Disclaimer: I have the DVDs, does that count?
Spoilers: I'll say through the end of Season 3, just to be safe. General knowledge of the show up to that point is kind of necessary.
A/N: This is an AU, of sorts. Well, maybe more like a "What If?" fic. You'll see what I mean. While technically four separate vignettes, they are nevertheless as inexorably linked as B&B themselves :P Major thanks to two amazing ladies, tempertemper77 and fauxmaven , for the beta and general advice. Boo for format!fail. Seriously, it looks so cool on LJ :-/
"Every once in a while, two people meet, and there's that spark."
At the outset, they appear completely different. They argue, and test each other, unaware that at the core they are very much alike. Unaware of the ways they can change each other. From there, they can grow closer or pull apart; collide in a frenzy of passion or circle each other forever like planets in orbit around the same sun that approximate but never quite meet.
Is it fate? Some preordained course that makes their meeting inevitable regardless of the circumstances? Or is it simply a random convergence of a series of possible events, without which their paths will never cross? Because changing one detail alters the entire sequence of a life.
"People say you only live once, but are as wrong about that, as they are about everything."
One day, not long after her fifteenth birthday, Temperance Brennan almost loses her parents.
It will be many years before she knows the full story, understands the incredible danger lurking at the periphery of her entire life, or comprehends the horrors she would have endured had her parents' original plan come to fruition. But on that fateful day, just before Christmas, she knows only one thing— her jovial, loving parents are scared. They storm into the house shortly after leaving, commanding her and Russ to pack their essentials as quickly as possible. When questioned, Matthew and Christine simply stare at each other for a moment. When her father speaks, his voice carries a depth of emotion that frightens and confuses her.
"We changed our minds, honey. Now come on. Get your things, hurry!"
She knows, despite the fact that intuition has never been her strong-suit, that they are never coming back.
In the car, they are told a story about Christine testifying in a tax evasion trial, about criminals wanting to keep her quiet and using any means to do it. They are told that they have to start over, somewhere far away, somewhere beyond the reach of this threat. Temperance doesn't know if Russ believes this or not, or if she even believes it herself. She is ashamed to admit an inability to rationalize the situation through the initial shock.
But she is glad, so very glad, that her parents are there with her.
They get as far as Philadelphia before deciding that it is far enough. Her father, somehow very adept at life on the run, manages to procure them new identities. If she knew the trend of names chosen for her, she could appreciate the irony. But she doesn't know.
And so Temperance Brennan, née Joy Keenan, is reborn as Hope Russell.
Her parents and brother seem content to live on the fringes of society, but she strives for more. It was always more curiosity than ambition, a thirst for knowledge rather than desire for praise, and none of this changes with the circumstances. If anything, her resolve to find answers in the hard certainty of scientific fact is only solidified.
It won't help her understand why this happened to them. But it will help her understand the world.
Living this way alters them all, but her especially. In fear of losing her family to some unseen threat she becomes hyper-vigilant and untrusting. She grows into womanhood knowing love, and the sound of her mother's laugh, and the warmth of Christmas dinner. But she is wary of strangers and unforgiving in her judgments. She loves with her whole heart, but allows no one close enough to evoke the emotion.
Trust is not easy to bestow when evading an invisible enemy.
She follows a rare calling. Forensic anthropology had always fascinated her, and it had been a dream of hers to study at Northwestern. But the Midwest is no longer safe, so the University of Pennsylvania is where she ends up. She stays there, working in a lab upon the completion of her degree. While she maintains a close relationship with her parents and brother, she has few friends, and is content to keep it that way. Men pass through her life like waves over the shore, crashing and receding again without leaving so much as an imprint. It is not a perfect life, but it is hers, and if not exactly satisfying is still a construct of her own making. She has control; that's what matters.
Until the day her father disappears without a trace.
There is the sound of a throat clearing, and she looks up at the man in her doorway. Tall, dark eyes and hair, expensive suit. Pleasing facial symmetry. She has aided the FBI on one or two cases in the past, and this man fits the description she has come to associate with a government agent.
She is not in the mood for pleasantries.
"If you know who I am, you should also know that I am on a leave of absence as of yesterday. Pending the resolution of some personal matters."
The man shakes his head, chuckling.
"Okay, we'll cut right to the chase then. Special Agent John Calloway. You're wanted down at HQ, pronto."
