AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well guys, this is it -- the final chapter. In total this story took nearly 6 months to be completed, but it was well worth the time...in my opinion anyway. I just want to thank you all for reading. It means a lot to me! Special thanks go to all those readers who decided to show how much they enjoyed their read with a review or by adding me or my story to their Author and/or Story Alert list.
But the biggest thanks of all has to go to Faux Maven. She offered her help in a time when I was desperate for a kick-ass beta. Thank you for taking me on and being patient whenever needed. I know there were a few times when you were compelled to wring my neck, but somehow you managed to refrain from doing just that. lol (My neck is grateful, ha.) I honestly don't know how Strappado would have turned out without you. So thank you, thank you, thank you!
- XVII -
-- DROPS OF WATER --
Drops of Water' or 'Chinese Water Torture' is a torture method in which the victim is strapped down to endure drops of water dripping onto his forehead in an irregular rhythm. The key elements of this method of water torture are (a) the fact that the victim is immobilized, always able to see and anticipate the next drop, and (b) the irregularity of the water drops. The inability to escape the inevitable drops leads to a constant state of anxiety culminating in hallucination or even dementia.
Drops of Water' was first described under a different name by Hippolytus de Marsiliis in Italy during the 16th century. He took the principle of dripping water hollowing a stone and applied it to the human body. The term 'Chinese Water Torture' has nothing to do with the actual Chinese people. It is believed the term might have arisen from Houdini's 'Chinese Water Torture Cell' (referring to the escape trick Houdini performed when hanging upside down, bound and restrained, in a glass and steel cabinet filled with water) and also the Fu Manchu stories of Sax Rhomer (where Fu Manchu's victims had to endure various torture methods cooked up by Fu Manchu). Or perhaps the term was derived from other terms such as 'Chinese fire drill' and 'Chinese whispers' in which the word 'Chinese' refers to Victorian slang for 'confusing' or 'containing erratic qualities'.
The final chapter of Strappado is named for a torture method that consumes both mind and body. Now that Dolan has been caught, everyone can relax and can recover physically as well as mentally. They were each subjected to physical torture that threatened their sanity. Another reason why I picked this method is because of the irregularity of Dolan's attacks. No one could foresee when he would strike next and there was no pattern to discover in his actions, much like drops of water.
December 1 -- Washington D.C. hospital -- 22:37
It was a dark and dreary night. One that usually formed the ominous décor of mysterious tales of horror, but now faded into the background of a tumultuous night. Booth sat on his bed with his back against the headboard, a pillow tucked behind him and three squints surrounding him. Hodgins lounged in an easy chair he had dug up God-knows-where and had Angela right beside him perched on the arm rest. Angela's arm was draped protectively over the back of the chair, the fingers of her left hand caressing Hodgins' shoulder. Dolan's marks on Angela's neck and chest had almost completely disappeared, while Hodgins' skin color had returned to normal thanks to the antidote he had received. They sat on the left side of Booth's bed with their backs to the door.
Zach was across from them. Not being one who cared much for comfort, Zach hadn't complained when they left him the least comfortable chair in the room. With his back impossibly straight and his arms crossed, he leaned against the hard plastic back of the rickety chair. The only indicator of the torturous hours Zach had endured while being strapped to a tree was a distance in his eyes and a pallor to his skin that didn't seem to improve despite all the rest he had gotten since being rescued. He stared at Booth as the FBI Agent filled them in on what had taken place a few hours ago.
"I can't believe the Bureau appointed one of the stupidest men alive to guard me. He was out for coffee..." Booth trailed off and tiredly ran a hand over his face as he finished telling the teammates what had happened.
Hodgins mockingly lifted the cup of coffee he held in his right hand. "Hey man, don't you dare dis coffee. It's a life saver."
"Not in my case, it wasn't," Booth muttered.
Angela shook her head as she sat up and leaned forward. For a few silent moments her eyes wandered over Booth's features. She glided over the deep lines that worry and pain had drawn; she lowered her gaze to note the tired slump of Booth's shoulders and the restless tapping of his fingers on the bed sheets. She could easily see how Booth's arm muscles twitched with tension underneath the fabric of the pajamas he wore -- pajamas which Angela knew had been dropped off by Brennan. The steady clenching of Booth's jaw muscles was a dead give away too. Angela understood perfectly how agitation and fear were plaguing the agent's mind. It was now several hours since Dolan's arrest and Brennan still hadn't returned from accompanying Dolan and the guard who had handcuffed him. The only reason Angela could come up with for Brennan's delay was that she had gone to Cullen or whoever was the guard's superior to inform them on their agent's intolerable behavior.
