A/N: Although this technically isn't an episode tag, it slots neatly into the canonical timeline right about where we are now (just after 5.05). My thanks go out to Doc, who took time out of her busy life to beta read for me.
Brennan leans against the railing and takes a sip from the steaming mug of coffee in her hands, her eyes on the forensic platform below. Her entire team is down there, their heads bent together over the partial remains of another John Doe from Bone Storage. Brennan already knows the cause of death, and judging by the approximate age of the victim (forty-three) and the place his remains were found (New York City), she's already formed a preliminary opinion. But what's happening on the platform right now is at once more mundane and more fundamental than any of that.
Most of the staff has long since gone home, switching off work-station lights and computer monitors behind them. The gradual darkening of the building turns the forensic platform into a kind of stage, and for a moment Brennan entertains herself picturing her team as a troupe of Shakespearean actors--until the image of Hodgins in pantaloons makes her snort back a laugh.
She washes away her amusement with another sip of coffee and watches the last technician wave to her team on his way out. He says something to Hodgins in passing, and Jack gives him a nod and a smile before turning back to the others with a remark that makes Angela laugh and Cam shake her head with one of her tolerant grins.
Brennan doesn't have to be with them to know they're making plans for the evening--plans that probably include alcohol, food, and the kind of after-hours companionship her colleagues take for granted. She's beginning to understand that pull of something else, something ... if not more, exactly, then other. She has Booth to thank for that. It's taken years of working with him, of hearing him talk about Parker and sports and all those other things that still seem a little alien to her. But it's starting to make sense now, and every once in a while she feels a quiet longing for another kind of life, the kind that includes families and trips to the park and the sticky sweetness of ice cream cones on hot summer afternoons.
Sometimes she thinks she likes that feeling.
And sometimes it terrifies her.
Apparently Angela and the others aren't the only ones concentrating, because when Booth says her name inches from her ear she jumps. Hot coffee splashes over her hand, and she almost drops the mug, but Booth rescues it and sets it safely aside.
"Geez, Bones. I'm sorry. I thought you heard me coming."
She reaches for the napkin she'd left on one of the side tables, but he takes it from her, cradling her hand in one of his while he dabs at her heat-reddened skin. The worst of the spill dealt with, he steps away. Seconds later he's back with a soda from the vending machine. He presses the icy can to the burn, rolls it back and forth. It's an unconventional solution, but it does the trick.
His touch is gentle, and as he bends his head over the simple task time seems to slow down--which doesn't make any sense because of course time is a constant. But she can't help focusing on minute details--the faint scar that runs the length of his index finger, the texture of his palm where it presses against hers, the smell of his after-shave--each observation amplified and expanded until it fills her awareness in a way that isn't the least bit partner-like.
She moistens lips gone oddly dry and looks up to find him watching her. His body lists toward hers. His head tilts ever-so-slightly to one side. And dark eyes, intense even in the dimly lit lounge, fasten on hers. Her breath catches in her throat and she feels herself start to lean, and somewhere in the back of her mind she knows this probably shouldn't happen now, not with her team just a stone's throw away. But the half-formed thought doesn't have the power to make her step back.
Cam's voice does, though. "Is everything all right up there?" she calls.
Cheeks flaring with heat, Brennan tugs at her hand. Strong fingers tighten on hers for an instant before loosening just enough to let her slide free. Her skin tingles. She tries not to think about why.
Four pairs of eyes are directed their way from the brightly-lit platform below. Both Cam and Angela are wearing knowing smiles. Wendell looks vaguely confused, and Hodgins, arms folded across his chest, just shakes his head.
"Everything's fine." When Angela's grin widens Brennan fights the urge to roll her eyes. "I spilled some coffee, that's all. Booth was helping me clean it up."
Beside her, Booth makes a slight sound. She ignores him. "I apologize for the interruption, Wendell. You may continue."
The others turn back to the skeleton, and Brennan lets out a breath of relief. She'll have to deal with Angela's questions later, and maybe Cam's, too. But she isn't going to think about that now.
"How's your hand?" Booth's voice is low. He rests his elbows on the railing, his shoulder brushing against hers. He's warm and solid (it's always a little chilly in the lab), and she doesn't think about why it's okay to lean, she just knows it is.
"It's fine," she says. "The coffee wasn't really all that hot." Which isn't true, but the burn is her own fault, really. She should've been paying more attention.
"New case?" he asks, with a tilt of his chin toward the forensic platform.
She shakes her head. "Midterm exam."
"Ahh." He's quiet for a minute, then-- "Poor Wendell."
The comment puzzles her, and she looks over. "I don't understand what his financial status has to do with his performance on an exam."
