Disclaimer: This story is written for enjoyment only. I do not own or pretend to own any of these characters.
This story takes place anytime in the 3rd season. I finished this story two days before "Hero in the Hold" aired and noticed several (obviously coincidental) similarities. I decided to post anyways. As always, thanks to Mel for the beta. I welcome any feedback & critiques.
The Photismos in the Mineshaft
When she contracted her third book, she bought the cabin. All of it—the big TV, the fishing poles, the ingredients for seven-layer salad. During the mid-morning and afternoon, when the sun was big and bright and clear up in the sky, Booth and Parker went fishing. Brennan had no heart for that—she did not like to see animals being killed anymore and, although Booth assured her that the river trout would be delicious, she wouldn't allow them to be cooked in the cabin. Sometimes he and Parker built a small fire on the shoreline of the river and cooked the fish over hesitant, sparking flames. Booth brought a little shaker of salt and they ate them right there, in the sand.
Brennan stayed inside and made the seven-layer salad, just like her mom did. She cradled the vegetables in her hands, ones she had grown in their own garden. She made it an act of love. It was an act of love.
Andy played in a vinyl-and-cotton playpen, decorated with illustrations of teddy bears, stars and play blocks. When he was sleeping, she would sit at her desk in front of a floor-to-ceiling window, look out over the lush and sun-sparkled woods and write. When the shadows grew long and deep, Parker and Booth would appear at the foot of the path, laughing, damp and dirty. Sometimes, Parker rode on his father's shoulders and sometimes she could tell they were talking about something serious and sometimes she overheard what it was—how to throw a curveball, how to change a spare tire, how to treat a woman and what Jesus meant to teach us all.
At night, after dinner when they were clean and tired, they would watch movies on the giant TV. Booth would make hot popcorn with real melted butter and he would keep his arm around her while the boys played on the floor with a ball or a plastic animal.
When the moon was high and the boys were asleep, she and Booth would retreat to the big bedroom beside the boys' room, the one with high, peaked skylight that caught the moonlight like a prism. He would smile at her and look at her with warm brown eyes and she would feel safe and full of pride that they had created a safe place for their little children, their boys. She had made a home that couldn't be broken. And she would sit on the edge of the high bed and look up at Booth, her partner and friend.
Brennan didn't know what happened after that, she couldn't—or wouldn't—imagine that far. Instead she rested her head, so fragile and sticky and broken, against the cool stone ground. From there, she could treat her fingers through the rusted metal grate that blocked her escape. She could feel rotted wooden boards nailed over that grate. She could see thin slivers of sunlight, could see the occasional squirrel or raven. Sometimes, when she could drag up the energy, she would call out—for Booth, for anyone.
But she doubted anyone could hear.
Two Days Earlier
When Brennan woke for the first time, all she could feel was pain and nausea. She vomited twice and then closed her eyes again. When she woke for the second time, she was able to open her eyes but not lift her head or sit up. When she woke for the third time, she vomited again and was able to sit up, a little. She brought one shaking hand to the side of temple and pressed lightly. Pain flooded her head and she thought she might be sick again but was not.
A likely fracture, she thought. Just below the inferior temporal line. Not fatal, not immediately but there was likely blood pooling under the injury, pumping steadily with every heartbeat. Increasing pressure with no method of release. After a moment, she also logged a fractured clavicle, wrist and at least two ribs on the right side.
"Are you all right?" a small voice called out from the darkness. Brennan started and the next few moments were lost in a wave of dizziness. When she had herself under control, she blinked into the darkness.
"Who's that?" she asked. "Who's there?" She wanted to sound stern and threatening, but she could hear her voice falter with pain and confusion.
A shadow shifted in front of her and was then illuminated in a thin shaft of light. It was a child, no more than eight or ten dressed in a light cotton shirt and brown pants.
"My name is Aldo. You're injured. You fell down here this morning. I tried to wake you, but you wouldn't move."
"Here? Where is here?" She tried to sit up more. They were in a room made of stone—a cave.
"A mine shaft," Aldo said, resting one hand on her less injured shoulder and pointing up . . . and up.
Light streamed down from a long, thin crack in the ceiling of the room at least twenty feet from where she lay. Brennan could see that the crack had been boarded up once but judging from the rotten wood sprinkled around her, the fix had not lasted. A pile of leaves and grass that had drifted to the bottom of the shaft over the years had broken her fall—slightly.
