We solid?

You and me? Yeah.

No. Not just you and me. Squints, too.

Why are you asking me this?

Because. You and me ... we're the center.

And the center must hold.

Right. So. Are we gonna hold?

Yeah. We'll hold. We're the center.

~~From episode 3.01, The Widow's Son in the Windshield ~~

********************

********************

Coma. The neurological equivalent of a vulture. Impassive and opportunistic, it would wait patiently until its prey either recovered or died.

"The surgery went well," Dr. Jersik was saying, "so we have to assume it's a lingering reaction to the Diprivan."

Chest tight, Brennan struggled to separate emotion from science. "How long will it last?"

A shrug, a sympathetic look she didn't want, and then, "Could be hours, days … It's hard to say."

"You're a doctor. It's your job to know these things." Aware of the desperation in her voice, she forced the dispassionate scientist back to the fore. "You have causation, and you know the patient's vital statistics. Determining an anticipated duration should be a matter of simple mathematical calculation."

"I'm afraid medical science isn't as precise as forensic anthropology, Dr. Brennan." Dr. Jersik made a notation in Booth's chart, flipped it closed. "But Mr. Booth is young and healthy. There's no medical reason why he shouldn't regain consciousness soon."

She recognized the side-step for what it was, but she just nodded and waited for him to leave. Only then did she approach Booth's bed.

It was strange seeing him so still, the only signs of life the steady rise and fall of his chest and the faint beep of the heart monitor. He wasn't even dreaming. He was just … lying there. And it made her feel somehow bereft, which made no sense at all.

Realizing her cheeks were damp, she gave them an angry swipe and turned away. He'd wake up when he was ready to wake up. In the meantime, she needed to call the Jeffersonian and give Cam an update that she could pass on to the others. And she needed Caffeine. She'd go for coffee and stop along the way to make the call.

She was back in her chair when Angela arrived an hour later carrying a duffle bag in one hand, a laptop in the other, and a worried look in her eyes.

"Hey, Bren." Her voice was soft, the concern behind it loud. "How're you holding up?"

Brennan took the laptop from her, glad to finally have something to do. "I'm fine. It's Booth who's in a coma." She set the computer on the small dresser, hesitated when she noticed the tremor in her hands.

"Fine, huh?" Angela said skeptically.

"Yes." Brennan folded her arms across her chest, tucking her hands out of sight. "Though these chairs aren't very comfortable; there's no lumbar support, and the padding is awful. And I'm bored as hell just sitting here." Her eyes shifted to Booth. White bandages against a white pillow leeched his face of color. Pale. He was so pale. "I think he's just doing this to piss me off. He knows how much I hate wasting time."

But her voice was brittle, and it broke at the end, just a little, just enough to make Angela drop the duffle bag, stride across the room, and pull her into a hug.

She leaned. She didn't mean to. She was just so tired, that was all. For a minute, just a minute, she let Angela be the strong one. Then she remembered that she was here for Booth, as he'd always been there for her. Straightening, she took a step back.

"I'm sure he'll come out of it soon," she said, with more confidence than she felt.

"Of course he will, sweetie." With a reassuring smile, Angela gestured toward the duffle bag. "I brought the things you asked for."

"Thanks. Any trouble finding everything?"

"Are you kidding? Your place is cleaner than the lab."

"It's the service. They're in twice a week, and since I'm almost never home . . ."

"Yeah. I get it." There was a glint of pity in Angela's eyes.

Brennan looked away. "Anyway, I'm sure I won't need any of it. Booth will be waking up any minute. I just thought, you know, just in case."

"Right," Angela echoed. "Just in case." She moved to the bed and rested a hand on Booth's shoulder, the brilliant Peridot ring a jarring splash of color against the white sheets. "He looks like he's sleeping," she said in a low voice, "like I could just shake him, and he'd wake up."

"I know." Brennan went to stand beside her, reaching out to smooth a nonexistent wrinkle from sheets worn thin by countless encounters with harsh detergents. "But I already tried it." She shook her head. "It didn't work."

