A/N: Life is crazy. That's why I write angst!fics, in a nutshell. And to top it all off, I managed to break my glasses today so now I can't see anything more than four feet away from me. But none of that really has to do with this fic, the third installment in what I think will be four (but possibly five) pieces. I suppose it depends on how the next one writes. Anyway, enjoy this and let me know what you think.
Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And the worst part is there's no one else to blame
Be my friend
Hold me, wrap me up
Unfold me, I am small
And needy, warm me up
And breathe me...
- Breathe Me, Sia
Booth sat at his desk in the J. Edgar Hoover building, pulling a rubber band taut between his fingers. He pulled the elastic material slowly, stretching it until it grew white with tension, molecules separating, waiting to—snap. He let go of one end and the band popped against the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, releasing the energy in the form of a sharp pain and fast-growing pink welt on his hand.
"Agent Booth?" Booth peered up over his feet, which were crossed at the ankles and propped up on his desk. Plain black socks peered out from beneath the hem of his pants.
"Charlie," he acknowledged gruffly, turning his attention back to the band in his hands. There were stacks of paperwork to be filed, but they could wait. His life had been on perpetual hold for the past six weeks, a sense of limbo penetrating everything he said and did. His entire life was hanging on whether or not she returned, and he hated that. Hated himself for that. Hated her for that. He wasn't really sure which it was, only that there was quite a lot of hate. He snapped the rubber band again and did not flinch as a second welt rose on his skin.
"Agent Driscoll told me to tell you… well, he didn't really tell me, Cullen told him to tell you and then he told me and I…"
"What, Charlie?" Booth asked, his patience worn dangerously thin even before this wisp of an agent stepped across the threshold into his den.
"You're back on at the Jeffersonian," Charlie blurted. Booth shook his head.
"I told Cullen I wasn't working with the Jeffersonian's new liaison," he said. "That's what they sent Driscoll there for, to work with that new forensic anthropologist they found, Dr. Maples."
"Dr. Maples was released from his temporary position at the Jeffersonian," Charlie explained. "So they sent Driscoll back to us. Now they want you."
"I'm not working with their new liaison," Booth repeated with his jaw clenched, feeling as if his teeth were to crack under the immense pressure. The band snapped continually against his hand.
"There isn't a new liaison," Charlie said. "Dr. Brennan resumed her position." Booth's entire body tensed in his seat, and the rubber band broke in his hands, no longer able to take the strain. "Dr. Saroyan made a specific request for…"
"Fine," Booth said, hoisting himself up out of his seat in a tight, wound way that made him look very much like a panther getting ready to ambush its unwitting prey. Charlie took a step back out of the doorway.
"Uh… okay then," Charlie said, stepping back fully as Booth shook his jacket on and snatched up his badge, storming past the boyish agent and slamming the office door behind him.
It wasn't until he reached his SUV in the parking lot that Booth pulled the silenced phone out of his pocket and took a look at his missed calls list. Thirteen in all—nine from Cam, two from Hodgins, and two from Angela. Not a single one from the number he had been trying to forget, but was branded painfully into his memory as if by a hot iron. It itched and peeled and blistered in his mind, and he could not scratch it away no matter how hard he tried. She was too far under his skin for that.
Six weeks. She had been gone for six weeks, and he hadn't spoken to her once the entire time. Not one call, text message, telegraph, or smoke signal from her letting him know that she was thinking of him, or safe, or even alive. His only news came through Angela, who let him know what little she knew. The sparse information boiled down to that Brennan had arrived in Africa, made it within the borders of the U.N.-secured temporary morgue, and had not left. Now suddenly she was back and he was supposed to return like everything was okay? Did she really think she could fall off the planet for almost two months, then just pick up life where she left off?
Before he knew it he was parked in the drop-off circle in front of Parker's school. He left the car there, blatantly ignoring the "NO PARKING" signs posted every fifteen feet or so around the edge of the circle. It was like a parent merry-go-round—the drivers were never supposed to stop, just pause briefly so their children could get out before they drove away. He smirked as he walked towards the front office; let them try to ticket a motor vehicle of the United States federal government. It was one of the best perks of his job.
"Dad, what's going on?" Parker asked when he arrived at the front office ten minutes later, backpack slung over one shoulder, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Booth thanked the teacher's aide who brought him and walked the boy out to the car with him.
"Nothing," Booth said. "I just thought you might wanna play hooky this afternoon." Parker's face lit up.
"You don't have to work today?" he asked, and Booth shook his head.
"Nope," he said airily, starting the car back up and giving a cheeky wave to the school's rent-a-cop, who shot him a steely look from the curb. "They let me off early."
"Cool," Parker said, none the wiser. "Can we go to the batting cages?"
"We can do whatever you want," Booth said, trying to release his death grip on the steering wheel. The batting cages would be a great outlet for his tension.
After about ten minutes riding in the car, Booth noticed that his son's face was tugged down in a poorly-masked frown, eyes glazed over and not actually noticing anything beyond the window.
