Author's Note: I have reworked these first eight chapters because the end is nigh and I want this to be the best story it can be, especially leading into the sequel. That means tighter writing, as mistake-free as I can make it, and more fluidity.
New Readers: Please bear in mind that this story is not a piece of fluff, but follows the show's canon, which means just as much delicious angst. I won't give away the end, but I promise that unpredictable chemistry that Booth and Brennan have won't stay bottled forever. Additionally, the story is very case-centric; it is essentially a novel, and each chapter is, in MSWord, at least ten pages.
I'm not trying to scare you away from reading—because I really want you to—but I realize some people are looking for a totally different type of fanfiction, and this is definitely not it. However, I hope you will give it a try anyway because I think if you like the show, you'll like this too. If you enjoy reading this, please let me know by reviewing!
The Woman in the Riverbed
The day was blisteringly hot and dry, as it had been for over a month now since the drought first started. The grass was brittle underfoot, more in need of a good trampling than a cutting. The still air smelled of baked earth and roasted pine needles, and a chalky dust storm kicked up as many feet shuffled along the parched ground. Such unbearable conditions kept Anacostia Park in Washington, DC, devoid of picnickers, dog-walkers and other such recreation-seekers, which suited Special Agent Seeley Booth just fine, particularly since he was now looking at what appeared to be a murder.
He stood at the edge of a dried-up creek, his arms neatly folded over his broad chest and his sunglasses shielding his eyes from the setting sun. Still, he could make out the determined stride of a very intimidating woman gliding between two hulking SUVs.
"A dress. You're in a dress," he said incredulously when the woman neared.
Dr. Temperance Brennan was already snapping on a pair of latex gloves when she reached him. She wore a simple, sleeveless black dress that ended mid-thigh, a look that was very un-Brennan. The only thing that reminded Booth of the partner he usually worked with was the chunky black bead necklace and oversized pendant that practically covered the bare skin of her collarbone.
"Why are you saying it like that?" Brennan asked as she slipped a hair-band from her wrist and promptly pulled her long, curled tendrils back into a tight ponytail. This was a look with which Booth much more familiar—and comfortable. Sexy Brennan was, well, just that, and it made him remember he was not just her partner, but a strong man standing alongside a lovely woman—dangerous feelings to have in his line of work, so he was glad that he had conversation to distract him.
"Like you forgot I had legs."
Booth threw his hands up in anticipation of the fight he felt brewing. "I'm not saying it like that."
"Well, you're staring." Brennan put her gloved hand on his shoulder and pushed him aside.
"I am not staring, Bones. I'm just not used to seeing you show up at crime scenes in anything other than work slacks and skirts so long a nun would approve." He steadied himself as she gave him the angry glower that told him how unbearable he could be. "That is a pretty short dress for you."
She sighed. "You interrupted my date. I had to take a cab here. And what do you care how short it is?" She never gave him a chance to respond before she said, "Where's the body?"
"In the riverbank, right there." Booth directed her head straight downward so that she was looking at some tawny protrusions in the dry wall beneath her. They might have looked like roots at first glance, but the longer one stared, the clearer it became that something wasn't right about the sharp angles at which they protruded. It was evident at once to Dr. Brennan that they were metatarsals—foot bones.
Booth continued, "Two boys playing soccer in the creek spotted the bones and ran home to Mommy, who called the police. They sent me in because they know you work with me, and this is a national park."
Brennan was proud that she had come first in that statement. So her little team of scientists was gathering notoriety in the ranks of the law—how utterly satisfying.
Still, now that she was here, it was time to get down to business. Her cool eyes scouted the desert-like scene. "Where's the rest of the skeleton? I only see the right foot and some of the phalanges of the left."
"We assume the creek eventually cut away until it unearthed the skeleton. The rest of the body is probably still buried." He mapped out a small rectangle in the ground to her left with his finger.
While she was carefully circling the suspected scene, Booth continued the conversation as casually as possible. "You were on a date, huh?"
"David and I were just sitting down to dinner when you called."
"You're still seeing David, and you're dressed like that." It wasn't a question but a statement heavily laced with disbelief.
Brennan placed her hands on her hips and zeroed in on his tight expression. "You disapprove of my look. You know, it's my experience, when observing the American male population, that the shorter the dress is, the more they like it."
"Well, not all American males prefer simple sex to a meaningful relationship."
"You're implying I'm dressed like I'm out for a 'booby call.'"
"Okay, first, it's 'booty call,' and second, you look beautiful." Brennan blinked and dropped one hand from her hip; she hadn't expected such an answer. However, Booth continued, "What I'm saying is that Dick431 might misinterpret this change in appearance as you wanting more. He doesn't know you as well as I do, and he might not take this look as you just wanting to impress him, and instead he'll take advantage of you."
