offer you.  When that day comes, I’ll be waiting for you with open arms.  See you later.”  

            Stepping quickly to one side to avoid tripping over the cat, she quickly exited the room, slamming the door behind her.

            Chuckling softly, Aubrey shook his head as he picked up his cat.  “Wow.  That woman is cray-cray.  No wonder she got banned from the lab.”  Skinner meowed his agreement and jumped down.  “Okay. I guess I’d better go see what Booth wants.”

Oooooooooo

            Aubrey parked his SUV in front of the Mighty Hut and jogged up to the front of the house.  He knocked on the front door before stepping into the foyer.  “Hey, Booth?”

            “Yeah, in the kitchen.”  Booth was wiping his hands with a towel as he leaned against the newly refurbished kitchen counter.  “Hey, are you alright?”

            Rolling his eyes, Aubrey ran his hand through his hair as he leaned against the opposite counter.  “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be? I’m fine, okay?” 

            Booth eyed his friend suspiciously.  “Okay, except that you seem to be flustered and agitated.  What’s going on?”  

            Knowing that Booth wouldn’t let things go, Aubrey exhaled slowly.  “I had to run to the store down the street from my apartment, and when I got back Karen was there in my kitchen…”

            “Wait...she was there, in your apartment, uninvited?  How did she get in?”  Booth was astonished.  “Did she break in?  Doesn’t your apartment have a security system?”

            “Karen went to my landlady in the apartment below mine, saying she was worried about me, so Mrs. Hall let her in to wait for me.  And, no, my apartment doesn’t have a security system.  Mrs. Hall says there’s no way to install one without it costing a fortune.”  

            Aubrey shook his head as he described the situation to Booth.  “Anyway, I tried to explain things to Karen again.  I told her it was my fault because I’d let her to think I cared about her more than I do, but she just doesn’t seem to get it.  It’s like she doesn’t want to understand…”

            “I guess you’re just a heartbreaker, aren’t you?”  Booth snickered as he saw Aubrey’s discomfort.   

            “Booth!” 

            “Sorry, no more Karen jokes.”  Booth said contritely.  “You needed to set boundaries with her, and it seems that you’ve done that.  Now it’s up to her to accept those boundaries.”

            “Well, I’m glad you called and said you needed to see me, since it helped me get Karen to leave.  What’s up?”

            Booth sighed audibly as he looked around the kitchen.  “Bones and I really appreciate you helping me putting the house back together.  Wendell helped me last time, but since he’s started that new graduate program he doesn’t have time, and there’s no way I could’ve done all this work by myself.”

            “Listen, as many meals as you’ve fed me, it’s the least I could do.”  Aubrey smiled as he looked toward the family room.  “Things turned out really well.  It looks really good.”

            “Yeah, they did.  It was a great house for our family, you know?  Before all that shit went down…”  Booth’s voice trailed off as he rubbed his eyes.  “I put my heart and soul into remodeling this house the first time.  I showed you the pictures, right?  It was just a shell when we started…”

            “I wish I could’ve seen it in real life.  It must’ve been a mess.”  Aubrey looked around the beautiful kitchen, trying to picture all the changes that had occurred.

            “It was definitely a mess, but then we made it into everything we wanted a house to be.  It really hurt when it was almost destroyed, but the government gave us a good settlement after I was exonerated, and Bones and I, we decided to fix it again, even though we already had the new house.  There were too many good memories here to just demolish it.  Even Bones, who thinks attaching memories to inanimate objects is silly...even she couldn’t stand to just tear it down or let it go to someone else.”

            Aubrey grimaced slightly, not sure where this conversation was going.  “I understand that.  I still have a lot of good memories when I think of my mom’s old house.  I guess that’s normal, isn’t it?”

            “Yeah, but the problem is, what are we going to do with two houses?  I mean, we could try to sell this house, but I’m not sure anyone would want a house that’s been rebuilt twice.”  Booth scratched the back of his neck as he walked over to look out the dining room window.  “So I think we’ve decided to try to find a renter.”

            “Well, this would be a nice house to rent.  It’s in a pretty good location, too.”  Aubrey glanced around the room.  “I love this kitchen…and the rooms are laid out well.”

            “It’s not like we have to make a lot of money on the rent, either.  We can charge a fairly low rent and still come out alright.  The hard part is finding someone who meets all of our requirements.  They’d have to have references, and good credit, and be a nonsmoker, and definitely have gainful employment.”  Booth turned to Aubrey.  “It’s going to be hard to find someone like that, you know?  Plus, I don’t know how we’ll find time to show the house to anyone with our busy schedule.  We could hire an agent, I guess…”

            “I’d help if I could, Booth, but I’m going to be busy myself.”  Aubrey thought things through for a minute.  “It does take a lot of time to find a good tenant, and leasing agent could help, but they’d also charge a hefty fee...”

            Booth studied Aubrey for a few seconds, chuckling softly.  “You know what I think?”

            “Nope.”  Aubrey shrugged impatiently.  It wasn’t like Booth to be so vague, and there were things that needed to be done at his apartment, like disposing of the casserole Karen had brought over.  “I guess you could put an ad in the paper…maybe on Craigslist, too...”

            “Or Bones and I could just rent the house to you.”  Booth grinned at Aubrey’s stunned expression.  “You meet all of our requirements…”           

            “No way, Booth.  I can’t afford to rent a place like this…”  Aubrey was shocked.  “I know I got a raise with my promotion, but it wasn’t enough to rent a house like this…”

            “You weren’t listening, were you?  I said we don’t have to make a lot of money on the rent, and we’re prepared to give you a friends and family discount.  We’re asking 1400 a month, and you pay the utilities.”

            “1400?”, Aubrey squeaked.  “For this much house?  Booth, you could get twice that for a house this size…”

            “Maybe, but I wouldn’t have the luxury of renting the house to someone I know so well...someone I’ve worked with...someone I trust with my life.  Believe me, if I thought you wouldn’t take care of my house, I wouldn’t consider it, but it’s going to give me peace of mind to know my renter as well as I know you.”

            “Wow...I don’t know what to say.  I mean, I’d love to rent this place, and my lease is up soon…” Aubrey paused as he considered a very important question.  “Could I bring Skinner?  I’ll put down a pet deposit…”

            “We can probably work that out.  So you’re really interested, right?  You want the place?”  Booth chuckled at his friend’s astonishment.  “Great.  The house repairs are about ninety percent done, so you can move in whenever you want.”

            “Ninety percent?”  Aubrey narrowed his eyes at Booth.  “What the hell does that mean?”

            “Relax.  The toilets flush and you’ve got hot water.  We just need some finishing touches, like door knobs and a couple of the bedrooms still need some paint...things like that.  We can work on that after you move in.  Hell, we might even lower your rent for a couple of months if you help me with those things.”

            “So I can really rent this house?  Are you sure?”  Aubrey’s grin began to spread across his face.  “Yeah, of course I’ll take it.”

            “I’m glad.  By the way, you know it has a security system, right?”  Booth smirked at Aubrey’s irritation.  “Maybe you can move and Karen won’t be able to find you.”

            “Trust me, she’ll find me.  She’s like a bloodhound on the trail. At least with a security system I won’t have a nasty surprise like I did this morning.”  Aubrey stuck his hand out toward his friend.  “Thanks, Booth…”

            “If you want to thank me, pay your rent on time.”  Smiling broadly, Booth slapped Aubrey on the back.  “It’s no problem, Aubrey.  This works out well for both of us.”  

            He glanced at his watch.  “Hey, I’ve got to get going, and you probably need to call Jessica, right?” 

            Aubrey blushed but knew he couldn’t lie to Booth.  “Yeah…” 

            “I’ll have a lease drawn up and bring it by your office this week.”  Booth replied.

            “That’s great.”  Aubrey beamed as he looked around the house.  It was beautiful...but...Oh, my God...I have to pack up everything in my old apartment…..

Chapter Text

          After leaving his new house, Aubrey called Jessica, who’d spent her morning working on her dissertation.  Happy for the interruption, the redhead quickly accepted her best friend’s invite to lunch at the diner.  Afterwards, the couple got into the agent’s SUV for the surprise Aubrey had hinted at throughout their meal.

            “Aubrey, are you going to give me a hint about this surprise?”, Jessica said as they traveled down Connecticut Avenue.

           The agent grinned as he looked over to his passenger.  “Nope.”

           Jessica looked at the houses in the area and recognized where they were.  “Why are we driving through Cleveland Park?”

           “You’ll see soon enough…”, Aubrey said with a playful smirk.

           “No fair!  You’re a brat, James Aubrey.”, the redhead said with a pout.

           Aubrey smirked again.  “Yeah, but you still adore me.”

           “We’ll see about that, Superman.”,  Jessica said as she continued to watch from the window.  After Aubrey passed an elementary school, the redhead realized where they were.  “Hey, this was Dr. B and Booth’s old neighborhood before…you know…”

          “Yeah…”, Aubrey said as a knot formed in his stomach.

          “Between you and me, if what happened at their house didn’t happen…you may not be here right now.”

          “I don’t know about that, Jess.”, the agent said, reluctant to think about what she was hinting at.

          “James…you transferred from New York to DC almost two months after Booth went to prison.  If it wasn’t for what happened, you could still be at that field office.”

          “Well, I’m not going to think about that, Jessica.”, Aubrey snapped.  “I don’t want to think about how Booth and Dr. B almost being murdered could have benefited me.”

          Jessica could see she’d hit a sore spot with him.  “I’m sorry, Superman.”

          They drove in silence for the next few minutes until it became deafening.  Aubrey looked over to the anthropologist and saw her looking out the window.

          “Jess, I’m sorry I snapped at you.  Thinking that I may have benefited from something like that...I just…”

           Jessica turned to Aubrey.  “It’s okay, Superman.  I understand.”

           The couple smiled before putting their focus back onto the road.  When Jessica saw Aubrey pass Elm Street, she suspected where they were going.  A few minutes later, she was proven right when they pulled in the driveway of 1297 Janus Street.  Stopping at the closed gates, the car was shut off.  Getting out of the vehicle, she waited for Aubrey to come around from the driver’s side.  

          “Why are we at Dr. B and Booth’s old house?  Are you still helping Booth fix up the house for them to sell?  Did you leave something here?”

          “Yes and no.”, Aubrey said as he unlocked the door, his melancholy of a few minutes ago replaced with mischievousness.

          “Superman, I don’t understand.”

          Aubrey unlocked the door.  “Come inside and you’ll find out what’s going on.”

          The couple walked into the open foyer and living room and Jessica saw an old worn couch and a small table with various tools.  Next to them were two stools, a mini fridge, a sawhorse, and a couple doors leaning against the wall.  Next to the kitchen island was an overflowing trash can.  

          Moving closer, the redhead peeked into two boxes on the floor and saw several doorknobs that still had to be installed throughout the house.  Looking around again, she admired the open kitchen and remodeled home.

“Wow, you and Booth did a great job with the house.  It’s so beautiful.  I love that they used hardwood floors again.”

          “You think so?”, Aubrey said.

          “Yeah, Superman.”, Jessica said.  “Now is it still four bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs with the den, office, two and a half baths, laundry room, and finished basement?”

          “Pretty much, but the downstairs bathroom is now a three quarter one because Booth and I installed a shower in there last Saturday afternoon.”, the agent said.  “So you’ve been here before all…that happened?”

          Jessica turned around with a sad look.  “Yeah.  Dr. B had a dinner for all the interns shortly after my first case at the Jeffersonian.  The next time after that was when we…helped her clean up and moved her into their new house while Booth was in prison.”

          Aubrey felt a twinge of lingering guilt about the possibility that Booth’s legal issues were the reason he got the transfer to the DC field office, but he pushed it aside.  “So, do you want to see the upstairs or downstairs first?”

          Pausing, Jessica narrowed her eyes at him. “Superman, are Booth and Dr. B cool with us walking around in their house without them here?”

          “Yeah, Jessica, they are.  In fact, that’s my surprise.  I’ll even give you a hint.”  Aubrey jiggled a set of keys at his girlfriend.  “These are my keys to the house.”

          The redhead pondered for a moment before it clicked.  “You’re buying the house?”

          “Renting…renting the house.”, Aubrey said with his hand up.  “My promotion gave me a nice raise but not that nice.  Booth is bringing a lease agreement to work sometime this week, but yes, I’m going to be moving into this house.”

          “Aubrey!  That’s so cool!”, the redhead said before jumping up into his arms.  Suddenly, she realized something.  “Wait, you’re moving from your apartment?  I thought you loved living there.”

          “Yeah…about that…while this house came at the perfect time, I had to move no matter what.”

           Jessica was confused.  “Why, Superman?  Is Mrs. Hall selling your building?”

          “No…”, Aubrey said, dreading what he was about to tell his girlfriend.

          “Then why?”, Jessica said before it clicked.  “It was Karen, right? What did she do this time?”

          The agent cleared his throat.  “Well, I had no food in my apartment this morning, so I walked down to that café by my apartment.  They make the best sausage—it’s homemade, you know, with just a hint of sage...“

          Jessica immediately figured out her boyfriend was trying to tell her something that would make her mad.  She knew his stammering too well.  “Aubrey…”

          “Then I had to go to Mr. Leonelli’s store.  They have that nice thick peppered bacon—“

          “Aubrey!”, Jessica yelled before crossing her arms and glaring at him impatiently.

          The agent took a deep breath.  “I got home and saw my door was ajar.  I thought there was a burglar, so I waited for a minute before entering because my service weapon was locked in my closet.  Then I heard Karen yell at Skinner after she stepped on him or something...”

          “How did she get into your apartment?”, Jessica said as she eyed him suspiciously.  “You didn’t give her a key for emergencies, did you?”

          “No, of course not.”, Aubrey said emphatically.  “She came by while I was out and when I didn’t answer, she looked outside and saw my SUV.  Instead of using some common sense, she got Mrs. Hall all worked up,  making her think that I may have cracked my head open in the shower or something.  Of course, she let Karen into the apartment to check on me.”

          “Oh, my God…”, Jessica said while shaking her head.  “What a flipping Fruit Loop.”

          Aubrey was glad the redhead wasn’t angry at him...yet.  “When I confronted the Fruit Loop for breaking into my apartment, she blew me off, essentially saying it was my fault for not returning her phone calls.  She then presented me with some nasty ass thing that was supposed to be tuna broccoli casserole, but she put red peppers, stuffed olives, and pepper jack cheese in it.  Oh, shit!”, Aubrey exclaimed with a look of panic.  “It’s still on the kitchen counter in my apartment.  God, I hope Skinner didn’t eat any of it.”

          “I’m sure Skinner is fine, Aubrey.  He’s a smart boy.”, Jessica said while tapping her foot impatiently.  “Please continue.”

          “Yeah, so she said she made lunch for me today because she ‘missed me’ ”, Aubrey said with air quotation marks at the end.  “When I said she should’ve called first, she shot back once again that it was my fault that she had to come over because I hadn’t returned her calls this past week.  Then she told me that she planned on spending the day with me to make up for all that.”

          “Really…”,  Jessica said, quirking an eyebrow at Aubrey before taking a deep breath.

          “Yeah, really.”, Aubrey said.  “I told her I had plans to clean my apartment, but she didn’t care.  She wasn’t even deterred when I mentioned that I was planning to clean my bathroom or Skinner’s litter box, because me being domestic is so cute since that’s what…couples do.”

          “I see…”, Jessica said, her cheeks turning red as her anger grew.  “Go on.”

          Aubrey nervously ran his fingers through his hair.  “I explained once again that we’re only friends and just like the other times, I apologized if I’d led her on in any way to make her think otherwise.  I was clear about that, and I took all the blame.  Thankfully, that’s when Booth called and asked me to come over here.  When I told her I had to leave, she finally accepted that but left me with that…stuff with instructions to return the dish when I was ready.”

          Jessica saw the way he wasn’t looking at her.  “Superman, what aren’t you telling me?”

          He didn’t want to hurt Jessica’s feelings because she was sensitive to people thinking she was a flaky girl with no direction.  However, he knew she wouldn’t let up.  Reluctantly, he told her the last bit and saw Jessica’s cheeks turn from flushed to pure scarlet before she exploded.

          “That crazy bitch has the balls to call me emotionally immature?”, Jessica said, clenching her fists at her sides.  “She was the one who almost punched me at the lab because I ignored her stupid stories about the alleged constant acrobatic sex you two were having and her request for advice on what kind of fucking panties to wear to make you horny!”

          “I know, Jess--”, Aubrey said but he was interrupted by the angry redhead.

          “This almost forty year old woman is supposed to be an FBI psychologist, but she is a two faced, lying, piece of shit!  She’s all sweet to my face but she then makes little jabs at things like my childhood at the cooperative, my large family, my body—“

          “Whoa!”, Aubrey said.  “What are you talking about?”

          Jessica realized she said too much.  “It’s nothing, Superman.  Just typical Karen and it’s really dumb.”  

          Aubrey felt there was a story and he wanted to hear it.  “No, I’m not going to forget it.  You’re supposed to talk to me about everything, remember?”

          The redhead saw the concern in his eyes and knew she’d lost.  Moving into the living room, she sat on the couch.  “Karen would…occasionally make comments that would cut a little deep sometimes, but then be all apologetic later.”

           Sitting down across from her, he pushed a little bit.  “Like what, Jess?”

          Jessica felt like such a baby for what she was feeling.  As Dr. B would say, it was irrational, but the comments still hurt.  “Remember when we spent the night at her place after Dr. Saroyan and Arastoo’s wedding?”

          “I don’t remember much about that evening, but I do remember the morning after and the rest of the day.  The worst day of my life.”, Aubrey said quietly.

          “Well, after we got you into the apartment and settled into bed, we talked for a bit.  She asked me how I felt about your promotion.  I was honest in that I was a little hurt you didn’t ask me to go with you,  but at the same time I wasn’t sure if I could go anyway because of how my program is set up at American University.  I also mentioned that I was feeling a little scared about everything and that I was…pretty upset about you getting trashed after I caught the bouquet.”

          “Shit…”, Aubrey said. “Listen, Jess…”

          “I’m not done yet, Superman.”, Jessica interrupted.  “When it came time for bed, of course, I had nothing to sleep in and was going to just use your shirt.  Karen made a point of telling me she didn’t think you would want your dress shirt ruined like that so she said she could give me some PJs.  She found them in her bedroom and gave them to me, saying that ‘this shirt is too small around the girls for me, and I’m too voluptuous for the pants but the outfit was just perfect for a small little thing like you, Jessica.  You’re so skinny...”

           “Where the hell was I?”, Aubrey said, infuriated at the perceived insult to his girlfriend.

          “Passed out in the guest room, remember?”, Jessica said.   “Yeah, I really didn’t know what to say, because Karen isn’t always known for her discretion or tact.  It was one of many left handed compliments that she’s given me since she returned from Kansas City.  I wanted to tell her what she could do with her opinions but she was your friend…”

          Aubrey sighed, his guilt palpable as he tried to keep calm, but he wasn’t very happy that Karen had been messing with Jessica much longer than he thought.  “No, Jessica…she was a colleague with whom I was friendly and someone I talked to after seeing my dad had shown up in town. Why didn’t you say anything to me?”

          “Because I didn’t want to be that girlfriend.”, Jessica said.  “You know, the sensitive one who goes to her boyfriend every time one of his friends gets all annoying as fuck.”

          “You should have, Jess.”

          “Well…you were busy dealing with your dad and helping Booth find Kovacs.  You had a full plate.”

          “Not too full that I couldn’t help you.”, Aubrey said in a sad tone.  “I wouldn’t have tolerated anyone talking to you that way and I won’t now, Jessica.  I’m so sorry I gave the impression that I was too busy to help you.”

          “You know what upset me most of all?”, Jessica asked.  “I really thought she was my friend, Aubrey.  When she came back from Kansas City, she would ask me out for drinks and want to hang out.  One night, I was meeting up with Andie and Daisy, so I invited Karen to join us.  They didn’t like her right away, saying she was trying to soften me up before stealing you away from me, but I figured they were just being overcautious.  I know now that they were right and she was waiting for me to screw up so she could snag you for herself.”

          “Jess, she can try, but it’s not happening, okay?”, the agent said as he put his hands on her arms.  “She’s nice but a little off...okay more than a little off.  Remember me telling you about when she asked me out in Booth’s office while we were investigation Frank Kwiakowski’s murder?”

           “Your dad’s fixer guy?”, Jessica asked.  When Aubrey nodded, she continued.  “Yeah…”

           “I mean, who asks a guy out on a date in front of another person?  I accepted because I didn’t want humiliate her in front of Booth, but as soon as I could I broke the date.  After I told her I was seeing someone, she constantly talked about my father’s crimes and embarrassed me at Frank’s office while I was interviewing his assistant.   After that there was no way I could ever contemplate becoming more than just work friends with her, much less begin a physical relationship with her.  That’s not my thing.  You know that, right?”

           “I know Superman.  I just need to shake her off.”, Jessica said with a smile before standing up and taking his hand.  “Come on, show me the rest of the house.”

            Seeing that Jessica was ready to move on, Aubrey squeezed back.  “Okay.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            After showing Jessica around downstairs, Aubrey led her upstairs.  Finishing the tour of the bathroom and most of the rooms, she opened a door and saw a set of hardwood stairs in a switchback layout.

             “I didn’t know you had an attic up here.  That’s so cool.”, Jessica said.  

           “I thought you had been here before.” Aubrey asked as he came behind her.

          “Downstairs.  Dr. B never showed us the upstairs.”, the redhead replied.  “Can we check out the attic?”

           “Do we have to?”, Aubrey said, not looking forward to any creepy surprises.

           Jessica took his hand and squeezed it.  “Don’t worry...I’ll protect you from any killer spiders we encounter.”

           They shared a smile before Aubrey opened the attic door all the way.  Letting Jessica lead, the two went up into the upper space. Both admired the layout and the window view before climbing back down the stairs.  

           “You know...if you ever buy the place, you could make that a finished room.”, the anthropologist said.  “It’s a great space.”

           “Yeah it is, but I don’t plan on spending much time in there.”, the agent said before taking the redhead’s hand and leading her to a closed door.  “This…is the master bedroom.”

          “I can’t wait to see it.”, Jessica said flirtatiously.

          Aubrey pushed the door open with a flourish since it didn’t have a knob yet.  Leading her inside, he smiled as she looked around the large room.

          Jessica saw that the walls weren’t painted yet but the hardwood floors gleamed.  In the middle of the room was a bed with a quilt, sheets, and three pillows laying on top.  Curious, she turned to Aubrey.

          “Booth kept the bed here to sleep on when he was working late on the house since the couch downstairs is hard on his back.”

          Jessica walked to the closet and groaned.  “You have a walk-in closet?  That is so awesome.  It’s huge...”

          “You haven’t seen the best part yet.”, Aubrey said.

          The couple walked to the other side of the bedroom where there was a new door propped up, blocking most of the view in.  Moving it aside, Aubrey indicated for Jessica to go on.

          “Ladies first.”

          “Why thank you, kind sir.”, Jessica said before entering.  “Oh wow…”

          The en-suite bathroom was painted a warm hunter green.  On her left was a double vanity with a slight oval shape, maple cabinets, a cream colored granite counter, and two metal sinks with copper fixtures.  Next to it was a wall separating the vanity from the corner shower.  Walking up to it, she saw there was a glass door and her mouth dropped when she saw three different shower heads, a shelf about waist high, and a built in bench.

          Jessica looked to her right past the glass partition and saw a corner jet tub surrounded by light brown bricks that easily fit two people.

           ‘Oh…Superman and I can have some fun in here…”, the redhead thought before she realized what she was thinking.   ‘But we’re just friends right now…’

           Aubrey watched as her porcelain complexion turned an adorable flush and smiled.   ‘I thought the same thing, Jessica, but we won’t be just friends forever.’

          “This bathroom is gorgeous, Superman.  What do you think of the built in bench and three shower heads?”

          Aubrey had a vision of the two of them against the shower wall with him thrusting into a moaning Jessica with her legs around his waist while she held onto one of the heads.  Turning red at his thoughts, he smiled.  “Definitely better than my shower at my apartment.”

           The two came back out and Jessica looked around again.  She could see a couple of pictures on the wall and there would be a chair in the corner.  There would be an armoire and a dresser of cherry wood.  The floor would have a colorful area rug as an accent, but the hardwood floors would still be prominent.  Admiring the bay window by the bed, she pictured the two of them sitting together one night looking outside after loving each other.

           Looking to the left wall, the redhead immediately envisioned two nightstands, one for Aubrey and his stuff on the right side.  The left would be for her and her stuff.  In between, she pictured a King sized bed with the two of them making love on it before her cheeks burned red.  Clearing her throat, she pushed her thoughts aside.  

          “Aubrey, this house is so cool.  What are you doing to do with all this space?”

          “Well, one room will be the Star Wars room.  Skinner will probably adopt one of the other rooms for his own.  I mean, the possibilities are endless, right?  Five bedrooms plus a den, office, two and three quarter baths, plus a finished basement.  With the rate I’m getting from Booth, plus utilities I will probably pay no more than $2000 a month...pretty much the same as I was paying for my small, rundown apartment.”

          Aubrey turned back from the redhead and looked around again before.  “This is an awesome house to raise a family in.”

          Jessica felt her stomach churn and thought she would going to break out into a cold sweat.  Frustrated at her knee jerk response, she worked to hide it from Aubrey, but it was too late.

          “Jess, what’s wrong?”

          Feeling ashamed at her reaction to what she knew was an innocent remark, Jessica flipped her hand up and tried to change the subject.  “Nothing, Aubrey.  Hey, I have to head to Dulles to pick up Beau and Daisy soon.  Do you want to come?  Maybe we can all hit Founding Fathers afterwards?”

          The agent remembered the last time he saw that look on her face…the night in front of the subway.  Quickly, he grabbed her arm.  “Jess, stop for a second.”

          “Aubrey, I promised Daisy I would be there on time.”  Turning away, she tried to leave, but he grabbed her hand.

          “Not until you answer me.”, Aubrey said.  “Did I say the wrong thing?  I meant what I said about this being the perfect house for a family but I wasn’t talking about right this instant.”

          “James…”, Jessica said weakly.

          “Jessica!  I saw your face.  I saw it…I remember it.  Do you know how many times I go back to that night?  How many times I thought about it after it happened?  I thought I screwed up everything…and I’m wondering if I did it again.”

          Jessica didn’t think before she grabbed Aubrey and kissed him.  He responded back and they got caught up in the moment.  Before they knew it, they were on that bed with their hands all over each other.

          Aubrey made quick work of getting Jessica’s t-shirt off and was rewarded to see the redhead’s mounds encased in a rich red silk, setting off her ivory skin.  In awe, his lips traveled all over the uncovered parts of her breasts to her moans.

          Jessica enjoyed his amorous attentions before yanking the agent’s sweatshirt off him.  She groaned as she felt his muscular chest and abdomen against hers before her hands continued to roam down his back.  She shivered as she felt Aubrey’s hand move down and open her pants.  His fingers had just moved inside when he suddenly stopped.

          “James…what’s wrong?”

          Aubrey’s head was in the crook of her neck and he was panting.  “We can’t do this…not now.”

          “I’m still on the Pill.”, Jessica said, thinking he was worried about birth control.

          “I know, but that’s not why.”, the agent said reluctantly before lifting his head up and gently caressing Jessica from her breast down her abdomen.  “More than anything, I want to strip you naked so we can screw each other senseless.  But…”

          Jessica knew what he was saying and she needed to be honest as well.  “I’m not ready for a relationship either…but I care about you...so much...”

         Aubrey wanted to hear the words, but knew she wasn’t ready yet.  “I care about you too, so much.  But we can’t make love…”

          “Until we’re both ready to take a chance…and we’re not.”, Jessica said tearfully as she combed the silver tips at Aubrey’s left temple.  “But we will be…soon...”

          Heartened at Jessica’s confidence of their path, Aubrey gently caressed her face.  “And when we are…don’t make any plans.”

          Both snickered before the two of them shook in laughter.  For either of them, there was no one else who they could laugh with as much as they did with each other.  After a few minutes, they calmed down and the lanky man got off his friend.  He shuddered when he took in Jessica wearing only a bra and a hint of matching red panties behind her opened jeans.

          “Jess, you...you...need to get dressed. If I keep looking at you like that, I will have no willpower left and Daisy and Beau will have to find their own way home.”

          Jessica chuckled before she found his sweatshirt thrown next to her.  Grabbing it, she smiled as she tossed it at Aubrey’s head.  “Same goes for you, Mister.            

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

          Two hours later, Aubrey and Jessica were joined by the newlyweds at Founding Fathers’.  As always, the table was covered by appetizers and two empty pitchers of beer.  The first couple was listening as the second described their honeymoon.

          “It was so beautiful there, Jessica.”, Daisy said.  “We spent a couple days on Plage du Taharuu and enjoyed the black sand.”

          “I met some Redskins fans there.”, Beau chuckled as he sipped his beer.  “It’s kinda fun finding fans in the far corners of the world.”

          “We sampled some wonderful different foods in Papeete, Aubrey.”, Daisy said.  “Our resort hosted a Polynesian Night where they threw a Hima’a on.”

          “Oh, I heard of those…”  Aubrey said as his mouth watered.  “It’s fish, pig, shrimp, lobster, bananas and other stuff wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a hole in the ground with hot rocks.”

          “Aubrey, you’re drooling…”, Jessica said with a snicker.

          “I know, Jess…”, the agent replied before eating the last meatball slider.

          “I saw Dan Marino and his wife when we went to Bora Bora.”, Beau said.  “His wife and my Daisy became fast friends.”

          “We hung out once after we met.”, Daisy said quickly before refocusing.  “We took an island tour and saw the most beautiful waterfalls.  It was so romantic.”

          “I have the best wife.”, Beau said as he put his arm around the anthropologist.  “She was so understanding when I had to call my coach and study plays since I was off for two games.”

          Aubrey’s eyes got large at the linebacker’s last response.  He wasn’t going to judge but if he were on a honeymoon, calling work and studying would have been the last thing on his mind.  Unless it was Jessica’s body he was studying, of course.

          “Beau made up for it by spoiling me rotten.  The shopping was wonderful.”, Daisy gushed.

          Aubrey and Jessica moved back and forth between the couple before looking at each other.  Keeping their opinions to themselves, they turn their attention back to Daisy and Beau.

          “Sounds like you had a very…interesting honeymoon, guys.”, Aubrey said.

           “We had an awesome honeymoon.”, the player said before his phone buzzed.  Seeing who it was, he turned to Daisy.  “It’s our defensive coordinator, Babe.  I have to take this.  Be right back…hey Joe, what’s up?”

          The three watched Beau walk out of the bar before Daisy turned to her friends.  “Beau says the team is a bit of turmoil right now.”

          “Yeah, that’s understandable.”, Jessica said.  “Aubrey has to deal with that sometimes in his job.”

          “I do?”, Aubrey said, before being reminded by the slightly annoyed look on the redhead’s face.  He quickly nodded in agreement.  “Yeah, I do.  I’m a Special Agent in Charge, so my time is not my own.”

          “Sometimes Beau needs to tell them no.”, Daisy replied before smiling again.  “Never mind about that.  I got both of you something but I had to mail them home, but you’ll have them soon.”

          “You didn’t have to do that, Daisy.”, Aubrey said.

          “Yes I did.  Jessica was my maid of honor and you’re...important to her and part of our family, Aubrey.”, Daisy said before looking at the time.  “Oh goodness, it’s almost 8:00.  We need to pick up Lance from my in law’s house before heading back to our condo.”

          “Why don’t you crash in Great Falls tonight, Daisy?”, Jessica asked. “You guys are probably exhausted with the jet lag.”

          “I have to work tomorrow.”, the newlywed responded.  “Identifying remains in a never ending job as you know, Jessica.”

          “Ouch.”, Aubrey replied.  “The...NFL didn’t want to give you an extra day to allow their lead anthropologist to recuperate?”

          "I  can’t because I have a very important job and my presence is needed.  Besides that, my in-laws will need to accept that Beau and I have a home and that’s where we are going to go with my son tonight.”

          Aubrey and Jessica didn’t miss the bite in Daisy’s voice, but wisely kept their observations to themselves.

          “If you will excuse me, I need to get my husband off the phone.”

          When the diminutive woman was out of earshot, Aubrey turned to Jessica.  “So their honeymoon sounded...fun.”

          “Yeah...shopping, romance, and football.  A great combo.”, the redhead responded.

          “Um, you know Beau better than I do, Jess but is it me or did he seem to have a one track mind?”

          “You mean football, football, and more football?”, Jessica said as she sipped her beer.  “He does.  He’s a good guy, Aubrey, but…”

           The agent saw Jessica had something to say.  “What, Jess?  It’s just us.”

          “Between you and me…I think Daisy made a mistake.  Andie thinks so, too.”

           “Why?”, Aubrey questioned.  “She seems happy…”

           “Oliver, while sometimes a douchebag, obviously has feelings for Daisy.  To be honest, they have feelings for each other, but instead of just saying so, each waited for the other to speak up.”

           “Sounds familiar.”, Aubrey said with a smile.

            Jessica returned the smile before sipping her beer.  “Most of all, she wanted a knight in shining armor to love and worship her.  Unfortunately, Oliver Wells is no shining knight, just a pain who challenged her constantly, but she always gave as good as she got.  He’s the opposite of what kind of man Daisy planned on marrying.”

           “Jess, real life is no fairy tale.”

           “I know that, Superman, but...real life hasn’t been good to Daisy.”,  Jessica said, pondering her words without breaking a confidence.  “She comes from a large family like I do, but she’s estranged from most of them.  She and Sweets were on and off, and after knocking her up, they were on again, hopefully for good.  They were planning a future together when he died and she was left a single mother with no family except her colleagues at the Jeffersonian.  So when Beau asked her out, he reminded her of that fairy tale life she’d always dreamed about.  She bragged to us about how Beau was such a gentlemen on their dates...always brought flowers...deferred to her on things...”

           “Okay, I get it…”, Aubrey said before taking a drink of his beer.  “She thought Beau was the one, right?”

            “They had only dated for a few weeks before Beau suggested that they go to Tahiti.  Marriage never came up until his parents pushed the issue and they got Daisy all worked up to the point that she was afraid Lance would be abandoned if something happened while they were gone.  Andie and I think she got swept up in the idea of marrying Prince Charming and living that fairy tale.”

          “Did you two tell her this?”, Aubrey asked.

          “We tried talking to her about it before the wedding, but she was determined to get married.  Andie said there was only so much we could do if she wouldn’t listen, so we let it go.”

          Aubrey played with his glass.  “I’m going to say something but you don’t have to confirm or deny if it will break a confidence.”

          “What do you want to know, Aubrey?”

           Aubrey thought about how he wanted to lay out his question until he decided to just ask.  “Do you think subconsciously Daisy married Beau to force that asshat’s hand?”

           Jessica remembered the conversation she had with Daisy the night before her wedding.  “I don’t think...well...I just don’t know...I hope not.  I know she loves Beau, Superman--”

           Aubrey saw the couple walk in.  “They’re coming back.”

           Quickly the couple grabbed their beers and finished them off as Beau and Daisy came back to the table.

          “If you don’t mind taking us to my folks’ place, it would be appreciated so we can get Lance home.”,  Beau asked.

          “Sure.  Let’s just settle up the bill.”, Aubrey said.

          “Appreciate you taking us out, Aubrey.”,  Beau said.   “We maxed out the credit card on our trip.  You know how it goes, right, Buddy?  I just hate to tell Daisy ‘no’ about anything.  After all, as a football star, I’m expected to maintain a certain lifestyle.”

          “Beau…”,  Daisy groaned, mortified by her husband’s request.

          “Yeah, I get it.”  That hadn’t been Aubrey’s plan, especially since Beau had ordered as much food as he did.  However, he didn’t want to look like an asshole, so he decided he should just take care of it quietly.  “No worries.”

          Jessica watched Aubrey take out his Visa card before putting it on the receipt and her eyes got large when she saw the total.  At the subtle shaking of her friend’s head, the redhead didn’t say anything.

          “We’ll pay you back when we help you move, Aubrey.  How does that sound?”

          “Sounds great, actually.”, Aubrey said.  “I’m going to bring some small things to the house this week a little at a time, but having a big guy around for the big stuff would be helpful.”

          “As long as I’m not needed at the FedEx, I’m free on Saturday.”,  Beau said.  “Ready, Babe?”

          Daisy’s spine was stiffened as she was still embarrassed by her husband pushing the bill onto Aubrey.  “Yep.”

          The four grabbed their coats and walked out of the Founding Fathers.  When Daisy and Beau weren’t looking, Jessica took Aubrey’s hand until they reached the SUV.


            Forty-five minutes later, Aubrey walked into his apartment and turned on the light.  When Skinner came to the door meowing, he felt bad and hurried through the open part to his kitchen.  Setting down the leftovers and food he ordered for lunch tomorrow, he fed his cat, who attacked his food with gusto.

          “Sorry, Buddy…out with Aunt Jessica and friends.”

          Turning back he saw the foil from the casserole torn at a corner.  Flicking on the stove light, he looked and saw where the cat had gotten into it.  When he took a step, he felt something squishy.  Looking down he saw where he stepped in a small pile of cat vomit.

          “Yeah, Skinner, I don’t blame you either for puking this up.  Looks...just wrong.”

          A thought came to him, so he took his phone out of his pocket.  Pulling back the foil in its entirety, he took a picture of the casserole and sent it with a text to his favorite squintern.

           Skinner found the stuff but yak’d it up.  Happy now I fed him.

           Grabbing a paper towel, he cleaned up the mess on the floor.  As he was tossing the towel into the garbage, he heard his phone buzz.  Reading the message, he smiled.

           Glad Skinner survived.  That looks disgusting.  Look’d up recipe based on what u said but not found.  K made it special just 4 u.  Lucky man.

          “Ugh, pizza and casserole do not mix.”, Aubrey said.

          The lanky man put his food away and grabbed a beer from the fridge before going into the living room where he sat down.  Mrs. Hall didn’t return his call but he knew that she spent most Sundays with her daughter in Baltimore and sometimes spent the night.  Occasionally, it was vice versa depending on her child’s busy schedule.  

          His landlady was a kindly old woman whom he helped with small tasks like picking up groceries for her when he was out.  When one of her now former tenants from next door was dodging her six months ago when rent was due, he accompanied her and he used the fact that he was technically a lawyer as well as an FBI Agent to put the woman on notice not to be late again.

          He hated to tell Mrs. Hall he wasn’t renewing her lease, but he felt that he had no other option.  He couldn’t have Karen, or anyone else talk themselves into his apartment when he wasn’t home.  What if the next time he had Jessica or even one of the Mini-Booths or Michael Vincent with him?  He couldn’t take that chance.

          Looking around, he sighed.  He was going to miss this place.  Mr. Leonelli down the street was fun to talk to as he was from New York City, too.  More than once, he’d go in and they would chat about old hangouts in the Big Apple.  He also would bring home one of his pastramis on rye from the grocer’s deli department and it tasted just like the ones he used to have at the deli near his old high school.

          Skinner picked that moment to jump on the agent’s lap.  After curling up on his legs, Aubrey scratched him behind the ears and the animal purred.  His new house would give his cat plenty to explore and more windows to look out besides the one in the living room.

          The Mighty Hut would also give him and Jessica a lot of room to explore, too.  He tingled at the thought of them making love in every room of that large house.  Even in the attic…after a thorough cleaning.  Being interrupted by a crawly, scary spider while naked with his gorgeous redhead underneath him would really suck.

          If what happened to them earlier was any indicator, hopefully it would be sooner than later.  It had been too long since he had touched her like that and it felt amazing today.

          But they couldn’t rush it either.  He was honest when he said he wasn’t ready for a relationship yet.  He knew he’d overreacted when he saw her reaction to his remark about a family in that house.  She seemed to know it was knee jerk, too, but those old feelings came back in a rush.

          His head knew she wouldn’t just take off on him…that it was okay to make a mistake.  His heart, though, was still afraid of being left behind.  He trusted her to be faithful and in the honesty of her feelings, but he was ashamed of still being afraid of letting his guard down sometimes.

          He couldn’t expect Jessica to fully embrace a life with him if he couldn’t do the same.  However, they would get there.  He had faith and his vivid imagination in regards to her beautiful body.

