Disclaimer: The only thing I own is my soul, and I even lend that out on occasion, but only if you ask nice. Anything that even looks familiar in this story probably belongs to someone else (except the actual story - that's all mine, Mine, MINE [*maniacal laughter*]!)
"Are you ready?"
Brennan checked her hair in the mirror one last time, as Booth came around to open the SUV's passenger door. She slid out before he had the door properly open, ending up nose to nose with him when she straightened. Her next words stayed his instinctive move backwards.
"Wait a minute." She reached both hands out; his tie was slightly askew and she straightened it, the movement of her fingers deft and sure. A quiver ran through him when one hand brushed against his neck, coming to rest lightly on his shoulder.
He caught her eye, his face serious and a little surprised at the contact, holding himself steady while she completed her self-imposed task with the concentration and deliberation she applied to anything she undertook. Her other hand snaked up to flatten out his collar, and he felt his mouth go dry.
She looked at him seriously from under her lashes, her voice soft as a whisper. "I couldn't do this without you, Booth. Thank you for coming with me." Her hands were still on his collar, and she moved them away self-consciously, but he caught one and gave it a light squeeze. He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, pressing it against his chest.
"I get why you needed to come. And you don't have to be on your own. I'm here whenever you need me." His delivery was matter-of-fact, but his throat constricted with emotion.
Brennan nodded in agreement. "Partners look out for each other." She said solemnly and her grip tightened imperceptibly on his arm.
"Yeah, it's a partner thing." He frowned and looked away, unwilling to meet her eyes. They were silent as they started to walk away from the vehicle.
"I suppose you're going to tell me to put on my sad face." She twisted her mouth in an attempt at a smile, drawing fire in a clumsy effort to deflect the intensity of his expression.
Booth stopped, in the process drawing his partner around to face him. He reached out a thumb, stopping the trail of a tear Brennan hadn't even realized she'd shed. He wanted to let his fingers curl around her cheek, and his hand hovered there for a second or two before he let it fall away, tingling. "There's nothing wrong with this face. It's beautiful; compassion is beautiful, sympathy is beautiful … even rage can be beautiful, and it's all right there on your face." He pressed her hand against his chest once more. "C'mon, we'd better get over there."
They took their place beside the graveside, where Arlene Mitchell already stood talking quietly to another woman of around the same age, and exchanged smiles of greeting. Arlene gathered Brennan to her impulsively, ignoring the stiffness of the younger woman's response. She pulled back, faded gray eyes staring intently into brighter blue. "You are a very good woman, Temperance Brennan. Thank you for what you've done. We'll never forget it." She held her gaze a moment longer before releasing her, giving Brennan's arm a final pat, and went to stand with another older woman.
"What was that all about?" Booth wanted to know, but Brennan just responded with a dismissive shake of her head.
After a moment she turned to her partner, her tone agitated. "Maddy shouldn't have died like that, Booth. She shouldn't have lived like that." Brennan's voice broke on the last few words. She pressed her lips together, battling to muster her usual composure.
"I know. I don't think I'll ever be able to get past the fact that no one missed her, not just after her death, but during her life." Booth's thoughts went to his son, and he was comforted by the fact that he'd always made sure that Parker knew just how much he was loved, would always know, as long there was breath in Booth's body.
"Anthropologically I know that every society has its lowest common denominator; they represent what happens in a society if you fail. And every society fears that subtrahend. Joseph Williams and his family were that lowest denominator. What happened to Maddy should not happen in our society. But Booth," she sought out his eyes, obviously unable to shake off the tragedy of the whole situation. "No one cared."
"You cared, Temperance. We both did." She nodded, becoming lost in thought again.
Sally Beaumont approached them, her son holding tightly to her hand. The woman was not even thirty years old, yet she had the tired, beaten down air of someone who had already given up on life.
"Dr Brennan? I just wanted to say I'm right sorry about how I was that day at the police station. It's hard for me with Jerry being so bright and all. I thought maybe you were going to take him away from me and he's all I got. I know he took a real shine to you." Brennan gave Jerry a small smile at his mother's words.
Sally continued. "And I was just plain scared. No one crosses the Williams clan. I knew Jerry had seen somethin' and it was mixed up with that no-account Ethan, I just didn't know what. Mostly my boy keeps things to himself, even from me.
"Now I just want to say a proper thank you. I won't ever forget what you've done for us, Dr Brennan. Maybe one day my boy will find a better life somewhere's else because of you." She turned to her son. "Go on, Jeremiah, give it to her."
Jerry wordlessly held out a small tin, battered and obviously old. Brennan took it from him, incomprehension creasing the space between her brows.
"What is it?"
"It's Maddy's." Jerry answered in a small voice. "She asked me to keep it safe for her. In case she –" He couldn't finish the sentence.
