Timeframe: A few weeks after Santa in the Slush.
Characters: Booth, Zack (I kid, I kid. It's Booth and Brennan)
Summary: Alcohol frees the tongue to say what is in the heart.
Word Count: 1833
A/N: Yay for the election, and yay for new Bones. :) It's been a good week so far.
Thanks for reading, and if you choose to review now or have reviewed in the past, thank you for that, too.
After changing into jeans, an olive green sweater, and thick socks, Brennan made her way to the kitchen, intentionally keeping her footsteps quiet. She paused in the doorway to absorb the sight that greeted her tired eyes. Her gaze traced over the long line of Booth's body, slowly, deliberately; she didn't often have the chance to observe him unannounced.
He stood in front of her stove with his back to her, a black sweater she felt certain she'd never seen him wear before hugging his back and shoulders in a way that made her stomach do a slow somersault that had nothing to do with her overly enthusiastic consumption of alcohol the night before. His hair seemed different, softer and messier, less consciously styled than usual. The sudden dryness in her mouth made her swallow.
"How long are you gonna stand there shooting me death glares?" Booth asked without turning around. "It's not my fault you're hung over."
"I wasn't glaring at you. I was merely...observing your culinary activities without alerting you to my presence."
Booth snorted and shook his head. "Whatever you say, Bones," he replied, with a quick glance over his shoulder. "All I know is, if looks could kill, I'd be dead on the floor right now."
Since Booth was still turned away from her, Brennan allowed herself one swift, admiring look at his gluteus maximus -- the same one she'd offered to massage several hours before. "If I wanted to kill you, I wouldn't use my eyes to do it," she replied dryly.
"Thanks," he muttered, one of her spatulas raised in his right hand as he half-angled his body toward her. Despite the fact that they almost always ordered takeout together rather than cooked, she had to admit that her partner seemed distinctly at ease in her kitchen, as if he was at home in this habitat. As if preparing a Saturday morning meal for her was a regular occurrence.
"You're welcome." Brennan stepped closer to him, watching his nostrils flare as he inhaled.
"That shower seems to have helped." His mouth shifted into a crooked half-smile that affected her more than it should have -- definitely more than she wanted it to. "At least you smell a little better now."
Narrowing her eyes at the barb, she resisted the childish urge to stick her tongue out at Booth.
"Have the seven dwarves stopped dancing?" he asked, wagging his eyebrows.
She sniffed. "The gnomes have vanished." Pausing, she flashed him a sidelong glance. "But some rather interesting recollections of the evening have resurfaced."
She watched him stiffen. It was a subtle change in his posture, one she might not have noticed before, when she didn't know him quite so well as she did now. While she didn't consider herself a master at decrypting body language, spending so many hours with this man in the lab, out in the field, and at the diner, had bestowed upon her a certain familiarity with his carriage and movements.
"Oh yeah?" The words came out carefully modulated. Avoiding her eyes, he stirred whatever was in the frying pan in front of him.
"Oh yes. For instance, I recall telling you that Angela believes I have you wrapped around my toe."
"Finger," he corrected.
"Fine, finger. So are you admitting that she's correct in her assessment?"
"Bones..." he said on a deep sigh filled with weariness.
"Booth," she replied, frowning, "you swore we would discuss this if I still thought it was relevant today."
"What exactly do you want to talk about?" he asked, his tone cautious.
"What about us?"
She tipped her chin up. "I want to know what is happening between us."
"Nothing's happening between us, Bones. We had a couple drinks, laughed, and you woke up with the seven dwarves doing the polka in your head. Now I'm just making you breakfast. It's a nice, partnerly thing to do." His lips bent in a smile, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. "Will ya grab some plates and silverware, so we can eat?"
Frustrated, Brennan clenched her jaw for a moment before forcing it to relax. "No," she shot back, shaking her head roughly, "I will not. We are going to discuss this like adults. You're always so intent on my sharing things with you, personal things. But the second I push back and try to make it a more reciprocal arrangement, you attempt to be deliberately evasive." Folding her arms over her chest, this time she did send him a death glare.
With a scowl, Booth switched off the stove and carefully set the spatula in the pan before turning to face her full-on. "I'm not deliberately being anything, Bones. You wanted to talk, so talk." He spread his arms. "I'm listening."
"I kissed you," she said, and to her own ears it sounded like an accusation.
Booth brows lowered. "Sure." He shrugged, and the casual gesture made her want to slap him. "But like you said, it was like French people meeting on the street. And you did it so you could have a nice Christmas with your family. No big deal. It wasn't a kiss, kiss."
