WHEN A TV SHOW develops around a will-they-or-won't-they pre-romantic pairing, audiences try to enjoy the ride, all the while fearing several possible conclusions.

The example most frequently mentioned is the fate of David and Maddy on "Moonlighting," a couple with splendid chemistry until they actually started hooking up. On one extreme, you get Ross and Rachel, who got together so early on "Friends" that they were back-and-forth for 10 frustrating seasons. At the other end, you get Scully and Mulder, whose unconsummated "X-Files" flirtation far outlasted most viewers' interest in the show.

On a DVD commentary for the first season of "Bones," David Boreanaz speculates that if his Special Agent Seeley Booth were ever to find love with Emily Deschanel's Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan, the show would pretty much be dead. Boreanaz isn't quite ready to step down from those words, as the Fox drama nears the end of its second season.

"I don't think that it's dead, but I think that the challenge is to flirt with the audience as best as possible . . . " he said.

While "Bones," which airs at 8 p.m. tomorrow on Channel 29, has won fans with its reliably icky corpse-of-the-week mysteries and for the appeal of its underrated ensemble cast, there's little doubt that the verbal sparring between Booth and Brennan has stirred up the most predictable and heated audience exchanges. Because neither the brooding, caustic Booth nor the detached, analytical Bones is prone to flowery emotional confessions, most of their supposedly budding romance is inferred, which pleases Boreanaz.

"I don't really like to dive into the soap opera-y aspect of show. We did that with one show this year that I really didn't like and I told [creator Hart Hanson], 'You know, I'm not into this whole soap opera thing that you're doing right now,' because it doesn't really work for our show, I don't think," he explained.

"I think it's about relationships and the issues that they both have, whether it's about religion, politics, her knowledge, his knowledge. That's the interesting arguments that happen while we're going to a crime scene, at the crime scene, the end of a crime scene."

With one episode left this season, "Bones" is in a good place both creatively and with the network, which ordered up a third season back in February. That shows confidence on Fox's part, but Boreanaz says complacency won't set in.

"I told everybody, 'Look, this just means we have to work harder.' It's not about, 'Oh, well, now we can sit back.' I think that's a big trap in television," he said. "I think it's a trap also for the writers, I said to them, 'You guys really have to challenge yourselves to challenge us to get better.' Because what's the purpose? I want to work all these hours, but what am I really working for? To maintain, to learn and to get better and that's all I want to do with this character and this show."

That doesn't mean that Boreanaz isn't looking forward to a couple of months playing a different role, namely father to his 5-year-old son. And Deschanel, looking forward to resting and visiting family during the show's hiatus, agrees.

"I don't know if it's a mental thing, I don't know if I told myself in my mind that I had 22 episodes to do and that I'd be done by a certain date and then by that date I was just exhausted because I knew I'd be done by then, or if that was really all I could do," she said with a sigh. "Yes, we gained momentum, but at this point we were ready and I don't think we're going to lose momentum starting up again." *