          Which brought him back to what she said earlier about Karen’s snide remarks.  Yes, the profiler maybe had what some men considered the ideal, but he preferred Jessica’s perfectly proportioned curves, lithe figure, and modest breasts.  The fact the profiler had needled Jessica about something she was insecure about pissed him off royally.  He wanted to tell that weirdo nut job off, but the redhead didn’t want him to poke the dragon, so he would let her handle it.

          But if Karen pulled anything when he was around…that would be a different story.

          Seeing it was almost midnight, Aubrey quickly finished his beer.  After jostling his cat up, much to Skinner’s annoyance, he rinsed out the beer bottle before dumping the offensive casserole in the trash.  Putting the pan to soak in the sink, he shut out the lights and went to bed.


          Jessica was comfortably ensconced on her bed finalizing her lesson plan for Dr. B’s Thursday class.  Her mentor and Curly were presenting the Jeffersonian Medico-Legal Lab’s proposed 2017 budget to the governing board and Dr. B had elected not to cancel the session.  It would be her first time instructing a class alone since becoming one of the forensic anthropologist’s teaching assistants. It was a big responsibility that she didn’t give to just any of her teaching assistants.  She was honored that Dr. B entrusted her to do this, but at the same time she was so nervous and didn’t want to fail her mentor.

          While most professors let their TAs do stuff like that all the time, in all of her years of teaching, the forensic anthropologist had only chosen a select few to do so without her there.  One of the things Jessica admired most about Dr. B was her belief that since her students paid to learn from her, she felt it was her obligation to be there for her students.  

           Looking over the topic she planned to go over in class, she realized it was as good as it was going to get.  After she saved it to her flash drive and the cloud, she attached it to the email she’d prepared for the forensic anthropologist.  Taking a deep breath, she sent it.  Looking at the clock, she saw it was after eleven.  Turning off her laptop, she decided to take a shower so she could get a little extra sleep because she had to be up before 6:00 in the morning.  

           Tomorrow Andie was picking her up on her way to work and dropping her off at the train station so she could attend an afternoon lecture at Virginia Commonwealth University on bone calcification.  She would then spend the night with her brother Aaron’s family who lived nearby and take the train back to DC Tuesday morning, when Aubrey would pick her up.

          Getting in the warm water, she let her imagination wander as she remembered earlier today.  She didn’t mean for them to almost have sex.  However, when she pressed her mouth against his warm lips, all reason flew out the window.

          Aubrey’s kisses were always good, and the way his lips felt when he loved on her breasts was always wonderful, but today it was amazing.  While his intensity did scare her early on, it also made her see stars.  After their talk at the Mall, she finally figured out that his passion during their lovemaking was one of the ways he told her that he loved her when he couldn’t say it out loud.  Of course, she wasn’t listening as carefully before, but she would be now.

          He was right, though, to stop them earlier before they went too far.  While their bodies would be sated, emotionally it would’ve set them back.

          She felt like she was almost there, though.  For the first time, she was able to tell that voice in her head after he spoke about families to shut up.  She headed Aubrey off not because she wanted to avoid him, but because she didn’t want to worry him.  It hurt for a moment when he seemed to panic, but she understood why.

          She also knew how hard her Superman was working to overcome his own fears.  She had faith they would get there together…but she hoped it was soon.  If today was any indicator, when they finally came together as lovers again it would be…

          Explosive…amazing…wonderful.

          The music she had playing on her Amazon Prime app was interrupted by the ringing on her phone.  Afraid it was an emergency due to the late hour, she jumped out of the shower and got to it as the ringing stopped.  Looking, she didn’t recognize the phone number and figured it was a wrong one.  

          Getting back in, she finished her shower.  When done, she brushed her teeth and got stuff around so she could be ready when Andie picked her up at 6:30.  Pulling the covers back, she got into bed.  When she plugged in her phone, she saw there was a voice message.  Checking her message, it was not one she was expecting.

           ‘Jessica, this is your mother Eleanor.  I’m going to be in Philadelphia for a conference later in the week and will be staying with Michael.  It would be nice to see my daughter also, since you always seem to be busy with that lab and school.  I will call you with a good time to come up and have dinner with your brother and me.’

            Instantly, she felt like a young girl again.  Her mother had a habit of expecting people to drop everything when she needed or wanted something.  Aaron stopped catering to her years ago, as did Stephan.  Jason was in Charlotte and Jack was in Montreal until the first week of November working on a project.  Michael...he still tried to do what he felt was right by their mother, even to the point of twisting himself into a pretzel.

          Judging by her tone, she couldn’t tell if she was on her meds or not.  Either way, mental illness never kept Eleanor Gordon from her needs which were always more important than others.  However, she just couldn’t deal with the woman right now.  Things were looking up in her life and her mother had a way of sucking that away from her.  

          She thought about calling Aubrey, but it was almost midnight and he had to work in the morning.  Deciding not to wake him up, she sat in bed staring at the ceiling for several minutes before taking a couple of deep breaths to settle herself down.  Hitting the power bar her lamp was plugged in with, Jessica laid down for a fitful sleep.

Chapter Text

            Aubrey was hard at work Monday around 11:30 when he heard his phone buzz.  Seeing who was calling, he happily answered.  “Hey, Jess.  How’s Richmond?”

            Jessica looked around the busy hallway.  “The lecture isn’t bad.  We took a break and I thought I’d call you.  How’s work this morning?”

            “Some old Monday…payroll, preparing cases for Caroline, auditing my agents’ case files.  Nothing but fun on this front.”

           Jessica leaned against the wall.  “Has you know who stopped by yet?”

            Aubrey clicked something on his computer.  “No, but I do have to have a meeting with her this afternoon.  The particulates Hodgins identified on Vacchio’s suit narrowed down his previous locations, so we have to update the case profile.  Unfortunately, Booth got called to another crime scene with Doctor B, so I have to work with Karen by myself.  Yay….”

            Jessica felt slightly nervous at that prospect, but she trusted Aubrey.  She knew he wanted to avoid being alone with the profiler as much as possible.  Thinking for a second, she came up with a couple of ideas on how he might be able to avoid any more trouble.

            “Well, maybe you can meet in the break room or the conference room with the door open, okay?  That should hopefully deter her from flirting with you...or at least prevent her or others from getting the wrong idea.”

            Aubrey thought about her suggestion.  “The break room is a good idea, Jess.  She was a friend to me when I needed one, but I’ve set her straight enough times.  Now I have to continue to be strictly professional without hopefully being rude or embarrassing her.”

            The redhead smiled, loving how thoughtful her best friend was, even when dealing with annoying people.  “You’re a good man, James Aubrey, and I know you’ll be the same professional federal agent you’ve always been.  However, remember...you only get to flirt with me at work.”

            “Trust me, Jessica...you’re the only one who gets to see my weapon.”  Hearing her giggle on the phone, Aubrey smiled.  “Just keep your fingers crossed that she doesn’t do another unexpected visit with a dinner surprise before Friday.”

            Jessica crossed her left middle and index fingers.  “Already done.  If she pops over after you move, maybe she’ll get the hint when she realizes you don’t live there anymore.”

            “I hope so, Jess.  I really do.”

            The redhead heard the sincerity in his voice and it made her feel better.  “So when do you sign your lease for the Mighty Hut?”

            “I talked to Booth this morning and he’s got the lease ready for me to sign.  Now all I need is to find someone to sublet the apartment because my lease ends November 1st and I don’t want to leave Mrs. Hall in the lurch.”

            Jessica thought for a minute. “I may know someone…but…”

            “Who?”, Aubrey said.  “It will be tight but I’ll swing it somehow if I have to pay Booth a security deposit and rent to two places for November.  If I can get out of it though, my checking account will be a lot happier.”

            “Okay.”, the redhead said. “How about…”

            When Aubrey heard Jessica’s response, he grimaced.  “Man, that’s just mean.  I’m not sure I want to do that to Mrs. Hall.”

            “Superman, he and I have the same landlord, and while he’s not Mr. Cho’s favorite guy, he always pays his rent on time.  Plus the basement tenant in that house was busted last week for cooking meth, so Mr. Cho is trying to find places for the other tenants because the whole house reeks and may have to be condemned.”

            The agent made a face.  “But Oliver Wells…”

            “Superman, two rents…your checking account...”

            Aubrey knew he was stuck.  “Fine…fine…I’ll suggest him if Mrs. Hall asks, but you owe me, Ms. Warren.”

            Jessica laughed.  “Of course, Special Agent Aubrey.  When do you want to collect?”

            Aubrey thought there was something odd in her voice throughout their phone conversation, but now it was even more prominent.  He knew her well enough that something wasn’t right.  “Jess, what’s wrong?”

            Stunned, Jessica stiffened.  “W-what are you talking about?”

            “Something’s wrong.  I can hear it in your voice.  What’s going on?”

            Before she could make up an excuse, she heard the intercom announce the end of intermission.  “Shoot, our break is over.  I’ll call you tonight after I’m settled at Aaron’s.”

            “Okay...bye.”, Aubrey replied.

            “Bye, Aubrey.”, Jessica said before disconnecting the call.

            Going back into the lecture hall, she quickly down the aisle to the third row.  When she got to her seat, she saw some bimbo in a low cut top bending down to flirt with a guy in the row ahead of her.

           “Flash your boobs somewhere else, Babe.”, Jessica said as she held up her ticket stub.

            After the blonde got up and walked away in a huff, the redhead sat down.  Realizing she was a bit harsh, she took a deep breath to calm herself.

            Her mother’s phone call from the evening before still weighed heavily on her mind.  It felt good to talk to her boyfriend so she could forget about the woman for a while.  She felt nauseated as she thought about what to do about the woman’s request.  She was truly booked this week and now also this weekend to help Aubrey move.  However, her mother would continue to nag her until she finally did come.

            She would show up as requested and the elder woman would then brag about the fabulous opportunities life now presented her.  Brushing her now shoulder length hair, Jessica was sure her mother would make an ugly comment about it.  Then, after vocalizing her disapproval on that, she would probably make other passive-aggressive comments on other parts of her life, including her lack of presence on the arm of a wealthy, successful man.

             Jessica didn’t know what to do but when the lights went down low, she put those feelings aside.  Grabbing her digital voice recorder and laptop, she started taking notes when the professor began lecturing again.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Aubrey put his phone down and sighed.  There was something Jessica wasn’t telling him.  His insides churned as he wondered what he’d said wrong.

            Was she having doubts about yesterday? When he stopped them before they got too involved in their lovemaking, did she feel rejected to the point that he pushed her away?  Did she realize that she could do better than some insecure FBI nerd?

            Aubrey then shook his head as he pushed those negative thoughts away.  She agreed with him that moving forward with sex was not a good idea.  He knew Jessica took their promise to work on the personal issues that were holding them back from having a future together as seriously as he did.  On top of that, she was also in a large university auditorium and probably not in the best position to talk.  Whatever it was, she would talk to him when she was ready.  

            “Good morning, Aubrey…or should I say, good lunchtime.”

            That voice...it had grown to annoy the shit out of him.  Glancing up, he saw Karen standing in the doorway holding a bag from Founding Fathers.   Taking, a deep breath, Aubrey forced a smile.  

            “Karen, I thought we were meeting at 1:00?”

            The profiler came in and set the bag on the desk.  “We were, but then I thought why not have lunch together also?  It was irritating that you got called away yesterday.  Maybe I should have a chat with Booth about being more respectful of your time outside of work.  It wasn’t very nice of him to break up my...I mean our plans for the day.”

            “Karen, Booth needed my help yesterday.  He’s not just my former mentor but also my friend.  He’s always come through for me when I needed him, so I will do the same.”, Aubrey said before continuing.  “Besides, my plans involved cleaning my apartment, changing my cat’s litter box, and other chores.  Your plans involved scaring the crap out of my elderly landlady, breaking into my apartment, and inviting yourself into my day.”

            Karen put her hand on her hip.  “I had no choice.  You have not been returning my calls—“

            Aubrey knew he had to put his foot down.  “Because I’ve been busy, Karen, and you’re being way too pushy, which I’m not comfortable with at all.  Now, if you want us to be friends, you’ll need to respect my privacy.”

            “Of course--”

            “Furthermore, you will not bother Jessica again.“  Aubrey said in a serious tone.

            “But Aubrey…”, Karen said, annoyed at the turn of events.  “I’m just trying to protect you from getting hurt again.”

            Guilt over his treatment of Karen after Jessica had broken up with him washed over him.  He had been the dick, so he needed to be respectful now.  However, he also needed to make her understand that she had crossed the line.  “I appreciate that, Karen, but I’m a grown man who doesn’t need protection for my feelings.  I can make my own decisions.”

            That little bitch got to him again.’  The profiler thought as she was seething on the inside.  “Of course, Aubrey but…she’s going to hurt you again...I just know she will.  She’s too immature to be in a committed adult relationship.  I mean, I know she can probably satisfy you sexually, but emotionally, she’s way too flighty...”

           “Jessica is my best friend, Karen.  Having that friendship back means more to me than anything I can get from sex.”

             Karen gave Aubrey a smile like one would give to a wayward child.  “Friendship is nice, but it doesn’t keep you warm at night.  Plus, Jessica doesn’t know what she wants, Aubrey, and to keep you hanging while she figures that out isn’t fair to you.  You need a woman who will appreciate you.”

            ‘Karen doesn’t know shit about what Jessica wants.’ Aubrey thought to himself.  He considered his words carefully before speaking.  “I don’t want a romantic relationship…or even a fling…with anyone right now.  I need to figure out some things before I put myself out there again.”

             “Aubrey…”, Karen said with another condescending smile, “...you need a woman who can be your friend and take care of all your needs, both emotionally, and physically…”

             The agent took a breath and mustered all the patience he could.  “What I need right now, Karen, is a friend who will be understanding and respect what I want...not what she thinks I need.”

            Karen realized she would have to rethink her tactics, so she switched gears.  “Of course, Aubrey.  You’re right and I’m sorry.  You know I’ll be there if you need anything, right?”

            Aubrey hoped Karen’s appearance of sincerity meant she finally got the message.  Gesturing for her to come with him, he led her to the break room.  “Yes, I do.  Now, let’s go over that profile. I brought my lunch today, though.  I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble.”

           “No, not too much at all.”, the profiler said with a fake smile, lamenting the charge on her credit card that put it close to the limit.

           “Good.”, Aubrey replied.  “I wish you would’ve called me first…”

            When they arrived at their destination, Karen watched as the agent pulled two bottles of water out of the fridge.  Handing one to Karen, he looked at the bag.  “What did you get besides your lunch?”, Aubrey said.                

            “Thank you.”, Karen said as she took the water.  “Well, I got you a large Greek salad just the way you like it with chicken, no beets, and extra dressing.  Also a double bacon cheeseburger deluxe with pepper jack cheese, mayo on the side, large fries, onion rings, a tuna melt, and a piece of cherry pie.”

           Aubrey felt a bit weirded out at how well she knew what he liked to eat and how he liked to have it served.  Maintaining a polite tone, he reached into his pocket.  “How much do I owe you?”

            “Nothing for a friend, Aubrey.”, Karen replied.  “You can repay me with dinner this weekend.”

            Aubrey recognized the tone in her voice and shuddered.  ‘Obviously the message will take longer to go through.’  Having almost memorized the menu, he mentally calculated the price and pulled out two twenty dollar bills from his wallet.

            “No, I insist.  Here’s forty dollars.  I'll see if Genny wants the salad.  Be right back.”

            Karen watched Aubrey grab the salad, napkins, and a fork out of the bag before walking out of the break room.  She saw red as she observed him cutting a quick path through the bullpen and into Agent Shaw’s office.

            The profiler knew she was a single mother with one son.  As she watched the two chat for a moment, she ground her teeth.  ‘Looks like someone else I need to watch.’

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            In Shaw’s office, both agents could see Karen standing in the break room with her arms crossed out of the corner of their eyes.  “Boss, she does not look happy…not at all.”

            “Well, if I eat the lunch she brought me, it will only encourage her, so I paid for it.”

            “What do I owe you?”, Genny asked as she opened her desk drawer.

            “Nothing.  I owe you for fielding some of her calls.  You’re a big help to me, Genny.  I've been with the Bureau for eight years but I'm still figuring my way around as an SAC, even though I learned a lot from Booth.”

            Genny shut her drawer.  “Agent Booth was a great teacher when I was in Homicide, too.”

            “If I can be half as good as him, then I won't bomb at this job.”, Aubrey said before his phone buzzed.  Reading the text, he smiled.  “I'll leave you to lunch.”

            “Thanks for Karen’s food.”

             They shared a quick laugh before Aubrey walked out and headed back to the break room.  He just got the greatest news and couldn’t wait to share it with Karen.   When he arrived, he brought his excitement down to a smile as he grabbed his water for a drink.

            “Good news.  Booth just sent me a text that he’s dropping off Doctor B at the lab now, so he’ll be here in a few minutes.  He can take the cheeseburger and the three of us can all go over that updated profile for the Vacchio case.”

            Karen cringed behind Aubrey as he pulled out two boxes from the fridge but smiled when he turned around.  “That’s…great.”

            “Yeah baby…”, Aubrey said to himself as he opened one container from his feast with Jessica, Daisy, and Beau last night.

            Karen watched him put ribs, mozzarella sticks, southwestern egg rolls, quesadillas, and potato skins on a paper plate and put it in the microwave.  Opening the container with the cheeseburger, he stole some of the fries and put them on another plate before opening another box, revealing what looked like a Caesar salad.

“What have you got there?”, Karen asked.

            “Just some leftovers from Founding Fathers last night when I was out with friends.  I’ve been looking forward to this all day.”           

The profiler held her tongue as they waited for the interloper Booth to arrive and eat Aubrey’s lunch.


            Jessica walked into her brother’s guest bedroom after she finished her shower.  Sitting down on the bed, she flopped backwards.  As she stared at the ceiling, she remembered her day.

            After doing more research on campus, she made her way to Aaron and Nadia’s.  Dinner was spent catching up with her nephew and nieces before they went to do their homework.  Once alone, the three talked about Eleanor, with Nadia revealing that her mother-in-law had called them, too, with the expectation that they would also drive up to Philadelphia.  Her brother also revealed that Michael gave him a heads up that the “family dinner” was to include them along with her fellow attorneys and other prominent folks.

            Jessica contemplated the option in front of her.  If her mother wanted to show off her children, she was on her meds...a good thing.  What wasn’t good was that she, Michael, and whomever of her other siblings joined them would be put on display as part of a dog and pony show to impress her colleagues.

            The redhead believed deep down that her mother did love her children in her own way.  However, she didn’t hide the fact either that she had opinions on how her children should act or what they should be doing.  When they didn’t live up to those standards, she made sure they knew it, in no uncertain terms.  This was especially true for Jessica and Aaron, since their mother felt that they’d both besmirched her honor by going into science like their father did instead of something more financially rewarding, like finance or law.  

            Of course, Jessica further insulted her mother by turning down acceptances to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, and the University of Michigan to instead attend Michigan State University.  It didn’t matter that it had one of the top forensic anthropology programs in the country or that it was internationally renowned.  To Eleanor Gordon, MSU was nothing more than a state agricultural school, which, in her mind, lacked the prestige of its in-state rival.

            Aaron went to Johns Hopkins instead of Yale like Eleanor wanted.  He pissed her off even  more when, shortly after he started his neuropathology fellowship, he broke up with the daughter of a Maryland State Senator because he’d met Nadia Nicolescu, a student nurse completing clinicals at the same facility. From their first meeting, Nadia gave as good as she got from her boyfriend’s mother.  Jessica idolized the woman who always walked to the beat of her own drum, including going back to school ten years ago to become a Physician Assistant.

            Eleanor Gordon had issues with all her children, even her beloved Michael, but Jessica and her older brother were the woman’s two favorite targets, besides Jack, who’d incurred his mother’s wrath due to his open homosexuality.  While each had learned to cope with their mother’s judgmental attitude towards them, it still hurt to feel their mother’s thinly veiled disgust over what she viewed as her children’s weaknesses and failures.

            As she thought about her problems with her mother, Jessica couldn’t help but smile a bit.  Aubrey had known exactly what that pain felt like from his own childhood, growing up with his perpetually dissatisfied father’s constant nagging.  It was sad that those particular experiences were something that helped to strengthen the bond between the two of them.  However, it also helped each of them to have someone in their life that understood that pain and heartache.            

            Hearing a knock on the door, she continued to look at the ceiling.  “Come in.”

            The door opened to reveal a tall man with red hair and brown eyes.  “Okay, Jessie, what’s going through that crazy smart mind of yours?”

            Jessica exhaled slowly and sat up.  He was almost ten years older than her but she could never fool Aaron with anything.  “What do you think?”

            The neuropathologist walked into the room and sat on the bed next to his sister.  “Nadia and I aren’t going to Philadelphia, kiddo.  All of us have stuff going on this weekend.  You’re not at Mom’s beck and call either.”

            “I know.  I’ve already told Aubrey I would help him move this weekend.”

            “Aubrey?”, the man responded before contemplating what his sister had said.  “As in James Aubrey…the G-Man we met when Nadia and I came down to DC that weekend in June?  The one who at dinner ate three full appetizers, salad, soup, filet mignon with an extra side of shrimp, and then the double combo of cherry pie and tiramisu?”

             Jessica chuckled as she remembered her brother’s surprised expression that evening.  “Yep…”

            “The one you also broke up with almost two months ago?”, Aaron asked with an arched eyebrow.

            “Yeah…”, Jessica said while fidgeting with the blanket.  “We’ve been talking lately and…we kind of…we’re sort of…dating again…but we’re just friends right now…”

            “Sort of dating but just friends?”, Aaron asked.  “Big brother needs an explanation.”

            “Well, we have been hanging out watching movies...we went on a couple of dates...stuff like we used to do.  We want to be together but…”

            “Does he love you?”, Aaron asked.  “I don’t want to send Nadia down there to kick his ass if I don’t have to.”

             Jessica giggled before sobering.  “Yes…he told me he loved me so much that it scared him to death.”

            “And you?”, Aaron asked.  “How do you feel?  The same?”

            “Yeah…he’s different, Aaron.  He respects me and doesn’t ask me to change anything for him.  He’s sweet, funny, always a gentleman, and also loves science fiction like I do.”

            The neuropathologist gave his little sister a knowing face.  “Have you told him that you love him?”

            Jessica began to play with her hair.  “He knows how I feel about him, but getting the words out…”

            “Is often the hardest part.  From what I had observed when we had dinner together is that G-Man is a patient man who’s crazy about you.”

            “We almost...you know...yesterday but he stopped it.”, Jessica said shyly.  “He said we couldn’t...until we were both ready to be a couple again.  He’s not ready, either.”

             “I think I like him even more.”, Aaron replied.  When he saw his sister’s confused face, he pressed on.  “Call it a neuropathologist intuition, but something tells me that he’s being as careful as you are.  That means he really cares about you, Jessie.”

            “But what if I bring him down someday?  He wants to move up in the FBI and he’s talked about running for Congress someday.  Unlike the assholes in office now, he really cares about helping people and could do so much good.”

            Aaron gave his sister a smile.  “Honey, does he know about all the crazy shit you did like being on the road with Phish?  How about everything with Mom?”

            The redhead laughed.  “Yes and yes.”

            “Then trust him, Jessie.  In regards to Mom, tell her you have plans.  If she doesn't like it tough!”, the older man said as he patted his sister’s hand.  “Oh, as for those three words you’re talking about, you’ll tell him when the time is right and I think he knows that.”

            “Really?”,  Jessica asked, still unsure.

            “Really, Jessie.  Now call G-Man before you go to bed.”

            The redhead smiled.  “Okay.”

            Aaron got up and kissed his little sister on the head.  “I took the morning off so we can have breakfast before I take you to the train station.  However, don’t stay up all night, kid.”

            “Yes, Dad…”, Jessica said.  “Night.”

            “Good night.”, Aaron said before shutting the door.

            Jessica thought for a minute about what her brother said and realized he was right.  Mom would just have to deal.  She felt bad for Michael, but she had plans already and she wasn’t breaking them.

            Pulling up her phone, she found her text messages from Aubrey and centered it on the picture of the lease he signed earlier today for 1297 Janus Street.  Shrinking it back, she read the message again.

            Guess who has new house?  Want 2 go out Thurs 2 celebrate house & u teaching 4 Dr B?  Free Fri 2 help bring sm stuff over?

            Jessica then sent her reply, Y 2 Thurs.  Need 2 ck sched 4 Fri.  Keep u posted.  R u free 2 Skype?

            When she got a sticker with a smiley face in response, she grabbed her laptop.  Turning it on, she went through the motions and smiled when Aubrey was on the screen with Skinner next to him.

            “Hey, Jess.”

            She saw he had his old Battlestar Galactica shirt on and suspected he wore the black boxer shorts with pizzas on them he usually wore with that shirt to bed.  Suddenly, Skinner appeared in the monitor.

           “Skinner, get the hell off my laptop.  You can say hi to Aunt Jess next to me.”

            Jessica chuckled at the antics of the orange tabby cat.  “Hey, Superman.  So it’s official now, huh?  You are now renting from Booth and Doctor B?”

            Aubrey sat up in bed.  “My checking account is now almost three thousand dollars poorer thanks to a security deposit and first month’s rent to Booth, but I’m now officially the tenant at the Mighty Hut.”

           “We should come up with a name for your new house, Superman, but there’s time for that later.”  Jessica said with a smile before taking a drink from her nearby water bottle.  “So did you talk to Mrs. Hall?”

            “Yeah, it went better than I thought.  I told her I would refer someone over to her.  However, when I said I would pay November’s rent due to the last minute notice, she said not to worry about it since I was such a good tenant.  If Oliver is interested, I'll give him her number, but if he’s a douche to her, he’ll regret it.”

            “Did you talk to her about letting Karen in on Sunday?”, Jessica asked.

            Aubrey sighed.  “I was going to, Jess, but I didn’t want to make her feel worse.  When she asked why I was leaving, I told her that a friend needed me to move into his house and offered me a great deal, which is the truth.”

            Jessica smiled as she thought of the elderly widow.  Mrs. Hall was a sweetheart, and she’d had the pleasure of having tea with her a couple of times during evenings when her boyfriend was  late getting home.  “You’re sweet, James Aubrey.”

           Aubrey blushed for a second before clearing his throat.  “I’m going to buy as much meat as I can from Mr. Leonelli’s deli department and bring it over Friday since it’s on the other end of town.  I’m going to miss talking to him all the time.  He’s a great guy.”

            “Of course. I know how much you love that peppered bacon, too.”, Jessica said before they shared a snicker at their inside joke.  “Now, how was your meeting with you know who today?”

           Aubrey rolled his eyes.  “She showed up right after I got off the phone with you…with lunch.”

           A flash of annoyance gave way to humor at the woman’s desperation.  “She’s determined to use food to try to get into your pants, Superman.”

           “I know and it’s creepy.”, Aubrey said with a cringing face.  “After I told her I had a lunch already, she said I could pay her back with dinner this weekend.  I gave her money instead, because I'm not interested in the kind of dinner she’s offering.”

            Jessica chuckled.  “Knowing her, she was super pissed.”

            “She was, especially when I gave the food to Genny and Booth, who arrived with perfect timing.”

            The redhead’s chuckle graduated to a belly laugh.  “That is awesome, Aubrey.  Booth is the man!”

            The agent rubbed his hand on his quilt.  “I talked to her about yesterday.  I told her that she could not break into my apartment again and when she did her, ‘I miss you’ shit, I reminded her that we can only be friends if she stops being so pushy.”

            “Do you think it sunk in?”

            Aubrey looked at the screen.  “I hope so.  I’ve also put her on notice about you.”

            Jessica closed her eyes.  “James Aubrey—“

            “Don’t worry...I’m letting you handle it, but I won’t tolerate her talking you down like that or bothering you at work.  She said she was trying to protect me from you, but I’ve also said if she does it again that’s it.  I trust you to take care of yourself, but no one does that to the woman I love and gets away with it.”

            Jessica felt a warmness flood her heart at the thought of Aubrey defending her, but a small part of her feared what a pissed off Karen could do to Aubrey’s career...or her own.  “Thank you for sticking up for me, Superman.  I just don’t want her to take her anger out on you somehow.”

            “Listen, don’t worry about me.  I’m good.  Let me worry about you once in awhile, all right?”, Aubrey said to her on the screen.  When he saw her playing with her hair, he knew something was bothering her.  “Jessica, what’s wrong?”

            Jessica shifted the monitor on her lap.  “My mom called me last night after you took me home.”

            ‘The famous Eleanor Gordon.’  Aubrey thought.  “What did she have to say?”

            “She said she would be in Philadelphia sometime this week for a weekend conference.  She’s staying with Michael and essentially let me know to be ready when she calls so I can drive up there and have dinner with her and her attorney cronies that she needs to impress.  I guess she extended the invite to Aaron and Nadia as well as my other siblings but they passed.”

            Aubrey realized she was helping him move this weekend.  Not wanting to put her in the middle, he decided to be the bigger man.  “If you want to go, I’ll be fine.”

            “No, Aubrey.”, Jessica said into the screen.  “I made plans with you this week to have dinner to celebrate and to help you move, plus I really, really don’t want to go.”

            “Jess, she’s your mother—“

            “And I’m tired of her expecting everyone to put their lives on hold for her.  I’m sorry she’s mentally ill and that’s she’s not Superwoman.  I’m also sorry that all six of her children have disappointed her somehow and that she was trapped in an unhappy 32 year marriage.  Aaron and I talked earlier, and I’m not changing my plans.  We’re having dinner to celebrate my class and your house Thursday night.  I am also helping you move stuff into your new house this weekend.”

            Aubrey was proud of Jessica.  He knew how hard it was to push back against an overbearing, disapproving parent.  “If you change your mind, it’s okay, Jess.”

            “I won’t, Superman.  You’re too important to me.”

            Aubrey read the double meaning in her words.  Taking a deep breath to control his emotions, he smiled.  “You’re really important to me, too.”

            They looked at each other for a moment before Aubrey saw it was almost midnight.  “Shit, I have to go.  Booth and I have a meeting with Stark at 7:30 to discuss the Vacchio case.  So your train will arrive when again?”

            “11:52 AM Union Station, sir.”, Jessica said with a smile.  “94 Northeast Regional.”

            “Unless something big comes up, I’ll be there.”

            “Thanks, Superman.”, Jessica said.  

            “Skinner and I say good night.”

            “Good night you guys.”, Jessica said before reluctantly disconnecting the feed.  Smiling to herself, she put the laptop aside and shut off the bedside lamp.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

             Aubrey shut off his laptop and set it on his dresser.  Getting into bed, he thought about his last conversation with Jessica.

            ‘She’s getting closer...I’m getting closer...when she tells me that she loves me, I’ll burst.’

             Turning to Skinner, who was lying next to him, he pet him on the head.  “She’s almost there, Buddy.  I’m almost there, too.”

             Reaching up to turn off the bedside lamp, Aubrey fell into a deep sleep with a grin.

Chapter Text

               The next morning, Aubrey waited at Union Station for Jessica’s train and was happy to find that it was on schedule.  After she greeted him with a happy kiss, he took her to lunch with Booth and Brennan at the diner.  Over their meal, she and her mentor discussed the lecture she went to as the agents discussed the Vacchio case and other work related issues.

               After lunch, Brennan and Jessica said goodbye to the two agents, who headed back to the Hoover.  The anthropologists headed in the opposite direction, enjoying the sunny skies and 60 degree temperature as they walked back to the lab.              

              “I am pleased that you learned so much applicable information for your dissertation, Ms. Warren.  It was good that I approved your absence yesterday.”

              “I’m glad Wendell was available to cover for me.  He’s really busy with juggling his new program along with working on his dissertation for you.”

              “Yes, I originally encouraged him to find a new field of study, but I’m pleased he is enjoying his exploration of medical anthropology as he continues his education in the forensic aspects as well.  The dissertation proposal he gave me two weeks ago combines both branches of anthropology, and he has learned enough from working with me in the lab to assist in his new endeavor.”

              “He told me last week that he’s grateful he is still able to work and learn from you while working with Dr. Anderson as well.”

              “Yes, my colleague at American University is the best in the world in that aspect of the field.  I’ve worked with Laura previously on a couple of digs and Mr. Bray will learn a great deal from her.”, Brennan said before stating what was on her mind.  “I wasn’t surprised that you joined us for lunch today.”

              The redhead turned to face her mentor.  “It was okay that I came, right?  I don’t want to intrude on anything pertaining to a case.”

              “Of course, Ms. Warren.  I apologize if I gave you the impression that I felt otherwise.  What I meant was that I’ve noticed that you and Aubrey seem closer in the last couple of weeks, and I recall your vigorous defense of him with that...Dr. Delfs last week.”

               When Brennan saw Jessica blush, she was afraid she’d said the wrong thing.  “If I’m being intrusive in a matter that is none of my concern, please tell me, Ms. Warren.  I admit that I still have difficulties knowing whether I’m prying when I shouldn’t be.  That is a skill Booth is more adept at than I am.”  

               “You’re fine, Dr. B.”, Jessica said.  “I know I can be honest with you if I feel you’re invading my personal business.”

               “Good.”, Brennan replied.  “Now tell me...how are things with Aubrey?  I’m sensing a closeness that wasn’t there when we talked a couple of weeks ago.”

                Jessica knew she couldn’t fool her mentor.  “Really good.  Aubrey and I aren’t not hiding things, but we’re not advertising it, either.  We just don’t want a lot of drama and nosy people in our business.”

               “That is very understandable, Ms. Warren. and if I’m ever intruding, please let me know.”  The forensic anthropologist smiled, recalling her early days with Booth.  “What about…the contemplation we discussed?”

                Jessica considered for a moment but realized the other woman would be discreet.  “After we ran into each other at the Star Wars Convention the weekend before last, we had a long, frank, and much needed talk.  It was weird…and scary...but I’m glad we did, because we discussed things that we should have talked about a long time ago.  We’re friends again right now, but we’re...each working on stuff so we can be together again.”  

                Brennan was proud of her intern.  “I am very pleased to hear that, Ms. Warren.  May I inquire as to how you’re proceeding?”

                Jessica blushed at her advisor’s question.  “We’ve gone on a couple dates...had a few lunches together.  Aubrey showed me his new house on Sunday afternoon after he and Booth talked…and…”

                “Am I delving too deeply into a personal matter, Ms. Warren?”, Brennan asked when she saw the young woman’s hesitance.  “Please don’t feel like I’m forcing you to discuss something that might make you uncomfortable.”

                “No, Dr. B.  I’m fine, really...”, the redhead replied with another blush.  She debated with herself for a moment, but she knew that she needed guidance and Dr. B was the best person to ask.  Even more, she would be discreet.  “Will it make you mad if I tell you we almost slept together at the house?”

                “You say almost, Ms. Warren.”, Brennan asked as they stopped at the crosswalk.

                “We were talking about the house and Aubrey made a random comment on how it was perfect for a family and I flipped out, which caused him to flip out…so I kissed him and it was... really, really good.  Next thing I know he gets my shirt off, I get his off, and he almost got me down to my bra and panties before common sense kicked in.  Our friendship is getting stronger, but...we’re not ready to start a romantic relationship just yet.  I think we’re getting there, though, Dr. B.  We both want to wait until then because we want to do things right.”, Jessica said before exhaling.  “God, Aubrey is a great kisser, though.”

                 Brennan nodded with a smirk.   “How is your communication?  Have your skills improved?”

                The man lit up on the crosswalk light so the two crossed the street.  “We’re talking more now.  It’s still hard sometimes, like with Aubrey’s reaction to my panic.  Unlike before, we know we have to talk now if we have any chance to be together.  Not just as a couple, but also for our friendship.”

                 Brennan smiled.  “It won’t be easy, Ms. Warren.  Both of you will make mistakes as you navigate things, but just remember to learn from them and remember that you are friends first, much like Booth and myself.  When my husband and I have difficulties, I just always remember that with our friendship, the center will hold.”

                “You mean like get you through when things get bad...like when Agent Booth…”, Jessica said before stopping in embarrassment.

                 “You mean when he was gambling again?”, the anthropologist replied.  “Yes, Ms. Warren.  Love is messy...complicated...but so rewarding.  Booth and I...we’ve had days where it seemed it would be easier to go back to a life without him and the emotional complications.  But if I did that, I wouldn’t have my children or the life I have now.”

                “I want those things someday, Dr. B.  I’m just so scared for it all to go to hell like it did with my folks.”

                The anthropologist stopped her intern.  “From what you’ve mentioned in the past, things between you and your mother are...strained at best.  Is that correct?”

                Jessica snorted as she rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s the nice way to put it.”

               Brennan felt bad that the young woman did not have a similar warm relationship with her mother like she’d had with her own before her death.  “Then maybe you should speak to your father.  You are very close with him, aren’t you?”

              “Yeah.  I visit him every other Saturday at his nursing home in Towson.”

              “Maybe you should visit him sooner, such as tonight?”, Brennan asked.

              “Don’t you need me this afternoon?”, Jessica inquired.  “I’m your Tuesday intern.”

              Brennan considered for a moment.  “There is nothing pressing that I can’t handle myself later on today.  You’ve worked more than enough hours at your internship so far this term.  I think that if you take a few hours off today, you’ll still be fine in regards to your status for the semester.  Maybe after you talk with your father, you’ll get some of the answers you are looking for.”

             “You really think so?”, Jessica asked.

            “While I do not personally know your father, I would think if he knew you were in such turmoil, he would want to help you.  Good parents want to help their children when they’re in distress, and I think he may have the answers you are looking for.”

             The redhead thought about what her mentor told her.  “I think you’re right.”

            “Of course I am.”  Brennan nodded as they arrived back at the museum.  “Now, let’s get inside, Ms. Warren.  There was another set of remains found at the scene Booth and I were at yesterday, and the Virginia State Police just delivered them, to my inherent annoyance.”

             The intern smiled as she followed Brennan inside.


             Jessica spent the afternoon assisting with removing items from the decedent who’d been brought in from the recovery site by Hodgins, Brennan, and their interim pathologist.  After that, she cleaned the layers of muscle tissue from the bones and documented her initial findings in the case binder.  When done, she put the stripped remains in the previously prepared solution to soak overnight before leaving the lab around 3:15.

            Due to the traffic gridlock, she didn’t arrive until 4:25.  Walking past the beautiful front garden, she entered the front doors and was spotted by the front desk person.

            "Hello, Miss Jessica. What a pleasant surprise."

            “Hi, Janeen.  I called earlier and the doctor said I could visit with my dad today since I’ll be busy this weekend.”

            As she waited for the nurse to come get her, Jessica looked around at the homey walls. Nearby, one of the residents was walking one of the German shepherd therapy dogs. She smiled, grateful that her father could live his days in a wonderful home like this.

            “Jessica?”

            The anthropologist turned and saw a middle aged African-American woman.  Walking over, she greeted her.  “Hi, Gail.  Sorry for the short notice.  I’m not messing up his routine, am I?”

            “No, his therapy was this morning, so it’s fine.  We do have to take him to dinner at 6:00.”

            “No problem.  Thank you.”

            The two women got through the initial set of doors and headed down a hallway.  The older woman smiled at Jessica.  "So, an unscheduled visit.  Any special occasion?"

            Jessica put a smile on her face as they walked through another set of doors.  "No, I have to help a friend move this weekend and he’s under a time crunch.  How has my father been doing?  Is he still having the incontinence issue?"

            Gail nodded.  "There has been some improvement, but he's still stubborn about drinking the amount of water the doctor recommended. However, his blood pressure is stable, he's eating normally, and he's his charming, flirtatous self."

           “I’m glad.”, Jessica said.  “Can he have some coffee if he drinks water afterwards? We both know he'll want coffee."

            "I think we can handle that. Just let me know.", Gail responded.

            "Thank you so much.", Jessica responded.           

            The two ladies went through the main lobby.  “Charlie is outside playing cards with his friends since the sun isn’t as bright as it was.”

            “Oh good.  He hates being cooped up inside.”

            The two women walked past the garden room and out into the courtyard.  Jessica immediately saw her father and his shock of red hair as he was playing cards with three other men. Making sure to walk over to his left side, she came around and gave him a kiss.

            "Hey, a…picky…" Charles hesitated, thinking of the right word. "…pretty girl…kissing…me."