"Hey Park, what's wrong?" Booth asked. Parker let out what sounded like a long-suffering sigh and shrugged.
"I dunno," he said. "I just thought when you came to get me…"
"Well, I thought maybe Bones was back from Africa," Parker said. Booth felt his heart rip out of his chest, a lead weight replacing it.
"I… no, she's not, not yet," Booth said, trying not to swallow his own tongue. Parker gave a slight nod.
"Yeah," he said. "Why's she on vacation for so long, dad?"
"Well, uh, Africa's pretty big," Booth said, trying to find something to say that wouldn't paint Brennan as a completely heinous bitch. He would have preferred to say that, even if he didn't truly mean it, but his love for his son overrode the burning sensation that seared him every time he thought of her. He just wanted Parker to feel better, no matter what kind of cotton-candy sweet lie he had to make up.
"So she's gonna see the whole thing?" Parker asked. Booth nodded.
"Yes," he said, glad his story was holding up against the precocious nine year old. "She's going to all the countries, to see all the people, and that takes a long time. Who knows when she'll be back."
"Right," Parker said, and Booth thought he was out of the woods until he saw the boy's fingers tugging agitatedly at his pants leg. Booth always knew his son had something on his mind when he pulled at his jeans like that.
"Dad?" the boy asked, fulfilling Booth's prophecy.
"Yeah, Park?" There was a quiet pause before Parker turned to his dad, his previously glazed over gaze focused intently on Booth's, brows pulled together.
"Why didn't she say goodbye to me before she left?" Booth coughed as the wind was knocked out of his chest, something within him writhing in pain. He could not hold his child's gaze any longer, but instead looked out the windshield into the park, the promised batting cages in the distance.
"She, uh… well…"
"When people love other people, they say goodbye," Parker pressed, his voice probing Booth sharply. "She didn't say goodbye. She loves me, right?"
"Of course she does, Parker," Booth said quickly, wanting to assuage his son's fear of being unloved as fast as humanly possible. "She loves you very much. She just… she had to leave fast. The people she's helping in Africa, they needed her right away, okay? She didn't have time to say goodbye, otherwise she would've. She definitely would've told you goodbye if she had the time."
"Okay," Parker said slowly, turning his father's words over in his mind as he put the thoughts together. "So she just had to go fast, that's why she didn't say goodbye."
"Yes," Booth said. "Exactly. That's exactly it."
"Alright," Parker sighed, seeming to accept his father's impromptu explanation for Brennan's sudden departure six weeks prior. Had it really been weighing down on his son that heavily over the past six weeks? Booth could hardly take a breath, the ache he felt for his son's pain was so deep.
"Hey, let's go hit some balls, okay?" Booth said, feigning a smile and trying to brighten the boy's spirits. It seemed to work—Parker's face split into a smile and he nodded.
"Yeah!" he said, and as suddenly as the tender subject was brought up, it was forgotten. To be nine years old again, Booth thought as he followed his scampering son towards the cages, hearing the distant popping of the baseballs as they shot out of the machines, if only to forget things so fast.
She waited. The moment she walked into the Jeffersonian and heard Angela's welcoming shriek echo through the cavernous Medico-Legal Lab, she was waiting. When she was embraced tightly by each of her friends in turn—Angela, Hodgins, Cam, even Wendell gave her a handshake and a bright greeting grin—she was waiting. She lowered herself down into her chair, which had never felt so comfortable before in her life as it did after six weeks in Darfur, and she waited. She drank coffee in the empty, exhausted way that doctors and police officers usually do, staring out through her glass walls and into the main of the lab, waiting to see his face. Waiting to see if he had been waiting too, or if he was already gone.
Part of her didn't expect him to wait on her, but part of her did. It was the part that had realized, while carrying canine remains out of the temporary morgue and off to the edge of the secured area for a proper burial, just how much she really loved that man. She dug bare-handed with a wood-handled shovel, ground splinters and sand into her blisters, and that's when it hit her—she loved him. She really, truly, absolutely, all-consumingly loved him beyond even the slightest shadow of a doubt.
There was no part of her, not a single iota of her being that was not completely in love with him. And burying that dog, she realized that, so when Dr. Goodman called at the end of six weeks and asked if she would be returning she quickly said yes. Then she started waiting, and had been waiting on the bus, in the airport, on the plane, and every other moment since.
But had he? She couldn't know, and the longer she sat in her office at the Jeffersonian, barely clean, barely awake, scrubbed raw and pink from six weeks in Sudan, she began to think he hadn't. The anxiety welled up in her stomach like a knot, clenching tightly and forcing her to huddle over her coffee, steam rising up in finger-like tendrils around her tired face. It caressed the outlines of her cheeks and she ached for him.
The sun crawled across the sky, and the way it hung low, beams pouring down into the Jeffersonian patiently, it seemed as if it was waiting too. Angela held her breath and gave her a long, sad look every time she walked past her office. Cam paced in a quiet, determined way, flipping out her phone every hour or so and dialing a number. She would listen for about thirty seconds, then shake her head and hang up. Brennan knew who she was trying to get a hold of. She was waiting too, but differently. Waiting to see the outcome of someone else's mistake.
