Warning: In case there was any doubt, this is not a humorous or happy-go-lucky story. There's a time and a place for both those things, but it's not in here. This chapter may or may not feel less tense than the previous ones, but I know where this story is headed further down the road, and it won't all be clean and pretty. If you need your fiction to be completely, unambiguously happy, I'm politely suggesting that you do not read Come Undone. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to escape real life troubles by reading fiction that falls on the lighter side of the spectrum. However, this story does not sit on that end. Ok, I think I've done more than enough disclaiming. Consider yourself warned.
Author's Note: I both love and hate this story; we have a complicated relationship. Writing every chapter of this has felt like giving myself a root canal—without any anesthetic. That said, I'd still love to hear your comments, regardless of whether they're positive, negative, or mixed.
Chapter 3: Drawing circles in your concrete.
Brennan didn't know if she was actually cold or just reacting to the slide of Booth's fingers through her hair, but gooseflesh rose on her bare arms. Her muscles contracted and Booth let his hand slip away as he stepped in front of her. The absence of his touch echoed in her stomach; she quelled the impulse to reach for his hand. Don't ask for too much, her mind cautioned.
"Cold?" he asked, his voice shivering over and under her skin.
From her position on the sofa she stared up at him, cataloging his height and the way his t-shirt molded to his shoulders and his sweatpants hung from his lean hips. Such coiled power lay in his large frame, and yet he stood motionless except for the nearly imperceptible rise and fall of his chest as he watched her, blinking slowly. He didn't sway or shuffle his bare feet like any other person would have--just stood, patient and still, as if his body had grown out of the hardwood floor--as if he had always been there, a sentinel in her living room.
But this was just an illusion. A trick of her writerly imagination perhaps, she thought with a small smile she fervently hoped he didn't see.
For he hadn't always been there, any more than she had. He had lived in other places, trod dusty ground in different climes, sometimes with booted feet, before circumstance had gathered them in this city where idealism and corruption made their bed together night after night.
What did she really know of this man looming over her, his face bifurcated by light and shadow? She knew he could harness the latent power in his muscles and transmute it into lethal force if necessary. If he was pushed too far, his eyes would shade nearly black with rage. She'd seen it. And yet his eyes as they looked at her now shone with gentleness. Honesty compelled her to admit she had never felt less than safe in his presence. That feeling of safety dazzled her more than his famous smile or admittedly solid structure ever had. When she looked at him now, it wasn't sexual desire that stirred within her but something worse—the reckless, dangerous desire to lean just a little—and let him lean on her.
Shoulders that broad might bear the weight of her hungers, secrets, and fears with ease.
Then again, those shoulders already bore significant weight.
Strength, yes, but at what price?
She looked away, lips parted on a quiet sigh that was almost lost amidst the steady thrum of rain against her windows. "I don't know," she answered honestly. Had she been driving, the relentless rain and the heavy fog would have prevented her from seeing more than a few feet ahead of her. This was no different. She'd offered him a choice, and he'd chosen to stay. But as she searched her mind, she found herself unable to answer the question of what came next. One thing she was sure of; this was not a man to pull into her bed for a night's worth of release. With a shiver she couldn't conceal, she turned her head to stare at one of the many bookcases that guarded the walls of her apartment.
Sitting in her kingdom, surrounded by her belongings, Temperance Brennan found herself lost.
"If it makes you feel better"—the low words drew her attention back to him—"I don't know either." There. He'd done it again; he'd read the meaning beneath her words like he could see into her mind. Frightening thought, that. Something had changed tonight—as if their mutual admissions had peeled back layers of skin, muscle, and bone. What she saw before her was the same man who'd woken her with cups of strong coffee on countless mornings as she slumbered at her desk. The same man who always, always sat in the driver's seat and parried every one of her verbal thrusts with the skill and grace of someone who'd been doing it for years. Which he had.
The same man...only not. A paradox then. She had always hated those.
Or perhaps she'd never truly seen him before.
"But you need to hear me when I say this." He knelt in front of her, body folding almost soundlessly.
"Say what?" When she inhaled, the scent of rain on him hit her again, leaving her lightheaded.