            "Hi Dad."

            Charles lifted his lanky 6'3" frame out of his chair and turned to his friends.  “S…sorry…boys…got…better…plans."

            Jessica smiled.  “Want to go to the bench by the oak tree over there?”

            “S…sure.”

            Jessica stood on his right side to help him if needed due to his impaired vision. However, she knew how proud he was so she stuck close as they walked slowly to a nearby bench underneath a Northern Red Oak tree

            "Do you want something to drink, Dad? The doctor said you need to drink more."

            The older man sighed.  He knew better than to fight his little girl. "Yes…coffee."

            "If you promise to drink water afterwards.", Jessica said. "Don't lie, Dad. I know when you lie. We redheads can't hide it."

            "I…promise…J-Jessie.", Charles said with a slightly lopsided smile.

            Jessica turned and found Gail already heading to them with two small Styrofoam cups. The nurse gave the one with the lid and straw to Charles before giving Jessica the other with a small bottle of cinnamon.

            "I snuck you some of the good creamer we have for the staff. I have to take the cinnamon with me though. Your young man convinced everyone to try it in their coffee when he was here, and it's a hot commodity now."

            "No problem. I'll just shake some in.", Jessica said before giving it back. "Thanks a lot."

            "Did you…give…me…real…coffee…Sweetheart?"

            The African American woman turned to Charles. "You got the decaf you're supposed to have due to your high blood pressure. However, I may or may not have mixed a small amount of regular in."

            "I'm…told…you…get…gestated…" The redheaded man pursed his lip thinking of the right word. "Divorced…so…we…can…run…off...together."

            "Sorry, Charlie. However, you just keep trying, you smooth talker.”, Gail said before leaving.

            Jessica chuckled. "You're such a flirt."

            "Just…a…fine…affection…for…littles…ladies.", Charles said before they enjoyed their beverages for a moment. "Now…why…did…you…come…see…me…early…Jessie?"

            'Damn.  Busted!' Jessica thought. "Can't a daughter come see her father?"

            "No…because…I…know…when…you…lie…too…young…lady." The redheaded man looked back at her with his green eyes. "What's…wrong?"

            Jessica took a deep breath.  “Aubrey and I met up at a Star Wars convention almost two weeks ago and we had so much fun…we talked at the Mall afterwards and we both screwed up, so we’re right now friends again even though we love each other, but something holds me back from telling him that I love him.  I want to be more so bad, but I’m scared of what will happen, plus Aubrey got a new house and I flipped out when he made a casual comment about how great the house was to have a family but then my reaction flipped him out so I kissed him and we almost…never mind, you don’t need to know that…I think I want more now but what if I screw up?  What if Aubrey wants more when I don’t but I think he does but he’s cool with waiting since he said he will wait until I’m ready but what if I rush him since he’s still working on his issues with his dad and Mom called and wants me to have dinner with her in Philadelphia.”

            Charles chuckled slightly.  "It…seems…you…have…a…few…things…on…your…mind."

            "Yeah.", the redhead said. She took a breath to get the courage to ask what she wanted next. "Dad, do you regret marrying Mom?"

            Charles’ face morphed into one of incredulity.  "What…kind…of…flip...fucked…up…quip...question…is…that?"

            Jessica snickered. The stroke may have impaired his speech, but it didn't take away his directness. "One that I need answered."

            Charles didn't hesitate. "No…I…don't…Jessie."

            Shocked, Jessica sat up straight. "But…she was sick and…she is still so…"

            "Discontin….Discontented…miserable…residen….resentful?", Charles said in a tone with sadness. "Yes…she…was…all…that."

            "But if you could turn back the clock, would you marry her again? Have six children with her before divorcing her after 32 years of marriage? Doesn't it seem like…you could have done better things with your life? You would have been happier, that's for sure."

            "Maybe…not…have…a…stroke…is…what…you…mean." Charles continued with a sound that resembled a laugh. "She…wasn't…always…like…that. We…laved…loved…each…other…once. She…was…also…sick. Biped…bipolar…disorder…options…"

            "She made you miserable.”, the anthropologist said. "She always blamed you or us for things going bad for her when she wasn't having one of her hypomanic episodes or being mega depressed."

            Charles moved his left hand over to his daughter's. "Not…blameless. Put…self…career...first. Also…"

            Jessica waited for him to continue but realized she may have been taxing him out. Feeling guilty, she grabbed her purse. "Dad, I'm pushing you. I'm sorry. I can talk to you about this later—"

            "Simmer…down…Jessie. Give…your…old…man…a…minute.", the former professor replied. "Things…were…different…back…then. I…thought…my…love…alone…be…enough. Then...thought...I….could….use….my...nurbo….neuro…sky….science….to….cure….her...but….wrong.  Ellie…needed…more…."

            “Why?”, Jessica said with emotion in her voice.  “Why weren’t we enough?”

            Charles sipped coffee through the straw. “Ellie…always…troubled…not…you.  Wanted…career…first…family…second.  James…diffi…different…you…first…then…career.”

            Jessica stammered at the change of subject.  "We say that now, but…what if something goes wrong?  What if he realizes that he can’t wait for me anymore?”, Jessica asked.  “We love each other now, but what if we rush things?  How do I know that I’m ready without panicking?  What if we turn out like you and Mom?  He’s my best friend, Dad.  I can’t lose him…I’m so scared to lose him.”

            "Your mad…mom…and…I…loved…each…other…Jessie.", Charles said as his left hand brushed the side of his daughter’s head.  “Ego...said...use...science...help...Ellie.  Too...caught....up...in...career...let...things...get...too...fat...far.  Two...ped...people...love...each...other…have…to…neuter…nurture…love…respect…partner's…needs. We…didn't…do…that."

            “But…”

            The man saw the conflict in his daughter's eyes. "You…will…with…James.  He…will…you."

            The dam finally burst as a tear came down Jessica's face. She wiped it away before her father handed her a handkerchief. "Thank you."

            "Did…you…hear…what…I…said…young…lady?"

            "Yes.", the redhead said as she wiped her eyes. "How do you know?"

            "Because…saw…how…he…looks…at…you.", Charles said while leaning back in his chair.  "He…worries…that…you…deserve…better."

            "Better that what? Him?", Jessica asked concerned. "Why?"

            "Worries…about…his…father…hurting…you…or…career.", Charles said before his good hand squeezed his daughter's. "He…doesn't…want…to…let…you…down."

            Jessica was confused. "H-how do you know this?"

            "Jessie…it’s…obliv….obvious.", Charles said before taking a breath. "Also…told…me…first …time…you…bringed…brought…him…here…you're…his…best…friend…and…first…girl…he's…ever…truly…loved.  Can't…lose…you."

            The anthropologist sat in shock. Aubrey had relationships in the past, but knowing he felt that way moved her because she knew she felt the same way. "I worry…"

            "About…what…Jessie?"

            Jessica wiped away another stray tear. "I worry that I could be a hindrance to him in the future because he wants to move up in the FBI. I also worry…that we will fail and hate each other like you and Mom hate each other—"

            "I…don't…hate…your…mother."

            Shocked, the redhead thought for a minute. "But she was always so bitter, even when she was on her meds. The way you two argued..."

            "Mom…bitter…about…life...limitations. One…of…Ellie's…wilted…weaknesses…"  Charles struggled before continuing. "…was…not…accepting…fault…for…failures…she…did."

            The older man sucked his coffee through the straw. "She…felt…deserved…more. Mom…never…accepted…she…couldn't…always…get…what…she…wanted. Some…of…due…to…illness. Some…resentful…of…life…and...me."

            He put the cup down before squeezing his daughter's hand again. "You…asked…question. Would…marry…Mom…again?  Yes…Jessie…I…would. If…not…no…memories…good…times.  No…sons…or…my…special…girl. Only…reg…reb…regret…not…leaving…with…you…sooner. Can't…a...say…sorry…too…"

            The redheaded man thought for a moment as his daughter sat quietly. "Too…much. I…blame…myself…always…for…what…happened…"

            Jessica immediately knew what he was talking about. "Dad…don't—"

            "I…do. I…loved…her…but…illness…out…of…control. You…got…hurt...could...have...d..."

            Jessica squeezed back. "I'm fine, Dad. I lived. I've moved on."

            "No…not…moved…on. Move…on…when..." Charles looked at his only daughter and smiled. "Move…on…when…not…scared…of…future…with…James.  You…love…him.  He…loves…you.  Best…frol…friends…cry…laugh…together.”

            Jessica thought about all their fun times together, including their almost coupling a few days earlier.  No one could make her laugh like the lanky FBI agent could, like the day last summer when she had a bad day all around regarding her research.  By mid afternoon, she was frustrated and cranky to everyone, including Aubrey.

           Not wanting to pick a fight from her bad mood, she told him he could go home if he wanted.  To her surprise, he instead stayed while she immersed herself in her dissertation.  After a while, he got her attention.  Annoyed at the interruption, she looked up and her jaw dropped when she saw her boyfriend mooning her.

           Before she could get a word in edgewise, he pushed a button on his phone before shaking his ass while singing along to 'I Touch Myself' by the Divinyls. She remembered almost peeing her pants from laughing so hard. When he was done, she asked what had possessed him to do that and his answer was simple.

            'I wanted to make you laugh, Jess. I wanted you to be able to smile at least once today. But whatever you do, never tell Booth or anyone about this.'

            She kept her promise to him as she now realized it was another way he showed his love for her. As she considered things, her thoughts were interrupted.

            "Best…friends…love…each…other.  Go…to…James.”

            It was then she saw Gail walking towards them with two objects. When the object was placed in her hand, she smiled and thanked her. Taking the straw out of the wrapper, she put it in the bottled water and set it in her father's left hand.

            "I'll talk to Aubrey when you drink your water that you promised to consume."

            Charles knew he was beat. "Stubborn…girl. When…did…you…get…so…smart?"

            "Inherited it from the smartest man I know.”, Jessica said.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Thirty minutes later, Jessica walked out of the nursing home with a smile. Her father drank his water as promised and she was now more hopeful for the future. As she was starting up her SUV, her phone buzzed.  When she saw the message, she did a jig in her seat.

            “Yes…Aubrey is going to be so stoked!  He’s going to have the best birthday ever.”

            Jessica saw the clock and calculated the time she needed to get home.  Her boyfriend was bringing over pizza so they could hang out that evening at her place.  She had time to take a shower and fix up her hair and makeup a little bit.

            They were still being friends but there was nothing wrong with giving her boyfriend something to appreciate.

            Then her phone rang and she saw the Caller ID.  Her stomach dropped as she knew who was on the other line.  Not wanting to get into a discussion with her mother while driving, she let it ring.  She would call her back...after taking the scenic route home.


            Aubrey pulled into the Korean grocery store parking lot around 7:00 with a extra large half Meat Lovers and half Veggie Lovers with pepperoni. along with a six pack of Yuengling beer.  When he got out, he waved to Jessica’s landlord, who also ran the ground floor market.  Grabbing the items, he hit his fob to arm his SUV and walked towards the back of the building.

            Things were looking good for him and Jessica.  While they almost got carried away Sunday afternoon, it showed that they were both on the same page.  Slowly, they were working their way back together, although they were “just friends” for now.

            Opening the door, he contemplated yesterday’s events further as he walked up the three floors to the redhead’s apartment.

            He loved that their friendship continued to get stronger, but he wouldn’t turn away more kisses from Jessica like he got on Sunday, either.  Should those kisses move them towards second base...he wouldn’t complain.  Nothing wrong with baby steps because practice made perfect.

           ‘Maybe we could sneak in a few kisses...or maybe several...later.’ Aubrey thought to himself as he knocked on the door.  However, those thoughts died when his girlfriend opened the door.

           “Hey, Aubrey.”

            Jessica’s face and eyes were red and she sniffled.  Only an idiot could miss that she had been crying recently.  “Jess, what happened?”

            “Nothing Aubrey...just got a little emotional is all.  Come on in.  It looks like you have your hands full.”

             The agent immediately came in and put the items down on the kitchen table as Jessica locked her door.  Turning around, he immediately took her in his arms.  He didn’t say a word, only rubbed his hand down her red hair and held her closer as she sobbed on his shoulder.  When the tears died down to a whimper, he inquired again.

            “Jessica, what has you so upset?”  When she was silent for a moment, he pressed further.  “Jess, we promised not to hide things from each other, right?  Talk to me, please.”

             The redhead moved out of his arms slowly and wiped her eyes.  “Aubrey, you came over so we could hang out and have fun, not listen to me whine.”

             “You’re not a whiner, Jess.  I would like to help you if I can.  That’s what best friends do.”

             “Oh, okay...if you really want to know.”  Seeing Aubrey nod, the anthropologist sniffled one more time before explaining.  “I was on the phone with my mother before you arrived...I told her I was staying here to help you move instead of going to Philly for dinner.  Let’s just say she didn’t take it well.”

             “Shit…”, Aubrey said, but let her continue.

             “It got loud and nasty until I hung up on her.  She called me back twice and left mean voicemails when I wouldn’t answer…”

             “I’m so sorry, Jess.”  Aubrey forgot about their pizza, beer, and his other naughty plans for the evening.  “Do you want to talk about the fight?”

              Jessica wiped her eyes and smiled weakly.  “Not now, Superman.  Maybe later, okay?  I just want to wash my face and hang out with my best friend while we watch science fiction.  How about some Star Trek ?”

             He didn’t take offense, realizing she needed a distraction from what happened.  He had a feeling she merely skimmed the surface of what actually occurred, but he wouldn’t force her to talk about it.

             “Only if we can have this awesome DiAngelo’s pizza and beer while we watch.”

             Jessica smiled again and Aubrey caught the silent thank you before she went into her small kitchen for plates and napkins.  

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

             For the next four hours, after they ate, she’d huddled close to him like they used to do and they watched Netflix.  When she absentmindedly scratched his abdomen, he could feel the stirrings of a partial erection.  However he remained a gentleman and limited himself to putting his arm around her.  She needed her best friend tonight, not a horny man.

             When it was 11:30, he reluctantly went home alone, but not without a smoldering kiss goodnight from Jessica.

            “Thank you, Aubrey.  You always know just what to do to make me feel better.”, Jessica said.  “Someday I hope to return the favor.”

            Aubrey gave her one more small kiss.  “Anything for you, Jessica.  Good night.”

           “Good night, Superman.”, Jessica said while leaning against the door jam.  

            Aubrey waved at her as he walked down the steps.  When he heard the door shut, he took a deep breath to hold in his anger.  To make Jessica cry like that, her mother must have been brutal.  Yes, he knew that Eleanor had a mental disorder.  However, as he could attest from personal experience, words can cut more deeply than any weapon.


             The next afternoon, Aubrey was in the break room pouring a cup of coffee, thinking about his girlfriend.  When he called her this morning to check on her, she’d said all the right things, but he could tell that she was still hurting.  Unfortunately, he had a meeting with the Finance division so he couldn’t take her to lunch.

            They texted back and forth throughout the day, but it wasn’t enough for Aubrey.  Before he could think any further, his phone rang.  He answered it as he stirred the cinnamon he’d just added to his coffee.  “Aubrey.”

            “Special Agent James Aubrey?”

            “Yes…may I help you?”, the agent said, keeping his tone professional in case it was someone calling in with a tip.

            “This is Eleanor Gordon, Jessica’s mother.”

            The stiff formality in her voice put Aubrey on edge, and he could understand how Jessica would want to cower when she heard it.  “Yes, Ms. Gordon.  How can I help you?”

            “I’m glad you’ve asked.  My daughter has decided that it’s more important to help you move this weekend than to have dinner with me and some of my associates here in Philadelphia.  You are to tell her otherwise. You will tell her that her assistance is not needed in your house moving endeavor.  Then you will let her know the reservations are set for 7:00 Friday night at Vetri.  She needs to dress in something classier than one of those mini dresses she favors, because my associate’s spouse works in Harvard’s Department of Anthropology.  I’ve told them about Jessica and she may be able to transfer up there next fall, but I need her to demonstrate some decorum and not go into one of her silly lectures about protecting the environment like she did last time.”

            “Um…”, Aubrey said, treading carefully. “Jessica doesn’t want to transfer schools, Ms. Gordon, and I can’t see how anything I can say would change her mind about coming up there or anything else that you might wish her to do, Ma’am.”

             Eleanor’s tone was cold and demanding.  “Agent Aubrey, don’t sell yourself short.  Unlike some of the other men my daughter has dallied with in the past, you seem to have some sort of influence over her.  Now, I need you to talk some sense into her and let her know that her place is with me Friday night instead of moving whatever trivial odds and ends a man like you might possess.  I suppose it’s too much for me to suggest that  you hire a mover instead of relying on my highly educated daughter to move your material goods like some common laborer.  Of course, given your modest means as a law enforcement officer, I’m sure you feel that it’s more economically feasible for you to rely on the misplaced generosity of your supposed girlfriend.  It’s just another example of the way Jessica cheapens herself.”

             “Jessica has her own mind, Ms. Gordon, and you know that as well as I do.  She makes her own decisions about her life.”  Fighting to keep his temper under control, Aubrey inhaled deeply.  “She has explained the situation to me...about the conflict of my moving to a new house with your dinner plans, and I have suggested that she join you for dinner instead of helping me move.  That’s all I can do.  She’ll do what she wants to do, no matter what you or I suggest.  That’s who she is.”

            “Agent Aubrey, my daughter has a tendency to do exactly what she wants instead of choosing the correct thing to do.  Now, once again, let me explain what I need you to do.  Find someone else to help you move, tell her to get over herself, and instruct her come up here for dinner.  I have some important people who want to meet all of my children, not  just my oldest son.  It’s bad enough Aaron won’t come without that...arrogant Gypsy woman he married.  Jack is too busy in Canada with his ‘boyfriend’ or whatever he calls that horrible man he lives with, Stephan and that...mechanic wife of his simply refuse because their shop needs them, and Jason said it’s not enough notice for him because he has to be in court that day.  However, Jessica just has that silly lab she works at for college credit.  It seems like it would be easy enough for her to get time off for something this important.  She was foolish enough to reject Harvard when she offered a full scholarship years ago for that...Michigan school, but I can rectify that now, and I intend to do so.”

             Aubrey took another deep breath to hold his temper in.  “I’m sorry, Ms. Gordon.  I will not tell Jessica to do something when she feels is not in her best interest.  She believes strongly in keeping her promises and in considering of the feelings of others.”  Unable to resist a small jab, he continued calmly.  “Pretty sad, but it seems that I know your daughter better than you do.  You, of all people, should know the value Jessica places on her friendships.”

            There was a mirthless chuckle on the other end.  “Agent Aubrey, get off your soapbox.  While you do have some influence over her, you’re nothing more than a plaything for her.  On the other hand, I’ll always be her mother and I have more importance in her life than you do.  I’ll be here for her long after she decides she’s tired of you.  Unfortunately, in spite of my influence, she’s still flighty, ungrateful, sometimes a spoiled brat, and she needs to quit being such a bleeding heart for people.  It’s time to rein in that childish foolishness.  She needs to come to her senses and act like an adult.  Tell her I will expect her attendance at dinner, no matter what other plans she thinks she may have.  This dinner is far more important than whatever she’s planning to do that night.”

            The agent sighed audibly, stunned at the cruelty he was listening to.  “Wow, you think a lot of your daughter, don’t you?  She’s a kind, intelligent person with a bright future ahead of her.  I think she deserves respect for those things, Ms. Gordon.  The lab she’s working at is the finest one in the country, and her mentor is a world renowned scientist...”

            “Agent Aubrey…”, Eleanor interrupted in a patronizing voice.  “My daughter has…strong opinions about things that her father unfortunately encouraged, thinking it a good thing that a young woman have a mind of her own.  She’s all into science and that other worthless crap just  like her crazy father was.  She has so much potential that could be used in other more financially sound endeavors, but she won’t use it because she ‘loves’ science.  Jessica has never had a serious boyfriend, and has blown every chance she has ever had with men of good families and social standing who have shown an interest in her.  She will never have a husband or even a steady boyfriend until she learns to compromise on those lofty and holier than thou attitudes.  Until then, she will have nothing more than casual sexual relationships.  Don’t get your hopes up for a serious relationship with her, young man.  She’ll be over you in a week or two...”

            “Wow...I can’t believe what I’m hearing.  Not exactly the doting parent, are you?”  Aubrey puffed out an exasperated sigh.  “Listen to me carefully, Ms. Gordon.  Jessica is a brilliant, independent woman who has worked extremely hard to succeed in her chosen field.  She’s also a beautiful woman, inside and out.  She’s her own person and that’s the way I like her.  I’m sorry you can’t appreciate her for who she really is, because she is truly a very special person, and instead of denigrating her accomplishments, you should be proud of how successful she’s already become at her age.  As far as I can tell from our conversation, there’s no good reason for her to cater to the wishes of someone who thinks so negatively of her.  I’ll do you the courtesy of passing along your message to her, but believe me when I tell you I’ll stand by any decision she makes in that regard.”  Before Eleanor could get in another word, he stopped her.  “This conversation is over, Ms. Gordon.  Good bye.”

            Aubrey disconnected the call and took another deep breath to calm himself down.  ‘What kind of person dismisses their child like that?’

            Then he realized the answer.  ‘My dad.’

           For the first time, he really understood why Jessica had experienced those initial conflicts with Dr. B at the lab before they worked things out.  He also understood why she avoided her mother at all costs.  It seemed his father wasn’t the only parent who felt it was their prerogative to tear down their child’s self esteem whenever they did not live up to their parents’ impossible expectations.  Eleanor had done the very same thing to her daughter last night.

           Which led him back to his initial conundrum.  He wanted to make Jessica feel better and help get her past this, but how?

            Then it came to him.  His redhead had her yoga class tonight and they would be busy the rest of the week.  Making his decision, he went online and found the address he needed since he had only been there when Jessica drove.  Finishing up his tasks, he left at 3:00, taking work home with him and making plans to come in at 7:00 tomorrow morning to make up the time.


          Arriving at his destination, he grabbed his overcoat and headed inside.  After giving his name, he was led out to the garden room where he saw who he was looking for sitting in front of a large screen television.

            “Hey, Dr. Warren.”

            The redheaded man looked up to his visitor before standing up with his cane.  “Ah….Aud…Aubrey.  Please…nice…surprise.”

            Aubrey walked over and held out his hand, but was rebuffed.  “No…hand..shake…shit.”

            To the younger man’s surprise, the man hugged him with his left arm.  Not wanting to offend Jessica’s father, he returned the sentiment.  It didn’t hurt too much because he enjoyed spending time with the man.

            “Getting…ready…to…see…Gilda.   Care…tough…to…join…us…me?”

            Aubrey smiled.  “Always up for a Rita Hayworth movie, sir.”

            “Not…tell…you…again.  The older man said as he turned to the younger man in front of him.  “No…doub…Doctor…sir…shit.  I’m…Charlie…”

            “Only if I’m James...or Aubrey works, too.”, the agent said with a grin.  

            Charles gave the younger man a crooked grin due to his paralyzed side.  “Okay.”

            The two men sat and watched the opening scenes of the movie on the television.  

            “So…James…what...bail…brings…you….there…here?”

            “I-I…wanted to talk to you, sir—Charlie.”, Aubrey said as George Macready came on the screen.

            “My…daughter…I…presume…”, Charles said.

            Aubrey blushed before continuing.  “Yes, Charlie. Um…”

          The older man turned to Aubrey.  “Spit…it…out…Son.  Gilda…will…be…on…shortly.”

           Screwing up all the courage he had, Aubrey spewed it out.  “I’m in love with your daughter…I…want a life with her…I’m scared that she will want someone else more…”

            “More…what…kid?”, Charlie said before tapping Aubrey’s leg with his cane.  “Hush…and…think.”

            The two watched Glenn Ford’s character’s face of surprise at the singing in the background.  Then came the lines that they repeated with the next scene.

            “Gilda…are you decent?”

            “Me?”

            The men watched the scene before Charles turned to Aubrey.  “So…more…what…kid?”

            Taken aback, Aubrey turned to the older man.  “More assured…I’m so afraid to make a mistake, Charlie.  She…is so scared of commitment…and I’m not ready for marriage and a family either, but I made a stupid statement about my new house being great for a family and her reaction made me flip out…”

            Aubrey skipped past what happened in the bedroom.  “Her mother’s been on her case to come visit this weekend.  I told her to go but she said she wouldn’t.  She got into it with her mother on the phone last night and she was pretty upset.  Then that...woman called me today and I was rude to her when she was mean about Jessica.  Why does her mother get that way?  Then I have to deal with this lady at work who thinks we have something going on but we don’t and I’m trying to be nice because I may have led her on when Jessica dumped me but I—“

            “Slow…down…son…I’m…used…to…Jessie’s…verbal...dig…diarrhea.”, Charles said.  ”First…Eleanor.”

            “She called Jessica and demanded she come up to Philadelphia for dinner.  Not ‘are you available?’ or ‘I would love to see you...’ but just told her to be ready to move.  Jessica didn’t want to go, and I was not there for the conversation, but she was pretty upset when I came over last night.  Then her mother called me at work today, telling me I had to make Jessica have dinner with her.  She’s also arranged an interview with someone from Harvard’s anthropology program, so I need to have her dress more conservatively and behave correctly so she will be accepted in the fall.  Also, I’m not her boyfriend, but a male figure who is there only as a friend with benefits until Jessica gets bored, so I shouldn’t expect anything long term with her.”

            “Sounds…like…Ellie.  Ignore…her.  Be…there…when…Jessie…need…you.”, Charles said.  “Give…her…space…but…not…too…much.  Next.”

            “I have someone at work who was a friend after Jessica broke up with me.  I kind of made your daughter think there was more to us because…I was an asshole…and Karen thinks she and I are a couple when we’re not.  She shows up at my apartment unannounced and sends graphic texts to Jessica and tried to make her not want to even be my friend anymore.  My cat hates her guts.  I’ve told her no more stunts with Jess and we could only be friends.  I’m trying to not be a dick because I led her on but it’s getting out of hand.”

            “Sounds…like…you…have…an…ardent…afl…admirer.  Be…considerate..but...draw…a…line.  If…she…crosses…cut…her…off.  Don’t…let…take…”, Charles stopped as he thought about the right word.  “…advance…advantage…your…guilt…James.”

            Aubrey nodded.  “How do I stop making Jessica scared of commitment?”

            “Can’t…help…her…when…you…are…scared…too…Son.  My…Jessie…loves…you”, Charles said in a halted tone.  You…is…are…frisk…first…man…ever…introduced…to…me.  Not…going…to…run…away…from…you…because…of…pick…piece…of…shit…father.”

            Charles knew he struck a nerve when he saw the young man’s eyes grow large.  

           “Don’t...let...fait...father...can’t...control...life.  You…two…stop…run…running…from…each…other.  You…Jessie…best…friends.”

            “I’m trying, Charlie.”, Aubrey said with a tear in his eye.  “I’ve never felt for anyone what I feel for Jessica.  It’s wonderful…scary…exciting…terrifying.”

            “Then…it’s…real.  Love…ain’t…all…fun…Son…takes…work…both…of…you.”, Charles said.  “Loved…Ellie…but…stopped…trying.  Took…daughter…hurt…see…marriage…over.  You…Jessie…”

            Aubrey was curious as to what ‘took daughter hurt’ meant, but there was no elaboration.  Patiently he waited for the older man to speak.  When he did, it was a surprise.

            “Will…be…stronger.  Both…you…stronger…than…I…Ellie.  Good…for…each…other.  Jessie…scared…too…long.  You’re…good…for…her…James.”

            “Really?”, Aubrey said, still a little bit disbelieving at what Jessica’s father was saying.

            “No…doubt…you’ll…marry…my…girl…someday.”

            “How do you know that?”, Aubrey asked before feeling a pain at his leg.  “OW!”

            “Because…I…know…my…kids…that’s…why.”, Charles said.  “Any…more…nonsense?”

            “How do I cheer her up from her mother making her feel like crap?”  Aubrey asked.  “She’s my best friend, sir and I know if it was my father she would want to help me, too...and could.”

            “Use...brain...James.”  Charles replied.  “Do...slug...something...only...you...can...do.  What...else?”

            Rubbing his leg, Aubrey smiled as he pondered.  “Um...so you’re saying to be there for Jess, don’t let her push me away, respect her, don’t let my father haunt me, and have confidence in myself?”

            “Sounds…abit…about…right.”, Charles said with a grin.  “Now…quiet.  Rita…to…sing.”

            The two men sat back and watched as Rita Hayworth sang ‘Blame it on Mame.’


            Jessica walked up the steps to her third floor apartment about 9:00.  Yoga usually relaxed her but she still felt tense.  She felt silly for crying on Aubrey’s shoulder like that last night, but as Angela once said, that’s what boyfriends are for.

           She was prepared for her mother’s anger and guilt trips, but the vitriol that she heard cut her deeply.  According to her mother she was now a selfish, ungrateful spoiled brat who didn't know how well she had it.  Eventually, even Aubrey would get tired of dealing with her flightiness and inability to do the right thing so she needed to cut her losses now.

           It was bullshit of course.  Aubrey had encouraged her to go see her mother, but she was the one that said no.  When she couldn’t take the verbal abuse anymore, she hung up on her mother, who called twice and left unpleasant voice mail messages.

          As she arrived at the third floor landing, she decided it wasn’t too late, so maybe she would call Superman when she got settled in.  She felt bad that their date last night consisted of her crying over their pizza and beer before they watched television.  

          When she got off the last step, she was surprised to see a gift bag hanging on her door.  Walking up to it, she looked in and saw a book and a card.  Pulling the card out, she laughed as she saw it was one of an orange tabby cat.  Opening it, she smiled at the neat and familiar print.

          I know you are still upset about your mother.  I don’t know all that she said to you but whatever it was, don’t believe it.  You’re the most beautiful person I know, inside and out. If you ever need to vent, cry, or just laugh, I’m always here.

         Skinner and I got you a small gift to cheer you up.  He said he caught you looking at it on your phone.

         Love, Superman & Skinner

         Jessica pulled the book out and laughed when she saw Claudia Gray’s The Last Jedi: Leia Princess of Alderaan.   It was a Young Adult novel she saw at Dulles while she and her boyfriend waited for Daisy and Beau to arrive.  Most guys would make fun of the fact she wanted a teen novel, but not Aubrey.  He knew that Leia Organa was her idol.  Unlike her mother, he didn’t make her feel silly or tell her she was childish.

         Unlocking her door, she came in and locked it behind her.  Putting her yoga mat and other stuff down, she grabbed her phone and sent a message.  Aubrey would understand if she wanted to spend her evening getting lost in a young Leia’s struggles with a bubble bath.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

         Aubrey was working on his laptop at home when he heard his phone buzz.  Picking it up, he smiled when he saw the message.

        Thanx Aubrey & Skinner.  My boys know just what I need. :)  C u tmrw.

         The agent grinned.  His Jessica was happy now and her father felt sure they would be together.  Giggling to himself, he went back to work.

Chapter Text

            Jessica was a success teaching her first class alone on Thursday morning.  She’d had a few moments of nerves, but her rapport with the students went a long way as they got through the three hour session together.  When she called Aubrey afterwards, he congratulated her.

            “I was so nervous, Superman.  Dr. B is very particular with her classes.”

            Aubrey smiled.  “Well, Booth told me the only other TAs she’s ever had teach her classes unsupervised were Wendell and Arastoo.  She has confidence in you, Jess.  Dr. B suffers no fools.  You know that better than most.”

            “I do...I definitely do.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

               Jessica rushed home from the lab and made it by 6:00 under the wire, thankful that Hodgins didn’t have much for her to do and let her go home early.  Quickly stripping off her work clothes, she got in the shower and cleaned up.  When done, she opened her closet and pulled out the dress she’d bought on a whim Sunday.  

            Aubrey would love her in it.

            That was when it hit her.  This was more than just a celebratory dinner.  It was more than just dinner between friends or even a fun date to the movies or watching television.

            It was a…DATE.

            Smiling to herself, she put on a bra and panties that matched the dress before going into the bathroom to finish getting ready.

            It was a big step for her and Aubrey…but she was ready for it.

 

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*            

            Aubrey was whistling a tune as he fed Skinner while wearing only in a towel around his waist.  When his cat was occupied, he went back into the bathroom and shaved.  Satisfied with his appearance, he went into the closet and pulled out the outfit he’d set aside for tonight.

            As he got dressed, he thought about the redhead he would be spending time with this evening.  He was glad she felt better after the way she was raked over the coals by her mother.  Of course, as he could personally attest, some people are not meant to be parents.  Eleanor Gordon, like his father, seemed to be one of those people.

            Aubrey was determined to give Jessica a fun night to celebrate their respective victories.  As he preened in the mirror, he noted that he was wearing one of Jessica’s favorite shirts and the jeans she once said ‘make me want to take a bite out of that nice ass’ of his.

            His redhead would love that.

            Then realization hit.  Tonight wasn’t just a celebration of her class and his new house.  Nor was it a fun dinner date between two friends and former lovers.

            Tonight…was a DATE.

            Smirking to himself, he grabbed his wallet off the dresser.  After making sure he had enough cash and his credit cards, he put it in his back pocket before walking out.

            Tonight was a big step for him and Jessica…but he was ready for it.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            By 8:00, Aubrey and Jessica were enjoying each other’s company at the Blue Duck Tavern.  After ordering their wine, the agent regaled his girlfriend with Skinner’s latest adventure with the toy mouse she’d bought the orange tabby last week.  She was still cracking up when the waiter returned with the Mer Soleil Chardonnay.

            As Jessica sampled the wine, Aubrey enjoyed her attire for the evening.  Her deep green lace dress went a couple of inches above the knee and had lace elbow length sleeves.  The skirt was flouncy and complemented her figure beautifully.  It gave a wonderful contrast to her ivory skin and red hair.

            As their waiter poured Aubrey his wine, Jessica admired her date.  He wore a black sports jacket that fit his lean frame to perfection.  The gray of his button up shirt also brought out his eyes.  Of course, he wore those jeans that made his cute butt so delicious.

            Controlling herself, she sipped her Chardonnay.  Before their cheese and charcuterie board and raw oysters arrived, Jessica proposed a toast with their wine.  “To your new house and one more step towards me teaching at a major university someday.”

           Aubrey raised his glass.  “And to not paying two rents in November.”

           They clinked glasses before they sipped their wine.  Jessica put her glass down and looked into Aubrey’s beautiful blue eyes.  “It’s a new beginning for both of us, isn’t it, Superman?”

           The agent took the redhead’s hand and looked into Jessica’s eyes with love.  “Yeah, Jess, it is.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            After dinner, they walked off the wine and food at the Mall since it was a warm night.  Their topics of discussion ranged from the value of pastrami to how anthropology affected the Star Wars universe.

            Jessica felt inspired as she listened to Aubrey make a point of how her field could have led to Jar Jar Binks.  Stopping them, she gave the agent a deep kiss.  When they were done, she felt shivers when she saw him looking at her in that way.

            Like he wanted to take her home and get her naked.

            But he didn’t...and they couldn't...yet.  Instead, he took her hand and led her along the water under the almost full moon illuminating the skies of the nation’s capital.  More than once for the rest of the evening, they would stop to find each other’s lips again.  

            Aubrey and Jessica were nervous, but eager to continue the path they were on.   They didn’t feel any pressure to make love, only to show their love for the other.  Each knew that they would get there eventually because for them, the journey was just as important as the destination.


            Aubrey woke up the next morning after 8:00.  He didn’t get in until after midnight from taking Jessica home and didn’t fall asleep until after 1:00 because he was too keyed up after his evening with his girlfriend.

            When she kissed him last night, his basic instinct was to take her home, strip her naked and make passionate love to her.  However, it took all the willpower he had to take her hand and continue that walk.  It was the right thing to do because it wasn’t the right time yet.  

            Yes, the sex would be amazing, but they needed more than a physical connection with friendship on the side.  Each needed to work on pushing away the fears that led to their break up the first time.  This time, they couldn’t fail and he would be damned if he would let it happen just because he was horny.

            Aubrey knew that it would take time for everything to come together, but he and Jessica had all the time in the world.  After last night, they were one step closer.  It was a baby step, but their friendship was building towards something beautiful and strong.  

            After feeding Skinner, he started a pot of coffee and looked around his soon to be former apartment.  As he waited for his coffee in his open kitchen, he smiled while remembering “the incident.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            It was two weeks after they’d finally slept together for the first time, a Sunday that they were spending at his place cooking spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.  They were bogged down with the case they were working that weekend and it was closed earlier in the day.  Each was happy to spend some time together after their busy week.

           After their dinner, Aubrey had plans to take his redhead into his bedroom and make love to her all night because they hadn’t been together for four long days.  It was a challenge to behave himself when she wore one of her cute button up summer dresses and her red hair was down.  Throughout the initial dinner preparation, he was getting antsy but maintained control.  

            He even managed to keep his hands to himself when her green bra strap was peeking out against her ivory shoulder as she started the water to boil for the wheat pasta.  Aubrey was quite proud of himself for remaining a gentleman.  To him, a true gentleman doesn’t nail his girlfriend right after she walks in the door, especially when she was providing homemade meatballs and pasta sauce for a nice dinner.

            Then Jessica spoiled everything when she bent over to reach into the fridge, giving him a nice view as she wore no nylons and the hem was dangerously close to her appealing ass.  She had barely stood up when he quickly kissed her and scooped her up.  

           “Aubrey!”  Jessica squealed.  “What are you doing?”

            “I can’t wait anymore, Jess.  I haven’t touched you in four days.”

            The redhead smiled and put her arms around his neck.  “Well then Special Agent Aubrey...what are you waiting for?”

            Deciding it would take too long to walk her to his bedroom, he knocked the napkins and various other items off the counter by the stove before setting her on it.  To his delight, she didn’t waste time undoing his belt and fly before pushing his pants down.  He returned the favor by pulling off her panties in record time and tossing them aside.  Unable to resist, his hands kneaded her lovely mounds before entering her.

            “I love your ass, Jessica.”

             They had only enjoyed each other for a minute when the smoke detector went off.  Startled, they turned around to see the remains of Jessica’s underwear on fire by the burner where the water was boiling.  Aubrey almost stumbled as he grabbed the fire extinguisher while Jessica turned on the sink and used the sprayer simultaneously.

             After the fire was out, the dust had barely settled when there was a knock on the door and Mrs. Hall called his name from the other side.  Aubrey quickly pulled his pants up and zipped them before answering the door to the worried woman.  On the fly, he made up a story to his elderly landlady while the redhead carefully hid what remained of the start of the blaze from the woman’s view.

              Like the responsible adult he was, Aubrey offered to pay for the damages to the nearby counter, but she turned him down because it was covered by her homeowner's insurance.  After they assured Mrs. Hall they were alright, they said goodnight to the older woman.

             The agent shut his door and turned to his girlfriend before they finally let out the laughter they were holding in.

             “Well, you did promise me a fun night, Superman.”  Jessica said in between giggles.

             “Yeah.  I had a plan to light your fire later, but that wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”  The agent quipped as he hugged her.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

               Aubrey chuckled again as he recalled his bedroom...the living room...his shower...the Star Wars room.  He and Jessica defiled each room in his apartment in some manner and they had memories that he hoped would last a lifetime together.

               His phone buzzed, so he looked and smiled when he saw the message.

               Since Dr B & I talked about seminar Tues we r not mtg 2day 4 dissertation.  Will be there lunchtime.  Will bring food.  Any requests?

                Aubrey didn’t have to think about it.   Meat please.

                Jessica responded a minute later.   No surprise there.  C u later.

                Aubrey laughed as he put his phone down.  Realizing his coffee was gone, he poured another cup and added some cinnamon when his phone buzzed.  Looking at the caller ID, he rolled his eyes when he saw it was Karen Delfs.

                “Sorry, Karen...enjoying my morning coffee...you will have to stalk me another weekend.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

                Jessica showed up at Aubrey’s apartment around 1:00.  After greeting each other with a kiss, she presented him with a large bag from Mr. Leonelli's store.  Opening the bag, Aubrey got excited as he saw three sandwiches along with two bags of Miss Vickie’s BBQ chips.

               Handing her boyfriend a Yuengling, she smiled.  “Mr. Leonelli made you a pastrami on rye and a turkey club.”

