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: Finally! The Return has, at last, returned. We're back, baby :-) Enjoy!

Chapter 6: A Need for Time and Space

After she had left Booth to dress back at the house, Brennan exited the front door and quickly crossed the small courtyard between the house and her father's shop, pausing momentarily at the back door of the shop to check her hair in the reflection in the small glass window cut into the door before taking a deep breath and going inside.

Closing the well-worn oak door behind her with a soft click, she saw the book of accounts laying open on the small writing desk in the back room, right where her brother had left it when he came out to confront Booth. She heard her father's voice from the front of the shop as he packaged up a customer's purchases. She listened to the familiar sounds of commerce: coins clinking against one another as the patron dropped them, one by one, into the palm of his hand, and the tinkle of the shop's front door as it opened for an incoming customer.

She stalled for a few more moments, knowing that it was time for her to face the music and finally have the conversation with her father that she'd avoided and, frankly, dreaded since the night four months earlier when she'd first broken the news to him that she was with child.

She heard hushed murmurings from the front as her brother and father talked among themselves, but she was too far away to make out exactly what they were saying. She glanced towards the doorway that led from the back room into the front of the shop, and then closed her eyes and took another deep breath as she tried not to think of the warm, sticky dampness she felt between her legs or how it came to be there. She'd tried to clean up as much as possible with the wet cloth and jug of water she'd had handy in her room after her most recent bedsport with Booth, but until she could manage a proper bath, she'd just have to make do. Knowing she was stalling once again by letting her mind wonder, she shook her head and chided herself silently.

Alright, she told herself. Enough's enough. This won't get any easier by waiting any longer, so I might as well just be done with it. No time like the present. So, on with it, Brennan.

Her decision made, Brennan walked up to the doorway separating the back room from the counter and the small, sunlit waiting area between the counter and the shop's front door. She stood there for several seconds, leaning against the doorframe as she quietly watched her father and brother tie up bundles of dried fennel leaves and set them in a jar where they could be dispensed to women seeking to ease the symptoms of a heavy menstrual flow.

A woman entered the shop, a wicker basket dangling from the crook of her arm, and she acknowledged Matthew and Russ each with a friendly nod before her eyes fell on Brennan, who was standing behind them, and her friendly greeting turned into a very open smile. Seeing the customer's gaze wander over his left shoulder, Matthew turned his head, his jaw hardening as his cool blue eyes met his daughter's. Turning back to his son, he pointed in the direction of the customer, muttering something under his breath as he jerked his chin towards the back room.

"Come on," he said tersely, giving her elbow a nudge as he brushed past her.

Brennan's brows furrowed over her eyes as she scowled at being ordered around like some kind of lackey, but—knowing that this long-deferred conversation was not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination—decided not to make anything of it.

"Good day, Mistress Simianell," she said warmly, returning the unspoken greeting of the customer. She turned to Russ and said, "She's here for her monthly supply of mint tea and the honeyed candies she purchases to ease her father's cough. I made up the package this morning. It's the one behind the counter that's third from the left, Russ." She didn't wait for a response from her brother before she gave the young woman a friendly wave of goodbye and followed her father into the back room.

When she entered the room, she could see her father was obviously annoyed at even the slight delay that had kept her from promptly following him. Rolling her eyes dismissively, she said, "Oh, stop it, Father. I was just letting Russ know where that customer's package was so he didn't waste twenty minutes of her time looking for it before he had to interrupt us anyway to ask."

"Your brother is more than capable of tending to Mistress Simianell," Matthew groused, grinding out his words as his florid complexion flushed even further. "The two of us, he and I, know how to run an apothecary shop, Tempe, even if you don't happen to think so, thank you very much."

Leaning against a heavy oak work-table along the wall in the back of the shop, Brennan looked at her father, biting back a smile as she saw how swollen and puffy his lower lip seemed in the wake of his brawl with Booth. For a minute, neither of them spoke as Brennan let her father's statement remain unaddressed since both of them knew that what they were really arguing about. They continued to stare at one another in a wordless battle of wills. Finally, after enduring as much of the tense silence as he could, Matthew shook his head grimly, scuffing the toe of his boot against the dusty wood floor as he raised his gaze again and spoke.

"So it's him?" he asked with a heavy sigh. "Is that it?"

Brennan leveled a firm stare at her father, refusing to be cowed by his disdainful tone, and not disrespectful enough to want to even attempt to deny it. "Yes," she said evenly. "If by your vague query you mean, is Booth the father of my child, then the answer is yes—he is."

Matthew looked up at the ceiling and expelled a sharp breath. "Jesus Christ, Tempe," he said, letting out another long sigh. "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't suspected it was that filthy papist coxcomb from the very start, but to hear you say it? Like that? So openly? So proudly? Owning him that easily after he's been back in your life for just a few hours when you've spent months telling me that you would rather die than give me the pignut's name?" His eyes narrowed as he grimaced. "For the love of all that's holy, how could you let this happen, Tempe?"

Brennan rolled her eyes at her father's questions. "I would presume that you already know the answer to that question since you've fathered two children yourself, Father," she told him, the sharpness of her tone clear as the corner of her lip curled a little as she responded to his mildly melodramatic reply with her own unique brand of sarcasm. "And it's hardly news that 'this' happened, seeing as how I've been pregnant for some seven months now. So, enough with this nonsense, hmm? Let's stop wasting time. Why don't you ask me what you really want to ask me instead?" She brought her arms up to fold them across her chest but, between her swollen belly and her larger bosom, found the posture awkward, so she let one hand fall to her side as she palmed her pregnant abdomen with the other. "Stop obfuscating, Father. Ask me what you really want to ask."

Matthew rubbed his eyes, squeezing the bridge of his nose as he tried to massage away the tension he felt throbbing between his temples. "After everything," he muttered. "After everything we've been through—everything you have been through—why would you let one of them have at you? I don't..." A frustrated growl rattled in the back of his throat. "I just don't understand, Tempe. You've never bowed to any man's will before. So why now? What's so different? What made him so different? I thought I raised you better than that. So, why would you—?" He let his words trail off, unable to bring himself to complete the sentence.

"Enough, Father," she spat, pushing herself off the heavy work table and taking a step towards him. "Either you're being deliberately obtuse, or Booth hit you harder than I thought. In either case, I've had enough of this ridiculousness."

"Ridiculous?" he snapped as the tone of his voice grew louder by several decibels. "You're hauled away by the papist Inquisition, and a couple of months later you come home thin as a rail with one of their babies growing in your belly? It doesn't take a mathematician like Diophantus to figure this one out, Tempe..."

Looking at him so sharply that it was almost a glare, Brennan asked him, "Do you actually think I would let any man have at me? That any man would even be able to try to take me by force without you hearing about it? I mean, really, father. You know as well as I do that any man who tried to take me by force would be lucky to still be alive after trying something like that with me, let alone still have his balls long enough to impregnate me." She paused for a beat and shot him a look of disgust as she shook her head. "I don't even know what to...that is, I don't know how to even respond to that kind of asinine insinuation." She glared at her father for another minute before she rolled her eyes and made a pffft sound, splaying her fingers over the round, full swell of her belly as if protecting the child with the span of her hand. "No man forces me to do anything I don't want to do," she said. "Ever." She emphasized the final word in an extremely pronounced way. "Don't tell me that you've forgotten that the last one who tried damn near bled his lifeblood out on the hay as he ran out of the barn crying for a surgeon?"

