The Return

By: dharmamonkey & Lesera128
Rated: M
Disclaimer: So, we're still here, and by now, we know as well as you do that we don't own anything. However, we are looking into ways to take control of this sandbox via adverse possession. ::blinks:: Okay, not really. But you get the gist.

A/N: Okay, okay. Yes, we are aware that this chapter is posting significantly beyond when we'd originally projected. Well, real life intervened and kept throwing impediments in our way. But enough about the past. We have a new chapter for you all! Last we left our brave heroes, Booth had just won a UFC-style smackdown with Brennan's father, Matthew, in the sitting room which left both combatants a little bloodied but really no worse for the wear. Brennan herself is still pregnant (duh) and now they're alone, at last, in her home. They have lots of catching up to do. So, without further ado on our part, read on!

Chapter 3: Rekindling, Part I

As the front door slammed shut with a resounding and, it seemed to her, perhaps insulted thud on her father's behalf, Brennan stared at it for a minute. She was somewhat surprised that her father had actually done as she'd asked, given how prickly he'd been in the months since she'd revealed her pregnancy to him. Shaking her head with a small, private sigh, she then turned to Booth. Their eyes met once more when he realized she was staring at him and he turned around to look at her.

After responding inquiringly after he whispered her name, she waited for him to say something, anything, to break the awkward silence between them as they simply looked at one another with faint, if not somewhat puzzled, smiles on their lips.

Booth flashed his eyebrows and gave her a sheepish grin as he glanced once more out of the corner of his eye at the door before settling his gaze on hers. "I, uhhh, well..." He frowned at the sound of his lame stammering, shrugged and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't think..." He looked down at his feet and cleared his throat, then raised his eyes again. "I'm sorry I struck your father," he said. "But I couldn't—"

Brennan tilted her head and smiled at his endearing uncertainty. "Please," she said with a mildly dismissive wave of her hand. "He struck you first. As far as I'm concerned he deserved what you served back to him." She paused, then chuckled softly and said, "Though I must admit, I was a bit surprised that you handled yourself...well, in the way that you did because it's quite obvious that you are rather well-skilled at fighting and quick with your physical reflexes..."

Booth shook his head and his brow knit in a mixed look of abashment and mild confusion, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he wondered whether to consider the remark an insult or a compliment.

"Well," Brennan quickly amended, when she saw his response. "That is, I just meant...considering your occupation and all."

At hearing her refer to his being a priest, Booth's jaw shifted and he remembered the last time he'd seen her father:

"So you were just going to leave, were you?" a male voice asked, nearly causing Booth to jump out of his own skin with surprise.

Booth turned around and stared at the man, whose familiar-looking pale eyes and fading dirty blond hair caused the priest to squint as he tried to figure out where he'd seen him before. He guessed the tall and solidly built man, whose clothes—by the quality, cut, and style of his attire—suggested he was a reasonably successful craftsman of some sort, was in his mid-fifties.

"Who are you?" Booth asked him, his eyebrows hanging low and hard over his eyes as he watched the man step out of the shadow of the adjoining stall and into the sunlight.

"You don't know me, huh?" the man said, his pale eyes twinkling with a contemptuous laugh that, for reasons Booth could not articulate, made him extremely uneasy. "Well, that's a mistake on your part, priest, because for as someone as smart as they all claim you to be, I'd think you definitely should know me."

Booth lifted his hand to reach into his satchel but, with a movement of catlike efficiency, the man's left hand flew out and stilled Booth's at the same time that his other hand unsheathed a dagger with a metallic hiss and, before Booth could recognize the silvery flash in the corner of his eye, pressed the side of the blade against his neck, the sharp point pressing into the skin that covered Booth's jugular vein.

"You were just going to leave her to rot in there, weren't you, you conniving papist bastard?"

"What?" Booth wheezed, his eyes blinking nervously as he stared down at the dagger's well-worn, dark brown leather-wrapped hilt as the point of the blade dug firmly into the skin of his neck. "I don't know what you're talking about," he coughed. He felt the knife press harder against his windpipe as he struggled for air. Booth's voice was choked to no more than a silent gasp as he croaked, "Have mercy, for the love of God."

"Like you had mercy for her?" came a growl. The dangerous tone of the man's voice told Booth that he'd misspoken, and he winced as he felt his supply of oxygen begin to dwindle.

"I don''re...talking about," Booth panted. "But...if you'll sheathe...your weapon and tell me who you are, I'm sure—" He stopped talking in what was no more than a whisper of a growl as he coughed a bit for air, taking in what breaths he could even as the dagger cut into his skin. "—we can discuss this matter...calmly and without fear of either one of us...shedding any blood unnecessarily." Booth coughed again before he asked, "If you're going to slit my throat...don't you think I at least deserve to know what I did first? For the love of God, man. Please."

The man narrowed his eyes and pressed the point of the blade into Booth's neck once more for emphasis before releasing it. "Damn lawyers," he snorted as he pushed Booth away, and he watched with some pleasure as the younger man fell to the ground gasping for air. "All of you, whether you practice before the common law courts or at the behest of churchmen, you're always trying to use that tongue of yours to get you out of whatever corner you've rightly painted yourself into. What a load of tripe and horseshite."

He felt a small swell of male pride at the thought that he had—though he wasn't sure Brennan knew the circumstances of his first encounter with Matthew Brennan—at least somewhat redeemed himself by laying the other man on the ground in self-defense instead of meekly begging for his mercy. It was then that he grinned and laughed, some of the nervousness and awkwardness dissolving away as he stood up a little straighter at hearing her praise him.

"I had three older brothers," he told her. "I had to learn to fight if only to keep my arse from being kicked on a daily basis by my brothers."

"Hmm," she murmured, her eyes shimmering with amusement as she narrowed her gaze and tried to imagine the broad-shouldered, heavy-browed man before her as a rosy-cheeked, silky-haired young boy enduring the humiliation of being teased and bullied by his older siblings. "I suppose it's a good thing, then, because my father came in here madder than a speared boar."

"Yeah," Booth said, his voice suddenly darkening as the smile on his face faded and was replaced by a scowl. "Well, I don't think your father likes me much."

"That would be a mild understatement, I think," she said thoughtfully, her lips pursed for a second as she reflected on the early months of her pregnancy before she turned her gaze back to meet Booth's. "A truly mild understatement, actually."

Booth's forehead creased as his frown gave way to a look of blank confusion. "Wait, what?" he asked. "Before today, I'd met him exactly once. For perhaps all of ten minutes—just long enough to tender to him that letter I left for you before I had to leave Lambeth. Has he...I mean, did he say something about me, you know, in the time that I was gone? Did you...umm, well...did you tell him...about us?" Booth's words fell clumsily from his mouth as he blinked and shook his head. "I know he doesn't care for priests. Or Catholics, for that matter. I knew that not a half-minute after meeting him." He shrugged and winced, reaching up and wiping his thumb across his bloodied brow. He grunted and glanced at his thumb, staring at the smear of tacky blood for a moment before he sighed and said, "I guess we're just two completely different sorts of men, he and I."

Tilting her head, Brennan licked her lips slowly as she said in an almost far away voice, "Oh, I don't know. You might be surprised to find that my father and you have more than one or two things in common...not to suggest that I am some kind of Electra to my father's Agamemnon or anything."

Booth quirked a brow at the reference, glancing up at the ceiling as he tried to remember the ancient Greek myth to which she referred, then grinned at hearing yet another example of how truly extraordinary a woman stood before him.

"Huh," he grunted with a laugh. "I'm not sure what you mean." He gave her a strange look, then said, "Although I have little doubt that you would put a sword down someone's throat to avenge your father, I am quite sure that your father wouldn't hesitate to take a blade to someone who threatened you. But enough talk of the corrupt dramas of the heathen Greeks, Mistress..."

