nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

- somewhere i have never traveled, e.e. cummings

"I'm tired of this," he says suddenly, and it occurs to her, if only for a moment, that she is too.

Curiously enough, it's like they're waiting for something, for anything. They call it inertia, the reluctance to change a state of rest or motion; she feels it's become an inability, now, fueled by habit and inevitable degeneration.

It isn't the faceless souls they find, stripped of dignity, hollow bones anguished in silent death that she pores over and makes attempts to lower into marked ground. It isn't the people who are left behind to carry the weight of a never-written ending; a photograph to accommodate forgetting fingers and minds. Strangely enough neither can pinpoint exactly when—perhaps somewhere between her burial and The Execution Of The Clown, he thinks. Perhaps.

There's a moment—not enough to be significant but sufficient to further expand this quandary—a moment where she feels she should tape her belongings into a cardboard box and leave, if only to curb gradual self- destruction, slowly and surely as the beetles debride the thousandth skull.

The moment dissolves as quickly as it arises—she watches him lift his son onto the garish horse, barely holding this masquerade of necessity together; reassuring Parker as much as he needs to placate his own demons.

The carousel starts off then, the music ringing in her ears. She watches the horses rise and fall in perfect synchronization, like the ebb and flow of a tide.

It occurs to her, then, in the way it always does—with science and logic, and this time, she thinks, the answer to this conundrum.

I feel like I have to set things right again, he says. I just don't know how.

At any moment in time every organism; every object is attempting equilibrium, to achieve delicate balance—like they both are, a step back occasionally and the quiet admittance of defeat:

her fingers tighten on the lapels of his jacket, bringing the warm pliance of their breaths in soundless collision. He feels (imagines) the subtle prickling of the bramble-mistletoe on the top of his head as red-brown wisps of hair tickle his chin and the thumping in his chest slows to a dull thud against the alternating curves of his ribcage.

For the first time since Dulles International he pulls back seeing her in a different light—no, a completely distinct spectrum of color altogether, and he blinks, hard, bringing the remnant of gum to flushed pink fingertips and thinks: Mulder and Scully, without the aliens, but he's more than a little dazed and doesn't remember much of that for a while.

He thinks they should have that talk, the one where he tells her she'll always be Bones, his Bones (this he'll think but won't verbalize) and nothing changes. She'll smile in that way she does and he'll smile too, before ordering a piece of pie, loathing each bite but knowing it'll make her think things are all right again. It's important to set things right, after all.

One can smile and smile and still be a villain, he thinks, and hates himself for it.

They're at a crime scene, and she's kneeling beside the body as usual, when the sky pours forth torrents of clearwater and the rain scours the bones of a man they haven't yet avenged. The water permeates his twelve hundred dollar suit, running in ice-cold streams down his back.

She's soaked, too, and the one of the first things that occurs to him is thank God for Tyvek, because he wouldn't have been able to keep his adolescent gaze off her otherwise, certainly not long enough for her not to pick up on it.

The second is that he used to be able to think of weather like his is grim satisfaction: a salve for his conscience, washing the lingering scent of copper from foreign dust into the water-bloated gutters, rather than dreary afternoons and dead remains baked into soil and her closeness. The only difference, he concedes, is that he isn't the one rendering a sharp, silent death.

He shuts his eyes, heels sinking into the rapidly dampening ground, until he feels the warmth of her hand on his shoulder.

She feels the soft throbbing of a tiny heart against her cheek, fingers grasping her hair, the rhythmic breaths clouding against her back, feels a peculiar tightening in the abdomen, like handing this child over is of a twisted sort of significance, and she can find nothing anthropological about it.

The baby laughs, Andy laughs and his phalanges brush the empty air, like he's reaching for her, but she knows—wishes she didn't—that it doesn't mean anything, because babies this young can't see more than eight to twelve inches in front of them. He can't see her, not in any way that matters.

It's a strange sense of comfort, knowing she'll be one less person he remembers enough of to miss.

The night they get blown up he stops by her apartment on the way back from the shooting range. This time he hasn't anything to offer; no takeout, no silly little gifts that mean nothing during times like these, and even his throat burns dry with words that never come.

His knuckles stop short of the door as his breath catches in his chest.

Under the half-light he glimpses the bluish-black streak of gunpowder on his palm, awakens to the dull ache in his side and the cold concrete of her doorstep. He knows all he desires from her is sordid consolation, more psychologically than biologically so; one damaged soul tempering the tragedy to another. His fist drops to his side, head shaking slowly as he gives a half-sigh and a murmur moments later—not tonight, Bones, then as an afterthought halfway down the stairs: I'm sorry.

From the unlit living room she watches his car back out of the parking lot and brings a hand up to her forehead, running a finger over the tender protrusion of the thread that closed the wound.

This pain is ordinary, nary one of loss or longing—it is the pain of consciousness, the pain of knowledge. He knows she feels it too; the vulnerable, raw quality of it. He knows it frightens her—she fears darkness and isolation, he fears clowns and the loss of trust, and it only becomes inevitable that they fear each other.

It is the inevitability that scares her.

(He runs first, though.)

He runs and never looks back.

