"Bones, what are you doing?"
The question makes her feel foolish, and Brennan wonders if her embarrassing display of emotion has proven to be yet another social faux pas. She tries to defend herself – she thought they came here to metaphorically compare scars (Gordon Gordon suggested that Sweets would benefit from knowing that he wasn't the only member of their makeshift family to be deprived of an idyllic childhood), but she hadn't meant to cry, not really.
She didn't think she would still be able to remember the faded pattern on that nondescript dish… the furious expression on her foster mother's face when it shattered on the threadbare linoleum floor… or the sensation of her blood freezing in her veins when the resounding crash summoned Matthew Hogan back into the kitchen. The rush of adrenaline obliterated the burning sensation in her hand, and she fell to her knees to scoop up the (five) jagged pieces of cut-price ceramic, keeping her head bowed so she wouldn't have to look at him standing in the doorway, silently appraising her. She thought she had learned to suppress the memory of his blunt fingernails digging into her forearm as he wrenched her to her feet, dragging her forcibly towards the garage… and how he eventually had to pick her up and haul her, kicking and screaming, into the dank alcove where his (sapphire blue) Buick was kept. Her ribs cried out in protest when he bundled her unceremoniously into the trunk, and she still recalled the stinging sensation in her cheek when he backhanded her across the face to quash her bid to scramble to safety. When the trunk slammed shut, she screamed until her voice was raw, cried and begged for forgiveness, until the air was too thin for her to do anything but snuffle feebly into the suffocating, omnipresent darkness. She even prayed at one point, to become a better person, to stop being so clumsy, to be less of an inconvenience to the family who had taken her in when she was such an awkward, ungrateful, aberrant substitute for a daughter… a daughter whose parents abandoned her without warning, a sister who drove her brother to flee in the middle of the night.
Booth was the one who told her that she should offer up something of herself every once in a while, something she wasn't entirely sure she wanted people to hear, but now he's uncomfortable, and Sweets is looking at her with what she can only assume is pity, telling her it wasn't her fault. She knows that… now… but she doesn't like this feeling of vulnerability, of having to dab at her eyes with a handkerchief in front of an audience, of wondering whether Booth's sideways glances mean that he's… judging her in some way.
So Brennan reaches out to him, implores him to level the playing field, hopes against her better judgement that she might wield the same kind of emotional influence over him that he has over her… the kind that compelled her to allow Max to keep his job at the Jeffersonian (when all of her instincts were telling her to maintain a safe distance), the kind that persuaded her to visit her incarcerated father in the first place… and the kind that inspired her to risk everything to secure his freedom.
Letting down her guard is disconcertingly easy in Booth's presence, and she often wonders why he has this (almost preternatural) ability to coax information out of her that she's kept buried for many years, but he's so secretive about his past - so reticent when it comes to disclosing his own feelings - that she can't help but wonder whether the trust and faith she has in him is mutual. Sure enough, he resists her entreaty at first, but there's a noticeable shift in his demeanour when she softens her gaze. The revelation that follows makes her hands tremble slightly.
"If it wasn't for my Grandfather, I probably would have killed myself when I was a kid."
They're supposed to be doing this for Sweets' benefit, but Booth directs his confession only to her, and she wonders why that moment of hopelessness in his distant past makes her stomach churn with nausea and her heart wrench with some indefinable, overwhelming emotion. She suppresses the urge to voice the array of questions that are suddenly assaulting her cerebral cortex, because the thought of never having met Booth, of him ending his life before he had the opportunity to become the exemplary man (and partner) he is today, is not something she can easily accept, but the "why?" dies on her lips when she considers the magnitude of the admission that he's just made… for her. Booth has already said more than he's comfortable with, she can see that in the glassy quality of his red-rimmed eyes and hear it in his strangled tone when he turns to Sweets and informs him, in no uncertain terms, that he isn't prepared to elaborate on his (highly disconcerting) statement.
