Author's Note: Thank you so very much to everyone who recently commented on Come Undone (or any of my other fics) and/or offered to be a sounding board. I was surprised, in a good way, by the feedback and beta offers I received. I'm in the middle of responding to you all. Forgive me if it takes a little while; that doesn't lessen my appreciation.
Life is testing my patience these days, so I feel rather stressed and don't know how this turned out. If you've got a second, please hit the review button after you've read this chapter. I'd love to hear what you thought, for better or worse. And con crit is always appreciated, so if you see an error or hate how I characterized someone, feel free to mention it.
Lastly, if you saw this week's episode, who else wishes we'd gotten a flashback of Seeley Booth clad only in socks and his St. Christopher medal? ;) Come on, I know I can't be the only one.
Chapter 3: Reckoning
"Booth!" Angela called out. "So, did you have fun at the reception? Maybe get trashed and tongue kiss the maid of honor?" Her dark eyes shone with mischief as her lips curved in a lascivious smile; Temperance sighed and briefly considered strangling her best friend. She had an uncanny ability to uncover sensitive spots and apply uncomfortable pressure to them.
"Hey, Angela. Uh, yeah." He cleared his throat. As he did so, his glance slid toward her for a millisecond, before sliding away, just as quickly. "It was fun." He straightened his slim, navy blue tie, and against her will, Temperance recalled the gentleness of his hands in her hair as he had removed each pin with care. She resolutely locked away the memory.
Angela smirked. "Try a little harder. That wasn't very convincing."
"Sorry, Angela. Don't have time to talk right now. We might have a case." He turned away from Angela. "Dr. Brennan," Booth said, not meeting her gaze and instead staring at a point between her eyes. Temperance blinked, frowned, and pretended not to notice the way Angela's eyebrows shot up at Booth's use of her title. "We need your help identifying some remains that were found on the side of the Beltway. There was a massive jam because of a jacknifed tractor trailer. So this guy decided to get out of his car to take a leak and found some bones. Called the police. A state trooper got there first. Not sure if the remains are human or animal."
"Tension. Aisle number 3," Hodgins muttered, earning himself a jab in the side from Angela and a glare from Booth.
Zack's gaze bounced from Hodgins and Angela to Booth and Brennan, and his eyes narrowed in confusion. "I don't understand."
"All right," she said with a brisk nod. "Let me change and get my kit. I'll meet you out front."
Booth nodded and walked away, his body a long, straight, unyielding line, and Temperance felt her mouth tremble. Until she consciously firmed it. Ignoring the silence Booth left in his wake, a silence even she could tell vibrated with unspoken questions, she turned on her heel and strode toward her office. The tap tap of low heels on the polished floor told her exactly who was following her, and she shook her head with a weary sigh. "Angela, I don't have time to talk right now."
Temperance looked up and observed her friend's pinched mouth and worried eyes. "Ange, I have to change and then go. You heard Booth. We have a case."
"Fine, then I'll just follow you into the bathroom, and we can talk there." Stubbornness colored Angela's voice; years of experience had taught Temperance that resistance was futile.
Still a token protest was in order. "Angela..."
"Don't Angela me, Brennan."
Temperance rolled her eyes and picked up her Jeffersonian jumpsuit and kit, inwardly resigned to her moment of reckoning. Of course it would occur in the Jeffersonian restrooms, she thought with a small smile.
Brennan closed the stall door and removed one of her shoes, balancing carefully as she stepped out of one pant leg and then the other.
"Dr. Brennan? Since when does Booth call you Dr. Brennan?"
"I don't know, Angela," Temperance said, removing her blouse and slinging it over the top of the stall. "I don't pretend to understand the workings of the male mind."
"Sweetie, something happened. I smell trouble. I thought something was weird when Booth called you Dr. Brennan, and you just confirmed it."
"But I didn't."
"I don't know why you even bother pretending, Bren. I can hear it in your voice."
Temperance quickly filled Angela in on her dance with James and then Booth's rude interruption. "...and then he called him a gay axe murderer, Angela."
Angela let out a peal of laughter, and Temperance didn't have to see her face to know that it was wreathed in a wide smile. "That's because he was jealous. He probably didn't like seeing you with another guy."
"But that's not rational, Angela. We're not romantically involved."
"Honey, feelings, whether you choose to act on them or not, aren't rational. I know you know that. You try to break the world down into neat little pieces that all fit together, just so. Because you think that will keep you safe. But life isn't like that. We talked about this just a couple days ago."
Indeed they had. Brennan recalled the recent conversation during which she'd told Angela that she knew she missed so much by avoiding strong emotional attachments with other people. But how did Booth figure into that? "Are you saying you think Booth has feelings for me?"