"He got to you good," Angela quietly noted.
Booth turned to meet her eyes and, after a moment or two, slowly nodded. "He did, but not as much as he got to Bones." His gaze flicked down to his hands as he fiddled with the sheets. "I don't think she'll easily get over this."
"Dr. Brennan is doing just fine," a voice said from the doorway. Their heads whipped around to find Cam looking at them. A small smile played around her lips as she pushed away from the jamb, crossed the room, and lowered herself onto the edge of the bed near Booth's feet and on Zach's side. "I saw her when she passed by the lab to pick up the DNA test results. She told me she wanted to make sure Dolan would be kept under constant surveillance."
"Did she say anything else?" Booth asked.
Cam shrugged. "Not really, but she had that glint in her eyes. You know, the one that reminds you of a pit-bull unwilling to let go of his bone."
"She saw all of us end up in the hospital without getting hurt herself. How would you feel?" Booth replied as he sent Cam a sharp look.
She unblinkingly stared back. "Murderous without a doubt." Cam sighed, shaking her head, and briefly touched the sheet covering Booth's legs. "Look, I'm not judging her. I saw her come this close to losing it when we were questioning Strom. I'm just...I think she's just really annoyed."
Booth tried to relax a little, leaning back against his pillow and consciously slowing his rapid tapping of the bed sheets. "I doubt anyone knows how Bones feels at this point. Dolan nearly broke her. He treated her worse than Kenton and the Gravedigger combined."
As if he had just let a secret slip, Booth's face hardened and he tightly gripped the sheets. He remembered Brennan's kidnapping as vividly as if it had happened the day before. He remembered the paralyzing fear that had twisted his gut, how disbelieving he had been at first when Brennan didn't answer her phone and then didn't show up for work. He recalled his frantic search for clues, his fervent prayers for her safety, and eventually the cold anger that almost smothered him as he had raided Dolan's hide-out.
"What happened last year, Booth? She never told any of us."
Shaken out of his memories, Booth looked up from his fist strangling the sheets to find Angela intensely staring at him. "I don't think she even told me," he slowly said. "Not every single detail, I mean." He paused as he breathed in deeply and hesitated about whether or not it was up to him to recount how he had rescued Brennan since she had obviously chosen to keep the details to herself. But as he looked around, and remembered the pain they had been put through by Dolan, Booth saw no other option than to confide in them.
"She didn't have to tell me what went down while Dolan had her," he began. "It was written all over her. The bruises, the cuts, the blood..." He briefly squeezed his eyes shut. "The pain in her eyes was overwhelming and terrifying. I was the first one who saw her. It was me who found her chained to some gritty wall." Booth's voice grew slightly distant as he saw the entire rescue scene enfold in his mind. After he had kicked down the basement door, and as soon as he had checked the room for Dolan, he had rushed over to Brennan to free her from the pair of medieval rusty chains cutting into her skin, and shield her from the prying eyes of the men who accompanied him on the raid.
"Once I got those chains off her, she...she collapsed. I tried to keep her upright; I tried to shield her and keep her from view." He gave Angela an almost pleading look. "You know Bones. She can't stand it when people see her at her weakest. So I tried to cover her...protect her." He shook his head and directed his gaze at the wall opposite the bed. "I tried and for a day or two she let me. But then she got out of the hospital and she started distancing herself. She withdrew from me while at the same time she opened up to complete strangers. The guy that got shot on her patio was one of her latest catches." He snorted disbelievingly, still staring off into the distance, as he mumbled, "Damn frustrating..."
"And that's where Samantha came in," Angela whispered, referring to the woman Booth had spent a turbulent month with. The feisty redhead had popped up out of nowhere and had disappeared just as quickly and as mysteriously. Everyone on their team but Brennan had known the precise nature of the relationship Booth maintained with Samantha. They had all been aware, but had wisely kept their observations to themselves. It startled them to hear Booth confess openly what had driven him to pursue Samantha and her whimsical desires.
Booth smiled weakly as he raked his fingers through his already ruffled hair. "I can't believe I told all of you."
"Neither can I."
Zach was the first one to react. He jumped to his feet and greeted the lissome figure standing in the doorway in a strained voice. "Dr. Brennan."
Brennan hesitated for the briefest of moments before crossing the threshold. She took two steps into the room before halting. As if on cue, Angela and the others quickly glanced at each other and simultaneously got to their feet. Angela smiled encouragingly at Booth, as did Cam to the agent's surprise, while Hodgins clapped him on the shoulder and Zach simply stared before rounding the bed and heading for the door. They all filed out of the room, leaving Booth and Brennan alone.