"What am I doing here?" she asked. "Who are you?"
"My name is Aldo," the boy said again. "Were you looking for me? I think you were looking for me. I heard others come and go. I've been trapped down here. I called up but no one heard me."
Brennan could remember something then—a flock of FBI agents spreading out across a field, all of them dressed in black jackets with white letters. She remembered standing off to the side while Booth leaned over the hood of an SVU with another man in black, spreading a map across the hood, smoothing it with his hands.
"A redhead," Brennan said, her words echoing against the cold stone, drifting through cold air. "I was looking for a redhead."
"That's me," Aldo said, ducking his head before her. "My mother calls it carrot-red."
It occurred to Brennan that she should be in charge here, that she was the adult.
"Are you injured at all?" she asked, then hissed through her teeth as she sat up more fully.
"No," Aldo said calmly. "Something must have broken my fall. Will others come for us again, do you think?"
Brennan cast her eyes across the stone floor. There was so little light . . .
"My radio is broken," she said. Its casing was scattered around and wires were poking out. She pressed the call button anyways, but it didn't make a sound. Her flashlight, though, a small penlight, was attached to her left hip and still functioned. She set it aside, gently and did not light it again. She didn't want to burn down the battery. Her blue coverall was torn and beneath her heavy gumboots, she could feel one ankle throbbing but it didn't seem broken. Her right hip pocket was filled with the shattered remnants of her cell phone.
"We can't call for help," she continued. "Did you say you heard others searching?"
"I did," he said, nodding. His eyes, she noticed, were a murky green and very wide-set in waxy, pale face. "No one heard me when I called."
"The police must be looking very hard for you," Brennan said, recalling again that snippet of memory, of dozens of FBI agents fanning across a barren, rocky field rimmed by a wide and lovely forest.
"They will be searching in a grid pattern. If they already searched this area, they are likely to not pass this way again. It would be inefficient."
Keeping her wounded wrist close to her fractured ribs, Brennan rose to her knees and then her feet. The shaft swung and spun around her. She felt dried blood pulling at the skin on her neck and cheek.
"I can't climb to the top, injured like this," she said aloud. "But maybe I could boost you . . ." But no, of course not. Even with their combined height, the lip of the crevice they had fallen through would be well out of Aldo's reach. It was just so hard to think. She felt like her head was full of wet plaster. She hurt all over, her mouth tasted coppery with blood, the air smelled coppery from ore.
Booth, she thought. He would come for her, for both them. Why hadn't he already? Weren't they together? She remembered seeing him, bent over the hood of the SVU. So perfectly in his element that she hung back for a moment and just watched. Watched the dip of his head as he held his radio down with his cheek and spoke into it. Watched him point at the little groups of agents and gesture out towards the forest, giving orders, calling the shots, smoothing the map down on the hood with one hand. She remembered that they were looking for a redhead.
"I think there is another way out," the boy said. "If you think you can walk."
Brennan laughed a little at that, which made her ribs ache and little tears pop up in her eyes.
"I don't think I can walk far," she said hoarsely.
"Maybe you should rest," Aldo suggested.
"I can't . . . I have suffered significant head trauma. It's best for me to stay awake." Neither said anything for a long time. The light was fading quickly. The cool rock behind her was turning blissfully cold and she felt her shoulder numb up a little. She might have drifted away a little, standing upright against the wall, for she felt herself start awake, with a hard, shuddering breath.
"If . . . if you know of a way out, why didn't you take it before?" she asked.
"I'm scared of the dark," Aldo answered simply. A pale band of light illuminated the scuffed brown leather toe of his tiny boot and then faded all together. The cavern around then darkened so completely her eyes ached. She heard water dripping and vaguely remembered that water in abandoned mines was often toxic, poisoned with acid and metal ore. She was certain she could hear bats, way up high and far off to the right. She heard shuffling, scurrying. She felt sick and frightened, even though she knew that was not helpful.
"You must be very brave to have stayed here by yourself at night," she said, her teeth beginning to chatter with cold. "How long have you been down here? How long have we been looking for you?"
"I . . . don't know," the boy said after a long pause. "I am very scared. Very. I'm grateful that you came for me."