Narrowing his eyes as he chewed on the inside of his swollen lower lip, he closed his eyes and shook his head, exasperated although hardly surprised by his daughter's willfulness. "What are you trying to say to me, Tempe?" he asked her soberly. "Because, you're right. We've wasted enough time. So let's speak plainly, at last, hmm?

Brennan cocked her head and blinked incredulously. "Seriously, Father?" she snorted. "You don't think I'm speaking plainly enough? Because, I mean, if you must know, I suppose I could explain it to you in exacting detail, but I would've guessed after all this time, you would have figured out how this happened. Or have you and Rosamonde just simply been sitting by the fire sipping cider and nibbling on gingersnaps when she drops by in the evenings?"

Matthew tore his gaze from her and rolled his eyes, briefly wondering if his daughter's sharp tongue and willfulness was some kind of a divine punishment set upon him for some heretofore unatoned-for misdeed. He turned to her with a pfffft of his own, his jaw rigid as he rolled his eyes again.

"I know how," he grumbled, having no interest in thinking for a moment about his daughter in bed with the papist priest. "Now it's you who's being deliberately obtuse, I think, or perhaps just your normal smartass self. In either case, I thought we'd just agree to speak plainly, hmmm? So, tell me what I want to know. I just want to understand why, Tempe. Why did it happen? Why did you let it happen?"

"Why?" she huffed. She shook her head in utter disbelief, rubbing her eyes with her thumb and forefinger as if she could somehow wipe away the haze that had trapped her and her father in a seemingly pointless match of verbal tennis. She sighed and decided the only way out of this bizarre loop was to let go of her sarcasm for a moment and address his question head-on. "Why?" She repeated as she struggled for an answer. She then tried again. "Because..." She paused, realizing with some surprise that he'd asked a question she'd never really thought of before, and with even more surprise that she knew the answer without a moment's hesitation. "Because I found him interesting. Intelligent. Charming. Amusing. Sweet." The soft smile on her lips widened into a somewhat crooked grin. "Well-structured and attractive. And very passionate." She shrugged away that train of thought before she became distracted by the memory of how deliriously happy she'd felt to finally feel him inside of her again. "But," she said, swallowing thickly. "Perhaps more than anything all else, even more than the physicality we've shared—"

Matthew's pink-cheeked face suddenly blanched as his lip curled up at her pointed reference to the more lurid aspects of her affair with the priest.

"But, above all else, Father?" she told him. "Whether you want to hear it or not, the reason I 'let' it happen, as you over-simplistically put it? It was because, despite the strange circumstances we found ourselves in, he treated me with respect and dignity. Because he listened to me, though I'm but a woman." She raised her brows, expecting her father to jump in and interrupt, but she was mildly surprised he didn't. Shaking away her response, she said, "Listen to me, Father, because this is very important. I want you to understand this. I need you to understand this. What we did? Booth and I? What we had together..." She paused and then quickly corrected herself. "What we have together, it's more important to me than anything else in my life, Father. And, this child? This child is a part of that, so, no—I don't regret what we did," she said. "I didn't then—not once after any of the many, many times we came together..." She smirked as her father cleared his throat and looked away in obvious discomfort. "And, even after he left, I didn't feel any regrets, nor did I after I learned that I was pregnant with his child. So, you can be certain that I sure as hell don't have any regrets now—now that he's finally back. And he is back, Dad. Back in England, and back in my life. A fact you'll have to find some way to accept. Because you don't get to decide who I share my bed or my life with any more than I get to decide who shares yours."

And with that, she fell silent, her eyes set hard as they stared back at him.

"You're a member of my household, Tempe," Matthew said tensely.

"At the moment, yes," she conceded with a faint, almost indifferent shrug. "But, as you well know, I'm more than capable of supporting myself and this child financially if I had to do so. So, if you see fit to throw me out of your household because I wish to share my bed with a papist and am having his child, then I'd appreciate it if you could tell me that now so that I have enough time to pack my things and find other accommodations before dark."

Brennan raised a sharply-cocked brow as a faint smirk danced across her lips, and then she narrowed her icy blue eyes and leveled a steely glare at her father.

Matthew, clearly distressed at the idea of her leaving, quickly backpedaled. "Now, look, Tempe," he said, raising his hands in open supplication. "Don't be silly. I didn't say anything about anyone going anywhere."

She shot him a distinctly unsympathetic look, then asked, "So, does that mean you're willing to accept the fact that Booth has a place in my life and that that won't be changing anytime soon? Because I promise you, I won't be changing my mind about this. I want him in my life just as much as he wants me in his. And, I won't be sleeping alone simply because you, in your infinite wisdom, don't approve of who I've chosen to take to my bed and share my life with, Father. I'm a grown woman, married and widowed, many years over now." She paused and surveyed her father's face, noting his uncertainty as his blue eyes peered out from beneath his blond, bushy brows. "You know," she said, her voice suddenly taking on an even harder edge to it, "it strikes me as somewhat ironic that despite the fact that I spent the better part of last spring and the first part of the summer warming a dank cell in a papist prison out of loyalty to protect you from harm, I'm apparently not worthy of enough of your consideration or trust to be allowed to choose who to share my bed or my life with."

She saw him smart at hearing her barbed words, and let the remark hang in the air between them for a few seconds before she spoke again.

"It's not your place to choose, Dad. It never was. It isn't now. And, it never will be." She took a breath, trying to still the pounding of her heart as she felt the child stir inside of her, obviously awakened by her emotional agitation. "I would hope that you could find it in you to respect that. To respect me and my choices, and to respect the man I care for, the man who—regardless of what you think of him or his religious leanings—is the father of your grandchild. But, even if you don't like or respect him personally, respect the fact that I do."

Matthew shook his head and turned away, walking to the far end of the small back room and slamming his open hand against the wall with a loud, angry grunt.

"This isn't what I wanted," he said as he turned around to face her once more, his teeth gritted as he struggled to contain the strong tide of emotions that had been roiling inside of him since the moment he saw Booth standing in the sitting room with his daughter. He took a long, steady breath and sighed, then ran his hand through his hair and said, "This isn't what I wanted for you, honey. Not at all. I didn't want you to have to go through any of that...the hell you did. If I could've figured out a way to keep you from having to endure that besides giving that bitch of a queen what she really wanted, I would have done it in a heartbeat. But you know I didn't have any choice back then."

Brennan's face softened a bit at her father's words, hearing the guilt she knew he carried over what had happened to her because of him tinge his voice. She felt a bit of guilt herself at manipulating him in such a way which caused her to shake her head sympathetically as she spoke. "I know that, Dad," she told him. "Believe you me, that's one thing I've never doubted. At all. Never. Not once. I promise you that." She nodded at him to emphasize her words.

Encouraged by her words, her father gave her a small nod and shruged. "Then," Matthew told her in an impassioned plea. "Please understand. All I've ever wanted for you was for you to be safe and happy. Although, I must admi if I knew then what I know now, perhaps I should've confessed and given the papist bitch what she wanted since it's because of me that son of a monkey whore got his hooks into you, let alone whatever filthy parts of his anatomy he used to do this to you—" He almost hissed the last few words, his distaste and resentment at his daughter's unplanned pregnancy obviously becoming clear as he gestured in the general direction of her swollen belly.

For her part, his words, tone, and body language made the guilt Brennan had felt disappear as she felt another flash of anger at her father, spurring her on to speak. "Don't you get it?" Brennan suddenly interrupted him, her face flushed and her nostrils flared in anger as she decided to let his second reference to coercion lay untouched and ignored. "It's not about what you want," she said indignantly. "It's about what I want. It's about what makes me happy and, while it may not matter to you, he does that, Father. He makes me happy." She thought for a moment, then added, "He makes me feel happier and more content with my life than I've ever felt before..." Her voice trailed off a bit before she swallowed once and her voice had a bit of unusual emotion in it, betraying the hurt she felt at her father's apparent attack on her choices, as she asked in a ragged voice, "Doesn't that matter to you at all?"