Brennan murmured as she considered his remark, then gave him a discerning look and asked, "Don't tell me that you're actually serious, Booth."

"What?" he asked. "That the Greeks were heathens? Yes, of that I'm quite certain," he told her with a playful grin.

"Right," she said with a roll of her eyes. "And so...what? You think I was corrupted by the reading of some Grecian plays by the masters of old?" A slightly disbelieving smirk spread across her face as she watched his dark eyes, the expression in which still seemed somewhat hooded in the wake of her father's abrupt appearance and departure. "It's not as if I made a reference to Lysistrata, Booth."

Booth's eyes widened at the latter reference, which drew a slight blush to his cheeks. "Now that," he said. "That I think might be a corrupting influence, even on a broad-minded, well-read freewoman such as yourself. Your father let you read such things?" He shook his head and bit back a snicker. "Am I going to learn that you took a page from such a tome and you'll start using the withholding of certain, well...friendly affections to accomplish your goals?"

"Sex," Brennan said even as she waited for Booth to finish talking. "She led the women of her city-state in a protest where they stopped having sexual intercourse with the men of Athens despite their own great need to achieve orgasm themselves."

Flustered by her frankness and not a little surprised that she had, in fact, clearly read the drama in question, Booth felt his ears redden as he raked his hand through his hair. "Bren," he groaned. "Come on now." His brow furrowed and he gave her an odd look. "Your father honestly let you read such things as part of your tutelage in Greek? I wouldn't have been surprised that he let you read the Gospels in Greek, which in itself is daring enough, but..."

"You surprise me," she said. "I would have supposed you knew me better than that by now. Do you honestly think that I let my father censor me in any such way, particularly given how I make my livelihood?"

"How does the reading of heathen plays rife with lurid tales of fornication, or the withholding of such things, help you deliver babies?" he asked with a crooked brow. "I'm simply asking."

She considered his question and then shrugged. "As pregnancy cannot, as you well know..." She lifted her saucy gaze to meet his as she spoke. "...occur without a male engaging in coitus with a female to the point of ejaculation, it behooves me to have studied all representations of sex in history, Booth, but especially such a play told from the female perspective. Since you never know where you'll pick up valuable and useful information that can be used in my trade—whether it's because of actual medical knowledge or just having an interesting anecdote to share with my clients as I tend to their needs and make conversation."

Booth bit back a grin and tried to give her as hard a look as he could muster. "You're doing this on purpose," he said.

She chuckled at him. "Indeed not," she told him honestly. "You've just been coddled far too long in Rome."

"Coddled?" he squeaked. "Is that what you think I was doing there? You have the wrong idea entirely, then, woman. I slept on a straw pallet in a monk's cell and spent my days dividing my time between prayers and keeping myself busy reading in the Vatican Library while I waited for an audience with the Holy Father."

"Surrounded by stuffy old men whose idea of forward thinking is to allow women to leave the house on market days as opposed to keeping them cloistered in the home with the children," she said. She shook her head with a sigh, and then asked, "I suppose this would be a bad time to tell you that I read the poems of Catullus just as often as I read Cicero's letters when I was learning Latin, right?"

"Ah, so I should be thankful to the old poets of Rome for your wide-ranging knowledge and talents?" he asked with a smirk. "Which I must say, though I am not well-acquainted with many women, your repertoire seems quite exceptional—and definitely a pleasant surprise for me."

She narrowed her eyes playfully as she responded, her voice vaguely lyrical as she began to recite the well-remembered verse:

"Flavius, unless your delights
were tasteless and inelegant,
you'd want to tell, and couldn't be silent.
Surely you're in love with some feverish
little whore: you're ashamed to confess it..."

Booth's eyebrows flew up in surprise. "Not only have you read such corrupting works, but you've taken the time to devote them to memory? My, my..."

She laughed at him and then replied, once again in verse:

"Now, pointlessly silent, you don't seem to be idle of night,
it's proclaimed by your bed garlanded, fragrant with Syrian perfume,
squashed cushions and pillows, here and there,
and the trembling frame shaken, quivering and wandering about.
But being silent does nothing for you.
Why? Spread thighs blab it's not so, if not quite what foolishness you commit."

"That you would take the time to devote such verse to memory," he said with a flicker of laughter in his eyes, "suggests to me that you were corrupted long before you read such poets."

"Is that so?" she retorted. "Are you saying I have been corrupted?"

Booth arched his eyebrow. "No," he said, nibbling the inside of his lip and shaking his head. "Not really. If anything, it's you who's corrupted me. Before I met you, I was as pure as the driven snow—an innocent. You are the corruptress, I think." The twinkle in his dark eyes and the crooked grin on his face left no doubt that he was teasing her, a fact which gave Brennan a certain measure of reassurance to know that, despite the months that elapsed while they were apart, they could still banter between them as if not a single day had passed.

"Ahh," she laughed. "So the next thing you'll be telling me is that you were wrong before, hmm? That I actually am a witch who has bewitched you, hmmm? Because if that's it, you should tell me so I can at least warn my father this time before they come to haul me away again."

"Hmmm," he murmured, glancing away as he considered her words. Wagging his head to and fro as he gave it some thought, he turned back to her with a grin. "No," he said. "I think you corrupted me by worldly means, without recourse to anything supernatural or wicked in any unnatural way." He paused and pondered for a moment, the smile on his face slowly straightening as the rosy color seemed to fade a little from his cheeks as he found himself unable to keep from looking at the round swell of her pregnant belly and a flash of panic suddenly washed over him as the mention of her father and of her being hauled away extinguished some of his mirth. "I don't know, though," he said, his voice edged with a certain soberness. "It seems as though your father thinks I am the one who corrupted you. He clearly blames me for this."

Seeing the sudden change in his mood caused her brow to crease and worry to creep in. Trying to reassure him, she said, "Even if he does have some random thought as such—" Booth opened his mouth to say something, but Brennan shook her head and continued without taking so much as even the tiniest of breaths. "And, I'm not saying he does, by the way, I'm just saying if he did, we both know he'd be quite inaccurate in that supposition."

Booth frowned as he glanced over at the door and thought about the unadulterated fury he saw in her father's eyes when he charged into the house. He turned back to her, swallowed thickly and said, "Would he really, Bren? Because you know what? I think even if we set what's happened between you and me aside, he wouldn't care for me one bit. That much is as plain as day." He sighed and shrugged. "Perhaps it's to be expected, right? There's probably no two men alive who have less in common than your father, the reformist apothecary, and me, a papist..."

His voice trailed off as he struggled to define himself as he was now. He was no longer a priest, but he wasn't sure if even Brennan realized that, despite the fact that he'd alluded to the possibility in his parting letter to her six months earlier. Yet he still felt odd—as if he were caught in some kind of purgatory between the life he had and the life he was trying to make for himself—and he wasn't quite sure what he really was.

He shrugged and said, "I just...I don't see how he and I have much of anything in common...except, I guess, that we both care for you."

Her face softened a bit as she considered his point. "Well, there's that, of course. But you're each also strong, brave, courageous, and deviously loyal in your duties, particularly to your families." She paused for a beat and then looked away as she added more to herself then for Booth's sake. "And I daresay you're both very good at not letting something go when you've chomped down and sunk your teeth into it."