Angela looked into Brennan's eyes, and Brennan knew her friend saw more than was good for either of them. Booth and Angela were alike that way. They both had the same uncanny ability to read people. Sometimes Brennan envied that ability, and sometimes, like now, she found it a little disconcerting.

"He's going to be okay," Angela insisted. "You have to believe that."

Hodgins had once explained to her that this was what faith was, the absolute conviction that things would work out despite all evidence to the contrary. But as much as she wanted Angela to be right, Brennan couldn't ignore the facts.

"Some people never recover completely," she said quietly, her eyes on the bandages.

"Booth will." Angela took Brennan's shoulders in her hands. "Look at me, Bren."

Brennan lifted her gaze and saw familiar fire in Angela's dark eyes. She knew that look. It meant Angela was certain she was right, and nothing would convince her otherwise.

"He's going to be fine," Angela said. "Maybe it'll take a few days for him to come out of it, and maybe he'll need some help for a while, but he's going to come back. He wouldn't leave you." She gave Brennan a little shake. "Booth would never leave you."

Brennan said nothing.

"Damn it, Bren. You have to believe in him!"

"Why?"

"Because!" Angela blew out an exasperated sigh. When she went on, her voice was lower, but it thrummed with barely controlled emotion. "You told me once that Booth said you two were the center."

"He did say that." Just before he'd accused her of kissing his hand. Which she hadn't done at all. She'd just been going to drink her coffee when he stuck his hand in the way. It wasn't her fault her mouth landed where it did.

"He was right," Angela said. "This team, this crazy, mixed-up ... family. It works because of the two of you. If you fold, we all fold." She slid her hands down Brennan's arms, squeezed. "You have to hold," she said. "You have to hold the center until Booth comes back."

"And you think that if I believe he'll be okay, he will. As easy as that."

Angela nodded.

Brennan narrowed her eyes as she pointed out the flaw in Angela's logic. "My thoughts don't have medicinal value, Angela. They can't heal what's wrong with him."

"This isn't about medicine. What was that line from Shakespeare? There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio--"

"Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Brennan supplied the rest of the quote automatically. "This is one of those heart things, isn't it."

"Heart things?"

"Something Booth said to me once. He told me that sometimes you have to put your brain in neutral."

"Yes! Exactly!" Angela gave her a triumphant smile. "Look. I know you're all about science and facts, but will you at least agree that a little faith isn't going to make things worse?"

"Faith is a human construct, a way to stave off emotional pain as long as possible. By telling myself Booth is going to get better I can postpone the time when I have to deal with the possibility that he won't. But in that respect, faith benefits me, not Booth."

"Fine. Then believe in it for you." Angela looked at her watch. "I've really got to go, but I can come back later if you want, keep you company for a while . . ."

"Thanks, but I'll be fine."

"Call me." Angela hugged her tightly. When she pulled back, her eyes were serious. "Even if it's three in the morning and you just want to talk."

"I will."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

As soon as Angela left, Brennan sank into her chair. The conversation had left her exhausted and confused. She reached for her computer, hoping to take her mind off the emotional morass that was starting to make her feel like she was circling the edge of a black hole. She'd check her email first. Then she needed to write that story her publisher wanted for the new anthology they were putting out.

It took a few seconds to connect to the hospital WiFi, a few more for her mail to download. There were dozens of messages. Some were spam, others were simple requests for information, and still others required more thoughtful answers. She glanced toward the bed, shook her head, and started to type.

She didn't know how much time passed, but when she looked up again Parker was watching her from the open doorway. Rebecca stood beside him, his hand clasped firmly in hers.

"Parker, Rebecca, come in." Brennan got to her feet as Parker looked to his mother for permission. At her nod, he launched himself at the bed, only to stumble to an uncertain stop when he came face to face with his father's inert form.

"Dad?" He touched the bandages with gentle fingers. "Dad wake up." The small, urgent voice wrenched at Brennan's heart. "Please wake up?"

As a kid Brennan had hated it when adults lied to her. But Booth would want her to lie to Parker now. He'd say that the truth was too scary, and that Parker should be protected from it. She didn't agree, but she would respect his unspoken wishes. She could do that much for him at least.

