Author's note: My entry for the CBPC of August. It's inspired by Linkin Park's Shadow of the Day.

Thanks M for correcting all my possible grammar and spelling mistakes. Your input as "A's sounding board" is greatly appreciated.



53

Retreat---a retirement or a period of retirement for religious exercises and meditation. In Brennan's case, breathing exercises alternating with long walks along the shoreline and refreshing dips into the salty water that was the Atlantic Ocean. As Brennan bent her spine into the next relaxing yoga position, she mused over the meaning of the label she had so haphazardly put on her hasty departure for a beach house on a remote location. The reason as to why someone would fill his days with worshipping a God that, in her humble opinion, didn't exist was lost on her, but not the meaning of retirement. She was, as a matter of fact, retiring from the routine she called her life. It was a predictable solid routine. Something she could count on. It was a vicious circle---a never-ending pattern---of examining victims of brutal murders, of chasing suspects, and of classifying aforementioned cases as solved. It was a process she could rely on, but it was a routine nonetheless. One she had grown fond of. One that had made her believe that the immoral roots she stemmed from---a pair of criminals, regardless of their motivation---had no effect whatsoever on her current life. How wrong she had been. Stretching her arms out above her head, Brennan silently wished for her father to still be on the run. She longed for him to be as free as the seagulls skimming over the water before her. Maybe then she'd still be content with time monotonously flowing from one day to another like breaths of air rhythmically being drawn in and out of her lungs, reminding her she was still alive.

Planting her hands on her hips and breathing in the salty air carried to her by the wind sweeping over the ocean, Brennan stared at the sun carefully touching the water in the distance. It was late afternoon, close to dusk. After a day of wandering around aimlessly on the beach and boulevard, she had chosen to do some yoga while watching the sunset. The absurdity of not having a goal---of just wandering about, unsure what to do---emphasized the confusion and irritation she was feeling. Her father's trial had turned her life upside down. It was one thing to witness Booth slap cuffs on her father's wrists. It was another thing to sit in a courtroom listening to Max Keenan's crimes being recited out loud in front of lawyers, spectators, a jury, and judge. It had felt as if it had been her crimes instead of his. No matter how many times she convinced herself that it was irrational of her to even ponder about such a thing, in the end she had to admit that she couldn't escape the fact that Max's blood was running through her veins. Brennan closed her eyes to call up an image of her father. The sun slowly sank an inch or two and a lonesome jogger with his dog passed Brennan as she recalled every line of Max's face until she had drawn it precisely in her head. She knew his build better than anyone else. How could she not when she saw part of it looking back at her in the mirror every morning? After more than fifteen years of searching and hoping, she had found him. She had been chasing after him, after her past, and after answers. Just when she had thought her past would forever remain a mystery, her father had come barging in like that dog running wildly after its owner.

Unlike her father, Angela's estranged husband hadn't come rushing along. The man hadn't been easy to locate. For a while it had even seemed like he had dropped off the face of the earth. It had taken Angela and Hodgins months---close to a year even---to track him down, but eventually they had. They hadn't found him on an abandoned island like Hodgins had thought they would. A luxurious office on the top floor of a majestic skyscraper had been the spot where their search had ended and a series of life-changing events had been set in motion. Brennan averted her stare from the Mediterranean blue water to her foot pushing the fine beach sand around. Hodgins must've felt like the sand she was curling and digging her toes in. Powerless he had had to watch the love of his life and the man that was rightfully married to her grow closer. Helplessly he had had to admit that maybe he wasn't enough for Angela. Maybe his devotion to her hadn't been absolute enough. His worries had been proven unfounded when Angela had dangled signed divorce papers in front of his nose. The sight of drying ink on freshly printed legal papers had sent Hodgins' sky-high beliefs of losing the woman he loved crashing to the floor, very much like the crested waves that were brashly nibbling on the exotic beach she was standing on.

At the same time it had forced Angela to grow up. And that, right there, was one of the reasons for Brennan's unprepared retreat. Brennan shook her head and pulled her top over her head before popping the button on her shorts. Just like she was shedding her clothes now, Angela had shed part of her slightly immature visions on life. She was still a free spirit. Only now she was committed to one man instead of to every acceptable guy that presented himself. Unlike Brennan, Angela hadn't felt the need to run off to a secluded place. She had turned the page and had chosen to start a new chapter. She was making plans for a second wedding---for the future. Angela was moving forward and Brennan wasn't.

Of course, Hodgins was moving forward as well. He went wherever Angela went. He stuck to her like proverbial glue. Especially after she had chosen him over the man he had considered as serious competition---even as the possible winner---in the race for Angela's heart. As Brennan adjusted the bikini she had been wearing under her clothes and briefly enjoyed the glow of the afternoon sun on her fair skin, she wondered what it felt like to have someone hopelessly devoted to you. All her short-term relationships had given her plenty of satisfaction, but in the end no one would die for her. They had all chosen a different path---another woman, a career, or the call of freedom---instead of sticking around to show her that she was worth something. She wasn't waiting for someone like Hodgins---a man who she thought capable of building Angela a temple so he could worship her at her altar---but somewhere deep down she felt the urge to connect with a man on a more intimate and delicate level.