Brennan stared at the tin for a long moment, its paint mostly chipped off so that only splotches of pink and blue remained, the lid held down with a double wrapping of filthy string. When she continued to stare at it dumbly, Booth took it from her, opening it cautiously. Inside there were some stubs of colored pencils, a blue resin butterfly that used to be covered in glitter but which now was only a faded representation of its former glory, several pictures of cute animals torn from magazines, a collection of buttons in the shapes of flowers, and a photograph.
Sally couldn't contain the sob that broke from her when she saw the photograph. She reached out for it; two pretty girls with an arm around each other's shoulders, smiling and waving at the camera.
"This is me – me and Caitlyn when we was about twelve years old." She went to hand the photo back to Booth, but he indicated that she should keep it. The distraught woman went on, "She was my best friend, y'know. When she fell with child, they took her in, Joseph Williams and that wife of his. She was only fourteen. She's kin to those Williams folk, closer'n me. But they told me she died at the birthin' along with her baby. And I believed them. God help me, I didn't even know Maddy was her baby." She started to cry and Jerry held on tighter to her arm as they moved away.
"Wait, Jerry." Booth handed the tin back to the only friend the little girl had known. "Maybe Maddy would like you to leave this with her, buddy." Jerry smiled bravely and nodded, hugging the tin to his chest.
Everyone fell silent as the priest approached the gravesite. The small white coffin was maneuvered into position, ready for interment. Jerry looked tiny as he proffered the tin containing Maddy's most precious treasures to the priest, who placed it reverently on the lid of the coffin. His mother stepped forward and placed the photograph alongside.
As the priest began the Rites of Committal, Booth risked a glance at his partner, hoping she wouldn't let her derision for his religion show, but all he saw was her beautiful, sad face. He let the opening words of the ritual comfort him, holding fast to Brennan's hand. A crunch of gravel distracted him and he flung a look over his shoulder. Sheriff Hillyard and two deputies approached them. Booth stiffened, his first heated thought being that they had come to interrupt the service somehow. But all three men took their place silently at the graveside, hats in hands, and Booth exchanged a nod with Matt Hillyard. He found his gaze drawn further away, as about twenty men and women headed towards them, walking solemnly, in twos and threes.
The pastor's gentle voice quoted Matthew 18:6, and Booth felt the fierce pressure of Brennan's hand at the words "be drowned in the depths of the sea". He let her channel her anger through her fingers even though the pressure made him wince. Looking away, he become aware of the progress of a group of half a dozen or so women coming into the churchyard from a different gate.
The priest's voice continued through the ritual, a gentle foaming wash of sound that soothed even Brennan. She had been introspectively contemplating the toes of her boots while the formalities took place, but looked up when Booth nudged her. What she saw made her eyes widen in surprise as, in the space of a few minutes, a crowd of around sixty or so people suddenly melded with the handful of individuals that had been at the graveside.
"Where were they when Maddy needed their help, or when she was murdered?" Although she spoke in an undertone, Brennan's sense of outrage carried effectively. Several in the crowd shot angry glares in her direction, but many more nodded sadly. Booth kept his eyes to the front, but edged a little closer to his partner.
The pastor intoned the final reading, "Revelation 21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
The service over, the cortege of mourners dispersed into little groups, talking softly. Brennan glanced around her. "Do we go now?" She made as if to head back to the truck, but Booth forestalled her.
"Wait up, Bones, we should speak to Arlene."
Brennan spotted Arlene in the midst of a large group of townspeople. "You go, Booth. I'll wait here." Booth shrugged and headed over to where their former hostess was holding court. Arlene spotted him coming and excused herself, meeting him half way.
"Agent Booth, I knew you and Dr Brennan would be back for the service. You've both got such good hearts."
"Well, Bones … she really wanted to come." He looked a little uncomfortable and changed the subject abruptly. "Say, Arlene, what did you thank Dr Brennan for before?"
"She didn't mention it?" He shook his head. "Dr Brennan's set up a trust fund for Jerry and other gifted kids like him. She's given him a future." She eyed him shrewdly. "So, have you talked your pretty lady 'round to your way of thinking yet?"
He sighed. "Arlene, I told you - "
"Carpe diem." She declared soundly, gripping his arm for emphasis. "Seize the day!"
"Really? I seem to remember the rest of that quote is 'trusting as little as possible in the future'. I gotta tell you, Arlene, I've got a lot of faith in the future."
Arlene looked distinctly put out, and scratched her chin thoughtfully. "Carpe diem quam minime credula postero. Hmm, you're right. I'd forgotten that bit."
"Old Horace goes on to say that the future is unknowable, and that instead you should scale back your hopes to a brief future, and drink your wine. I don't know about that and anyway, I'm more of a beer man myself." He treated her to his most charming smile.
"Okay, sugar, no need to be a smartass." She gave him a considering look that made him squirm. "You like to hide some of that light of your'n under a bushel, don't you? I wonder why? Maybe this will set better with ya'll: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift; that's why they call it the present." Her expression was comically emphatic and she added for extra emphasis, "It means act now."
"A little bit of down home philosophy, Arlene?" Booth asked wryly.