"I really wish you would stop calling him that. And what if I do want more? I'm a grown woman, and I can handle myself, in case you've forgotten. I'm thoroughly trained in several styles of defense—"
"All right. Can we just drop it? I'm sorry I said anything."
"So am I," Brennan said as she removed her heels and set them at the base of a nearby tree. She climbed down into the waterless creek and onto a short ladder that helped her better access the bones' precarious position. She began gently removing the flaky earth surrounding the bones with her fingertips. It was slow work, but she didn't want to risk disturbing the rest of the skeleton, as she wasn't sure exactly how it rested beneath the blanket of grass and soil.
"The left distal fibula is broken," she called up to Booth. "No, wait, not broken, smashed. The splintering here suggests a blow to the ankle, probably by something compact but wielded with a lot of force, like a hammer or a rock, because the talus is also cracked. Must have been very painful. I can't imagine the person could have run very far."
Unbidden images flooded Brennan's brain, bright swatches of light and shadow, a silhouette scrambling sideways across a park at nighttime and dragging a mangled foot through the damp grasses. Brennan blinked and tried to push the thoughts away, but the silhouette remained, limping, whimpering and terrified, one arm reaching out for her help.
As she delicately uncovered more bones, Brennan began to get a feel for this person. She despised psychology and scoffed at intuition, but she couldn't fight the overwhelming urge within her to know this person, to reveal an uncompromising truth as only bones could tell. She wasn't sure why she felt so connected—she tried never to be personally attached to a case, but there was something about that ankle, the malice in the spider-webbing of the bone…
Brennan cleared her throat. "We'll have to get the skeleton back to the lab to be sure of gender, but I'd tentatively say female due to the small size and slender construction of the foot bones. Also, stress on the heel bone suggests repeated wear of high heels."
"You're thinking foul play?" her partner asked.
"I'm not thinking anything yet. It's too premature to say anything definitively; I haven't seen the rest of the bones. But the fractured fibula suggests that this person had an enemy, someone who had a grudge, because the break was most definitely not an accident."
Booth hunkered down at the edge of the creek, his head hanging over hers like an umbrella. She couldn't see his eyes, but she could feel his stare—it was almost as hot as the sun on her back. "You know, I can't believe you bought all that stuff about his partner who found his wife online."
"Are we talking about the skeleton still, because I told you it appears the victim is female?" she asked with a confused tilt of her head.
"No, Bones, I'm talking about that… guy you're seeing."
"Yes, David. I'd bet that was all a line."
"What was a line?" Booth lifted his glasses and gave her a penetrating look. She decided it was best to stop playing dumb, even though the look of frustration that flickered across his face was terribly rewarding. "Oh, you mean about his friends? Richard and Sherita, I met them. Good people. Their personalities appeared very well matched."
This seemed to faze Booth momentarily, but he dropped his sunglasses back into their favorite resting place and composed himself. "You've met them, of course." He paused to shake his head softly. "Okay, but are they in love?"
Brennan continued working on the exhumation unceasingly, but her answer came out as perfectly practiced as her skilled hands dusting the remains. "Love is form of attachment that develops from the meetings of similar interests and personality traits. So, yes, I'd say they are very much in love."
"No, Bones, that's a cold description, as lifeless as these skeletons you cling to." She felt the tickle of a double entendre but denied herself the urge to explore it. "Love is unpredictable. It overwhelms you, consumes you, breathes life into you; it changes who you are."
She did not look up at him; she looked only at the bones and said flatly, "I guess we'll have to agree to disagree."
"I'll bet Dick431 would agree with me."
He got the rise out of her he expected—and desired. Brennan immediately climbed back onto the bank and towered over his kneeling figure; he let her have the height advantage this time. "Would you stop calling him that?" Booth smirked, but soon he was the one who launched to his feet when she added, "You're just jealous."
"Me? Jealous of a guy who seeks a booty call through the Internet? Any joker with at least one available hand could do that. In fact, I'll bet he was only using one hand during your little 'chats,' or 'pow-wows,' or whatever the hell you call them." His finger was in her face and his glasses were now in his pocket so he could stare her down without obstruction.
"I already told you, Booth, it's not a booty call. And if you're insinuating that he was masturbating when we chatted online," heads from surrounding crime scene techs began to turn their way and Booth shifted uncomfortably, "I'd say that's a very crass thing to insinuate. David is a genuinely nice guy, and we've been out on quite a few dates."
Brennan started back down into the creek when she turned and added, "And for your information, we haven't slept together yet, but I'll be sure to have you sign the permission slip before we do."
"See that you do," he muttered.