               “Awesome!  I was in the mood for a pastrami on rye.”,  Aubrey said as he dug it out of the bag.  “What did you get?”

                Jessica smiled.  “Roast beef and swiss on rye.”

               “Have I ever told you how cool it is I have a carnivore for a girlfriend?”, Aubrey said.

               “You have.  I’m healthy, but I still love red meat.”  Jessica said.  “Oh, Mr. Leonelli told me that he received the meat and other items you ordered for tomorrow, including the halal stuff for Arastoo.  I hope it’s enough to feed everyone that helps us move.”

               “I think so.  I don’t mind leftovers, though.”  Aubrey replied, not missing Jessica’s slip of the tongue.

               After eating their sandwiches and chips, the two packed up essential items for Aubrey to take to the new house.  Along with the essential items, he was taking Skinner over there with him to spend the night there so the cat wouldn’t be too spooked.  Jessica’s Jeep would remain empty until they picked up items from the agent’s storage unit later on.   

               After they loaded his SUV, they walked back down to Mr. Leonelli’s so Aubrey could stock up on some pastrami and other meats for himself since his trips there would now be few and far in between.   He also purchased a lasagna for two and a bottle of wine for himself and Jessica for their dinner at the new house.  

               By 4:00, with Jessica’s help, Aubrey had put an annoyed Skinner in his cat carrier.  “Sorry, Buddy.  I can’t let you loose in a federal vehicle.”

              They took some cleaning supplies and the cat down to Aubrey’s vehicle.  When done, they went to talk to Mrs. Hall and let her know about their return tomorrow.  After receiving a cherry cobbler and dinner invite for the both of them, the agent and anthropologist walked out onto the sidewalk and looked up at the building one more time.

             “We had some good times in your apartment, Superman.”

              Aubrey put his arm around Jessica, who in turn put her head on his shoulder.  “We did, Jess, but we’ll have more at my new house.”

             Jessica gave him a kiss.  “That we will.”

             The two got in their vehicles.  Jessica waited for Aubrey to make sure Skinner was settled in his pet carrier in the front seat.  When he signaled, they both backed out of the driveway behind the old house and headed out to 1297 Janus Street.


              At 4:30, a frustrated Karen came into the Major Crimes Division looking for Aubrey.  She’d called his office as well as his cell phone today, but he never returned her calls.  Walking with purpose, she strode to the man’s office and was not happy to see it once again locked with the lights off.  Turning her head, she saw Genny in her office.  

             Exhaling her annoyance, she walked over and knocked on the door frame.  “Agent Shaw, where’s Aubrey?”

            Genny saw her come into the bullpen and knew she would come over when she saw Aubrey wasn’t in.  “He’s off today.”

            “That’s obvious, Agent Shaw.  My question is where is he and when is he coming back?”

            “I don’t know where he is currently, but he’s out until Tuesday.”

             Karen didn’t like what she heard.  “What for?”

            The petite woman turned to the profiler.  “For whatever reason he took today and Monday off.”

            “Like what, Genevieve?”, Karen said.  “As his friend, he may need my help.  As Special Agent in Charge, he can’t be taking time off willy nilly.  There are cases that need his attention.”

            ‘And a whiny ass profiler who can’t take a hint.’  Genny thought.  “He’s aware of that, so he completed the things that needed his immediate attention before leaving last night.  He also briefed me on what needed to be done today as well as calling me this afternoon to check in.  He plans to remote in Monday morning to submit any last minute items for agents and our support staff to Pay Management before 10:00.  Now, is there something I can help you with, Dr. Delfs?”

            “So you don’t know why he took today and Monday off?”, Karen asked suspiciously.  “You two are pretty chummy and if he’s going to tell anyone, it’s his second in command.”

            “His reasons are personal and don’t affect my job, so it was none of my business.”,  Genny said, trying to hold back a grin.  She knew exactly why her boss took an extended weekend, but the nut job in front of her didn’t need to know that.  “Why don’t you call him?  He said he would have his phone on for emergencies.”

            “With whatever is going on, he has been too busy to answer the phone.”,  Karen said.  

            “Well, I would leave a message and I’m sure he’ll call you back when he’s able.”  Shaw turned to the woman and bit her lip, hoping not to laugh.  “You could always try Agent Booth, the lab, or even Jessica if you need him immediately.”

             Karen recalled her conversation with Booth a few hours ago and his terse reply when she requested he try to contact Aubrey and tell him to call her.

            “If Aubrey is not answering, he’s obviously busy, as am I.  Don’t you have cases to work?  That is what the FBI pays you for, isn’t it?”

             Forcing a smile on her face, the profiler answered.  “No, that’s all right.  I won’t disturb the work at the Jeffersonian.  Instead, I’ll just borrow Aubrey’s office keys from you so I leave some files in there for his perusal.  Can I have them please?”

             Genny knew Aubrey would be pissed if she did that and nothing could get her to hand the keys over to the profiler.  Karen needed to get a life.  “No, but you can give me the files.  I have full authority until he returns.”

            “No, these are for the Special Agent in Charge for Major Crimes, Agent James Aubrey.”,  Karen replied stiffly.

            Genny straightened her spine at the obstinate profiler.  “Dr. Delfs, for the last time...I’m Acting Special Agent in Charge until Aubrey returns on Tuesday.  That means all things pertaining the function of this division and cases go through me until then.  Now for the last time, please give me the files to review so I can go home tonight.”

           “Sorry, little girl.  I will go over these with only Special Agent Aubrey.”, Karen said, pleased with her successful block of the agent’s power trip.

            ‘Little girl?  If that’s how she wants to do it, I can play games, too.’  Genny thought before she smiled.  “Okay.”

            “Okay?”, Karen said.  “Good.  Now can you let me into Aubrey’s office, please?”

            “Just a moment.  I need to make a phone call.”, the Acting Special Agent in Charge said calmly as she searched the FBI directory.  Dialing a number she waited.  “Yes, direct me to the BRIU please...thank you.”

            That got Karen’s attention.  “What are you doing?”

            Genny put her hand on the receiver.  “I’m just calling your supervisor at the BRIU to discuss your obstruction of our division’s cases…hello.  This is Agent Genevieve Shaw, the ASAC for Major Crimes.  I need to speak to SAC Jake Tanner, please.  Yes, I’ll hold...thank you.”  

            Quickly Karen jumped in and thrust the files to the agent.  “You know...there’s not need to call Special Agent Tanner.  I’m sorry if I gave the impression I’m not a team player, or someone who would jeopardize a case for personal reasons.  I’m just used to dealing with Aubrey is all.  Here you go.  Sorry for the misunderstanding.”

            Shaw took the files Karen had with her while still on the phone.  “Thanks Dr. Delfs.  I’ll let Aubrey know you stopped by and I’ll review these right now.  Good night.”

            Annoyed at the easy dismissal, Karen stormed out.  Genny chuckled as she waited on the phone.  “Hi Jamie, this is Genny Shaw...yeah, sorry about all that...I had a pest in my office.  I’m calling to place a carryout order for a large pizza and breadsticks, please.”


            The next morning, Aubrey stumbled out of his borrowed bed in the master bedroom of his new house around 7:30.  After feeding Skinner in the downstairs bedroom, he put the cat’s toys in there along with his litter box and favorite blanket.  As he finished getting ready, Jessica arrived to pick him up.

            On the way, he stopped first to pick up his rental truck before a second stop at a nearby Tim Hortons to pick up his catering order as well as two orders of the Tims Take Twelve coffee and hot drinks with decaf and tea included for Arastoo, Angela, and Jessica if she wanted.  Arriving at just before 9:00, he was greeted with his friends who were very appreciative of his gift to them.  

            Aubrey, being the gentleman he was, introduced his friends to Mrs. Hall, who was elated to meet her favorite novelist.  After Brennan signed all her novels, they went to work.  

            The morning was spent with packing up the rest of the agent’s belongings.  He and Jessica took charge of the Star Wars room, entrusting the rest of his belongings to their friends while Brennan plotted out the locations on her spreadsheet.  All were aware that time was of the essence to help their friend get out before Karen decided to make another visit.

            Daisy and Beau were late arrivals in her car around 11:30, not his F-150 truck as promised.  “Sorry we’re late, Aubrey.”, Daisy started before being interrupted by Beau.

            “I was needed for a team meeting at the Fed Ex, and I’ve been too busy to take my truck in to get the brakes fixed.  No hard feelings, right?”

            “Of course not.  You’re here and that’s what counts.”, Aubrey said, trying not to be annoyed with the man’s broken promise.  Things did happen.

            “Hey, there’s food and coffee.”, Beau said before heading over.

            “Sure. Help yourself, Beau.”, Aubrey muttered sarcastically before getting a stern look from Jessica.  Recognizing the warning, he went back to work.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

             Two hours later, the rental truck, Wendell’s Dodge Ram, Jessica’s SUV, Daisy’s car, and Angela’s van were packed.  As the redhead headed to pick up the items from Mr. Leonelli’s store for lunch, the rest drove to the Mighty Hut, now Aubrey’s Mighty Hut.

             As Jessica arrived at the new house, Andie showed up after her morning shift with beer, along with water and Gatorade for Arastoo and the kids.  After everyone ate their meal, they unpacked the van and other vehicles.  As Booth, Wendell, and Aubrey carried the Han Solo Carbonite statue up the stairs, the older man shook his head.

            “Aubrey…do I even want to know how much you paid for this…thing?”, Booth said as he was bringing up the rear.

            “This is…watch it, Booth…a piece of movie history.”, Aubrey said as he led the way.

            “Aubrey, this weighs a ton.  You better not be making me carry this to the far bedroom.”

            The agent gulped for a moment and decided it didn’t matter which room he wanted to make as his Star Wars room.  “First door on the right.”

            “Good call, Aubrey.”, Wendell said in relief from the middle.


              Jessica grabbed a box while a pregnant Angela grabbed two bags out of the older woman’s van.  “Now according to Dr. B’s spreadsheet, Aubrey wants these in the bedroom across from the main room.”, the redhead said.

            “Why aren’t we just putting everything somewhere?”, Angela said as they walked up to the house.

            “Dr. B said an organized move is the best move.”, Jessica said.  “She has a whole plan laid out for us.”

            “Sounds like Bren.”, Angela said as they stepped onto the porch.  “So where’s Skinner?”  

            “He was a little spooked when we got here last night, so Aubrey put him in the downstairs bedroom this morning with his food, toys, and litter box.”, Jessica said.  “This way, no one accidentally steps on him and he won’t get out and be lost.”

             Angela smirked.  “Did you spend the night with Aubrey and Skinner, Jessica?”

             “No, I went home after we had dinner……we’re just friends, Angela.”  Jessica replied with a blush.  ‘No need to mention I didn’t leave until almost midnight after we watched movies on his laptop...and a lot of kissing.’

             “Not for long the way you two look at each other.”, the artist smirked.

              Going through the doorway, Jessica encountered Aubrey, Wendell, and Booth coming down.  “Superman, do you think Skinner might want a treat?”

              “Yeah, I’ll check on him in a few minutes.”, the agent said.  “Did you put his treats in the room with him?”

              “No…on the kitchen island.”

               Booth rolled his eyes.  He hated cats.  “Okay, folks…Skinner will live for a few more minutes while I take a break.  I want a beer.”   

               Aubrey let Booth around him with Wendell following until he found the cooler.  The couple continued to look at each other before Angela interrupted.

              “I’ll just take these upstairs before helping Hodgins in the kitchen.  Between the two of us, we can get the food dealt with while you give each other CFM eyes.”

               Both blushed further until they went back to their activities.


              As the adults unpacked and put important stuff in their rightful place, Christine and Michael Vincent played on the jungle gym in the backyard, left over from Booth and Brennan.  Nearby was the tree house that Cam’s boys went in and out of, along with the other kids.

              Jessica watched them play with abandon and felt a warmness in her heart.   ‘Perhaps someday that will be my family with Aubrey out there.’

             She was joined by Aubrey a moment later, who took her hand in his as they watched the kids.  They didn’t realize that everyone else was observing them with smiles on their faces.

             “They’ll be together by Christmas.”, Hodgins said.  “Count on it.”

             “They’ll be together by Thanksgiving at the latest, Bug Boy.”, Booth said.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

              By 10:00, everyone had gone home except Jessica, who sat in the living room on the couch with her head back and eyes closed.  Suddenly, she felt something cold on her breast through her thin sleeveless button up shirt.

             “Ahhhh!”, Jessica yelled before she saw a laughing Aubrey holding two beers.  “You asshole!”

             “Come on…it’s funny.”

             The redhead looked at her boyfriend.  “You won’t think it’s so funny when I do that to your junk someday, Agent Aubrey.”

             “No, you won’t.”, Aubrey said as he handed her the cold Yuengling.  “You like it too much.”

             “It serves a purpose, that’s all.”, Jessica retorted.

              Both laughed as Aubrey plopped down.  “To moving day being over…and I wasn’t stalked by Karen...physically.”

             “Here, here.”, Jessica said as they clinked beer bottles.

            “Thanks so much for all your help, Jess.”, Aubrey said.

            “I didn’t do much, Superman.”, Jessica said.  “I helped pack some boxes and assisted you with Skinner when he was flipping out last night.”

            “No…you did help...a lot.”, Aubrey said as he turned to his girlfriend.  “This house is more than just a place to get away from Karen.  It’s a new beginning for me…part of Booth’s advice about growing up.  I’m just glad you are here to share it with me.”

            “There’s no place I would rather be right now.”, Jessica said with a smile. ‘Maybe I’ll live with him and Skinner here someday.’

             Aubrey smiled in return.   ‘Maybe she’ll even live in it with me and Skinner someday.’                

            They sat and looked at each other for a moment before Aubrey set his beer down and took Jessica’s hand on the back of the couch.  “Jess...um…”

            “What, Superman?”, Jessica said as she put her beer on the floor.

            Aubrey became annoyed as the words he wanted to say became jumbled.  The perfect moment and he was tongue tied like a teenager.  “Damn it.  I have something I want to say but I can’t...I…”

            Jessica pondered for a moment before deciding to go for it, suspecting what he might want to say.  “I-I don’t know when I will be totally there...but...dealing with my mom helped a bit...and talking with my dad.  I will say that I’m almost ready, too Aubrey.”

            “Really?”,  Aubrey said, surprised but happy.

            “Yes.”, the redhead said, but she mistook Aubrey’s expression for fear.  “Shit, Superman, I’m rushing you.  I’m so sorry--”

            “No!”, the agent said.  “I’m sorry...it’s just...I’m almost ready, too.

            They looked at each other before they slowly came together in a kiss.  At first it was simple and sweet but it quickly became passionate as hands began to roam.  It didn’t take long for Aubrey to push Jessica down on the couch, their beers forgotten as his lips moved to her earlobe.  When the redhead’s legs encircled his waist, his hand moved up to the top of her shirt.  As he efficiently unbuttoned her top, his lips moved down to her soft neck, her panting encouraged him.

             The agent’s hand had a mind of its own as it pulled her clothing open, revealing a lovely royal blue bra with a front clasp that looked beautiful against her porcelain skin.  The faintest sense of cherry vanilla only excited him...and his friend more.

             As Jessica’s encouraging hands moving under his t-shirt onto his naked back, Aubrey’s hand moved slowly down her abdomen and back up.  He felt his girlfriend’s moan into his ear as his palm cupped her breast before it slid underneath the lacy cup, making him hard when he felt her nipple harden.

            “Jessica…”, he groaned as his lips traveled down her neck.

            “Don’t stop…”, the redhead responded before her hands moved under his waistline, earning a moan from the special agent.

            Aubrey’s fingers began playing to the clasp in the front of the bra as the redhead nibbled on his earlobe in the way she knew drove him nuts.   As his lips traveled further down, the urge to taste her grew stronger.  He just needed one...just enough to hold him.

            Just as he was ready to throw caution to the wind and go for it, his phone rang to the Jaws theme.  Groaning, he buried his head into her neck.  “Son of a bitch...”

            Jessica’s frustration gave way to laughing.  “What the hell is that, Aubrey…”

            “It’s my new ringtone for Karen.”, the agent growled, annoyed at the interruption.  

            The couple waited for a moment until the voicemail app lit up.  Grabbing his phone, he pushed it and played the message on the speaker for Jessica to hear.

            ‘Hey Aubrey...it’s Karen...again.  You weren’t at work yesterday and all your assistant special agent in charge would say was that it was ‘none of her business.’  We’re supposed to be friends and when you don’t return my calls from yesterday or today, I get concerned.  I don’t appreciate being pushed aside like I don’t matter, Aubrey.  You’re important to me.”

            “Shit.”, Aubrey said before turning to Jessica.  “I’m going to make this quick.  Can you listen in?”

            “Sure, Superman.”, the redhead said.

            The couple sat up and Aubrey watched her button her top back up, making him whimper.  The only thing he wanted to do right now was go back to kissing Jessica and have his hands...and lips...on her very lovely breasts, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Pushing the phone function, he kept it on speaker and after one ring, Karen answered.

            “Hey, stranger.”

            Aubrey pinched his nose.  “Hey, Karen.  Sorry I haven’t got back to you.  It’s been pretty busy for me these last couple of days.”

            “Why did you take off Friday?  Are you sick?”

            “No, not sick.”, Aubrey said while squeezing his girlfriend’s hand.  “Just had some stuff come up.”

            “Like what?”  

            Aubrey didn’t want to tell her he moved...yet.  “A personal matter I’m attending to, Karen.”

            “But I want to help you.  Tell me what happened.  Did that brat Jessica hurt you again?”

            The anthropologist rolled her eyes as Aubrey rubbed his face.  “No, Karen, and don’t call her a brat.  No more name calling.  As for why I’m gone, I just had things to take care of this weekend.  I’m not dying...not in danger...all is good.  I just wanted to reassure you of that.”

            “Maybe I should bring you dinner--”

            “Not necessary, Karen.  I’m fine.  I’ll see you Tuesday, all right?  Good night.”

            “But--”

            Jessica put her hand on Aubrey’s shoulder as he ended the call.  “I’m sorry, Superman.  

            The agent closed his eyes.  “God...she’s annoying me…”

            They sat together in the silence for a moment before Jessica grimaced.  “I should probably get going.”

            The agent turned his head up.  “You don’t have to go…”

            Jessica got up.  “Yes I do, Superman.  You’re getting harder to resist so I need to go home while I still have my panties on.”

            Aubrey chuckled.  “All right.  I’ll walk you to your vehicle.”

            */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Five minutes later, the two got to Jessica’s Jeep.  Before opening the door, she turned to her boyfriend.  “Soon, Aubrey.”

            The agent nodded his head.  “Soon.”

            They shared a kiss goodbye before she climbed in.  “I’ll send you a text when I get home.”

            “Okay.”,  Aubrey replied.

            He watched her pull out of the driveway and observed until her taillights were no longer in his vision.  Going back inside, he locked the door and collapsed on the couch.  Skinner came downstairs and weaved through the living room boxes before jumping on his owner’s stomach.  

            ‘Damn Karen...Jessica’s skin felt so good…”

             Then another thought came to him.  ‘I almost got her bra open, but there was no sex.  We were just enjoying each other.  Jessica and I could have contained ourselves...at least I think we could have.’

             Aubrey’s thoughts were interrupted by the buzz of his phone.  Looking down, he smiled.

            Me & panties made it home.  Good nite Superman.

             Settling back down, his thoughts drifted back to the redhead until he fell asleep in the chaos of his living room.


            Karen woke up Sunday morning with a mission...to get Aubrey’s undivided attention.

            As she got around, she thought about this weekend.  She was surprised when to see Agent Shaw in charge again she came by Friday afternoon.  She was even more surprised to find out that Aubrey had taken that day and Monday off and no one would give her the courtesy of answering why.  Agent Shaw acted like she was a bother, but at least she was more polite than Agent Booth.  In her opinion, he should have been more concerned about his friend.

            She’d called Aubrey three times Friday and twice on Saturday before he returned her call.  He said he was fine and not to worry about him, but wouldn’t discuss why he had the time off.  It sounded like she interrupted him during something.  Probably another one of his pity parties over that redhead twit.  

           ‘If Aubrey keeps letting that redheaded bitch overrun his life, he’ll lose his career at the FBI or worse, his life because he’ll be so distracted.’   Karen pondered.  Well, she would show Aubrey how much he needed her to take care of him.  

            Her morning was spent straightening up her apartment and paying bills.  By the afternoon, she was ready for action.  Making a pot of coffee, she got comfortable with her laptop and started her research.

            After about thirty minutes, she found a recipe for an Asparagus and Cheese Tortilla Tart.  After reading the ingredients, she realized she didn’t have fresh asparagus, but she had canned asparagus and some canned green beans.  Getting up, she checked her cupboards and pulled out the canned veggies before grabbing her jar of spaghetti sauce.  Finding that the Ragu she had was expired, she decided to use salsa instead.

            “Tortillas need salsa, not pasta sauce.  What are these chefs thinking?”

            Setting everything on the counter, she grabbed her almond soy mozzarella cheese substitute out of the fridge.  “This soy cheese can’t be that much different than regular cheese.  I doubt Aubrey will notice.”

            Putting everything together, she followed the instructions and baked the dish.  When done, she grabbed her emergency bottle of Riunite Lambrusco from the fridge and was almost out the door when she stopped.  Putting the items down, she ran into her bedroom.  Rummaging through her lingerie drawer, she grabbed her special pink panties and put them on.

            “Always good to be prepared.  Aubrey may need some comforting.”

            Rushing out of the apartment with the items, she arrived at Aubrey’s apartment at 5:30.  When she got there, she went up to his apartment and knocked.  Getting no answer, she tried again to no avail.  Going to the window facing the back of the house, she saw a federally issued black SUV.  Annoyed at being ignored, Karen set the pan on the floor and called him.

            When she got no answer, she walked downstairs and knocked on Mrs. Hall’s door.  She was greeted by a middle aged woman whom Karen recognized from the pictures on the mantle as her daughter from Baltimore.  When let in, she saw the older woman smiling as she sat in her rocking chair.

            “Mrs. Hall, I brought James some dinner but he’s not answering his door.  I tried calling him a few minutes ago but he didn’t answer.  Do you think you can go up and check on him again for me?  I want to make sure he’s okay.”

            “I can’t do that, Dear.”                

            Confused, Karen put a smile on her face to hide her annoyance.  “Why not?  You’re his landlady.”

            “Well, he moved yesterday, Honey.”

            Karen felt like she had been blindsided.  Aubrey didn’t mention he was looking for another apartment.  “He-he moved?”

            “Yes, dear.  He and that lovely girl Jessica took some boxes over Friday night to his new house.  Such a lovely girl.  I’m glad she’s spending time with James again.  Occasionally on nights when James would be working late, she would come down to my apartment and we would have tea together.”

            “He moved Friday?”  Karen almost choked.

            “No, he moved Saturday.  All his friends met him here to help him move.  Lovely people, especially that Agent Booth and Dr, Brennan.  She signed all of her books for me.  I’m going to miss James.  Such a good boy.  He referred someone to me so the apartment won’t be vacant.”

            Holding in her fury, Karen took a breath.  “But I saw his SUV outside.”

            “That is my daughter’s vehicle.  She’s in charge of her division at the Treasury department and received a government car like James has about five months ago.”, the elderly lady said.  “Would you like to come in and join us?  We’re having tuna casserole for dinner.”

            Karen thought fast.  “No.  I thought James said he was still staying the night tonight and not moving until next weekend, but that’s okay.  I’ll run this over to his new house, but I would have to stop at my office to get the address.  Do you know it so I can save a trip because I would hate for his dinner to get cold?”

            “No, he didn’t have it on him, either.  He said he would bring it over later this week.”

            “Did he happen to say when this week?”,  Karen asked desperately.

            “I’m not sure Karen—“

             “When you do think?  Perhaps tomorrow...maybe Wednesday…”

            “Our dinner's getting cold, Mama.” the daughter said, suspicious of her mother’s interrogator.  “I’m sure if you call Agent Aubrey, Dr. Delfs, he’ll let you know.  Good night.”

             Karen stood in shock as the door was shut in her face.  Holding her temper in, she walked out into the night and to her vehicle, which now had a parking ticket on it.  Grabbing it, she read it and went to the other side of the vehicle.

             “So my bumper was in front of the damn hydrant!  Who gives a flying fuck?”, Karen growled.

              Getting into her vehicle, she starting it, and drove off in a huff.  “This is not how you treat a friend, James Aubrey.  Friends before hoes.  That’s the rule.”

              Angry and hurt, Karen waited at an intersection for the light to change, still fuming at the treatment her supposed friend had inflicted on her.  “After all I’ve done for him, he treats me like dirt.  Maybe I should just give up and move on to someone new…”, she grumbled.

              When the light turned green, she floored the accelerator.  “That would show him, wouldn’t it?”  

              Several minutes later, she was still grimacing as she turned onto Q Street.  When she arrived at her apartment a couple minutes later, she sighed before realizing what she needed to do.

              It was more than just making Aubrey realize that she was the woman he needed in his life.  Now, she also had to show that skinny bitch Jessica who was really in charge.  

             “I’m going to win this fight, no matter what it takes.  No way Little Miss Scientist beats me.”

              After locking her vehicle, Karen took her casserole dish and wine upstairs to her apartment above the Starbucks.  When she came in, she slammed the door before throwing the items in the refrigerator and then collapsed on the sofa to have a good cry.  

             “I’m going to win this battle, no matter what it takes.  Aubrey may not know it yet, he’s going to be mine.”

Chapter Text

          Aubrey stood in the kitchen of his new place early Monday morning, exhausted but happy.  He’d spent all day yesterday unpacking and putting stuff away throughout the house.  Today, he wanted to concentrate on getting the kitchen and family room done before returning to work tomorrow.

          Glancing at the Darth Vader and Friends calendar pinned to the wall, he grinned when he saw October 22nd boxed in with green highlighter.  This upcoming Saturday…his 33rd birthday.

           Jessica had done that before she’d given it to him as one of his Christmas presents last year.  Flipping back to May, he saw where he’d done the same to May 8th, Jessica’s birthday.  After their break up, he’d been dreading his birthday, but the Star Wars Convention had changed everything for the better.  He had his favorite redhead back in his life, and he was happy again.                  

           After pouring himself another cup of coffee, he realized it was time to stop procrastinating.  He needed to put things away in his kitchen.  It was going to be nice to have room to spread out all of his cooking utensils, but it would take a lot of time to decide the best place to put everything for easy access.

           First, however, he had something very important to do.  Glancing at the time on the microwave, he finished his coffee and pulled out his phone.  Hitting the speed dial, he waited for his favorite squintern to pick up.

           “Hey, Aubrey.”  Jessica smiled to herself as she pictured him standing in his new kitchen, wearing his faded fraternity tee shirt and ratty sweatpants.  “What’s up?  Get everything put away yet?”

           “Hell, no.  Who knew I had so much junk?  Maybe I’ll just get rid of some of it.  That’d be a lot easier.”  He chuckled as he leaned against the counter, imagining her smile as she sat in the living room of her tiny apartment.  “So I was wondering if you’d do something for me…”

           “Well, that’s just great. So you called just to ask me for a favor? I thought maybe you wanted to talk to me.  I bet you need more help with unpacking, right?  Because if that’s what you want, I’m really busy at the moment.”  Giggling, Jessica opened up her laptop to access her dissertation files.  “I have a lot of research to do…”

           “No, that’s not what I had in mind, although if you wanted to help, I wouldn’t turn you away…”  He laughed, reaching down to scratch Skinner’s ears as the tabby brushed against his leg.  “...but what I wanted to know is if you’d come to dinner at my new house this coming Saturday.  It’s my birthday, you know, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather share it with.  I’m going to make us something really special...maybe Beef Wellington with some baked potatoes, some blanched asparagus with almond butter, a nice tossed salad, and probably some cheesecake for dessert.”

           “Maybe…let me see...hmmm….” Jessica groaned softly, biting her lip to keep from laughing out loud.  “Oh, no!  You mean this coming Saturday evening?  I completely forgot about your birthday being this weekend!”, she exclaimed.  “I’m so sorry...I can’t on Saturday, Superman.  I have to go to my niece’s dance recital.  We’ve been planning on it for a couple of months...she has a solo, you know?  She’s the fairy queen.  I can’t cancel those plans.  It would break her little heart.”

            “Well, I guess I could go with you to the recital…if you want...”  Aubrey began.  He felt a little miffed that Jessica hadn’t thought of that solution herself.  “I don’t mind, and then afterwards, we could go out for a bite to eat…or maybe we can have lunch together before you go...”

            “No, that won’t work, Aubrey.  I’ll need to leave here pretty early to avoid traffic, so I’ll be gone most of the day.  My sister in law said she could only score one extra ticket.  Anyway, the dance school is going to have an ice cream social afterwards, and I promised my niece I’d stay to have ice cream with her.  Besides, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t enjoy watching a group of little girls you don’t know flit around the stage, right?  I mean, it’s fairy princess stuff...definitely not your style.”

             Jessica giggled quietly as she heard Aubrey grumble.  “Let me look at my calendar, Superman, and see if I can find another day, okay?  How about Sunday?  I know it’s not your birthday, but...oh, wait.  We can’t have dinner at your house on Sunday, either.  We’re supposed to go see Beau play football.  Daisy scored one of those plush VIP skyboxes at the stadium, and we’re all going to meet there...you know, Cam, Arastoo, Agent Booth, Dr. B, Hodgins, and everyone else from the lab, so it might look odd if we didn’t show up.  It might be enough to start rumors about us being a couple, and you don’t want that right now, do you?  I’m really sorry, but I don’t think we can get out of going to the game.”

           “Don’t worry about it, Jess.  Family is important.  You need to go watch your niece dance, especially if you promised her you’d go.”  He clenched his jaw in an effort to contain his disappointed sigh.  “Listen, it doesn’t make any difference which day we celebrate my birthday, okay?  It’s no big deal if we can’t have dinner together on Sunday, either.  We can pick a day next week instead.  I can’t wait to cook a nice meal in my fancy new gourmet kitchen, that’s all.”

            “You know I wouldn’t turn you down without good reason, especially on your birthday.  I’m really disappointed…I’ve been looking forward to having you cook dinner for me, too.”  It was all Jessica could do to keep from laughing out loud.  “I’ve already got your gifts and everything…”

             Now Aubrey was all ears.  “Gifts?  You bought me a birthday present?  What is it?”

             “Presents, as in plural. Of course I got you gifts for your birthday.  I picked them out especially for you, but you’ll have to wait a while longer to find out what I got you.  I’ll make sure I bring them whenever we decide to have dinner together, okay?”  Jessica chuckled as he tried to pump her for information.  “No, I’m not giving you any more hints.  It’s a secret.  Oh, look at the time.  I’ve got to go.  I have a dentist appointment this morning before work.  Call me later?”

             “Yeah...if I ever get my kitchen set up, that is.  I’ll talk to you after work, okay? Bye.”  

              After hanging up his phone and tossing on the kitchen counter, Aubrey stood for a minute with his arms crossed over his chest, trying to get over feeling slightly upset by the unexpected turn of events.  After all, he was a grown man, and he knew it wouldn’t make any difference if he celebrated his birthday on a different day as long as he could celebrate with Jessica.  He did think it was strange that she hadn’t told him about her niece’s dance recital until just now, but he figured that was because they weren’t a couple when she’d found out about it.  He nodded to himself as he finished his coffee.  

             Yeah, that must be it, he thought as he rinsed out his cup.  I don’t think she’s still feeling weird about me saying this house is a great place to raise a family.  I mean, that’s what Booth said, and I was just repeating it to her, right? And I don’t think she’s trying to avoid me, especially after we’ve spent so much quality time together, like when we walked along the Mall on Thursday, or after everyone helped me move on Saturday...we were having a really great time together that evening, until Karen called, that is.  I guess I’m making a big deal over nothing...I don’t think there’s anything to be worried about, is there?

             He smiled as he remembered what Charlie had told him earlier that week.

            My…Jessie…loves…you.  You…is…are…frisk…first…man…ever…introduced…to…me.  Not…going…to…run…away…from…you…”

            Putting his cup in the dishwasher, he sighed as he looked out the kitchen window.  He knew that, sooner or later, he and Jessica would put all of this uncertainty past them, and right now he was hoping for sooner.  As far as he was concerned, that would be the best gift Jessica could give him for his birthday.

 */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Jessica hurried as she dug through her closet to find a pair of nice slacks and an appropriate shirt.  She definitely did not want to be late for her appointment this morning.  She giggled again as she thought of Aubrey pouting in his kitchen, thinking she’d be okay with skipping his birthday dinner.  She couldn’t wait to prove him wrong.

Oooooooooo

            An hour later, Jessica grimaced slightly while perched nervously on the edge of a chair in Booth’s office.  It was totally irrational to be afraid of Dr. B’s husband, especially since she’d talked to him many times when they’d worked on cases, but he was a formidable man.  It seemed awkward to ask him for a favor, even if that favor was going to benefit his friend.

            Pushing his fingertips together as he sat back in his chair, Booth thought over Jessica’s request.  “So you think he’ll buy it?”

            “Well, he knows you’re investigating a case over there.  You just have to come up with a reason for him to go with you instead of the agent you’re currently mentoring.”

            “I see.”  Nodding thoughtfully, Booth rubbed his chin as he considered his visitor’s request.  “It might work.  However, there is one important question you need to answer. How are you going to get into the house to set things up without Aubrey being suspicious?  You can’t just ask him for his key, or do you have one already?”

            'Crap...didn’t think of that.’  Jessica thought to herself.  “Ummm, no, I don’t have one…yet...”

            “No problem. Just ask Bones for her spare key.  That way we can keep Aubrey completely in the dark.”

            “That’s a great idea. You don’t think she’ll mind?  I don’t want to impose...”

            “Nah, she’ll be happy to help.  Now, what’s our time frame Saturday?”

           “I’d like to get everyone over there by around 5:30 and then you can bring Aubrey back around…6:00?”

            “Yeah, I can make that work.”

             Jessica checked the party planning list on her phone.  “Any place in particular people can park nearby so he won’t see cars in the driveway?”

             “There’s a playground people can use around the corner from the house, and a small path people can take to our back yard through the woods.  Angela can drop off Hodgins at the house before parking the van.  What about food?  You’re gonna need a lot to feed that many people...”

             “I’m going to call Daisy to arrange for Pixler’s to cater some barbecue, and I’ll ask people to bring a side dish to go with it.”  Jessica gave Booth a bashful smile.  “I think Aubrey will be really surprised...and pleased.  What do you think?  Are you in?”

             Booth studied the young woman sitting across from him.  It was obvious how much she loved Aubrey.  Both of them had seemed happier in the last couple of weeks, and he was happy for them.  Maybe they were finally on the same page about their relationship.

             Booth nodded in agreement as he rose from behind his desk.  “Yeah, I guess so, but on one condition...I ain’t footing the bill for his lunch while I keep him out of the way…”

             “I’ll spot you a twenty, and if that isn’t enough, I’ll reimburse you later.”  She and Booth both laughed as they left his office.  “Is it a deal?”

             “Okay, it’s a deal.”  He gestured for Jessica to walk with him.  “Are you going to go see Aubrey now?”

             “No, he took off today to unpack and put stuff away.  I need to go talk to Agent Shaw and let her in on the plan. By the way, thanks for all the help, Agent Booth.”

             “No problem.  Also, it’s just Booth.  Anyone who can make my friend smile the way he has for the last couple of weeks is a friend of mine, okay, Jessica?” 

              The redhead smiled shyly.  “Okay, A--Booth.” 

             “Good.  So you’re going to be ‘gone’ all day on Aubrey’s birthday, right?”  He winked at her as he escorted her to the elevator.

             Jessica heaved a melodramatic sigh.  “Yes, I’ve promised my niece to come to her dance recital, and I won’t be back until late Saturday night.  Poor Aubrey, having to celebrate his birthday all by himself in his new house.”  She smirked as she got on the elevator, giving Booth a silent thumbs up.

             Booth chuckled as the doors started to close. “That’s okay.  He’ll have a lot to do at the Mighty Hut on Saturday anyway.  He’ll be too busy to be lonesome.”

             Catching a snippet of the conversation as she came around the corner toward Booth’s office, Karen’s Aubrey radar went on high alert.  

             “He’s going to be by himself on his birthday?  At his new house?” she muttered under her breath.  “That’s awful.  That little girl doesn’t deserve any more attention from James.”  

             Thinking the situation over, Karen suddenly had an idea.  “Perhaps it’s time to check on Mrs. Hall and see how the poor dear is doing, now that her favorite tenant has left…and maybe I can ask her about ideas for an ideal gift for James.”

Oooooooooo

              Before leaving the Hoover, Jessica stopped by Shaw’s office.  “Hey, Genny...I’m giving Aubrey a surprise birthday party on Saturday.  Why don’t you come by?  Bring your son if you want...it’s going to be a family party, and I’m sure Danny would have a lot of fun playing with Christine and Michael-Vincent.”

              “That sounds great.  I love surprise parties, but Aubrey’s pretty sharp.  How are you going to manage to pull it off?”, the agent asked, holding her hand up when she heard her phone ring.  “Just a sec.  Special Agent Shaw...Oh, hello, Dr. Delfs.”  

              Rolling her eyes as she made a silly face, Agent Shaw continued in a cool, professional tone as Jessica snickered softly.   “No, Agent Aubrey isn’t in today, Dr. Delfs.  As I explained last Friday, he’ll be out until tomorrow.  No, I really have no idea when Agent Aubrey will be in tomorrow, but I would assume he’ll be keeping his normal hours.  Yes, I’ll give him your message, but feel free to leave a message on his voicemail as well, if you’d like.  Yes, I promise I’ll tell him you called. Goodbye.”  

              Genny slammed the phone down on the receiver.  “That woman gets on my nerves!  Anyway, where are you having the party?”

              “At Aubrey’s new house...1297 Janus Street.  Booth is supposed to keep him busy all day while I get things set up.  5:30 or so on Saturday, okay?  You can park at the playground around the corner from the house.”

              “Yeah, I’ll try to be there.  Hey, watch out for you know who...she’s been snooping around a lot lately.”

              “Believe me, I know…” Jessica waved goodbye and turned to leave the office, only to run into the man in question.  “Oh...Aubrey...hi…what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at home unpacking, aren’t you?  I mean, that’s what you said...you said that you still had a lot to do...”

              “I forgot to sign some stupid job review forms, and of course, personnel needed them ASAP, so they told me I had to come to the office to take care of it this morning.  But I could ask you the same question, right?  I thought you said you had a dentist appointment today.”  Aubrey gave her a suspicious look.  It wasn’t like her to lie to him.  “You’re kinda dressed up to go to the dentist, aren’t you?

              “I did have an appointment, but I also had to return something to Agent Shaw, so I just stopped by for a few minutes, since it was on the way to the Jeffersonian.  I borrowed...one of her manuals.”, Jessica said before turning to the other woman.  “That’s right, isn’t it, Genny?  One of your protocol manuals…”

              Shaw caught on quickly.  “That’s right, Boss.  You were out of the office when she needed one, so I lent her mine.  No big deal.  I was glad to help.”  Shaw turned back to her monitor so Aubrey wouldn’t see her smile.

             “Okaaaay….”  Aubrey knew something was up, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it was.  “Well, since you’re here, Jess, want to go have lunch?”

              “I can’t...my mouth is still a little numb.  Besides, I have to go see Dr. B over at the lab.  I need to talk to her about some details on my dissertation before I go work with Clark this afternoon.  That’s why I’m not wearing jeans this morning, you know...got to impress the mentor.  Anyway, I don’t know how long that’ll take, since she’ll want to go over my stuff with a fine toothed comb, and then Clark wants me to help him with some of the artifacts from one of those Viking burial mounds they found in Nova Scotia.  But call me later, okay?  Maybe we can have dinner together at my place tonight.  My yoga class was canceled for this evening because my instructor is ill.” 

               The agent sensed something was off, but he realized Jessica was waiting for him to answer.  “Yeah, that would be be nice.” 

               Jessica arched her eyebrow at him and lowered her voice to a sultry whisper.  “And then maybe after dinner, you can help me study my anatomy lesson this evening.  Muscle attachments are so hard to remember, especially all of the lower abdominals.  I think maybe I need an anatomically correct model with an impressive set of muscles to study from.”  She gave him a flirty giggle as she turned to leave.  “Gotta go...bye.”