"No." Booth shakes his head. "I just meant--" He hesitates, studies her expression. "Nevermind."
Still confused, she returns her attention to her team.
"So what are they working on?" Booth asks quietly. "Another John Doe?"
She nods. "I don't think they'll be able to ID the remains, but I do expect Wendell to identify sex, age, skeletal history, and cause of death, as well as performing a successful reconstruction while demonstrating adequate proficiency in leadership skills and work-space management." She gestures toward the platform, her tone matter-of-fact. "My team is the best there is. If Wendell can't work with them, he may never be able to manage a team of his own."
Below, Wendell says something to Jack and points to one, two, three places on the skeleton, getting a nod of assent in reply. Particulate studies. Good. He's missed one location she would've suggested, but it's still a very acceptable performance.
They watch the rest of the examination in silence, and when it's over Brennan nods her satisfaction.
"He did well," she says, watching as the others begin to clean and sanitize the work area. There's laughter and a certain amount of silliness, and at one point even Cam gets into it, saying something to the others that makes them all laugh. Brennan feels a pang of envy. She still hasn't quite mastered the intricacies of this kind of light-hearted banter.
"Of course he did well." Booth says. "Wendell's brilliant. He wouldn't be your intern if he wasn't."
A little of what she's feeling must be in her voice, because he nudges her with his shoulder and slants her a grin. "Of course, it helps that he has such a brilliant teacher."
She can't help but smile back.
"So," she says, and presses her hands against the small of her back as she stretches out a kink, "don't you have Parker this weekend?"
He nods. "I don't pick him up 'till tomorrow, though. He's at a friend's house tonight."
"Yup." He looks proud, the way he often does when he talks about his son. "First one."
For some reason, it makes her feel a little wistful. She sips at cold coffee, wrinkles her nose, sets it down again. "I hope he has a good time."
He's watching her again, his gaze sharp on her face. "Did you ever go on sleepovers as a kid, Bones?"
"No." She leaves it at that, not wanting to explain. "Why are you here, Booth?"
"Oh!" He reaches into his pocket. "I almost forgot. I have something for you."
She's thinking work related, so when he drops the necklace into her open palm it takes her a second to switch gears.
One corner of his mouth quirks up. "It's a locket, Bones."
"I know it's a locket. What's it for?"
"It's for you." He shrugs. "I've had it for a while, but I thought … It just didn't seem like the right time, yet." Hands shoved deep in his pockets, he watches her. "Now--" His eyes drop to the necklace. "Maybe it is."
"You bought this for me?" The thought makes something warm and soft unravel in her chest, but he shakes his head.
He pulls his hands out of his pockets and steps close. "Open it, Bones."
Oval-shaped and gold, the locket has a white enamel inlay etched with tiny blue forget-me-nots. It's quite beautiful, and she says as much as her fingertips linger at the clasp. The comment makes him smile, but there's a sadness behind it that she doesn't understand.
"Open it," he says again.
And comes face to face with her parents.
Her throat closes. The ache of tears burns in her chest and at the back of her eyes, and for a moment it's all she can do just to catch her breath. They look so young, so ... normal. It takes her back to a time when she'd thought herself a girl like any other girl, with a life and friends and family just like everybody else's.
A time before she knew what it was to be alone in a world full of strangers.
She sits down on one of the leather couches, afraid she'll fall otherwise, and touches one finger to her mother's face. In spite of everything, she misses her terribly.
"Where did you get these pictures?"
He's sits down beside her, and the pressure of his leg against hers steadies her a little.
"Your case file," he says quietly. She can tell by the way he says it that he's nervous about how she'll react.
"But those have been in there for years. These look like you took them yesterday."
His shoulder rises against hers, slides down again. "Angela."
"Oh." She should have thought of that.
She studies the pictures and remembers picnics, and bed-time stories, and science experiments that made her father laugh and her mother sigh in exasperation. She remembers snowball fights with Russ, and the first day of school, and the way her mother's hands looked as they kneaded a fresh batch of bread. The tears spill over then. She feels the heat of them on her cheeks, but it's Booth who reaches out to wipe them away.
"Hey, look. I'm sorry, Bones. I thought ..." He takes in a breath, lets it out on a long sigh. "I don't what I was thinking."
"No." She shakes her head. "No, it's okay." It takes her a minute, but she manages to get herself under control. "It's beautiful, Booth." Her voice is still a little shaky, but he doesn't seem to mind. "Thank you."
She lets herself lean, her head coming to rest against his shoulder, her eyes still on the photographs.
"I forget sometimes," she says quietly, "that there were good times, too."
