"So Mr. Beddington, when was the last time you saw your daughter?" Agent Seely Booth asked in a slow, almost sleepy sounding voice.
Mr. Beddington, the man in question, raised his head from its fixed stare on the floor. "Thursday night, sir."
Sir? The man was old enough to be Booth's father. The politeness seemed staged. From what Booth could tell, anyway. He was focusing hard on concentrating. But the task was proving to be more and more difficult with each breath he took.
He and his partner, Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan, or Bones as he affectionately called her, had arrived at Mr. Beddington's house after the remains of his daughter were discovered washed up in a public fountain at a local mall. Since no one, including her father, had even reported the girl missing, starting at home seemed like the best place to begin.
"Why didn't you report her missing?" Again, he had trouble speaking. Just listening made him sound like he was drunk. Next to him he felt Brennan elbow him gently in the ribs. So much for hiding it from his partner.
"She's been known to take off sometimes. I thought she'd be home in a few days."
Booth was about to respond when he felt it. An episode was starting. "Excuse me," he murmured, getting up. He tried to ignore Brennan's flabbergasted stare as he hurried outside from the house. On the front lawn the gasping began to start. Frantically, he searched for a place to fall apart privately. There were no hiding places. In desperation he settled on the small strip of lawn by the side of the house. Stumbling, he made his way over.
For months Booth had been battling an illness. One morning he had woken with a coughing spell. It hadn't let up until he'd passed out from the lack of oxygen. At that time he hadn't thought much of it. But as it happened again and again he sought out doctor's care. Perhaps he thought he was mistaking the coughing for asthma. He'd never had it before, but he knew people could develop it late in life.
Asthma it was not. In fact, for the first few months, no one could diagnose him. The symptoms grew worse. Pain began first in his chest, then shooting hot pin and needles down his arms. He went to doctor after doctor. Tried treatment after treatment. Nothing helped.
During all this time he continued working, not telling anyone. First he wanted answers for himself. The few answers he had at last gotten were not what he had been expecting. Booth was dying. A strange viral disease that no doctor had seemed to have seen before was attacking his body. Disbelief hit him hard. For weeks he lived in denial. At last he couldn't repute it any longer. He could feel himself declining. Suddenly he had a hard time keeping up with Brennan. Suspects were escaping when he gave chase. But he wouldn't let himself give up. Working allowed him to feel like nothing was wrong.
Because of that he kept it to himself. If he truly was fading away then he wanted to keep his secret to himself for as long as possible. He struggled to hide it from his friends and colleagues. Especially Brennan. The two had a very close friendship. He didn't want her seeing him suffer. Surprising to him she hadn't seemed to notice a thing. And he was grateful.
The pain never went away. It was always there, constantly bubbling beneath the surface. Sometimes it was a dull ache. Other times it roared like a ferocious lion. Mostly Booth was able to conceal it. The breathing attacks were difficult. Continuously disappearing on Brennan in the middle of cases did prompt some questions. He thought he was able to thwart her. However sometimes when he caught her looking at him he wasn't so sure.
Booth slid down onto the ground, bracing his back against the siding of the house. His body tensed as he coughed, battling himself to pull air into his lungs. Tilting his head back, he looked up at the baby blue cloudless sky. The pain kicked in to high mode. He couldn't pass out. Not this time. He had to fight this.
Brennan stared cluelessly at Mr. Beddington for a full five minutes without saying a word. Where had Booth gone? He knew she was no good at questioning anyone. Though extremely intelligent, Brennan lacked the social graces to be able to connect with people. Her non verbal cues, well, as Booth would say, sucked. She was better when he was with her and he knew that. As more time passed she felt herself getting angry. Just where had he gone? What was he doing? "Um, sorry. I'll be right back," she apologized to the old man.
Tracing Booth's footsteps, she walked outside into the bright daylight. Up and down the street she looked. No sign of Booth. His Suburban was still sitting in the driveway, so he hadn't mysteriously left her there. Shaking her head, she kept looking.
She didn't know what made her turn around. But she was glad she did. Booth sat up in the grass, hiding off to the side of the house. With his back up against the wall and his head aimed upwards at the sky, he almost resembled a strange praying pose. "Booth?" She crossed the lawn, watching where she stepped as her heels sank into the soft ground. "What are you doing?" Demanding, she wanted to know irritably. "You know I can't-" her words got stuck in her throat as she drew closer to him. Booth couldn't breathe. He coughed and gasped, his body trembling from his muscles being so taut.
Dropping to her knees besides him, she tilted his head to her and tried to look into his eyes. They moved rapidly back and forth. It seemed like he wanted to look at everything but her. At last they stopped when she put her hand on his cheek. Booth glanced straight at her. Brennan could see the haziness building in his brown eyes. Fainting was gaining on him.
"Booth? What's going on?" Asking him was stupid, she realized. The man couldn't breathe. How was he supposed to talk?
His attempts at air were growing labored. Slowly his eyelids were beginning to droop. Reaching for her hand, he held it before at last dropping off. Booth stopped gasping. The muscles on his body released. He slumped.
Even though Brennan was prepared for it, she was still frightened. She didn't let go of his hand as she dialed for help. All she could think of were how cold his fingers were.