Title: These Days
Rating: T, for subject matter and a few colourful language choices
Disclaimer: I don't own Bones; I merely toy with them for my own amusement. If I did own them, do you think I'd put them through this?
Pairings: Bones and Booth, eventually. Also a little Angela/Hodgins
Warning: PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE PROCEEDING
This story deals with sexual assault. If you are particularly sensitive to this, I would suggest not reading this fic.
While I will not be going into graphic or gratuitous detail, most of the procedural information is accurate, and people who have experienced it may find it distressing.
A/N: Sorry for the delay, people, you have my promises that the next chapter will not take this long! Unfortunately, real life got in the way this week. To everyone that's read and/or reviewed, I am in your debt. I've also been fortunate enough to receive some really in-depth reviews that pointed out a few things to work on and some fantastic constructive criticism. Seriously, people, if you have something to say, positive or negative, let me know! Enjoy the chapter.
Angela was talking. A lot.
"So then he found the photos, even though I've told him so many times not to go into that box, and he still has the nerve to get mad with me. I mean, it's art. Naked art, but still… I mean, come on, it's not like he hasn't seen me naked before. I don't get it."
Brennan smiled tightly, knowing exactly what her friend was trying to do. She drew in a breath as the doctor removed the final suture in her stomach. Glancing down across the plane of her bare stomach, she tried to view the scar objectively. It didn't work. The memory was still too close to the surface.
Metal, cold against her skin. The drag of friction, the sudden burn. Blood, warm and sticky against her belly. The smell of copper in the air. A laugh.
She ran a finger dispassionately over the bloodless pink line, feeling her skin tighten in its wake. It didn't hurt anymore. That was something, at least. The room was quiet, and she realised Angela was waiting for a response. Pulling her hand away, she tried to regain the thread of the conversation.
"They were taken by your ex-boyfriend, Ang."
"Yes. My ex-boyfriend, the artist."
Dr Rainer smiled at them as she unpeeled the latex gloves from her hands.
"Dr Brennan, that cut is healing really well – good granulation, no signs of infection. As for the rest of you… the ribs will be tender for a while yet, as will your arms and shoulders."
The doctor paused for a moment, glancing subtly at Angela, and then raised her brows slightly at Brennan. The delicacy of the unspoken question was answered by Brennan's quick nod.
"The internal stitches should dissolve over the next few days, which should ease some of the discomfort. You'll be able to leave day after tomorrow, but take it easy, okay? I don't want you working for at least two weeks."
Brennan nodded slowly, feeling a distant flicker of – what? Apprehension? Uneasiness? It wasn't that she didn't want to go back to work. She did. She found that she missed the quiet peace of her lab, that she craved that feeling of certainty and order, of cool smooth bone against her hand. But at the same time… it was jarring to realise that the minutiae of everyday life went on, even when everything else fell apart. There were still bills to pay, and groceries to buy, and reports to write. There was still small talk to be made and jokes to be laughed at. Conversations to be had, she acknowledged internally, thinking of Booth, feeling hollow.
She wasn't ready. Not for any of it.
Time hadn't stopped. Life hadn't stopped. She still had to be herself. The problem was, she wasn't sure if she knew how do to do that, not right now.
Glancing up, she looked at the doctor, who was watching her carefully, waiting for a response. Frustration wound its way through her stomach, tightening in her jaw. She was sick of everyone watching her like they were waiting for her to fall apart. Clearing her throat, she nodded again.
"Okay… I mean, that's fine."
Angela raised an eyebrow at this uncharacteristic capitulation, though she let it pass without comment. Once they were alone, though, she turned to Brennan.
"Bren, about work… Booth spoke to Cam and…"
"He didn't… he didn't tell her, did he?" Brennan said quickly, sharply.
"No, of course not," Angela said slowly.
Brennan glanced out the window, suddenly restless.
She was concerned; Brennan could hear it in her voice.
"There's no shame in it, you know. It's not your fault," she said quietly.
Turning from the window, she sighed and shifted in the bed. The sheets were scratchy, rough against her legs.
"I know that. It's just… I don't want Cam to know. No-one needs to know."
Angela shifted in her seat, looking uncomfortable. She hesitated, and Brennan watched her, waiting.
"I told Jack."
Brennan stilled, not knowing what to say. Glancing away, she tried to compose herself, and Angela raced to fill the silence.
"I'm sorry, sweetie. I'm sorry. I… It's just he drove me here that night, and I was upset, and he knew I wasn't telling him everything and… I'm sorry."
Brennan understood, as far as that went. She knew, on an intellectual level, that she wasn't the only person that this affected. She knew why Angela would have needed to talk about it with the man she loved. But understanding didn't really hold up, not when she realised what it meant – that she'd have to work with Jack, from now on, knowing that he knew. She sighed.
"It's… it's okay, Ang," she said, feeling sick at the stricken look on Angela's face.
They both knew it wasn't.
Booth was tense. He was smiling as he walked though the door, but she knew him too well to fall for that. Tired and distracted as she was, still she noticed the rigid set of his shoulders. The way his smile didn't quite meet his eyes. She frowned slightly, trying to read his expression.