Booth averted his eyes to study his hands, but his head shot up again when he heard a rustle of clothes indicating Brennan was on the move. Even in the dim light cast by the single bedside table lamp, he could clearly trace the erect posture of his partner. He allowed himself to stare at her, memorizing every square inch of Brennan's well-cut pants and shirt, the bare skin of her neck and hands, the dancing and curling locks of hair that swept over her back and shoulders, and the shadows playing over her face as she approached the bed. As she came to a stop beside him, Booth slowly let go of a breath he didn't realize he had been holding.
"I believe this is yours," Brennan said as she dangled an all too familiar tie in front of him.
Booth smiled and took the piece of silk from her. He regarded it in silence for a few moments before he looked up. "Thanks, Bones. I didn't think I'd ever see it again."
Brennan impassively stared at him. "I confiscated it from Dolan. It didn't become him."
"The colors didn't work for him, huh?"
Brennan refrained from replying. Instead she shrugged one shoulder and wandered over to the window. She could feel Booth's eyes following her, but was unwilling to turn and look at him. The whole situation had a strange sense of déjà-vu since only yesterday she had been standing before a window as well and had been just as reluctant to meet Booth's gaze.
"I talked to Cullen about the guard's error. He should have asked for identification before he let Dolan in."
"He shouldn't have gone for coffee either," Booth added.
"He did it before," Brennan quietly returned from her position by the window, but still without sparing him as much as a glance. "When I stopped by last night, he went for coffee as well. And I didn't say anything then."
Booth remained quiet for a few moments as he absorbed what Brennan had just told him. He cleared his throat, his fingers absent-mindedly tracing the patterns imprinted on his tie. "I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't revealed Dolan's name. I was too groggy and tired to really concentrate."
Booth could feel his own muscles constricting as he almost saw his partner tense from head to toe. For a moment, he didn't think she would reply, but then her answer came softly with a crack of disbelief and hurt in it.
"He tried to electrocute you. All he had to do was rewire your heart monitor. If he had succeeded, then you would have...you would have..." She exhaled shakily and it reminded Booth of when Brennan had tried to convince herself who she was and what her job was. It seemed like a lifetime ago they had stood in that barn and Brennan had so desperately held on to him as he had assured her he knew exactly who she was. And now they were in a similar situation. Only this time Brennan needed confirmation that he justified her actions.
"But he didn't succeed," he countered just as softly. "You stopped him."
Abruptly she turned around. "I wanted to kill him, did you know that? When I was on the floor and saw what he planned to do, I wanted nothing more than to hook him up to the heart monitor and shove those cables into a power cord." She stared at him, wide-eyed, breathing shallowly. "I wanted to kill him, but I couldn't."
His tone was still soft when he replied, only now a hint of warmth and gentleness was added. "You're not like him, Bones. You're not as cold and calculating as Dolan. You will never be. That's why you couldn't do it." Booth moved aside and patted the vacant spot beside him. "Come and sit with me, Bones."
For a moment Booth believed she would refuse his offer. She stood there, staring at him as night poured through the blinds behind her. Her fists were clenched at her side and her chest heaved in an unsteady rhythm. He didn't need to check her pulse to confirm his suspicions. Dr. Temperance Brennan, the woman he proudly called his partner, a scientist who believed in empirical evidence and logic, was out of control. She was so different from the woman he had met at the beginning of their partnership that he could hardly believe she was still Brennan. Booth's shoulders slumped and he looked down at his hands, at the "Spirit Bear" tie he was still holding. He trained his gaze on his fingers as he fiddled with the scrap of fabric. Just a few moments ago he had wanted her to open up. Now the thought that she might scared him.
He jumped a little when he felt the mattress dip under her weight as she sat down next to him. "He got to you good," he said, unconsciously repeating Angela's earlier statement.
Brennan inhaled sharply and on the breath she released, she admitted, "Yes, he did."
Booth nodded, surprised at her admission, silent because he was unsure of how to respond. In all the time he had worked with Brennan, he had rarely seen her so vulnerable. He shifted uncomfortably, nerves whirling in his stomach as he restlessly played with his tie. Brennan sat beside him, staring off into the distance with her arms crossed and an inscrutable look on her face.
"You never told me how you found me at the Jeffersonian," Booth suddenly asked.