"He's sleeping pretty hard," she said quietly, moving to Parker's side and resting her hand gently on the thin shoulder.

He turned to her. It was oddly discomfiting to see Booth's eyes framed by the childish features. She'd noticed it before, of course. The first time she met Parker she'd identified the genetic markers he'd inherited from his father, so there was no reason why Parker's gaze should make her uncomfortable, but she couldn't deny that it did.

Head tilted to one side, Parker looked up at her. "Why won't he wake up?"

She crouched down to his level, the way she'd seen Booth do. "He will. He's just really, really tired."

"Because of the operation?"

"Yeah."

He seemed to accept that, his expression clearing. "But he'll be okay, right?"

She hesitated, remembering her conversation with Angela. "Yeah," she said. "He'll be fine." She glanced toward the doorway, then back to Parker. "Why don't you keep your dad company for a few minutes while I talk to your mother?"

At Parker's solemn nod, Brennan left him with Booth. She and Rebecca stepped out of the room, far enough so Parker wouldn't overhear them, but not so far that they couldn't keep an eye on things.

"Is he really going to be okay?" Rebecca asked, keeping her voice low.

"I hope so." Which was true, even if it wasn't quite the affirmation Angela would've preferred. "His neurologist said the surgery went very well."

"So the tumor was benign?"

Brennan nodded.

"Then why is he in a coma?"

"He had a bad reaction to one of the drugs they used."

"He will come out of it, though." There was fear in Rebecca's eyes, and her voice trembled. "Won't he?"

"The doctors seem quite hopeful. "

Silence descended as Rebecca stared at Booth. Brennan watched Parker. He was stroking his father's shoulder the way some people stroked a cat. Sweets would have a psychological term for that, probably something Jungian.

"He's a good dad," Rebecca finally said quietly.

"I know." It was an understatement. Booth wasn't just a good father, he was an amazing one. But then, he was an amazing man, the kind of man she would consider building a life with if--if she were a shared-life-building kind of person.

Parker bent his head and closed his eyes. His lips were moving, but she couldn't make out the words.

"What's he doing?"

"Praying."

Brennan's chest went tight. Parker's childish belief in a mythical being who would not only hear his words but personally respond to them was at once sweet and terribly sad. But when Parker joined them a few seconds later he was smiling, and he seemed more relaxed then he had when he'd first arrived.

"I asked God to fix him," he said.

Rebecca ruffled her son's hair. "I'm sure that'll help a lot, right Dr. Brennan?"

Mother and son looked expectantly at Brennan. Trapped, she settled for, "It can't hurt," and was relieved when Parker seemed satisfied.

Resting her hand on Parker's shoulder, Rebecca smiled. "How about we go get some dinner?"

"Pizza?" Parker asked eagerly.

"Sure." There was warm affection in Rebecca's voice. She turned back to Brennan. "Will you call?" she asked. "If there's any change?"

Brennan nodded. "I'll let you know."

She watched the two of them walk down the hall hand in hand. They were almost to the elevator when Parker pulled his mother to a stop. He said something to her, an earnest expression on his face. She nodded, and the next thing Brennan knew Parker was running back down the hall toward her. Instinctively, she crouched to meet him, then had to shift her center of balance to avoid falling over when Parker flung himself against her, his arms winding tightly around her neck.

Almost before she could adjust to the weight of his small body he was gone again, skipping back to his mother. Brennan rose to her feet, tears burning at the backs of her eyes. She blinked them away. The elevator doors opened, and Parker gave her a shy grin and a wave before he followed Rebecca inside. A moment later they were gone. Brennan turned back into the room. Her chest ached, and her arms felt strangely empty as she looked toward the bed.

She didn't want a child of her own--even Booth's child--if she couldn't have Booth. The thought hit her like a blast of liquid nitrogen. Stunned, she fell back a step, her breath hitching in her throat. Booth was her partner. Her friend. These things she'd long since acknowledged. But this. This went a lot deeper than friendship. When had he become so important to her that the mere thought of facing a life without him made her blood run cold?