"I think that's something you'll have to ask Booth." She didn't speak for several seconds, and Temperance stepped into the jumpsuit and adjusted it. "Now tell me what happened next."
"My father called. Afterward, I felt...off. I could have driven myself home, but Booth insisted on taking me."
Temperance sighed and zipped up the jumpsuit. "I had a headache because of all those pins Stefan had put in my hair."
"Beauty is pain," Angela replied with a laugh.
"I started to take them out, but Booth stopped me. He...He removed them all for me," she said, realizing her voice had gone soft at the recollection.
"Wow. That sounds romantic."
"It wasn't romantic," she said, and knew it was a lie. "It was...I don't know what it was." She zipped up the jumpsuit and reached for her discarded clothes and bag, knowing she couldn't hide in the stall forever. She unlocked the door and stepped out. "I was upset," she admitted.
"At first it was because of my parents. But then I started to miss Sully." She took a deep breath and looked at her friend. "I'm happy for you, Angela. Though you didn't marry as you planned to, you still have Hodgins. You're well-suited to each other, and he makes you smile. Even I can see that. And I...I envy that." The admission made her feel vaguely ashamed, and it was difficult to hold Angela's gaze.
"Oh, sweetie." Angela stretched out her arms and pulled Temperance into a hug. Temperance closed her eyes and let herself breathe in the warm, comforting smell of her friend's perfume and realized she was not nearly as alone in the world as she had felt the night of Angela's non-wedding. Angela pulled back, her hands still on Temperance's shoulders. "I'm sorry. I know it's hard for you, with Sully being gone and all. But there are plenty of other fish in the sea," she said with a grin and a wink.
"I told Booth I missed Sully, that I wished he'd stayed," she said, steering the conversation back to the events of that night. Though she hadn't wanted to discuss it at first, her encounter with Booth had weighed on her mind all weekend. She'd lain awake for hours after he'd left. But Angela had been out of town with Hodgins. Now, it was, Temperance silently admitted to herself, a relief to discuss that night with her friend, who could always be counted upon to listen with compassion.
"What did he say?"
"He asked me what I wanted. And we talked about our first impressions of each other and our current impressions. He told me he thought I was beautiful. And...he asked me why I didn't go away with Sully."
"Did you answer him?"
"Yes. He kept pushing, Ange. He said it mattered because he'd stayed. It was as if the answer was really important to him."
"I think maybe it was." Angela smiled gently, her eyes shining with warmth.
"I told him I didn't want to leave my life here. My job. Or you. And him."
"Oh my god. You told Booth you didn't go away with Sully because of him? I can't believe it. So then what happened? And don't you dare hold out on me."
"He kissed me, Ange."
Angela put a hand to her chest. "I can't believe he finally kissed you. It was perfect, wasn't it? Did you sleep with him?"
"No. No, of course not. That would be unprofessional . We're partners. I told him I didn't realize I was on the list of people he would consider going to for sexual release."
Angela gasped, and her hands flew to her mouth, mirroring the shock Temperance had seen on Booth's face the other night. He'd looked...what? Hurt? But that couldn't be right. "Oh, Tempe. You didn't. Please tell me I didn't hear that right. The man told you you were beautiful. He kissed you. And that's what you said?"
"What's wrong with that, Angela? I wasn't judging him. Sex is a biological imperative. I told him that. Then he left."
Angela groaned and covered her eyes. "You didn't."
"Of course I did. It's a well-known fact that—"
Angela cut her off. "Brennan, I love you to pieces. But I have to say, you really stick your foot in your mouth sometimes. What a mood killer."
"I genuinely don't understand."
"Sweetie," she said with a heavy sigh. "Listen to me for a minute, please. And don't interrupt. You were upset. Booth tried to be there for you. Because he cares about you. You told him that he was one of the reasons why you stayed, why you didn't run off to the Caribbean with his friend. So he probably thought it was safe to make a move and kiss you. He took a big risk, and you shot him down. You basically implied that he was trying to take advantage of you when you were vulnerable. That's...Bren, that's offensive. I think you hurt his feelings."
"Hurt his feelings? Angela, he's the one who said that there's a line that we can't cross. After Dr. Saroyan was poisoned, Booth told me that people in our line of work can't get involved because it's too dangerous. I'm not the one who brought up this whole line business."
"It doesn't matter. Booth might have said that, but he kissed you. That has to mean something."
"What it means is that he was feeling hormonal urges."
"No. You're not listening."
"To you or to him? I think I heard Booth just fine. And I quote, 'There's this line, and we can't cross it.'"
"I believe you. I don't doubt that he said that, but sometimes you have to read between the lines to understand what people are really saying."