Of course, now there was no hope of her returning to work without saying everything she wanted to say. Like a seesaw, she came right back up and charged at him. She came so fast and so determinedly that he was forced back against a tree trunk and stumbled over her shoes. "You are jealous! There's another alpha male in the pack now, and he's seducing away your fellow pack members."
Finally, Booth regained some brain power and pointed his finger right back in her smug, squinty face. "All right, Bones, let me make something perfectly clear. This is not a pack, and if it were, I'd run the hell away as fast as I could. But even if it were, no one here is gullible enough to think he's more charming than I am."
"Who's more charming than you are?" Zack asked innocently as he appeared at the top of the riverbank with some baggies and a tray of tools. He looked bewildered, having walked in on a very loud, animated conversation at completely the wrong moment. They both turned their stony glares on him, and he backed up a few paces.
"No one," Booth said dismissively.
But Brennan, who wasn't finished embarrassing her idiot partner, said, "My David."
"So he's your David now, huh?" Booth grumbled. He looked off to his right and over the phantom river, and wished he had his sunglasses for refuge from the eyes that watched him.
However, Zack was glad to be back in a conversation that made sense to him. He wasn't used to dialogue he couldn't comprehend. "Oh, Dave!" he said with a broad smile. "I haven't seen him around the lab in a few days. I was afraid you two had stopped seeing each other."
Brennan offered one of her slight smiles and a curt nod. "I was out with him when I got this call."
"Hence the dress. You look very alluring, by the way," Zack offered. "Would bring any American male to his knees."
"Thank you, Zack," she said with a triumphant grin and a poignant look at Booth.
But Booth stood there in shock, barely catching any of Zack's last words. "Whoa, whoa! Dave's been by the lab?"
"Sure," Zack said. "He brings me brewskis sometimes."
Booth stepped in front of Zack, who hadn't expected such a forward motion; he was compelled to step back and cower a little. "Okay, never say 'brewskis' again; it sounds ridiculous coming out of your mouth."
Lucky for Zack, the FBI agent turned back around to his main target. He scratched the back of his head, closed his eyes and then unleashed his deluge of irritation. "I can't believe you'd let this guy into your lab, Bones! He could be a serial killer looking for ways to hide bodies or cover his tracks."
"So could you, and they let you in anyway," she said levelly.
"But you met him online!"
At last, Brennan grew tired of the bickering. Her rage petered out, and she was left staring off into the evening sky. Talking about David reminded her of the fact that she was missing out on a delicious Middle Eastern dinner and soothing company. She knew she had to get back to the shattered ankle and the woman to whom it belonged if she ever hoped to eat again. "Why are we still arguing about this? I thought you wanted to drop it. Besides, it's going to rain soon, and I want to get the body out before the ground is soaked." She motioned to some ominous clouds on the edge of the sky to the northwest.
Brennan approached the gravesite and analyzed it with her eyes. Some of the grass and topsoil was peeled back where she had begun working, but there was so much more that they needed to do.
"Zack," she called. Her faithful assistant appeared by her side at once. "Get some samples from the surrounding soil for Hodgins. He should be able to determine the time since death from the chemicals and bacteria in dirt."
Zack immediately stooped to the ground and began scooping earth into evidence bags. "Right away, Dr. Brennan."
"And select some plant life nearest the body as well—bushes, saplings, things that have grown here for a while. Hodgins can compare the samples and check for a history of abnormal growth spurts or nutrients in their lifespans. May give us a more accurate estimation of time of burial."
"Sounds like a shopping list," Booth said with a roll of his eyes, then finally he slipped his sunglasses back on.
"By the way," the anthropologist added cattily, "you're picking up the cleaning bill for this dress."
He made no argument. The time for those was over.
Brennan turned her all-business gaze onto her partner. "Booth, what's the status on the recovery team? They should be mobilizing to remove the body from the grave. I can't do this all myself."
"You seem a little tense."
"Well, you put me on edge, and now those storm clouds are pushing me over it. If it rains now, in this dry condition, the scene would be in danger of a flash flood, and the bones could be washed away. Any hope of identifying the victim will literally disappear."
Booth grunted and picked up his walkie talkie to order a team to the scene.
For a moment, he watched her diligently work, the swift flicks of her wrist and the smooth flexing of her forearm bringing beads of sweat to his brow. She was immersed in her task, more so than usual, and he realized it was because of his cold demeanor. "You know, Bones, I didn't mean to upset you. I just think you're taking things a little too fast with this David character. I mean, how well do you really know each other?"
Brennan stared hard at the ivory whiskers protruding from the hard brown earth. The fractured fibula and talus glowed like a beacon, as though they were bigger than the bones themselves. She crossed her arms, and her shoulders sagged wearily. "How well do we really know anyone?"
