Author's Note: This is late, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. But I thought I'd share anyway. Please let me know what you think.
"I would have shot him if you hadn't been there, Booth." She pauses, waiting for a reaction that doesn't come.
"I know." Booth continues staring at the merry-go-round, though it isn't even close to stopping.
"Epps would have died either way." Brennan can't understand his refusal to accept the facts. Booth wishes to atone for what he deems to be previous wrongs. She has seen this kind of guilt in him before, and yet it still surprises her every time.
"I know," he says again.
"You did the right thing." It won't make any difference repeating it, but she's at a loss for anything else to say. Logically, Booth can't be faulted for Epps' death, intentional or otherwise. The world is a safer place without Howard Epps in it. There is no question. And yet she can see in the tense draw of his shoulders, in the clench of his jaw, that he can't forgive himself. "Cam doesn't blame you for what happened. Parker probably won't even remember a few weeks from now."
"I know." A third time, still less convincing than before.
Brennan sighs, fighting the urge to become frustrated and give up. If this were a case, or even a mangled body refusing to give up its secrets, she would only become more intrigued. But Booth is a person, and, failing immediate success, her instincts tell her to abandon all efforts at understanding. It should be so easy for him to accept his infallibility in the whole matter, but he seems to prefer self-flagellation.
"What are you afraid of?" asks after a moment, trying to think what Angela would do. He is afraid. She can see it in the way he's breathing, shallow and fast.
The merry-go-round stops. Booth gets up, and waves for Parker to stay seated on his horse. He hands the conductor some change, and makes his way back. He sits back down and crosses his arms, effectively closing himself off.
"It's like you told me," says Brennan, suddenly remembering. "You let him scare you, you let him make you think you have anything in common with him, and Epps wins."
"I think he did," says Booth, very softly. He turns to look at her at last, his eyes glistening with vulnerability in the early morning light. Suddenly she has the urge to touch him, to take him in her arms until that scared look goes away. But then he turns away, too quickly, and the moment is gone, the loss of it hanging in the air between them like a foul smell. "I think Epps won."