The sound of her low voice suddenly cracking with emotion cut Matthew to the quick, and his eyes glimmered with hurt as his face contorted into a pained grimace at her words. "Of course," he said almost instantly, his lips pouting a little as he read the indignation that flashed in her eyes. "Of course it does. Honey, you know I want you to be happy. I just don't want to see you get hurt, baby girl."

"Then why are you doing this?" she asked. "If you don't want to hurt me..."

The old apothecary sighed, knowing in that moment that this conversation, which had not gone the way he had hoped it would—though, were he to be honest with himself, it went much as he had, at least at some level, expected—was more or less over.

For a moment, neither of them said a word, but just stewed in their own respective juices as Russ tended to a customer at the counter in the front room. Each looked up and glanced towards the direction of the front room where the counter was—each of them privately wondering as they heard Russ shuffling around up front how much more time they would have to themselves before he would come trotting into the back room with an inevitable question—then, as they brought their gazes back to the stockroom, their eyes met again. Their two pairs of cool, icy eyes locked for several seconds, neither one willing to concede until, finally unnerved by the silent tension that hung between them and, seeing his daughter rub her hand over the round swell of her belly out of the corner of his eye, Matthew found his sublimated irritation suddenly fractured. He leaned against the scrivener's desk, looked down at his booted feet and drew a long, heavy sigh.

"Fine," he huffed. "I don't like it, but fine."

Brennan blinked, surprised that his anger had boiled off as quickly as it appeared to have done. Somewhat at a loss of what to say, she could only manage to come up with a half-hearted, "Thank you, Father."

Shaking his head, Matthew replied, "Just don't expect me to like it, because even for a man like me, that's asking too much, Tempe."

Glancing down at her belly, she let her gaze linger on the shape of her fingers splayed over the tight-spun fabric of her dress as she considered his words, then looked up at him again. "I understand," she said evenly. "I know that you know that I've never been the type of woman to ask more of someone than they were willing and/or able to give."

"Good," Matthew said with sharp nod. "Then we've said enough between us today, I think."

This time it was Brennan's turn to nod. "Agreed," she said. "Then I hope I can count on you to respect my wishes and give me space—time and space—to spend with Booth before you do as I know you will and approach him to speak your piece. I understand that you don't care for him, or my choice to be with him, but I ask that you have some respect for me, and for the child of mine that I share with him, and let me have some time and space with him before you give him the talking-to that I know you'll insist on having..."

Her words trailed off when she saw her father's blue eyes darken and his nostrils flare as his jaw shifted forward, and he gave her a narrow-eyed glare. She pursed her lips and scowled back at him, matching his withering glare for a moment, before she closed her eyes and shook her head once before continuing.

"A little time and space, Father," she said firmly, undeterred by his petulance. "That's the only other thing I'll ask of you right now. Surely, after everything, I deserve at least that."

"Holy Mary mother of God," he groaned, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. "Fine, alright?" He leaned his head back as a rough sigh rattled in his throat, then shook his head. "Does this man have any idea what he's got himself into?" he asked her.

A smile tugged at her lips, but she forced herself to keep it from showing outwardly as she answered with a straight face. "He thinks he does," she answered. "Whether he really understands the truth of that claim or not is another matter entirely, I think."

Matthew's eyes swiveled up and then closed as if he was silently praying for the young man who now, it seemed, shared his headstrong daughter's bed. Perhaps, even, for good, he mused. After a moment, his gaze fell to meet hers again. "God help him," her father sighed with a bit of a chuckle.

Brennan quirked a brow and offered nothing in reply but a crooked, knowing smile as she watched her father turn away without a further word and walk back towards the door to the shop area where an exasperated Russ could be heard struggling to make sense of an elderly woman's complaints, the new customer obviously having taken Mistress Simianell's place. Once her father had disappeared around the corner, she looked down and palmed her belly as she felt the child shift and kick inside of her.

"Your father has been back all of three hours," she told the baby. "And look at all the trouble he's wrought, hmm? Impressive, don't you think?"

As if in response, the child kicked again, then stilled.

"But he's home," she whispered with a smile as she readied herself to go to her brother's rescue to help with the difficult customer. Before she did, she chuckled, "Thank God for that, hmmm? Will wonders never cease. I suppose it seems that He heard our prayers, after all."

For all that one could've discerned from staring out the window of Brennan's house, it might as well have been four o'clock in the morning rather than four o'clock in the afternoon. The winter sun, which on a clear day flung long afternoon shadows, hung low in the sky, but on this day there were no shadows because the sun was obscured behind layers of thick, gray clouds. A heavy snow fell in big flakes, and as midday turned towards dusk, a cold westerly wind came in, blowing the snow in drifts as the cold gusts howled, mocking those Londoners foolish enough to venture out.

The bleakness of the January day made the pair inside extremely happy to be seated in front of the blazing fire that roared in the sitting room's large hearth. Hearing the crackle of the dry oak wood pop in the hearth made the fact that Booth was leaning against her couch with Brennan sitting between his legs, both of them wrapped in a large quilt, seem all the more cozy. As the windows rattled against the gusting wind, they admitted how curiously fortunate it was that Booth's horse had taken lame a few days earlier on the way in from Chatham and was recuperating in a stable, leaving him no option but to remain in Marylebone until the storm passed through.

Resting his chin on her shoulder, he said quietly, "Too bad you don't have some chestnuts or something. It'd be a nice treat."

Brennan opened her mouth and considered his comment. "If you really want some, I think I do have some left over from Twelfth Night that Russ didn't gobble down because he'd stuffed himself full of the roasted quail I made followed by a substantial portion of the walnut tarts I baked. You see, Amy isn't that...err...successful in the kitchen, no matter how much I've tried to teach her—"

She heard Booth chuckle and felt his muffled laugh as puffs of air on the side of her neck. "What are you laughing at?" she asked him, turning her head a little and letting his lips brush along the edge of her jaw as she looked at him through one narrowed eye. "What's so funny?"

He grinned at her for a minute and then answered. "Walnut tarts?" he snickered. "Really?"

Brennan rolled her eyes playfully and turned back to watch the flames of the hearth-fire lick the roughly-cleaved pieces of wood they consumed. "You knew that was my favorite," she said. "I told you that the very first day, didn't I? And she who labors in the kitchen has the prerogative of choosing what gets served especially when they're as good as the ones I bake."

"Hmmm," Booth murmured, closing his thighs more tightly against her body as he wrapped his arms around her and nipped at the exposed skin along the curve where her neck met her shoulder. "Is that so?" he asked with a snicker. "Is that some unwritten law of domesticity of which I was unaware?"

"Yes," she said, her voice bright with a smile that Booth, from his vantage point, could hear but not see. "Brennan's law."

"And I am now subject to the jurisdiction of Brennan's law, I take it?" he asked. "Seeing as how I am, at least for the moment, dwelling under your roof?"

Rocking back to lean against his chest, she smiled and replied, "Toute suite. Or, in my plain language, damn right you're subject to my rules in my house." She paused and thought for a moment, then added, "Lucky for you, you'll like most of the rules I lay down for you."

"Mmmmm," Booth murmured back, placing a pair of soft, wet kisses on the back of her neck, grinning against her skin as he felt her squirm in pleasure in response to them.