"A little bit of common sense, young man." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Good luck, Special Agent Seeley Booth. It was pleasure to get to know you." She turned away without ceremony, raising her voice to be heard above the general murmuring, and issued a blanket invitation to her home for 'vittles.' Booth didn't doubt she'd already prepared enough to feed everyone here, as well as their in-laws. For the most part people started following her.
Booth caught Brennan's eye as he sauntered back towards her. He raised his eyebrows and bobbed his head after them, mutely asking Brennan if she wanted to join them.
She shook her head, straightening her shoulders resolutely. "I just want to go home." She turned towards the parking lot, away from the direction the others had taken. Booth stood irresolute for a moment and then followed his partner, catching up to her easily.
"Arlene mentioned you'd set up a trust fund for Jerry. When were you going to tell me, huh?"
"It's not a big deal, Booth, it's just something to help get him started. He's very intelligent." Brennan was embarrassed that he'd found out about her generous act, and tried to brush past him.
"You're amazing, Bones."
She put on a burst of speed, leaving him behind and he had to sprint a couple of steps to catch up. She started speaking almost before he came up level to her. "Most anthropologists believe that you have to immerse yourself in someone else's world to understand your own." Her voice caught in her throat, and she increased her pace yet again, abandoning the gravel path and striding in a direct line across the perfectly manicured swathes of grass that filled the middle distance. Her long legs ate up the ground, even while the high heels of her boots jagged slightly in the grass. This time he was ready and stayed shoulder to shoulder with her. She continued, agitated, "I keep trying to do that, but I don't think I'm any closer to understanding and consequently being a part of my own world." She stopped unexpectedly and swung around to him, frustration and sadness painted in equal parts on her face.
"C'mon, Bones, you're being too hard on yourself." He started walking more slowly towards the parking lot and this time she fell into step next to him, matching his pace. His arm slipped easily around her waist and he pulled her close to his side in a gesture of comfort, his pulse leaping crazily when she leant into him and didn't move away. He lost the power of speech for a moment when he felt her hand snake tentatively around his waist, coming to rest lightly high on his hip. He cleared his throat, chin jutting forward while he got himself under control.
"You're part of my world, Bones, and that's pretty real." He reassured her quietly. "And you're part of Angela's, and Hodgins' and all of the squints. Even Zack's, not that he's really a convincing part of the argument, but you get my drift." Brennan's lip curled a little at Booth's comment, but she didn't respond.
"I know sometimes you don't get the lingo or movie references or even my jokes." He smirked at her good naturedly. "But you get the important things. You get how everyone deserves justice, you get good and bad and right and wrong, you get that even the least of us are still important … and, well, you get me." He gave her a look that was pure Booth; eyes narrowed looking up from under creased brows, head at an angle and his lips pursed in a burgeoning grin.
This brought a proper smile to her face, even though her reply held a world of doubt. "I don't know so much."
"Well I do. What else is bothering you, Bones; there's more to it than this. I know you too well."
"Just that it's all so sad."
"I get that, the whole thing that happened here is tragic. But I can tell there's more going on inside that head of yours than that. Do you want me to psychoanalyze you? I aced Psychology in college, I was even a TA for a while, and spending all that time with Sweets is starting to rub off on me."
Her brow creased in confusion and then cleared as she comprehended that he was using the jokey threat of psychoanalysis to disarm her, so she held her tongue this once on the value – or otherwise - of psychology and its status as a pseudo-science. She sighed; she could tell he wasn't going to let it go.
Avoiding his eyes, she let the words tumble jerkily from her. "Maddy was virtually a throw away child. I can't stop comparing that to what I felt at around her age; we were both outcast children in an unfriendly world." Booth went to speak, but she held up her hand. "I know our prospects and outcomes were vastly different, but I know how she felt, Booth. I know how she felt." When she finally raised her head and met his eyes she found only affectionate concern. She had dreaded seeing his pity.
He pressed his lips together and frowned slightly, marshalling his thoughts. "Look, that whole time of your life is a part of who you are; it always will be. We can't just surgically remove experiences from our lives, no matter how hard we try. Or how successful we think we are at doing that. We are who we are. You're not alone on this, you know."
She gave him a rueful smile. "I know. I don't usually dwell on these sorts of things, the emotional side of things. I find it … obfuscating."
"Well, next time you start getting … obfuscated - is that a real word? - you can always come and ask me."
"Is that like a partner thing, too?"
"Yeah, Bones, it's a partner thing."
They stared into each other's eyes, one searching, the other finding.
"Let's go home." Booth proffered his arm.
Brennan hooked her arm through his. "Yeah. Let's go home."
Well, that's the end. Thanks to everyone who joined me on this journey; those precious PM'ers, reviewers, alerters and favouriters and anyone else that just read and enjoyed! I've had the best time and met some amazingly generous people. I've got another case fic in the pipeline, only this one's set on my home turf - Australia. Think kangaroos and wombats and great surf beaches and Uluru (huh?) ... and 'what happens on tour, stays on tour' ;P