Two hours later, and the gray thunderheads were nearly atop the recovery party. Booth heard the first whip-crack of lightning, followed by the bellow of angry thunder. Not three seconds later, the first droplets of rain splattered onto the shoulder of his thousand dollar suit.
He stalked over to Brennan, who was now lying prone on the ground, her gloved hands carefully exhuming a long bone and her dress hiked dangerously high up her thigh. Despite the tantalizing view, he had intentions of telling her to call it a day, but then he caught one of the young technicians staring. Irritated, Booth promptly shoved a black duffle bag of tools into the kid's arms and firmly pointed toward the line of crime scene vehicles.
He turned back to the anthropologist, who had never even noticed. "Convenient," he thought. "She notices everything when you don't want her to, and nothing when she needs to see it the most." But he couldn't really fault her for it—that's what made Temperance Brennan such a captivating woman, and while Booth hated to admit it, such a feature appealed to his chivalrous nature.
Carefully, he said, "You know, Bones, you might want to take measures to pull down the hem of your dress."
"Why?" she asked, her voice echoing hollowly up from the grave. She turned her face ever so slightly up to him; she was most definitely smirking. "Am I making you uncomfortable?"
He crossed his arms and adjusted his weight from one foot to the other. Her question had startled him; he thought she was more perceptive than that. After all, she had been the one who stated men liked things like that. She should have known what would happen to all of the guys around her. "Uh, no, not me, the other—others. Other guys. They're not concentrating on their work."
She turned back to her bones and said coldly, "Then get them out of here. I don't have time to change, and it's already started raining. There's still a third of a skeleton to exhume, and what I've uncovered around the skull shows it's very fragile. I almost cracked a scapula—me! There's no telling how much stress distracted investigators could inflict upon these bones."
Booth sighed; it was like talking to a wall. He took one last look at her dress and decided to be as bull-headed and forward as his partner was. He stooped down, slipped a hand under the hem, and pulled it swiftly down as far as it would go. Brennan's head whipped around and she glared murderously at him. "What do you think you're—"
But he was already walking away, trying to forget the way his finger had trailed along the delicate skin on the back of her thigh.
Removing a radius from the surrounding earth proved more difficult than Brennan had imagined. For a reason she had yet to determine, the bones were disturbingly brittle, and the soil was practically baked around it from the heat—it was like chipping away at rock. With every fall of her hand adze, she worried that she might unwittingly hack into a nearby bone or other telltale clue.
It was true, what Brennan had said about almost breaking one of the shoulder blades. She had been chiseling away at some rock and soil around it, and a hairline fracture appeared. Luckily, she'd been gentle to begin with so the crack was minute, but any unnecessary roughness could shatter the bone. She remarked to herself that she'd have to remember to catalog her mistake later so that the fracture wasn't mistaken for a clue.
As she carefully brushed away particles of dirt, Brennan was still steaming about Booth's brazen decision to pull down her hem. What did he care if she were naked on the job so long as it was done right? How dare he touch her like that. If she had wanted to, if he had been anybody else, she would have broken his wrist before he could have stood back up. But she hadn't wanted to, and he was Booth, her partner. She allowed him liberties she would allow no other man in her life because, however dense he may be, Brennan needed him, the victim needed him, and that was what made her angriest of all.
While Zack took pictures, she glanced down into the grave and confirmed at once from the pelvis that the victim was an older female, one who had given birth and had physical complications for the rest of her life, however short that may have been. Brennan would know more when she had the whole skeleton laid out on one of the tables at the Jeffersonian, but from what she had cursorily observed in the grave, the victim was also heavy-set and Caucasian with ethnicity to be more clearly defined.
What was most curious about the grave, however, was the position of the skull. Instead of naturally resting at the top of the cervical vertebrae, it was still half-buried in the walls of the grave, next to the left shoulder, as though tossed in as an afterthought. Something about the unusual placement set off a firestorm of anger in the pit of her stomach. How could someone throw a life away like this? How could someone treat a person with such disdain, as though the body was the banana peel after the life force had been taken out of it?
She was dying to remove the specimen so she could properly examine it; however, the weather apparently had other plans. Despite the tarp some of the crime scene boys had thrown up, the ground was hot and balking the rain's attempt at permeation, and little rivers of water were already wending their way toward the downward sloping riverbank and the wide-open grave.
Brennan knew she had to work carefully and quickly if she wanted to extract all of the bones in time. If the rain didn't stop soon, the unwilling earth would funnel all the water right back down the riverbed where it belonged.
She extracted the adze again and decided to take back large chunks of soil with the bones if she had to, but she needed to get a move on. She respected this woman too much to leave her here, alone and unknown.
Brennan was in the process of removing the last of the ribs when Booth returned to her side. She tried not to think about his hot hand under her dress, or how mad she was or wasn't. She simply said, "Back for another grope?"