It presents itself as an opportunity, at first, and only as something he toys around with and knows, if only at the back of his mind, that he isn't really considering it seriously.

They offer him a place as Head of the Field Office in Virginia, and he laughs it off over pie and coffee with her.

The day he looks into her eyes and finds nothing of significance—no subtext, no deeper meaning, it's like the final nail in the coffin he's constructed to bury those skeletons in his closet (he never started mixing his metaphors until he met her). His final verdict, the one Max never got because his daughter looked Booth in the eye and told him without words what she had to do.

He packs his bags and books the flight before he goes to see her, so he can't change his mind.

They're at the diner, again, and he wonders how everything begins and ends in a single place; with a single word. He tells her about the job, eyes artfully dodging hers, languishing over details so he won't have to tackle the bigger picture.

"Tomorrow," he says, before she asks.

She nods; says congratulations, Booth, her hands tightening on the coffee cup.

The goodbye comes a little later, after he's half gone, down the street and she whispers it; the fork drops to the table as the pastry sours her insides.

The sky is overcast the morning he leaves, and for the first time in years Temperance Brennan goes to her office feeling like she's been gone for a long time, somehow.

Somehow, like it means something.

He returns every few months, to see Parker—the boy's older now, and frequents the museum instead of the zoo. Parker's eyes light up at the sight of the dinosaur exhibits, and Booth's do the same as he sees the no unauthorized entry sign on the swing doors familiar to the touch.

Her office is in the same place, and he strides through her door like he did a long time ago.

"It's been a while," he says, exuding a casual air he doesn't feel.

"Yes." She looks at him mildly, although her pen, slipping from her fingers, makes a blue streak across the file she's working on. "Yes, it has."

Everything begins and ends there; a beginning and ending like every other.

(endings are built into beginnings, she thinks.)

(his arms around her don't mean anything.)

It's a single call that brings him back to D.C. for good (he can't stop thinking about the lexical paradox this phrase stirs; for good as permanence and not as the word suggests).

She's got a case, a case unlike any other, yet nothing he hasn't seen: a man bludgeoned to death and thrown into the river. Nothing about the case compels her until Angela renders the victim in the grotesque glory only holographs provide, and then she recognizes the face.

It's been eight years, but the database confirms what she already knows.

"I found this-" Zack holds up an oddly-shaped scrap of metal in an evidence bag "-at the victim's house. It 's a metal contraption, well, it used to be part of a metal contraption, and what it does, basically, is manipulate-"

"That's really nice. What does it do exactly? The whole gizmo-thing you're talking about here."

"I was just expla-"

"In terms that people can understand."

"Oh. I reconstructed the entire contraption based on several blueprints the technicians found-"

"You did that-" Booth gapes "-with this?"

"I thought that was apparent." He sets a hand on the metal bob of the giant pendulum-like structure occupying half his workspace. "This device is able to apply an extremely large amount of force on any object in its path, owing to its substantial mass. In this case-"

"The victim," Hodgins finishes. "This… brilliant structure was attached to the area just above the doorway to the late Mr. Taylor's workshop. It was obscured from view by some tarpaulin, virtually invisible in such an environment.

The 'arm' of the pendulum would be held up by this section, preventing the bob from swinging down unless activated remotely. This remote," he pauses, glancing at Booth, "was found, only partly intact. The parts were matched to a batch of equipment sold to schools and educational institutes. This particular batch-"

"It was matched to the Walker-Jones Elementary School."

He waits—the significance of this eludes him, suddenly.

"Andy goes to Walker-Jones Elementary, Booth," Brennan finishes.

"Andy. Andy Grant? Andy the-"

"Dr. Brennan was his primary caregiver for a short period of time, eight years ago," Zack helpfully supplies.

"That's him?" he murmurs, and she nods.

He pulls a chair on the opposite side of the table in the interrogation room.

"Andy," he says. "Andy Grant."

The boy nods; his blond curls slip onto his forehead, blue eyes resplendent under the glare of the overhead light.

The diner's gone now, closed, so they settle for coffee in the hatchback of his car.

"Booth," she begins. "I—"

"I missed you, too," he says, and adds a Bones for good measure. It hurts him to smile like that, barely hours after the boy, the little guy (their little guy) became all grown up and offed his-

"You left," she says. "It should be easier to leave."

"It wasn't. Not in the least. It's just- sometimes, Bones," he looks over- she's about to say (please) don't call me Bones, because they're not those people anymore, "the hardest thing to do is the right thing."

"It felt right? To leave, just like that?"

"They offered me a job," he sighs. "And I couldn't handle-"

"I thought about it too, you know," she says suddenly, and he starts. "About leaving."

"I know," he says, even though he doesn't; didn't, and she laughs; slowly, suddenly, bitterly.

"You know," she says, "a friend of mine once said that it was important to set things right."

"That was a long time ago, Bones," he says wearily.

"The center will hold," she murmurs, a breath catching in her chest.

"The center," he smiles wistfully. "We're the center."

(mere anarchy, she thinks, mere anarchy.)

Note: 'Mere anarchy' (as well as Booth's 'the center will hold' in Widow's Son In The Windshield) is a reference to W.B. Yeats' Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart;
the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

Thank you for reading.