The walls she'd constructed around her heart were there for a reason. Those first years after her parents' disappearance had been the darkest of her life. Abandoned and alone in a world filled with strangers, she'd soon learned to rely only on herself. Love, she'd decided, wasn't for her. Love would only make her weak. And Temperance Brennan was never going to be weak again.

So how had Booth, a man who charmed and infuriated her by turns, a man who acted from his heart instead of his head, gotten past her defenses? And what was she supposed to do now? Even if he recovered from this coma the day would come when their partnership would end and he would move on, leaving her behind. What they had now, the push and pull of it, the challenge and counter challenge, couldn't last forever, because by its very definition, the concept of forever was a fallacy. And yet the mere thought of it ending made her heart stutter in her chest.

With grim determination, she put the problem away. She'd have to deal with it, but not now. Not today. Maybe after Booth woke up she'd go away for a while, sort it all out in her head. Right now she had work to do.

She'd finished outlining her story and started on the opening paragraphs when Hodgins arrived. He carried a travel mug in one hand and a white paper bag in the other.

"I thought you might like some food," he said by way of greeting. "Real coffee"--he raised the mug, then the bag--"and a sandwich."

She wasn't hungry, but the coffee smelled wonderful. "Thanks, Dr. Hodgins."

"No problem." He set the containers down and looked toward the bed. "How's our patient?"

"No change."

"Stubborn old boy, isn't he."

She had to smile at that, because yes, Booth could be very stubborn. "He isn't old."

In fact, he was still quite young. He was also strong, and vital, and apart from that stupid astrocytoma, perfectly healthy. And he shouldn't be lying there like that while the rest of the world went on without him. Impotent rage curled her hands into fists. Very carefully, she set the computer aside.

Hodgins looked over at her. Like Angela, he sometimes saw too much. Feeling exposed, she broke eye-contact.

"These things just happen sometimes, Dr. Brennan," Hodgins said quietly. "You can't beat yourself up over it."

"I know that." And she did, logically speaking. "But it shouldn't have happened to Booth." Tears burned at the back of her eyes again, which only made her more angry. "Booth's a good man. He doesn't deserve this."

"You're right. He doesn't." He was still watching her, his own eyes full of compassion. "But maybe he's lucky. In a way."

She stared at him in disbelief. "Lucky."

"Absolutely."

"Look at him." Despite herself, her voice rose. "He's in a coma, Hodgins. He had a brain tumor, and then he had surgery, and now he won't wake up." The reality of it blew through her, leaving her feeling limp and exhausted again. "I should've seen it sooner," she said. "I should've known something was wrong months ago. Maybe if I had …"

"It wouldn't change anything," Hodgins said. "And Booth probably wouldn't have believed you anyway."

That was true. Booth hated hospitals. One piece of evidence, or even two, wouldn't have been enough to get him in here. She'd needed all three pieces of the puzzle. "I still don't see how he's lucky."

Hodgins shrugged. "He's lucky, because he has you."

"Hodgins--" Disbelieving, she shook her head. "I brought him here. I chose his doctors. Now he's in a coma. This is all my fault."

"Don't be ridiculous."

She blinked, startled by his tone.

Hodgins went on, either not noticing her reaction or ignoring it. "The coma's because of the drugs, not you. And let me ask you this." He jerked his head toward Booth. "What would've happened to him if you hadn't recognized his symptoms and dragged him in here?"

The switch of focus from the emotional to the factual calmed her nerves.

"The tumor would've continued to grow. Pretty soon he would've started having seizures. Eventually--" She stopped, swallowed, focused on the pristine white bandages. "Eventually it would've killed him."

"See?" Hodgins had the same look he used to get when he'd bested Zack at some new mathematical challenge. "Lucky."

It didn't feel like luck. Luck was winning at Craps or Roulette. Luck wasn't a brain tumor.

But Hodgins was apparently done discussing it, because he gestured at the paper bag. "Angela made me promise I wouldn't leave until you ate."

"I'm not hungry."

"She said you'd say that." He crossed the room, fished a plastic container out of the bag. "But she'll kill me if I don't make sure you eat, so maybe we should humor her."