When Booth asks her if she's OK, she's quick to downplay her own turmoil, even if the concern in his tone makes her want to unravel all over again - because she knows now that Booth has been doing some compartmentalizing of his own... only he hides it much more effectively, because he can blend in with other people in a way that she never could. She inwardly contemplates how ingrained someone's pain must be if it takes them four years to summon the courage to murmur those three fateful words, "My Dad drank." Sometimes, she remembers what it felt like to be that frightened teenaged girl, cowering in the trunk of a car, locked in the cupboard under the stairs, silently crying herself to sleep after being reminded of her worthlessness. Does that mean this brave, noble man; a man who never gives up, a man who always has faith – remembers what it feels like to reach the depths of despair, too? It suddenly occurs to her that Booth has spent a lot of time counselling her with words of reassurance and wisdom when perhaps, underneath it all, he has doubts of his own that need assuaging. Why couldn't she see that? Was she really so self-absorbed? She'd become accustomed to the gregarious, well-adjusted man who moved through everyday life with effortless ease; it never really occurred to her that Booth might be haunted by his past in moments of solitude, too. She should have known, after that morning at the cemetery, after what he said at the ice rink… but she'd never pushed him to reveal more than he was willing to disclose… until now. A part of her feels guilty for causing him such discomfort, but another part of her feels relieved that Booth is slowly becoming more accessible to her, even if she's not entirely sure what to do with the information.
Now, she hastily dries her eyes and impulsively reaches out to deposit Booth's handkerchief back into his breast pocket, because she finally understands that he needs someone (something) to soak up the remnants of his pain, too. Her hand lingers over his chest, trying to convey, in one unguarded moment, how much she… cares for him, but when he glances downwards with an inscrutable expression, she pulls back - and then immediately regrets it, because he didn't hesitate for very long at all this time. It gives her some hope. Hope that he's not angry with her. Hope that maybe he wants to cling to that connection, too.
When their eye contact is ruptured, she blinks a few times, and suddenly Sweets (whom she had all but forgotten about) becomes part of her peripheral vision again. He's smiling and nodding at them, and she wants to know why; wonders if he can even begin to articulate what he just witnessed, because she's not entirely sure she understands all of the implications herself.
"Wyatt made an observation about you two…"
Her gaze roves back towards Booth to gauge his reaction, and Booth's eyes dart towards her before he hastily changes the subject. Brennan gamely plays along, and they quickly revert to their usual light-hearted banter… as if nothing of significance had just occurred.
Later on that evening, Dr Wyatt insists on 'dashing' to the local liquor store to find a wine that will suitably offset his masterpiece and, lamenting that presentation is not his forte, entrusts Brennan to "showcase the fruits of his labour." She is in the process of lifting a steaming hot casserole dish off the kitchen counter when Booth walks into the kitchen, and she catches the tail-end of his conversation with Sweets before he abruptly stops in his tracks.
Brennan glances at him quizzically, and he gestures hesitantly towards the dish in her hands.
"You want me to get that?"
She shakes her head, offering him a wry smile. "I can manage. I'm not quite as clumsy as I used to be, Booth."
She wonders why her tone sounds bitter, when she was simply trying to make a joke.
"Look, someone turns up at the lab in bits and pieces, and you can put them back together, Bones. I've stood outside in the freezing cold, watching you take an hour to dig up somebody's big toe."
Brennan opens her mouth to protest, and her lips twitch slightly when Booth holds out his index finger and shakes his head.
"What I'm trying to say, Bones, is that you're not clumsy at all. You're the most... careful... person I know," he informs her earnestly, and there's a hoarseness to his tone that makes her uncomfortable. She stares at him for a moment, and he offers her a soft smile, picking up a dishtowel and gently removing the casserole dish from her hands.
"Just… put it down for a second, will ya? I wanna see if Gordon Gordon's haute cuisine lives up to the hype."
"Booth!" she protests, giving his arm a reprimanding - but gentle - slap when he retrieves a spoon from a nearby drawer. "Can't you wait for one moment - "
Booth raises a rebellious eyebrow and plunges his spoon into the steaming hot stew. Against her better judgement, Brennan starts to laugh when he blows exaggeratedly on the heaped contents of his spoon, making a show of checking the doorway before he samples Dr Wyatt's aromatic concoction and hums his approval.