He groaned irritably. "You know that wasn't what that was about."
"And here I thought you told me David was the one who'd take advantage of me."
"I wasn't taking advantage of you, Bones. I was… protecting your interests. Let's put it that way."
He couldn't see her face, but he could tell she was rolling her eyes. "Is there any particular reason you're here?"
"I came to make peace with the natives." She said nothing. "And to tell you that the car is full. Zack needs more evidence bags."
Her irritation with Booth abated when she heard Zack hadn't brought enough supplies. "I can't believe he would compromise an investigation like this. Zack should know to bring an overabundance of materials for just such an instance."
"All right, no disrespect to the great and powerful Bones, but he's still in school. You have to make mistakes to learn from them. I'm sure you've made similar goof-ups when you were in school."
"Never," she said immediately.
Booth let out a short laugh. "Sorry. I forgot that not everyone is as mistake-free as Temperance Brennan. Never mind the fact that you slept with your professor, who used you to help himself on a case against us." As soon as it was out of his mouth, Booth regretted saying it.
Brennan stood up, brushed off her muddy knees and proceeded onto the ladder into the riverbed. He noticed her dress was damp and clinging to her body even tighter than before, the outline of her underwear teasing his eyes. He was thankful when the entirety of her body disappeared over the ledge as she angled herself toward the skull, which was easiest to work at from this direction and conveniently safe from his line of sight.
"Bones, Temperance, I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"
"It's fine, Booth," she said mechanically. "If you'll leave me to my work please? You can take Zack back to the lab, grab a few more evidence bags, and I'll be ready by the time you get back."
"All of the other crime scene techs have gone. I don't think I should leave you alone out here."
"She's been dead a long time. Nobody's coming back to check on her. I'll be all right," she assured him. Brennan still did not look at him, a fact which bothered Booth more than he cared to admit.
He wanted to apologize again, to say how much he really wanted to take back his words, but he knew he'd get no response, and more time would help him better formulate a more sincere apology. Instead, he nodded, whether she could see it or not, and walked back to the Chevy to do as he was told.
It had been raining torrentially for twenty minutes now, so hard and fast that the city had been washed away into a turbulent ocean. Even if the sun hadn't set, it would still have been pitch black outside. As it were, the high intensity lights the techs had set up before leaving were struggling through the blankets of silver rain, pathetic little lighthouses that offered more hopelessness than promise.
Brennan dipped a jar into the grave and calmly but expediently forced the water into the now-growing creek. The grave was flooded with cold water, despite how sweltering the temperature had been a mere hour ago. Her fingertips were pruned and going numb, a treacherous state for a profession that relied on deft fingers.
But Brennan's problems did not stop at the state of her gravesite. The ladder on which she stood was now sagging down into the mud of the riverbed, and she knew without a doubt, if she stayed there much longer, it would sink in until she couldn't reach the precious skull anymore. She cursed herself for not removing it first, but she tried to rationalize that all bones in a skeleton were equally as important to solving a crime. Still, the pang in her chest remained as she watched the bubbling water lap teasingly against the eye sockets.
Brennan had never felt such pressure in her life to exhume a body, not even when she stood under gunpoint in El Salvador, or when she was running out of oxygen in her dive tank at a shipwreck in Antigua. She tried to keep track of which were droplets of sweat and which were droplets of rain, but the two had become inexorably mixed—they were the results of each other.
She needed to rescue this body. She couldn't explain why, and she wasn't sure she wanted to, but she knew she needed to do it.
Again, Brennan stepped up her retrieval efforts, always remembering the fragility of the bones but caring slightly less about it at this point because, with the water rising every minute, she couldn't afford to care about it anymore.
Finally, the majority of the water was mostly gone from the grave, and Brennan could see the hollow shell of the nasal concha. She placed a few vertebrae and some teeth onto the grass, and then grabbed for the skull.
A hard shuddering traveled up the aluminum rails of the ladder as the softened earth beneath it succumbed to the insist torrent, and the ladder swayed and tilted backwards. Brennan's arms reeled and she almost lost her tenuous footing, her knees slamming hard into the rungs above them. She breathed hard as she tried to steady her heart rate, but this proved to be no easy task. Conditions were deteriorating badly, and the ground was unstable, but the skull was right there.
Holding tightly onto the top rung, Brennan leaned forward, stretched her arm as far as it would go, but the bones remained just out of her reach. She took another two steps up the ladder, risking the stability of the top rung. She crouched awkwardly on the top step, her bare toes gripping the rippled aluminum. Her knees rested on the yellow label that said, "Do not sit or stand on top step!"