Warm hand on her chin, coaxing her into looking at him. "Don't ever think you're not good enough. Whatever your faults—and believe me, you've got plenty of 'em..." He trailed off, mouth shifting into a small but genuine smile as he took in her narrowed eyes and pursed lips. "I wouldn't change a thing about you."
Warmth flooded her even as she pulled her chin from his grasp and rolled her eyes in disbelief.
"What?" he asked, pulling a face. "I really wouldn't. I know I'm lucky to have you as my partner and friend."
"Have I been a good friend to you, Booth?" she asked, scanning his face for the truth even as she waited to hear it from his lips. A certain relief accompanied her discovery that their relationship hadn't altered so much that they could no longer engage in their usual repartee, but it didn't keep the serious note from her voice.
The smile faded from Booth's lips, and his eyes turned somber again. Seconds passed in silence as he rubbed his hand over his jaw and appeared to consider her question. She was thankful that he didn't answer automatically; she wasn't looking for a lie. "Yes, you have," he finally answered, nodding thoughtfully. "But why would you even doubt that?"
"Sometimes I wonder if I even know how to be a friend." Unlike many of the other things she'd said to Booth tonight, these words weren't carefully considered; they simply tripped over her tongue and fell from her mouth.
"You know, Bones. Maybe you don't always trust what your instincts tell you about how to be a friend, but you know."
"Hm," she replied, digging her fingers into the sofa cushions.
Booth must have heard the skepticism in her voice. "Friends listen," he said, stressing the second word, "and you did that for me tonight, even though it was scary for you."
She shifted and opened her mouth.
"If you're about to tell me it wasn't, don't bother. I know you better than that—"
He did, so she closed her mouth and forced herself to swallow the words of protest that surfaced.
"—and you've done it before. Lots of times." He cocked his head to the side. "And friends tell each other when they're being stupid." A pause during which the sparkle reappeared in his eyes. "We both know you've got that covered."
"Thank you for your reassurances, Booth," she said, eyebrow raised.
"Anytime, Bones," he replied, flicking her a familiar grin and rising to his feet. "Now, I'm starving. Got anything to eat?"
"I wasn't expecting company. Why don't you order something?" She stood and headed toward her bedroom to pull on a warmer shirt. "The menus are in the drawer by the refrigerator," she called over her shoulder.
"Like I didn't already know that," Booth shot back. The indignation evident in his voice brought a smile to her face.
When she returned to the living room after changing into a warm sweater, she found Booth sitting on her couch with a glass of her Syrah cradled in his hand. He swirled it, gazing into the purple-red liquid as if it contained the answer to every question humankind had ever asked. As he looked up, she again observed the shadows under and in his eyes. Somehow they were more noticeable when his face was unsmiling and in repose, as it was now. "Hope you don't mind. I figured since the bottle was already open..." He trailed off, fingers clenching around the glass.
"I don't mind," she said, sitting beside him. Close enough that she could feel the heat of him, but not close enough to touch. She reached for her glass—he'd refilled it—and took a sip. Closing her eyes, she let the wine settle in her stomach and warm her. When she opened her eyes, she found him watching her out of the corner of his eye. The weight of his gaze pressed against her skin. She sighed and set her glass back on the coffee table. "Just say it." Turning her head to look at him directly, she said, "Whatever it is you want to say to me, I'd appreciate it if you'd simply articulate it."
"I'm sorry you were...raped." The moment's hesitation didn't escape her notice.
"I know, Booth. You already said that."
"I think it's worth repeating, Bones. It's the worst thing a man can do to a woman."
She stiffened. "No, it's not. They could have killed me. They could have cut off my hands so I wouldn't be able to do what I do best. Either of those would have been worse."
"But nothing," she said, interrupting him. "Look, I really don't think you're in a position to say one way or another," she continued, voice rising. "You weren't raped. You don't know what it was or wasn't like."
"So why don't you tell me?"
"I already did. I have nothing else to say on the subject at this time." Crossing her arms over her chest, she glared at him. "Regardless, you didn't come here tonight to discuss my history or issues. If we're going to talk about anything of that nature, it should be about your history and your issues. So"—she gave him her full attention—"why don't you tell me more about your gambling problem?"
"I don't want to talk about that right now."
"Well, I don't want to talk about what happened to me either."
To be continued...