Booth smiled faintly, his eyes narrowing as he wondered what exactly she meant by 'deviously loyal' and whether or not her last remark was meant entirely as a compliment. He grunted, then fell silent for a few moments as he turned and looked back once more at the thick oaken door behind him. "I suppose I should be grateful he left so easily," he said sardonically. "You know, without drawing steel on me like he did the last time we met." He brought his hand up and touched the side of his neck as he remembered the way Matthew Brennan had pressed the flat of his dagger blade against Booth's jugular, then cleared his throat and shifted his hand, scratching the two days' worth of stubble on the underside of his jaw.

He stared at her round middle for several long seconds, then drew a long breath and brought his warm brown eyes up to meet hers again, a nervous, seemingly boyish grin on his face as he felt his heart begin to race. A part of him felt bouyed, hopeful and excited, to finally be standing there, just an arm's length away from her, after being separated from her for so long and enduring so many days and nights wondering whether she was alright and whether she had, in fact, waited for him as he had asked of her.

Another part of him, though, situated in the pit of his belly, roiled with uncertainty. So much had changed so quickly that he felt a bit dizzy, as if the world around him were spinning. He had expected to come back and find her, to sweep her into his arms as they kissed their hellos and murmured their I-can't-believe-you-are-really-here's, but as it happened, it was far more complex than that. He wasn't even sure he understood all of what had changed—aside from the obvious fact that he was no longer a priest and she was now pregnant with his child.

What are we to one another, she and I? he wondered. What happens next? Do we do it, whatever in the world 'it' is, together? Do we do it apart? Does it happen as some odd mixture of the two? And what does she want? She says she wants me, I know...but does she really want me—the man I am? Does she really want all of me...and if she does, will she still want me when she knows how things have changed so completely? God...I don't know where we should even start...but...maybe she does? Maybe...together? Maybe together we can figure out not only what we're supposed to do, what we want to do...but what we're actually going to do.

For a minute, he silently prayed that maybe she could understand what he was thinking without him having to verbalize it as he refused to break eye contact with her. So, they stayed like that, simply staring into one another's eyes, neither of them speaking, until finally he was unable to stand not knowing what she was thinking and so broke the silence.


As his low whisper fractured the silence between them, Brennan's gaze moved from his eyes—the same warm, soft brown eyes that captivated her from the very first minutes after she was brought into his interrogation room more than seven months earlier—to his mouth. She looked at his slender upper lip, dotted as it was with dark stubble, and then at his lower lip, soft and pink and almost pouting the way it seemed to puff out from underneath the one above. Brennan found herself slipping into a tangle of memories as her eyes skimmed the outline of that pouty lower lip, and she remembered the first time she felt his lips on hers, the morning they set aside everything that loomed between them and gave in to the rising tide of passionate want that had bubbled between them for so long.

She remembered the night before that, the night he came to her in her cell, nearly beside himself with desperate want and completely confounded by how it made him feel, and how he had broken down and begged her for relief, so inexperienced that he struggled to find the words to ask for what he needed. In the end, he'd taken her hand and held it first to his racing heart, and then to the place between his legs where his body burned so furiously for her. She recalled the way the low hum of her own desires flared and nearly overwhelmed her when at last she held him in her hand and felt how badly he wanted her.

"That touched yourself," Brennan mused out loud, the roaring in her ears increasing as the picture of him completely naked and stroking himself made her go weak in the knees and wet with want of him. "You touched yourself," she whispered a second time, the blood rushing to her ears as she pictured him sprawled out on a bed, hard because of her...and waiting just for her. "You touched yourself because of want...of me?" To emphasize her point, she pumped him a couple of times from base to tip and back again, eliciting a strangulated growl to emerge involuntarily from his throat. "Yes?" she asked as a point of clarification.

Booth, feeling overwhelmed at the sensations she caused him to feel could only furiously nod his head in the affirmative.

"When you did this," Brennan asked, true curiosity prodding her on. "Were you...that is, what happened? Were you thinking of me?"

Booth's nostrils began to flare again as he thought about her question. He thought of how her face had looked in his fantasy, half-hidden by the latticework of the confessional screen, and how her pale eyes had shone through, drilling deeply into him as he had fallen into a spiral of sounds and images of her body, flushed and beaded with sweat beneath him as he'd drilled into her, again and again in his mind's eye until he exploded in his own hand as he moaned her name. He could feel the warmth in his face growing even more as he knew himself to be flushing as bright a red as possible from his nose to the tips of his ears and everything in between. He said nothing for a minute, but as Brennan chose that moment to increase the speed with which her hand was stroking him, causing him to be yanked literally back from his memories of the previous evenings as he cried out an answer...and encouragement to her ministrations.

"Yeeeeessss," he hissed as his head lolled to the side and his eyelids fluttered with pleasure. "Oh, God...yes. I did...I did. Yes, I did."

A smile curved her lips as she remembered his first ever confession to her, and she flushed a bit when she recalled the delight she took in seeing his body bathed in moonlight a week later, the night he came to her and surprised her with his openness and curiosity as he tucked his head between her legs and dragged that soft, pink, pouty lower lip and the rough yet velvety smooth tongue it concealed over places of her body that made her want him even more. She faintly remembered the way he'd looked at her when she looked down at him after her body had shuddered, and he lifted his head from between her legs with a pleased, boyish look.

"God, I love it when you do that," he murmured to her. "So...damn...much...just love it. Love you when you're like that..."

Blinking away the memory, she couldn't help but lick her own lips again as she tore her gaze away from his mouth and brought her eyes back up to meet the deep, rich wells of mahogany that flickered back at her as she suddenly realized something important. She now knew that what she'd felt just a short time before when he'd entered the shop—proving that he'd finally kept his word to her as he'd promised in his farewell letter—wasn't just relief. It was more than much more. And, even as she realized the enormity of that point, another exchange between them echoed in her mind.

Booth opened his mouth to speak, then hesitated, his mouth hanging open as he narrowed his eyes and glanced over once more to the flickering taper as he gathered his thoughts. "If I remain here in London, as is my intent and expectation, and if I remain a priest, which is my only option at this point, having taken sacred vows from which I cannot absolve myself even if I wanted to, would you be willing...or dare I say even be continuing to let this thing that has happened between us least, until we can find some other workable solution to our situation?" He shook his head, as he suddenly felt as if they'd somehow ended up speaking in very large and repetitive circles. "What do you want, Bren? Tell me. Whatever it is, and I'll give it to you. Just tell me. What do you want from me?"

The words tumbled from her mouth as his question, at last, became easy for her to answer. "I-I want...I want there always to be honesty between us," she began. "And, although I know it will never be easy, I would want there always to be an agreement that we would do what we can to please the other. I would...I would never have either of us cause the other pain or uncertainty or doubt. I would have us take what pleasure and contentment where we can, when we can in the times we can share with one another. I would...I would have us take things as they come. And I want you to have trust and faith in me...just as I believe I already do for you. That—"

Thinking back on her words, Brennan felt a bloom of confidence unfurl in her chest as she nodded and smiled at him.

"That's what I want from you, Booth," she said. "Now, the next question is...can you give all that to me?"

"I think we both know I've already started to," he said quietly. "I do have trust and faith in you, Bren," he whispered, stroking his thumb over the top of her hand which he still held clasped tightly in his own. "I always have," he added solemnly.

Biting her lip, Brennan suddenly chastised herself. For all that had happened between them, nothing had changed. They were right back to where they were all those months least she was. And, with that realization, she knew that before anything else could happen, she needed to know if it was the same for him. Knowing that information could only come if she admitted as much to him first, she took a deep breath and began to speak.

"I missed you," she said, her voice a bit more quiet and a bit more gentle as she tipped her head to one side, but never let her eyes fall away from his. "More than I think I was willing to admit, even to myself, until just this very moment."