"I just told you that—"
"Yeah, I heard ya. But I have my orders. So you can go quietly or not, but the end result will be the same."
A sliver of fear pricks her heart.
"Is this about my fa—"
"No." His tone takes on a sympathetic edge. "Your father's missing person's case is still Philly PD jurisdiction. So, you coming or what?"
She stares at him hard for a moment, letting him feel her full irritation at being summoned, before following wordlessly out the door.
He doesn't tell her much, or anything actually, on the drive over. By the time they get to 600 Arch Street and take the elevator to the eighth floor, she is so thoroughly annoyed that she briefly considers what the consequences will actually be if she refuses to cooperate. The agent must sense this disquiet, because he speaks in a placating tone while steering her toward a private office.
"Look, I'm just the messenger, alright? There's supposed to be someone waiting to brief you."
Sure enough, when he opens the door, there is a man perched on the corner of the desk. Also with a dark completion and strikingly wide shoulders, set with a quiet intensity that startles her. He's idly rolling a poker chip across his knuckles, looking up and smirking when Agent Calloway lets out a whoop of laughter.
"The prodigal son returns. How the hell are ya, Ace?"
The men shake hands enthusiastically, and she observes their easy camaraderie.
"Not too bad, Cal, can't complain. Sorry to drop in unannounced like this."
"Eh, no worries. Man, I haven't seen you in ages. What's—"
"Would you two like me to leave until a more convenient time?" The brisk interruption is meant to convey the full force of her displeasure with the situation, and she is gratified to see that it works. Two sets of dark eyes fix on her guiltily.
The man called Ace flashes a smile that's clearly meant to be charming. She isn't charmed. He flips the poker chip into the air once, catches it, and slides it into his pocket, all before offering her his hand.
"Special Agent Seeley Booth from the D.C. field office. Sorry for all the cloak and dagger stuff, but we, um, have a bit of a situation."
Her eyes narrow in suspicion. This is already starting to sound like a situation she wants no part of.
"I'm not interested."
"No offense Doc, but you don't have much of a choice."
She perches her hands on her hips angrily, daring him to continue.
"See, your lab is federally funded. Which by extension makes you an employee of good ol' Uncle Sam. Meaning, if the Feds need you to do something, it's in your best interest to cooperate."
"And if I refuse?"
He shrugs casually, not seeming in the least perturbed.
"You'll be fined. Maybe even sued for breach of contract. Big mess to take on for a little of your time. You're not even the least bit curious why I dragged my ass all the way from D.C. for you?"
It's her turn to shrug.
"What you do with your ass is no concern of mine."
"Gimme a break here, alright?"
She thinks about it for a moment. Maybe there is something to be used to her advantage here.
"Quid pro quo."
He frowns in confusion.
"I know what it means. What do you mean?"
"I help you with your problem, you help me with mine."
"Which would be…?"
"My father's case. It's been cold for six months. Don't pretend like you didn't know."
Booth's lips purse together. He doesn't bother to deny having checked it out long before she walked through the door. Instead he says:
"That sounds suspiciously like blackmail."
"It's not. It's merely an exchange of expertise, if you will. A mutually beneficent relationship. Like symbiosis."
"I don't like it."
"I'm fairly certain you're not supposed to."
They stare at one another, Agent Calloway long forgotten.
"Fine. We clear this case, and I'll see what I can do."
She nods resolutely, unsure if she regrets this deal. While it's true that the police worked her father's disappearance without discovering his previous identity, the FBI is bound to be more thorough. This man is bound to be more thorough.
"Okay. Now, you may as well explain what this is all about."
Booth heads for the door with purpose.
"Come on, I'll explain on the way."
Confused, she walks briskly to keep up with him.
"But… where are we going."
"Your place," he tosses over his shoulder. "So you can pack a bag."
"You know, technically, this could be construed as kidnapping."
They're heading down I-95, D.C.-bound.
"Hey, you consented. I just had to twist your arm a little."
Cocky bastard, she thinks, but there is surprisingly little venom behind it. Instead, she points to the file in her lap.
"I'd like the full story on this."
Booth sighs, rolling his shoulders. They're tense, she can tell, the discomfort and build-up of lactic acid evident from his carriage.
"Victim was found early this morning on the roof of a hotel used to house federal witnesses. Strapped to a cross, shot, and burnt to a crisp. Prints burned clean off, no match on the dentals."
"There's really no way to identify this person?"