"You do know that Angela would never actually kill you."

With a snort that sounded suspiciously doubtful, Hodgins put the container in her hands. "Eat."

After Hodgins left--having declared himself defeated after she'd eaten half the sandwich and pushed the rest away--Brennan went back to work on her story. She'd never written short stories before, and she was finding the challenge stimulating. But it was very late, and she must have fallen asleep over it, because she jumped when a nurse covered her with a blanket. Instantly alert, she looked toward the bed, but the nurse only shook his head.

"There's no change," he said quietly. He was young, with a clearly defined mandible and a short, almost military, hair cut. "I can bring in a cot if you'd like."

"No." She shook her head. "That won't be necessary." She didn't plan to be here long enough to need a cot.

He nodded, checked on Booth one more time, and left her to her vigil.

Her next visitor arrived when the sun was just starting to filter through the room's single small window. Like Hodgins, Cam brought coffee. She also brought a muffin and a briefcase full of paperwork, but when she entered the room, her eyes went straight to Booth.

"No change," Brennan said before Cam could ask. With a yawn and a stretch, she pushed aside the blanket and got to her feet.

Cam nodded as she handed over coffee and muffin. "I can stay with him for a while," she offered. "You could go home, take a shower, maybe get some sleep?"

But Brennan was already shaking her head. "I'm fine," she said. "Angela brought me some clothes, and I can shower here, so …"

"You sure you don't want a break? I really don't mind sitting with him."

Brennan had the vaguely uncomfortable notion that she was missing some underlying message hidden behind Cam's words, but she'd never been good at that sort of thing, so she just shook her head again.

"He's my partner, Cam. I said I'd be here when he wakes up."

"Only your partner?"

"Well, he's my friend, too, of course."

Cam eyed her for a moment, then sighed. "Of course." She offered the briefcase. "I brought you some paperwork. Thought maybe you could use something to do while you wait."

"Thanks. I appreciate it."

"No problem."

A nurse came in, interrupting their conversation with her brisk, businesslike bustle. She was different from the nurse who'd been in during the night. This one was middle-aged, diminutive, and efficient, her black hair streaked with gray that gave a vaguely zebra-esque look to the tidy bun at the back of her head. She offered Brennan and Cam a friendly smile.

"How's our patient today?"

It was Cam who answered. "Still dreaming away."

"That's not true," Brennan said, unable to let the comment pass. "He'd have to be in REM state in order to dream. There'd be movement behind his eyelids."

Cam slanted her a sideways glance. "It's just small talk, Dr. Brennan."

"Oh." If Booth were conscious, he'd give her one of those tolerant looks that made her want to smile. But there was only Cam, and Cam didn't understand her the way Booth did.

Brennan turned her attention back to the nurse. "Shouldn't he be coming out of it by now?"

There was irony in the fact that the one question she was sick of answering was also the one question she couldn't help asking.

But the nurse only shook her head. "You can't really tell with coma patients," she said. "You just have to wait."

She was sick of waiting.

"Thank you," Cam said, as the nurse finished her work and turned to go.

Brennan wanted to point out that the woman hadn't really done anything, but she didn't, choosing instead to move back to the side of the bed.

"You're welcome." The nurse's voice grated on Brennan's already frayed nerves, so she was relieved when the soft squeak of rubber-soled shoes signaled her departure. She didn't look up until she sensed Cam standing beside her.

"You sure you don't want a break?" Cam asked quietly. "It can be tough, sitting here for hours on end like this."

"I'm fine." She met Cam's steady gaze. "I just … I need to be here."

Cam's eyes flickered from Brennan to Booth and back. She nodded. "I understand." She rounded the bed to the other side, bent, and pressed a kiss against the spot where bandage met skin. "Wake up soon." Straightening, she laid her hand against his cheek. "I need my top investigative team back on the job."

"He can't hear you," Brennan reminded her. "He's unconscious."

Cam gave her an enigmatic smile. "Right." With a sigh, she stepped away from the bed. "You can work here for a few days," she said briskly. "God knows there's enough paperwork to keep you busy for a while. But I need you back in the lab by the end of the week."