For a few moments, the pair was silent, then Brennan leaned forward a little and turned her head again so she could see his face out of the corner of her eye.

"Why did you want to know about my favorite dessert?" she asked him. Booth's brow furrowed as he puzzled at her question, then straightened again as he realized what she was referring to. "You know, that very first day you questioned me?"

A knowing, crooked grin spread across Booth's face as he, too, leaned forward, used to feeling her back against his chest. "I didn't really care about your favorite dessert," he admitted. "I just wanted to see how you'd react to a non sequitur question like that." His statement hung in the air between them for a few seconds before she responded.

"So you did it... to get a rise out of me, as it were?" she asked, a questioning glint in her eyes.

Booth shook his head. "Noooo," he crooned back, squeezing her arm teasingly. Cocking his head to the side, he smiled and said, "I did it to see if I could get a rise out of you."

Feeling a bit mischievous, an idea suddenly occurred to her. "But you didn't," she said, squirming a little as she deliberately pressed her bottom against his groin. "Did you? You didn't get a rise out of me, at all, did you, Father? I think, in the end, it was I who did that to you, wasn't it?"

Scrunching up his nose at her use of his old, now-forsaken title, Booth quickly realized she was doing what she'd accused him of trying to do more than half a year earlier. "No," he acknowledged, refusing to rise to her bait in either of the double veiled attempts she had skillfully deployed at him. "But it sure caught you unawares and a bit off-balance, didn't it? Because, I feel fairly confident when I say that I'm sure most people don't do that to you very often, do they, Bren?"

"Hmm," Brennan responded vaguely, nibbling the inside of her lip a little as she bit back a grin, knowing full well he was right. She shrugged and quickly changed the subject again. "No comment, I think."

"The witness shall answer the question," he said, letting his lips brush against the ticklish shell of her ear. "Hmmm? Come on, now. Just admit it, Bren."

"To answer your original question," she double-backed to the prior topic of conversation. "Yes, I baked walnut tarts for Twelfth Night," she said. "They're not altogether difficult to make, actually, so I bake them from time to time when I can find walnuts at a good price at the market. Otherwise, I'll make a pudding, or pie—though I don't particularly care for cooked fruit myself—or else gingerbread, of which my father is quite fond."

"Wow, so you can cook?" he asked, lifting his chin off of her shoulder, clearly surprised. "Really?"

Brennan turned around and gave him a strange look as she nodded. "Yes, of course."

"And...walnut just said you made walnut tarts for Twelfth Night," Booth repeated, his mouth watering at the thought of such a confection hitting his lips. "Mmmm...and pie..."

"Yes," she said again, nodding at him. "I did."

"So, that can bake, too?" he dared to ask, his eyes wide under a brow creased with an almost boyish excitement as his mouth gaped in expectation.

Comprehension suddenly dawning, Brennan chuckled as she said, "When I have the time, yes, of course I know how to bake. But, I believe I just said that since technically I didn't cook the walnut tarts but rather baked them since they're a dessert."

Tightening his hold on her, he gave her a slight squeeze as he said, "God, if I didn't love you already, I think you would've had me at 'walnut tart.'" Tilting his head as he reached around to place a kiss on the side of her brow, he chuckled boyishly as he added, "You know, I bet you never would've guessed this about me, but I have a bit of a sweet tooth that I don't get to do much about usually—" When he realized that her body had stiffened, he shifted slightly and stopped mid-sentence. "Bren?" he asked. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Brennan was quiet for a minute before she shifted her heavy form around so that her back was to the fire and she was facing him, taking the quilt with her as she wrapped it around her arms and shoulders. This time it was she who tilted her head and asked softly, "What did you say?"

It took Booth a moment to remember what she might mean as he recalled the comments he'd just made in his head.

Cooking...baking...damn, what did I say? He wracked his mind trying to remember. Wait...walnut tart. I said if I didn't love her already, that I would'veoh, damn. Heaven help me.

"Ummm," Booth struggled for a minute and then flushed as he realized that he'd been caught. Taking a breath, he swallowed once, realizing how dry his throat was and then exhaled slowly as he told her, "I, uhh, said—I said I love you, Bren."

"What?" she asked, the words almost catching in her throat. "Say that again."

"I...I-I love you, Bren," he said simply. " I love you." Booth cocked his head and leaned in, gently grasping her arms as he pressed a soft kiss to her cheek. "I do."

Brennan turned her head, craning her neck away from his mouth as she shivered in his arms. "I don't know what to say, or how I feel about that," she said quietly. "I-I...I just don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything," he said gently, pulling away a little as he slid his hand over the round swell of her abdomen. He stroked his fingertips over her bulging navel and smiled, but his smile faded again as he felt her shudder at feeling his touch.

I have to make her understand, he told himself. She has to know how I feel about her. She has to know that when I thought about her, all that time I was gone, it was more than just about how much I wanted her—to bed her, to enjoy the time we spent enjoying one another in bed. While I loved sharing that with her and her teaching me the things she did in the ways of pleasure, it was more than that. So much more. I've got to make her understand that. Maybe...yes, that's it. The only way...the only way she can understand that is if I tell her what happened to me that she'll understand how I feel and how I came to realize how I feel about her.

His decision made, he closed his eyes and, with a solemn nod, began to speak.

"Bren," he began, his voice just barely above a whisper as he brought his eyes up from his lap to meet hers. For a moment, his gaze was as still as glass, each blink slow in coming as he seemed to stare right through her with a distance in his eyes that left little doubt in her mind as she watched him that his mind was somewhere else, somewhere far away from the rush-covered floor of her house in Marylebone. After another quiet moment, she saw him blink a couple of times and shake himself free from the memory that had gripped him, then take a deep breath before he started to speak again.

"When I was away," he began, "I lay awake so many many nights. I knew I'd be giving up my vows, and going out into the world to live as an ordinary man for the first time. It may sound strange, Bren, but...I was just a naked-faced boy of twelve when I shed my own clothes and donned robes. For eighteen years, the Church was all I had, and all I'd ever known."

He placed his hand on her knee, stroking his thumb over her kneecap and taking a breath as he collected his thoughts.

"So, Bren, there I was, right? Sleeping on a borrowed bed under a strange roof looking at the prospect of making my own way in the world. It may sound silly or strange to you, but at the time it was a bit terrifying to imagine, really." He paused, then added, "In some ways, it still is."

She pursed her lips sympathetically, meeting his wide, vulnerable eyes which flickered with a vague sadness that, despite the maelstrom of emotions she was feeling at that moment, tugged at something deep inside of her. "You'll be fine, Booth," she said.

"I know," he replied. "But this is the thing, Bren—though I felt a certain fear about the idea, once I'd finally made my choice, to renounce my vows, I never wavered, because I knew that it was only by walking that road that I would be able to come back here and have a chance at maybe finding some kind of happiness with you. And..." His voice trailed off into a long sigh.


Booth closed his eyes for a few seconds as the memory sent a shiver down his spine. "There was this one night," he continued, "you know, after I'd just gone over the mountains—the Pennine Alps—by way of a pass, the road over which dates back to the days of the Caesars."

He saw a fleeting glint in her eyes and he wondered if Brennan's tutelage in Latin included Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico, quickly deciding that she probably had read that memoir along with his Commentarii de Bello Civili, knowing the wide sweep of her intellectual curiosity.

"In any case," he continued, "I'd spent the night before at a hospice atop the Great Saint Bernard Pass and was riding down the south side of a valley when a storm blew in." He thumbed her navel and smiled at the feel of it. "It was a bad one—a blizzard, for all intents—and I couldn't make it through the valley before the snow set in so bad, and got so deep, my horse and I couldn't get any farther."