With her left hand, she grasped the side of the ladder and pushed herself forward slightly. Her right hand reached gingerly toward the skull. Her middle finger brushed the frontal bone and trailed down to the suborbital notch, right at an empty eye socket. The position was shaky at best, and she couldn't get a nail under the bone. Frustrated, she pushed further toward the grave and the ladder lurched forward. Brennan slammed into the moist wall of the creek, and all of the breath inside of her was forced out. Her chest ached, and she winced as she rubbed her collarbone tenderly.
The ladder was now sideways, still under her feet, but hopelessly crooked; she would have to heave herself out of the creek. At least now she could easily grasp the skull.
A low rumble vibrated through the ground. It sounded like an approaching train to Brennan, and she tried quickly to recall if there were nearby railroad tracks. It was already too late when she remembered there weren't.
A wall of water raced at her from down the once-empty riverbed, Mother Nature's pent-up fury hurrying toward her. The head of the flash flood was frothing like a rabid dog, and Brennan knew it would overtake her in a minute. She had to get that skull to safety or they would both be washed away.
Again she slipped on the slick aluminum, one foot falling entirely off the ladder and colliding with the creek wall. Desperate as she was, Brennan dug her toes into the earth and clawed at the mud as she neared safety. The rain clotted her eyelashes, and she could barely see above her. She grasped frantically at a root—no, it wasn't a root, it was a hand, for it was warm and gripped her tightly. Even though she desperately needed to be saved, Brennan knew she still had to get that skull—it was why she was here, why she was on this Earth.
"Hold on!" she commanded the hand, but it ignored her and kept pulling. "I said wait! I've almost got it." Her fingertips brushed the forehead again, and she reached with all her might.
"Stop fighting me, will you!" the voice at the end of the hand yelled.
"Just an inch more," she breathed to herself. "Please." She hooked her finger into an eye socket, and the skull pulled free of the mud. Words could not express Brennan's relief. She had done it; she could lay this woman to rest.
But as she neared the top of the riverbank, the great wave battered her knees, knocking the skull free from her feeble grasp. It spiraled in the air and fell with a melancholy splash back into the hole.
Brennan reached down desperately to grab it again. "Are you crazy?" the voice screamed incredulously. "Come on." The hand continued to yank, and just as she was pulled over the ridge, she watched the water splash against the nasal bone and finally suck it out into the tumultuous tide.
She tumbled over the ridge and fell hard on top of her rescuer. Of course it was Booth—it was always Booth. Brennan lay gasping and defeated on his chest. She wanted to cry and felt confident that the rain would hide her tears if they came. Booth was looking at her bedraggled face and body with concern, but she stared back at him with icy eyes.
Neither of them moved as she studied his face. The water that dripped off her body was boiling from her exertion, and Booth could feel the intense heat of her torso on his as though there were no clothes to separate their skin.
A rivulet of rain water traveled down her nose, over her mouth and dripped onto Booth's bottom lip. It slipped into his mouth, and he tasted earth, heat, and sweat, exactly how he imagined she would taste in those moments when he couldn't fend off his more basic instincts. He lifted his head slowly, ever closer to hers, not entirely sure what he was expecting but knowing full well what was driving his lips nearer to hers. He did not, however, expect what he heard.
They lay there in the downpour, her face mere inches from his. Brennan's voice was soft and in control, her lips working in slow motion, her eyes shadowed by the rain and her slick hair. "You know, despite all of my extensive studying, years of schooling and field experience, despite my doctorate and my intelligent colleagues—" She paused and took a deep breath, and her head dipped down until her mouth was blowing hot breath onto his ear. Booth didn't move, couldn't move. "Despite all of the education I've had, I can't think of a phrase for this moment." He waited, his hands moving involuntarily upward, dangerously close to her waist. "Can't think of a phrase other than, 'You complete… idiot!'"
She launched herself—no, catapulted herself upwards. Booth had never seen her so twisted with rage and anger. Her eyes were maelstroms of mixed emotions, none of which surfaced and stayed long enough for him to comprehend. "Did I miss something?" he asked helplessly from his recumbent position. "I just saved your life."
"No, what you did was cost that victim her identity!"
Booth blanched—no, he had not expected her to say that. "Well, I'm sorry I came back for you, too!"
She continued as though she had not heard him. "Without that skull, we may never know what killed her, what she looked like, or who she was. Parts of her skeleton were still in that hole, Booth, and they'll be long washed away by now."
"Bones, I've seen you identify a body from a wrist bone."
"It's a carpal, and I can make identifications like that when they have distinctive traits and anomalies. From what I've seen of these bones, I can't guarantee that I'll be able to do that. That skull might have been our only shot."
"'Might' being the key word. You haven't formally examined them yet. Don't give up hope just because you didn't get what you wanted. At least you're still here to try for her."