Booth gestures with the arm resting across the top of the steering wheel.
"Pretty convenient, huh? Look, not for nothin', but something about this seems… off. I don't know the facts, but I do know what my gut is telling me."
She snorts carelessly. "Your—your gut? I wasn't aware that was a valid investigative tool."
"It works for me, alright?"
"And what is your gut, that paragon of fact-finding rationale, telling you?"
"That our vic is a stoolie."
"A stoolie. Stool pigeon? You know, a rat. Snitch."
"What makes you say that?"
He jabs a finger into the file on her lap.
"Because someone literally spilled his guts."
She glances down at the picture where his hand still rests. The victim, male she suspects, was clearly eviscerated. She looks back at the agent doubtfully.
"You really needed a forensic anthropologist for this?"
"I need you like I need a hole in the head. But the order came from up on high that no one but the illustrious Dr. Russell was to even touch the body."
Booth nods thoughtfully.
"Yep, that was my reaction too. But Deputy Director Kirby requested you specifically."
"Why would he do that?"
"Look, when my boss tells me that his boss' boss handed down a direct order, I tend to shut my mouth and do as I'm told."
She finds that this statement is not consistent with her observations of him thus far.
"You say that as if it were true, yet you clearly fit the parameters of an alpha male personality. And alpha males typically do not simply shut their mouth and do as they're told."
"You should stick to bones."
He sounds unmoved, but she can see the corner of his mouth lift in an unsuppressed smirk. Somehow, this pleases her.
The FBI set up their unwilling consultant with a room at the Hilton, a rental car, and access to an anthropology lab at the renowned Jeffersonian Institution. Booth serves as her liaison with the Bureau. Despite his arrogance, his insistence on the laughable notion that gut feelings are valuable in investigative work, despite her complete irritation with his attitude towards her indisputable superior intelligence and his refusal to concede that science supersedes instinct on all counts, she finds that she respects his work ethic. His concern for and tireless pursuit of justice are admirable, and very attractive.
Despite their obvious differences, she finds that she respects him.
She works the body alongside the federal coroner and the Jeffersonian's particulates expert. He is quite capable, if a bit eccentric, and she immediately comes to trust his assessments. They quickly determine that the victim is a Caucasian male in his early to late fifties, shot through the head at a different location from where he was eviscerated, set on fire, and ultimately found. Oddly enough, and instigating no end of theorizing from the conspiratorially minded Dr. Hodgins, they find an object in the victim's trachea: a Christopher Columbus commemorative coin.
They are all at a loss as to what this could mean.
Eventually, having gathered all available information from the remains, she sets about reconstructing the face. There is a strange sense of urgency surrounding this case, and they all struggle with its burden. Booth is gruff and rather pushy, constantly breathing down her neck and challenging her findings. But he's also smart and capable, and she cannot deny that the thick tension between them feels sexual in nature more often than not.
She tampers down on the thought, adjusting the bone markers in her hands.
When she presents him with the completed likeness, Booth, having on his end of the investigation become convinced that the man was indeed a federal witness, gleefully strong-arms Witness Protection into matching a name to the face.
He is identified as Vince McVicar, formerly wanted by the FBI in Ohio, Kentucky and Iowa for assault, armed robbery, and murder.
His file details the exploits of a Midwest bank robbery crew. All of the man's former associates are dead, except two who vanished after a botched job in 1978.
Ruth and Max Keenan. FBI codenames: Cook and Columbus.
When he tells her, shows her what he's found, lays it all out gently and patiently like he really cares about her, she feels an improbable inability to breathe.
The world she knows—the world she helped her parents create—shatters around her.
Her mother, when pressed, admits to everything. Tells them about the journal found in a safety deposit box in 1978, the one detailing the miscarriage of justice perpetrated by a corrupt FBI robbery task force. The one that made them start running until they could never stop.
When Booth excuses himself to make some arrangements for protective custody without too many people knowing about it, she is left alone with a mother she realizes now she never really knew.
"Whatever Max and I did in the past, whatever he's done now, you have to know that it's only to protect you. You, and your brother, and me."
"That doesn't excuse murder, Mom. Do you realize that he probably killed a man? Shot him, gutted him, and set him on fire? And if he did it for us, then isn't that man's blood on our hands?"
Her mother looks at her sadly. There is something akin to relief relaxing her features, as if the lies she carried have finally ceased to weigh her down.