"What is it?" she asked slowly.
He looked taken aback for a moment, and then a small, bemused smile crossed his face, slightly more genuine than the last. With a shake of his head and a raised eyebrow, he shed his coat and sat down in the chair to her right.
"You know, Bones, it might be time for a refresher in those people skills we talked about. Hello to you too. Hi, Angela."
His tone was light, but didn't entirely disguise the undercurrent of tension that surrounded him.
Angela murmured a greeting, but Brennan shook the greeting off. She wasn't buying it.
"Booth…" she said warningly. Something was bothering him, and by proxy, making her nervous. He was playing with the poker chip again.
"It's nothing. Hey, your new phone arrived. I got the lab guys at work to put your old SIM card in, so at least you won't have to reprogram all the numbers again." He reached into his pocket and produced the cell phone, placing it on the table in front of her, next to the dinner tray.
"I take it you don't want the pudding?" he said, leaning across her to grab the dessert.
She felt the fear and frustration coalesce in her blood.
Angela jumped, and Booth paused, both surprised at the anger in Brennan's voice. She took a deep breath, feeling the dull ache in her ribs.
"Sorry. Can you just… what is it?"
He hesitated a moment, and then met her gaze. She looked away, feeling the knot in her stomach tighten. He needed to stop looking at her. It was too hard to pretend that everything was normal between them when he looked at her like that. Like he knew her better than she knew herself.
Looking away, he sighed, and then spoke.
"It made the news."
Feeling her body go still, cold despite the blanket, she waited for his words to make sense. Beside her, Angela sat up straight.
Reaching back a hand, he rubbed his neck.
"I spoke to Pullman on the way over here. They… the scene techs only got a couple of fibres, and a partial print. They're waiting on some local security camera footage, but until then…"
He glanced over at her. He looked exhausted, and a flicker of guilt stirred in her stomach. She wanted to ask what this meant, but she was fairly certain she didn't want to know the answer.
"Until then, they haven't got much to go on. So… they've put the details out there. Local news, papers. They're hoping someone, somewhere, will know something, will have seen something."
"Details? What sort of details?" Angela asked, a slight edge to her voice.
Brennan watched as he rubbed a hand over his jaw. She could hear the faint rasping noise his stubble made. He did that all the time. When he was uncomfortable. She'd gotten used to it, had laughed at it on more than one occasion.
"No names. They didn't mention any names. But…"
She swallowed, waiting.
"But what, Booth?"
He looked uneasy.
"They showed the outside of your apartment building, Bones."
She nodded once, blinking.
I don't want to know.
"And… they gave your age, and the, uh… basics of what happened. They mentioned that it was prior to a vacation. And the showed the composite picture that you made with the sketch artist."
She couldn't think of anything else to say, couldn't hear anything except the sound of her own breathing. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Angela's face, tight with anger.
"They can do that?" said Angela incredulously.
Booth nodded slowly.
"Yeah. Yeah, unfortunately, they can. As long as they don't give the name, they can pretty much give out any detail they want, so long as they think it'll help catch the perp."
The injustice of that was so poetic that Brennan laughed, bitterly. There was no humour in it, and it sounded sharp in the small room.
"As long as they don't give my name?" she said disbelievingly, feeling the anger swell in her blood. "And that's supposed to protect my privacy? When they've given out my age, and where I live, and what I was doing beforehand? They don't think that maybe people might realise who they're talking about?"
She shook her head, eyes burning. Swallowing hard, she felt the hard edges of her anger melt down, leaving her cold and spent. The words tumbled out before she could stop them.
"What about me? What am I supposed to do?" she asked quietly.
"Bones…" Booth started, looking pained, but she shook her head at him quickly. There was nothing he could say, she knew that. And empty words wouldn't help. Angela reached for her hand, and she moved it out of the way.
"Okay," she murmured, mostly to herself. "Okay," she repeated, a little louder.
A deep breath, and another. A weary half-smile, drawn with effort, her mask back in place.
The orderly looked scared. Booth sympathised, having been on the receiving end of this particular brand of anger, more than once.
"I don't care what the hospital regulations are. I refuse to be wheeled out to the car when I'm perfectly capable of walking!"
"But Ms Brennan…" the orderly, a young guy of no more than twenty-two, started. Booth winced, waiting for what was sure to follow next.
"Doctor! It's Dr. Brennan. Not 'Ms'. As I've pointed out at least a dozen times since I've been here."
The orderly glanced at Booth in desperation. Not liking his chances, still Booth tried.
"Bones…" he murmured, in what he hoped was a soothing tone. She turned to him, blue eyes flashing.
"Booth, it's ridiculous! I have two legs that work, so they can save the wheelchair for someone who needs it. I'm not a child. It's bureaucracy and it's…just… stupid!"
He tried to hide the smile that rose on his face as he watched her, flushed and angry, yelling. Like she used to. It wasn't much, but it was something. He wasn't quick enough. She narrowed her eyes.