              “Bye...I’ll definitely help you study your anatomy…and maybe even give you some extra lessons if you want...”, he muttered as he watched her walk away, appreciating the view before being distracted by someone clearing their throat.  Turning around, he saw his second in command smirking at him.   

              “It’s a good thing you stopped by.  You’ve received quite a few phone calls while you were out today, Aubrey.”  

               Aubrey glared at Shaw as she laughed at his annoyance.  “Let me guess...Dr. Delfs called again.” 

               “She is really persistent.”  Genny pulled a folder from her desk drawer.  “Here are those forms you need to sign.  Sorry I couldn’t sign them for you, but the guy from HR said they had to have the real signature from the real deal.” 

               “Yeah, well, it’s no big deal.  It was my fault anyway.  I’ve been distracted with moving, but I still should’ve been more detail oriented with the paperwork.”  Quickly signing the forms, he closed the folder and handed it back to her.  “There you go.  Send them on to HR for me, okay?” 

               “No problem, Boss.  See you tomorrow.”   

               “Okay.”  Still slightly suspicious, Aubrey hesitated before leaving.  “Why did Jessica need to borrow a protocol manual?  That’s kinda strange, isn’t it?  I mean, it’s not like she can’t look that stuff up online...” 

               “I don’t know.  She didn’t say.  She was in a hurry that day, so I just let her use mine.  I imagine it had something to do with evidence management or something like that...you know, how to maintain the proper chain of evidence for the FBI and the other federal law enforcement agencies.  Jessica would have to know all of that as a forensic anthropologist working for any government agency.”  Shaw grimaced slightly, hoping her boss would buy the load of bull shit she was selling.  “Maybe she wants to work for the FBI some day, so she wanted to get a jump on things.” 

              “Maybe.”  Aubrey scratched the back of his neck as he thought things through.  “I guess that makes sense, although it seems like she’d already know all of that stuff, especially as many cases as she’s worked with us.”  Finally deciding it was really no big deal, he shrugged.  “Okay, then...I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

               “You got it, Aubrey.  Enjoy the rest of your day off.” 

                He chuckled as he walked toward the elevator.  “Oh, you know it.  Nothing beats unpacking kitchen utensils…”

Oooooooooo

                In the meantime, Karen used her lunch hour to pay a social call on Mrs. Hall.  After sitting through three cups of lukewarm tea and about a million pictures of the woman’s grandchildren, the profiler finally got the information she needed.  Aubrey’s favorite sports team was the Chicago Cubs, and his forwarding address was 1103 W. Warrington Way in McLean, Virginia.  Now all she had to do was search the internet for the perfect birthday gift.

Oooooooooo

                After calling Daisy to make arrangements for several pounds of barbecue to be delivered for the surprise party, Jessica dropped by the lab to extend some invitations there.  She peeked around the door of her mentor’s office.  “Hello, Dr. Brennan…”

              “Ms. Warren. I wasn’t expecting you to see you today.”  Looking up in surprise, Brennan pointed to a chair across from her.  “Please sit down.  What can I do for you?”

              “Well, I went to see Agent Booth this morning, and he’s going to help me surprise Aubrey with a party for his birthday on Saturday.  He suggested that perhaps you could lend me your key to the Mighty Hut so I could go over early and get things set up.”

              “Of course.”  Brennan pulled a heavy key chain from her purse.  “Here you go.  While I personally am not fond of surprise parties, I believe Aubrey will be very pleased that you did this for him.”

               “I hope so.”  Jessica twisted nervously in her chair as she fidgeted with the key.  “I’ve never pulled off a surprise party on this scale, but I think I’ve got everything covered.  Naturally, I want you both to come, and please bring Christine and Hank.  I know he’s is very fond of them.”

               “I’m sure Christine will be thrilled.  After her father, Aubrey is her favorite FBI agent.”  Brennan smiled as she looked toward the doorway.  “Have you finished that rendering, Angela?”

               “Here it is.”  Angela handed Brennan the picture as she grinned at Jessica.  “Hey, Sweetie.  What’s up?”  

               “Oh, I just stopped by to borrow Dr. Brennan’s key to the Mighty Hut.  I’m planning a surprise party for Aubrey’s birthday Saturday.  I hope you and Curly can make it, and bring Michael-Vincent if you want…”

               “We wouldn’t miss it.”  Angela winked at Brennan as she sat down next to Jessica.  “I’m assuming there’s someone who’s not on the guest list…”

                Blushing slightly, Jessica nodded.  “Yes. Dr. Delfs’ name has been omitted from the list.  She makes Aubrey very uncomfortable…”

                Angela nodded.  “You can count on us not to mention anything to her.  We won’t spill the beans.”

                “Thank you.”  Jessica picked up her purse as she got ready to leave.  “So 5:30 on Saturday night, okay?  You can park at the playground around the corner from the house.”

                “It sounds like an excellent plan, Ms. Warren.  See you then.  Now, if you’ll excuse us, I need to study Angela’s rendering…”

                Jessica checked her phone as she walked out of the lab and was surprised to see that she’d missed a call from Aubrey.  “I’ll just call him on my break. I’m sure he won’t care if I don’t return his call right away.  He knows I’m busy today.”   

                The redhead dropped her phone back in her purse as she thought about what she could fix Aubrey for dinner that evening.  “Perhaps we can have spaghetti tonight...yes, I think spaghetti and an anatomy lesson sounds good tonight.” 

                Then she flashed back to the previous Saturday night.  “We’re not ready for meatballs yet...but we will be soon…very soon.”

                She giggled to herself as she went to find Wendell and Clark, who were working together in Cultural Anthropology.   

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

                Checking his phone again, Aubrey grumbled to himself as he sat down at his kitchen counter to have some lunch.  Something was up with Jessica, and he didn’t like it one bit.  It wasn’t like her to ignore his calls, unless...maybe she was still feeling skittish about them being in a committed relationship.

                Piling some leftover cold cuts on some rye bread, he fretted a little bit about how to assure her that things were good between them.  “I know what her dad thinks, but maybe I’ve put too much pressure on her…I should just back off, I guess.  I don’t want to come across as clingy or needy, especially since she’s so independent.  On the other hand, I think she’d want to know for certain how I feel about things so she can decide what she wants to do.”, he mumbled under his breath as he took a sip of his beer.  “Maybe someday, I’ll be able to figure her out.” 

Oooooooooo

                The next morning a frustrated Aubrey arrived at the office around 7:00 to get caught up after being gone for a couple of days.  His date with Jessica last night had been cut short just as they were going to get to the fun part of the spaghetti, when she got called to cover for Brennan at a crime scene with Booth because Dr. B needed to stay home with Hank and Christine, both of whom had colds.   

                He’d been really looking forward to giving her that anatomy lesson.  Spaghetti was always fun with his favorite redhead.  When they got to the point where they could have meatballs again...it would definitely be a good night. 

                As he brewed a fresh pot of coffee in the break room, he heard his phone buzz.  Looking at it, he saw that a new message had arrived in his FBI mailbox.  Opening it, he groaned when he saw the message.

                I made you an Asparagus and Soy Cheese Tortilla Tart Sunday, but your landlady said you’d moved.  It wasn’t very nice of you to forget to tell me about that little detail, James.  However, I will chalk it up to you being busy, so I’ll forgive you.  Just to show that there are no hard feelings, I left the pan in the fridge in the 4th floor break room for you to enjoy.  I will be very busy this week but I will call you soon.

                Karen :)

                Groaning, he walked to the fridge and opened it, seeing the pan on the top shelf.  Taking it out, he pulled the foil, looked at the pan’s contents, and was disgusted as the foul odor wafted toward his nose.

               “Aubrey, what the hell is that?”

               Startled, he looked up to see Booth, who had just arrived in the break room.  Holding the pan away from his body as he cringed, Aubrey shook his head.

               “Something Karen made for me Sunday night.  An Asparagus and Soy Cheese Tortilla Tart.  She left it for me to ‘enjoy’.”  Smelling it again, he grimaced as he fanned his hand in front of his nose.  “Man, I hate soy cheese.”

               “Jesus, that stuff stinks.   I wouldn’t foist that on anyone, not even Oliver Wells.”, Booth growled.  “Aubrey, for the love of God, please get that nasty shit out of here.  I don’t want the pancakes I made this morning to make an encore appearance.”

                Aubrey grabbed a large spoon from the silverware drawer.  Scraping the casserole out, he dumped it all in the garbage.  He then removed the used coffee grounds from the pot of coffee that just finished brewing, and dumped the filter on top of the food before pulling the trash bag out of the can and tying it off.

               “Done.  Now, I’m going to enjoy my sweet nectar of life.”  Aubrey grabbed a bottle of cinnamon from the cupboard before pouring a cup of coffee.

                “Hopefully that food dies quickly.  I’d hate to see that shit come crawling out of the trash can.”  Booth poured some coffee into his Steelers mug before the two men walked out of their break room.  “See you later, okay?” 

                “Yeah…”  Aubrey nodded as he walked toward his office.  “Later…” 

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooo

                The remainder of the week before Aubrey’s birthday flew by.  Between working on cases and trying to unpack, he’d had very little time to mope about having to spend his birthday by himself.   

                He kept reminding himself of Charlie’s opinion about the situation with Jessica, but he just couldn’t seem to shake his doubts about her unusual behavior during the last week.  Things had been strange between them ever since he’d moved into the new house, and he began to wonder if Jessica was feeling pressured.  He needed some way to find out what was going on in that brilliant brain of hers.  However, whenever he tried to get her to discuss what she was feeling, she insisted that everything was fine and that she was happy with how things were going between them.

                 Instead of going out on Thursday evening, Jessica had brought over a crock pot of her wonderful homemade vegetable soup and some warm cheese biscuits, much to Aubrey’s delight.  After dinner they’d arranged more of his massive collection in the Star Wars room upstairs before sitting down in the family room to watch a couple of episodes of The Twilight Zone. She’d fallen asleep with her head on his shoulder, and he hated to wake her, but it was midnight and they both had to work in the morning.

                “Hey, Jessica.”  He nudged her slightly.  “Jess...you got to wake up, Darlin’...Superman has to go to work tomorrow and you have to be at the lab bright and early, remember?”

                “Huh uh.”  She snuggled closer to him.  “You can’t get up.  I’m too comfortable.”

                “Nope...that’s not going to work this time, Jess.”  He chuckled as she opened a sleepy eye and glared at him.  “You can sleep here on the couch if you want, but I’m going to bed...by myself.”  He stood up and shook his head.  “Nighty night…I’m going upstairs.”

                “You’re no fun, Agent Aubrey.”  Groaning softly, Jessica stretched out on the couch and plumped up the sofa pillow.  “It’s late…I’ll just sleep here.  Wake me up when you get up in the morning, okay? Night...”

                 Well, I can be a lot of fun...wanna find out?  Embarrassed at the passing thought, Aubrey caught himself, hoping he hadn’t said that out loud.   

                 Realizing she’d already gone back to sleep, he sighed as he went upstairs to his bedroom.  Hopefully, he’d be able to get some rest instead of thinking about Jessica, all warm and lovely as she slept on his sofa.  

                 Climbing into bed, he stared at the ceiling as he tried to relax, telling himself not to think about Jessica being downstairs.  Yeah, right...like that’s gonna work.   

                 Rolling over onto his side, he closed his eyes, determined to behave himself instead of giving in to his surging libido, but Jessica made it hard to behave himself.  He knew they couldn’t rush things...that he had to be patient if he wanted to achieve his goal of a long term relationship with her.  It wouldn’t be easy, but in the long run it would be worthwhile.  

                 He smiled as he grew drowsy.  Things were going well between them.  If he played his cards right, the long run might turn into a short sprint, and he couldn’t wait to cross that finish line.         

Chapter Text

 

              Aubrey was in the shower when he heard the glass door open.  Turning around slowly, he saw a nude Jessica saunter in to join him, licking her lips as she admired his masculine form.                

             “You know, Superman, as government employees, we really should conserve water.”, she purred, running her hands slowly down his wet skin.  “We need to set a good example…”                

             They came together under the water before she slowly backed the agent into the wall.  Her kisses then followed his treasure trail until she got on her knees.  Aubrey felt her take him into her mouth and he moaned loudly…

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

              “Dammit!”  Aubrey groaned as his phone rang early Saturday morning. “I don’t even get to sleep late so I can enjoy a good sex dream on my birthday....Aubrey…”

               Booth’s SUV was quickly making it’s way across the city.  “Hey, buddy, it’s Booth.  Listen, I hate to call you so early on the weekend, but I need a big favor…”

              Yeah, of course you do.  Rolling his eyes, Aubrey stretched as he sat up in his bed, uncomfortable from the bulge in his boxers.  “Sure...what’s up?”

              “I gotta go back to Richmond today and see that guy I interrogated last week.  I got a hot tip and I need to check it out with him as soon as possible.  Chamberlain can’t make it...he’s got baby duty while his wife is visiting her sick mom in Sheboygan.  You know the regs...I got to take a partner…and since you’re a special agent in charge, you don’t mind filling in for him, right?  After all, that’s why they pay you the big bucks...”

               “Yeah, sure.”  He thought back to his conversation with Daisy and Beau.  “I know...as a Special Agent in charge, my time is not my own.  No problem…”   

               “Great.  I’ll be there in fifteen minutes…Bye.”  Booth smiled as he ended the call.  The first step of Jessica’s plans for the surprise party had been set into motion. 

                Aubrey ended the call before sighing softly as he slumped against his headboard. Shit...I do not want to spend my birthday riding around in the car all day working on a case...but I guess it goes with the territory, doesn’t it?  Groaning softly, he reluctantly crawled out of bed for a quick shower and a bite to eat before Booth arrived.

 */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

                Thirty minutes later, the Special Agents were on the road for the two hour drive to Richmond.  “So how are things going, Aubrey?  The house looks good…”

                “Thanks.  I got most of the boxes put in the rooms where they belong.  You know, it was great how everybody helped me move last weekend, and that made things a lot easier.  Jessica came over Thursday and helped me unpack some more things…”

                Booth smirked as he gave his friend a sidelong glance.  “Jessica, huh?  You two are doing better, I guess?”

               “Maybe.  I mean, things are going okay.”  Aubrey turned to look out the passenger window, hoping Booth would figure out he didn’t want to discuss that topic right now.

                However, the fact that Aubrey didn’t want to discuss things wasn’t going to stop Booth from poking around.  He grinned to himself as he continued his interrogation.  “So is she going to help you celebrate your birthday tonight?”

                “Nooo…”  Aubrey shook his head slowly.  “She has to go to her niece’s dance recital this evening, and there wasn’t any way for me to go with her…”

                “You get to skip the recital?  Man, she must be crazy about you.”  Booth snickered at Aubrey’s confusion.  “Trust me, I’ve been to enough of those damn things to know they are no fun.  You have to sit through what seems like hundreds of groups of little girls in feathers and frou frou so you can watch your kid dance around for five minutes, and if you’re lucky, you might get to see her from where you’re sitting.  Then, it’s hard to leave without being rude to the people who are sitting around you waiting to see their kid, so you have to sit through the whole damn show.  It sounds like you got the better end of that deal…”

                “Yeah...but it was weird, you know?  I mean, she didn’t tell me about the recital until earlier this week.  I mean, she knows when my birthday is, but she said she forgot it was this weekend.”  Aubrey sighed as he smoothed his tie, trying not to feel sorry for himself.  “I just hope she isn’t giving me the brush off.”

                “Why would she do that?”  Booth was clearly exasperated with his friend.  “I thought you guys finally talked everything out and were on the same page, and all that shit…”

                “We did talk.  We had a good, long talk a few weeks ago.  We both know that we have things to work on before we can be together, but I think she’s still skittish.  When I told her last week that the Mighty Hut would be a great place to raise a family, she freaked out a bit…”

                “Are you sure?  Or are you the one who freaked out a bit?”  Booth gave his friend a knowing look.  “I think maybe you’re still not sure what you want, either…”

                “I know I want Jessica in my life, Booth.  I never want to go back to a life without her.  But it may not be the right time…”

                “It’s never going to be exactly the right time.”  Booth pursed his lips as he checked his mirror, avoiding Aubrey’s look of surprise.  “Look, I know what I told you the morning after Daisy’s wedding.  You both still have a lot of growing up to do, but it seems like you’ve made some progress, especially if you’ve talked things through honestly.  Now you just have to get ready to take the leap…”

                “That’s the scary part…”,  Aubrey began as he stared out the front windshield.  “Waiting for both of us to take the leap together.”

                “You don’t have to leap together.  All you have to do is tell Jessica you’re all in on her...that you’ll wait until she’s ready to make the leap.”

                “I already told her that…”  Aubrey grimaced slightly.  “She said it was going to be a while…”

                “Okay, so she’s being honest with you, too.  That’s good.”  Booth nodded as he glanced at his friend.  “Now, tell her like you mean it.  Every day, without fail, whenever you see that girl, you tell her you love her, and you’re serious about her.  However, you also need to tell her that you’re not worried about things like getting married or having a family right now because all you want is her in your life and you’re willing to wait years if that’s what she wants.  Right now, she’s in control of how things go between you two.  Take the pressure off, and let her decide what she wants to do without being worried about you being in a hurry.  Let her know that you’re fine with whatever she wants.  That way, Jessica will know that you’re going to love her no matter what.  I have a feeling you’ll like what she decides.”

                The agents rode in silence for several minutes as Aubrey thought through what Booth had said.  He knew Booth had used the same tactics on Brennan when they’d first made the effort to be a couple, and they were happy now.  All Aubrey really wanted was for Jessica to be happy, and he was willing to do what it took to achieve that goal.  

                “Thanks, Booth…I really appreciate the advice...”

                 Booth waved off his passenger’s speech impatiently.  “Just shut up about that shit, okay?  Let’s talk about this case.  Chamberlain says he thinks this guy we’re going to see is the ringleader, but the guy’s as dumb as a box of rocks.  I’m surprised the asshole can dress himself…” 

Oooooooooo 

                 It was 3:45 PM as Booth and Aubrey got in the SUV for the return trip to DC.  “I’m sorry this took all day, Aubrey.  The sheriff’s department was supposed to have that clown in the can for us when we got there.  I didn’t think we’d have to drive out to the other side of the world to pick him up ourselves and then bring him back to town.  I guess it was kind of a wild goose chase, wasn’t it?”

                “No big deal, Booth.  It’s not like I had plans for the day anyway.”  Aubrey sighed as he checked his phone once again for messages.  Clearly disappointed at having none, he threw his phone on the SUV’s console.  “We did have a good lunch…”

                “Yeah, that little cafe was pretty good, although I wasn’t sure you liked the onion rings.  You only ate two orders of them…”  Booth chuckled as he tapped on the steering wheel.  “So what do you think about that bastard?  Pretty stupid, right?”

                “He may be stupid, but I’m pretty sure he gave up the guy who did the deed.  You guys will have to check out the alibis, but…”

                “I know how to do my job, Aubrey”, Booth groused.  “Don’t forget who taught you everything you know.”

                “Like Hell you did...I was already on my way to becoming Special Agent in Charge without your help…that’s why they offered me the job in Los Angeles.”  Aubrey grinned at Booth’s teasing.  “I did appreciate the good word you put in for me with Deputy Director Stark...you know,  about offering me Halko’s position when the guy decided to retire…”

                 “No problem. After all, it was no big deal.  I just didn’t want to have to break in anyone new.”  Booth laughed at Aubrey’s irritation. “Hey, don’t forget to put in for your comp time okay?  Maybe you and Jessica can take a day off together…”

                 Nodding to himself, Aubrey considered what Booth said.  A day off with Jessica would be so nice...hopefully some place without a murder case or an annoying profiler to disturb them as they did some of the naughty things he ached to do with his favorite redhead.  He missed her addictive moans whenever he touched her...and the way she felt when they came together.

                “Sounds like a plan….” 

Oooooooooo 

                Fussing with the last of the party preparations, Jessica anxiously glanced around the family room of Aubrey’s house.  She knew it was silly to feel so nervous about the party, since he’d be happy with things no matter how they turned out, but she wanted everything to be perfect.  The barbecue had been delivered, and the drinks were chilling in the refrigerator. The kitchen island had been cleared for the side dishes people were bringing, and the cake was ready.  Skinner, usually skittish around large groups of people, was upstairs where he would remain for the night.  After one last glance around the room, Jessica dashed upstairs to change her clothes and put on her make up.   

               Unable to resist the thought of freshening up a bit, Jessica giggled as she turned on the water in the luxurious shower.  A quick dip would be refreshing after all the work she’d put in arranging chairs and setting out the tableware.  She hummed a little tune as she imagined the day she could share this very shower with her lover… 

               She quickly dried her hair, deciding to wear it loosely over her shoulders.  After applying her makeup, she took a jade green dress off its hanger and slipped it on, admiring her reflection in the mirror.  “I really didn’t need a new dress…”, she said to herself,  “...but I really liked this color, and I bet Superman will, too.  It’s perfect for his birthday party.”  Her fingers skimmed the hem as she turned to look over her shoulder at the back of the dress.  “I know he’ll like the length.”   

               Suddenly, the doorbell rang.  Gasping as she noticed the time, Jessica grabbed her shoes and raced downstairs.  Dr. Brennan had planned to be at the house about five o’clock to help with the final touches on the party before the rest of the guests arrived around 5:30.   

               Seeing her mentor on the small monitor by the door, Jessica squeezed her eyes shut and puffed out a big sigh.  “Here goes nothing….”

Oooooooooo

               Karen arrived at 1103 Warrington Way in a slinky black dress and her special hot pink panties, ready to help Aubrey celebrate his birthday privately.  In her purse was the box of condoms she had been carrying for the last six weeks in preparation for when she finally got a lonely Aubrey into bed.  In her arms was a small blue gift bag, a bottle of wine, and another batch of the improved asparagus tortilla tart like the one she’d made for him last week.

               “That little twit just screwed herself when she chose some stupid dance recital over Aubrey’s birthday.  With this birthday dinner and my sexy panties, I’ll make sure he has a wonderful birthday.  He’ll know who cares about him and he’ll forget that cocky little bitch in no time.”

               After juggling her packages, she rang the doorbell and waited with a smile, but she got a shock when she saw who answered the door.  “Um, hello?”

               Billy Gibbons looked at the woman in front of him and grinned pleasantly.  “Can I help you, ma’am?”

               “I hope so.  My name is Karen Delfs.  I’m looking for James Aubrey...”

               Billy chuckled as he realized who his visitor was.  “I’m sorry, Honey, but there’s nobody named James Aubrey here.  This house belongs to my daughter and son-in-law.  Maybe you know them….Angie and Jack?”

               “But Aubrey has to be here! ”  Karen groaned in frustration at Mrs. Hall’s mistake.  “His former landlady said that this was his forwarding address…” 

               “Well, I’m sorry, ma’am, but there’s no one here by that name.”  Billy said.   

               “This is Dr. Hodgins’ house?” Karen glanced at the side of the porch and saw a wheelchair ramp leading up to the front door.  “Wait a minute...are you friends with Jessica Warren?  Did she send you out here to answer the door so I can’t be with Aubrey on his birthday?”  Karen’s voice rose in anger as she stamped her foot.  “That selfish See You Next Tuesday...I want to see James right now!” 

               “Hey...that’s enough, Ms...Delfs.  Now I don’t know this Jessica you’re referring to, but no one with the name of James Aubrey is here.  This house belongs to my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson.”, Billy said, as straight faced as he could.  “Now if you’ll excuse me…I have plans with some friends this evenin’...”

               Thoroughly humiliated, Karen held her smile in place until her face hurt.  “Yes, as do I.  I’m sorry I bothered you. Thank you.”

               Karen stormed off as Billy closed the door and laughed out loud.  “My baby girl was right. That one’s got a touch of the crazy.”

               When the profiler got into her car, she thought for a minute before smiling to herself.  Getting her phone, she dialed a number.  “Hi, can you connect me to Charlie Burns, please?  He’s the SAC in International Operations…thank you.” 

Oooooooooo

               There was a minor traffic accident between Richmond and DC, so the trip home took slightly longer than it normally would.  When they got the Cleveland Park area, Booth called Brennan to give her the prearranged signal. 

               “Hey Bones, I’m almost to Aubrey’s house to drop him off, so I’ll be home soon.  What’s on the menu for dinner tonight?  Really?  That’s great...one of my favorites!   Okay...see you soon.  Yeah, I love you, too.  Bye.” 

                After a few seconds of trying to be cool, Aubrey’s curiosity finally got the best of him.  “So what’s for dinner tonight?” 

                Booth chuckled slightly, trying to hide his grin as he teased his friend a bit.  “Barbecue for me and the kids, and vegetable lasagna for her...probably a green salad and other sides.  For a vegetarian, she really makes good baby back ribs.” 

                Aubrey’s mouth was watering as he listened to his friend describe dinner.  More than anything, he wanted to join them,  but it would be rude to invite himself.  He waited patiently as Booth waxed poetic about Brennan’s potato salad and coleslaw,  but the invitation didn’t come.  Deciding he wouldn’t feel sorry for himself about being alone, he made plans to order himself a special double meat lover’s pizza with extra garlic drizzle for his birthday dinner before settling in for the evening with a six pack, some old movies and Skinner.  It wouldn’t be the first birthday he’d spend alone….but hopefully, it’d be the last. 

               Booth pulled the SUV into the driveway up to the gate of the darkened house a few minutes after six o’clock and turned it off.  

               “Hey, mind if I use the facilities?  It’s been a long drive…”

               “Sure...come on in.  I mean, technically, it is your house…”  Aubrey smiled as the motion sensor lights came on.  “I really like those lights and the video doorbell.  I feel a lot safer here.”  Finding his key, he unlocked the door and pushed it open.  “Make yourself at home…”

                Aubrey followed Booth in, coming to a halt in the middle of the family room as the lights in the house blazed to life.  

               “SURPRISE!”  There were at least twenty people surrounding him, cheering and throwing confetti.

               “HOLY SHIT!”  He stood gaping at his guests as he tried to process what had happened.  “Wait…”  He looked around at the people who were laughing and talking.  “Where is she?  Jessica?  Where are you, you ornery little devil?”

               “Who, me?”,  she laughed as she ran to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  “I guess we really did surprise you, didn’t we?”

               “Yeah, you really did.  This explains a lot of the weirdness that’s been happening over the last week.”  With an arm around Jessica’s waist, Aubrey chuckled as he pretended to glare at Booth. “You were in on it the whole time, weren’t you?”

               “Maybe, but we got some work done, so you can still put in for comp time.”  Booth grinned at Jessica.  “Hey, where’s my beer?  I need to get out of this suit, so I’m gonna go change.  Bones brought me some extra clothes.”

               Jessica  handed a bottle to Booth and one to Aubrey before taking his hand.  “Come look at this spread…”

               Platters of baby back ribs, brisket, chicken breasts and leg quarters, and pulled pork had been placed on the kitchen’s island, in addition to a large pan of vegetable lasagna.  There were salads of every description, and another large platter filled with fresh fruits and vegetables.

              “And look at this cake!”  Aubrey exclaimed.  The greeting ‘Happy Birthday, James’ had been piped on the white frosting with orange icing.  “Wow, Jess...this is great.  Half chocolate, and half white, right…and Syracuse colors…”

               Jessica, who was beaming with pleasure as she saw the agent enjoying his birthday cake, shook her head as she winked at him.  “No, silly...Halloween…”

              “Aw, c’mon….”  He knew she was teasing him, and he smiled, twitching an eyebrow at her.  “Ready to light my fire?”

              “What?.”  Startled by his suggestion, Jessica blushed, remembering ‘the incident’ in Aubrey’s kitchen.  “Oh, you mean the candles on the cake…” 

              “Maybe...or maybe not.”, Aubrey replied with a naughty smirk, enjoying his girlfriend’s blush.  “Maybe you can find out later.” 

              Clearing her throat, Jessica turned away from him.  “Why don’t you go change so we can eat…” 

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

              Quickly changing into jeans and Jessica’s favorite dark blue shirt, Aubrey quickly returned to his party guests.  After he filled two plates with monstrous amounts of food,  his friends filled their own plates and began to enjoy their meal.  There was so much happy chatter that nobody heard the doorbell ring until the third try.  

              “I’ll get it.”  Beau lumbered toward the entry and checked out the video monitor.  “Huh…I don’t think I know her...”

              “Who is it?”  Daisy came up next to him, groaning as she saw who it was.  “Oh, Honey, you know who that is.  Remember, at our reception you wondered why she was there in a clown costume?”

              Beau scratched his head as he thought about the wedding. “Oh, yeah...she was wearing that pink dress with all the plastic crap glued to it, right?”

              “Yes.”  Daisy cringed as she turned to announce who was at the door.  “I think we have a party crasher…it’s Karen…”

              “Leave her outside”, Angela snarled, ignoring her husband’s snickers.  “I’m pregnant, and it’s not a good idea to make a pregnant woman angry.  I might throw something at her…”

              “Aw, that’s not nice.”  Aubrey rose from his seat and moved toward the door.  “We can’t just leave her standing out in the cold…”  He opened the door and waved.  “Hey, Karen...come on in.”

              “Oh, um...thanks.”  Karen was almost as surprised as Aubrey had been when she saw all the party guests.  “I thought you were going to be alone this evening…”  

               Uncomfortable that she knew that, Aubrey tried to shrug it off.   “Yeah, well, I thought I’d be alone, too, but Jessica and my friends arranged a surprise party for me.  Nice, huh?”  

               “Yeah, sure...I guess so...”, she muttered in annoyance before haphazardly putting the blue bag with the pile of gifts on the fireplace.  Offering him a sultry smile, she handed him a casserole dish before smoothing her form fitting black dress.  “I made you another asparagus and cheese tortilla tart.  Like the first one, I used soy cheese instead of regular cheese because it’s healthier.  It’s never too early to begin watching your cholesterol.”

              “Asparagus tart…with soy cheese?  That’s nice...thank you.”, he said politely, remembering that his mother had raised him to be a gentleman.  “But you really didn’t need to go to all that trouble…”

               “Oh, and here’s a bottle of a nice red that should go well with the tart.”  Karen showed Aubrey the bottle of Ménage A Trois Cabernet Sauvignon.  “Isn’t that a great title for a wine?”

               “Yeah. Great…”,  Aubrey tried to offer up a sincere smile, but without much success.  “Maybe we can have it with the barbecue.”

                Ignoring the rancid smell coming from the casserole dish, he took it and the Cabernet toward the kitchen.  After setting the casserole dish on the center island with the other food and the wine with the other bottles set out for guests, he pointed out the buffet.  

               “Help yourself to some food, Karen.  There’s plenty.  Plates, napkins, and silverware are on the end there, next to the meat.  There’s wine on the counter and beer in the fridge, along with pop and bottled water if you don’t want to drink alcohol. Glasses are on the counter.”  Curious, he gave her a sidelong glance.   “So how did you…” 

               “Find out where you live?”  Karen asked brightly. “Well, I showed up at the address Mrs. Hall gave me and was greeted by someone who was obviously not you.  That sweet old woman must be getting forgetful.  Anyway, I then remembered hearing Booth say something the other day about you living in the ‘Mighty Hut’, which is such a cute name for a home, by the way.  So, I called Charlie Burns and he gave me the address.  I just plugged it into my Garmin and here I am…” 

               “Yeah...here you are…”  Aubrey took a drink of his beer to hide his grimace.  “That’s...nice.” 

                Karen gave him a flirty smile.   “My invitation must have been lost in the mail when Booth planned this shindig…” 

                “Um...no, I don’t think so.  Actually, Booth had nothing to do with this deal.  Jessica planned the party all by herself, Karen.” 

                “Well, then, now we know how my invitation was lost.”  Karen flashed a fake smile.  “Anyway, I’m so sorry I was late for the party.  I hope the asparagus tart isn’t too cold.  I guess it can always be reheated in the microwave...”

                Angela moved to sit next to Jessica, watching warily as Karen chatted with the birthday boy.  “Are you okay with this latest development, Sweetie?  Because I seriously can kick her ass out of here for you if you want.  I can use my pregnancy hormones as an excuse...”

               “I’m fine.  That’s just Aubrey, you know?  He may be a tough FBI guy, but he’s tenderhearted, too.  He doesn’t like to exclude anyone.”  Jessica grinned as Aubrey caught her eye and winked at her.  “He felt sorry for Karen, and he didn’t want to embarrass her.  He’s so thoughtful.  I think that’s sweet.”

               “Yeah, it’s sweet as long as she knows what the boundaries are...like keeping her hands off the special agent’s assets, right?”  Angela watched as Karen continued to try to flirt with Aubrey, much to his obvious discomfort.  “Are you positive?”

               Smiling as the man in question came back to sit by her, Jessica nodded.  “I’m positive.” 

               Aubrey grinned when he saw Angela and Jessica on opposite ends of his spot on the couch.  “Okay…it looks like I found a great spot to spend my birthday….on a sofa between two beautiful women.  What more could a man ask for?”

                Jessica rolled her eyes at his teasing.  “Don’t be a pig, Aubrey.”   

                After filling her plate a second time, Karen saw an open spot on the couch next to the guest of honor.  Heading straight for it, she was stymied when Christine cut her off and shyly walked over to Aubrey and his anthropologist.   

               “Jessica, can I sit next to Uncle Aubrey now?”

               “Of course you can, Christine.  There’s plenty of room.”   

                Seeing Karen’s annoyance, Jessica winked at Aubrey, trying not to chuckle at the obvious irritation of the profiler as she went to down in a chair next to Genny and Danny.  They moved over to make enough room  for Christine to happily squeeze in next to one of her favorite people.  When the little girl was set, Jessica turned to the guests.   

                “Okay, everyone, it’s time for Aubrey to open his gifts.  First up…”  

                 The redhead got up and went to the back door.  Making a sweeping motion with her arm, she turned on the porch light.  “...a new propane grill from Booth and Dr. B, installed and ready to use.”

                “No way…”  Aubrey grinned from ear to ear as he walked out to check out his shiny new toy.  “God, it’s beautiful…”  He lifted the lid to look inside.  “...a smoker, multiple grill levels, heat controls...I can’t believe this…”

                 Brennan held up some index cards for Aubrey.  “Here are some recipes for grilling vegetables…”

                 “No vegetables on that grill, Bones!”, Booth growled. “It’s only for meat.  Aubrey’s a carnivore…”  

                 “Here, open this one…”  Angela held out a package as the guest of honor came back inside.  

                 Quickly tearing off the paper, Aubrey laughed happily as he held up a painting for his guests to see.  “Sunset on Tatooine.  Very nice, Angela.  I’m going to hang this in my Star Wars room.”

                 Picking up another package, Aubrey grinned as he inspected it.  “Now, what do we have here?  From Jessica…”  

                 He unwrapped what was obviously a vinyl record album and laughed out loud.  “Bob Dylan...Nashville Skyline.  This is one of my favorites!  How did you find this?" 

                 “One of Aaron’s patients knew a person who knew a dealer and got me a great deal on it.  Do you like it?” 

                 “I love it!  Hey, thanks, Darlin’...”  He smiled with pleasure as she batted her eyelashes at him.  Realizing he’d let an endearment slip, he hurriedly opened the next package, which was from Beau and Daisy. “Cool. A barbecue cookbook and a fish grilling basket.…”  He held up gifts for everyone to see.  “If anyone knows how to barbecue, it’s Beau, right?”

                 Beau shrugged as he put his arm around Daisy.  “I don’t cook barbecue.  I just eat it.”

                 “Oh.”  Hoping to let an awkward moment pass unnoticed, Aubrey gently elbowed Jessica and pointed to a square cardboard box.  “Hey, hand me that package over there...from Cam, Arastoo, and the boys.  What do we have here?  Oh, wow...this is great!”  

                 Aubrey held up some bottles.  “Look at this...an Alabama Crimson Tide Barbecue Sauce Gift Set…Montgomery Mop Sauce...Big Bob Gibson’s Alabama White Barbecue sauce...hey, thanks a lot, you two.  I can’t wait to use this stuff.”

                “Here, Uncle Aubrey.  Open this one.”  Christine held out a pink gift bag.  “I made it for you at school.”  

                 “Well, what’s in here?  Is it candy? I know...gummy bears, right?”  He laughed as Christine shook her head.  “Oh, look.  A new pencil cup.”

                 A Styrofoam coffee cup had been covered with mountains of glitter and sequins, and Aubrey’s name was colored in with orange marker.  “It’s beautiful. Thanks, Christine.  I’ll put it on my desk Monday morning.”

                “This one’s from me.”  Michael-Vincent said as he held out a square, tissue wrapped object.  “I hope you like it.”

                 “I’m sure I will.”  Pulling away the tissue, he found a small wooden picture frame that had been decorated with stray jigsaw puzzle pieces that were scattered randomly around it.  “Very nice.  I think I’ll put a picture of Ms. Warren in it.  She often says things that puzzle me.”

                 “James Aubrey!”  She playfully slapped at his arm.  “That’s not true…”

                 The agent laughed as he picked up a small blue bag to open next.  Pulling out the tissue, he partially unwrapped the item before hurriedly jamming it back in the bag.  “Here, hand me that box…”

                “Nope, that’s not how we play the game.” Hodgins said smiling.  “You’ve got to show us what it is.”

                 “I don’t think that’s necessary…”  Aubrey shrugged as he tried to pick out another package, but his raucous guests wouldn’t hear of it.  

                 “C’mon, Aubrey.  It can’t be that bad.  Gag gifts are part of the deal…”, Booth chuckled.

                  Aubrey sighed as he slowly pulled the tissue away from the object and pulled it out for everyone to see.  Suddenly, a hush fell over the guests as everyone looked around to see who might have brought Aubrey the unusual gift.  Seeing Karen trying to hide a guilty grin, Angela caught Jessica’s eye and tacitly gestured in the profiler’s direction.  The redhead’s eyes widened as she understood what was going on.

                  Christine tilted her head she stared at the gift.  “What is that thing, Uncle Aubrey?  A slingshot?”

                   It was a man’s G string with the cup section proudly emblazoned with the Chicago Cubs logo.  Aubrey shook his head in disgust.  

                  “No, Honey, it’s not a slingshot.  It’s more like underwear, okay?  Let’s just wrap that back up. We don’t need to see that right now.”  Aubrey looked for a name tag, but finding none, he haphazardly shoved the bag under the couch and reached for the next box.  “This is from Wendell and Andie…” 

                   Everyone chuckled as he revealed his gifts...a Dark Side Grilling mitt and lightsaber grill fork set along with a Darth Vader bottle opener that breathed like him and played his theme when in use.  “You guys...these are so cool.”

                   “We knew what Booth was getting you.”, Wendell said with a snicker.  “It seemed very apropos.” 

                   Aubrey saw there was one more box and picked it up.  “This is also from Jessica…”

                  “I hope you like it.”  Jessica was almost beside herself with excitement as Aubrey ripped the paper.  “I’ve had it for weeks…”

                  “Wow!  A Darth Vader car charger! This is great!  Did you get this at the convention?  How did you buy it without me knowing about it?  But it’s too expensive…”  Aubrey’s eyebrows knit as he remembered the price.  “I didn’t want you to spend that much money on me…”

                   Karen interrupted with a question. “What convention was that, Aubrey?  Was it for Special Agents?”.

                   “Yeah, I guess you might say that, Karen.  Jess and I ran into each other there while you were in Seattle.”  Aubrey smiled as he turned back to Jessica.  “Now tell me how you managed to get this home without me seeing it.”

                   “I took a little side trip on my way to the ladies’ room while you saved us seats in the auditorium.  I got a much better price on it when I pulled up a picture of one on eBay that was marked five dollars.  The vendor gave me a massive FBI agent discount, and she also shipped it to my apartment.”  

                   “Let me see that thing.”  Booth looked over the box carefully.  “Are you really planning on using this gadget in your SUV while you’re working?  I’m not sure the Bureau will approve…”

                   Grinning as he picked it up to inspected more closely, he winked at his friend.  “Well, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.  Of course I’m going to use it, especially since it came from Jessica.” 

                   After Aubrey had opened his gifts from Clark, Genny, and the rest of his guests, Jessica clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention.  “Who wants cake?” 