For several long seconds, Booth said nothing at all, and instead just stared back at her with surprise and curiosity writ on his face. Days and weeks and months had gone by as he'd languished in Rome for most of a sweltering summer and all of a warm, breezy fall before the chill of winter set in. And each morning as he'd watched the sun rise over the campanile of the Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino, and heard the campanile's massive bell ring out over the complex, he'd wondered if she was watching the same dawn a thousand miles to the north and what thoughts were rolling through her groggy mind as she did so. He'd hoped and prayed that she was well and happy, and even if he thought it was a bit selfish on his part, he also desperately wished that she was thinking of him even just half as often as he thought of her.

Chasing the memory away with a flutter of his eyes, his mouth fell open with an awkward, almost bashful grin as he finally asked, "Did you really?"

He remembered all the dream-images of her that acted as a temporary balm for his aching heart during their unexpected and very long separation. As he did so, he couldn't help but smile since it sounded like she'd just given him the answer to one of the questions that he'd very much wondered about. She'd not only been thinking about him, but she'd missed him. The thought made another flash of pleasing warmth blossom in his chest as he hesitantly dared to hope that he hadn't somehow misheard her. It sounded to him that, despite their distance, just as she had consumed his every waking moment, it appeared that likewise she had found herself distracted during the day by thoughts of him.

Needing to know for certain, he licked his bottom lip as the tip of his tongue darted out the corner of his mouth. "Did you really think about me, you know, while I was away?" he asked. "Did you?"

Brennan took a moment, nodded at him, but still turned away slightly. "I won't do something as trite as ask if you missed me," she said quietly. He was slightly surprised when he felt he recognized her response as Brennan tried to maintain control of her emotions. His suspicion was confirmed when she paused for a beat and then sighed in what was clear frustration, even as she tried to muffle it.

She chewed on her bottom lip for a minute and then said, "I hate this." At hearing her words, Booth blinked, his temples pulsing as his eyes widened and he felt a flash of fear deep in his belly as he wondered if she perhaps didn't care for him the way he cared for her. He turned his head slightly to the side and took a breath, holding it as he waited for her to speak again. "I absolutely hate having to admit points that are tied to my emotional vulnerabilities," she added.

Booth's cheeks flushed in obvious relief at her words, his eyes widening a bit as he let go of the breath he'd been holding. A smile curved his lips and lent a certain brightness to his voice as he opened his mouth to speak.

"Bren," he said, taking a step towards her even as he deliberately kept his voice gentle and even as he attempted to reassure her and bring her comfort. "I know you do...but, it's fine. You know that right, that you can trust me?" He paused for the space of a heartbeat, pursing his lips thoughtfully before he added in an even more tender voice, "And you don't have to ask. I'll tell you. Freely. Gladly. I did miss you. I missed you so much," he said. "So very much that I can't even begin to tell you."

Slowly, she turned around to meet his gaze. "You did?" she asked, the tone of her voice more truthful and vulnerable with him than it had been with anyone else she'd ever spoken to before.

"Yes," he nodded, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Of course I did. I thought about you all the damn time. You were the last thing I thought about every night before I fell asleep. And then you were the first thing I thought of each morning when I woke up." He smiled sweetly, then added, "Every day, Bren."

Brennan arched an eyebrow as a sly grin slowly spread across her lips. "You thought of me as you awoke each morning to prepare for your day, hmmm?" she asked. For a split second, a spark of mischief rooted itself in her mind as she thought of the smile she'd just seen a hint of on his face even if it hadn't quite yet fully manifested. Wondering if she could finally draw it out, Brennan's bright eyes danced a bit as she asked in a completely serious tone of voice, "Or, perhaps, Booth, would it be more accurate to say that it wasn't just personal fondness that caused your mind to drift to thoughts of me, but maybe it was a more practical need?"

"Umm..." He swallowed heavily at her question, his voice cracking so briefly that anyone else but Brennan probably wouldn't have known him well enough or have been perceptive enough to notice it. "A more practical need, Bren?" he asked, his voice slightly choked. "Errmmm...I'm not sure what you mean..."

Never to be put off by his attempts to feign ignorance or maintain his denial, Brennan quirked a skeptical eyebrow as she tilted her head at him. "What I mean, Booth," she said, "is, well—would it be perhaps more accurate to say that the reason you thought of me each morning was because you maybe had an issue with your manhood that needed to be addressed?"

Booth's eyes widened at the directness of her words, and he swallowed as he felt a sudden flush warm his cheeks. He remembered feeling somewhat the same way in the very first days of his inquisition of her, when she described the processes of childbirth in anatomical detail.

"Children—unless they are born by way of caesarian section, which is performed only when the life of the mother is believed to be unsalvageable, since the procedure inevitably kills her—pass through the birth canal, which is otherwise known as the vagina."

She did so with relish, he recalled, because she was sure that such terminology would make him blush and squirm. While the tenor of their relationship had changed substantially since that time, and his own experiences regarding the female body and the male body's responses to it were far broader, more numerous, and substantially more well-informed than it had been in those early days, he nonetheless found himself somewhat unnerved by her frank talk as he was still unused to such plain speech.

How is it that she can still do this to me? he asked himself. I've seen and touched and tasted every inch of her—and likewise she knows every part of me that way—so how on earth is she able to make me blush by speaking like this? He kneaded the inside of his lip between his teeth for a moment as he puzzled over the question, unable to keep his mind from drifting from the words she had spoken to the mind-numbingly pleasurable things they had done together just six months earlier. A tiny growl of frustration sounded low in his throat as he tried to ignore the tingle that ran up his spine at the memory of the way her eyes twinkled back at him when he knelt down on her bed and stalked towards her on all fours. She's doing this on purpose, he told himself. I don't know why, but she is—and as far as I can tell, she's enjoying it.

Unable to help herself as she saw the first visible signs that she was getting to him, Brennan said, "That is, if I'm going to be as accurate as I can be, it might be fair to say that you thought not just of me when you awoke each morning and your manhood was in a certain natural condition as so often occurs to males at that particular time of day...but you missed my hands...and my mouth?"

Booth's already-pinkened cheeks and ears blushed a deep scarlet at her remark, and he shifted his weight from one hip to the other as he found himself unable to suppress a sheepish smile.

Even after such a short period of time, she knows me better than anyone else ever has and that's because I've let her know all of me, he reminded himself, just as she gave all of herself to me.

So while he was not sure how it was she could still have this effect on him, making him blush with a single turn of phrase, he felt no unease or discomfort even if he was still taken slightly off-guard at her words.

Although I shouldn't be, a voice echoed in his head. I should know better. If she can make me squirm, she's certainly never going to pass up an opportunity to do that. Saucy, impertinent wench.

The teasing lilt in her voice and the shimmer in her eye made him think of the way she looked in the moonlight, and as he watched her slender lips part with each word she spoke, her smirk became a faintly crooked grin. That wicked grin reminded him of all the wonderfully wicked things her hands and mouth had done to him in the few short weeks they were together the prior summer and how many hours he spent laying awake in his monk's bed in Rome thinking of those things, causing him to decide to answer in kind.

"Well," he shrugged, not just puzzled but, after a moment's reflection, a little amused that she could still catch him flat-footed with her teasing. Clearing his throat, he narrowed his eyes and said to her, "I did think of you each and every morning as the cock crowed." He paused, then gave her a little flash of his eyebrows as he watched to see if she caught his pun, before he added, "And, yes, as you say, I was thinking of every single part of you...your hands...your mouth...and your wonderful lips..."

She chuckled at his words, loving that she could make him blush even after all they'd shared. "Is that so?"

He caught her smile and took a step closer to her, remembering a line of ancient verse that he'd thought of frequently during their months apart.

"Thy lips are like scarlet thread," he said, quoting Solomon's Song of Songs. "And thy mouth is lovely. Thy temples are like halves of a pomegranate beneath thy veil."