Brennan faced her, one hand resting on Booth's arm. There were a lot of things she was uncertain about right now, but this wasn't one of them.

"I'll come back when he wakes up." Whether that meant two days or two months.

There was a long moment of tense silence, but in the end it was Cam who looked away first.

"I guess we'll just have to hope he wakes up soon, then," she said.

A few minutes later a pair of student nurses arrived to change Booth's bedding, and Cam took her leave. Brennan was relieved. She didn't mind silence, but she found awkward silence very unpleasant.

While the nurses worked, Brennan took a short walk around the hospital. She was used to moving around during the day, and the enforced stillness was making her restless. By the time she got back to Booth's room the student nurses had gone. She stood beside the bed watching him sleep, knowing it wasn't really sleep in the true sense of the word, and wishing he'd snore, just once, so that she could pretend it was.

She picked up his hand and laced her fingers through his, but there was no response to her light squeeze. Instead of letting him go, she held on more tightly, as if touch alone could bring him back. The silence deepened, broken only by the heart monitor, ticking away the seconds at a steady sixty beats per minute. The sound was hypnotic, and she let her mind drift, her thoughts turning to a shattered skull that awaited her attention back at the lab.

Reconstructions always demanded intense concentration, and it wasn't uncommon for her to look up from a newly formed skull and find herself alone. Often a glance at her watch would reveal she'd worked through the night. In the still, pre-dawn silence she would look at the skull and wonder about the person it had belonged to. Had this one liked to cook? Had that one enjoyed old movies? She'd once studied the reconstructed skull of a three-year-old girl and wondered if the child had been afraid of thunderstorms.

Sometimes she would close her eyes, trace her fingers over the bones, and whisper their names aloud, the words drifting through the deserted lab like the solemn, black-robed members of an a capella choir. And when the last name faded into the shadows she would feather her thumbs across the Zygomatic bone one more time, pausing beneath the orbits as if wiping away imaginary tears. Then she would rest the skull in the center of a clean tray and slide the tray to the center of the table. Her work complete, she would leave the room without looking back, turning off the lights as she went.

A sound in the hallway brought her back to herself, and she looked down, studying Booth's face. His skull would always bear evidence of the surgery he'd had, but it wouldn't record the fear that had been in his eyes when he first heard the diagnosis, or the earnest look on his face when he'd made her promise to use his semen if he didn't make it through the surgery. And in those last seconds before he'd gone under he'd held tight to her hand and looked at her with such absolute trust. There'd been fear, too. And confusion. But it was the trust she remembered the most. She remembered that, would always remember it. But his bones wouldn't.

Without really thinking about what she was doing she reached out and rested her free hand on his head.

"Frontal," she said, her voice barely a whisper in the quiet room as her fingers moved over him. "Parietal, Sphenoid, Temporal, Zygomatic--" Crossing from bandage to skin, she continued. "Nasal, Maxilla …" She lingered at his lips, just for an instant, before moving on to the curve of his mandible. She'd touched hundreds of skulls before, but never had the action felt so deeply intimate.

"Have you tried talking to him?"

Startled, she dropped her hand from Booth's face and spun around. Sweets was leaning against the door jamb, one ankle crossed over the other, his hands shoved into his pockets.

"How long have you been standing there?" She felt oddly defensive, as if he'd caught her doing something inappropriate.

"Not long." Uncrossing his ankles, he strode across the room to join her. "You haven't answered my question."

Brennan resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "He's in a coma, Dr. Sweets."

"Which is just an altered state of consciousness." Sweets was talking to her, but his eyes were on Booth. "It's entirely possible that he can hear every word you say."

She considered that for a moment. "I'd feel ridiculous."

He eyed her, lips pursed, brow furrowed--the way he did when he was being especially sincere. "He's your partner, Dr. Brennan. And your friend. If there's something you can do, even something as small as talking to him, isn't it worth a try?"

First Angela wanted her to have faith. Now this. Brennan sighed.

"What am I supposed to talk about?"

"Anything you want. It's the sound of your voice that matters, not the words."

"No."

"Excuse me?"

