Warning: This story is rated R because of some adult themes, mild profanity, and some potentially difficult emotional content.
A/N: Thank you so very much to everyone left feedback for my other ficlets; I try to respond to everyone personally, but several of you are anonymous, so I don't know how to contact you. Thank you as well to anyone who's reading and NOT commenting. :) That's ok, too.
The chapter below is set somewhere in the middle of season 3, which, in case you didn't already know, starts on September 25th. Woohoo:D
Hope you enjoy it, and even if you don't, feel free to let me know.
Oh simple thing where have you gone
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
- Keane, Somewhere Only We Know
She had just poured herself a glass of Syrah when she heard the doorbell chime. She wasn't expecting anyone and frowned at the thought that her Friday night plans -- to dive into the latest issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences and then have a quiet dinner -- might be thwarted. A glance through the peephole told her it was Booth, clad in a bulletproof vest. He stood with his head bowed and shoulders slumped. She undid the deadbolt, opened the door. Booth looked up at the sound of the door opening, and she realized he was soaked from the rain that had been pouring from the sky for hours. His hair gleamed wet and nearly black in the light from the hallway, and droplets coursed down his cheeks, mimicking tears.
She frowned at the odd exchange and stepped back from the door, gesturing to him to enter. Wine sloshed over the lip of the glass and onto her hand. "Damn." She lifted her hand to her mouth and sucked the crimson drops, aware that Booth's eyes tracked the movement. "What?"
"Nothing," he said, looking away. Something in his expression made her stomach contract.
He stood in the middle of her living room, dripping, and looking curiously lost.
"I don't want to ruin your couch." He gestured vaguely at himself.
If his bedraggled appearance hadn't telegraphed that something was off, the fact that he made no comment about the black "Anthropologists do it in the field" t-shirt she wore would have warned her. That and the uncharacteristically brooding twist of his lips.
She shrugged. "It's a couch. It will dry. Just sit. I'll get you some towels." She left the room, returning with two blue towels and a neatly folded black t-shirt and sweatpants. She handed them to Booth and then retreated, arms folded across her chest.
He pulled the shirt and sweatpants from the bottom of the stack and shook them out.
His eyes shot to hers. "These are my clothes." The words were spoken as a statement, but she debated whether or not to answer the unspoken question lingering in his dark eyes.
She opted for a half-truth. "You left them here when Kenton was after me." The shock of that day's events had faded, but she could recall the fear all too easily. Her glance skittered away; she didn't want him to see the emotions that assaulted her whenever she remembered the night he was injured by the explosion in her kitchen. Experience had taught her that Booth's watchful eyes missed little – especially when it came to things she would rather conceal.
"Oh." Booth cocked his head slightly and watched her, unblinking. The wind picked up, dashing the rain against the windows. Temperance took a long swallow of wine and felt her heart hammer against her ribs.
Silence blanketed them. When she could stand it no longer, Temperance cleared her throat. She wanted to ask Booth why he was there, but something held her back. The weary set of his mouth and the hollowness in his eyes communicated enough, for the moment.
"I should change." Booth rose, his body grazing hers as he brushed past on his way to her bathroom. She inhaled, scenting the rain on him.
She waited until she heard the door click shut before she flopped down on the couch and rubbed her forehead. Closing her eyes, she tried to regain her equilibrium.
"What are you drinking?" She jumped at the sound of Booth's voice, hand flying to her throat. She'd been so deep in thought that she hadn't heard him come back out. The bulletproof vest had disappeared, and he'd changed into his sweats and his shirt, which clung to his chest and shoulders like a lover's embrace. His hair no longer lay flat against his head. Instead, it was mussed, as if he'd scrubbed it roughly with a towel. His expression, however, had not altered. Exhaustion and perhaps pain had etched lines into his face, compressed his usually smiling mouth into a thin line, left his cheeks pale and bloodless. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
Temperance wondered briefly if a double meaning lay beneath his words. "It's a Syrah I brought back from Chile. I was there a few years ago, helping identify remains found in unmarked graves after Pinochet was overthrown. It's quite—"
Booth slipped the glass from her hand. Temperance found herself unable to look away as he raised it to his lips. His throat worked as he swallowed; her mouth went dry.
"—good," she finished quietly.
Under different circumstances, she would have scolded him. Now, she merely watched, transfixed, as he licked his lips before handing the glass back to her. She noted how his hand shook, jostling the remaining wine in the glass. She accepted the glass without comment, absently fingering the stem, face burning at the knowledge that his mouth had just touched the spot where hers had been moments earlier. The subtle intimacy of the act reverberated through her. "Excuse me." She got to her feet, intending to duck into the kitchen to clear her head. Three steps and Booth spoke, halting her escape.