"He's your father, honey. Right or wrong, he loves you. He's keeping us safe the only way he knows how."
They've deceived her for so many years, made her doubt her own identity, broken laws of society it's part of her job to uphold. But they are still her parents, and she sees now what they have sacrificed. They took her and Russ on the run, when leaving them would have probably been the smarter thing to do.
They're her parents, and they didn't abandon her.
Ruth, Christine, Annette—whatever the name, she's her mother, and Temperance (Joy, Hope) holds her tight.
"I know it's hard for you to let people in," she hears in her ear, "even more so after all this. I blame myself for that. But take my advice, sweetheart. If you find somebody that you can trust, you hang on to them. It's worth it."
She follows her mother's gaze to the man pacing anxiously in the hallway while barking orders into his phone.
She thinks she understands what that means.
With Booth's string-pulling, her mother and brother are hidden away in an undisclosed location. Her father is still missing, and is now a man wanted for murder.
She refuses to slink away and hide, to give up her career for faceless men who have already taken enough from her. She goes back to Philadelphia with Booth's word that he won't stop until all the lies are uncovered. Until it's safe for her father to come back and face what he's done.
She knows him well enough to trust his promise.
Two months later, she is offered a position at the Jeffersonian with her own lab, her own team, and teaching privileges. She doesn't hesitate to accept, on the sole condition that if she is ever again asked to consult for the FBI, she will work only with Special Agent Seeley Booth.
He's in Guatemala, staking out the prey he's been sent to shoot through the heart from 1500 feet.
The voice, tinged with an authentic Spanish accent, is one he does not recognize. This doesn't surprise him; he hardly ever hears from the same contact twice. What does surprise him is that he's hearing a voice at all. There was to be no further communication until the deed was done, and the fact that radio silence has been broken can only mean bad things.
"Sí," he responds.
"Have you not yet tired of a missionary's way of life?"
"The Lord's work is never done."
"Men are, by their very nature, grotesque beings."
"Then it is they who need His word the most."
Yeah, this can only mean very bad things. This particular passcode sequence is for the highest levels of military clearance.
Booth begins to worry that he has been compromised.
"Are we still going fishing?" he asks, listening intently for any forthcoming instructions.
"Alas Ramón, but the missus is adamant I remain with her for her nephew's baptism."
"That is disappointing."
"I am sorry. But little Cristo is her favorite sister's child. I would never hear the end of it."
"Family is family."
"But I will make it up. Let us get together on Wednesday for the match, yes? And let us hope Los Chapines do not blow it 5-2 like they did the last time."
"Fútbol is not good for your blood pressure, my friend." Booth offers a harsh laugh, as his mind extrapolates the relevant information from this message."But I will see you then."
He hangs up fighting a sense of foreboding. Every instinct he has, every instinct that has never failed him, is screaming that this is wrong. Pulling him off… that other thing… is a risky move, but he's a soldier through and through. Last minute game-plan changes are not news to him. There has to be a damn good reason for this. He'll follow the given directive, no matter what his gut is telling him.
The Iglesia de Cristo is a small church located in Zone #1 of Guatemala City. It smells strongly of burnt wax and rotting wood, and reminds him so much of home that he genuflects in silent acknowledgment of a faith that has not forsaken him through the ravages of war and death.
He stops at the fifth pew on his way back from the altar. Taped underneath the splintering bench of the second seat, he finds what he is looking for.
He's no codetalker, but the cipher is not difficult to figure out. The pictures and maps inside the dossier speak loud enough all on their own. He stares, unable to comprehend why they would need someone with his rather unique skill set for this. Halfway through the file, he gets his answer.
A group of Americans last seen in the municipality of Chiantla, approximately 130 kilometers from his location in Guatemala City, have been missing for three days. Strong suspicion is that they are being held as hostages by a state sponsored paramilitary group, for reasons yet undetermined. Eight people. Seven graduate students and a professor from Northwestern University, working on some kind of anthropological dig in the area. One of the students is the nephew of a U.S. Senator. Another, the son of the Spanish ambassador. A third, the grandchild of a well-known Japanese diplomat.
This situation has major international clusterfuck written all over it. The government needs it handled quickly and cleanly, both of which just happen to be highlighted in his résumé. As luck would have it, he was already in Guatemala.
Booth doesn't believe in that kind of luck.