"We can work together," she said, trying to match the child's calm. "We can find a way out or . . . or stay here until they come for us." She knew that one option was better than the other, but she couldn't think which. They had no food and no water. This area had been searched but when? Would anyone come back? She had no radio but there were agents in the area. Perhaps they should stay. Booth would soon realize she was gone. He would scour this area, he would see the crevice she and Aldo had fallen through and find a way to get them out. But when? How far was the way out? How confident was Aldo? This mine could run for miles, spiraling out in a dozen different directions, a hundred different dead ends. The agents could come back this way—they could be found. But Brennan knew her head injury was severe. A day or two and her condition would deteriorate rapidly and after that point she might not have the strength to attempt the trails with Aldo.
"Booth and I don't do missing persons," she said suddenly into the dark. "Why were we looking for you? We're homicide investigators."
"I don't know," Aldo said and this time his voice was a whimper. "I don't know what you're talking about. What is homicide? I just . . . I want my mother. I want to go home. I'm scared of the dark."
Brennan knew she should reach out and physically comfort the child but she didn't. Her ribs hurt and that was Booth's job. Booth was the toucher and the hugger. In all the darkness they had yet seen, she had never been able to do more than lay a hand on his arm. Touching was his job.
"We could leave a note," she said at last. "We could mark out trail. If they find the crevice, then they can follow us."
She heard Aldo shuffling in the dark. "I was on my way to school," he said. "I have some chalk."
"That's an excellent idea, Aldo," Brennan said and was horrified to hear the slur in her words—a slur she was fairly certain hadn't been there even a few minutes ago. "We can drag the chalk along the wall behind us. How certain are you about the way out?"
"I'm pretty sure. My father and brother used to work in this mine. This used to be a bucket drop, up there," he said, pointing toward the small fracture they had fallen through. "There is an adit on the side of the hill. It will take us until morning to get there, I think. I would have gone myself but I'm afraid of the dark."
He stepped forward and handed her a single stick of dusty white chalk. With her boot, Brennan pushed her shattered cell phone and radio toward the center of the floor, directly under the hole in the ceiling. When Booth found the hole, he would know she had been there and would be able to follow them.
Special Agent Seeley Booth stood at the lip of the field—a silly term, he though, as it spread as far as the eye could see—a little pool of dread spreading through his chest. God, he hated these sorts of things. What had started as a simple missing persons' case, not even his own, had become a recovery. And it was now his job—his and Bones—to find whatever was left of Marie Wilson after four months missing in a stagnant Pennsylvania summer.
It had been a long drive up here—they could have flown, he supposed, but there was no real hurry. Agent Dulles from Missing Persons was heading up the case and his men would be fanning out over the area with a fine-toothed comb. They knew that were not to touch anything, absolutely anything, until Bones got there. It was one of Dr. Brennan's demands, everyone knew that, and Booth made damn sure her demands were met. It usually earned him more than a few sniggers and sarcastic reassurances from his fellow agents, but nobody crossed him.
"Did you know that Marie Wilson had a full scholarship to Penn State?" Bones had asked him on the way up, flipping through the girl's file. "She was only sixteen but she was going to start there in the fall."
"Yeah, seemed like a smart girl," he'd answered her because there didn't really seem like much else he could say.
"That's more than smart, Booth," she'd corrected him impatiently with a familiar edge in her voice. "That's amazing"
"Smart or dumb, no one deserves to end up like she probably did," Booth pointed out. He should have let it go but couldn't.
"I read her scholarship application. It showed a level of intellectual sophistication uncommon in her age. I don't want to find this girl's corpse tied up and naked in some field." Bones was almost, but not quite, shouting at him.
"Nobody does, okay, Bones?" he'd said, popping a toothpick between his teeth. "Nobody does."
He stood beside the car with Dulles, helping him smooth out a map of the territory on the hood of his SUV. Dulles had a red grease pencil between his teeth and sad, serious dog-like eyes. Booth had met him a few times in passing but did not know the older agent well.
"Cell phone reception is crap up here," Booth pointed out, frowning at his phone.
"Yeah," Dulles agreed, nodding. "I haven't been able to get a signal all day. Agent Fisher has a field phone in his car if you have to make a call."
Booth shook his head and looked back down at the map.
Brennan watched them from a little ways off. There was tension between them that she sensed but struggled to place into context. Booth was used to being in charge, and even when not technically in charge, he was used to being perceived by others as such. He seemed to want to give Dulles his due respect but Dulles' men kept looking to Booth for direction and he kept giving it—pointing them off in this direction or that, giving orders, sounding confident and reassuring.
