Betas: Big hugs and thanks to TemperTemper and Labsquint, who looked at an earlier iteration of this chapter and offered me their opinions and suggestions. I appreciate both their help and their friendship.

Whatever I Fear

Caged within Booth's arms, Brennan felt her heart thud inside the confines of her chest. Her mind raced almost as quickly. She stared back at Booth, trying to marshal her thoughts. He'd knocked her off balance by coming into her apartment and waiting for her. His declaration, too, had surprised her. So this is me saying it: yes, I want you. Just replaying his words in her head caused a chill to sweep across her skin.

But she ignored it. Still holding Booth's gaze, she peeled her hands away from the door and fit them, palms flat, against his chest, where they absorbed the heat from his body. Poised like that, she could push him away or pull him closer: she hadn't yet decided which option she would choose. His eyes flickered, and his gaze raked over her face and down to the low neck of her blouse. Her nipples tightened in response.

She tilted her head to the side and said, "Tell me, Booth, what would you have done if I'd brought my date home?" His jaw clenched. "What then?" she continued. "Would you have hidden in my closet and watched us?"

Booth lifted his hands away from the door, and she exhaled in relief, only to stiffen when he slid them down to bracelet her wrists. She wondered if he could feel her pulse thrum, the blood rushing just beneath the warm strength of his fingers. As she watched, his face relaxed. The tension bled from his jaw and brow. A slow smile she couldn't quite decipher stretched his mouth, and she felt herself grow wet.

Brennan's recognition of her body's involuntary response to her partner's enigmatic smile left her with a sense of near-vertigo, her equilibrium further disturbed. "I wouldn't have had to hide," Booth said, cocking his head to the side, eyes glinting in the half-light. "You weren't going to bring him home tonight."

Her eyes narrowed at his presumption. "I don't think you know that."

"Don't I?" Still holding her wrists, he leaned in, and her eyes fluttered shut in expectation. But he surprised her, his breath stirring the hair by her ear and sending fresh heat flooding through her. "I bet you spent at least half your date thinking about me and that kiss."

Anger sparked inside her -- anger that he was right. Ignoring his hands on her wrists, she gave a careless shrug. What Brennan could not hide from herself she would still attempt to conceal from Booth. "Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss." The syncopation of her heart belied her detached tone.

His eyebrows drew together in a frown. "And sometimes it's more."

"Maybe that's just wishful thinking on your part, Booth."

"Don't lie to me," he said, his lips compressed into a thin line.

Despite their many arguments, he had never spoken to her like this -- looked at her like this. Suddenly she understood how the suspects he hauled into the FBI must feel under the weight of that dark gaze. She wasn't afraid; he would never hurt her. That she knew with the kind of blind faith she outwardly swore not to understand. But Booth's eyes held her in place far more effectively than did his hands encircling her wrists.

"Do you think I can't feel how fast your heart is beating?" he said, smoothing his thumb over the underside of her wrist until the sensation made her catch her bottom lip between her teeth.

"That alone doesn't mean anything," she shot back, inwardly cursing the breathless quality of her voice. Was there anyone else who could do this to her? Her partner didn't frighten her. What frightened her was how badly she wanted to admit that yes, she did want him. The confession hovered on her tongue, straining for release; she swallowed it back.

"Maybe not," he said.

Booth released her. She folded her arms across her chest, something like regret, hollow and cold, settling in her stomach as she did so. He licked his lips. "But let me get this straight" -- he brought his hands to her hips and slid his fingers just below the edge of her blouse, stroking her skin -- "you're saying that if I touched you right now, I wouldn't find that you're wet?"

She blinked, stunned into momentary silence by Booth's question and the answer she didn't dare give him. "You come into my apartment without my permission," she finally said, jabbing him in the chest as she recovered her voice. "You badger me with personal questions. You attempt to intimidate me--"

"And you're still dancing," he said, interrupting her tirade.

Booth was wrong. She wasn't dancing; she was struggling to hold onto her balance in the face of Booth's words and actions. Even in the midst of her anger and confusion, as Brennan processed what she thought might be a look of disappointment stealing over Booth's face, it struck her a near-physical blow.

He huffed an impatient sigh, then caught her hand and held it over his heart. "Stop. Look at me," he said, his voice a mixture of command and plea that shook her despite her resolve to remain impassive. "It's me, Bones. Just me. Be honest with me. Please." His gaze softened as it met and held hers, even as he released her hand, and she realized then how vulnerable her partner and friend had left himself -- vulnerable to her. "Brain and heart, Bones," he said, repeating the advice he'd offered her during her father's trial.

Brennan could see what his admission had cost him; it was etched into the angles and planes of his face. For once, words failed her. "I don't…I don't know what to say." Laughing unsteadily, she retreated a step, shaking her head. "This is all very sudden."

"Except that it's not. All this – it's been building for a long time."

"Perhaps," she said. "Perhaps not. But you're asking me for something I don't know that I can give you – or anyone."

Booth sighed again, his shoulders visibly tensed. "One simple answer, Bones. That's all I'm looking for right now. I told you I want you. Just tell me, do you want me too?"

His frustration tugged at her like an invisible cord. She nearly laughed in despair, for despite her strong desire to remain opaque, protected, and hidden from Booth, when had he ever allowed her to do that? When every instinct inside her pushed her to close herself off, Booth pulled her into the light, urging her to reach out and open herself again and again – to family, to friends, to life.

And her life was better, richer, more complex because of his influence, she acknowledged with a growing sense of recognition. No matter how hard she fought it.

The air thickened, and Brennan drew a single shuddering breath. This time she reached for him. Seeking to steady herself, her hands went to his shoulders as she gathered the courage to let herself fall.


To be continued...

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