Brennan frowned because, although Booth didn't realize it, he was describing some of the worst possible scenarios that she had managed to imagine during the months they'd been separated through the fall and beginning months of the winter. At last, she swallowed once and said, "You can see now why I was...why I was afraid that something might happen to you, so that it wasn't a case that you didn't want to keep your promise to come back for me, but that you wouldn't be able to do so, don't you?"

Booth was silent for a moment, then swallowed. "I do," he said. "But I'm not telling you this to scare you, Bren. I'm telling you this so that you can understand. What happened to me that night...why I did what I did, it all made me realize how I feel about you."

She knew from the words of his preamble, and from the almost liquid sound of emotion in the space between his words, that despite his reassurances to the contrary, she'd been right all along. His journey had not only been dangerous, but it had nearly been the end of him, and it was in that moment she became intensely aware of the weight of the child growing in her womb.

She felt a chill pass through her at the thought that he might have perished on the way back from Rome, having frozen to death on a nameless hillside in the rugged mountains that separate the Duchy of Savoy from the Swiss canton of Valais, and that she and their child might never have known what became of him. Her eyes narrowed and she felt her jaw clench with tension as she reminded herself that while the dire circumstances she'd feared had, in fact, come to pass, he had survived them, and that he wanted to tell her about it. With a slow and shaky nod, she urged him to continue.

"Alright," she conceded with a weary nod. "Then, tell me. What did you do?"

"I dug in," he explained. "I tied up the horse, unsaddled him, and—" He gave a low, dark laugh as began to explain, recalling the survival instinct that had driven him to act as he had. "I used the saddle as a spade, and dug a hollow in the snow. I tried to gather whatever reasonably dry branches I could from the lower limbs of the trees, and tried to light a fire. It was too wet, though, and the fire wouldn't catch. So I went into my satchel, the contents of which were yet still dry, and took out my copy of The Confessions of Saint Augustine, and used it as tinder." He leaned back and crossed himself with a smile. "With apologies to the beloved Bishop of Hippo Regius, I burned that book, and by its tiny flames got that fire lit. The storm raged for a half of a day and well into the night, but that fire, and the warmth of my horse's body, and the tiny depression I'd dug for myself in the snow—somehow it kept me from freezing."

"You almost died," she said, her voice grave, as she looked at him, the irony of his explanation not lost on her. Caught in a blizzard on the way home to England from an errand he made at the behest of the Roman church, his life was saved by burning a volume of memoirs written by one of the most influential of the early fathers of said Church. "But for the writings of St. Augustine and a bit of dumb luck, you would've died."

Her words drew a frown from Booth as he heard the fear latent in the faint cracking of her voice. He cocked his head to one side and acknowledged her worry with a sympathetic pout of his lips that, as she focused her gaze on the dark warmth of his walnut-colored eyes, curved into a smile as he tried to coax the same from her. Her lips quivered slightly but it was only when he waggled his brows that he saw a hint of a smile, however fleeting, brighten her face.

"Come now, Bren," he said with a toothy grin. "It's going to take a lot more than a mere snowstorm to take me from this world, Bren—surely you know that by now, don't you?"

Slowly, Brennan nodded.

"Good," Booth said with a wink. "Because that's not the important point. What is the important point is this..." He leaned forward and stroked his forefinger down along the edge of her jaw, brushing his knuckle under her chin, then pulled his hand away again as he continued his tale.

"That whole time, I was terrified, Bren," he admitted. "Not that I would die—because all of us die, and we never know the hour or manner of our passing—but that I might die before I could make good on my promise to come back to you, and to tell you the truth of the way I felt about you. The way I care for you. The way that just thinking of you, the way your eyes look at me, and the sound of your voice, fills my heart with warmth. I knew, Bren, when the spark hit the pages of that book and finally caught, and that little flame held, I knew somehow I'd make it, and that no matter how hard the journey back would be, no matter how painful or difficult it would be, I'd make it back to you. I thought of you that whole day, as the snow blew around me. I thought of you, and just like that little fire kept the cold at bay, thinking of you kept me from losing hope, somehow. You see, Bren—you really are my strength, and my heart. When it seemed that everything else was uncertain—oh, dare I say even nigh lost—I knew somehow I'd make it through, because of you. Seeing your face and hearing your voice, in my mind, filled my heart with light and warmth even on that, the darkest, coldest night I knew. I knew. That's...that's how I knew then that I love you."

The gravity of his words wasn't lost on her. Still, as she grappled with the meaning of what he'd just confessed to her, she remained silent. At last, knowing she needed to say something, she began to speak. "Love..." her voice trailed off. "It's a very...abstract concept."

Booth watched her reaction and felt a wave of light-headedness wash over him as she responded with more reticence than he had expected. Oh, Bren, he thought, disappointed and discouraged by her response. He knew how he felt and he wanted her to understand his feelings, but—knowing as he did that she cared for him—he also wanted to help her understand her feelings. He could see her internal struggle writ on her face as his intensely passionate eyes silently begged for understanding. His heart was racing as he finally let go of the breath that he hadn't until that moment realized he'd been holding.

"You probably think I'm daft," he frowned, his gut clenching as he suddenly wondered if he'd said too much.

"I don't think you're daft," she said with a slow, almost hesitant shake of her head. "I'm just not certain can you know that you love someone or something if you've never been in love before, Booth. That's all."

"Bren," he sighed. "I know you may not agree with this, but I honestly believe that you already know what love is."

She gave him a quizzical look as she considered his words and then tilted her head as she said, "Explain."

Somewhat amused by the way her rational mind was trying to attack what he knew was often anything but a rational process, Booth swallowed a smile. Instead, he tried to keep an even tone as he attempted to provide the information that he knew she needed in as simple and straightforward and non-judgmental way as possible.

"Well," he began. "I really believe that you know how to love as much as anybody on earth. I knew from the very first days I met you that you have a big heart, and that you have a deep love for your family—your father, your brother and his family—and that you open that heart of yours every day to the women you care for and the babies you help deliver. You know what love is, Bren."

Her brows furrowed as she looked away for a moment, gathering her thoughts before she turned back to him. "There are different kinds of love, Booth," she protested. "Neither of the examples you gave involves the type of intensely emotional and long-term bond that you're talking about."

Booth licked his lips studied her for a second, then smiled and said, "The way I express my feelings for you and the way I came upon those feelings is different than what you feel for your family, but at its core, love is love, Bren—the willingness to do anything for that other person, to accept them for who they are and to stand by them no matter what and to feel comfortable and completed and have a sense of belonging that you have with no one else in the world? All of that? All of those feelings? All of those are the same regardless of the person you love because love is love.."

She inhaled a deep breath and then slowly exhaled before an unsure look crossed her face, and she at last spoke once more. "I don't know," Brennan said, shaking her head and pulling the quilt more snugly around her shoulders. "I don't understand, Booth, how you can know that what you feel is love and not merely a lustful desire coupled with...friendship or fondness or..." Her words trailed off as she found herself struggling to help him understand what she herself was unable to understand. In addition, she felt a flash of frustration at not being able to verbalize things clearly since she was so used to being able to communicate her thoughts clearly in other situations. At last, it was with a frustrated shrug that she looked into Booth's eyes and, while she found no answer in them, she felt somehow anchored by his attentive gaze.