"Agent Booth! Agent Booth!" A young female agent jogged over to Booth, holding a large field telephone in one hand and murmured something close to his ears.
"What? Damn it." He took the phone from her with one hand and gestured for Bones to approach with the other. By the time she reached him, he had already hung up. Booth pulled her towards him with one hand. Dulles joined their circle.
"Cullen is moving the remainder of this case to homicide. Looks like Pritchard had a change of heart and wants to make a confession. Cullen wants me to fly back to D.C. immediately. I'm sorry, Dulles. You can phone us when you find the body."
"Wait, wait," Bones said, literally digging her boot heels into the ground. "I should stay here with the rest of the team. What if they find the remains? I'm going to have to examine the scene regardless."
Dulles shrugged, noncommittal. "I'm happy to have you hang around here until we find something. Don't know when that will be though, if ever."
Brennan glanced back at Booth and could see he was torn. He expected them to be together. Although he didn't need her to interrogate a suspect, he didn't especially like to leave her behind either.
"I'll just hang around," she repeated. "I even brought my bird book."
At that, Booth grinned and shook his head. It was Sweets' idea, of course. He'd been encouraging her to tap into a non-bone related hobby and for some inexplicable reason, she'd chosen bird-watching.
"Yeah, well, you be careful wandering around here," he said in that familiar scolding tone. "Stick close to Dulles until they need you. This whole area is full of old mines. Some of them haven't been touched in one hundred and fifty years. It's unstable as hell."
"You don't need to worry about me. I'll be fine. Let me know what Pritchard says."
Booth nodded, patted her lightly on the shoulder, then started towards the SUV.
He'd hated leaving her there without him and turned once on the way to the car to look back at her. She stood a little off from the rest of group, as always, so tall and slim and lonely in her blue coverall and high rubber boots. Her fine, wavy hair was pulled into a messy ponytail—a look he loved although he would never say that. She turned her head back as if sensing his gaze and waved slightly with one hand. Against the navy of her coverall, her eyes stood out, such a lovely and clear watercolor gray.
"Don't worry about it. Me. I'll be fine," she called out, pulling a birding notebook out of one pocket. "I think I saw a North American redhead over by the pond."
"It's a duck."
He shook his head ruefully. Even in her hobbies she was a squint. He hopped into the car and drove off.
The air was bad inside the tunnels. Brennan thought she remembered reading that about mines somewhere. Maybe Hodgins had told her that. The air left a burning taste on the back of her tongue. She coughed which made the pain in her head burst open, like a bubble of blood.
She walked on, half-leaning against the wall, dragging one arm behind her. She kept the little stump of chalk clutched in that hand, a long, wiggling line of white spooling back and back behind her into the dark.
"We don't have much further," Aldo said in a gently reassuring voice.
How, she wondered, could he tell time in this darkness? She could make out nothing but the bobbing of her flashlight, swallowed up in a greedy endless night, as weak as a candle flame. She couldn't even keep her arm upright and the thin light simply flickered here and there along the damp and broken rock beneath their feet.
"My second book was also a best-seller," Brennan continued, dragging another stinging lungful of dense mine air. Aldo seemed to enjoy listening to her talk. He'd earlier admitted to being lonely, stuck down here, waiting for rescue. "And that's taking into account that Sue Grafton also released a new novel that month."
She might have thought that last part, she realized. She couldn't hear her voice echoing against the cool rock walls anymore. She couldn't hear the stuttering shuffle of her booted feet or the squeal of the chalk behind her. Her brain was swelling up in her skull, she knew, like a balloon trapped in a box.
"There was more romance in your second book," Aldo observed and his voice was bright and clear and gave her comfort.
"It was my editor's suggestion. She thought my characters lacked . . . humanity. And passion. I told her that a logically told story with sufficient, unexpected plot twists didn't require that sort of pandering but I did it anyways."
"Why did you write something you didn't want to write?" Aldo asked, moving closer to her, soothing her freezing arm with his sudden brush of warmth. "Weren't you the best-selling author?"
"Yes, I suppose," Brennan said thoughtfully. "I did enjoy the peer accolades I received from writing a well-liked book. Perhaps I allowed myself to be swayed by the possibility of continued praise."
Or perhaps, she thought, she wanted to write those scenes between Kathy and Agent Lister. Perhaps she liked picturing Kathy, powdered with bone dust, tipping up her face to her partner, open-mouthed and open-hearted.
Her knees ached as they hit the stone ground. She was tired, so slow and tired. Aldo stood over her sadly.