Brennan smirked at the thought. No matter how many different angles she took, in the end she couldn't deny that somewhere inside of her there was a deep longing hiding from the world. A longing for a mate who'd respect and honor her brilliance and who'd stir up her sexuality to unknown heights to show her how much he loved her physically as well as emotionally. She already dreaded her next sexual escapade where unknown hands would mechanically perform ancient techniques imprinted in every man and woman. Instead she found herself secretly wishing for that little something extra---tender promises caressing her skin like the soft ocean breeze currently running through her hair, fingers smooth as silk tiptoeing up and down her spine as gently as the ocean water lapping at her calves, and never closing her eyes again during that ultimate release because she wanted to shield herself from what was written on her companion's face. For the second time in less than five minutes Brennan smirked. The purpose of a retreat was to retire from the world for a while and get a clear view on life again through religious exercises and here she was thinking about lovemaking. Her smirk faded as quickly as it had appeared. She'd never experience anything else but superficial sex if she didn't try to move on. The only people in her life---the only man close enough to her---who could possibly give her what she wanted was...

Before she could even think his name, she shook her head and waded into the ocean. She was surprised to feel the warmth of a sunny day still captured in the water. It enveloped her like a second skin and smoothed the sweat of the day away with tender brushes as she waded deeper into the ocean. Without a moment of hesitation she dove forward as soon as the water reached her waist. She swam underwater with long strokes pushing both the water and unwanted thoughts away. When her lungs, as well as her mind, were empty, Brennan broke through the water's surface. Smoothing her hair back while treading water, she stared at the reddish sun dipping below the horizon. How the water reflected the soft light reminded her of the day Zach had returned from Iraq. He had been on a late flight. The entire team had gathered at the lab, had commandeered Booth's SUV, and had taken off to meet their team member at the airport. Surrounded by the warm glow of the afternoon sun, Zach had walked towards them. Had his military haircut not given away his whereabouts of the past six months, the harshness in his eyes would have. Booth, standing at her side, had mumbled that he recognized that look all too well. He had predicted that Zach had a rough time ahead of him. He hadn't been wrong. Five months had passed before the harshness transformed to determination. Whatever case Zach got assigned, he got to the bottom of it and kept looking for answers until he was satisfied. He was well on his way of becoming one of the great forensic anthropologists---maybe even better than her. Just like Angela and Hodgins, Zach was moving forward. He was using the horrible things he had seen as motivation for helping victims find justice. Brennan was well aware she had to be glad for Zach---and she was to some degree---but it stung a bit nonetheless that he wasn't treading water like she was---both literally and figuratively.

Brennan turned around and slowly swam back to shore with lazy strokes as she contemplated the necessary evil that was change. If she was completely honest, she wasn't envious of the alterations in her friends' lives, but rather of the way they had dealt with them. They had stood up straight and bravely faced what life threw at them, while she had fled as soon as she had seen the number fifty-three. Brennan's smooth swimming pace was interrupted for the slightest second upon thinking about the main reason that was behind her hasty departure. Fifty-three cases they had solved. Fifty-three criminals they had brought to justice. It was an impressive achievement she had to admit, but the significance of the number had not been lost on her. Fifty-three people Booth had killed before he had returned home a broken man. Fifty-three criminals he had vowed to put away before allowing himself to breath freely. Fifty-three before he felt he had done something to right all the wrong he had caused. She had helped him to ease his soul---something he'd be forever grateful for.

When Booth finally settled his cosmic balance sheet, Brennan had gotten cold feet. Booth reaching his quota cast a shadow upon them. Number fifty-three forced them to redefine their partnership, but the new parameters weren't clear. She hadn't been sure of what came after that particular number. As soon as she had finished her part of the paperwork, she had packed her bags and had booked a last minute trip to a remote beach house to sort through her thoughts. Up until half an hour ago she had been procrastinating. She had willfully been delaying the moment where she had to face the future and had to decide whether she'd join her friends in change or whether she'd stay put and would stubbornly refuse to break out of her routine to go on the search of something more.

As she reached the beach again, turned and dropped down onto the sand still radiating with warmth from the setting sun, she realized that she'd already gone on the pursuit of something else. Her retreat---her withdrawing to a place of refuge---had been a break from the routine she loved so much. Despite her earlier beliefs she was already moving forward. Brennan leaned back on her elbows satisfied with her conclusion. Mulling had always been a waste of time to her, but in this case it had mentally prepared her for the leap forward she was about to take. Tomorrow she'd head back home and wouldn't say a word about her hesitations about the future. Everyone---including and especially Booth---would never have to know how she had doubted life after they had solved their fifty-third case. As she watched the last fiery rays fall upon the calmly rippling water, an unexpected smile curled around her lips. The answer to all of her questions and fears seemed so easy now that she was willing to accept it. She knew what came after number fifty-three just like she knew what she could expect from the future---a second marriage, a brilliant fellow anthropologist, an eager hard-working partner, and a father to relate to even though he was in prison. In short---number fifty-four. In other words---life.