It doesn't take long to familiarize himself with the layout of the land and the suspected compound. Someone must have thrown a lot of money at this thing in a real hurry, because the satellite images are exceptionally good. The objective is clear, if a little unrealistic for his taste. An extraction team will be sent to follow, but it is Booth's job to get the hostages away from the compound and to the rendezvous point in one piece.
More than a little unrealistic, but he's the best there is. And it feels strangely heartening to be sent on a rescue mission, as opposed to the kind he's used to.
If all goes well, maybe this will stave off the encroaching numbness he can sense deadening his heart with every perfect shot.
He slips in under cover of night and takes out the three perimeter guards on the south end from 1000 feet. It's not his style to go into a situation underprepared, but time is of the essence here, so he forges ahead without the usual thoroughness, all the while cursing whatever bonehead decided to just throw the whole op together on the fly. Clenching his jaw, he hides the bodies in the underbrush.
They are heavier than they should be.
Add three more to the others that brand him; an ever-growing tally of his sins against God in the name of country.
When he finds them, huddled together in a stone-walled cell laden with the smells of excrement and fear, he stifles a curse.
The dossier said eight. Here, there are only seven.
He scans their faces, picking out the dark-haired man almost instantly.
The professor nods, letting out a shaky breath before speaking in hushed tones.
"We were authenticating a mass grave. Dead from the civil war, women and children mostly, and these bastards… I was beginning to think no one would come."
Booth isn't unsympathetic to their plight, but he simply doesn't have the time for pleasantries.
"I'll get you out. Who's missing?"
"Tempe. Temperance Brennan. They took her somewhere. She..." The man raises stricken eyes to meet his own. Booth can plainly see admiration shining behind the fear. "She fought back."
His gut clenches in rebellion against the training, but he reigns it back in. There is no decision to make. He may only be here because some schmuck in an overpriced suit and wielding political clout deemed that a few of these eggheads were more important than the rest, but he'll be damned if he leaves anyone behind. No matter what their last name happens to be.
He promises Stires to be back in thirty minutes, and steps back out into the night.
The guards are all drunk or asleep, and he manages to slip by undetected. This cell is even smaller than the one the others share, in a building on the opposite side of the compound. He can make her out within the dark confines, clad in nothing but a sports bra and shorts, long limbs tangled in a filthy blanket on the dirt floor. Hair covers her face, and she is breathing evenly, by all appearances asleep. But Booth's trained eye can tell that the breaths are too even, that her body is too still. The muscles in her arms twitch subtly, as if she is poised to strike at any moment. He recalls the admiration in the professor's eyes and experiences a twinge of alarm laced with irritation.
Her fearlessness is a liability he does not need.
She springs up suddenly. Her gaze, when it fixes on him, is calm and lucid, and it startles him even in the low light.
"Sergeant Booth. Rangers. I'm your cavalry. Stay away from the bars."
She nods once, briskly, moving back to the farthest corner of her tiny prison. He blows the lock with a small, quiet charge, quickly moving to her side for a cursory exam.
"Are you hurt at all?"
She shakes her head resolutely, lips set in a firm, narrow line. He can tell she's studying him, as if to appraise his worth as rescuer, and he can't decide if he should be annoyed or intrigued. She's no damsel in distress, that's for damn sure.
"Alright. Let's move it. Stay close to me."
He doesn't consider any of that to be up for debate, but apparently she has other ideas. Her quiet, husky voice surprises him almost as much as the words it utters.
"Give me a gun."
If the situation weren't so serious, he'd be tempted to laugh at her unbelievable gall.
"No way, lady. As far as you're concerned, I'm your gun."
"What if you are incapacitated?"
Her tone is so cool, so calculating, that he does a double take. He wonders if she's suffering some sort of stress reaction that is allowing her to be this calm, or if she's actually just that good at keeping her emotions in check. Intuition tells him it's the latter. And if that's the case, with that ability to compartmentalize, she would have made a pretty good soldier herself.
"Are you kiddin' me? No one's getting the drop on me, ok?"
"I don't know what that means."
"It means you need to stop arguing so I can get us the hell out of here."
"How do you expect me to defend myself if you don't give me a weapon?"
He sighs, acutely aware that every moment wasted on her stubbornness is a moment wasted fruitlessly. He unsnaps the sheath at his waist, passing the seven-inch serrated knife into her waiting hands.
"Yeah, well, it's all you're getting, so take it or leave it."
"This is no time for displays of alpha male posturing."