                   There were cheers and laughter as everyone headed to the kitchen.  As Jessica moved to get up, Aubrey stopped her.  Reaching over to pat her knee, he flashed a dimpled smile at her. “Thanks, Jess...thanks for my great gifts and for planning my surprise party.”

                    Jessica looked into his eyes and felt her heart rate accelerate.  “You’re welcome.  I’m glad you’re having fun.”   

                   “Yeah, I am.”  His voice dropped to a husky whisper, inhaling deeply to keep his courage up.  “Jessica...I love my gifts.   I love how you picked them out just for me...that you knew just what I’d want.  I...I love...you…”

                   “I love you, too.”  For Jessica, the words just came out as the passion in his voice took her breath away.  Her heart was pounding so hard she just knew everybody in the house could hear it and the way Aubrey was watching her didn’t make it any easier for her to stay calm. 

                   Taking his hand, she gestured for him to get up.  “Come on, Birthday Boy...time for some cake.” 

Oooooooooo

                   After everyone sang “Happy Birthday”, Aubrey blew out the candles and cut the first piece of cake.  Brennan helped Jessica dish up ice cream for everybody, and soon the guests were enjoying their dessert.  The kids adjourned to the man cave to watch a movie as the adults sat in the living room.  Seeing that everyone was happily occupied, Aubrey grabbed Jessica’s hand and pulled her into the dining room for a private chat.

                   “Hey, did you get me that G string?  Because that’s not the sort of thing to give me in public.  That’s more for just the two of us, alright?  I was really embarrassed.”

                   “Of course I didn’t get that for you.  I wouldn’t give you something like that in front of everyone else, although I do think it would be interesting to see you modeling it.”  She gave him a naughty grin as he rolled his eyes at her.  “Angela seems to think it was Karen…”

                   “Really?  Jesus...”  He puffed out a sigh as he shook his head.  “I’m so sorry, Jessica.  I mean, she’s just crazy, you know?  She has no sense of professional boundaries.  I’ve tried just about everything I can think of to get her to back off, but she just won’t listen.”

                   “It’s not your fault she got that gift for you.  It’s not like you’re encouraging her, right?  No more dinners together?”

                   “None.  It’s all been strictly professional on my part.”  Aubrey smiled as he gave Jessica a kiss on her forehead.  “I’d much rather encourage other relationships…”

                   “You’re so sweet, Superman…”

                    They walked back into the family room in time to hear a lively discussion between Karen and Brennan.

                    “But those things were old and used…” Karen began.  “I’d think she’d care enough to avoid buying second hand items for him.  I mean, it’s his birthday party, not some white elephant gift exchange.”

                     Brennan narrowed her eyes at the profiler, choosing her words carefully.  “Perhaps you are not aware of the trend toward buying vintage items, Dr. Delfs.  For example, Booth has quite an extensive collection of vintage sports equipment, including a hockey puck signed by one of my husband’s favorite players.   It was my gift to him as we celebrated our wedding anniversary last night.” 

                     “Your husband loved his gifts very much, Bones...all of them...”,  Booth winked at his wife, grinning happily. “They were perfect.  You always know just what I want.” 

                     “Thank you, Booth.”  Brennan smiled sweetly at him before turning her focus toward the irritant in front of her.  “In regards to Aubrey, Dr. Delfs, he has quite an extensive Star Wars collection, as evidenced by one of the upstairs rooms of his residence being devoted to that sort of memorabilia.  He also has a large collection of vinyl albums sitting behind you next to his turntable.  I believe Ms. Warren’s choice of gifts would seem to indicate that she understands what he likes, therefore reinforcing her personal connection with him.”

                     “James and I have a personal connection as well, Dr. Brennan.”  Karen pouted slightly.  “We happen to be very close friends.”

                     “You bought him the Cubs undergarment, didn’t you?”  Seeing Karen nod, Brennan continued without missing a beat.  “Unfortunately, the birthday gift you chose for Aubrey shows me that you don’t know him well at all.  Aubrey is somewhat reserved, and he likes to maintain a certain sense of personal decorum, even when he’s among close friends.  Considering your professional relationship with him, it was extremely inappropriate for you to bring that sort of object to this type of party, and it was obvious that he was extremely uncomfortable with the awkwardness of the situation. There are also children at this party, Dr. Delfs, and they do not need to be exposed that sort of undergarment.  Perhaps you should’ve used more discretion in your choice of gift.”

                     “Well, I know for certain James likes the Cubs.”  Karen shrugged as she adjusted her glasses. “I wouldn’t know that unless I had a good relationship with him...” 

                     “Karen, everyone in Major Crimes, and probably in the entire DC field office, knows how much Aubrey likes the Cubs.”, Genny chimed in, rolling her eyes as she stood by the fireplace holding her beer.  “He has Cubs memorabilia all over his office walls at the Hoover.” 

                     Unable to ignore the chuckles of everyone in the living room, Karen squared her shoulders and and continued with what she thought was a zinger.  “Anyway, kids shouldn’t be at an adult party.  I’m sure that you and the rest of the guests here have more than enough money to spring for a babysitter, Dr. Brennan.  It isn’t fair to hijack Aubrey’s birthday party by bringing children just because you feel everyone enjoys being around your rugrats.” 

                   “Wow…”,  Arastoo grimaced in mock horror as he turned to his wife.  “Cam, I guess we’ll need to keep Tyler, Jordan, and Isaiah locked in the car next time we come over.” 

                   “If we must, we must.”, Cam giggled as she rolled her eyes at her husband.  “We all know what hellions they are, right?” 

                   Andie turned in shock to her boyfriend as Wendell snickered quietly.  “Babe, that’s not funny.  Karen’s being a real bitch.” 

                   He subtly pointed to Brennan, who was straightening her shoulders as she glared at the profiler with undisguised disdain.  “She’s giving Karen the ‘you’re such a dumb asshole’ look.  Dr. B is going to take care of it…” 

                   As the laughter tapered off, Brennan crossed her arms and coldly stared at the profiler.  

                  “It seems you are mistaken, Dr. Delfs.  Contrary to your rather unique opinion, the children at this party were invited guests, unlike a certain late arriving individual who is now present at this party.”, Brennan countered primly, to much laughter and Hodgins low fiving a very proud Booth.

                   Karen was seething at her inability to shame Brennan, and decided to try another tactic.  Smoothing the skirt of her dress, she nodded in Jessica’s direction before commenting in a sarcastic tone.  “You know, I’m really surprised that Jessica forgot to invite me tonight since she knows James and I are so close.”  

                  “Actually, I’m not sure Jessica did forget.”  Angela had heard enough of Karen’s stupidity, deciding it was time to be honest, even if it hurt the profiler’s feelings.  “Perhaps she was concerned that you’d embarrass Aubrey at his own birthday party, which is exactly what happened, isn’t it?  A G-string is not the kind of gift to give a guy when you’re in a professional or a platonic relationship with him…”

                   “I’m really tired of pointing out to all of you that we have a more personal relationship…”, Karen began, but seeing Aubrey’s obvious annoyance with her comments, she quickly changed the subject.  “The house looks great, James.  You’ve really accomplished a lot in a very short time.”

                   “Um...thanks.”  Aubrey winked at his girlfriend, putting his arm around her before continuing to make his next point.  “Jessica’s been a huge help.  I couldn’t have done it without her...” 

                   “Oh…”  Karen shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  “Good for you.  Well, if you need more help, you can call me.”

                   “I’ll remember that.”  Aubrey nodded and turned away, making a silly face at Jessica.  He leaned closer, speaking quietly.  “I don’t think I’ll ever need that much help.”

                    Jessica giggled as she took his hand in hers.  “I hope not.”

Ooooooooooooooooooo

                    It was getting late, and people began heading home for the evening.  Aubrey couldn’t wait anymore, so he pulled out his new album.  After putting the needle down, ‘Girl from the North Country’ started to play.  In between saying goodbye to their guests, he and Jessica began collecting Aubrey’s presents and discussing where they would go...except one.

                   Miffed at seeing that her gift was being ignored after it had been shoved under the couch, Karen picked it up, putting the small blue bag in her purse.  She stewed quietly as she realized that, thanks to the obnoxious redhead working in the kitchen, her plans for a romantic evening with Aubrey were blown.  ‘Damn bitch snubbed me on purpose.  She deliberately left me off the guest list!’ 

                   Seeing another opportunity to force herself back into the spotlight, Karen came bouncing into the kitchen as Jessica was bagging up some trash.  “What can I do to help?”

                   “I have things under control, Karen, but thanks.”, Jessica said politely as she scraped some plates into another trash bag.  

                   “But just look at this mess.”  Karen said, still irritated with the idea that Jessica had taken charge of planning Aubrey’s surprise party.  “You don’t want to get stuff all over that little green dress, do you?  It’s so adorable on a tiny little girl like you.  It almost makes you look like an elf or something…” 

                    Jessica knew what Karen’s game was, but chose to ignore her.  “It’s okay, really…” 

                    “I insist...after all, you didn’t ask me for any help in planning this event, Jessica, and I’m sure you’re exhausted and want to go home.  I’m sure Aubrey wouldn’t mind my help tonight.  That’s what friends do, you know…”

                   Hoping to avoid a scene, Aubrey cleared his throat.  “Thanks for the offer, Karen.  We really appreciate it, but we’re almost finished here, so there’s no reason for you to put yourself to all that trouble.  I’ll see you at work Monday, okay?”

                   “Okay.  I hope you liked your gift, James.”  Karen gushed as she handed Aubrey the gift bag again.  “I picked it out just for you.”

                    Blushing furiously, Aubrey bit his lip as he set the bag aside. “Yeah, um...we’ll talk about it on Monday.” 

                    “I can’t wait…”, Karen replied with a flirtatious smile.

                    “Karen…”, an irritated Angela began as she entered the kitchen.  “We need you to move your car.  It’s blocking the driveway, and I need to pull mine in to collect Hodgins…”

                    “But I’m helping them clean up.”  Karen paused as she pulled back the foil covering her casserole.  “I guess no one knew this asparagus tortilla tart was here.  I’ll just leave this for you to snack on, Aubrey.”

                     Cringing, he shook his head.  “Thanks, but that’s really not necessary.  Anyway, there isn’t much more room in the fridge, what with the leftover meat and all…”

                     “Karen...now.”  Angela glared angrily at the profiler.  “I’m pregnant, I’m tired, it’s past Michael Vincent’s bedtime, and I want to go home.  Now.”

                     Sighing heavily, Karen picked up her purse, her almost full bottle of wine, and her untouched casserole before leaving the kitchen in a huff.  “Oh, all right.  See you later, James.”

                     Waiting until Karen, Angela, and Hodgins left,  Aubrey sighed as he slumped against the refrigerator.  “I thought she’d never leave.  Thank God she took that smelly asparagus...shit.  I really did not want that nasty stuff in my fridge.  The first one she gave me make the 4th floor break room reek for hours, even after I dumped coffee grounds on it and tied off the trash.”   

                     Jessica began bagging up the cans and bottles for recycling.  “I overheard Dr. B call her asparagus tart thing, ‘an abomination of vegetarian cuisine.’ 

                     Aubrey laughed at his girlfriend’s comments.  “That it is.”   

                     Booth and Brennan came out of the man cave holding their sleepy children.  “Good night Aubrey.”, Booth whispered.  “See you Monday.” 

                     “Night, Booth.  Night, Dr. B.  Thanks for everything.”, Aubrey said in a low voice. 

                     “Happy birthday, Aubrey.  I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.”  Brennan said, shifting Hank from one hip to another.  “It was a wonderful party, Ms. Warren.  Congratulations on it’s success.  Good night.” 

                     After they left, the house was finally quiet except for the music of Bob Dylan as Jessica began to put the leftovers away.  “It looks like you still have enough food to last you a day or two.” she said, smiling as she covered a large tray of ribs with some foil.

                    “I don’t expect you to clean up after planning this whole party…”, Aubrey began as he stole a rib from the tray.  “I know it was a lot of work...and with all that meat, it must’ve been really expensive to throw this bash for me.”

                     “Not really.  Daisy asked Beau’s dad to give me a good discount on the barbecue, so it didn’t cost that much.”  She shrugged as she stacked some plates in the sink.  “And I don’t mind cleaning up.  It’s part of the deal.  So you really liked it?  The surprise?”  Jessica reached up and wiped a bit of sauce from his lip as he nodded happily.  “I’m glad.”

                    He felt his body responding to her gentle touch.  “Yeah, I loved it.  Thanks again.”  He puffed out a sigh as he turned to collect more dirty dishes from the living room, hoping that there might be another surprise in store for him this evening.   

                    That would be the icing on the birthday cake…..

Chapter Text

             Aubrey and Jessica worked in tandem as they cleaned up the house.  For the agent, today had started out as one of the worst days of his life, and it was now one of the best he’d ever had.  His smile grew wider as he heard Jessica humming along to his new Bob Dylan album as it played on his turntable. 

             He knew that physically, he was ready to with her.  Two weeks ago in the bedroom…last Thursday at the Mall…Saturday after everyone left…Monday’s attempt at spaghetti…they weren’t the right time. 

            But tonight it looked like the timing was going to be perfect, because it had the right mood…and the right woman. 

            Only to Jessica had he confided about the birthdays in the past that he had spent alone, including the first one after his mother died.  While he was a dork and thought she had forgotten, she had actually gotten everyone who made up their own special family together to honor him.   

            The girl was swamped almost every day between working at the lab and Dr. B, her dissertation, and helping him get his house together.  However, she still carved out time to plan a surprise birthday party just for him because he never had one.  All that hard work and time to make today special…for her best friend.   

             Then the truth hit him.  It wasn’t just his body that was ready for her…not even just his head…but his heart was ready as well.  Not only did he want to make love, but he was ready to try again as her boyfriend...and partner in life. 

             Looking up, Aubrey watched as the lithe redhead gently swayed to the music while she cleaned the kitchen.  Jessica Warren was goofy, and stubborn, but also beautiful inside and out.  As he was now realized, the lovely woman in his kitchen was truly the love of his life.  His mother always said she would come when he least expected it. 

            As the realization of all that hit him, he got a little dizzy as he thought of all the risks and complications.  Yes, he was still scared of failure, but he’d learned valuable lessons the first time around.  He knew that they both got spooked by what had happened before and they didn’t want to repeat history. 

            He had faith though that he and Jessica would make it this time…as long as they trusted their friendship. 

            But was she ready? 

            It seemed like she was there, too.  After all, she threw him a birthday party that took a lot of planning.  She also was a willing participant in their recent make out sessions.  Tonight, she blew off Karen when the profiler was trying to cause a scene.  On top of all that, she gave him a special treat by wearing a very sexy dress that just begged to be lifted up to give his lips quick access to explore her hidden treasures underneath. 

            Most of all, she said ‘I love you.’ ...to him.  She said the three words he had waiting to hear.  That was a birthday gift he would always treasure. 

            However, he still wasn’t 100% sure she was ready for that next step.  There was a difference between best friends working on the goal of being more to saying those three words and to finally getting there.  Making love was a big step and they were still vulnerable to failure, but as far as he was concerned, that was not an option. 

            However, as much as he ached for Jessica, it was more important not to rush her.  He was serious when he said he would wait for her as long as it took and that’s what he planned to do. 

            Of course, as Aubrey reached his decision, Jessica had to turn and give him one of her beautiful smiles.  Not only did his heart grow fonder, but so did another organ...one that usually had a mind of his own. 

           “Aubrey, why are you looking at me like that?” 

            Trying to contain himself, Aubrey smiled in turn.  “I’m just thankful to have you in my life, Jessica Warren.  You’ve made this the best birthday I’ve ever had.  Thank you for being here to help celebrate it with me.” 

            Jessica stopped what she was doing, walked over to him, and gave him a quick kiss.  “Of course I would help you celebrate.  I love you.  Now quit dawdling and get back to work, Aubrey.  The sooner we clean up, the sooner we can relax and enjoy the rest of your birthday.”

            ‘She loves me...I love you, too Jessica.’ 

             Aubrey watched her go back to work and smiled as he basked in the glow of her words.  He could be patient until she was ready to commit to restarting their relationship. 

            On the other hand, the way she looked right now made keeping his hands to himself very difficult.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            Jessica was making room in Aubrey’s fridge for all the leftover food when he brought all the wine glasses and beer steins to the sink.  After giving her a smile, he went back to work in the living room. 

            God, he was so handsome, especially in that dark blue shirt, one of her favorites.  She loved the way his eyes sparkled, and he seemed to love the gifts she’d gotten him from the Star Wars convention as well as the album.

            For the last week, she’d debated on another gift for her best friend.  She was ready for this gift and the reaction she was sure she’d get.  However, she wasn’t sure if he was emotionally ready for this gift.

            As she started to fill the sink with hot, soapy water, she debated with herself.  Was their friendship strong enough now to withstand any other conflicts that could come their way?  What if their old fears came back and pushed them apart again?

           Would their friendship survive another failure?

           Of course, she still didn’t know how she felt about marriage.  More than anything she wanted to be giddy like Daisy had been about planning a wedding, but the thought of that type of commitment still scared her.  She knew Aubrey well enough to know that perhaps someday he would want to make it legal, particularly if he wanted to go into politics.   

           Jessica believed him when he said he would wait for her.  At the same time, she knew that marriage scared the shit out of him, too.  Aubrey still had his own emotional issues, particularly about his father and his abandonment to deal with before he could think of that step.   She hoped that eventually they could work though that together. 

           As she thought about the progress they had made in the last ten days, she smiled.  They had moved several steps past friendship and were almost to that final step.  They’d had numerous opportunities to make the final leap.   

           Two weeks ago in his new bedroom...last Thursday as they enjoyed their night at the Mall...last weekend when he moved...Monday when they attempted to have spaghetti before she was called away to cover for Dr. B. All were very enjoyable and would have led to a wonderful and passionate night together, but they didn’t feel right. 

           But it felt right tonight.  Seeing how happy he was when he greeted his guests filled her with joy.  He had confided in her about birthdays from his past, particularly ones after his father left and his mother died.  She knew the chance she’d taken when she made him think she forgot his birthday, but deep down she also knew it would work out.  She wanted him to have a wonderful birthday to help make up for the ones that were not so great.

            He seemed so happy just to spend time with her.  Not just sexually, but talking with her...watching movies together.  He seemed to love her just the way she was, and that was a gift she could never fully repay him. 

           Then her thoughts circled back to her original thought.  She was ready...not just to make love...but to try again.  The question, however, was...did Aubrey feel the same? 

           The gift she wanted to give him tonight was a special one...something Aubrey would enjoy…as would she.  Her boyfriend was an amazing lover.  Not once did she have to fake an orgasm with him, unlike with her previous partners.  The agent was a creative man who brought a few tricks of his own to their sex life, including his very talented fingers…and that wickedly talented tongue.  

           Jessica could feel her panties dampen just thinking Aubrey’s toned body next to hers.  That thought had everything to do with her recent visit to Victoria’s Secret to max out her Angels Card.    She was wearing one of those new sets now, and she couldn’t wait to see his reaction to the lace and satin under her dress.

           When she turned around, she saw Aubrey look at her with love in his eyes.  Self-conscious, she grinned while blushing.  “Aubrey, why are you looking at me like that?” 

            “I’m just thankful to have you in my life, Jessica Warren.  You’ve made this the best birthday I’ve ever had.  Thank you for being here to help celebrate it with me.” 

            The sincerity in his eyes and in his voice made her melt...and her insides warm with need.  However, she couldn’t keep herself from walking over to him and giving him a quick kiss.  “Of course I would help you celebrate.  I love you.  Now quit dawdling and get back to work Aubrey.  The sooner we clean up, the sooner we can relax and enjoy the rest of your birthday.” 

            The redhead turned around and went back to work, afraid if she didn’t she would jump him. 

            Yes, tonight would be very interesting.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            For the next fifteen minutes the couple continued to work as they enjoyed the music.  Each took furtive glances at the other as both contemplated what they should do when the work was done.

            As Aubrey picked up the last of the torn wrapping paper from the living room, the silence became deafening.  Walking to the garbage by the center island, he pushed the lever by his foot. 

           “Jess…I’m sorry Karen crashed the party tonight.  I hope you understand why I didn’t turn her away.”, he said quietly before throwing all of it in the can. 

           The redhead washed the last set of wine glasses before turning around.  “I do, Aubrey.  Even though it was your birthday party, you didn’t want to embarrass her in front of everyone.  However, I’m really pissed that she paid back your kindness in letting her stay by humiliating you with that damn G string.”

           Aubrey wiped his face with his hand, trying to get the memory out of his mind.  “I still can’t believe she did that.  It’s like everything I say to her goes in one ear and out the other.  She’s not stupid, Jessica.  Why can’t I get through to her?”

           Jessica answered her boyfriend the best way she knew how.  “She doesn’t want to understand, Superman, that you’re not interested.  That woman...reminds me of Lyndon Johnson.” 

           “What?”, Aubrey asked in confusion.  “What does LBJ have to do with anything?  Please explain.” 

            Jessica put the dishtowel on her shoulder and pulled a cold beer out of the fridge.  “Karen is someone who she sees something she wants and is determined to get it at all costs.  Not always a bad thing, but while most people move on when it’s obviously not going to work out, she tells herself it’s always the other person’s fault, in order to justify her actions.  Maybe she didn’t date much when she was younger, who knows.” 

            Jessica opened the bottle and took a drink before offering it to Aubrey, who accepted it.  “Now, much like LBJ when he wanted a bill passed or something done, she is going to use the sheer force of her personality by getting in your face, hounding you all the time, and doing whatever it takes until you realize that it’s easier to be with her than to ignore her.” 

            “So...she thinks I’m an obstinate child.”, Aubrey said with sarcasm before drinking and handing the beverage back to his girlfriend.  “Yeah, always a turn on for me when a woman thinks I’m too stupid to know my own mind.”   

            Jessica took a drink of the beer before setting it down along with her dishtowel.  “Superman, while I think she’s sincerely interested in you, I think...she sees you more as a goal to be accomplished.  That angers me, because you’re not a prize from the fair to show off to people.  You’re a real person who deserves to be cherished and loved, not eye candy for an FBI profiler to...nag into an intimate relationship with her.” 

            Aubrey felt his heart warm at Jessica’s words.  “You should be cherished and loved, too, Jess.  As for being getting involved with her...not happening.  You’re the one I want to be in an intimate relationship with, not her.  I want us to be together.”

           Jessica felt the love in Aubrey’s words and smiled to keep a tear from falling.  “I feel the same way about you.  However, Karen wants what she wants, and right now that’s you.  She’s going to do anything she can to snag you, including getting me out of the way so she can have you for herself.”

           “You’re not worried that she’s going to come after you, are you?”, Aubrey said before tipping back their beer.  “I mean, she’s crazy, but not in a dangerous killer way…”

           “No, I don’t think she’s going to resort to murder.”, Jessica said.  “However, I wouldn’t be surprised if she tries something to undermine me professionally, either as revenge or to just get me out of your immediate orbit.  She’s already struck out on playing on my insecurities, as well as in her efforts to make me jealous of her to the point where I’ll drive you into her waiting arms.”

          “Jess, after the crazy shit she’s pulled of late, nothing you could do would make me want to be with her over you.”, Aubrey replied before thinking of something.  “She hasn’t tried to come back to the lab, has she?”

          “Nope.  Not since Curly got her banned.  I think he put the fear of God into her regarding her position at the FBI.”  Jessica finished their beer before starting the water in the sink to clean it.  “Has she hinted at her special hot pink panties of late or stalked you at lunch?”

          “No to both.  If she tries mentioning her underwear, I’ll walk away.  When it comes to the latter, I’ve become an expert at ditching her at lunch--”, Aubrey said, tying the last trash bag before glancing up and becoming transfixed at the sight in front of him.

           Jessica was bent over the sink, causing her pleated lace dress to ride up to mid-thigh.  She wasn’t wearing stockings and her beautiful legs were accentuated with black, strappy heels.  Her cute little ass moved just enough to make something else rise. 

           Aubrey knew what he’d told himself earlier, but he didn’t care anymore because there was only one thing he wanted for his birthday.  It wasn’t another Star Wars item, vinyl album, or cool ass grilling tools.

           He wanted Jessica...in his arms. 

           He wanted to personally take off Jessica’s dress and her lingerie before throwing them on the floor.  Next, he wanted his hands on her ass so badly they were shaking.  After that, he wanted those long legs wrapped around his waist before he put her on the kitchen counter....dinner table...against the wall...and make the redhead orgasm and scream his name. 

           He wanted to make love to her all night long...then do it again. 

           Aubrey’s mind raced for a second before reality hit.  While taking her on the dining room table would be mind blowing and hot, she deserved more.  Tonight needed to be about showing her how much he cherished her...and loved her. 

          If she was ready to take that final leap with him. 

          Of course, it was possible she wasn’t ready yet.  However, he wouldn’t know if he didn’t try.  If she wasn’t, Jessica would be honest with him and she would still love him.  Then he would wait patiently until she was.

          Getting an idea, he walked over to the turntable.  Flipping over the record, he put the needle down and walked back to the kitchen sink as ‘Lay Lady Lay’ began to play.

          “Dance with me, Jess.”, Aubrey said softly before taking her hand in his.

          He pulled her close before Jessica’s arm looped around him with her hand on the back of his shoulder and her head on the other side.  Gently holding her delicate hand close to his chest, he placed his other hand on the small of her back.  They swayed together as Bob Dylan serenaded the lover in his song.  Soon, feeling the heat of Jessica’s body next to him became too much and he couldn’t control his lips as they lightly tasted the skin of her earlobe while he held her closer. 

          “I love this song…”, he whispered in her ear.  “It reminds me of you…”

          The redhead shivered at the timbre in his voice and the gentle way his teeth and lips caressed her delicate skin.  Looking up, she saw the dark blue irises of Aubrey’s eyes were now mere rings as his pupils were enlarged.  She felt herself becoming damp again as his shaking hand gently brushed lower to just above her posterior.  But it was the love in his eyes that led her to make a decision.

          “I-I have another present to give you for your birthday.”  She grinned shyly as she looked up at him.  “It’s something I’ve wanted to give you for a long time.”

           Aubrey looked at the clock and saw it was 11:15 PM.  “Well, you have 45 minutes before it’s no longer my birthday.  I don’t think you can top that awesome car charger or Bob Dylan.”

           “I do like a good challenge, James.  Let’s find out.”, Jessica said before pulling Aubrey’s head down to give him a searing kiss, which he immediately responded to.

           Aubrey took her in his arms as Jessica wrapped her arms around his neck while standing on her tip toes.  Unable to resist, his hands gently squeezed her ass as he pushed her back until she hit the counter top.  When the redhead’s leg wrapped around his own, his hands went down to her thighs before lifting her onto the center island.  As his lips moved from her delicate earlobe to her neck, his hands started to move up under her dress but stopped as his head overruled his heart.

           Jessica felt Aubrey’s lips leave her skin.  Perplexed, the redhead looked at her boyfriend.  “Superman, what’s wrong?  Did I push you too far?  Do you not want to—“

           “Oh, I do, Jessica.  More…than you know.”, the agent said.  Taking a short breath, he rubbed his hand up and down her thigh, unable to stop touching her.  “But...” 

           “But what?”, the redhead asked before her hand gravitated down towards his zipper and her lips went to his neck. 

           Aubrey groaned, but stopped his girlfriend’s delightful hands.  “What are we doing, Jess?

           Jessica giggled.  “I think it’s obvious what we’re doing, Superman.  We’re in the kitchen making out with your hands deliciously close to third base.  Besides the bedroom and your awesome couch, you love making love in the kitchen because you always get hungry afterwards.”

          “No…what are we doing ?”, Aubrey asked again.  “Is this going to be just a birthday gift of mind blowing sex on my kitchen counter with a side of friendship or are we going to make love and be together after tonight?” 

           “Aubrey…”, Jessica asked, confused and nervous at the turn of events.  “I don’t understand…” 

           “I’m sorry...I’m making you nervous…”, the agent said before rubbing her shoulders.  “It’s just...you look...amazing tonight.  That dress is stunning on you...your legs look...wow...and you smell so good.  Right now, the only thing I want to do is take you upstairs to my bedroom, take off your clothes, you take off mine, and we make love for hours.” 

          “So do I, Superman.  You have no idea how much I want to be with you right now.”  Jessica wasn’t sure what was going through Aubrey’s head and it worried her.  “Is something wrong?  Did I do something wrong?” 

          Aubrey saw her face and realized she got the wrong idea.  “No, Jessica.  You did nothing wrong...actually you’ve done everything right.  You’ve helped me to get our friendship back on track.  You’ve cooked me dinner even on nights after you work all day at the lab.  You and our friends helped me move last weekend at the last minute.  You’ve been tolerant when I’ve given Karen chance after chance to back off from her delusion of us as a couple.  You also made my birthday special by throwing me a surprise party and you understood why I let Karen stay when she crashed the festivities tonight.” 

          “I didn’t do all that alone, Aubrey”, Jessica said before inhaling.  “You helped get our friendship back on track, too.  You listen to me when I go on and on about anthropology and understand that sometimes my dissertation has to come first.  You confronted Karen and stuck up for me when she was on my back.  You let me cry when my mother ripped me up and watched Star Trek with me instead of nagging me to talk, because you knew I needed a distraction.  You also understood why I had to go home last Saturday instead of spending the night with you.” 

          “Last weekend...or when we were at the Mall last week...Monday night at your apartment...none of those times were the right time, Jessica.  It wasn’t easy, but we...had to do things right.”,  Aubrey said as his fingers lightly traced her thigh, edging close to the hem of her dress.  “But tonight is different because there’s no Karen...no Star Wars...no friends to pick up from the airport...no fear...at least from me to disturb us.”

           “Not even Skinner?”, Jessica said to lighten the mood. 

           “Not even Skinner.”, Aubrey said before his love’s slender hand moved against his cheek.  Taking it, he kissed inside of her palm and her fingers before continuing to speak.  “Jessica, I want you right now more than anything or anyone in my life.  Not just as a lover, but as my best friend...my girlfriend...always by my side.  I love you so much it hurts sometimes.  It’s just…” 

           “Just what?”, Jessica said as she ran her fingers through the silvery tips over his right temple. “Please talk to me.”

           “I...can’t do this if we’re just scratching an itch.”, Aubrey said in a voice filled with emotion as he stared into her beautiful green eyes.  “Once this happens, I’m all in.  However, if you have any doubts or if you’re unsure...please tell me now and we’ll stop because I will wait for you, whether it’s a week or decades.  I’m nowhere near ready for living together...marriage or that other stuff.  What I do know is that I will never love anyone like I love you, Jessica Elizabeth.  I just want my best friend in my life...always.”

           The redhead felt her heart almost burst at the emotional words of the man holding her. “James Robert Aubrey...I want to make love with you because I love you.  If you go into carbonite…I want to go with you because you’re my heart.  I’m not ready to talk about living together and marriage either…but I’m ready for you.  I’m ready to trust that our friendship is strong enough that if we hit another rough patch we can get through it…together as long as we talk to each other.”

            “I love you.”, Aubrey muttered before his lips went to her neck as Jessica’s legs wrapped around his waist.   

            While one arm held her close, the agent’s opposing hand slowly traveled up her smooth thigh until he found lace.  As the redhead unbuttoned his shirt and made a trail down his well-defined abdominal area with her fingernails, he pushed under her panties to feel her smooth skin as his fingers itched to move down into her heat.  Bringing his head up, their lips came together in an emotional kiss as they held each other tight.   

            “Aubrey…”

             He ran his hand down her face.  “Yes.”

            “Take me upstairs...now.”

            No words were spoken as he helped her down from the center island.  Taking her hand, he led her through the living room to the foyer where she kicked off her shoes before they walked upstairs together.  When they entered his bedroom, the moonlight glow streamed in from the bedroom window as Aubrey kicked the door shut to keep Skinner out.  Bob Dylan’s music could be heard through the crack in the door as they came together like they had never parted.

            Jessica opened Aubrey’s shirt and her lips connected to the sensitive areas of his chest as she ran her hands lightly down his abdomen, making him moan.  As his lips traveled over her neck, she felt him unzip her dress and push it down past her shoulders.  She let go long enough for the dress to drop to the floor in a heap, revealing her black balconette push up bra and matching lace panties. 

           “You like?”, the redhead asked as her hands moved down his abdomen.  “I bought these just for you…” 

          “Yes...you’re beautiful.”, he whispered in between kisses as his hands explored the exposed areas of her smooth posterior. 

           When Jessica wrapped her leg around him again, Aubrey grabbed her thighs and lifted her up.  When her arms were around his neck and her legs surrounded his trim waist, he carried her to the bed.  Setting the redhead down, Aubrey made sure there was no light between them as he laid on top of her.  Pulling each other close, their hands roamed as they rediscovered all of the other’s pleasure points.  

           As his lips traveled down her neck and collarbone, the agent could feel his senses drowning in her familiar cherry vanilla scent.  Cupping her breasts, he kissed throughout her lace-encased mounds while whispering words of love to her.

           Jessica closed her eyes as her boyfriend explored her chest and abdominal area.  She could feel herself panting and moan as his tongue found her navel and explored it as his hands continued to caress her breasts.  As his toned body traveled back up and caressed her own, her shaking hands found his jeans and unbuttoned them.  When her open hand moved down past the coarse hairs towards his hardness, she felt Aubrey’s heart race against hers. 

           When the redhead felt him, she caressed him the way she remembered pleasured him.  She succeeded when she felt her boyfriend push himself into her hand, groaning into her touch.   

           “Oh yes...Jessica…” 

            However, it wasn’t long before he moved away from her hand and pushed his pants off quickly, leaving him in his boxers. 

            “If I let you finish, I wouldn’t last long, Jessica.”, Aubrey whispered before he began kissing her breasts again. 

             With efficiency, he flipped them over so Jessica was on top of him.  The agent took advantage of the position to continue exploring the redhead’s rear and smooth skin while she nibbled on his neck. 

             “I can’t take anymore...I need to see you.  Please...”, Aubrey begged. 

            Jessica sat up and locked eyes with him as she opened the clasp from her bra and pulled it off, tossing it on the bed.  The look of reverence he gave her melted her before his hands came up and cupped her breasts.  She groaned and her head tipped back as his fingers played with her nipples as they hardened to his touch.  

            Before she could respond further, Aubrey lifted himself and pulled her close to kiss her and run his hand through her tresses.  Needing flesh, the agent kissed and traveled down her abdomen again while her hands caressed the muscles in his back.  When his mouth moved back up to her nipples, he tasted liberally while his lover held him close. 

            “I’ve missed you so much, James.”, the redhead moaned softly.  “I missed you loving me…”

            Pulling her back down, he flipped her onto her back and became even harder as Jessica’s soft breasts pressed into his chest.  As Jessica caressed his scars from the bombing, he traced her body with his finger.  With a feathery touch, he mapped her breasts, navel, and her inner thighs to the edge of her underwear to her mewling.  Slowly his finger moved down over her panties until he found her damp core.  He moved over the area with a light touch, causing her to moan loudly.

            Aubrey saw Jessica get lost in his caress and needed to touch more of her...needed to love her.  “Look at me, Jessica.”, he growled in desperation.

            When her green orbs focused on him, he slowly moved his hand back up until he arrived at the edge of her lace.  Pushing past the material, his fingers lightly tickled past her curls and with one finger he traced her intimate areas.  When he found his target, he felt her visibly shiver before she pulled him close.  When he added a second finger, she groaned.  Using her body’s reactions to guide him, he pleasured his girlfriend.

            Jessica was losing control as Aubrey’s instinctual movements found all her sensitive points.  When he leaned down and began nibbling on her neck and collarbone, she thought she would lose her mind.  Soon her hips moved with him as she tried pushing his fingers as far into her as possible.

            “Oh my God…I…I...” 

           “Almost there, Jess...I want you to feel good…”, he whispered onto her lips.

            Aubrey felt a familiar shudder before hearing her scream his name.  He didn’t give her time to recover before he lifted one leg over his shoulder and began trailing kisses down it.  When he got to behind her knee, he licked in a spot that he knew drove her wild.  He wasn’t disappointed as his partner moaned loudly and begged for more.

           Enjoying her reaction, he did the same to her other leg.  Putting her leg down, his lips trailed up the satin smoothness of her milky skin.  When he reached her thighs, she spread them wide open.  Taking the invitation, he gently licked the inside of both sides, stopping short of her core.

           “James…please…”, Jessica begged.

           “Not yet.”, he whispered into the skin just outside of her juncture, exercising all the self-control he could muster.

           As Aubrey moved up his lover’s abdomen, he felt Jessica’s hands over his body.  Soon, they extended past the waistband of his boxers and she grasped his posterior.  When he felt her nails gently graze the tender skin, he almost exploded right there.  

           “Jesus…”, he groaned onto her right breast.  “Don’t stop…”

            Jessica’s back arched as she felt Aubrey’s lips all over her trunk and breasts.  As he got closer to her lips, she felt his desperation as he pushed himself into her.  Wrapping her legs around him, she joined him as they moved against each other, separated by two thin layers of material.  After a few more minutes of teasing, she roughly pulled down his shorts.

           “James, I need you…rip my panties off...if you have to, but please get inside me.”

           “Yes…”, the agent groaned, needing her just as desperately.

           Aubrey quickly removed his shorts and pushed them aside.  Grabbing her panties, he was so excited that he accidentally ripped them in his haste to get them off his girlfriend.  Not caring, he pushed the damaged material aside and pushed his way into her, sharing a joint moan with the redhead. 

           “Oh...James…”

            “Christ, Jessica…you feel so good…”

           When he felt her magical hands caress him, he pulled her body closer, craving the connection of her skin with his. For several minutes, Aubrey and Jessica’s lips found each other as the agent firmly thrust inside of his lover.   As his head burrowed into her neck, her hands held onto his posterior as their love drew them to move together in sync like they had never parted.

           Feeling Jessica’s shudders and hearing her beautiful moans, Aubrey recognized she would shatter soon and pushed hard into her.  When she squeezed him tighter, he bucked even harder before grabbing her hand and linking it with his.  Then he heard her loudly scream his name again, causing him to climax and fill her. 

           When they were done, they breathed heavily as they stayed connected.  As Jessica gently rubbed her hands into his hair, Aubrey’s lips kissed her gently.  

           “Well…that was…the best birthday present… I’ve ever received.”, the agent said as he continued to catch his breath in between kisses on his lover’s skin.

           Jessica chuckled.  “Even more…than the Star Wars car charger…or the Bob Dylan album?”

           “Oh yeah, Jessica.”, Aubrey said as his heartbeat regained normalcy.  Looking down, he noted what was left of his girlfriend’s ripped lingerie around her thigh.  “Sorry about this.”

           “Liar.”, Jessica said.

           The agent kissed Jessica’s skin a few more times before lying his head between her breasts, ignoring the blanket underneath them.  As he gently caressed her thigh and the redhead continued combing his hair with her fingers, they spent the next several minutes in a comfortable silence, the significance of what happened weighing on their minds.  

           For Jessica, the comfortable silence evolved to sadness when her mind began to race.  Unable to contain herself anymore, she exploded.  “I’m so sorry.”

           Concerned, he lifted his head and was alarmed to see tears in Jessica’s eyes.  “For what, Jess?”

           “For panicking and assuming things when you tried to tell me how you felt that night in front of the subway…for taking that class at the University of Edinburgh right as your father was still out there so I couldn’t be there for you…for overreacting when you did finally ask me to go to LA with you…for not trusting our friendship…for making the biggest mistake of my life when I broke up with you…”

           Aubrey immediately moved up and took her face in his hands.  “Jessica, stop blaming yourself for all this.  It wasn’t just you.” 

           “But--”, Jessica retorted but was interrupted when her lover held up his hand and started opening fingers.   

           “One, I should have pressed you further that night outside the subway, but I was too afraid of the answer.  Two, the timing of the class sucked, but it was going to help with your dissertation and no way in hell was I going to stand in the way of that.  I wasn’t alone here in DC when my dad came back.  When I called you after it happened, you talked to me all night when I needed to hear you and even offered to come home early.” 

            Not willing to take herself off the hook just yet, Jessica tried to intercede.  “Aubrey--” 

           “Hush, I’m not done yet.”,  Aubrey said gently before continuing.  “Three, yes, you overreacted, but I didn’t help matters by not talking to you about the offer in the first place, avoiding you while I debated on what I wanted to do, talking to everyone else but you when I debated on asking you to come with me, and then throwing the offer to move with me out there like it was nothing at a crime scene.”

