two: December, the year before
She'd made her morning coffee darker then, heaped spoonful after spoonful of the dark granules into the swirling water. Bitter brew, indeed, on mornings she waited painful hour after painful hour for the light to return to another body bag brimming skeletons. To tread the same cobblestone path through the park when cold winds batted fallen leaves, and to think of nothing but the solid ground beneath her feet. The bitter tang of the drink lingered, and she knows she poured the water faster than she should have, simply because her mind betrayed her some days, failing to differentiate powder from dirt and earth from fine, ground coffee.
Those were hard times, having nothing at all wrong with the world and still felling like one of those pale pink mackerel lifted from its aquatic dwelling (like a fish out of water, but on those days she never felt like being straightforward with anything either).
Some days it was easy: jaded, hardened by the inevitability of it all, when she would recite all two hundred and six names of the calcium, crystallized; she knew them all beyond the eerie, grotesque quality of the surface.
Her existence, then, was defined by lines: unspoken boundaries, the curvature of a rib, the series of grooves and bends of human anatomy. Weaved, dyed bands of color circling his ankles, twisting her persistent gaze. These lines had a beginning and an end (Alpha and Omega)- mostly she dealt with the ends, the ones so grotesque there remained only purgatory.
When a white fiberglass sailboat offers her the prospect of a beginning, she affords too many backward glances and decides to stay (left behind).
A week later another two, small parallel lines jolt her back into lucidity; her palm goes to her forehead in a muted god, not this, anything but this; shielding the suddenly painful, blinding sunlight.
He knows it's one of those things; she is uncannily agreeable that day, looking like she did handing her parents' casefile over to him. It was something, he knew, enough to warrant such response from Temperance Brennan.
She doesn't look up from the bottom of her mug, preferring to eye the dregs floundering in the leftover brew than to meet his eyes (his hopeful gaze).
Following another week in the Jeffersonian, she decides not to tell them, not to tell even Angela. It doesn't have to be that way, but she figures they'll find out eventually, anyway.
On one of their early morning calls she claps a hand over her mouth, standing over a decomposed body complete with adipocere.
"It's… the smell," she says rather pathetically when he regards her with concern, her queasiness waning to a sudden, newly- discovered fear.
"You okay, Bones?" he asks as she straightens up, brushing the hair from her face. Zack looks on, bemused- almost as if saying a scientist had no sense of all these. As if to prove a point, she finds (in the next ten minutes) herself unable to concentrate on the remains, instead envisioning the blue plastic bottom of the bucket she'd retched into, trying to ignore the possible implications of this occurrence.
She knows she shouldn't, not even now, but she can't help the first syllables of his name escaping her throat, and it's only after the name passes her lips that she realizes it's the wrong name; it shouldn't be Booth, it should be Sully, and-
He grasps her hand, then, but his voice is distorted: I'm sorry, it should be him here, shouldn't be anyone else-
Barely two weeks later he finds out, following another confrontation with a murder suspect—she gets shot in the shoulder and he gets an appointment with the shooting board.
They say its substantial blood loss, but apparently it isn't substantial enough, because she wakes hours later with a throbbing head. He's on a chair by the bed, a folder balanced on his knee.
Her eyes widen—he has her medical file—and he gives a weary smile.
"You saw my records, Bones. I'd say it's only fair that I saw yours."
There is just them, in those months, the lab and the nameless skeletons lined in the hallway. It becomes the elephant in the room, never spoken of; the presence of it felt always; it is now only the fleeting pain in her shoulder, the tender flesh running down his side: something their minds attempt to forget, something their consciousness harbors without intention.
They accommodate this void, they learn to, slowly- they learn to ignore the significance of absences. They learn to maintain silence without faltering, he learns to stop punctuating his sentences with the Bones that slips from his tongue, and both forget, a little, about who they were before. Once he even calls her Dr. Brennan, annoyed and flustered during another argument of theirs.
She passes the diner one evening; the red leather seats yield dust and the front window is clouded over—there's a notice on the door and it reads FOR LEASE. She stands in the middle of the pavement in solemn silence, as if something has died, somewhere; the feeling sweeps up her spine like the wind, blowing leaf skeletons along the concrete.
She thinks he'll miss their pie. It was good pie.
It starts with the smallest, most insignificant things: she starts fastening the buttons on her lab coat all the way up, taking smaller, more deliberate strides with an altered gait, and—he never thought he'd miss it—she stops pestering him for a gun.
She's examining a greenstick fracture on a tibia, when, leaning forward, she reaches to brush a wisp of hair from her eyes and he glimpses the gentle swell of her body under the coat.
He feels a strange bristling up the back of his neck, the same sensation he relinquishes seconds before whipping out his .22 and giving a speaker-clown three shots, execution style, to the head.
Her gaze flicker towards him suddenly, and he runs a hand down his tie, smoothing out non-existent creases in an attempt to appear nonchalant.
It's been four months (he isn't supposed to be the one counting) when something snaps, inside of him, while they're on the road and he's driving. Something needs to change.
"We need to talk, Bones."
A/N: This will actually get a little happier in later chapters. It's pretty hard to write angsty fanfiction right after watching an episode like Man In The Mud, but it works well enough for this story right now. Thanks for reading.