Brennan raised a brow, pleased that he could quote erotic passages of Scripture, passages that she was fairly certain that he would not have been able to recite from memory a mere seven months earlier.

"Thy neck is like the tower of David built for an armory," she replied with a smile, quoting the very next verse as she met his serve with a return volley of her own. "Whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men."

His brown eyes flickered with amusement and admiration.

"Thy two breasts are like two twin young roes which feed among the lilies," he answered her, his eyes skimming over the curves of her bosom. He took yet another step towards her as raised his gaze again and reached for her, letting his fingertips brush quickly and lightly against the sleeve of her dress, pulling his hand away again as if he were afraid to let himself touch her too much.

"You have no damn idea how much I hated every morning waking up, wanting you, needing you, and not having you," he told her, his voice husky as he felt the shadow of his body's ache as a tightness low in the pit of his belly. He remembered the countless mornings he woke, his body uncomfortably sticky in the heat and humidity of the late Italian summer, and how he'd wished that he had a better excuse for waking up on sweat-creased sheets. "God, Bren, you have no idea at all."

"I think I have some idea," Brennan replied, letting her eyes survey his form once again, from his broad shoulders to his narrow waist and lower, noting how his trousers clung to the shape of his thighs, revealing his strength in a way that his priestly robes never did. "You're not the only one of us who yearned for the other while you were gone," she said. "Though the physiology differs, the want was most definitely the same."

Her admission sent a wistful flash swirling through Booth's belly as he thought of all the time that had passed during their separation—all the mornings each one of them woke up alone, aching for the other, and all the nights each one struggled to find sleep, knowing how easy it used to be to fall asleep in the arms of the other after finding satisfaction in making love by the light of a single flickering candle. He sighed quietly, glad that, after all of what each of them had endured, they were finally together again.

"I'm sorry I was gone so long," he said, his forehead creasing as he raised his eyebrows in a silent plea for forgiveness. "I wouldn't have been gone as long as I was if it could've been any other way. And...Bren, I'm so sorry that I couldn't send word to you before...before now."

He took a breath and nervously chewed the inside of his lip, trying to read the flicker in her pale blue eyes. He saw her mouth open, and her tongue briefly dart out to lick her slender lips, then vanish again as those lips curved into a small smile. Emboldened a little by her obvious teasing, he pursed his lips and gave her as stern a look as he could muster. "But believe me," he said, "I suffered in more than just the obvious ways."

Though he held his jaw rigid and tried to invest his words with seriousness as he bit back a snicker, he could not suppress the laughter in his eyes. Amused by the glint of mischief in her gaze, he finally gave up the ruse and a wide, toothy grin spread across his face.

Seeing that her gentle teasing had led him to smile the first true, wholly unburdened smile since their reunion, Brennan couldn't help but laugh again, and Booth felt a flush of warmth in his chest at hearing her laugh.

"Yes, well, whose fault was that now?" she asked him, the mischief that fired her words clear as her blue eyes shined at him. "I thought you said you were a fast rider, Booth..."

"I am," he said, his dark brown eyes narrowing as he gave her a skeptical look. "But it's not just a matter of speed, you know," he noted, his low voice edged with laughter. "I believe it was a very wise woman who once told me that sometimes one must be patient and persistent, making sure to take his time when it's important and counts." He flashed her a crooked grin and winked, remembering her saying those words to him the morning she gave herself to him, allowing him to realize a completeness and joy that he'd never felt before because of that single action. Seeing in her sly smile that she, too, remembered her remark, he murmured quietly as he blinked away the memory with a nod.

"Mmm, yes," he continued. "As I said, Mistress Brennan, I believe we both know that I have a very steep learning curve. And a skilled rider like myself knows one must always move with the horse, swinging his hips up and forward, sinking into the motion while the animal thrusts forward into a gallop. Because it's a truly wondrous thing when two move as one."

As the suggestive words fell from his mouth, he remembered the way the muscles of his thighs, calves and back stretched and ached for the first fortnight of his long journey home—unused as he was to spending all day in the saddle for weeks at a time after spending four months in the Dominican complex on the south banks of the Tiber, two miles from the walls of the Vatican— and how he hadn't felt that kind of stretching in his muscles since the first weeks he spent with her, when the faint twinge he felt in his lower back each morning offered a constant reminder of how wonderfully she had worn him out the night before.

During the months he spent in Rome, and every day he spent on the long road there and back again, he was acutely aware of how his body ached in a different way. However, aside from occasional moments of each day when he wasn't able to help himself from allowing his mind to drift to thoughts of her, Booth had tried hard to keep the amount of time he spent thinking of her compartmentalized to the beginning and ending of each day when he was alone in his bed.

Momentous events had demanded no less after he'd found out one afternoo that Cardinal Pole and Queen Mary had died on the same day in the third week of November within hours of one another. Chaos might have broken out in the wake of such a void of leadership in England, and Booth would have lapsed into a brooding period of reflection and intense prayer and reflection if he'd not already had an appointment to see the Holy Father to be dispensed of his vows just a few hours after hearing the news.

Booth remembered walking across the Pons Aemilius and making his way through the cobbled streets of Aventino back to the Basilica of Santa Sabina, reminding himself that while Pole was dead, the dream that the old man had of keeping England close to the bosom of the Mother Church was still very much alive. Booth had spent many an afternoon in the Vatican Library, occupying himself with the reading of treatises written in Latin and Byzantine Greek, but he frequently found his thoughts wandering, unable to keep from wondering how Pole expected to maintain the primacy of the Roman church in an England where reformist sentiments ran deep in certain quarters and where issues of an ecclesiastical nature had secular and pecuniary significance. Many noble and landed gentry families had acquired former Church properties and were loathe to part with them. Booth knew when he'd left England that Queen Mary was not long for this world, Pole having told him so, but Pole's passing was unexpected and had taken Booth completely by surprise.

After receiving the blessing of the Holy Father and being dispensed of his priestly vows, Booth was given layman's clothes, a horse, saddle, tack and bedroll, a heavy wool cloak and gloves to guard against the winter cold, and a coin-purse stuffed with clinking pieces of silver to sustain him on his way home. His journey began at the stables at Castel Sant'Angelo where he mounted the sorrel mare given to him, swinging his leg over the saddle and settling in, gently holding the reins in his hands as he glanced down at the strange sight of his trousered legs and booted feet in the stirrups. It had been less than twenty-four hours after the old Pope touched his shaky hand to Booth's head and had given the young man his blessing. The efficiency with which he'd been equipped to travel left little doubt in Booth's mind that all of the arrangements for his return journey had been arranged long before the Cardinal had drawn his last breath. It was clear that Pole had put a greater plan in place to keep God's church alive in England even after he and his cousin Mary were both dead, and Booth suspected that he was only one small part of that plan even if he didn't know exactly what the rest of it entailed. Glancing over his shoulder to take in one last glimpse of Rome before the city disappeared along the horizon behind him, Booth couldn't help but wonder what his place was in that plan and what the future held for him.

Drawing a breath as he brought his focus back to the present, Booth gave Brennan a soft, easy smile. "I left as soon as I was able," he told her, his eyes gleaming brightly as he spoke. "When I found out that my mission there was done, I gathered my things and left as soon as I could saddle up and go. I left as quickly as I could, not an hour after I was given a horse, because I couldn't bear the idea of spending one more night away from you than I had to."

She took a deep breath, studying his face as he made his admission to her. Heartened that he still trusted her so much as to allow her to see such a vulnerable look on his face, she reached up, and cupped his chin with her hand as she said, "While many people had anticipated Queen Mary's death for some time, I know that Cardinal Pole's death came as a surprise to us all. When you learned of his passing, it must've been very hard for you."