This was Brennan's mistake, and she knew it. It was her own fault, her own disaster. She had broken them, she had destroyed everything between them. She bore that responsibility fully at this point—she was beyond trying to rationalize his part in this, had already worn herself out countless nights straining her well-endowed intellect to try and find any possible way that this could be partly (or preferably, wholly) his fault. He pushed her away, he held her too close, he communicated too much, he didn't let her communicate enough. She ran them all through her head but none of them stuck, because none of them were true. The only thing that rang true was the ugliest to acknowledge, and the hardest to accept—this was her doing. She alone had pulled the trigger and shot both of them.
The sun set, and the sky was alight with stars even though she could not see them. She couldn't see them, but she knew they were there. The lab glowed dimly from within, her colleagues trickling out slowly, giving her hesitant looks as they passed by. Angela poked her head into Brennan's office, only to say nothing and leave. There were no words to say. Even Angela, usually so loquacious and gifted with empathy, knew there was nothing to say. What could she say? You deserve this. You brought this upon yourself. You did this. She would never, even if Brennan did deserve it. She simply didn't have it in her heart to punish her best friend, when her vigil was punishment enough, so she just left.
Wendell was the very last to go. He stayed for hours into the night—she could hear him talking to himself in Limbo, his voice a low, distant murmur, like a heartbeat. She heard each drawer pull out, the bones laid out one by one. She could name and count them as she heard them touch the table—the mandible, the cranium, a long line of vertebrae clinking on the underlit glass surface like dominos being laid out. If she strained her ears, she could just barely hear the click of each phalange touching the table, his gentle speech a river of undercurrent beneath the bones.
In that way he reminded her of Booth—he knew the remains could not hear him, but he talked to them anyway. Sometimes he was just analyzing aloud the way she often did, but other times he was engaged in a genuine one-sided conversation with the skeleton. You're missing two of your distal phalanges, he would say. I bet they were worn down like the rest. You probably were a hard worker, a real blue-collar guy. If she could smile, she would, but she couldn't smile and wait at the same time.
Near midnight, he finally put away the last pieces of the blue-collar man with the missing fingertips and meandered over to her office, hands shoved into his coat pockets.
"It's getting late, Dr. B," he observed, his voice almost unnervingly loud in the otherwise silent lab. She nodded.
"I think I'm going to head home soon?" He phrased it almost as more of a question than a statement. She furrowed her brows slightly and nodded.
"Alright," she said slowly. "Good night, then." He waited in her doorway for a full thirty seconds, then slumped his shoulders and sighed.
"Okay, see, here's the thing," he said, stepping into her office and slouching down on her couch. "My Ma taught me to never leave a lady alone at night, anywhere, anytime. Not in front of her house, not at the club, not at work, not anywhere." He used his hands emphatically as he spoke. "You walk a lady to her car, or up to her door, or pay for her cab, whatever. But you don't leave her alone, that's what she taught me. So it's late, and I'm tired as hell, but I can't just leave you here alone, Dr. B. It's a big lab and the parking lot isn't the safest place to be, you know, and…"
"Mr. Bray," Brennan interrupted. "I appreciate your concern, but I am fully capable of taking care of myself. I just came home from six weeks in Darfur; I think I can handle walking through the parking garage." She had no plans of leaving anyway, but Wendell didn't know that, and he gave her an almost irritated look.
"Yeah, that's nice and all, but that's just how I was raised up and you're givin' me a lot of guilt about this if you don't at least let me walk you to your car. If my Ma found out…"
"She won't find out if you don't tell her," Brennan pointed out. He groaned.
"No, but she will," he insisted. "She's like a heat-seeking missile for guilt. She'll hear it in my voice tomorrow morning when she calls, and she'll ask what's wrong, and I'll have to tell her, and then I'll get my ear chewed off about it. So please, just let me walk you to your car, okay?" She shook her head and sighed.
"Fine, Mr. Bray," she said, finally lifting herself up from her seat and pulling her coat on. "You may walk me to my car in the parking garage." He looked extremely relieved and they walked through the garage without speaking. He stood by as she opened her car door and began to step in.
"Thanks, Dr. B," he said, giving her an appreciative nod.
"Thank you. Mr. Bray," she said, nodding to him before shutting the door. She watched him walk across the garage to his worn-out pick-up truck, climbing up into it and exiting the garage. A minute or so after he had left, she got out of her car and retraced her steps back into the Medico-Legal Lab.
Wendell didn't realize that she had no home to go to. She had her apartment, sure, but it wasn't home. The tables were covered in dust, there was no food in the refrigerator, and Booth wasn't there. Her apartment had been vacated some time ago, and she no longer really considered it hers anymore. It was just a place where an old version of her used to dwell, keep her things, sleep at night, exist. That person was gone, and she couldn't go back to that old haunt. She just didn't have it in her.
She curled up on the couch in her office, pulling the throw around her shoulders. And she waited.