"Why don't you touch me anymore?"
The car swerves, narrowly missing an ancient pickup truck loaded with what looks like chicken coops. She braces herself against the door and watches the complex series of moves Booth engages in to successfully avoid an accident. He really is a very good driver, though she doesn't understand why he swerved in the first place.
"Excuse me?" His voice is higher than usual, and she pulls her eyes from the chicken truck to look at him.
"I said,"--a little louder, the words carefully enunciated--"you don't touch me anymore."
It's something she's been thinking about a lot lately, the little ways things have changed since his surgery. Sometimes she catches him watching her, and there's something in his eyes that makes her stomach jump. She should probably ask him about that, too, but she doesn't know how. The touching, though, that's easy, because he used to touch her, and now he doesn't.
"Touch you?" His voice sounds a little strangled, and she watches him adjust his tie as if it's suddenly gone too tight around his neck.
"Not sexually, of course." His obvious discomfort makes her wonder if she's being inappropriate again, but it's too late now. "You would never behave inappropriately."
He gives a sort of snort, but says nothing more, his attention on the traffic.
"You used to touch me all the time." She faces front again, her eyes on the limousine that stops in front of them at the light. She wonders who's inside. "I liked it."
"I still touch you all the time." He shoots her a sideways glance. "Remember when we fixed the pipes? I touched you then."
She shakes her head. "That was different. We were working on a project." She isn't sure why she's even bringing this up, except that it's been on her mind lately.
They're in his car because hers is in the shop. It's late. City lights play tag with peek-a-boo patches of darkness, giving the interior of the car a kind of kaleidoscopic intimacy.
He's quiet for so long that she starts to wonder if he's going to answer her. Finally he blows out a sigh and shakes his head.
"You're imagining things."
"No, I'm not." The accusation stings, because she isn't a very imaginative person. Besides, she's been keeping track. Before his surgery, Booth used to touch her at least four times a day. After his surgery, the number dropped to less than once a day. The last time he'd touched her was three days ago, and that had been so brief she'd almost missed it--a brush of his palm against the back of her jacket as they'd left the Yoder home. "Are you afraid of me?"
It sounds ridiculous, but when his jaw clenches and his hands go tight on the steering wheel, she can't help wondering if she's right.
"Of course I'm not afraid of you."
The denial shoves its way into the silence between them like the town drunk crashing a party. It's too loud, too pushy. But she wants to believe him because they'd said they would never lie to each other.
"Then what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, all right? I just ... I'm just not all back yet, you know?"
The explanation lacks conviction, as if he's using it to cover something else, something he doesn't want to talk about. She twists in her seat, angling her body so that she can study his face.
"I think you're scared."
A muscle leaps in his jaw. "Scared."
"Yes. You're still all caught up in that coma dream thing, and you're afraid that if you touch me you'll forget who I am."
"Bones--" There's exasperation in his voice, and something more, a kind of intensity that lowers the tone and chases a shiver up her spine. "I could never forget who you are."
She considers that while she recrosses her legs, one ankle sliding over the other.
"You forgot who I was when you first woke up," she says logically. "You thought we were married."
"I did not--" He blows out a breath. "Look, can we just drop it?"
He's pulling up in front of her apartment now. He slots the car neatly against the curb and cuts the engine.
"I don't understand why you're so upset." She reaches for her purse as her seatbelt whirs back into storage. "Thanks for the ride."
"I'll walk you up." He's still tense, but he's restless, too. She watches him release the catch on his own seatbelt.
"That's not necessary."
"It's late, and for a spectacularly wealthy woman you live in a pretty seedy part of town. I'm walking you up." His tone brooks no argument.
She lets out a sigh. "I like my apartment, Booth."
It's an old argument, and he doesn't bother answering as he comes around the car to join her. They're halfway up the walk when she brings up the other thing again.
"See? Not touching."
"Bones, just … leave it alone, okay?"
"But I thought you said we should be honest with each other."
His jaw clenches again, and he yanks open the lobby door with more force than necessary, waving her in ahead of him. The lobby is quiet. It smells of furniture polish and old newspapers. There's a fake plant in the corner, and a straight-backed upholstered chair stands guard beside the door. Ignoring both, Booth strides across the room and stabs a finger at the elevator button.
"You don't have to ride up with me, you know. I'm perfectly safe."
He turns. He's got a stubborn, haunted look in his eyes, and he starts to say something, but then the elevator door opens and he closes his mouth.
They ride up in awkward silence. At her door, he waits while she digs out her keys. When the door opens, she doesn't go in. Instead, she turns to face Booth. He's standing there, arms crossed, shoulders tense, and she knows he's angry, but she doesn't understand why.
"Look. Booth. I'm sorry if I made you mad."
Instead of speaking, he jerks his head toward the open doorway. She steps inside, not really surprised when he follows her. But then he kicks the door closed with his foot. The sound reverberates through the quiet apartment, but before she can voice the reprimand that rises to her throat his hands settle, hard and tight, on her shoulders. She gasps and turns, lifting her head to look at him as he pushes her back against the wall.
He shakes his head, his eyes glittering dangerously in the dimly-lit room.
"You wanted to know why I don't touch you." Low and gruff, his voice drives a spear of heat through her belly and lower back.
She nods. Instinctively licks her lips.
"You shouldn't ask questions if you aren't ready for the answers."
Before she can say anything to that, his mouth crashes down on hers. His tongue sweeps in like an avenging S.W.A.T. team, plunging deep before sliding along the edges of her teeth. He swallows her gasp of surprise, plunges deep again, and suddenly she's responding, her body pushing into his, her hands winding around his neck and into his hair. He's hard, every inch of him solid muscle pulsing with life and heat as he traps her against the wall and takes what he wants. She should be offended and indignant, but instead all she feels is a fierce drive to be closer to him and an impotent fury against the clothing that prevents her skin from rubbing against his.
She says something about that, or she thinks she does, and the next thing she knows he's grabbing her wrists. He lifts them over her head, holds them there while he stares at her. They're both breathing hard, the sound harsh and labored in the stillness of her apartment.
"That--" he says, his voice hoarse in a way that makes her bite her lip, "is why I don't touch you."
She has to swallow before she can get her voice to work, and when she does, his hand tightens around her wrists, his eyes narrowing on her lips. "I don't understand."
He moves in close again, his chest pressing against hers. When he answers her, his mouth mere millimeters from her ear, she shivers.
"It isn't time yet, Bones." He dips his head, his nose sliding along her skin. "It isn't time yet, but it will be." Drawing back, he releases her hands and cups her face between his palms. "It will be."
He kisses her once more, softly this time, more promise than fire. And then he's gone, the door closing silently behind him.
Utterly stunned, she sinks to the floor, his last words replaying themselves in her mind. He'd given her notice, she has no doubt about that. He wants her in a way that goes far beyond partnership, and though she'd suspected it, even wanted it herself, she'd never really believed it was possible.
Now she does, and it changes everything.
Her eyes slide to the closed door, and she feels a smile spread across her face. He was right. It isn't time yet.
But it will be.