He glares. She's filthy and half-naked, a prisoner who has had God knows what done to her in the last three days, and yet she's standing there, tipping her chin haughtily and telling him what to do. He can't tell if she's insane or suicidal or what, and he really doesn't have the time or inclination to figure it out. He's about to drag her along bodily, no matter how Pops raised him to treat a woman, but she grants him grudging acquiescence.
"Alright. Now that that's settled… Stay close, but behind me, you got it?
He takes the lead, only a little surprised when she wordlessly follows.
The rest of his little one-man-army gig goes off surprisingly without incident and, sitting safety on a plane, hell if he doesn't feel a bit like Rambo. He figures it's not a sensation he should get used to. After all, they'll have him back on the 'kill one to save one thousand' circuit in no time.
He's not sure how much longer duty and country will be incentive enough.
The doctor that came part and parcel with their private ride back to the good ol' U. S. of A. interrupts his musings by insisting on checking him out too.
"No need, Doc. I'm fit as a fiddle."
The man humors him with a wry smile. "While I'm sure that's true, I really should make certain. Wouldn't feel right pocketing the government's money if I took your word for it and you up and died on me."
So, he lets the man evaluate his heart rate, blood pressure, and reflexes.
"So, what do ya say, Doc? Did I pass?"
He receives a pat on the shoulder and a "With flying colors" in response, before the doctor moves off to re-examine the battered hostages. Booth visually reassesses them too, before his eyes inevitably land on Brennan.
It wasn't until they were safely in the air and she collapsed in a boneless heap that he realized how much she must have kept going by sheer force of will. He can definitely respect that, despite having wanted to strangle her two hours ago.
Now, he watches the doctor adjust her IV fluids, and hears the gist of dehydrated and hospital. She protests feebly for a moment before relaxing in exhaustion against the man at her side. Judging from the way the good professor looks at her, they're hitting more than just the books.
Booth wonders absently why that bothers him. Then again, he always has been a glutton for punishment.
When they deplane in San Antonio, the hostages are all whisked quickly off to BAMC for further medical evaluation, while he is debriefed and given two days' reprieve before being scheduled to ship off to some new dark corner of the world. He's restless and jittery, and wanders Fort Sam before somehow ending up at BAMC and asking for the room of one Temperance Brennan. He hits a little resistance, but flashes the patented Seeley Booth Charm Smile at some cute little candy striper until she blushes furiously and gives up the goods. He pats himself on the back for having such infallible interrogation skills.
Finding the room in the labyrinthine hospital, Booth leans casually against the doorway and watches Brennan pick irritably at the IV in her arm.
Her head snaps up in alarm, and he can see the anxiety that paints her features. Her eyes narrow for a moment, studying him with that penetrating gaze, until recognition sparks. The anxiety is no longer there, replaced instead by an undisguised weariness, but her voice is strong and certain.
"The adhesive is creating an extremely pruritic reaction."
He steps into the room, shaking his head and chuckling. "You like using big words, don't you?"
"I like things clearly defined."
"Well, yeah. You're a perfectionist, too. It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out."
Her brow furrows in a confused expression that he can only classify as—God help him—cute.
"But I am a genius. In fact, my IQ is well above the accepted range for—"
"Wow. Are you always this modest?"
"I see no reason to downplay my accomplishments or intelligence, if that's what you mean."
It comes off less like arrogance, and more like a mere statement of fact. She's completely frank, completely unselfconscious, and the extent to which he likes it throws him so utterly off guard that he doesn't realize he's staring.
"Sergeant… Booth, is it? Is there a problem?"
He clears his throat, feeling a little dazed. "Problem?"
"Yes. Something with your debriefing? A reason why you're here?"
"Nope, no problem. Just wanted to make sure you didn't get yourself into any more trouble."
He works in the charm smile for good measure, although he's pretty sure it won't work on her. Truth is, he doesn't really know why he's there. He only knows that he's never met anyone like her, and it completely fascinates him.
He was right, by the way. About the whole, her being completely unresponsive to the charm smile thing.
"I resent your implication that I can't take care of myself. I understand your need, as a clear alpha male personality, to delude yourself into thinking that women are helpless and require your constant protection, but I assure you that is not the case here."
"Yeah, whatever you just said right there? So off the mark. Way to bite a guy's head off for wanting to make sure you're doing ok."