Her heaving chest settled at his words, though her eyes were no less angry. Booth stood and moved closer to her. He fought the urge to grab her hand. "Temperance, you're the best at what you do. It was your life or the skull. I had to make a choice. You're more valuable to me—you're alive."
Brennan said nothing. She gathered the last few bones she had saved, dropped them in the evidence bags Booth had brought, and walked back to the car. She slumped over in the passenger seat as though what life she had left in her had been washed away with the skull of the unidentified woman. She was wet and cold, despite the energy she had just exerted or perhaps because of it.
How could she be so inept? She was a scientist, a forensic anthropologist, for God's sake; she shouldn't be so wrapped up in her cases—it was dangerous. Well, obviously. She had almost died, and she didn't even have the grace within herself to thank the man who'd saved her life.
"Dr. Brennan," she told herself, "you're the complete idiot." What would have been the point if she had died trying to rescue the bones? They both would have been lost, and deep within her heart, she knew she was the only person who could find out who this poor woman was. "Selfish, selfish," she thought.
Nausea tickled the back of her throat. She wanted to throw up at the idiocy that had originated in her own, so-called "genius" mind. What made matters worse was that she had been the one who caused the whole mess. If she had spent less time arguing with Booth, less time accusing everyone else of incompetence, if she had let others help her and stuffed her stupid pride, that woman would have a face and a name. She had no one other than herself to answer for it now. With this revelation, she felt an icy air pass over her and freeze the rain water on her body. It continued to blow right through her until it froze her soul.
When Booth opened his car door, he saw his partner furiously rubbing her naked arms. Her beautiful dress was suctioned to her body in a way that most men would have found alluring, but in this moment, Booth found it devastating. Her lips were pressed so tightly together that they were tinged blue. What little makeup Brennan had bothered to wear was cleansed from her face, revealing to Booth with a striking and intimate look at his partner. He resisted the urge to cup her flushed cheek.
Brennan looked at him, framed in the doorway, sheets of water dumping on his back. His hair was pressed around his face in little spikes that she had to admit—somewhere inside herself—were cute. "I'm… I'm sorry," she said finally. The words were so awkward, like nothing she had ever said before. She felt a modicum of pride that she was able to say them at all. "Thank you for saving me."
Booth climbed into the car and immediately began digging through his backseat. He withdrew a blue fleece blanket with "FBI" stitched in gold in one corner. He wrapped it around her shoulders and tucked it in under her seatbelt. "Don't worry about it," he said quietly.
"No, but I have to worry about it. You were right, and I was wrong."
"All right, Bones, stop right there. It's already cold enough in here without you freezing over Hell, too." She looked down at her bruised, knocking knees and offered a small smile.
They rode in silence for a while as Brennan went over the details of the bones she had collected. It would be clearer to her once she laid them out on a table, but already something was squirming in the back of her mind. The position of the skull was all wrong. Perhaps it had been severed from the neck. She'd have to examine the cervical vertebrae to be sure, but there had to be a logical explanation of its placement.
They were traveling down Virginia Avenue when Booth finally spoke. "So where do you want me to drop you off? Your place or David's?"
She looked up at him with a cock-eyed expression. "Neither. I need to get back to the Jeffersonian to examine these remains. The longer they sit in the backseat, the longer she has to wait for justice, and I think she's had to wait long enough already."
"You need to get some rest, Bones. You're exhausted."
"How do you know?"
"I can tell."
"How can you tell?"
He sighed and put a finger to his forehead. "You were nearly swept away by a spontaneous river, you screamed at me until your lungs caved in (either that or my ear drums did), and your final piece of evidence is at the bottom of the Potomac. That would make anyone tired."
She crossed her arms. "Not me."
"Oh, so you aren't so physically drained your body is trembling and ice-cold?"
"I am not ice-cold."
Booth slipped a hand under her damp ponytail and around the back of her neck. The fire of his skin was so hot, she couldn't find the words to argue. "Look, Bones, I'm not suggesting you pull a Rip Van Winkle—"
"You don't have to sleep for years, but you should take a few hours—you know, change out of your soaked clothes, dry your hair, put on a big, cozy terrycloth robe—and crash. You deserve it—you need it. Take my advice, for once in your argumentative life."
Brennan looked down at herself. She realized that even the blanket was losing its heating capabilities since it had absorbed the moisture of her body, and she was beginning to chill all over again. "Fine. My place it is."
Booth didn't say anything, but something in his movements—the way he settled back into his seat or how the corner of his mouth twitched upward—spoke of relief. He nodded and turned toward her apartment.
Once they arrived, Brennan invited him in. She tossed her keys on the table near the front door and headed straight for her bedroom. Booth took a seat in a kitchen chair.