"We have to keep going," he pleaded. "Please don't stop here, Please keep going. Please."
She touched her forehead to the stone. Booth, she thought. He would ache for her, she knew that. Lost forever beneath the earth, no headstone to talk to, no body to sprinkle with magic oils and smoke. Her bones turning slowly to dust or stone under an icy arch of unconsecrated ground.
"Please," Aldo said. "Please."
She dragged herself forward on her hands and knees. She pushed the flashlight across the stone in front of her and then could go no further. She gagged and vomited a long string of something so bright and chemical yellow it glowed in dark.
Aldo bent, knelt, then lay beside her. "Please," he whispered. "We have to keep going. They will never find us down here."
"I smell rain," she murmured.
"We're getting closer to the end. We're almost home."
But she could go no further and he knew that. He lay one hand on up on her and she apologized. He was a child and it was her responsibility to bring him home. Booth would have brought him home.
Above them, the rain pounded down on the ground. It soaked into the earth, dripped through rock and wood. It swept aside leaves and allowed a young agent to spy, nestled in a sodden spray of leaves, one pale hand. Marie Wilson had been found.
Agents flooded toward the body, hands on walkie-talkies, hands on cameras, hands on pens and baggies and tape. Way down deep below their feet, the walls of stone began to weep and dribble and became cooler, cooler, cooler.
"My mother needs me home," Aldo pleaded one last time. Brennan could see his little leather shoes in the light of her flashlight. The holes were uneven—hand-tooled not store-bought. Someone must have loved him so much. She imagined his mother's reaction to having her child back. She saw it so clearly, like when she was writing a story. She saw a tall woman with hard hands and muscular legs sweeping up Aldo, holding her boy to her chest with arms so tight it was as if she longed to return him to her body.
Water dribbled down the rock, droplets turning thick and milky as they erased Brennan's lifeline of chalk.
She was dying here in the dark. She knew that. And unlike when she was tied up and bound in a South American jungle, she could not rely on her intelligence to save her. And unlike when she was strung up like a side of beef in a warehouse, she could not rely on Booth to save her—to sweep her up and hold her in his arms. To tell her, with absolute confidence, that it would be all right. Because he was there. Because she had him.
She thought again of how he would grieve for her, how he would blame himself for not saving her, for not even saving her soul. She knew she would cease to be, the way a candle dies or a car. But Booth would have all of eternity in Paradise to blame himself for letting her die, so cold and alone and broken in a tomb of copper ore and stone and mold.
And she—she would be breaking the promise he made to her as he held her on the floor of that warehouse. That as long as he drew breath on this earth, that she would be safe and protected and loved.
As blood leaked out of her brain and into the space between the tissue and bone, she saw light, light everywhere. A light so bright it lit even the starless dark surrounding her and the child.
She would never see Parker and Andy grow up. She would never see her brother again. She would not be there to comfort him when her niece died. She would never have coffee and breakfast in the diner with Booth.
Tasting blood again, she hauled herself up on her knees again. She smelled rain. The mouth of the mineshaft was near. She pushed on.
Agent Booth leaned against the padded wall of the interrogation room, feeling sort of sick and triumphant and tired. Pritchard had confessed, in his own way. He'd told them not much more than they already knew. Marie Wilson was dead. Her body was somewhere in a green field, alone under a blanket of dirt and leaves and rain. The D.A. took notes. Pritchard's lawyer sat silent, not like the lawyers on T.V. If his client wanted to confess and save them all the busywork of a trial, that was just fine with him.
He tried calling Bones again and got her voicemail immediately again. Frustrated, he shoved his cell phone back in his pocket and watched Pritchard fill out paperwork through the fingerprinted glass.
So easily, Booth thought, girls could fall prey, like innocent animals in a trap. Marie Wilson, so young and smart and promising. Fair and kind, her family and friends said over and over. Getting some gas on a warm night, her newly-minted license in one hand, some song trilling noiselessly through her head. A child, someone's child. And where the hell was Bones?
His phone beeped instantly and he thought "That's my girl".
It was not, however, his girl. It was Zach, her little lab rat.
"Agent Booth," he said, a nervous flutter running through his voice.
"How the hell did you get this number?" he answered.
"Agent Booth, this Dr. Zach Addy. Dr. Brennan's co-worker."
"Zach, I know who you are. And I'm hanging up this phone and changing my number in about ten seconds."