For his part, Booth wanted to reach out and wrap her in his embrace, but he had an intuitive sense that her struggling mind needed the reassurance of words. "I don't know why I know," he finally admitted. "Or how. But I know I love you. Does that make sense? I know it, Bren. As sure as I know my own face in the mirror and can feel the ground under my feet, I know that I love you." He reached for her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the top of her hand gently. "You don't have to say anything, Bren. It's alright. I just..." He brushed his lips across her knuckles. "I just needed you to know how I feel."

Brennan nodded but said nothing, quietly returning to her previous position, seated between Booth's legs under the down quilt, pressing her back against his broad chest.

An awkward silence hung between them for several minutes as the fire crackled in the hearth. Booth rested his chin on her shoulder and watched the logs spark and pop as they were steadily consumed by flame. Several times he lifted his chin and opened his mouth to speak, but each time, he figured he had said enough, and to leave his companion to her silence, knowing that she would eventually break it, once she had settled down in her own mind.

"I'm glad you were able to start that fire with St. Augustine," Brennan finally said. "I'd have been very upset if my mother's Book of Hours had been used as kindling."

Booth could hear the smile in her voice even before he leaned forward and saw it on her lips. "Well," he said with a soft chuckle. "I am, too. It would have been a pity for that gorgeous book to have travelled all that way only to be licked by the flames in order to save my toes and fingers from frostbite."

"Hmmm," she murmured as she tried to suppress a laugh. "Well, on second thought, it would've been worth it, I think, because I have no qualms in freely admitting that you have adorable toes."

"Is that so?" He arched a playful eyebrow at her. "You think my toes are adorable?" he asked with a widening grin. "And what about my other body parts?"

Brennan turned her head, her mouth broken into a half-grin as her eyes met his. "Other body parts? Like what?"

He smirked and answered, " fingers?"

At his response, so obviously not the one that Brennan had expected, she let out a sharp laugh before she answered his question. "Ahh, yes. Your fingers have most definitely proven themselves useful," she said evenly. "But your toes are—"

"Useful?" he coughed. "That's all you can say about my fingers is that they're 'useful' to you, huh?" He slid his hands from where they rested on the sides of her pregnant belly and around to the sides of her waist as he began to tickle her.

She let out a loud yelp and squirmed between his legs, knowing she was essentially trapped. "Booth!" she squeaked, reaching her hands around to grab his hands. As soon as her fingers closed around his, her entire body suddenly stiffened as she completely froze and let out a sharp breath. "Oh!"

Booth's eyes widened when he saw her reaction and concern flooded over him. "Bren?" he gasped, folding his thumbs over her fingers as she clasped his larger hands in her smaller ones. "What is it?"

"Feel," she whispered, pulling his right hand over her navel as a smile brightened her face. "Just...there," she said, turning her head and watching the shift in his expression as his fingers pressed against her womb.

His wide eyes had narrowed with worry when she first yanked his hand, but her smile put him somewhat at ease as he stared at their hands in utter bewilderment.

She smiled wide as she looked into his eyes, curious to see if he understood what she was helping him to experience. Just to make certain that there was no confusion, she explained, "The baby's kicking again."

He opened his mouth to speak but found himself completely without words when, just moments after she pressed his hand to her belly, he felt it. At first, it almost seemed like a twitch or a muscle spasm, but the second time, it was firmer, more concentrated as he felt the movement under his long, thick fingers. For several seconds, he didn't even breathe, so startled was he by the sensation and the sudden reality of it. After a few seconds, he felt his heart begin to beat again as he felt another strange, fluttery nudge beneath his fingers. Booth's mouth fell open with a laughing sigh as he looked up and saw the twinkle in her happy gaze. His brow was creased with uncertainty even as his gaping mouth began to form a faintly sheepish grin.

"Amazing," he said, still unable to believe the sensation of feeling his unborn son or daughter nudging his hand from below. He stroked his splayed fingers over the round of her belly as if to search out just one more kick even as the baby began to settle down again. "I still can't believe..." He swallowed and pressed a kiss against Brennan's shoulder. "Well, that, you know, that I'm going to be a father?" He paused and then shook his head when she gave him a mildly confused look, causing him to offer further clarification. "Because," he told her. "Well, I went from being a Father to being a father, I guess." He gave an awkward smile and shook his head, then breathed a barely-audible sigh. "I'd never confess this to anyone but you, but I'm more than a little bit nervous," he admitted.

"It'll be fine," Brennan told him in what she hoped was a reassuring voice. "I promise, Booth. Everything is going just as it should be. Our baby is going to be very healthy. It actually already is."

Booth turned his head and gave her a skeptical, narrow-eyed look. "Are you certain?" he asked.

Feeling a wave of affection and a desire to ameliorate his concerns, she nodded. "Of course," she told him. "And I, of all people, should know, right?"

"Yes." Booth rubbed his thumb over her protruding navel, a gesture he knew Brennan found mildly annoying but which he enjoyed. He found it curiously reassuring for reasons he did not understand. "'s not that," he said. "I'm worried that...well..."

His voice trailed off as he felt his breath catch in his throat, leaving the question unfinished.

For her part, after a moment, Brennan gently prompted him, "What?"

He raised his chin and leaned his head back against the seat of the couch. "I'm afraid I'm not going to be the kind of father this child—and you—deserve," he said sadly. "I don't know anything about how to be a father, or a...a partner to you. I mean, yes, I know I have a steep learning curve, but look at how long it took me to learn enough skills to be your lover..."

Brennan's brow knit a little as she listened to the words tumble out of his mouth. She felt a wave of protectiveness and then, just moments later, smirked as he spoke somewhat immodestly about his own steep learning curve before, not a second later, bemoaning the slowness with which he mastered the basics of physical intimacy.

She sighed and turned her head, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. "Booth," she said quietly. "It's alright, you'll be—"

Booth was so caught up in the avalanche of his own thoughts that he didn't let her finish before he began again. "I'm kind of afraid, Bren," he explained. "That I'm going to let both you and this child...our family, that is...I'm terrified that I'm going to let you all down."

Brennan felt a lump form in her throat at hearing the uncertainty cause his normally-strong voice to waver even as he used the word 'family' in reference to the relationship that existed between them. At last, she spoke, her voice quiet as she tried to reassure him.. "Booth," she said softly. "You're going to be an excellent father." She felt his chin rub over her shoulder, and she knew he was shaking his head. "No, Booth—listen to me. You are strong, devoted, brave, kind and honorable, and—"

"Honorable?" he sighed. "I don't feel so honorable, Bren."

Brennan didn't have to ask what he was referencing even as Booth continued to explain.

"This child of ours was conceived when I violated my sacred vows," he said, stating the obvious to her. "A sin of the highest order." His voice cracked, his words thick with the incipient tears that burned in his nostrils. "I broke a sacred promise I made to God," he said grimly.

Brennan sat still, unable for several moments to think of what to say. "You feel guilty," she said quietly. "Is that it? Do you feel guilty about us? About what we did?" Her nostrils flared as she squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to hold her own tears at bay. "I'm confused, Booth. You just told me that you love me, but then you say you...what you just said...and I don't know what to think. you—?"

"No, no," he murmured, sniffing as he brought his lips to kiss the side of her neck. "No—it's not that. Not you. Not us. Never that. God, that's the one thing I've never doubted in all this time. It's just...well..." He leaned his head back against the couch once more. "Maybe it was all a mistake, you know? Maybe I never should've even been a priest in the first place."