"What do you mean, 'No'?" he asked, forehead creasing in a frown.
"Why would you do that?"
"Because at the time, it was easier than telling the complete truth," she said, blurting out the admission before she could change her mind.
She waited for him to continue, but he didn't. He simply returned her gaze with a level one of his own. Straightening, she said, "That kiss, it was...it was more than just a means to get what I wanted from Caroline. I'm physically attracted to you. It’s normal and healthy, and I was curious about what it would be like to act on that physical attraction."
Booth blinked, but didn't otherwise react.
"Did you hear me?" she finally asked, irritated by the peevish edge in her voice but utterly helpless to control it.
"I heard you."
Why wasn't he being more responsive? This conversation was not progressing remotely as she'd thought and hoped it would. Nearing the limits of her patience, Brennan recalled the adage that said actions spoke louder than words. Crowding Booth, she set her hands on his shoulders, feeling the soft cotton of his sweater under her fingers, and leaned toward him, so intent on kissing him that it took her more than a second to notice when he turned his face at the last moment, leaving her lips to skim his cheek.
The soft admonishment hit her like a slap in the face. She blinked rapidly, feeling the heat of humiliation flood her face. Ignoring it, she moved back a few steps and forced herself to speak past the boulder in her throat. "Why?"
Without speaking, he shook his head and looked away from her, staring at the floor.
"I’m not stupid, Booth. You can deny it all you want, but when I kissed you on Christmas Eve, you kissed me back." She felt her eyes fill with moisture. I will not cry. "You’re attracted to me, and I’m physically attracted to you."
His gaze lifted from the floor, capturing hers with its intensity. "See, that's a problem."
"Why is that a problem?" she argued. "We're adults and--"
"You're one of the most honest people I know," he said, interrupting her. "It's one of the things I like best about you. If you're physically attracted to me, I'm flattered. Really, I am. But like you said, it's physical." His expression softened. Sighing, he rubbed a hand over his face. "I'm not going to jeopardize our partnership -- hell, our friendship -- for a fling. You've always made it really clear that you're just looking for physical companionship; I can't give you that. You want me to be one more guy you sleep with, maybe share a couple laughs with, but that's it. I'm sorry, but I don't want to be that guy for you." He huffed out a laugh tempered with more than a hint of sadness. "I can't." He shook his head, one hand resting at the back of his neck. "I won't."
"So what is it you're looking for, Booth?" Given that the conversation had progressed this far, it didn't seem that the incremental risk of pressing forward would be intolerably high.
"I don't know. Connection. Love, maybe."
"So you want to break the laws of physics. Is that what you're saying?"
"Not always. I'd be lying if I said I loved every woman I got involved with. But I won't do casual with you. You're different."
"Why am I the exception? Is it because I'm not your type?"
"Whoa. No. That's not it at all." Smiling a little, he brushed a strand of hair from her face, his touch gentle. "Look, you're gorgeous and smart. You're every guy's type. It's like I told you a long time ago: there are some people you can't just sleep with. There's too much at stake."
Their previous conversation about sex and strings and stakes returned to her. She had understood his position then. Now, his words and his expression soothed the sting of rejection slightly. "But what if"--she paused for just a moment, recalling Angela's comment about not settling for adequate when you could have spectacular, and summoned the courage to continue in spite of the numerous doubts surfacing inside her--"hypothetically speaking, that is, I was willing to see if I wanted more -- could have more?" she asked, a tiny catch in her voice.
Leaning back against the kitchen island, Booth watched her, his expression thoughtful. "Hypothetically speaking, if you were willing to say, date for a while, no sex, and just see how things went... Maybe, possibly, there'd be more to talk about then."
"Date for a while, no sex," she echoed, nodding slowly. "That's fairly vague. What constitutes a date?"
"Come on, I know you're not that dense." Chuckling, Booth waved his arms in an expansive, exaggerated manner. "A date, like dinner, movies, stuff like that."
"And how long is a while?"
"Five dates? Ten dates? I don't know; I'd have to think about it." He quirked an eyebrow. "Why? Hypothetically speaking, are you saying I should be thinking about it?"
It was a meaningful question; they were poised on the edge of something potentially momentous. The cautious side of her nature suggested that further consideration would be prudent. "Well, why don't I first find those plates you requested, so I can see what horrible food you're trying to foist on me?"
Booth scratched his cheek, expression serious, and she held her breath, waiting to see if he would accept her need to step back. His expression finally relaxed into the smile she knew nearly as well as she knew her own; she exhaled in relief. "Fair enough," he said. "You get the plates, I'll get the food. It'll be a team effort."