He says nothing, but that's okay, because right now his presence is enough. And when he puts his arm around her and rests his cheek against her hair, that's okay, too, because this is Booth, and this is just what they do for each other. They stay like that, neither of them saying anything, until the light tread of footsteps on the stairs reminds them that they aren't really alone.
She starts to sit up, but Booth's arm tightens around her, keeping her in place. She feels him wave away the new arrival. There's a murmur of voices, the sound of departing footsteps, and then they're alone again.
The interruption brings her back to the present, and she lifts her head to look at him. "What did you mean earlier?"
"When, earlier?" His voice is soft, though whether to avoid being overheard or for some other reason, she can't be sure.
"When I asked you if you bought this for me, you said 'not exactly.' What did you mean by that?"
"Oh." Removing his arm from around her shoulders, he takes the locket, closes it, and turns it over in his hands. His thumb strokes the tiny forget-me-nots, and sadness creeps back into his eyes. When he finally speaks, her heart breaks all over again.
"It was my mother's."
"Oh." And then, as the implication of that sinks in, "Oh."
"Yeah." He tries to give the necklace back to her, but she jerks her hand away.
"You can't give that to me. You should give it to Jared. Or Parker."
"No, Booth. I can't. It's ... an heirloom. It should stay in your family."
"Things are just things," he reminds her. "Isn't that what you once said? No magical meaning?"
She did say that, and while part of her thinks it's horribly unfair of him to throw it back at her now, it's still a rational argument. When she doesn't respond, he tries to give her the necklace again, but she flinches. Then she's on her feet and pacing the length of the lounge. At the far wall she spins and starts back, only to pull up short when she sees that Booth is on his feet too, facing her across the dimly lit expanse of industrial carpet.
"It isn't right." Her voice is a little desperate. She swallows. "You have so little of your mother. You can't just give pieces of her away like this."
She's dimly aware that she's being rude. He should be angry, she thinks. Why isn't he angry? And why is it so hard for her to just accept the gift in the spirit it's intended?
"Is that how you see it?" His voice is still soft. "Because I'm pretty sure Mom would see it differently."
That stops her. "What do you mean?"
"She used to say that family was everything. Money comes and goes, she'd say. Things don't really matter. But family ... family matters." As he speaks, he slowly closes the distance between them. "She'd want you to remember the good things about your family, Bones." He lifts his hand, lets the locket dangle from his fingertips. It spins lazily at the end of its chain. "And if she thought her necklace could help you do that--" He gives a slight shrug, "I think she'd like that."
His mother's locket. It's too much. Too important, too precious, too ... everything.
"It should stay in your family, Booth." But she sounds uncertain, even to her own ears.
With a shake of his head, Booth takes her hand and drops the necklace into her palm. His gaze is steady as he closes her fingers over it, and his jaw has that determined thrust that means he's going to be stubborn.
"I want you to have it."
He doesn't let go of her hand until she gives a reluctant nod.
"But you have to promise me something." She positions the chain around her neck, shivering a little when the pendent first hits her skin. But the gold warms quickly.
He steps in close and takes the ends of the chain from her hands, then waits for her to lift her hair out of the way so he can work the clasp. She tries not to shiver at the brush of his fingers against her neck.
"What's that?" Still soft, his voice has a warmth to it that brings her eyes up to his even as her pulse does an unsteady hop and skip.
"You have to promise that you'll let me know if you ever change your mind."
His gaze drops to the necklace, and she half expects him to run his finger along the edge of the delicate chain until it reaches the locket. The mere thought of his fingertip sliding along her skin stimulates sensitive nerve endings and triggers an intense hormonal response. He doesn't touch her, but he looks up and the sadness is gone from his eyes and somehow that's enough.
"I'm not going to change my mind, Bones."
"No." There isn't a trace of doubt in the way he says it. "I don't think so."
Before she can contradict him again he brushes his lips across hers. The move is so tender, so unexpected, that when it's over all she can do is blink at him. That makes him smile, and he reaches for her hand.
"Come on, Bones. I'll buy you dinner."
She laces her fingers through his. "A real dinner this time? No coupons?"
His laugh rolls through the empty building, and she has the irrational thought that when she comes in tomorrow morning she'll still be able to hear its echo.
She lets him hold her hand on the way down to her office, and instead of insisting she can put her coat on by herself (because of course she can), she lets him help. And when his hands linger on her shoulders she leans back against him, just for a second, just long enough to feel the brush of his lips against her hair.
It's another step forward, another step closer to something she'd once told him was impossible.
There is someone for everyone. Someone you're meant to spend the rest of your life with.
She'd wanted to believe him then, but hadn't really been able to. And now?
She looks up at him as his hand settles against the small of her back.
Now she thinks maybe, just maybe ... he was right.