"Agent Booth," he rushed. "Someone named Agent Dulles called and said that he needed Dr. Brennan to come down to the crime scene, that they found the body they were looking for. But I thought that you said she stayed behind and I haven't been able to reach her on the phone."
Zach stopped talked. For one long moment, Booth's heart stopped beating.
Dulles was a light man, for his age. It took almost no effort for Booth to pick him up by the lapels and slam him against the hood of his car.
"You son of a bitch," he shouted into the older man's face. "You were supposed to keep an eye on her."
"Get the fuck off me," Dulles shouted back and for once he didn't look like a little lost dog. "What the fuck did you want me to do? I haven't seen her since Monday. It's a big fucking damn field, Booth. Where the fuck could she have gone? I assumed she went back to her hotel because she got bored waiting. I'm not a fucking babysitter."
Booth shoved him hard off the hood of the car, leaving him to sprawl like a child on the wet ground. "Watch your fucking mouth around my goddamn squints," Booth spat.
Hodgins and Zach stood to his left looking slightly impressed and not at all shocked. They had had an entire plane ride of watching Booth's temper climb higher and higher.
A young agent with white-blond hair pulled into a tight ponytail jogged over to them, a pair of binoculars dangling from one gloved hand. Her parka was sprinkled with rain. It broke Booth's heart to think of Bones out there in the rain.
"Agent Booth," she panted. "We've found something." She stuck her left hand in her pocket and pulled out something sealed tightly in an evidence bag and handed it to Booth. His hand shook as he accepted the bundle, turning it over as he did.
Birds of North America.
"Where?" he was all he asked.
The hole was so narrow he might have stepped right over if Hodgins hadn't roughly grabbed his arm.
"It's a fissure," he explained carefully kneeling beside the crack. "They are relatively common in areas with abandoned mines. It's going to be unstable. We have to be careful."
Zach dropped to his knees beside him. Booth followed suit and thought for a moment how holy they must look, kneeling beside one another.
Booth leaned over the hole and opened his mouth to shout but stopped himself. Afraid, he supposed, that his voice would echo too long—that the hole was so deep as to leave no hope whatsoever.
Hodgins clicked on a flashlight and shone it down the hole. Air whooshed back into Booth's lungs when he saw the bottom—and no body. Bits of earth, rock and wood littered the bottom.
"I see some broken equipment down there," Hodgins said, squinting. "Maybe a cell ph—"
"I see bones," Zach interrupted. He pointed and sure enough, Booth could see them—small and white and pushed into one corner.
"Jesus," he muttered. "What is that?"
Hodgins dropped his head lower, shoving one arm into the fissure and shining his light deep inside.
"It looks like chalk. Like something was written. But it's just gibberish."
"Can we get down there?" Booth asked, pinning Hodgins with a hard stare that made the smaller man nervous.
"I don't think so. We would need climbing gear and even then we wouldn't be able to bring an injured person back up. But this is a mineshaft. There has to be an entrance somewhere. It has to lead somewhere."
"Dulles!" Booth shouted. "Where's that goddamn map!"
She could smell the fresh rain strongly now. She could see—see anything! Light, sweet cloudy sunlight touched her knuckles as Brennan lurched forward on her hands and knees. They had done it. They were free.
She raised her head, turning it toward the light like a marigold.
There was a rusted metal grate. Boarded with wood.
A sob tore through her throat. Little sprigs of light shone through, swirled through with motes of dust. The air was sweeter but there would be no escape.
She pushed herself a few last feet toward the grate. She laced her fingers through the gate and gave it a weak shake. It did not move.
She lay her cheek against it. Sobbed again.
Aldo stood in the light, his head down. Tears ran down his cheeks.
"This wasn't here before," he whispered. "This was never here before. We should have been able to get out."
Brennan could hear birds but could not see them. "It doesn't matter," she said.
Aldo sat on the ground next to her and cried with her.
"I heard you crying," Brennan said, remembering. "That's why I walked toward the hole. I heard you calling."
As if guilty, Aldo looked away. He seemed so far from her—she could barely make out his profile.
"I'm sorry," he said, touching her arm one last time. "I just wanted to be found."
Brennan felt cool and thought she and Booth were wading in the river beside the cabin. Their boys were playing on the bank, making a sand castle. The water was up to her ribs and she was laughing, cool and loved.
Booth held her hand under the water. Sun baked her shoulders, glittered on the water. It was up to her breasts now and her feet left the sandy bottom.
