It was their relationship: arguments and Thai food and silly little presents that for some reason meant so much.
Only something had gone wrong with the first part, and it wasn't working out.
Neither of them liked it when they were angry at the other, but it happened so often now for reasons neither of them could explain. Something had clicked out of place and they didn't make sense anymore – he was too arrogant and she was too into science (finally everyone was seeing what they thought they would have right at the start).
He'd contemplate his shoes and she'd tap irritatingly at her keyboard in those moments that they refused to talk, offending one another more the longer they were silent. Finally she'd stand before him or he'd put a hand on her shoulder and they'd both say I'm sorry as a move of reconciliation (though they really didn't mean it). They'd force smiles and his hand felt insincere on her back but they tried real hard for the illusion of normality.
They'd drive sometimes after that, black SUV pulling up in front of out-of-town diners or seedy bars, sometimes hotels or motor inns or anything that was away from bones and superiors and their lives – intertwining and indefinable and the rest.
Booth liked that Brennan drank till she was drunk and would smile at the bartender as he poured her another beer. Her usual might have been that Mexican filth, but at least she didn't order margaritas and the other expensive cocktails with expensive names. Pretty girl with cheap taste when she had the backdrop of faded yellow fields or an alley lit by neon signs – gravelly voice and a grimace of a smile; it didn't reach her eyes, they were only lit by a dirty light bulb hanging from a washed out ceiling.
He arguably liked her best then; she wasn't just Brennan who lost a mother and a father -- even if the latter was still around -- a brother and a childhood, holed up in a lab with a doctorate and groupies who preferred to be called scientists. She was that girl; you know she's had problems because you can see them on her face – fine lines and thin lips, she doesn't want to talk about it but she knows you know, she sits quietly and contemplates and thinks about why did this happen and doesn't hide. It's not home, it's not anywhere, and she knows it's just him and he's not going to push it. She was that girl, sitting next to him at a bar or across from him at a diner with grimy tables and florescent lights.
He'd never ask her what was wrong. They'd sit and she's tell him eventually, sometimes her voice would crack or her fingers would tremble (he'd curl his around hers and he wouldn't get too close – too familiar with her inclination towards flight). That was when they wouldn't be forced, and for a while at least they'd be content with each other.
Some nights they'd listen to boys strumming their guitars, an occasional twang reminding them of cowboys and campfires in the Old West. His arm would wind around her waist and he'd pull her out onto the floor (he'd whisper in her ear his reasoning, the first inappropriate thing he'd said all night – I like it when we dance) and hold her against him while they barely swayed. He could smell her perfume and it mingled with the alcohol they'd been drinking; he felt like they shouldn't go back because it would only lead to arguing and awkward silences. It would be better if they just stayed here, with plaid shirts and horses in the corral, because she was herself and he didn't push her – so different from home.
When he finally pulled up in front of her apartment she'd argue he shouldn't drive anymore, alone after he'd been drinking, and he'd turn off the car and lock the doors once they'd gotten out before trailing behind her up the stairs (he didn't tell her he'd started keeping a bag in the back, and that he'd slip out early in the morning and brush his teeth).
He'd sleep on her couch, just a few inches too small and she'd leave painkillers on the coffee table after he'd fallen asleep to help with the headache in the morning.
Sometimes she'd wake up to seeing she'd forgotten to shut her curtains, and light was just coming over the horizon. She'd hear a stirring from the living room and know that he'd been awake longer than her. Sometimes she'd not realize she'd fallen asleep again, but others she'd get up, shoulders clicking, and he'd hear her door open. They'd get dressed (and one day she found out about the bag in the trunk) and they would walk across the street and get coffee while the world woke up.
It was those mornings when her coffee would be black and she wouldn't talk much, they'd just head toward a park and walk through the sun as long as it wasn't windy.
He remembered when she couldn't sleep. She rang him at three in the morning and said his name as if she wondered whether it would be someone else on the other end; croaky-voiced and exhausted. The first time, she'd had to explain – buried alive with no way out, and she'd been afraid to sleep. (Not in those words, but it's what he'd gathered.) After that, when he heard the tired voice that was shaky from crying he'd reassure her and throw on a jacket, not looking forward to the couch that was just slightly too small.
He never told her, but he hated those nights. He could hear her uneven breathing and knew she barely slept (he hated even more to think what she must have been like without him there), but she didn't come out, didn't stand at her door with a tiny voice and whisper his name. No, that would mean walls coming down and she'd have to depend on him and she'd hate it. No, she stayed resolutely in the bedroom, occasionally drifting off into sleep but often waking with a gasp to see it was still dark, that there were still hours to go before it was safe again.
He opened the door one night and she immediately sat up. "Booth?"
"It's just me, Bones."
He shut it again, and sat down against the wall.
"What're you doing?" her voice was tired but clear – she hadn't been sleeping since she went to bed.
"Keeping an eye on you."