Booth felt a knot harden in his throat as he thought about his deceased mentor. He shrugged and sighed, remembering the odd swirl of emotions that had washed over him when another Dominican brother ran up to him and broke the news.

"I went to Italy when I was eighteen, not long after I was ordained a priest," he explained. "I was sent to the university in Padua, and met Cardinal Pole there. He took an interest in me and my studies, and though he was busy with many other things—he was an early favorite to be elected as Holy Father himself during the conclave ten years ago—he always made it a point to check on me, to invite me to his residence for an evening meal once or twice a month, looking after me with almost a paternal pride. He helped secure me a chair as a lecturer at the Sorbonne, and a few years later, when I came back to Rome, he asked me to work as his personal secretary..." Booth paused, falling silent for a moment as he thought about Pole and the usual swirl of feelings he felt when he thought of the man—largely a mixture of gratitude for all that Pole had done for him and guilt as he wondered if his mentor would have been disappointed to know that his protégé had broken his vows—choked his throat.

"He thought highly of you," Brennan said, seeing Booth as affected by the mention of Pole as he was, but in no way surprised at the response. "He took you under his wing, and gave you many opportunities that perhaps you would not have had otherwise because he recognized your talents and skills and overall worth." Booth nodded, and she added thoughtfully, "I suppose, then, you owed him a certain loyalty on that account."

"Yes," Booth said, his tone muted and a little wistful. He looked down at his hands, the skin dry and chapped by cold and wind, his hands roughened by calluses carved like grooves across his palms from a month spent gripping the reins of many a tired mount as he pushed the beasts to cross a continent's worth of mountain passes, icy river crossings and mile upon mile of rolling hills and snowy plains along the road back to Calais. Bringing his eyes back up to meet hers, he gave her a soft, almost pleading look.

"You know from the letter I left for you that I did not want to leave," he said. "Had it been anyone else but Cardinal Pole asking me to do what I did, I don't think I would have gone. I..." He sighed and shrugged. "I want you to know that—that I didn't want to leave you as I did, and that only I did it out of loyalty to the man who I owed so much, Bren, a man without whom I wouldn't be what I am today. You know that, right?"

Somewhat surprised by the raw passion she saw in him as he spoke, Brennan was unsure of what to say. Eventually, she asked simply, "Do you miss him?"

The question caught Booth staring off into the distance. He sighed and nodded. "In a way, he was more of a father to me than my own father was," he said. He fell silent again, pressing his lips together in a firm line as he thought about all that he had missed while he was gone. "I would've wanted to attend his funeral," he said soberly. "He was laid to rest in Canterbury Cathedral, in the Corona Chapel. At some point, perhaps in the spring when the roads are better for travel, I want to go to Kent, to pay my respects." He shrugged and said, "I think it's the least I should do...the least I owe him after everything that's happened."

After his admission, Brennan swallowed once before she felt that she needed to reciprocate to him in some way given the very personal admission he'd just made.

"I won't lie," she began tentatively. "I think I probably read your letter a thousand times or more in those first days. I was trying to figure out why you'd done it, and if it was as you said."

"As I'd said?" Booth asked, obviously confused by the vagueness of her words. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean, Bren."

She nodded at him and then clarified, "I mean...I tried to figure out if maybe there was some reason you might have for not telling me why you'd been sent away on such short notice. Either because you couldn't tell me in writing, in case somehow the letter went astray, or maybe there was a reason you couldn't trust me with the information?"

"Bren," he said, taking a step towards her and reaching for her hands. "It's as I told you in my letter—I was sent to Rome at the behest of Cardinal Pole, to deliver a message to the Holy Father on his behalf." His forehead creased as he looked at her, searching her face for a sign that she believed him. "It's as simple as that," he said. "I was but a humble messenger, Bren." He smiled sweetly, trying the coax the same from her.

A mere messenger, he thought to himself. I know she knows that there's more going on here then simply that, but I can't reveal the details of what I did, or what I was asked to do...even to her. I swore before God I wouldn't, and on Pole's memory, I can't dishonor him by breaking that vow. He watched her slender, dark brows knit as she looked back at him, whether with skepticism or some kind of residual hurt, he wasn't sure. Surely you know that, Brenyou're more than a mere midwife. You know that I cannot betray a confidence, the duty with which Pole charged me. You had your loyalty to your father and even went before the Inquisition because of it. Surely, I can do no less for the man who was as much my father as any I ever had on this earth. So, just as we did not let what happened around us get between us, so must we do so now. Whatever we are, whatever we will be to one anotherlet it be so, never mind the goings on of princes and popes. He squeezed her hands and leaned in close, his forehead nearly touching hers as he stroked his thumbs over her knuckles. Please, don't ask more, he begged her silently. Please take me at my word, that I'll not have to tell you an untruth to protect you from things you know not of. Please...just let it go, Bren. Please?

He let out another sigh before he continued, speaking in a quiet voice as he did so. "You know I trust you, Bren," he said, breathing in a noseful of her rosemary-scented hair. "Tell me that you trust me, too. Tell me you believe me when I say that I had no choice in this. I did not want to cause you any pain, I swear it. I would never want to hurt you, Bren."

Brennan swallowed once, and sighed as she nodded. "I know you trust me, Booth," she said. "I know that. And I know that you never meant to hurt me, Booth, I swear I's just...well, I was in a very raw place when you left like that. And then I found out I was pregnant a few weeks later...and at that point I didn't have the luxury of doubting you. I had to believe, Booth...I needed to have faith and believe in you because...because if I didn't think that you would be true to your word and come back to me...if I even let one single speck of doubt enter my mind...if as the days and weeks passed I began to doubt whether you'd told me the truth when you promised you'd return...that you'd come back to me...well, I wouldn't have been able to do what I had to do—for this child, for myself...or for you." She shook her head a little and swiveled her eyes away. "I had to believe it, even if it seemed irrational at the time."

"But Bren," he said, tilting his head as he tried to catch her gaze. "Hey..." He tugged on her hand, his voice low and reassuring as he spoke. "Listen, Bren—you knew I was going to come back to you. You knew that. I told you I would return. I gave you my word I would come back to you. And you believed me, because you know I would never lie to you." She raised her chin and brought her eyes back up to meet his as he encouraged her with a smile.

"Yes," she answered with a faint, almost imperceptible waver in her voice. "I did, Booth. I swear I did. It's just much was changing in such a short period of time. Everything happened just so damn fast...and, well...I was alone." She saw his brown eyes widen and his smile fade into a slight frown. "Booth," she said, quickly trying to explain herself. "I don't blame you for that. I made my peace with it months ago. It's just...well, a statement of truth, of fact. That's how it was. And, though I was alone, I didn't doubt that you'd keep your promise and come back to me. But, I-I..." Her eyes again swung away from him, averted as she fumbled for words.

Booth's brow furrowed as he struggled to understand what troubled her, if she had—as she said—believed that he would back to her. He heard her hesitancy and wondered if he had caused her pain, despite his best efforts to reassure her that he was not leaving her because he didn't want to be with her—and that, while he wasn't sure how long he would be gone, he would return.

"What is it, Bren?" he asked, finally letting go of her hands as he reached up and gently placed his hands on the sides of her upper arms, not gripping them but rather slowly rubbing his palms up and down the sleeve of her dress. "Please? Tell me," he urged her, his voice low and raspy, hovering just above a whisper. "Trust and faith, right?" he said, echoing what he had said to her in the minutes before dawn on the morning he saw her last. "You know you can trust me...whatever it is, Bren...whatever it can tell me."