"I wanted to drive to Atlantic City. I almost did. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. I called my sponsor. We talked. He told me to get to a meeting. Couldn't find one. So here I am."
She set her glass down on the coffee table and turned to face Booth, moving until she stood directly in front of him. "I see...Where's Parker?"
"He's at his friend's birthday party."
"Maybe you should go see him. Maybe that would help."
Booth shook his head. "No. I don't want him to see me like this. It would scare him. But I called." A ghost of a smile touched his lips and then vanished. "He told me they're having pizza and cake and ice cream."
Brennan turned the information over in her mind. Booth hadn't gone to see his son because he didn't want to scare him with his emotional state. Instead, he'd come to see her. Why?
"What triggered it?"
He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes and shook his head silently.
She stepped back.
He looked up, reached out and caught her right hand so she couldn't move, then tugged her back toward him. Her hand looked small and white in his. The observation frightened her; she made to pull her hand from his firm grasp. Distance. Yes, a little distance would be good.
But his grip didn't loosen.
"Booth." She cringed inwardly at how weak her voice sounded.
Exhaling a shaky breath, he finally released her hand. Relieved, she started to back away, only to be brought up short when Booth wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed his cheek against her abdomen.
She gasped and froze, hands at her sides. She felt her face heat. Knew her eyes must be wide and startled. What was he doing? Panic flooded her, and she stiffened further.
Inhaling deeply, she squared her shoulders and risked looking down. His hair was damp and tousled, and she couldn't see his face because it was pressed against her. But his breath and the heat of his skin scalded her through the thin cotton of her t-shirt, almost as if nothing separated their bodies.
He was upset. That much was obvious. What was less clear was what he wanted from her. In a moment of insight, she silently acknowledged that there must be times when he didn't know how to deal with her. And yet he tried, bringing her Jasper after she'd shot Gil Lappin, risking his career to give her back her mother's earring, holding her when the knowledge of her true identity threatened to swallow her whole. And those were just the times that immediately sprang to mind. She knew there were more. He was a good partner, instinctively supporting her when she needed it -- even when she didn't know how to ask for it.
She should attempt to do the same. No, she wanted to do the same. She just didn't recognize the right course of action. Angela would have known what to do. For a split second, Brennan envied her friend her easy understanding of people. Frustration filled her mouth with bitterness.
She swallowed, hard. "Booth, tell me what I can do. I want to help; I just don't know how."
"Bones..." Her chest constricted at the husky tenor of his voice. "Just don't run, ok? Don't run."
He knew her too well. She didn't want to lie to him; he deserved better from her. "I'll— I'll try."
"I'm scared shitless, Bones. I keep telling Parker there's no such thing as monsters, but you and I know better than that. The things we see -- the sick, fucked-up things people do to each other. God, does it even matter what I do?"
His anguished admission shamed her as she remembered his words to her after she'd told him she wished he wouldn't let her keep hugging him when she got scared. "If I get scared, I'll hug you." She cursed herself for being a coward.
She forced her hands to uncurl and slowly raised them, letting one rest on his back and allowing the other one to drift to his hair. Her heart thundered in her chest, echoing the storm outside, and the muscles in her legs tightened in preparation for flight. She fought it, willing herself to stay.
Finally, something in her loosened, and she moved her hand, tentatively smoothing Booth's hair back from his face. It surprised her how soft it felt under her fingers, surprised her how much she wanted to touch it again. Slowly she moved to kneel before him on the floor, wrapped her arms around him. He sighed, his warm breath stirring the hair by her ear. She succumbed to the impulse to sift her fingers through his damp hair again.
For long moments, they didn't move.
Only when her knees began to hurt did Temperance change position, moving to sit beside Booth on the couch. She took one of his hands and tucked it between both of hers. "Tell me what happened."
"We got a tip that one of the guys on our ten most wanted fugitives list was in the area. Tom Gallagher. He's a convicted sex offender and alleged child pornographer. He did time in Tennessee. Got out two months ago and kidnapped two kids from Mississippi -- a six-year-old boy and his eight-year-old sister." He closed his eyes tightly, fighting for control.
She squeezed his hand, silently encouraging him to continue. "There was…There was footage circulating that made us think the kids might still be alive. Another agent tracked down a witness who said she saw a man fitting Gallagher's description in her neighborhood, with two kids. He was staying in a shack out in Southeast. We took a team out there. Had him surrounded. We were too late. Too fucking late." He pounded his free fist into his thigh. "The bastard shot himself in front of us." He snatched his hand from her grasp and bent forward with his head between his knees. She rubbed his back as he took several shuddering breaths.