Her look turns sheepish. She rests her head back against the pillow and closes her eyes, sighing. When she opens them again, she graces him with an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry. It's just… Michael's been hovering all day, and now you…" She bites her lower lip, emotion flooding the previously composed face. "I should really thank you. I am aware that, in all probability you saved my life. There's no way I can ever repay—"
"Don't mention it."
"I mean it. I am profoundly grateful."
He nods seriously, before switching the conversation to a less weighty topic.
The next day she is discharged, gone back to Chicago and out of his life.
Two months after Guatemala, Booth is assigned a new spotter. Young kid, real green around the gills, but smart as a whip. A good guy to be with in a tough spot. He reminds Booth of the little brother he wishes he'd had in Jared. The kid's biggest flaw, as far as Booth can see, is that he's just too over-eager. But that will pass with time and experience, not to mention the seasoned partner who's been appointed his charge.
Yeah, the Sarge'll make a damn fine soldier out of Teddy Parker yet.
He tells them he wants out the day they bury Teddy.
He's done, completely and totally, and makes it clear that unless they want an unhinged sniper on their hands, they'll let him go without a fight. It isn't until he's granted his request and is honorably discharged that Booth realizes he hasn't really thought about where he will go. What he will do.
Philly was once home, but hasn't been for a long time. There's nothing for him there. Ever since his grandmother died, Pops is living the life of a bachelor in D.C. and Booth considers joining him, maybe getting into the security business, but that doesn't feel quite right either. Jared is saddling up for a stellarcareer with the Navy faster than you can say subconscious rebellion, and that's about all the family he's got. He doesn't even particularly want to be around them right now. The guilt he suspects he'll always carry is still a crushing weight, and he has to find a way to deal with it before subjecting others to his misery.
The one thing that does feel good though, is that for the first time since he can remember, he has a responsibility to no one except himself.
Chicago seems as good a place as any to start over.
He settles in, finding a decent place and registering at Northwestern within the first week. After college and then the military, he never thought he'd willingly subject himself to even more school. But he's no dummy, made decent grades at Penn State, and hell, what else is he gonna spend his hazard pay on? So, he takes some criminology courses, with an eye out for law enforcement in the future. Although he's not entirely sure if the cold, hard weight of a gun in his palm, once an extension of him, will ever feel quite right again.
These days, he much prefers the weight of a pen.
About three weeks into it, and he's got a good rhythm going. Classes Monday, Wednesday, Friday. A guy he met pointed him in the direction of a decent amateur hockey team, so Tuesdays and Thursdays is practice. He goes to the campus gym every day from 4-6, and it's nice. To have this set schedule. To not be shuffled from continent to continent in any given week.
To not shoot people through the heart in front of their little boy.
He's not lonely, not really. As much as people seem to like him, he's inherently a private person.
He's used to being alone.
So, in any case, the gym. He's leaving at 6:45, instead of at 6 like usual, because his Bronco's been running like crap, and he's been late everywhere all day. He steps out into the settling dusk, only to be hit by a thunderbolt.
At least it feels that way, although something tells him she would disagree.
He's definitely thought about this. Hell, he would never have picked Chicago of all places, if he hadn't thought about this. But it's still surprising, almost like he didn't think it would ever really happen.
Judging from the expression on her face, she really didn't think it would ever happen.
He grins, taking in the way she looks in yoga pants and a form-fitting top.
"What are you doing here?"
Booth hefts his bag over his shoulder. "Working out. Isn't that what one usually does at the gym?"
"Well, yes, but I thought you were, you know—"
"Busy rescuing stubborn geniuses held captive across the world?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of blindly serving a paternalistic government."
He prickles a little, considering said paternalistic government and its blind servant just happened to have saved her life.
"Hey, for your information, you're looking at a decorated soldier. Honorably discharged, three months and counting. Guess you don't know everything there is to know after all."
She's watching him suspiciously, clearly unaware that she's said anything offensive.
"So, why are you here?"
"Why not? Here's as good as anywhere else. Besides," he smirks playfully, "I heard there was a little school around here that has a pretty decent Poli Sci program. Worth checking out."
"Are you disparaging—"
"Nope. Why would I make fun of my own future Master's degree?"
For the first time, she's actually shocked into speechlessness. He doesn't think he's imaging the hint of newfound respect in her continued appraisal of him.
"Well, I'd better…" She motions toward the gym doors, and he steps aside to let her pass. But he doesn't want to risk not seeing her again, so…
She glances back at him over her shoulder.