Brennan didn't turn; she didn't even stir, as she replied, "I called you. Dolan forgot to take your phone."
He frowned. "What made you so sure I was still in the building? I know my car was there, but still...How did you know Dolan hadn't taken me away from the lab?"
"I didn't know. I had a...feeling," she glanced down and up again, pausing as she tasted the word, "you were still around." Her lips curled into what Booth mentally described as a teasing half smile. "The parking lot security guards were helpful too. They saw you get into the elevator."
"So much for a gut feeling," Booth mocked her, but quickly shut up when he saw Brennan's face fall.
"I never want to go through that again, Booth," she told him. "I was...I was out of control -- frantic. When you didn't pick up your phone, I..." Brennan shook her head. "I needed you to be there and you weren't."
As he lay down his tie, resisting the urge to grab Brennan's hand, Booth lifted his head and quietly asked, "Why didn't you call me, Bones? The night John was killed; why didn't you give me a call? You know that all you have to do is pick up the phone and I'll be there."
Slowly Brennan turned her head. For a silent moment she stared at him before she said, "Maybe I figured you would drop by because you had one of our case files with you. You usually come over to discuss my reports before signing them. Or maybe I didn't want you to know that another one of my attempts at a relationship failed."
"The guy got his brains blown all over your patio. I'd hardly say you failed, Bones," Booth muttered.
She turned away, but continued her explanation. "Or maybe I wasn't reasoning logically and expected you to instinctively know that I needed you."
He narrowed his eyes and leaned a bit back as he gauged Brennan's reaction, or rather the lack thereof. "Come on, Bones," he gently said as he reached for her hand, giving in to the need of skin-on-skin contact. "I know we're great together, but if you expect me to know when you need me then I'd say we need to work on the mind reading thing."
"Would you really be there if I called? Always?"
With a small crooked smile, he squeezed her hand and with his other hand reached up to brush aside a stray strand of hair. "For you I would, Bones."
Brennan frowned slightly as she met Booth's tender gaze before looking down on their linked hands. Absent-mindedly she noted how she was stroking the back of his hand with her thumb and how the feel of his skin sent tingles up her arm in spite of the chaos currently swirling in her mind. There was just something about the way Booth's fingers protectively curled around hers, how their palms pressed closely together. Before she was even aware of what she was saying, Brennan heard herself ask a question she didn't think was appropriate after having faced the possibility of Booth's death only hours ago, but she asked it anyway.
"Do you honestly believe we're great together?"
Lifting an eyebrow in challenge as he tightened his hold on her hand, Booth replied, "God, Bones, were you even there when we kissed? Another minute with you in that elevator and I don't think I would have let you go." He blinked, stunned, and then quickly moved to cover up his slip. "I mean...You know...I know this probably isn't the right time to say this, but..."
"Was it like that with Samantha?" Brennan interrupted him.
"No, it was nothing like that. What she and I had was...different. It was nowhere what you and I shared...share, I mean. I know it happened kind of unexpectedly -- believe me, I had no intention of kissing you -- but..." He winced. "That came out wrong, didn't it?" Brennan nodded, one eyebrow raised in what Booth could only identify as mild amusement. "What I meant to say is that you were mad at me and I was frustrated with you, and then there's that hug we had at the hotel, and..." Booth fell silent when Brennan pulled her hand out of his grasp and slowly ran her fingertips over the sheets covering his thighs. "What are you doing?"
"This one is on my list," Brennan announced, her eyes fixed on the back and forth motion of her fingers. She glanced up at him. "The 'How to Silence Booth Effectively' list."
Booth couldn't help but let out a bark of laughter. Despite all the drama they had gone through, despite being unsure how to move on now that Dolan was caught, Brennan hadn't lost the ability to remember his words and use them against him. He nudged her with his shoulder, still smiling, as he murmured, "It better not be at the top of the list."
"Who said it was?"
His smile broadened into a grin as he took hold of her hand again and threaded his fingers through hers. Neither of them said another word as Brennan relaxed against Booth's side and he gently caressed the back of her hand. Dolan was in custody. Their nightmare was finally over. They both knew they had to talk -- about Dolan, about their kiss, about where to take their partnership -- but for now all they truly wanted was silence, each other and a touch to connect them.
I am sure some of you are curious to what my next project will be like. I will be honest with you. I have a few ideas, but since I am in desperate need of some time off to recharge my batteries I don't know when I will be able to sit down and work out a new story line. But I am planning on doing a one-shot or two so if you are interested in more of my work, keep an eye out for those. Who knows, I might reveal the first posting date of my new story...