"I can't do that, Ange. People should say what they mean and mean what they say. I can't go around trying to guess at what people actually mean."
"I know you understand this, Bren. You're just being stubborn. Now go," she said taking Temperance's pants and blouse from her before turning her in the direction of the door and giving her a slight shove. "Fix this."
"There's nothing to fix, Angela."
The Yukon was idling in front of the Jeffersonian. Booth didn't look at her as she climbed in and shut the door.
Several minutes passed in an uneasy silence. Brennan stared out her window at the passing cars.
Finally, she turned to look at Booth. "Why did you call me Dr. Brennan? Why didn't you call me Bones, like you usually do?" The question had been gnawing at her since the moment he'd uttered the words. She had hated the nickname at one time, but today, when he'd addressed her as Dr. Brennan, she'd felt unaccountably sad.
Booth's hand tightened on the steering wheel. "You're always telling me it's unprofessional."
Brennan frowned and shook her head. "Actually, I don't think I've said that in a long time."
Booth reached into the center console and pulled out his sunglasses, slipping them on before replying. "Well, you're really proud of all the degrees you have. I figure I should call you Dr. Brennan. You know, in recognition of your status and our strictly professional...relationship." He took his eyes off the road for a second and turned his head in her direction. The sunglasses hid his eyes, leaving his gaze opaque in a way that disquieted her. "In fact, Dr. Brennan, I'd prefer it if you'd refer to me as Agent Booth."
"Agent Booth," she said, trying out the more formal name. But it felt unfamiliar and tasted wrong. Artificial. "I don't like it."
"Whatever," he muttered, rolling up his sleeves and switching on the radio. He moved through the stations, eventually settling on one playing a song with grinding guitars and heavy drums. His hands beat out a tattoo on the steering wheel, his long fingers flexing on the gray leather. She shivered, her eyes traveling from his fingers to his forearm. Light brown hair dusted his skin, glittering in the sunlight streaming in through the windshield. She stared at his arm, willing him to look at her.
But he didn't. He faced forward, his gaze trained on the road.
"How was your weekend?" she asked.
"What?" he said, irritation punctuating the word. "Why would you ask me that?"
"I'm merely attempting to make small talk."
"Well, don't. You sit over there, quietly, and I'll drive." He looked in the rear-view mirror. "That way we'll both make it there alive," he muttered.
"Don't tell me what to do." Her words were met with stony silence. She fidgeted in her seat. Booth's silence was oppressive. He mouthed the words to the song that played on the radio. Her skin felt itchy. She sighed loudly and tried to block out the music and the fact that Booth was ignoring her.
Temperance switched off the radio.
Booth turned it back on, a muscle ticking in his jaw.
She switched it off again and sat back in her seat, folding her arms over her chest.
"Hey. Stop that."
"I don't want to listen to the radio."
"Too bad. I do." Booth reached out and turned the radio back on, but he no longer mouthed the lyrics.
She reached out to turn the volume down, but he batted her hand away. "Stop it. My car, my music, my rules."
She sniffed. "Yes, you do seem to be very concerned with rules these days."
He didn't take the bait.
They drove on in silence for a few more minutes. Temperance cast him a sideways glance. His mouth was set in an ominous line, and his profile looked harsh and forbidding. She had seen that expression on his face before, but she had never been the cause of it. It was like looking at a stranger. She swallowed, her mouth dry.
She couldn't take it anymore. "Is it because of the other night?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Because Angela thinks—"
"Oh, great. You told..." He trailed off and then slowly exhaled, rolling his shoulders. "Doesn't matter. We are not talking about this."
"You can't dictate that."
"Oh yeah? Go ahead then — try having a conversation by yourself."
"It's Agent Booth."
"You can't do this."
"Pretend that nothing happened."
"Nothing did happen, Dr. Bre—"
She cut him off, clenching her fists and feeling the heat rise in her face. "Stop calling me that." Her heart pounded, and she put a name to the emotion coursing through her — anger.
"Why? That's your name."
"Yes, but..." She shook her head briskly, trying to clear it. "That's not your name for me." That, she realized with a start, was what had been bothering her. "This isn't rational behavior, Booth. Something happened, and you can't deny it. You kissed me." How could he deny it?
Booth flicked on his turn signal and pulled over to the side of the highway. He cut the ignition and climbed out of the SUV, shrugging into his jacket. Without so much as a backward glance, he shut his door and trudged toward the knot of uniformed personnel.
Temperance snapped on her latex gloves. This, at least, was familiar. She swallowed the lump in her throat and resolutely locked away the memory of Booth's lips against hers, slipping it into the same box in which she'd put away the memory of his hands in her hair.To be continued...