Brennan slowly lifted her gaze to meet his, her eyes unexpectedly watering just a bit so that the normal blue of her irises seemed ever more brilliant than their usual color. At last, she spoke, her voice just louder then a hoarse whisper, as she told him, "In your letter, Booth, you never promised that when you got back that you'd still want me...especially a me that's, well..." She swallowed once, before she flushed a bit red in obvious embarrassment and gestured at her much changed body. "I didn't know...and to be truthful, I still don't know if you...well, after all that's happened since you've been gone, if you still...want me..."

Booth's eyes suddenly widened as he stared back at her with complete and utter surprise, shaking his head as her question rang in his ears. "What?" he gasped, amazed that she would even ask him such a question. He saw a hint of uncertainty in her face, her brows held high and her eyes narrowing ever so slightly as she awaited his answer with a trepidation. "Of course I still want you," he said quickly, taking a small step towards her. "I want you," he said again, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he could even take a breath. "More than anything, I want you."

He saw her press her lips together in a firm line as she tried to steel herself against the tide of emotions swelling inside of her, and seeing the doubt still written on her face, that doubt tugged at something deep inside of him.

"Oh, God, Bren," Booth told her with a disbelieving shake of his head. "How could you even think that I didn't want you?"

How can she not see how much I want her? he wondered. How can she not know how much I've always wanted her, almost from the very first day I met her? That's the one thing that's always been a need for her, my want for her. It's always been there. Always. He remembered how painfully his body had burned for her as he lay in his friar's cell at Westminster, and how he had come to her, so desperate for relief he felt no shame even as he took her hand and placed it where she could feel his arousal through the thin wool of his robes. Later that same morning, after they came together for the very first time—and, Booth noted with a faint grin, for the second time—he knew that, no matter what happened, he would never not want her. How many nights in the short time they had together did he come to her, giving her everything he had to give and drowning himself in the feeling of everything she gave to him? God, Bren, he thought. How can you not see how much I want you—how you can unwind me, how you unravel me with a single look or glance? How can you not know?

He thought back to the final morning he'd spent in her arms on the humble pallet that served as her bed in her cell at the priory before he left her to meet with Pole at Lambeth Palace, unaware in those minutes that it would be the last time that he'd see her for so many months.

"I don't know a lot of things in this world, Bren," he'd told her. "But I do know what I want...I've known for a while now that I don't want this to be finished, Bren, this thing between us. I mean, damn, I don't even know what it is, but if whatever it is means that by ending it, I can't keep you in my life, then I can't think of a moment when I'll ever want it to end. I don't want to give you up. Not now. Not ever. I want you. You know that, don't you? I want you, and I'll always want you."

The uncertainty he saw in her face made his chest tighten and he wanted nothing more in that moment than to take away that uncertainty, to make sure she knew that he had never stopped wanting her.

"Bren," he said, his voice a little firmer than before. "I know you've got to know this, even if it may've slipped your mind while I was away. It seems as if both of us might've fallen into a few old bad habits that I guess are hard to break." He squeezed her arms gently, giving her a soft smile and a slight wink. "That's alright, though, because I've got absolutely no problem in telling it to you again and again and again, every day for the rest of our lives," he said. He raised his chin and waited a moment for her eyes to squarely meet his. "Bren, I want you. No matter what's happened, no matter what will happen, I want you. I want you with everything I am and everything I have. I want you. I've always wanted you. I will always want you."

As she listened to his words, Brennan's pulse quickened and her eyes widened in hopeful expectation as she listened to him speak. Tilting her head, she couldn't help herself as she asked in a very soft voice, "Do you really, Booth?"

"God, yes," he told her. "I swear to God, Bren, I do. I want you, and I want to be with you, Bren, however or wherever you'll have me." He paused for a beat before he added with a bit of a crooked grin, "Honest, Bren. The idea of being with you...of being with you again? And I don't just mean the sex—although you'd be able to rightly call me a liar if I said I didn't think of you and me and being together in that way every night and every morning and more often in between than you might believe. I mean all of it—everything that we share between us. And, know, Bren...all of it? You and me and the thought of us having all of that? You've got to to believe me when I tell you that it's what kept me sane this last half-year."

His heart pounding in his chest, he finally took a breath and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to ignore the voice of uncertainty that echoed in the back of his mind. Opening his eyes again, his gaze filled with the sight of her face with her pink, apple-shaped cheeks and delicately-arched eyebrows underneath which lay her eyes, their pale blue-green color giving her every glance a sense of discernment that had fascinated him from the very first moment his eyes met hers. He looked at her, his brown eyes narrowing slightly and then widening again as his glistening gaze bore into hers, lending a warmth to the heavy silence that hung between them.

"We can find a way to make this work between us," he finally said, his voice suddenly broader and stronger as he felt his chest swell with affection and hope. "If you still want me, Bren. Because, like I said, I swear to the Holy Mother and all His Saints...I want you more than anything else in this world or the next. I swear."

Their eyes locked again, unblinking, for another very long moment before Brennan took a short breath and finally looked away, letting her eyes fall to his feet. Her gaze traced up the length of his tall, black riding boots which were dusty and scuffed from travel, over his knees to his thighs and up to the dark burgundy doublet which was dotted with tiny embroidered slits. Her eyes wandered up to his collar, and she could tell by the bobbing of his Adam's apple that he knew she was studying him. She saw his stubbled jaw shift slightly and the pink point of his tongue dart out from between his lips as she finally brought her eyes back up to meet his.

His mouth fell open, and he looked back at her, his warm brown eyes suddenly darker and hungrier as she gave him a small nod, her lips cracked with a crooked grin that was both an answer and an invitation. As soon as he saw the amused quiver of her lips, something inside of him broke, and he took a step towards her, closing the distance between them as he quietly spoke her name, cupping his large, calloused hands around her jaw and pulling her face to his as he kissed her.

"Bren," he murmured, pulling away for a fleeting second before leaning in again and letting his tongue skim along the cleft between her lips.

Brennan opened her mouth to him instantly and felt his tongue slide over her teeth and glance across her own. She closed her eyes and moaned as she kissed him back, reveling in the taste of his mouth—faintly spicy in a way that reminded her of mulled wine, with a hint of hazelnut and honey—and she felt a flash of heat ripple through her body as his hands fell from the sides of her face to grasp her hips. Feeling his strong, thick fingers squeeze her as he turned his head slightly and deepened the kiss, she felt the room begin to spin beneath her feet. Emboldened by the feel of his hands on her hips, she made a tiny growling sound in her throat and wrapped her arms around him, clawing a little at the back of his doublet. She kissed him hungrily, her mouth clutching at his as her tongue twirled in his mouth, and he couldn't help but jerk his hips against her as he suddenly felt himself losing control as he succombed to his desire for her, drowning in the taste of her kiss.

"Mmmm," he mumbled against her moist, honey-scented lips as he reluctantly pulled away, gasping for breath. "You taste...oh, my good...better...even better than my dreams," he muttered, his words falling in broken, breathy groups as he sucked down brief mouthfuls of much-needed air.

His breath heaving as he leaned in to kiss her again, he saw the bright flicker in Brennan's eyes, which had darkened to a shimmering teal as he gave in again to want and licked his tongue as far into her mouth as he could reach. As they kissed, one of her hands slipped under the bottom of his doublet and he felt the warmth of her hand even through the fabric of his linen shirt. Feeling her touch on his skin after he'd endured a half-year with only the dreamy remembrance of how her hands had touched him in so many different ways during the short time they were together drove his want of her even higher, although he'd not thought such a thing was realistically possible. As he kissed her, his heart pounded in his chest and he found his hand drifting up to palm the round swell of her breast, swiping his thumb across the point of her nipple which he could feel hardening beneath the woolen dress and linen shift that kept him from feeling the groin-tightening delight of her silky skin. He squeezed her breast in his hand and she moaned, her mouth grasping once more at his before she grunted and pushed him away.