            Aubrey took a breath and ticked off another finger.  “Four, you say you didn’t trust in our friendship but as we’ve already stated before, I didn’t either.  Finally, for being so hurt that you broke up with me that I childishly used Karen to work through my own feelings and threw her in your face instead of refusing to see that I was also to blame for what happened.”

           “James—“

           “Jessica, I knew how she felt about me but I was so...desperate to get you back...and deep down I was so angry with you because not only did you break my heart, you made me feel things that...I hadn’t felt since my dad left.  Instead of listening to what you were trying to tell me that day at the lab, I blamed you for being stubborn and used Karen not only to make myself feel better, but also to make you jealous.  Of course, that backfired…badly.  I don’t blame you at all for not believing me when I said how serious I was about you that day in Angela’s office.” 

           The anthropologist caressed his face.  “I wish I would have...I should have known better, Aubrey.  I…”

           “I wasn’t sure what I wanted from us until it was too late, Jessica.”, Aubrey continued as he gently rubbed the redhead’s naked thigh, contemplating his words for a minute.  “I think I would like us to get married in the future, but right now, I just want us to be together.  I’m in no hurry for all that stuff.  Are you?”

           The redhead smiled, happy that the mention of marriage made her feel warm inside, not afraid like in the past.  “Me too, Superman and no, I’m in no rush, either.”

           “Good.”, the agent said before hovering on top of Jessica and taking her in his arms.  “Now, I’m still the birthday boy for…” He looked at the clock while caressing the redhead’s body.  “...nine more minutes and I want to continue enjoying my birthday gift.”

           Smiling, Jessica looked at her boyfriend as her hand gently caressed his naked backside.  “Your car charger is on the living room table and your album is on your turntable.”

           “Cute.”,  Aubrey said.  “I meant…my other present.” 

           “What about cake?”  Jessica said with a smirk.  “You’re always hungry after we make love.” 

            Aubrey contemplated for a moment before looking back at his lover.  “The cake can wait.  I want to nibble on something better.”

           Before the redhead could come up with a retort, Aubrey’s lips surrounded her left breast and nipple.  Any semblance of thought disappeared as Jessica arched her back.

           “Well, it is your birthday, Superman…”


           Jessica woke up in the darkness.  When her sleepy mind wondered what took her out of slumber, the pressure on her bladder answered her question.  Not wanting to leave Aubrey’s warm embrace, she hunkered down but couldn’t ignore it.  Frustrated, she got up and tiptoed naked to his en-suite bathroom and answered Nature’s call. 

            Coming back to bed, she saw the digital clock display on Aubrey’s large nightstand read 4:53.  Next to it was a remnant of a large wedge of leftover cake covered with Saran Wrap as well as two empty bottles of Yuengling.  After they made love the second time, they had the munchies and indulged in more of Aubrey’s birthday cake.  Plates were unnecessary as they ended up eating the confectionery treat off each other in strategic places, which led to making love again before falling asleep in each other’s arms. 

             Resigned to being awake, she smiled as Aubrey held her close to him in his sleep.  Enjoying the warmth of his body, she snuggled close and watched him sleep. 

             He was like a little boy with most of his body under the covers and his hair askew.  The agent always had the cutest little pout when he slept.  As she continued to observe him, she thought of how he always made her feel special.  No one ever looked at her like James Aubrey did.  Besides her father and brothers, only her Superman made her feelings a priority. 

              Until Aubrey, most men tended to view her as nothing more than a good time girl, most initially attracted to the red hair and her flirtatious nature.  The problem was once she revealed that there was more than just hot air between her ears, most of them resented her genius intellect.  Some were even angered when she could best them in intelligence or in some activities.  After a while, it was easier to give up on finding someone special and to instead live in the moment. 

              She knew the agent was different the first time she laid eyes on him and talked to him.  The way she would look forward to his visits afterwards were unsettling, but she was always excited when he stopped and talked to her.  She loved the jokes he would tell her and the way he appreciated what she had to say, even if it involved correcting him.  When the jokes moved towards straight flirtation during the Hodsell case, she liked how he just rolled with the punches after she shot him down. 

              He had such a serious demeanor when he was in work mode.  However, more than once she saw his softer side with people in his cases, particularly if they were from single parents or in need much like he was  growing up.   

               Even better was his intelligence.  While his IQ was not as high as hers, his interests were vast, varied, and wide ranging, from Star Wars to five star gourmet cooking.  Few knew about his skipping a grade in elementary school as well as graduating at the top ten percent of his class in high school and Summa Cum Laude for his Bachelor’s degree and Juris Doctor at Syracuse University.  He also finished third in his class at Quantico to her admiration. 

                She had more respect for him that he kept those parts of him to himself, only sharing with her or a select few.  James Aubrey didn’t have to crow about his accomplishments or doing the right thing, unlike Oliver Wells.  Knowing he did it was enough for him.

                  It still scared her how much her heart and life was intertwined with this man.  He could break her if he wanted to.  During those weeks they were apart her life had been empty and sad, and she prayed she never had to live that again.  Thank God, they got out of their heads and into their hearts.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here now. 

                Then, she heard Aubrey moan her name and felt him caressing her in his sleep.  Knowing her FBI agent, the dream involved them, sex, and food. 

                “I love you, Jessica…”, he whispered. 

                The love in his sleepy voice and the gentleness in his touch all made her want to do more than cuddle with her birthday boy. 

                Meanwhile, Aubrey was in the middle of a pleasant dream involving him and a naked Jessica enjoying breakfast in his kitchen.  Just when he began feasting on pancakes with syrup on her abdomen, he was awakened by kisses down his chest.   

                 As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw a figure climbing on him before he was sheathed in warmth.

                “Holy wow…Jessica.”

                “Oh yes…”, the redhead moaned as she started to move.

                 As she bent down the agent’s mouth latched onto her breasts before the couple moved back up.  He explored her body with kisses and his hands as the redhead rode him.  They held onto each other tight before their joint climax.

                When their bodies were sated, she climbed off him before the two held each other tight in the darkness as slumber overtook them.

               “I love you, Jessica.”, Aubrey muttered.

              “I love you, too James.”, Jessica replied.

Chapter Text

            Sunday’s sun peeked into the quiet bedroom and directed its warmth toward the lanky man on the bed.  Roused by the light, Aubrey woke up and stretched.  In spite of only getting about four hours sleep, he felt more relaxed and alert now than he had in the last two months.  Turning to his left, he saw the reason why sleeping deeply in the middle of his bed.

            Aubrey missed Jessica hogging the bed at night.  He missed waking up to the edge of his side of the bed or her occasional talking in her sleep when she wasn’t in his arms.  He didn’t realize how well he slept with her until she wasn’t sharing his bed anymore.  

            Without a doubt, this was his favorite birthday.  He couldn’t imagine anything topping his night with Jessica.  Watching her sleep, he smiled as their Sundays were back.

            Aubrey had missed their Sundays together and not just because of the lack of sex while they were apart.  Alternating between his place and hers, unless there was a case it was their time to shut out the world, usually by making love throughout the morning before enjoying a late breakfast.  After that, he would read FBI reports and catch up on various work items while Jessica worked on her dissertation as they did their laundry.

            Some might have found it boring or weird, but it was a simple thing they both cherished.  Whether working together or independently, they would share a smile or two as they enjoyed the mutual solitude and domesticity.  No matter what the future held, he made a vow to never let Jessica Warren go again.        

            He wondered if maybe he should surprise her with breakfast and catnip tea in bed.  It was his birthday weekend, but he liked to cook and Jessica should have some sustenance.  After all, they did give each other a workout.

            Then she lifted her arm above the pillow, making her breasts pop out from under the bed sheet.  Her very pert, very delicious, near perfect handful breasts.

            His plans went out the window as another breakfast in bed came to mind.  He looked at the clock and saw it was 7:30 in the morning.  Like him, Jessica wasn’t a morning person, but he knew the best way to wake her up.

            Quietly, a naked Aubrey got out of bed and tiptoed around to the foot of the bed.  Like kismet, Jessica’s right leg bent up as she continued to sleep.  Moving the blanket they’d kicked to the end a few hours before, he lifted the bed sheet and inched slowly underneath, focusing on his target.  When it was found, he took his finger and lightly traced it down her abdomen, resulting in a sleepy moan.

            Gingerly lifting the other leg up, Aubrey began trailing feather kisses down her right inner thigh, then her left, followed by his tongue.  As he inched closer to his prize, he could hear Jessica moaning softly in her sleep before unconsciously spreading her legs.  When ready, he flicked his tongue where she was most sensitive.  Hearing her inhale, he smiled before he began exploring her.

             Jessica could feel something very good bringing her out of her slumber, but then she felt an explosion from her bundle of nerves.  Her eyes opening suddenly, she grasped the fitted sheet as she began shuddering.  Looking down, she watched as a pair of hands took hold of her breasts and touched them gently, driving her crazy.

            Aubrey got lost in Jessica as he traced a familiar dance over her.  As she rose off the bed, he had to let go of her breasts to hold her thighs open.  As she moaned louder, he increased his pace.  When he felt her grab his hair and moan his name, he pushed further.

            Jessica’s mind was wiped clean except for the shock waves Aubrey was sending through her.  Nobody had ever come close to making her feel like the FBI agent did while being intimate.  Suddenly, she hit her peak.

           “JAMES!”        

           When her orgasm passed, she collapsed back onto the bed to recover.  A few seconds later, she felt movement and saw her boyfriend emerge from the bedsheet with a dimpled grin on his face.  He laid on top of her before kissing her.

           “Good morning, Jessica.”, Aubrey said.  “Lovely sunrise, isn’t it?”

           Still trying to get herself under control, she chuckled.  “Yes…it is, Superman.  I missed waking up with you, especially on Sunday mornings.”

           “I missed this, too.”, Aubrey said as he took her hand in his.  “More than you’ll ever know.”

           The redhead squeezed his hand back and smiled.  “Maybe we should have breakfast.”

           Aubrey could feel his stomach rumbling, reminding him that he was ravenous, and his mind raced while contemplating his second breakfast.  “French toast sounds good.  Maybe sausage, bacon…some hash browns…maybe we can have the ribs, too...they sound good right about now...”

          “They do, but I want my breakfast first, Superman.”  Jessica retorted before catching her lover unaware by flipping him over onto his back with her on top of him.  

          “Ms. Warren...what do you have up your sleeve?”  the agent asked, turned on by the redhead’s aggressiveness.

          “Aubrey, you’ve had your breakfast…so I’m going to have mine.  Settle back and get comfortable, Special Agent.  This could take a while.”

           Before Aubrey could say anything, Jessica scooted under the sheet.  As he was going to ask her what she was planning, he felt it.

           “Oh wow….”         

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

            It wasn’t until almost 10:00 that the reunited couple sat down to a brunch of French toast, sausage, hash browns, ribs, coleslaw, vegetable pizza, and potato salad.  As Aubrey put a forkful of hash browns in his mouth, his phone buzzed.  Seeing the message, he finished chewing and put his phone down.

           “All set for tomorrow?”, Jessica asked.

           “Yep.  She said a morning meeting would be perfect as we would have plenty of time to discuss my birthday.  Yay for me.”,  Aubrey said sarcastically before cutting his French Toast.

           “Are you going to call Genny?”, Jessica asked while pouring Frank’s Hot Sauce over her hash browns.  “I really think you should have her there as backup in case she tries lying about you later.”

           “I hate to think that, but you’re right that it would be smart to cover my ass.  I’ll call her after I take you to your Jeep.”

            Jessica sipped her catnip tea.  “I’m sorry you have to do this, Aubrey.  I know you wanted to spare her any embarrassment because she was a good friend when you needed one.”  

           “I wanted to also, Jess, but last night was the last straw.”, the agent replied after taking a bite of coleslaw.  “I can’t keep being the bigger person, making excuses for her actions.  Me being nice is what made things get so fucking complicated in the first place, and it’s up to me to put an end to all this...shit.”

           Jessica gave her boyfriend a look of sympathy before taking his hand and squeezing it.  After he returned the gesture, the redhead chewed on a rib.  “Kickoff for the game is 1:30, right?”

          “Yep, but Daisy told me last night it would be best to get to FedEx Field at least an hour early to get a decent parking spot.  I guess Detroit Lions fans are major away tailgaters as well.”  Aubrey said as he admired how Jessica looked wearing his blue button up shirt from last night and nothing else.

          “We have a couple of hours until then.”, Jessica said as she finished off the rib.  “This is your birthday weekend.  What else would you like to do?”

           “You in every room in this house?”, Aubrey asked hopefully as he took a bite of potato salad.  “What else?”

          “Oh, I think you’ll be ready for your mistress later at the team suite.”, Jessica said with a smirk.  “Besides, it will take days for us to christen this entire house.”

          “I love food, but I love you more.”, Aubrey said with a smile as he pet her hand.  “In regards to christening my house...we have all the time in the world, Jess.”

          “Yes we do, Superman”, Jessica said.  As she munched on a piece of vegetable pizza, she admired her boyfriend’s wiry build, clad only in a pair of boxers.  “I can’t wait to tell everyone we’re back together.  Everyone is going to be stoked.”

           Aubrey swallowed for a second.  He didn’t want to rain on his girlfriend’s parade, but he needed to set her straight.  “Jess, about that…”

          “What?”, Jessica said before finishing her tea.  When she saw his face, she slowly put her cup down.  “Aubrey, what’s wrong?”

          “Um…I don’t want to tell people we’re back together.”

           Hurt seeped through her.  “Why?  Do you regret that we made love last night?”

           Aubrey realized she’d gotten the wrong idea.  “Shit, no—“

          “That’s it, isn’t it?  You’re realizing we went too fast and you want to take a step back.”, Jessica said as tears formed in her eyes.  Getting up, she prepared to make a quick exit.  “It’s okay.  I’ll get dressed and be out in a few minutes.”

           The agent grabbed her arm quickly.  “Jessica, wait...you’ve misunderstood me.”

           “What?”  The redhead replied in a quiet voice.

           “I don’t regret that we made love...four times.  Six times if you include the other stuff.  ...I’m…excited…proud…happy…so many things...but...”

           Relieved, Jessica sat and looked at her boyfriend.  “But what, Superman?”

           Getting his thoughts together, he looked his girlfriend in the eye.  “Jess, remember last time when everyone found out we were dating?  How everyone had advice for us…and how they thought the way we were doing things was wrong…”

           “Aubrey…we broke up for two months.  We were doing things wrong.”

           “But not everything, Jess.”, Aubrey said as he took her hand.  “I just…I just want something for us for awhile, not forever...”

           “Oh.”, Jessica said.

            Aubrey looked at her and felt silly.  “You know what?  Never mind.  That’s sounds so lame and stupid.  Being careful got us in trouble in the first place—“

           “Okay.”

            Jessica’s answer shocked Aubrey.  “What?”

            The redhead took a breath.  “I do admit, I would like to work on us without interference and everyone’s opinion and I like the idea of having something for just us.  Let’s do it.”

           ‘Yeah?”, Aubrey asked.

           “Yeah.”, Jessica replied with a smile before they came together in a kiss.

           “It’s not forever, Jessica.”, Aubrey said.  “Our friends knows that we’ve been hanging out together anyway so it’s not like we have to hide anything.”

           Jessica took Aubrey’s hand.  “I know, Superman.  Until we’re ready to tell everyone, we’re still just friends.”        

          “Good.  You just need to behave yourself.”          

          “Me?”, Jessica said as she got up to take care of her plate.  “Speak for yourself, Buddy.  You’re the one with the CFM eyes directed at either my breasts or my heinie.”        

          “You’re the one parading through my house with no panties on right now, Jessica Warren.”, Aubrey said as he followed her into the kitchen.

          “Whose fault is that?”, the redhead said with a laugh.  

          “It truly was unintentional, but you were the one who said rip them off if I had to because you were so hot for me.  Besides, it’s always more fun to rip open birthday gifts.”        

          Jessica set her plate in the sink and crossed her arms as she controlled her laughter.  “So while part of you was excited to get a new birthday present...which was us tearing up the sheets of your bed all night...you were mostly trying to be respectful of my wishes?”        

          Aubrey put his hands on the counter, surrounding her.  “Of course I was.  I’m an FBI Agent, remember?  Fidelity...Bravery...Integrity.  You obviously needed some loving from your Superman and it’s my duty is to serve others.”        

          “Oh, I see.”, the anthropologist replied before they shared a kiss.  “How magnanimous of you.”

          Aubrey smiled as an idea came to mind.  Boxing Jessica into the counter, he then slipped his hands under his shirt and kneaded her naked ass.  “Did I tell you that these are granite counters?”        

          “I don’t think so, Superman.”, Jessica said with a grin.  

          “Well, they are.  They’re very hard...can withstand a lot…”,  Aubrey said before picking Jessica up to her squeals, lifting her up onto the center island, and unbuttoning her lone piece of clothing.   “I think we should test its strength, don’t you?”

         “Well...granite that is used on counter tops such as this one measures 7 or 8 on the Mohs scale.”, Jessica said as she wrapped her arms around her boyfriend and kissed him.  “Think you can handle that?”

         “You know it makes me hot when you get all squinty before sex.”, Aubrey said.

         Quickly, the agent pushed his shirt off Jessica with her assistance.  Taking in her naked form for a moment, he took her in his arms and they came together in a series of kisses.  

         “I think the birthday boy wants spaghetti and meatballs…”,  Jessica said in a teasing tone before Aubrey nibbled on the sweet spot on her neck.   “Oooohhhh….”

         "You bet your cute ass I do.”, Aubrey moaned into her collarbone before he bent his lover back and peppered her body with more kisses.  “Jess, this is the best birthday weekend ever.”

        “Ohhhhhh...I’m glad…I could...ohhhhhh…”, Jessica panted as the agent’s lips suckled her right breast.


            After their morning fun on the agent’s kitchen counter, Jessica reluctantly got dressed to go home and get cleaned up for Beau’s game at FedEX Field.  Aubrey threw on some clothes so he could drive her down to the playground where her Jeep was still parked.  After one more kiss that was contained and discreet due to the children already playing outside, the redhead grabbed a large bag containing leftovers from last night.  With a heavy heart, she got out of her boyfriend’s SUV wearing last night’s clothes sans one item with a plan for him to pick her up at noon.

           Aubrey watched her climb up in her vehicle before driving away.  As he put his own vehicle into gear, he grinned to himself as he thought about why she had no panties on under her dress.  His grin graduated into a full blown smile as he remembered his plans to keep those lace panties...or what remained of them...as a souvenir of the best birthday gift of his life.

           Turning onto the road, he then remembered the worst one…the wildly inappropriate, embarrassing Cubs G-string from Karen.  It was bad enough she’d actually gotten it for him, but then to let him open it in front of his friends…and their children, was unforgivable.  It seemed to him that any real friend would have never let it go that far.

           He hadn’t wanted to humiliate her when she showed up uninvited last night, but he now wished he had.  Not only did she embarrass him, but she insulted his guests and their gifts, bitched about being excluded, and belittled all the hard work Jessica put in to make the night special for him.

           As Aubrey pulled into his driveway, he concluded that he would have to take a hard line with Karen.  However, he also knew he was partially to blame for the situation, since he’d been the douchebag who’d led her to believe he might be interested in her romantically to make Jessica jealous.  In the end, it had been totally unnecessary, and only brought on more hurt for him and his favorite redhead.  He was lucky Jess was so forgiving about what happened and that she’d understood why until now he was treating the profiler with kid gloves.

           Coming into his house, he saw Karen’s gift bag on the living room floor.  Nearby, there was a trail of what Aubrey recognized as the shredded tissue paper from the bag leading from the room.  

           “Skinner...what are you up to now?”  Aubrey muttered before he made a face.  “Crap...please don’t let there be puke at the end of this trail or let me find it in his litter box later.  I’m still traumatized by last Christmas with the red and green ribbon in his turds.”

           Hearing a familiar thumping sound, he entered his dining room and saw his cat smacking the underwear around on the floor.  He debated on what to do before pulling out his phone to record the orange tabby dragging the G-string on the floor and throwing it around as if it were a catnip mouse.  He tried keeping the camera still but was laughing so hard it shook.

           After five minutes, Skinner grew bored and dropped the object before walking towards his litter box in the mud room.  Aubrey moved to pick it up but changed his mind before heading upstairs to get ready for the game .  ‘Why take away Skinner’s fun?  He’s a good boy.  Besides, I don’t need it until later.’           


            Jessica ran around in her bedroom trying to get dressed quickly because she’d taken extra time in the shower.  Aubrey would be over in a few minutes to pick her up for the game.  Afterwards, he was staying over tonight and she became excited in anticipation of the evening’s planned activities.  Looking in her top drawer, she chose one of her new sets from Victoria’s Secret and pulled it out, admiring the blush satin and lace confection.

           After putting on her new bra and panties, the redhead put on a pair of skinny jeans to wear with brown boots lying nearby on the floor.  Turning around, she checked her hair in the mirror one last time.  Satisfied with her ponytail and braids that crowned her head, she walked to her closet and looked for a top to wear.  She tried to focus on her search, but her mind kept racing back to last night and this morning.

           Last night was incredible...amazing...fun.  Without a doubt, the sex was better than it was the first time they were together.  Lovemaking with Aubrey was always really, really good, but last night was different somehow.  Then she realized it was because unlike the first time, they’d never experienced losing each other before.  Now that they knew what it was like to be separated, they had a new appreciation for being together.

           She and Aubrey were together again and she felt so…peaceful.  Things were always better when she had her Superman in her life.  They still had a long way to go, but they would get there if they worked as a team.

           But first, they had to do something about Karen Delfs.

           She knew that some of her anger at the woman came from feeling betrayed by the profiler’s false friendship.  She never had sisters growing up until Nadia came into her life when she was twelve.  It was now obvious that the profiler picked up on that and worked to fill that role, even though Gail, Angela, Daisy, and Andie had already done so.  Jessica’s friends tried to warn her about the older woman’s intentions, but she refused to believe it...or didn’t want to because Karen seemed to know just what buttons to push in her.

           She’d even ignored the bad vibe she got when Aubrey had told her about the way Karen would listen when he needed to talk about his father while she was in Scotland.  Never before had she pushed her instincts aside...and the one time she did it backfired.  Luckily, she’d gotten her head out of her butt and began listening again.  Now her life was starting to right itself and things were getting back to normal.

           Jessica also knew that the rest of her anger was because Karen continued to mess with her Superman’s emotions.  

           The anthropologist knew Aubrey still felt tremendous guilt over indirectly leading Karen on.  She agreed that what he had done was wrong, but he’d accepted responsibility for his actions and apologized to the profiler more than once.  She also understood that her boyfriend also felt that he had to give Karen a lot of leeway because the profiler’s friendship helped him a lot after they broke up.

           However, Jessica was certain that Karen was now taking advantage of Aubrey’s sense of loyalty and guilt to wedge herself more into his life.  For weeks, the redhead kept telling herself that she was raised to be tolerant and forgiving.  However, Aubrey’s party was the last straw.

           It frustrated her when the profiler crashed the festivities, but let it go for Aubrey’s sake.  She grew irritated when the woman flirted with him, but blew it off when Aubrey ignored her.  She later evolved to anger when Karen gave her boyfriend that G-string, but was determined not to let the woman see how much it bothered her.  Hearing the profiler disparage the presents she got for Aubrey to Dr. B hurt for about two seconds before she realized that the only opinion that mattered was the guest of honor’s...and he loved them...and his party.

           Jessica was still mortified from Karen’s appalling comments about the guest list including children and shook her head at the woman’s audacity.  It took balls for a party crasher to animadvert a guest list for a party she was never invited to, especially since she was only attending because of Aubrey’s generosity.  However, her guests had no issue with the children there and she knew that Aubrey wouldn’t have enjoyed himself as much if Christine, Hank, and Michael Vincent were not invited.

           Later today, she would thank Dr. B for succinctly putting the profiler in her place as only the forensic anthropologist could.  Frankly, Karen Delfs could take her criticisms about the party and shove them up her lying, scheming heinie.  

           But what kept gnawing at her and really, really pissed her off was Karen’s selfishness in letting Aubrey open that very personal and inappropriate gift in front of his friends, knowing his private nature.  The profiler didn’t extend the courtesy of putting the gift aside to ambush the agent with at another time when she saw the large group attending the party.  She didn’t even care that she embarrassed her ‘friend’ .

           The bitch didn’t even offer Aubrey an apology for humiliating him in front of his guests.  All she cared about was laying ‘claim’ on him in front of her and their friends.  In Jessica’s opinion, friendship meant thinking of other people besides oneself.  Perhaps that’s Karen why didn’t have too many friends, or, if she did, Jessica had never met any of them.

           Realizing that Aubrey would be there soon, Jessica continued her search in the closet while she tried to analyze the profiler.

          'Why would any sane woman in her right mind continue to chase a man who is obviously not interested in her?’ , Jessica asked herself.   ‘That seems masochistic…’

           Karen was attractive.  Jessica had seen men give the profiler a second look more than once on the occasions when they’d gone out for drinks.  She wasn’t an idiot, either.  The profiler had enough intelligence to graduate from Georgetown and forge a successful career with the FBI.   She was also smart enough to be attracted to Aubrey, who was a hottie.

           On the other hand, Karen was over five years Aubrey’s senior,  which wasn’t the biggest deal in the world as the agent and herself had an almost five year difference.  However, her age could be an issue as it would be more difficult to have children as she got older.  Of course, as Karen had demonstrated last night, a family was not something she was interested in, unlike her Superman, who loved kids.  

           The profiler was also pushy, selfish, and bulldozed over people to get her own way, hence her very inappropriate birthday present to Aubrey.  Jessica smiled with satisfaction at having the upper hand, because while Aubrey was humiliated and didn’t want to acknowledge the other woman’s gift, he loved the presents she had for him…ALL of them.

           She was the woman Aubrey wanted to hang out with.  It was her that he wanted to spend his birthday with.  Most of all, she was the one who caused him to lose control when they made love last night...and this morning.

            Jessica’s thoughts then drifted to her conversation with Aubrey as they cleaned up after the party.

            She wasn’t exaggerating about her concerns about the profiler attempting to do something detrimental to her personal life or future career as retaliation.  Only an idiot wouldn’t notice her blatant pursuit to get Aubrey into bed and her intent to be in a serious relationship with him.  Karen’s bitchy attitude and catty comments to her last night were another indicator that the profiler was not happy about the renewal of her friendship with the agent and that her obvious plan to seduce Aubrey for his birthday was ruined.

            Jessica knew that when Karen found out that she and Aubrey fully reconciled this weekend, she would be seriously pissed that her plans were now up in smoke.  More than ever, she couldn’t let her guard down for anything when it came to that woman.

            Once again, she felt stupid for trusting the older woman’s offer of friendship when she returned from Kansas City.  However, what’s done is done.  While humbled, she was now wiser, but she wouldn’t let it make her cynical.  Karen didn’t deserve to have that power over her life.

            In the end, it was her that James Aubrey was in love with, not Karen Delfs.  They weren’t each other’s first loves, but they would be each other’s last.            

           Just then, she heard a knock.  Suddenly getting a mischievous thought, she left the top on the dresser and walked to her door.  Seeing her boyfriend in the Judas Hole, she opened the door and was rewarded to see his eyes pop out.

           “Jess!  Where’s your shirt?”

           The redhead stood with her hands on her hips and a smile.  “The bedroom because I needed to answer the door.  Now come in.  You don’t want me to get a chill, do you?”

“I wouldn’t mind.”  Aubrey retorted as he came in, thinking of Jessica’s nipples hard and erect from the cold.

The redhead smirked as she watched his eyes never leave her breasts.  “I bet you wouldn’t, James Aubrey.”

           The agent felt something rise as he admired how the cranberry embroidery of the bra complemented her fair skin.  “You know, we have a few minutes before we have to leave.”

           Before the redhead could move, Aubrey picked her up in a fireman’s carry to her laughter.  Kicking the door shut, he trotted her through the small apartment back to her bedroom.

          “ James Aubrey, if we have sex again, we’re going to be late….”

          “Woman, you started it.  Besides, when has being late ever stopped us?”           


            Aubrey and Jessica arrived at FedEx Field around 1:00 PM, still glowing from making love earlier.  Getting out of the SUV, they couldn’t stop touching each other as they walked.  Smiling, the redhead smacked Aubrey’s butt after they got past a few Detroit tailgaters.

           “Jess!”, the FBI agent loudly whispered.

           “What?  You grabbed my butt while we were walking to your SUV and Mr. Cho had customers in the parking lot.  Besides, I like your butt, especially in these jeans.”

           “Thank you.”, Aubrey replied as his ears turned red before taking Jessica’s hand in her own.

            They let go at the gate as Jessica’s bag was checked.  When cleared, they took each other’s hand again until they got near the stairs to the suites.  Reluctantly, they let go.

           “Sorry, Jess.”, Aubrey said.  “We need to be discreet, you know?”

           “I know.”, Jessica sighed.  “But as you said earlier, it’s not forever.  It’s a good plan.”

           “Yeah…it’s a good plan.”, the agent said with a shrug of his shoulder.  “So how do we get to the team suite?”

           Jessica gave their tickets to the guard, who opened the door.  “Daisy said take a right when we get to the second tier and when we get to a kiosk, we just have to give our IDs to the security guard.”

           “Cool.  I’m hungry.  I hear they always have a big spread in one of those fancy suites.”

            Jessica chuckled as she started up the stairs.  “You’re always hungry, Aubrey.”

            Aubrey opened the doors to the second tier.  “Well, you shouldn’t have rode me so hard earlier, Ms. Warren.  As you said last night, making love to my beautiful girlfriend always make me hungry afterwards.”

            It was Jessica’s turn to be blushing as the two walked out and found the kiosk.  When their IDs were confirmed, the guard pushed a button and the door opened.  Going down the hallway, they found the door to the team suite and opened it.  Inside, they were greeted by their friends, who were enjoying various drinks and snacks.

           “Look who finally decided to join us…”, Hodgins said with a wry smile before looking at the large digital clock on the wall.  “...and made it with twelve minutes to spare.”

           “Sorry…traffic was nuts around the stadium and Aubrey had to park by a bunch of rabid Lions fans.”, Jessica said, hoping no one had noticed her embarrassment.

            “Yeah, their chicken and hot dogs smelled really good, but we didn’t want to be late for the game, you know.”

            “One would think that an exit off 495 just for the stadium would make it easier to show up on time, but it’s not.”

            “I know...right?”, Aubrey said, as nervous as Jessica.  “Maryland or the Department of Transportation needs to do something about that.”

            “I hate being held up by inadequate amount of expressway planning.  It’s a pain in the ass.”

            Angela heard their nervous banter and saw that something seemed different between the two latecomers.  “I’m sure it was, Sweetie.”

            Booth came up holding his beer and pointing at the table at the far end of the room.  “Food’s all over there, Aubrey.  Don’t eat it all.”

           Aubrey gave his friend a face.  “Funny, Booth.  You’re a funny guy.”

           “Booth is not being funny, Aubrey.”,  Brennan chimed in.  “He’s referring to your very well-known eating habits.”

           “Of course, Doctor B.”, the agent replied before looking at his girlfriend.  “Jess, do you want a beer?”

           The anthropologist nervously played with her hair.  After they made love, she didn’t have time to redo her hair.  In a hurry, she quickly brushed it down as Aubrey hurriedly put his pants on before they ran out of the apartment.

           “That would be nice, thank you.”

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

           Clark, Wendell, Hodgins, and Arastoo were enjoying their refreshments as they waited for Aubrey to make his way across the room to join them.

           “Ten bucks says they’re doing it now.”, Clark said.

           “Karen was a fucking pest last night.”, Wendell said.  “I say they couldn’t get her to leave, so they just made out before Jessica went home.”

           A returning Booth laughed as he sat down and took a drink from his beer.  “I’m not betting, but sorry, Wendell.  Aubrey has a goofy look on his face and it’s not from the food or the gifts he got for his birthday.  Besides, Bones, the kids, and I were the last to leave and Jessica didn’t look to be leaving anytime soon.  They slept together last night...and most definitely this morning...”

“...and probably afterwards.”  Hodgins said before pulling out his wallet and grabbing a bill.  “Twenty bucks says they were late because they were doing it before they left for the game.”

           “I’ll see that.”, Arastoo said as he put his water bottle down and pulled out his money.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

           “Jessica gave Aubrey birthday sex last night.”, Angela said, nodding in the redhead’s direction before sipping her bottle of water.

           “Angela, they said they are friends while they are working things out.”, Brennan said as she continued to watch the couple.

            Everyone observed Aubrey bring Jessica a beer.  As the redhead took the bottle, all saw his hand moved to her back and slide lower before the redhead jumped slightly and blushed.

           “Jessica says Aubrey is a butt man.”,  Daisy said with a chuckle.  “I bet he really enjoyed hers last night after all of us left.”

           “You don’t know that they are having sexual intercourse now.”  Brennan replied.

           Cam sipped her cocktail.  “I’m with Angela and Daisy, Dr. Brennan.  I’m certain they have not only worked things out, but are moving along at lightning speed because Aubrey can’t keep his hands off her and Ms. Warren has that certain glow.”

            Brennan returned her gaze back to the redhead.  “Glow?”

           “Yeah, that ‘bow chicka bow wow.’ glow.”, Andie said with a chuckle.  

           “I don’t know what that means…”,  Brennan replied.

           “Shhhhh…she’s coming.”, Daisy whispered.

           Jessica walked over and saw the guilty looks on her friends’ face.  “What?”

           “Nothing.  We were just talking about what a great party you gave Aubrey last night.  Not even the presence of that pain in the ass Karen...brought down the festivities.”  Angela smirked as she took another sip of her water. “I bet it’s was a birthday he appreciated immensely and will remember for a long time.”

            Daisy let out a muffled snicker as the other ladies bit back their laughter at their friend’s comments.

           ‘Shit, shit, shit, shit…’ Jessica said in her head as she took a long drink of her beer.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

           Aubrey saw the smiles on the guys’ faces and hesitated before he sat down.  “What’s the joke?”

           “No joke.”, Clark said, nudging Wendell slightly.  “So…did you have a good birthday?”

           Aubrey squinted his eyes in suspicion.  “You were at my party, Clark.  Did it seem like I had a good birthday?”

           “You look like you enjoyed it...except that it had to suck that you spent the day working with Booth.”,  Wendell said before the older agent smacked him.

           “Shut it.”,  Booth said.  “We caught a bad guy…that’s what’s important.”

           The guys laughed together for a moment before Arastoo jumped in.  “Say, did you and Jessica have much to clean up after we all left last night?  Cam wanted to get the boys home or else we would have stayed to help.”

           “Definitely had to get the boys home, Arastoo.”  Wendell said before taking a drink of his beer.  “I mean, after all, according to Karen all the children there hijacked Aubrey’s party...at least until Dr. B put her in her place.”  

           “Nope, didn’t take long at all.”, Aubrey said calmly as he drank his beer.

           Hodgins sat back in his wheelchair.  “So…what time did Jessica go home last night?”

           “Late…late-ish. It was kind of late, but I don’t remember the exact time.”,  Aubrey said in a moderate panic before taking a chug of his beer.   ‘Shit…they’re going to know.  Keep it a secret…keep it a secret.’

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

           “So….Karen’s horrid gift didn’t put a damper on the evening, did it?”, Daisy asked as she munched on a pretzel.  “If someone gave that to Beau her body would never be found.”

           “No…in fact…”, Jessica said as she pulled out her phone.

             Jessica played the video of Skinner which cracked everyone up.  When it was over, the redhead hoped it was enough to distract her friends from their nosy questions.

           “So…what time did you get home last night, Jessica?”,  Cam asked.

           “Ms. Warren, I’m curious about that myself.”  Brennan chimed in.  “Booth and I left with Christine and Hank around 10:30 and we were the last to leave.”

            Nope…not enough to distract.

            “Late…got home late.”, Jessica stammered. “It was really late.”            

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

           “So…Angie told me this morning that Jessica bought that dress specifically for your party last night.”, Hodgins said.  “She looked nice, didn’t she?  Green’s a good color for her.”

           “Yeah…yeah…”, Aubrey said, trying to keep the blush to himself as he recalled the easy access her dress gave him to her lovely body last night...and her lack of panties this morning under the same dress.  “She looks good in green…”

           “Andie bought that same dress in dark pink.  It’s…really convenient when we get busy in the kitchen.”, Wendell deadpanned.

           Aubrey spit out his beer and coughed.  “What?”

           Wendell kept the smile from his face.  “Sometimes we have dinners at her apartment.  When she runs late from the hospital and I’m running late from school, she has to get dressed while the meal is cooking.”

           “O…oh…”,  Aubrey said.

           The other guys snickered before Hodgins looked back at his wife.  Getting his phone, he quickly sent a text.

            They so did it in kitchen.  Always best place 2 get lucky.  We should know.  Newest Hodgins conceived in there.

           When Angela read it, she turned to her husband and gave a subtle thumbs up.

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

           “You know…Aubrey looked really cute last night.”, Daisy said.

           “Yeah Sweetie…didn’t you say once that the shirt he wore last night was one of your favorites?”, Angela said before munching on a carrot.

           “Yes...yes it is.”, Jessica said before stealing one of Daisy’s pretzels and eating it.

           “I remember you mentioned that when the two of you came to our house for Sunday dinner four months ago. You also said that it brought out the blue in his eyes.”, Brennan commented.

           “Wait…dark blue with small white dots… didn’t Aubrey wear a shirt like that on your first date?”, Andie chimed in with a smile.

           Jessica gulped before turning towards the field.  “Hey, look.  It’s 1:27.  Kickoff will happen in a couple of minutes.”

            */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*            

           With 2:24 left in the second quarter, Aubrey walked over to refill his plate of food and was happy to see his girlfriend separated from the others.  Walking up to her, he whispered into Jessica’s ear as she got some veggies on a plate.

           “I have my suit for tomorrow in the SUV and fed Skinner extra food before I left to pick you up.”

           Jessica smiled as she whispered back.  “I have the party leftovers in my fridge ready for later.  I also went grocery shopping yesterday morning and picked up that habanero jack cheese you like so much in your omelets.”

           “Ham, cheese, and spinach omelet….YES!”,  Aubrey exclaimed without realizing how loud he was.

           “Omelet?”,  Booth said.

           Aubrey stammered as everyone looked at him, so Jessica jumped in.  “We’re talking about where to meet up for breakfast tomorrow.  Aubrey insists on buying me breakfast as a thank you for his party last night.  There’s a café by my apartment that I suggested because it has a ham, cheese, and spinach omelet and Aubrey loves those.”

           “Are you talking about that vegan one, Jessica?”, Daisy said.  “I thought you said that their food tasted like cardboard.”

            It was the redhead’s turn to stammer nervously.  “Well…they’re expanding their menu a bit, so I decided to give it another chance.  Aubrey said it was okay as long as they didn’t give him soy cheese in his omelet.”

           “Soy cheese is evil.”  Aubrey chimed in.

           “Food is not good or evil, Aubrey.”  Brennan said.  “Soy cheese is a viable substitute for regular cheese and is quite flavorful in some dishes.”

            Daisy suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree.  “Look…my hubby is out on the field.”

            Everyone headed over to the window while Aubrey and Jessica sighed together in relief that didn't go unnoticed by Brennan and Booth.     

      */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

           “Aubrey…are sure you don’t want to stick around?  The team is giving us another tray of food to celebrate their win over Detroit.”, Booth said in a sing song tone as his thumb gestured behind him.

            The agent looked at the spread one more time.  The meat was delicious, the cheese varied, and the vegetables nice, crunchy, and colorful.  However, he preferred to spend the rest of his Sunday with Jessica at her apartment nibbling on birthday leftovers before moving onto her smooth, cherry vanilla scented skin for the rest of the night.

            “No, I can’t.  Jess needs to work on her dissertation and I need to do my laundry.”

            “Okay, Aubrey.  See you at the Hoover tomorrow.”, Booth said, stifling a chuckle, knowing what the agent and graduate student were going to work on wasn't research or laundry.

            The couple said their goodbyes before walking out at a respectable distance from each other.  As soon as they got to the first level, they held hands again.

            “That was harder than I anticipated, Superman.”, Jessica said.  “I think they suspect something.”