Booth heard Brennan inhale a sharp breath at hearing his words. "I never chose this life for myself, Bren," he told her. "'s hard to explain, but...I was so young when I was sent off to the priory to get an education." He paused for a beat and then looked into the fire as his tone softened, "I was twelve years old when it happened, you know? Just a boy, really." He laughed softly. "I didn't even have hair under my arms, you know. I was not yet even beginning to become a man. I spent the next four years learning to read and write—in English, yes, but also in French, Latin and Greek—and did well at it. When I was younger, living on my parents' manor, I lived always in the shadow of my three older brothers...Richard, he's the oldest, seven years older than me...and Stephen, the second son, five years my senior...and Jared, the third son, who is three years older than me." He leaned his head to the side, swallowing as a particular memory flashed through his mind. "Father always favored Richard and Stephen, of course. Jared and I, we were always picking up the scraps, you know, of Father's love and attention."

Taken aback slightly that he was so open in discussing his past in a way he'd never really shared with her, it took Brennan a moment to piece a coherent thought let alone a proper response together. At last, a question occurred to her and so she spoke. "What about your mother?" Brennan asked, turning her head so she could see him. "What was she like?"

Booth took a long breath before he answered the question. "My mother," he began with a warm smile. "She was a good woman."

He fell silent for a few moments as he thought about his mother, who he hadn't thought about for quite some time—in fact, not since the stormy summer night when Brennan told him about her mother. He couldn't help but crack a smile as he thought of how she braided her her long dark wavy into plaits that she, in turn, tucked into a bun she wore high on her head under a white linen coif, and the way her bright blue eyes would light up her whole face as they flickered back at him. He wondered if Brennan's eyes had struck a chord in him when he first met her because, at least at a superficial level, they reminded him of his mother's eyes. He remembered the last time he'd seen her when he visited his parents at the family estate in Hollingbourne right before he took his vows and was ordained a priest. She'd seemed so tiny and frail to him them, in part because he himself had grown more than a foot since he'd left home for the priory, and perhaps because she'd shrunk a little as the years went by.

"She had the most beautiful voice," he said, a certain dreamy nostalgia in his voice. "And I remember when we were younger, she would always sing to us." He paused and then made a face before he admitted, "Well, more to me than to the others. Richard and Stephen were with Father whenever he was home. Jared went with them when he could, and I was often left with Ma. She always called me her baby boy, you know." He grinned at the memory. "I was her favorite. She would never admit that to anyone, but I was. And, so, well, when the parish priest came to speak to Father about me, about having me go to the priory in Canterbury, she and Father argued...I overheard them. She didn't want me to go...she said I was too young, but Father..." His voice trailed off and he leaned forward, nuzzling into the back of Brennan's shoulder.

"What happened?" she asked hesitantly.

He raised his head, setting his chin once more on the top of her shoulder. "They had a terrible row," he said. "I could hear them screaming at each other all through the manor house. I heard Ma shouting at Father, telling him, 'He's just a boy, Edwin. You can't send him away.' But my father would hear none of it. He'd been drinking again, and when he was drunk he'd get very, very angry. My mother wouldn't let it drop, though. They kept at it, arguing that way, their voices loud and getting louder—Ma wanting to keep me at home for another year or two, and Father wanting to send me away. It went on for a while, their arguing. Then...I...well..."

Brennan reached for his arm and slid her fingers up his sleeve, stroking the smooth skin of his forearm, realizing that something bad must've happened beyond Booth leaving his mother and his home for his mood to change so drastically. "What happened then, Booth?" she asked, pursing her lips as she could feel the tension in his muscles. "Please?" she asked with the gentle plea clear in her voice. "Tell me."

Booth took a long moment before he attempted and failed to swallow the huge ball of tight emotion that had choked his throat. He coughed a bit before he finally managed to croak out an answer."Father struck her," he said softly, his voice nearly inaudible. "He hit her. I didn't see it, because I was hiding in the hall behind the door to their bedchamber, but I heard him strike her, and her call out in pain. The next day, she had a dark red mark on her cheekbone from where his fist hit her."

A long silence hung between them before she finally managed what she hoped was some type of soothing response. "I'm sorry, Booth," Brennan whispered. "So very sorry."

"It wasn't the first time that he'd struck her," Booth said sadly, rolling his jaw from one side to the other as he tried to hold back the tears that had begun to well up in his eyes. He remembered all the other times he heard his parents argue, which arguments inevitably began with his father drinking too much ale after the evening meal and ended with him slapping or a punching or throttling her with his bare hands until she nearly fainted.

"But this time, they were fighting about me, see? My father hit my mother because of me." He fell silent again, then shrugged and said, "At least, that's the way I saw it back then."

Brennan turned her head to look over her shoulder at him and saw an inconsolable sadness in his eyes that she had never, ever seen in his deep brown eyes before, and she felt a tightness in her chest at the sight of it. "You know," she said softly. "You aren't your father," she told him, her voice gentle as she spoke. "You know that, don't you, Booth?"

He shrugged noncommittally and broke eye contact with a heavy sigh, turning his gaze away and focusing instead on the tongues of orange flame that licked at the logs in the fireplace. After a minute of simply staring into the fire in silence, he sighed again and nodded, his mouth hanging open as his face was drawn with emotion. "I guess," he muttered. "But..." He closed his eyes and sighed. "I was sent away, to school, and did well, the time I was sixteen, there seemed to be nothing left for me in the world, no path for me to take but that given me by the Church. So I studied hard, took holy vows and was ordained a priest. It was never what I really wanted, Bren—I just sort of..." He shrugged with a half-hearted roll of his shoulders.. "I was too far in before I was old enough to realize that I really didn't want what I had...but it was too seemed as if the world had moved on, and whatever other doors that might have been open for me...they passed me by."

Brennan studied him for a minute and then asked the obvious question. "You felt trapped?" she inquired of him. "Is that it?"

Booth frowned and nodded. "I accepted it," he said glumly. "I accepted that this was my lot, the path God had chosen for me, and for thirteen years I followed that path. I did well." A faint smile moved his lips as he spoke. "I was a good canon lawyer, Bren—"

"I know," she interrupted with a sharp and somewhat unexpected laugh. "I of all people know this."

"I suppose you do," he admitted, unable to hold back the grin that her laughter seemed to tug out of his melancholy. In that moment, as a smile once again widened across his face and his entire mood seemed to be a bit more buoyant than it had been just moments before, he became aware once more of the warmth of her back pressed against his chest, and the way she fit so snugly between his legs as his arms snaked around her waist to allow him the simple pleasure of palming both sides of her pregnant belly.

He sat there for a minute, silent as he soaked up the pleasant feeling of being with her again, at long last, and being able to enjoy her company without the constraints they had to suffer when she was a prisoner of the Inquisition and he was her Inquisitor. The thought of it seemed almost strange in retrospect.

"I was good at what I did, and what I had been taught to do," he said. She could hear the smile in his voice as she watched his thumbs draw lazy ovals on each side of her swollen abdomen. "I'd even taught the law, in Paris, at the Sorbonne. But..." He flashed a cocky eyebrow as he spoke of his accomplishments with a genuine pride, but then his voice became suddenly more even as he remembered how strange he'd felt when he had last visited Hollingbourne and saw his two eldest brothers come into the manor house after an afternoon hunting boar. There was a confident ease with which Richard and Stephen walked, their loping, long-legged gaits and strong arms and shoulders leaving the seventeen year-old Booth feeling like a hopeless, useless weakling by comparison.

Sobered once more by his thoughts, he swallowed and explained, "It was never what I really wanted. I always I was wearing someone else's clothes, if that makes any sense. It probably doesn't. But, though I'd taken holy vows and..."

His voice trailed off again as he pressed his lips against the soft skin where her neck and shoulder met, then continued, his voice a bit brighter as he reminded himself that, whatever had happened before, it was done, and the life that lay before him was a richer, fuller, happier one.