He heard her shifting – sheets against her legs, and then the sound of her feet hitting the floor. Her silhouette moved toward him and she sat down on his left, sighing and drawing her knees up under her chin.
"It isn't rational. I should know that everything I'm seeing while I'm asleep is just images and sounds produced while in the state of rapid eye movement sleep. I keep having them because the irrational part of me never lets me get past that stage of dozing, and the experience has affected me so much-" he put a hand on her knee and she stopped talking.
"Its okay, Bones." His arm slipped around her shoulder and she didn't pull away – past the point where she wanted to fight him.
That was the first night she slept for more than an hour. It was almost morning when she awoke to find herself in bed, Booth sprawled beside her. She was thankful for him then, dominance and masculinity and she didn't care if it took away some of her independence to say she felt safer in his presence.
It was weeks or maybe a month before he finally stopped sleeping at her place and went home to his. He felt disconnected walking through the door, used to her kitchen and her hallways – everything was the wrong way around, though it felt silly to say it. It was his apartment, he should feel relieved that there was a familiar smell again, his bedroom and a tv. Not the feeling of being out of place that made him almost want to sleep on the couch rather than in his own bed; a habit he was so now so accustomed to.
As soon as he left, they were back to arguing again. The battles that left him feeling cold and empty – his ally on the other side. They had been suspended in an agreement that was never voiced, they didn't fight when she needed him. Now it was broken, they left every conversation angry and she went out with him less and less. He was sure she was dating someone else at one point, though she never informed him. He hated to think it hurt him more that she wasn't telling him inappropriate information about her love life rather than that she was dating someone that wasn't him.
Angela, with observant eyes and bias towards Brennan came into his office one day (he's done something bad), curling her fingers around the armrest on the chair and pulling her feet up beneath her. One tell me everything and he was awkwardly explaining everything that had finally resulted in the dirtiest words he'd ever said – maybe you should just go. Brennan had disappeared out the door and now Angela was in her place, understanding but not sympathetic.
"You should talk to her."
It was raining as he made his way into the Jeffersonian, and he wondered whether this was the culmination or the ending of everything they'd had from the start. He didn't know what to say; listen Bones, we wear trenchcoats to crime scenes and you know you can trust me.
He knocked on the open door of her office and saw her tense as she realized who it was.
He was going to say something about how it was different for them, and how it was because she meant so much to him that he fought her – equals and whatever else they supposedly were. Everything he'd finally decided to tell her went away when he saw her expression. She hadn't been crying, but the look her face had acquired when he walked in the door gave him the feeling he would have got had she been.
Shit, Bones; I wish I'd never said it. It wasn't her that had done the pushing this time. She hadn't walked out of the argument and forgiven anything later. It was his fault and he'd started it, the incessant shouting about things that didn't matter; he'd crossed that line that meant caring for her too much.
He knew they'd never kiss serenely in the firelight, and he wouldn't fall slowly in love with her because that wasn't how it worked with them. They'd both realize at a certain point and they'd be arguing and not notice they were kissing until she was flat-backed against the wall.
He wanted that to happen, but he'd screwed it up so much he didn't know how it could.
"I don't want to lose what we have." It was all he said and he waited for her expression to soften before he offered her a smile. What he meant wasI don't want to ruin what we could be.
He left it at that, and he knew that something had been mended.
She arrived at his door that night, car keys in hand, and wondered out loud whether he wanted to go for a drive. This was her apology, and he remembered to lock his door behind him.
The stopped at the grimiest bar she knew and lost themselves in the bitter smell of cigarettes, a smoky haze and a pair of shots. Neither of them thought about how they were getting home and it was eleven before they stopped drinking (one before they thought about leaving). They didn't talk about life, they didn't think about what would be said in therapy and they didn't want to care about what was going to happen in the morning.
Something else was being fixed.
He'd kept her spare key from when he was sleeping at her place (it made sense – Mulder and Scully and the way they knew each other), and he started letting himself in on days he knew she'd be home.
She stopped waiting near the door with a baseball bat after the first time.
Sometimes he'd bring take out and they'd make conversation, and other times they'd go out – to therapy, to dinner. He didn't call them dates around her, and though he was a gentleman they took turns paying, because they were antiquated rituals, Booth.
They'd slipped into a relationship without them knowing, and it made sense that one night he'd kiss her as he walked out the door. It was almost nothing, and it was only something because her fingers touched her lips after he'd gone.
Angela liked to point out all the stages they'd gone through; spending the night, the weekend (the month, and she'd grin dangerously), exchanging keys, and then she'd wonder when they were going to Jamaica. Brennan would glare and walk away, but Angela just smirked because she knew so much more than they did.
It was their relationship: case-files and bickering and she still kept the trinkets he gave her no matter how insignificant they may have been to anyone else. In a way it was how he showed he cared, because there was always that feeling she might brush him off if he told her he loved her – no matter how long they'd known each other. She'd take them quietly and smile the smile that said I love you too, just so you know.