When they broke apart finally, each one gasping for breath, Brennan let her hands fall away from him as she took a small stumbling step backwards. She stood there, panting for breath as she saw the fire of arousal flickering in his pitch-dark eyes and the recognition of his need echoing in the way her body clenched emptily for want of him.

"You want me," she murmured, her hands shaking as she felt herself swaying a little on her feet, and she reached for his hands, partly to steady herself and partly that she could feel the warmth of his skin and the strength of his hands as she struggled for words, overcome as she was by feelings and sensations that seemed beyond the reach of words.

Booth's mouth hung open as he tried to breathe, his eyes narrowed as he heard her words as a faint murmur amid the roaring in his ears. "Yes," he said breathlessly. "I want you. I've always wanted you, Bren."

"Then prove it," Brennan replied. "Because I want you. I've wanted you every day..." She winced slightly as she felt a pulse of desire crackle through her limbs and she closed her slender fingers around the palms of his much larger hands. "I've wanted you every day since the day I last saw you. Wanted and wondered...if you still wanted prove it. Prove you want me the way I want you."

Booth licked his kiss-swollen lips and looked down at the way her hands held his. "Bren," he said, his voice scarcely more than a low, ragged whisper.

"Come with me," she whispered, her eyes flashing bright with desire as she pulled him towards the stairs and towards the upper floor where her bedchamber sat located at the top of the stairway that was found in the back of the narrow house. "Now, right now, Booth."

Booth's eyebrows flew up then crinkled again as he hesitated, then smiled. "But Bren," he said, turning around towards the sitting room even as he felt himself yanked towards the stairs. "I thought you wanted to talk. You know, about..." His eyes swiveled to the round swell of her belly as his flushed cheeks seemed to blush even more. As he lifted his chin to meet her eyes again, he felt her lean in and her lips begin kissing a trail up the side of his neck. He arched his head back out of reflex and sighed, "Oh, God, that feels good," groaning a little as her light kisses became pecks. "But it just seems that we still..." The tiny pecks became more insistent as he felt her lips pluck at the tender skin just below where his beard began. "Bren...we have a lot to..." Her lips sucked at his skin, causing him to draw a sharp breath of pleasure and surprise as her mouth closed around the side of his Adam's apple. "Ohhh, God..." Smiling against his skin as she heard him blaspheme in pleasure, Brennan kissed his neck one more time before taking a half-step back to admire the way she had managed to scatter his focus. "You"

"Well, yes," Brennan said with a twinkle in her blue eyes that made them gleam brighter than before, amused at having unwound him with just a few kisses. "But, as I said, there's no reason we can't talk and do this at the same time." She raised herself up on her toes and kissed the side of his mouth, letting her lips grasp at his ever so lightly, knowing that such feathery kisses would inflame him. Booth closed his eyes and answered her kisses with one of his own, unable to resist her even as he knew they had to talk.

"But," he said in half-hearted protest in between the playful, teasing kisses she gave him. "Bren, come on now. Be...serious. We can't...we've never...I can't talk and think...if you're doing that to me…if you're touching me and I'm touching you...if I can taste you and feel you and if all I can think about is how much I want to be inside of you..." He swallowed hard and shook his head, turning away from her kisses as he tried to shore up his will against the rising tide of his desire. "I want you, I swear I know I do...but there's still so much we need to talk about. Remember?"

"Mmmm," she responded as she tugged his hands and drew his downward glance, chuckling as she saw the opportunity to nibble at his earlobe. "Yes, of course, as ever, you're right, Booth."

He coughed as he felt her suck on his earlobe but did not turn or pull away, the pleasure of it making him feel his growing arousal in an even more pointed way then it had already been so strongly felt just a few moments earlier. "Then," he said. "We can' this...when we...need to talk, you can't do that to me, Bren."

Pulling her lips away from the tender flesh of his earlobe, the faint smile on her lips widened a little and turned into a crooked half-grin that betrayed her amusement at the effects her seductive mischief had wrought on him so quickly. "I already said you were right, Booth," she laughed. "But I don't see why we can't even try to talk and fuck. It sounds like fun, don't you think? We'll talk...and moan, and sigh—" She knew by the way his brown eyes had darkened to the color of two smoldering black coals that he wanted her, even as he protested her seductions. "You say you want to talk," she said with a laugh, brushing the back of her hand, tightly clasped as it was around his own, over the growing bulge in the front of his trousers, just below the bottom of his doublet. Pleased by the low growl that sounded in his throat at the contact, she did it again and said, "You say you want to talk, but that's not what your body's telling me. No, I think it's telling me something very, very different." His hip jerked against her hand as he grunted at her teasing touch. "Mmmm, yeeeessss," she hissed, her own eyes darkened and heavy-lidded as she thought of how he used to make her moan with a simple touch, laying a trail of wet, sucking kisses along the path from her navel to the sensitive skin on the inside of her thigh. The thought of feeling his tongue on her skin once more made her shiver in anticipation. "You can even growl back when you hear me gasp as I come. All of that will be more than quite satisfactory, don't you think, Booth?"

Booth felt a warm flash in his belly at feeling her tease his body with her touch as he heard the echo of her words sink into the increasingly cloudy layers of his mind, his desire resonating with the low, velvety tone in which she spoke. He opened his mouth to reply, but suddenly found himself inexplicably without words, a lopsided grin slowly spreading across his face as he felt her squeeze his hands once as if in warning and then pull him by the arm as she made her way towards the stairs.

She felt him stubbornly resist, then gave his arm another tug as he stumbled forward, catching himself and pulling her towards him as he reached the foot of the stairs. She stood on the first step and he pulled her into an embrace as he covered her mouth with his. They kissed for a few moments, at first gently and light, but quickly turning more heated as he freed one of his hands and snaked his arm around her waist. He pulled her snug against his chest as he climbed the first step, scarcely able to see as he felt consumed by the overarching desire to devour her. Letting his mouth draw one more kiss before she pulled her lips away, she chuckled a low laugh as she reached back and unlatched herself from his grasp.

"Come and get it," she snickered, sidestepping up two more steps as she dared him to follow her with a twinkle in her eyes.

A/N: So there you have it. We now know a little bit more about the struggles Booth and Brennan endured over the course of their six-month separation.

Chapter 3 is actually the first half of what was originally written as a single chapter but, in true Dharmasera fashion, ended up ballooning into two chapters.

The good news is that Chapter 4 ("Rekindling, Part II") is written and more or less ready to go. Our plan is to post it in a few days, once folks have had a chance to get through Chapter 3. And yes, it is conceivable that Chapter 4 is where this story begins to earn its content rating. (So, yes, we ended the chapter at a sort of mean, cliffhangery place but you all know that you'll be soon rewarded for putting up with said cliffhanger, so we think you'll forgive us.)

In the meantime, we hope you found this chapter worth the wait. But don't leave us wondering. We've gone waaaay out in deep left field to bring you a totally different sort of Bones fanfic. So we need to know what you think. Please tell us how we did and leave a review. Drop us a line and we'll do what we can to get Chapter 4 up in the next few days.

In any case, we're grateful for each and every one of you out there reading this.

Editorial Note on Literary Sources: For those who are curious, the Roman poem that Brennan quotes in this chapter is a portion of the poem "Flavius's Girl: to Flavius" by the poet Catullus. The other bit of erotic poetry we quoted comes from the Old Testament, from the "Song of Songs," Chapter 4, verses 3-5.