"It felt awkward, like wearing ill-fitting clothes," he said, still struggling a bit to explain himself. "It always felt like being true to the vows I'd made to God meant that I could not be true to myself, to the man I was. I'd always think about what my Ma had told me: 'Find happiness,' she'd said. 'Wherever, however, whatever you do, my boy, be happy. If you aren't happy, it is not right. If it makes you happy, it cannot be that bad.' But I always pushed away those thoughts—denied them, as I denied myself, I guess—and that worked, Bren, for years. For thirteen years, it had worked, well enough so that I didn't realize that I wasn't ever really and truly happy. Not like I know I can be now."

Brennan was quiet for a moment, allowing his sentence to remain unclarified before she prodded him. "But?" she asked, smiling as she felt his cheek against her shoulder.

"But I wasn't happy," he said. "Not until I met you." Whatever sobriety remained in his expression quickly evaporated as Brennan turned once more to look over her shoulder at him. His shimmering brown eyes widened and twinkled back at her under the high arches of his brows as his cheeks rounded and his lips parted to reveal a bright, toothy smile that left Brennan unable to do anything but beam back in kind.

"The happiness I found in you, Bren...well, it's made me realize that everything else I'd done—and, admittedly, done well—had left me feeling empty. I had a lot of time to think when I was in Italy, these last few months...a lot of time...and by the time my mission in Rome wound down, I knew what I had to do."

Brennan, suddenly recognizing what he was trying to tell her, nodded in understanding. After they stared at each other for a long minute, she then spoke so he would have no reason to doubt her comprehension. "You left the priesthood," she said. "That's why, isn't it?"

"Yes," he whispered, hugging her ever so snugly against his chest as he took a deep breath and filled his nose with the smell of her . "I did, and it was."

She was quiet for a moment, her brain distracted in the way that Booth had come to realize meant that she was working through the problem set before her. At last, she seemed to have reached a conclusion when she spoke with another question that had occurred to her. "Then," she asked him. "You were dispensed of your vows and absolved of the sins you committed whilst under those vows, right? Including any sins you committed in violating those vows?"

"Yes," he admitted, his voice still heavy, but his eyes bright as his fingers stroked over the round swell of her belly. "I was shrived of my sins by the Holy Father himself."

Brennan nodded and then spoke. "So, in the end, you were true to yourself, Booth," she said. "You lived thirteen years a slave to a vow that forced you to lie to yourself. And, regardless of the reasons why the papacy decided to free you, you were absolved of your sins and relieved of the promises you made. So, there's no dishonor in what you did, Booth."

Booth shrugged a little and said in a low voice, "I'm not sure how it is that the Church can release me from a promise I made, not to the Holy Church, but to God Himself." He paused, a bit surprised he'd been so easily able to give voice to an issue that had plagued him since the possibility of the type of future he really wanted to share with Brennan would require him to no longer be a priest. He let out a deep breath before he continued. "This is something I've gone over and over in my mind so many times I can't even tell you, and it's still something I struggle with, but..." He punctuated his quiet musing with a long sigh, then shrugged again. "I guess I can see, from a certain perspective, that perhaps you're right."

Brennan licked her lips as she sensed his hesitation and then prompted him gently to continue him to speak freely since she knew he needed to be able to both share such things which her, but especially such things like this.. "But?" she asked him.

Booth let out another breath as he responded, "But—" He paused for a beat and shook his head as he said, "I'd be lying if I said it didn't seem strange to me, is all."

She paused for a moment and thought about his muttered musing, but not certain how to address it, she made no attempt to answer his point, which she believed at its core was unanswerable. Instead, she reached around and placed her hands over his, which still palmed each side of her belly as if they were bookends, then she gave him a bright smile.

"I have no answer for you, Booth," she told him. "Nothing I can offer you by way of something that might give you a more definitive answer to your quandary the the tentative one that you've struggled to reach. But, I can tell you that I greatly admire you for what you did, Booth," she said. "For the courage you showed to make this change." She stopped, then smiled and squeezed his hands in hers. "I'm glad for it," she said. "For entirely selfish reasons, too, and I'll admit that, but more so, I'm happy for you, that your heart and spirit are free. Even if it was by a happy accident, you've been given the freedom to follow your heart."

Booth considered her words for a moment and then slowly nodded. "Yes," he admitted. "It did. And, I can safely say if nothing else, I'm extremely glad of that myself since my heart guided me back to you."

Brennan stopped and sighed in amused contentment. "I'm beginning to think that you've kept things from me, Booth, with this tendency of yours to start quoting poetry."

He frowned a bit at her jest given the seriousness of the words she'd just shared with him. "You're making fun of me," he said. "I thought ladies liked courtly love and having their men speak of their beauty in verse. I guess I was gravely mistaken."

"I can't speak for most women," she said with a small smile. "But, I myself can't say I have much of a care for it, really..."

Booth shot her a smirk. "Unless it's quoting the erotic verses of Catullus, hmmm?"

Brennan grinned and slapped the outside of his thigh playfully. "Touche," she said. "But, my statement still stands as regards the poetry of romantic, courtly love. If you begin to quote sonnets to me, we shall have to reconsider this arrangement of ours. Because that sort of silly poetry with its flowery quantrains and rhyming couplets does absolutely nothing for me, Booth, especially when you could be doing so many other more...interesting things."

Booth arched an eyebrow. "Hmm," he murmured. "I'm not sure what you have in mind. Shall we discuss the good Saint Thomas Aquinas? I've read an excellent treatise on his theories of natural theology while I was twiddling my thumbs in Rome that's still fresh in my mind if you're of a mood to have a spirited scholarly debate."

Brennan rolled her eyes as he failed to see that her humor had begun to wear thin. "Or," she countered with a touch of sharpness in her tone, "since it's late, and I'm getting cold, perhaps we could go to bed?" She turned around and looked at him hopefully.

He bent his head down and pressed a kiss against her shoulder. "I suppose so," he said with a soft laugh. "All this talking about blizzards in the Alps and digging holes with saddles got you cold and tired, ehhh?"

"Or, it could be the sack of turnips that's attached itself to my stomach for the past seven months," she countered with a quirked eyebrow.

"Hmmm...well..." Booth shrugged with a bit of a grin. "I suppose that's a good theory, Mistress."

Standing up, Brennan wobbled on her feet for a minute before she reached down and extended a hand to Booth as she nodded in the direction of the stairs. "In either case, it's late. So to bed with us both, hmmm? Come on."

A/N: So there you are. Brennan has drawn a line in the sand of sorts with her father, though there still seems to be a real issue there. While she's bought herself some time and space to spend with Booth, at some point soon, Matthew will want to have words with his daughter's lover. That should be fun. *laughs* And we know quite a bit more about what happened to Booth on the way back from Rome, and how that affected his outlook on Brennan and his relationship with her.

Yes, it's a slightly cruel place to cut the chapter, but given the length of this chapter, we had to cut it here. But worry not, friends! There's more to come. We may not be as speedy in updating as you (or we) would like, but rest assured, we have not abandoned the story. We are fully committed to finish this unusual tale of Brennan and Booth, but we beg your patience as we go along.

In the meantime, please let us know what you think so far. We've said it before, but this story is very different from any other fanfic that's out there and we've taken a lot of risk to write a story like this that is so far afield of the usual. We need to know people still care about this strange and wacky story. If you're a lurker who's been faithfully reading along in silence, come out and show yourselves. If you've commented or left feedback before, drop us a line and let us know you're still out there. Share your thoughts as we've shared ours. Please—leave a review.

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