"Now that is a man of many talents, Bones."
"I would hardly consider psychology a 'talent,' Booth," Brennan counters, her eyes twinkling a little, "But... I can't deny that Dr Wyatt is a fascinating and... erudite man."
Booth grins at her, and licks the spoon, eliciting an eye-roll and a fleeting glance towards the door.
"He'll be back soon," she reminds him pointedly, cultivating an air of impatience, when really she relishes every moment of this effortless camaraderie.
Still, she snatches the spoon out of Booth's hand when he makes an attempt to return for seconds, feeling a jolt of awareness when her fingers briefly brush against his. "Stop it!" she admonishes, not quite able to suppress her smile, "You're like a child."
She wonders, then, whether her partner's exuberant and occasionally puerile behaviour stems from a need to reclaim the youth that he never had.
"I'm glad you didn't kill yourself, Booth," she suddenly blurts out, and she flinches slightly when Booth's relaxed expression abruptly hardens. "It would have been a very… rash thing to do at such a young age."
Booth heaves an aggrieved sigh. "Yeah, well sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees, Bones."
Brennan frowns, trying to understand the metaphorical analogy; not wanting to ask for clarification if it means adding to Booth's distress.
After a moment of strained silence, he turns to face her, and leans against the counter, his expression softening slightly. "Sometimes you can't see a way out and it just... it hurts too much, you know?"
Brennan considers him for a moment, and then nods. "I know," she murmurs quietly. "When the doctor informed us… when I thought that you were…" she checks herself, her gaze momentarily faltering as she inwardly acknowledges how close she just came to revealing too much. Her expression betrays her vulnerability when she finally musters the courage to re-establish eye contact.
"I know," she softly reiterates after a pregnant pause.
Booth stares at her for a moment, and Brennan's cheeks warm a little under his appraisal.
She clears her throat, effectively cutting him off, and momentarily busies herself with re-situating the lid of the casserole dish. She feels him hovering behind her uncertainly, and eventually turns to face him, visibly repentant. "I didn't mean to… upset you earlier. I'm sorry."
"Hey. I wasn't upset for me, OK?" Booth informs her solemnly, "I was… I was upset for you."
"But I'm fine," she hastily reassures him, and wonders why her intonation is sharper - and higher - than usual. She wavers slightly, "I just wanted to... to help Sweets, that's all. I don't know… I don't know why I… "
"Because you can never forget something like that," Booth interjects, his eyes brimming with understanding, "God, I can't even... you must have been terrified, Bones," he surmises in a pained tone, reaching for her hand.
Brennan sees that he's consumed with empathy – for her, and her own throat tightens in response. "I imagine no more so than you were, when your father… when he drank," she reasons quietly, and when Booth's face seems to crumple slightly, she buries her head in the crook of his neck and wraps her arms around his waist, feeling his heart pounding fiercely against her own. She's not sure who's comforting whom at this stage, but she knows that Booth needs this just as much as she does, and she bites her lip when his arms tighten around her, absorbing (loving, memorising) the sensation of being encompassed in his embrace.
Several hours later, an inebriated Dr Wyatt lurches towards Booth's LP player and, sated from a sumptuous meal, everyone is quick to dissolve into uproarious laughter as they bear witness to the impromptu resurrection of an aged - but no less enthusiastic - Noddy Comet. Brennan looks over at Sweets, whose cheeks are a vibrant pink as he taps rhythmically on the arm of Booth's couch, and then she meets her partner's warm gaze, shaking her head in amusement at their eclectic ensemble of friends. Her cheek-splitting smile fades a little when she considers the inevitability of returning home to an empty apartment, but when Booth impulsively grabs her hand and hauls her to her feet, spinning her around his cramped living room and back into the sanctuary of his arms, a part of her can't help but hope that one day... she won't have to.