In a moment, Brennan emerged in a familiar pair of jeans and a purple t-shirt, not exactly the terrycloth robe Booth had suggested, but it seemed to fit her anyway. She took a break from toweling her hair to throw some things at her partner. He unraveled the mass and found a towel of his own and a gray sweatshirt. Booth was on the verge of laughing. What a strange bit of clothing to be in her closet. "University of Maryland? You never went there."
"Very astute," she said with a smile. "Actually, that's where David got his business degree. His upper body is smaller than yours, but it should still fit. I'm sure he won't mind."
Booth's smile faded. He folded the shirt back up and laid it on the table. "Thanks, but I'll just change when I get home."
He went to stand up, but Brennan walked over, put a hand on his shoulder and firmly sat him back down. She pushed the shirt back into his hands and gave him a stern look. "Don't be so confrontational. Put it on. There is a direct correlation between being wet, cold and exposed to the elements, and physical illness. You saved my life; I don't want you to get sick because of it."
He looked at the sweatshirt, then at his own sopping suit, and decided it was the lesser of two evils. He removed his jacket and hung it on the back of an empty chair, and then he began unbuttoning his shirt.
"Would you like a drink?" Brennan asked. She had already grabbed a glass for herself.
"Do I need to check for bombs first?"
She smiled, but something about the question made her stop mid-stride. It was another memory of a time Booth had risked everything to save her. A wave of something passed through her, and it wasn't cold or wet or sad. Brennan couldn't be sure of what it was, but it was pleasant and she didn't mind it in the least.
"You all right?" he asked.
She glanced over at him. His shirt was off, and he was drying himself with the towel. It was funny, she thought, how he looked like he'd always been there, in that seat, in that moment. It was like he belonged. She assured herself it was because he had been there before, and he inevitably would be again. They were partners and friends. They were in each other's lives for better or worse, and today was a prime example of worse.
"Yeah, fine. What did you want to drink? I've got milk, orange juice, pomegranate juice, pineapple juice—"
"I get it, you've got a lot of juice. Do you have anything to take the edge off?"
"You mean like with alcohol?"
"Yes, Bones, like with alcohol."
She glanced from carton to carton, but nothing jumped out at her until she moved one of the juices to the side. With a triumphant grin, she presented a single bottle of Heineken. She gave it a little shimmy before Booth's astonished eyes, and he couldn't suppress a smile. "One bottle of beer? What's the expiration date on that?"
Brennan tried to put on a wounded face, but it only came across as amused. "I—it doesn't say." He stared at her. "Okay, so it's been here a while. Isn't it supposed to get better with age?"
"That's wine, Bones, and we'll split it."
"Oh, I don't want any."
"Look, if I'm drinking that dateless stuff, so are you." He pulled the sweatshirt over his head and had to laugh at how tight it felt across the chest. The tension made him feel good, like he'd one-upped this David character, but he couldn't say why he felt that way.
"It feels wrong, wearing your boyfriend's clothing," he said.
Brennan extracted two glasses from her cupboard and brought them to the table. She poured half between the two of them and slid a glass to her partner. "He's not my boyfriend, Booth. We're just… seeing where things go."
"And yet his clothes found their way into your closet." He took a swig of the beer, which was every bit as flat and tasteless as he'd imagined. He stuck his tongue out and frowned. Watching Brennan, he noticed she had much the same reaction.
"I thought we were going to drop this conversation. I'd prefer to talk about the new body at the lab."
Booth sighed. "Actually, you should probably take a nap. Might help you clear your thoughts about the case. You'll be better able to reason and do other squinty things if you're not so tired."
To his surprise, Brennan nodded. "You're right. I'll set an alarm for three hours, and I'll meet you at the lab."
"Why not take four? An extra hour will only make you feel better. And I could sleep on the couch; I'm pretty tired myself—I mean, that is, if you don't really care."
"Um, no, not at all. Sure, you're right. I should have offered."
He waved casually. "Forget it. I just mean, this is more convenient than having to take two separate cars and park in that god-awful garage. And you can save gas." He offered her one of his famous smiles, the one she called the "charm smile," and she was forced to concede.
She disappeared into her bedroom for a few minutes, only to appear again with some blankets, a comforter and a pillow from her own bed—Booth wondered if it would smell like her. "Wasn't sure how you like to sleep. I like thick quilts and comforters, so I brought one just in case." She set the pile on the end of the couch.
"Thanks," Booth said as he stood up and unbuckled his pants. Brennan looked startled. "My pants are soaked through too. If you don't mind, I don't want to ruin your couch or your blankets."
Brennan turned her back to him instantly. "Uh, no, I don't mind at all. I'll wake you in a couple of hours."
"Four, Bones, sleep for four," he called to her as she hurried into her room and shut the door behind her.