"I said no. I won't do it."

Leaning his hip against the bed, Sweets eyed her. "This is isn't really about you feeling ridiculous, is it."

She folded her arms across her chest and favored him with a mutinous glare.

Undaunted, Sweets stared back. "What are you afraid of?"

The words hit her like a punch to the stomach. "What makes you think I'm afraid?"

"Trained psychologist, remember?" He gave her a lopsided smile. "See, the way I figure it, there are two possibilities."

"And those are?"

"Option A. You're afraid Booth won't come out of this."

Brennan struggled not to flinch. "And option B?"

"You're afraid that he will."

She gave a short, bitter laugh. "Sounds like I have a problem either way."

"I guess it does."

"So what am I supposed to do?"

"What do you want to do?"

She swallowed a sudden urge to scream. "I hate it when you do that."

"Do what?"

"Answer a question with a question."

He shrugged. "I can't tell you what to do, Dr. Brennan."

Two strides put her toe-to-toe with him. "Then what use are you?"

He stood his ground, and later she'd respect him for that, but right now she was too angry to pay it any heed. She jabbed a finger at his chest.

"You push, Sweets. You push and you push, and when we finally break you just stand there and watch, like we're nothing more than mildly entertaining lab rats."

"Is that really what you think?" Feet planted, shoulders squared, he met her head on. "Are you really angry with me, Dr. Brennan? Or is it Booth you're mad at?"

That stopped her. "Why would I be mad at Booth?"

"Maybe because you think he's going to abandon you, the same way your parents did."

And there was that liquid nitrogen again. She fell back, her hand dropping to her side. "He wouldn't do that to me."

"You don't sound very sure of that."

"No, I am. I'm sure."

"Right."

Spinning away from him, she went to the window and stared blindly out. She forced words past the lump in her throat. "I don't know what to do."

She wasn't thinking about being mad at Sweets anymore, or even about how frustrated she was that Booth wouldn't wake up. All she could think was that she'd failed to keep the one promise she'd made to herself all those years ago.

"You weren't wrong, Dr. Brennan." His voice was low and laced with reassurance. "Booth's a good man. You were right to trust him."

"And if he doesn't come out of this? What then?"

"He's going to come out of it," Sweets insisted. "And when he does, he's going to need you around to help him find his way again."

"I'm not sure I'm the best person for that job."

"Actually, I think you're the only person who can do that job."

She snorted. "No pressure."

"None at all." He stepped back, giving her space. "Just be yourself, Dr. Brennan. That's all he needs."

"I don't know how to be anyone else." And maybe that was part of the problem. In some ways, she felt like the houses she'd seen in New Orleans after Katrina--still standing, but liable to come crashing down at any moment. She blamed Booth for that. He'd changed her, weakening the foundation on which she'd built her life.

Beside her, Sweets shifted, fingers tugging at his cuffs. "Do you consider me a friend, Dr. Brennan?"

She eyed him suspiciously. "More or less."

"And do you usually trust your friends?"

Sensing the trap too late, she could only nod. "Usually."

"Then trust me on this, okay? Talk to him."

With a last glance at Booth, he turned to go. "If you need anything," he said, "anything at all. Just call."

"I will." But they both knew she wouldn't. She'd turn to Angela or Cam before she'd call him. Thankfully, Sweets let it slide.

"And try to get some sleep. You won't be any good to Booth if you worry yourself sick."

"That's a physical impossibility," Brennan replied. "Illness is caused by bacteria and viruses, not by worry."

But Sweets only shook his head, tucked his hands in his pockets, and left her alone. A moment later she heard whistling in the hallway, but she stayed where she was. She didn't really want to know if it was him.

She sat down and reached for her laptop, her gaze skimming over the words on the screen. Her editor once said that reading aloud was a good way to spot problems in her own writing. She'd never tried it before, but it seemed she had some time on her hands. Maybe she'd try it now. And if she happened to read loudly enough for Booth to overhear, well, that wouldn't be so terrible, would it? It wasn't like he'd remember ...

Decision made, Brennan tamped down her lingering doubts, took a breath--

--and began to read.