            The couple got out the exit and Aubrey put his arm around his favorite redhead.  “Possibly, but that’s not going to stop me from going home with you and making love to you all night.”

           “All night, huh?”, the anthropologist said before she sobered, remembering what they talked about while preparing their breakfast earlier.  “What about tomorrow?  It’s probably not going to go very well.”

           “I know, but it’s got to be done.  I’m going to take care of it Jess.”, Aubrey said before closing the gap on their almost six inch height difference by kissing her on the top of her head.  “Now, no more worries.  Let’s think of more pleasant things tonight, okay?”

            Jessica smiled.  “You’re going to be a tired man tomorrow, Superman.”

           The agent smirked at his girlfriend.  “I prefer to see it as...fortified for battle.”

            First Jessica, then Aubrey cracked up as they continued walking to his SUV.           

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

           “They are back together…I’m telling you.”, Angela giggled. “I’m going to make her spill Tuesday.”

           “If she’s going to tell anyone, it’s going to be me, Angela.”, Daisy said petulantly.

           “If Aubrey is going to spill to anyone, it’s going to be Booth.”, Clark said.  “Going to make him spill?”

           The older man thought of how things were like when he and Bones got together as he finished his beer.  Setting the empty glass down, he turned to everyone.  “No.  I’m going to respect Aubrey and Jessica’s privacy.”

           “Come on, Booth.”,  Wendell said.  “That’s no fun.”

           “So will all of you, okay?”, Booth said.  “They’re working things out, you guys, and I’m happy for them.  They already have Karen to deal with without us sticking our noses in where it doesn't belong.  They will tell us when they’re ready.  Let’s be their friends and support them without interfering in their relationship.  Agreed?”

           Booth heard grumbles.  “Agreed!?”

           The agreement was much more vocal this time.  Satisfied, Booth turned back to the food platters.  “Come on, Aubrey’s gone.  How often do we get seconds and thirds when he’s here?”

           “Booth!”, Brennan said while smacking his arm.

           “What?  It’s the truth!”,  Booth replied as he rubbed his arm.           


           Six hours later, there were dirty dishes in Jessica’s sink along with four empty beer bottles on the counter.  Aubrey’s jacket was thrown on the back of the couch along with Jessica’s.  On the floor, discarded clothes and shoes made a trail between the center island of the kitchen and the redhead’s bedroom.

          “YES!  YES!  YES!  Superman!”

           Jessica was riding Aubrey as they made love for the third time.  Meeting each stroke, he held onto her for dear life while pushing harder into her from below.   When she tightened her thighs around his waist, he sensed her imminent orgasm.  Pushing himself up, Aubrey held her against him.

           “Aaaahhhhh….”, Jessica moaned as she held onto her lover’s shoulders tightly.

           Aubrey felt her warmth and he released into his girlfriend before collapsing back onto the bed panting.  A few seconds later, the redhead followed him with her head on his chest.

           “I’ve never…had an anatomy…lesson like that…Superman.”,  Jessica breathed.  “It was...so...worth the wait.”

            “Thank you.”,  The lanky man replied as he was finally able to catch his breath.  “I’m not just a pretty face with a gun, you know, Ms. Warren.  I am a constant surprise.”

           They laid together, not concerned about how sweaty they were, just happy to be together.  After a minute, Jessica hugged him as he took her in his arms.  “I missed being with you like this so much, James.”

            Aubrey gently rubbed his girlfriend’s naked back up and down.  “I missed this too, Jessica.”

            “I’m still a little scared, you know.”, the redhead said.

             Aubrey held the lithe woman closer to him in the darkness.  “I am, too.”

             Jessica placed a kiss on her boyfriend’s chest.  “I’m...still a work in progress, though.”

            “We both are, Jessica.”  Aubrey said as he continued to softly caress her.

             The anthropologist looked up at her boyfriend.  “But that’s okay, Aubrey because we’re going to do this together, right?”

            “Yeah.”, the agent said.

            “Are you scared about tomorrow?”,  Jessica asked.

             Aubrey thought about lying, but thought better as Jessica would hear it in his voice.  “Honestly...a little.  I have to agree with your earlier assessment that it’s probably not going to go well.”

             Jessica knew Aubrey didn’t scare easily and she could sense his trepidation.  Scooting up, she propped her head up with her right hand while her left drew patterns on her lover’s chest.   “I’m sorry that you are in this position.  I wish there was something I could do for you.”

             Aubrey turned on his side to face her and ran his hand softly up and down her covered hip.  “There is...forgive me for letting this shit storm go on for so long.”

             Jessica’s heart broke at how her boyfriend continued to blame himself.  “Superman, there’s nothing to forgive.  Not only did you take responsibility what you did wrong, but you bent over backwards to be the kindhearted, loyal person you’ve always been to Karen.  What has happened since is not on you.”

             “It is if she comes after you--”

             “Superman, enough.  You can’t stop her from being stupid.  What you can do is put your foot down and let her know the consequences of her future actions.  I…”,  Jessica said as her hand went to her chest.  “...can take care of myself, all right?”

             “I know...I know...you’re independent, Jessica, but...I want to protect you.  You’re my best friend...and the woman I love.”

             “You’re my best friend and the man I love, Aubrey.  When it comes to Karen Delfs, I’ll always be on my guard.  I promise if the bitch tries anything, I’ll let you know.”

             Aubrey touched her cheek softly.  “Okay, but I’m still going to worry.  You can’t take that away from me, Jess.”

             “And I’m going to worry about you every day you are on the job, but I know you take care of yourself.”,  Jessica said as her fingers rubbed the hairs on his chest.

             “Touche, Jess.”, the agent said before coming in for a kiss that Jessica answered sweetly.  “I love you Jessica.”

             “I love you, too Aubrey.”, the anthropologist replied smiling before pushing the lanky man down and snuggling next to him.  “We should try to get some sleep.  You have a tough day coming tomorrow.”

             “And early one.”, Aubrey responded before they came together in a another gentle kiss.  “Good night, Jess.”

              The redhead smiled.  “Good night Superman.”

              The lovers held each other close before going to sleep.  Aubrey needed all the rest he could get for what he had planned for tomorrow morning.

Chapter Text

             Aubrey and Jessica were in peaceful slumber with him spooning her when the alarm went off at 5:15 AM.  Groaning, the agent reached behind him and shut off the buzzing on his phone.  As he turned back, the redhead rolled over and wrapped her arm around her lover.

            “Good morning, Superman…”, she whispered.  “How about you give me something nice and sweet to start my day?”

            Aubrey wanted to stay in bed with her, but real life was calling.  “I have to get up, Jess.”

            Jessica responded by holding him tighter.  “Five more minutes, Superman.  You’re so warm.”

            As he rubbed her back, her nude body tempted him further.  “God, you feel so good...”

            “Thank you.”, Jessica said with a sleepy grin.  “And I can make you feel good, too…”

            “...but today is too important for me, and I can’t afford to oversleep...or be distracted.”, Aubrey replied with regret.  “Even by my beautiful, hot girlfriend.”

            “Damn it...I hate it when you’re logical and right.”  Jessica sighed before reluctantly letting him go.  “I’ll be up in a minute to make you breakfast.”

            “I know you had planned to do that, but don’t worry about me, Jess.  Get some sleep.”, he said before kissing her head.  “I’ll tell you goodbye before I leave.”

            Jessica enjoyed the view of Aubrey’s naked backside as he got up and walked across the hall into her bathroom.  When the door shut, she got out of bed.  As she exited the bedroom, she pulled her boyfriend’s t-shirt from the floor.  Putting it on, she searched the trail of clothes until she found her socks from yesterday in the living room.  When she put them on, she smiled as she went to her task. 

*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/* 

            Thirty minutes later, a freshly showered and shaved Aubrey came out of the bathroom, dressed for the day.  Seeing Jessica’s bedroom door shut, he figured she’d gone back to sleep until he heard noises from the kitchen.  Picking up their scattered clothes long the way, he made the short trip there as a wonderful smell was emanating from the front of the small apartment.  

            “Where’s my Quantico t-shirt?”, he muttered.  

            Arriving at her tiny kitchen, he found his missing clothing on his girlfriend as she stood in front of the stove.  Only on his redhead could an FBI t-shirt and brightly colored cat socks look so good.

            “Jess, what are you doing up? It’s ten to six.”, Aubrey inquired before dropping the pile of clothes on her couch.

            “Making our breakfast, silly.”, Jessica said before shaking some pepper onto her cooking and flipping pancakes expertly from a griddle pan next to her.  “I’ve got your omelet started.  I’m also making my cinnamon pancakes that you like so much and some of Mr. Leonelli’s wonderful link sausage, which I swiped from your fridge yesterday.  The coffee should be done brewing in a minute, and I’ve also set the cinnamon and your cup out by the coffeemaker.

            Aubrey felt guilty because she didn’t have to be at the lab until 1:00.  “Jessica, you didn’t have to do this--”,

            The redhead turned around and pointed her spatula at her boyfriend.  “Not another word, Superman, or I’ll eat all of this good food just to spite you while making you watch.”

            The agent saw the intense expression on her face and nodded.  “Damn, you would, too...and it smells amazing.”

            “Thank you.”  Returning her attention to her tasks, Jessica moved around the sausage as it cooked.  “I promised you a nice breakfast today, but you also need all the fortification you can get for your first order of business when you get to work.  I love you, James Aubrey, and I’m going to support you when you need me.  Now, be a dear and pour me a cup of coffee, please.  It’s too early for tea.”

            The agent had no words as the anthropologist turned her focus back to the work ahead of her.  Quietly, he walked up, hugged her from behind, and kissed her cheek.  “Thank you...for everything.” 

            “You’re welcome, Superman.  Now I just need my coffee and for you to put some toast in the toaster for us and we’re all good.”

            Smirking, he deftly maneuvered around the redhead in her tiny kitchen to get her MSU coffee mug down from the cabinet.  He poured her coffee before adding just enough cream and cinnamon.  Setting it down by her, he gave her another cheek kiss before pouring a cup of his own. 

            An hour later, a tired but determined Aubrey parked his SUV into his designated space in the Hoover garage.  Getting out, he grabbed his Star Wars travel mug and his computer bag.  When he was situated, he armed his vehicle and walked towards the entrance with purpose.   

            Jessica was right when she said that the breakfast and her reassurances were what he needed this morning.  They enjoyed their time together as they went over the plan for today.  His goodbye kiss lingered longer than in the past, but she then gave him a second kiss for luck.  With that kind of love and attention, he could conquer anything, including the task to be completed shortly.

            Full of nervous energy, he bypassed the elevator and instead took the stairs.  As he walked up to the 4th floor, he was filled with regret.  He’d tried to avoid this, but the issue was forced upon him.  Hopefully, this would be the beginning of the end of his troubles with Karen.

            Opening the stairwell door, Aubrey walked to his office, purposely passing the conference room where the person in question was waiting without a glance in her direction.  After hanging up his coat, he pulled a smaller bag out of his larger one and opened his top drawer.  Pulling out his bottle of cinnamon, he pocketed it as he grabbed his computer bag and coffee before leaving his office.  Walking down the hall to the ASAC’s office, he knocked on her door.  

            “Hey, Genny.  Thanks again for doing this.  Was it a pain to have your mother take Danny to school?”

            “No, she was off today.”, Genny said.  “As for asking me to come in early, Jessica’s suggestion that I join you is a good one.  This way your visitor can’t twist your words to use them against you or to lie about what happened later on...and you’re welcome.” 

            “I saw her in the conference room already.  Did she say anything to you when she came in?”, Aubrey asked.

           “Nope, but I saw her with a large bakery box and two coffees.  It seems that she brought you breakfast.”

           “Great.”, Aubrey said with sarcasm.  “She’s probably going to want to do something different with that breakfast shortly.  Ready?”

            The petite woman stood up.  “Yep.”

           “Let’s go.  The sooner we get this over with, the faster we can get back to more important matters than a profiler who can’t take a hint.”

           Aubrey and Genny walked to the conference room, where Karen Delfs was waiting with a stack of files, the box in question, and two coffees.  Walking in, they caught the look of surprise in the profiler’s face when she saw the second agent.

          “Morning, Aubrey…Agent Shaw.  I didn’t expect to see you this morning, Genevieve.”

           Genny smiled smugly as she poured herself a cup of coffee.  “I know.  Aubrey asked me to be here.”

           “Okay…”,  Karen said before turning on a smile for Aubrey, who took the carafe from his assistant.  “Aubrey, you don’t need that coffee.  Look...I’ve brought you a quad shot cappuccino with cinnamon in it, just the way you like it.” 

           The agent wouldn’t deny he was tempted, but there was too much at stake to avoid hurt feelings again.

            “Thanks, but I already have coffee.”, Aubrey said as he topped off the coffee Jessica poured into his Star Wars mug before he left her apartment.         

            Karen was thrown by Aubrey’s refusal of his favorite caffeinated beverage.  When she saw him pull a small bottle of cinnamon out of his pocket and add it to his coffee, she collected herself before she stood up and walked over to him.

           “But I brought you a quad shot cappuccino with cinnamon...this is your favorite.”, the profiler said in a more direct tone as she held it out toward him.  “Now, it’s polite to accept when someone goes out of their way to bring you a surprise, so...take it.”

            Aubrey fought his first instinct to take the drink and keep the peace.  “I appreciate that Karen, but no thank you.  I already have coffee with me, so I don’t need the cappuccino.”

            ‘I see…”, Karen said, slightly miffed as the two agents sat down.  Walking back to her seat, she put the hot drink down and slid it in front of the agent.  “I’m sure you’ll change your mind.”

            Aubrey’s response was to slide it back to the woman in front of him.  “Karen, you can have it.  I don’t want it this morning.”

            Not used to the agent turning down coffee, she took a deep breath before setting it aside.  “So no coffee...all right.  However, I bet you didn’t have anything to eat yet at this ungodly hour, so I brought you some bear claws from your favorite bakery.”        

             “No thanks, Karen.  I had a big breakfast before I came in this morning.”, Aubrey said before taking a sip of his coffee.

            “I’ll take one, Karen.”, Genny said before opening the box and snagging one, catching the irritated look on the profiler.  Taking a bite, she groaned.  “Boss, these are amazing.”

            “They are, but I’ve already had the pleasure to consume a delicious five egg omelet with ham, spinach, and kick ass habanero jack cheese, cinnamon pancakes, sausage, and rye toast.”

            Annoyed that the food she brought for the agent was pushed aside, Karen couldn’t keep the bite out of her voice.  “First Little Miss Mensa Girl gives you a party behind my back and now she gets all domesticated with cooking your breakfast.  She doesn’t miss a opportunity, does she?”  

           Aubrey faced the profiler with a steely glare.  “I don’t appreciate the tone of that remark or your comments about Jessica.  Also, whomever I had breakfast with or how I got it is none of your business, Dr. Delfs.”

           Karen saw that she’d overstepped.  Attempting to keep things light, she smiled as Aubrey opened his bag and searched through it.  “Dr. Delfs?  Aubrey, you don't have to get so huffy.  After all, we’re friends, right?“

           Aubrey responded to her teasing by pulling an object out of his computer bag and sliding it across the table.  Immediately, she recognized it.

          “James, traditionally you don’t have to give back the bag your birthday present was in.”

          “I’m not giving back you the bag…I’m returning the gift.  I would’ve returned the tissue paper, too, but Skinner had a field day with it yesterday.”  His expression was grim as he pointed at the bag.  “I don’t want this tasteless item, and it was inappropriate for you to have given me something this personal.”

          Karen felt nausea build up as she saw his anger.  Turning to the female agent, she clenched her fist.  “Agent Shaw, I’m sure you have better things to do than eavesdrop on a private conversation.”

         “Agent Shaw is here per my request, Karen.  I felt that having another party present for this conversation would be appropriate, so that we can avoid any misunderstandings.  Since she attended my party Saturday, things will be more discreet.”, Aubrey said in a professional tone.  “Now, as I was saying, this gift is inappropriate and this sort of thing cannot happen again, Karen.”

         “But you love the Chicago Cubs—“

         “Yes, I love the team, but underwear is not something you give a professional colleague for their birthday.”

        “We’re more than just colleagues, James—“

         “Inside the FBI, I’m Agent Aubrey.  My friends, at work and outside, call me Aubrey.  Only a select few call me James.  Those few are not in this room.”

         Karen felt like she’d been slapped in the face.  “Aubrey...you’re usually not this rude or hurtful.  What has gotten into you?”

         Aubrey hated to be an asshole, but he had no choice.  “What’s gotten into me is I’m fed up with making excuses for your out of line actions.”

         “Excuse me?”, the profiler asked, a look of bewilderment over her face.

         “Okay, I’ll spell it out for you.  Your behavior towards me has become bothersome and uncomfortable for the last few months.  However, over the last few weeks, you’ve crossed a line as your actions have now begun disrupting my colleagues’ lives as well.  That is inexcusable.”

         “I don’t know what you mean.”, Karen said, her spine straight.

         Aubrey shook his head at Karen’s obtuseness.  “Does calling Agent Shaw repeatedly, as well as Agent Booth, to track me down while I was off the weekend before last ring a bell?”

          "I was trying to get in touch with you--”

          “I know.  I got your messages but I was busy packing my things for my impending move and under a time crunch.  I wasn't able to stop everything to take a phone call from you.”

         “It would have taken you a minute to answer me.  I was worried about you--”

         “If it was that important, you should have said so on the message or to Agent Shaw.”

         “Well, I’m sorry if I was worried about a colleague.”,  Karen said snarkily before turning to the ASAC.  “My apologies if my concern about Aubrey bothered you and took you away from your job at Acting SAC, Agent Shaw.  As Aubrey’s ASAC, you may want to remember that diplomacy towards co-workers and proper time management serves you well at the FBI, not power trips.”

         “Thank you for taking me to my next point, Karen because you’re right that power trips don’t work here.  So explain about the one you had when you refused to give Genny those profiles to review while I was gone?  She was Acting SAC when I was off October 14th and the 17th.  In case you forgot, that meant she had full authority over the division while I was gone, including the right to review your cases.  Refusing to provide them is obstruction.”

         “Good grief, Genny, what didn’t you whine to Aubrey about?  I apologized to you for that incident, but you were rude and dismissed me.”, Karen admonished before turning to Aubrey.  “Agent Shaw needs to quit being so sensitive instead of always running to you when someone makes a boo boo that hurts her feelings.”

          Genny merely shook her head as Aubrey pressed forward.  “How about harassing Jessica at the lab more than once, including causing a disturbance during your last visit on the 6th that was witnessed by several people?”                     

          Karen took another deep breath.  “Everyone is blowing that out of proportion.  I had a discussion with Jessica that got a little heated, that’s all.  She was the one who cried to her boss after they misinterpreted what had happened between us.  She may be almost thirty, but she definitely needs a lesson in maturity.”

          “I’m not even going to comment on your standards of maturity in an adult, Karen.”, Aubrey replied before sitting straighter.  “As for the other thing, what you’re saying is that a renowned entomologist, the foremost forensic anthropologist in the country, and an extremely trustworthy forensic artist, as well as several other employees at the lab all got the wrong impression of you grabbing Jessica’s arm?  All those people misheard all the indecorous comments you said to Jessica, particularly about your lingerie and the crude and vulgar lies you told about the two of us engaging in sexual intercourse?”  

          “Frankly, it was a private conversation that they eavesdropped on--”

          “...that you chose to hold in a public setting.  You’re lucky that Hodgins only banned you from the lab.  If you would have pulled that stunt with one of my agents, Agent Tanner would have received a call from me personally, and I would’ve recommended terminating your employment.”, Aubrey retorted angrily before continuing.  “There is also the issue of you convincing my former landlady to let you into my apartment without my consent--” 

            Karen rolled her eyes.  “I’ve already explained that to you--”

            “Then you visited Mrs. Hall after I moved out of my apartment to pump her for personal information, including my new address.”

            Steeling her spine, Karen tightened her jaw.  “You moved without telling me and wouldn’t take my calls.  How else was I supposed to find you on your birthday?  Then she messed up and gave me the wrong place, where I was greeted by some ZZ Top wannabe.  What kind of people do Angela and Dr. Hodgins hang out with anyway?”

            Aubrey felt a chuckle come on at Angela’s father being described as ‘some ZZ Top wannabe.’  However, his anger about the situation as well as his irritation at having to conduct this early morning meeting instead of having an early morning tumble with Jessica pushed his easy going nature aside.  

            “That man who greeted you is Angela’s father, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who had some interesting things to say about your visit there.”, the agent retorted.  “As for why you were sent there, I gave Mrs. Hall Angela and Hodgins’ address on purpose.”

            “Why would you do something like that, Aubrey?”,  Karen replied, genuinely confused.

            Aubrey’s eyebrows lifted but he kept his patience.  “Your little stunt with breaking into my apartment convinced me to move somewhere more secure.  I couldn’t risk anyone taking advantage of Mrs. Hall’s sweet nature again to gain entry into my residence, especially if the next time I had Christine, Hank, or Michael Vincent with me.”

            “I don’t think it’s very nice for Booth, Dr. B, or even that Angela and Dr. Hodgins to dump their children on you, Aubrey.  You have a life--”

            “They don’t dump their kids on me, Karen.  I genuinely enjoy spending time with them and anyway, don’t change the subject.  Because you entered my apartment without my consent, I had to move into a place with better security.  Luckily, Booth’s old house became available that day and has all the security I required.  Since he and Dr. B aren’t as vulnerable as Mrs. Hall, I don’t have to worry about any more unexpected guests.”

            “Aubrey, I was worried about your safety.”, Karen said in a singsong voice, as if she was speaking to a child.  “I was afraid you were injured and were in danger.”

            Glancing at Genny, the SAC could tell that she was thinking the same thing.  Using the instincts that helped his Mock Trial team rank third in the Classics division of the 2008 Yale Invitational, he moved in.

            “Then why, after Mrs. Hall let you in and you saw I was gone, didn’t you write me a note and leave my apartment?”, Aubrey asked.  “Once your fear that I had fallen in the shower and cracked my head open or I was unconscious somewhere was proven wrong, there was no need for you to stay.  That fact that you did still upsets me, Karen, because you crossed a boundary I’m not comfortable with.  Do you even care that it upset me?”

            Karen was speechless for a moment before crossing her arms.  “Jessica put you up to moving without telling me, didn’t she?  She is so jealous of my relationship with you.  You need to talk to her about that before things get out of hand.”

            “No, it wasn’t Jessica’s idea to move.” Aubrey held his anger at her continued disregard for his concerns.  “I still needed to give Mrs Hall a forwarding address, but I was afraid of someone conning her into giving that information out to just anyone.  When I discussed this with my friends, Hodgins and Angela offered up their address since Booth and Dr. B are very private about theirs for security reasons.”

            “Conning an address from an elderly woman, Aubrey?  So not the case.”

            Aubrey interrupted her.  “It seems that my concerns were justified because her daughter called me last Sunday night to inform me that a tall woman with black glasses and auburn hair came by and nagged her elderly mother for my new address just as they sat down to dinner.”

            Karen continued to play dumb.  “I just wanted to bring you dinner…” 

            “And I got another call last night from Agent Hall.  It seems that her mother mentioned that you paid her a visit last Monday while they were having Sunday dinner.”, Aubrey replied.

            “Yes, we had tea while we discussed her grandchildren.  I wanted to check on her because she seemed to adore you.  I did inquire about your new home--”

            Aubrey interrupted the profiler’s answer.  “You told her that I was up for a new security clearance and the FBI needed to evaluate my new house when I wasn’t home.”

            “That’s ridiculous, Aubrey.  Mrs. Hall I think is going a bit senile.”

            The agent was finding it harder to hold back his anger.  “From what Agent Hall told me, you also asked her mother asked about my likes and dislikes for a possible birthday gift.”

            “What’s so wrong with that, Aubrey?”, Karen asked.  “I wanted to get you a present that you would enjoy.”

            He shook his head in amazement.  “So from that conversation, you got the idea that I would want a damn G-string?  That is insane, Karen.”

             “I thought you would like something from the Chicago Cubs...”  

            “And of all the sports memorabilia out there, that’s the only thing you could find?”,  Shaw chimed in, amazed at the profiler’s audacity.  

            Karen narrowed her eyes at the other woman.  “Excuse me Agent Shaw, but this conversation does not include you.”

            “Actually it does, because as Aubrey’s ASAC, I need to support my boss in his effort to keep this division running smoothly.  Having to deal with someone’s inability to be professional distracts from our goal of making the Major Crimes Division the best it can be.”

            The profiler gave a mirthless chuckle.  “Aubrey, better watch out for your job.  I think your ASAC may be gunning for your spot.”

            “Karen, that’s enough.”, Aubrey said forcefully.  “Don’t turn this around on Shaw.  She’s not the one who picks on people’s vulnerabilities for their own gain.”

            Karen did not like where the line of questioning was going.  Deciding on a counterattack, she dived in.  

            “When it comes to taking advantage of someone, you should have a conversation with Jessica.  I’ll remind you that she rudely excluded me from your party, even though she knows we’re close friends.  She’s taking advantage of your generosity and she’s obviously feeling threatened by our friendship.  That’s kind of selfish, if you ask me.”

            The SAC merely rolled his eyes at the woman’s melodramatics.  “I should have thanked Jessica for that instead of allowing you to stay when you crashed my party.  She put a lot of hard work and time into planning and setting that up for me so that I would enjoy my birthday.”

            “Well, she could have called me to help.”,  Karen pouted.  “But, of course, she needs to make me look bad so you’ll sniff after her.”

            “We’re not dogs in heat, Karen.  As for you looking bad, you did that at my birthday party all on your own, starting with showing up uninvited.”

            “Jessica told Booth that she was leaving you alone to go to a stupid dance recital for her niece.  I didn’t want you by yourself on your birthday…”

            “Ah, so that’s how you knew about my birthday...you eavesdropped.  Why am I not surprised?”, the agent said sarcastically.  

            “No, I happened to hear those two talking as I walked by the elevator.  When I realized what was going on, yes, I called on Mrs. Hall for ideas for a gift.  Yes, I made up a story to get your address, but I didn’t want to give away the fact that I was going to surprise you on Saturday.”

            “For what...a birthday booty call?, Aubrey retorted.  “Obviously it wasn’t a planned visit as a friend, because you were dressed up for a fancy date and you looked very surprised when you saw my guests.  As my alleged friend, I would think you would be happy I wasn’t alone.”

            “You weren’t going to be alone, Aubrey.”, Karen said patiently.  “After that...man turned me away at Angela and Dr. Hodgins’ house, I called Agent Burns and he gave me your real address.  Frankly, it was quite hurtful to see everyone there, especially since not one person gave me a heads up.  Jessica should have invited me since we’re friends, but at the risk of repeating a broken record, she feels threatened by me being around you.  Hell, she could have at least come to me for assistance with the plans, because it was obvious that she was in over her head with everything at the party.”

            “Actually, I thought it was well planned and my son had a great time because he made friends with Dr. Saroyan’s youngest son, Jordan.  Not one person complained about the party while I was there, but Aubrey’s opinion is the one that counts.”, Genny said before turning to her supervisor.  “Boss?”

            “Thanks, Genny.”,  Aubrey said before turning to the profiler.  “Contrary to what you think, she gave me the best birthday I have had in years.  Jessica had Dr. B helping her that day.  When we were with our friends at the Redskins’ team suite yesterday, everyone told her what a great party it was, so she didn’t need your assistance.”

            Upset that she was excluded from another activity, Karen pushed it aside.  “Aubrey, you’re thinking emotionally and your judgement is clouded.”, she said patiently.  “Let’s put this into perspective.”

            “Wow…”,  Genny muttered. “Can she be more insulting?”

            “Okay, let’s put things into perspective.”, Aubrey said.  “According to you, Jessica made you look bad by having you show up uninvited with the obvious goal of feeding me before seducing me.  Of course, the fact that she didn’t object when I let you stay at my party forced you to make nasty comments about the gifts I received, insult my guests and her…”

            Aubrey pointed to the blue bag.  “...and then humiliate me by letting me open that...thing without any warning in front of my friends.  Jessica did all that?”

            “Oh my God, are you still grousing about that?  So your present embarrassed you a little bit and Jessica got bitchy jealous.  Chill out, will you?”

            “No, I will not chill out, and Jessica was very gracious to you the entire evening.”, the agent said sharply.

            “She was.  If it was my boyfriend you gave a G-string to under those circumstances, I wouldn’t have been as nice, Dr. Delfs.”, Genny said.

            “Who cares, Agent Shaw.”,  Karen snarked back, her calm and sweet veneer fading.  “This isn’t about you.”

            “No, it’s about you, Karen and your apparent disregard for others.”, Aubrey retorted before bringing back the subject at hand.  “You know what pissed me off most of all?  Not only was I embarrassed, but my friends were as well, because they had to explain to their children what your gift was.”

            “Good grief, it’s not like those kids are ignorant.  My god, that Angela Montenegro alone is the biggest flirt--”

            “That doesn’t matter, Karen.”, Aubrey began.  “I—“

            Sniffling a little bit, Karen shook her head as she interrupted him. “I just want to be your friend, Aubrey.  You’ve had so much happen lately and you weren’t asking me for help like you used to.”

            Aubrey looked past the sad face.  He was taught to always be respectful of women, but the time for respect was gone.  “Because, Karen, I’ve had enough of your help.  You’ve helped spread around a rumor about us hooking up in my office, shown up at my apartment without calling first, and then rearranged my living room without my permission.  Then after Daisy’s wedding, after I asked you to not kiss me again, you tried groping me in the genitals when I was taking you home, which under Washington DC law can be considered sexual battery.  Then, you convinced my landlady to help you break into my apartment without my consent.  With that, you forced my hand and I had to move in secret and not give out my new address because I didn’t want another surprise visit from you.”

            Karen was determined to get her way and changed tactics.  “Sounds like you’re listening to Jessica more than your real feelings--”  

            Aubrey continued to speak.  “However, I gave all those things a pass because I was an ass who treated you disrespectfully.  I should have considered your feelings before having lunch and all those dinners with you after Ms. Warren ended our relationship.  It was wrong and I’m sorry for all that.” 

            “Quit downplaying our time together, because we didn’t just share meals, Aubrey.  We grew closer.  You know deep down that I’m much better for you than that graduate student, but you’re scared.”,  Karen said with a tone one might use when talking to a child.  “It’s normal to gravitate to the familiar when someone new gives you feelings--”

            “Cut the psychobabble, Karen.  I’m not a little kid.”, Aubrey said forcefully.  “As I was saying, your harassment could have an effect how Jessica...and everyone else at the lab does his or her job.  That, in turn can affect our cases, including any prosecutions from the evidence she’s handled.”,  Aubrey said before taking a breath.  “Why did you feel the need to hurt Jessica by lying to her about us?”

            “I wasn’t…I mean…”, Karen said, realizing for the first time that the tide was turning against her.  “I just wanted her to understand that she couldn’t just waltz back into your life whenever she felt like it.  I didn’t want to lie, but I was desperate because you were falling into her trap again.  Don’t you understand?  I was the one who was there for you after she dumped you in the interrogation room while you were working a case!  You were engaged in a firefight that night and your emotional reaction could have gotten you killed!  I brought you chicken and comfort food!”

             Aubrey shook his head.  “Nope, that’s not going to cut it this time, Karen.  I’m an FBI agent trained to put my emotions aside when I’m confronted with a dangerous situation.  You’re right…I was devastated when she broke up with me.  You were there for me and for that, I’ll always be grateful, as well as for your friendship that night you brought me a chicken dinner to my office.  You see, I think that night you were trying to honestly be my friend.”

            “Of course...I was trying to help you.”,  Karen said with restrained irritation.  “I’m the one who told you to talk to her so you could get closure.”

            “Well, we did talk.  It didn’t go completely the way I wanted, but we were...in an okay place.  I should have considered what Jessica was trying to tell me, but instead of coming to terms with my part of our break up, I got impatient waiting for her to come around.  Then, I got stupid by asking your advice and insight to help me get her back.  Tell me, Karen, when did you decide that what you wanted was more important than what I truly needed?”

            Karen sat ramrod straight trying to control her anger.  “I waited two weeks for her to take you back.  When she still wasn’t speaking to you, I knew it was time to help you both move on.”

           “Help us both move on...what a joke.”, Aubrey said snidely.  “Jessica was vulnerable and so was I, but you didn’t care about that.  You didn’t care that I was still in love with her...and that she was still in love with me.  My feelings don’t matter to you, Karen...just what you want.”

          “Yes, Aubrey, they do.”, Karen said as she slammed her hand down on the table.  “I’m the only one who will always put you first.”

         “Like you have already?”,  Aubrey said with a sarcastic laugh.          

         “Yes...I listened to you as you whined about not understanding what happened, when we couldn’t eat at certain places because they reminded you of her...I’ve even put up with your asshole cat!”  

         “Hey!  Leave Skinner out of this.”, the agent retorted.

          Karen’s response was to slam her hand down again to emphasize her thoughts.  “I’m not going to let her take away what’s mine.  It’s my time now!”

         “Wow...Jess was right.”,  Aubrey said before crossing his arms.  “You really do see me as some prize to be won, don’t you?”

         “You are a prize, Aubrey...one that Jessica threw away…”

         “No, Karen.  She did the right thing.”,  Aubrey said.  “We had problems and it took her dumping me as well as Booth and Dr. B giving Jess and I both a kick in the ass for me to see that.  We both messed up, but we’re learning from our mistakes and moving forward.”

         “Did you rehearse that speech all on your own or did that college bitch use her flirtatious nature to force feed it to you while seducing you--”

         “That’s enough, Karen.  Not another word about Jessica.  You don’t have to like her but you will treat her with respect.”, Aubrey replied in a low, chilly voice.  “Now get this through your head…”

          The agent bent forward and pushed his finger onto the table.  “Jessica Warren is my best friend and I’m in love with her.   I’m her best friend and she’s in love with me.  Nobody will ever change that.  None of your head games or scheming will change that, either.  Now, do I need to get a translator in here to tell you that in another language, or is English acceptable?”

          The profiler saw Genny smile and almost lost her temper.  Determined to make Aubrey see he was wrong, she pressed forward, certain that he would understand once she gave him a strong dose of tough love.  

         “Open your fucking eyes, Aubrey and see what I can offer you.  I will always put you first, even when you won’t see reason.  I also won’t let my emotional maturity level dictate how I conduct myself with you.  Jessica, on the other hand, has done crazy shit and is a hot mess—“

         “For the last time, Karen, watch what you say about Jessica.”,  Aubrey said.  “She’s not perfect but her past is none of your business.  I’m not going to warn you again.”

         “You need me more than you need her, Aubrey.”, Karen said desperately.  “With your father and abandonment issues—“

         The Special Agent in Charge finally lost his cool.  “Enough, Karen!  I let it go the first time you went into my personal file after I turned you down for a date months ago.  My past is none of your business, either.”

          Seeing two of their agents walk into the bullpen and look across the room at them, Genny quickly got up and shut the door before returning to her seat.

          Karen turned to the other agent in fury.  “Agent Shaw, leave now.  This conversation is none of your business.”

          “Dr. Delfs, my agents take their orders from me, not you.  If you continue to attempt to circumvent my instruction for her to remain, this conversation will cease until we can continue it in Jake Tanner’s office.  I won’t tell you again.”

           Not wanting to continue a conversation going in circles, Aubrey pointed to the blue bag on the table.  “Now, I’m giving this item back to you.  There will be no more gifts of an intimate or sexual nature either at work or in social situations.  No more meals, no more unannounced visits to my house, and no more visits with colleagues or people in my personal life.  There will also be no more derogatory comments about Ms. Warren.  If this behavior of yours doesn’t cease, I will be filing a sexual harassment complaint against you.  Do I make myself clear?”

          “I thought we were friends, Aubrey.”, Karen said with sadness.

         “I thought we were, too.”, the agent responded.  “Now, I know you have a meeting with Booth in twenty minutes about the Weeks case.  I have payroll that I have to complete, so if you’ll excuse me…”

         Aubrey got up to leave but was stopped by Karen.  “We will still be friends, right?  I don’t want to lose your friendship, Aubrey.  You mean too much to me.”

         The agent felt like kicking her while she was down was wrong.  “I don’t know, Karen.”

        ‘He didn’t say no…” Karen thought as she grabbed her blue gift bag and the files she had.  “Okay, well, I’m sure I’ll find another agent to appreciate me.  Enjoy your bear claws.  Good day Agent Shaw.”

         Aubrey sighed in relief when she was gone.  “Finally, I’m going to get some peace back.”

         Genny didn’t want to burst Aubrey’s bubble, but he had become too good of a friend to not say something.  “Boss…May I speak freely?”

        “Yeah, Genny.”

        “She’s not done.  She’s going to lie low for a while, but no way is this over for you and Jessica.  Just…stay on your guard, all right?”

        “I appreciate your concern and I promise to be careful.  However, I just threatened to tank her career.  The FBI does not take sexual harassment lightly.”

         The ASAC had a bad feeling that Aubrey’s optimism would not serve him well in this case.  “I’m aware.  Nonetheless, don’t dismiss her so easily and let me know if there’s anything I can do for you, all right?”

         Aubrey acknowledged the woman’s concern, but he felt sure it wasn’t necessary.  “I will.  Thanks for coming in early.  I know it’s not in the job description of an Assistant Special Agent in Charge.”

        “No problem.”  Genny said. “I’ll see you in your office in an hour for us to go over the division's cases.”

         Aubrey nodded before grabbing the bakery items and walking out of the conference room.  Leaving the bear claws in the break room, he grabbed another cup of coffee.  After adding the cinnamon, he headed back into his office.  Getting his phone, he sent a message to his favorite squint.

        Done.  Awkward af.  K got pissy but accepted.  She wants 2 b friends.  Told her I didn’t know.

        When sent, he grabbed the other bag and took out Christine’s pencil cup.  Putting a small rock he found in it as a weight, he grabbed the pens in his drawer and put them in it before placing it near his nameplate with pride.  Next, he got Michael-Vincent’s frame out.  Opening his computer bag, he grabbed the picture of him and Jessica with Mark Hamill and put it in.  Setting it behind him next to the picture of him and his mother, he admired it for a moment before sitting down and getting to work.

            */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*

         At her apartment, Jessica was working on her laptop when she heard her phone buzz.  When she read the message, she groaned.  “Damn it, Aubrey…she’s going to mess with you again.”

         If her boyfriend had a fault, while he had a firm sense of justice, he also took any negative action he’d done toward someone to heart.  In turn, that guilt sometimes blinded him.  Unfortunately, those two qualities were something that a few could and would take advantage of.

         Jessica knew of someone who was doing it right now.  If he wanted to believe Karen was going to be honest with him now, he could.  She also knew Aubrey enough that he would ask her to be polite and respectful to the profiler.  That she would do.

         However, she didn’t trust the profiler as far as she could throw her.  She failed her Superman once and was determined to not do it again.  She would do what she had to do to protect her best friend.

         Getting her phone, she sent a text to her boyfriend.

   */*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*         

            Aubrey was going through his support staff’s hours when his phone buzzed.  Reading the message he exhaled slowly.

            Plz b careful w Karen.  U r 2 nice Superman.  Don’t want her 2 take advantage of u.

             Not wanting Jessica to worry, Aubrey smiled as he responded to lighten the mood.

             Promise.  Now get 2 work on dissertation.  Want 2 fuck hot PhD gf someday.

             Jessica then responded with, U smooth talker u.  Do girls always drop panties w your romantic words?

             Smiling, Aubrey texted back.  Only w hot redhead grad student gf do I speak words of love.

             A minute later, the agent read her reply:

             Guess what hot redhead grad student gf is NOT wearing…

             Aubrey felt his pants get uncomfortable and knew he had to stop.  With sadness, he sent a final text.

             U r a tease.  Must work now.  I love u.

             Jessica responded back and he smiled.  Love u 2 Superman.  Will pick up costumes l8r 4 Gala.  BCT (Be careful today).

             The SAC grinned to himself before going back to work.  Things were going well.  Karen understood her boundaries finally and he could flirt with Jessica again.  Plus his Cubbies were back in the World Series, which started tomorrow, and he couldn’t wait.  Nothing could bring him down.

            Then he remembered the date for the Jeffersonian’s Halloween Gala.  “Shit…”