All those times he had reached for her and she had pushed him away. All those times he had meet her gaze across the table and she looked away. All those times she didn't return his calls because she had a dinner party or a good book. How fragile all those memories seemed now, how dreamlike.
"I'm sorry," she said to him and only him, her voice not slurred but clear as bell. "I just wanted to be found."
He saw her fingers first—the little bloody tips of them poking through the rusted grate. He cried her name but heard no response. When he touched her fingers they were cool and didn't move.
"We need paramedics down here," he shouted as he grabbed and tore the rotted boards away. Zach and Hodgins joined him. When all was stripped away, he could see her more clearly though the grate.
"She breathing," Zach said, breathless. Booth grabbed the rusted gate and pulled hard. It gave a little and squealed.
"Hodgins, damn it. Give me a hand," he snapped. The two men dug their heels and pulled. The grate gave, peeled away like the lid of a tin can. Through a small opening, Booth slid.
He touched her cool skin with his warm hands, wanting her to stir. Her head was bloodied, her long hair matted dark with blood. One side of her head look crushed in a way that made his guts turn to ice water.
He slipped on hand behind her neck and the other under her knees. As he lifted her, something slipped from her hand, something round and small and white as bone, white as the moon.
Two Months Later
There were still some fine motor skills Brennan hadn't gotten back yet. She had resigned herself to wearing pullover tops for the next good while. She had blinding headaches some nights and her left leg dragged a bit and might always. But she was alive and she was back home, at the lab.
She stood in front of a long, lighted table. Upon it rested the neatly restructured skeleton of a male child, approximately 9 years old. The bones, according to Zach, were between one-hundred and one-hundred and twenty years old.
The skull was cracked but not crushed. Both legs were broken. A likely accident fall.
She heard Booth enter the room but she did not answer or speak. It was late. The lab was empty.
"Missing Persons came up with nothing," Booth said, stepping up close to her and resting a plain manila file folder beside the bones on the table. His expression was calm and sad. Respectful. " Given the time, he was probably never issued a birth or death certificate. There was no newspaper in the area."
He hesitated, then continued. "The name . . . the name you gave came up with nothing.
"It wasn't a name," Brennan said. "It was just something my brain came up with while it was dying. I took all these---" she gestured toward the body. "Pieces and my mind created a story. A hallucination. Sometimes people see things when they have suffered a serious brain injury that don't mean anything."
She knew things about this body, about this child. He had died slowly, possibly of starvation or exposure, alone deep beneath the earth. Scarring on his ribs showed that he had survived a serious bout of pneumonia as an infant. He had mild rickets but his little leather pouch filled with chalk showed that he had still attended school. His shoes were neatly mended—even cosmetic rends. He had been loved by someone. He had been missed.
"And sometimes people see things that do mean something," Booth suggested gently.
Brennan did not respond. She reached down to the ground and picked up a frosted white acrylic box. In it, she began to place the bones, so neatly and carefully, like a nurse arranging a surgeons tools or a mother packing for a child's first day of school.
"Bones, hey," he said, placing one hand on her arm. He had come everyday when she was recovering from her injuries. Would have slept at the end of her hospital like a dog if he had been allowed. "You saved him. From the pit of hell into Limbo. That's an improvement."
He was trying at once to be funny and reverent and did not quite pull it off.
"It wasn't hell, Booth," she said, setting beside his bones two little leather shoes, one leather pouch and a rusted buckle. "There was no flames, no brimstone. Just copper ore and rainwater."
"Bones," he said again as she placed a tight-fitting lid over the nameless child's final resting place. She sensed that he wanted to hold her like he so often did but she moved away and did not allow it.
Everyone who knew this child was long dead. There was no point in grieving. If Booth was right and there was an afterlife, they were reunited. If she was right and there was not, they had suffered without him and that suffering was now over.
She knelt and slid his box into an empty slot in the examining room. There were no flowers, no stone, no tears. Booth crouched beside her and lifted her chin with one finger.
"What did you mean in the hospital? When you woke up. You kept saying 'we just wanted to be found.' What did you mean by that?"
"Isn't it obvious," she said, with that curious tilt to her head, the one that always said to Booth that she was not as oblivious as she acted. The one that said there was a truth in her that he had to keep digging for.
"My brain was injured," she continued. "There's nothing more to it than that."
With that, she rose, turned away and left the room.