Slowly, he uncurled. "The kids -- we found them under his bed. Tommy and Michelle Cole. He'd carved them both up. Probably just four or five days ago." He grimaced in disgust. "Jesus, Bones, the smell. It was unbelievable. We found his camera and his latest footage, too, all neatly archived on dvds. Like a fucking artiste. What he did to those kids, what's on those dvds -- it's burned into my brain."
"Then I started thinking, what if it had been Parker? It could have been him instead of those poor kids. It could still be him. For every dead Gallagher there are at least dozens more alive, doing these heinous things. And I can't stop them. How can I possibly stop them all? But if I can't, what good is my badge? Or my gun? Or my training?" He splayed his fingers against his chest. "What fucking good am I?"
Comprehension dawned, and with it, compassion. How could she ever have thought Booth was shallow? Cupping his face in her hands, she forced him to look at her. "Listen to me. I don't believe in God, but I know you do. You're not God. You're not omnipotent. You're just a man -- a good man." When he tried to pull away, she held fast.
"And that matters, Booth. It has to. So many people walk through life only caring about their tiny corner of the world. But not you. You've made it your life's work to catch criminals -- the majority of whom hurt people you don't even know. Every day, you risk your life for strangers. Because you care. And it costs you. Dearly. Some days the cost is your own flesh. Other days, like today, it's your mental health. No, you can't possibly stop them all. But what matters is that you try. If people like you didn't exist, no one would ever feel safe." She moved her hands to his shoulders and gently shook him. "That's what fucking good you are."
Booth sighed and looked down at his hands. "Do you mean that?"
"Yes, I do."
"Are you sure?" Gone were the laughter and charm he usually donned like full-body armor, leaving in their place a wrenching vulnerability.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"That makes one of us. Right now, all I'm sure of is that sooner or later, we all wind up a pile of bones. No telling when or why. No guarantees."
No guarantees. She had spent her entire life trying to be safe, rational. But where had it gotten her? Her mother was murdered. Her brother and father were in prison. She'd been buried alive, shot at, and nearly fed to dogs. Neither heaven nor any kind of afterlife existed. Species could maintain stasis for long periods of time, but if they never evolved, they became extinct. Was it rational to continue to do things the way she'd always done them simply because that was all she knew how to do?
No, it wasn't.
Yes, sooner or later, they would all wind up a pile of bones.
"I don't want to think. I don't want to see. Every time I close my eyes, I see Tommy and Michelle, stuffed under that bed like garbage. Then I see Parker…." He drove his fingers into his hair. " I just don't want to see anymore, Bones." Please.
The word was unspoken, but she heard it.
Was her desire to comfort this man -- a man she knew would die to protect her -- so wrong? She made her decision. Looking into his eyes, she laid her palm flat against his chest, above his heart. The strong, steady beat reassured her. She leaned forward until their breath mingled.
"What are you doing?" he whispered.
"Crossing the line," she whispered back, watching the surprise flicker across his face in the seconds before their lips met.
Soft. His lips were so soft, she thought. Her mouth barely brushed his before her body caught fire. Booth shifted closer, trapping her hand between their bodies. He traced her lips with the tip of his tongue, making her shiver, until she opened for him. The world narrowed to the delicious sweep of his tongue against hers. She tasted the fruit and oak of the wine they'd shared, and something else, something dark and hot. When she moaned in the back of her throat, he captured it with his mouth.
He broke away first, chest heaving as he fought for air. Temperance stared at him, dazed and trembling, fingers pressed to her lips. Booth was no longer pale, their kiss having brought some color to his face. That made her smile.
"Was that a pity kiss?"
"Did you kiss me because you felt sorry for me?" The words sliced her open with the precision of a scalpel, leaving her raw and exposed.
"No. I kissed you because I care about you." Anger flared suddenly, white-hot and cleansing. "Is that acceptable, or would it make it easier for you if I had done it out of pity?"
"I should go." With those three words, she saw his walls go back up.
"No, damn it." She grabbed his arm, furious that he would beg her not to run and then turn around and try it himself as soon as they got too close. "Neither one of us gets to run away tonight." She knew she was almost yelling, but for once she didn't care about appearing calm and unperturbed. "For all your talk about lines we can't cross, you're here, aren't you?" She released him, folding her arms across her chest and raising her chin in challenge. "Why are you here, Booth? Of all the places you could have gone tonight, why did you come here?"
To be continued...