"You think this is funny?"
Hastily rearranging his face into a more sombre expression, he backtracked.
"No, no, not at all." He turned to the orderly. "Chris, was it? Okay, Chris, how about this. I carry Dr. Brennan's bags to the car, I come back, and then we walk out together, with me holding onto her arm. That way, if she falls… not that she's going to…" He hastened to add as she glared at him. "…I can catch her, and nobody gets sued."
Chris looked confused, torn between his obvious desire to avoid Brennan's anger and his fear of breaking the rules.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" Brennan exclaimed.
Booth sighed, some part of him wanting to laugh. Some things never changed.
"Not helping, Bones," he pointed out, then reached into his belt. Retrieving his badge, he held it up to the orderly.
"Look, Chris, you have my word that she'll be safe and you will not be disciplined for not following protocol. Just tell them the FBI told you it was fine, okay?"
Chris nodded, and then a warning look crossed his face.
"Okay. But seriously, dude, if she falls, she can't sue us."
Booth glanced at Brennan, who was staring at the orderly, every inch of her eloquent with contempt.
"Seriously, 'dude', I think that right now, her suing you is the least of your worries."
He didn't say 'I told you so' when she stumbled five minutes later in the car park, though she suspected he desperately wanted to. She had managed to regain her balance before she hit the concrete, but the reflexive tightening of her abdominal muscles had caused a burning pain to spread across her ribs. Bent over, she held onto the frame of the car, breathing shallowly, waiting for the pain to subside. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him reach for her elbow.
He stepped back, hands raised in surrender.
"Yes. Fine." She straightened, one hand pressed to her ribs. The passenger door was open, and she inwardly cursed the FBI for providing their agents with enormous SUVs. Unable to lift her arms high enough to swing herself in, she paused, wondering how this could work. Booth stood beside her, watching.
"Need a hand?" he queried. At least he wasn't laughing, Brennan reflected. A quick glance at his face surprised her. He looked worried. And understanding. She felt a pang of annoyance, tempered by a sudden overwhelming sadness. She would have almost preferred it if he'd laughed.
She gripped the interior frame of the door, lifting her leg onto the step, and tried to lever herself into the car. Feeling pain shoot through her arms as she tried to support her weight, she let go, feeling dizzy and frustrated.
"Bones?" He was still standing next to her, and his voice was quiet.
"I can do it, Booth!" she snapped, regretting it almost immediately. It wasn't his fault. He'd been nothing but patient with her, was one of the only people who had been treating her even slightly normally. She breathed for a moment, trying to rein in her temper.
He just smiled at her and raised an eyebrow.
"I know you can do it, Bones. But you know, this woman I work with says I've got this whole 'Alpha-male', dominant, hero-complex thing going on, so really, you'd be doing me a huge favour if you let me help you into the car." The grin widened, and for a moment she hated both him and his ridiculously charming smile. She stared at him for a moment, fighting against the realisation that she had no choice in the matter. Feeling like a child, she gave in with bad grace. She needed his help. It didn't mean she had to like it.
The trip passed mostly in silence, broken only by the muted music from the radio, and his own muttered apologies when the car went over a bump. She'd sighed, the last time he'd done it.
"I should be the one who's apologising."
"Huh? It's fine, Bones, don't worry about it." He kept his eyes on the road.
"No, it's not fine. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. You didn't deserve it. You were just trying to help."
He glanced at her, waving a hand in dismissal.
"Seriously, Bones, don't even think about it."
"It's just… I'm not used to… not being able to do things. It's frustrating. But I shouldn't have… I'm just stubborn, I guess."
"You don't say?" He asked acerbically, the tone softened by the smile he flashed towards her.
"Anyway… I'm sorry," she repeated.
"Don't be, Bones. I …look, I get it, okay? I understand."
Even as he said it, he wondered whether it was true. When she stayed quiet, he wondered if she was thinking the same thing.
He took a breath, then tried again.
"Okay, maybe I don't understand exactly. Maybe I can't. But I can try, if you want me to, Bones. If you let me."
They were silent then, lulled by the hypnotic hum of the asphalt under the tyres. As he steered the car off the highway fifteen minutes later, Booth glanced over at her. Having fought sleep the whole way, she was dozing now, eyes closed and her head resting against the window, the late afternoon sun flickering in her hair, the bruise under her eye faded to a pale smudge. Stubborn as all hell, that's my Bones, he thought, shaking his head. Then he froze. Not your Bones, he reminded himself firmly. And feeling like shit about it isn't going to do you, or her, any favours.
Remembering was too easy, that was the problem. The memories were always just below the surface, waiting for that weak moment. The fifth of whiskey he'd nearly finished when he finally got home. The way he'd lain in bed, wide-awake until four in the morning, drunk and bewildered and embarrassed and angry with himself for fucking it up. The way she had moaned softly into his mouth as he kissed her, the heat of her skin through her shirt, warm under his hands.
He shook his head and glanced over at her again, a heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach, weighing him down. With a sigh, he shook it off. Given the option of friends or nothing, he'd take friends, every time.