"Wanna go grab a coffee sometime?"
"Is coffee a euphemism for sex? Because I'd rather—"
"Woah there. Coffee is just coffee, ok?" He waggles his eyebrows suggestively. "Sex is optional."
She lets out a husky laugh that goes straight to his crotch, and disappears inside.
He's always been good at fixating unflinchingly on a target.
This is like a personal challenge, and he doesn't have a damn clue as to why. Maybe it's because he's no slouch in the ladies department, yet Brennan is completely immune to his appeal. More likely though, is the unshakeable certainty that there's somethingthere. A connection, potential the likes of which he's never experienced with anyone. It would never sit well with him if he didn't see it through. So, he makes sure that he's always leaving the gym at 6:45, just so he can run into her. She doesn't come every day. On the days she does, he gives her a smile and asks "Coffee?" as he strolls by. The first time she ignores him. The second, she shakes her head in exasperation. After that, he can tell she's fighting to suppress a smile when she sees him. After two weeks and at least seven identical invitations, Brennan finally seems to realize that he's not going away.
She intentionally blocks his exit out of the gym, standing between the two sets of doors and eyeing him warily.
"Are you going to give up?"
He stares at her in mock seriousness. "I was a sniper. Trained to wait patiently and always get my man."
"I don't know what that means."
"It means I'm not likely to give up, no."
She tilts her head to the side in consideration, before huffing out a breath.
"Fine. I'll meet you across the street at 8 o'clock." When he grins, she holds up a finger to prevent him from speaking. "On one condition. After today, you stop harassing me."
"Sure. One cup of coffee, maybe a slice of pie, and consider me just a pleasant memory."
"No pie. I don't like my fruit cooked."
He watches her walk away in bewilderment, feeling a little bad about the fact that he either just lied through his teeth or is in for a huge disappointment.
He's not disappointed.
So, she's a little weird, and a lot socially awkward. But she's also honest, and opinionated, and quite probably the most intelligent person he's ever met. She doesn't get pop-culture references and has no talent for small talk, but she laughs easily at his stupid jokes and it sets her whole face alight with this irresistible glow.
"Can I drop you off somewhere?" he asks, in a pretty sad attempt to prolong what may be his only shot with her.
She shakes her head in the negative. "I have to get back to the lab. Michael has given us a rather challenging assignment involving—"
"Good old Professor Stires. Are you two still…ah… you know…?"
Astonishment and irritation battle for supremacy across her face, before settling on mild annoyance. "That's really none of your business."
Then, she grins. "I'll see you tomorrow, Booth."
He's waiting as she comes out of the gym. Her hair is still wet from the shower, framing her face loosely. She's wearing faded jeans and a red cotton v-neck that stretches snugly across her breasts, and she smiles a tentative half-smile in greeting.
Both his chest and his pants are suddenly painfully tight.
And damn him for being so uncontrollably drawn to a woman who doesn't miss anything as far as he can tell, because her eyes flicker down the length of his body. When they meet his again, her lips are curled in an undisguised smirk. Knowing her, she's probably going to launch into an explanation of a normal sexual reaction in response to visual stimuli and, really, he's not in the mood. Not when just the thought of those words coming out of her pretty, know-it-all mouth is stimulus enough. So, he pushes off the hood of the car in an effort to head off her scientific mumbo-jumbo, only to fall back again in surprise. She steps up into him, right into his personal space, so close he can feel her breath ghosting across his skin. Her hand finds a resting place against the curve of his hip, fingers inching downward. When she speaks, her husky voice shoots straight down into the core of him, invading every hidden corner of his heart.
"Why don't we skip the coffee, Booth."
It comes as no surprise that she fucks like she does everything else; fiercely, unapologetically, and thoroughly. He doesn't just mess around with women for kicks, but he's not sure if Brennan takes it as seriously as he does. She isn't running for the door as soon as they're done, so that's something. Instead, she turns those gorgeous eyes on him earnestly.
"Did you find that to be satisfying?"
Booth almost laughs at the question. She really couldn't tell? "If by satisfying you mean you blew my freakin' mind, then yeah. It was plenty satisfying."
"Good. Although I consider myself to be skillful in bed, I possess a very small data sample on which to base this assumption."
His mind isn't all there yet, so he's a little slow to catch her drift. "Sorry, I left my Brennan to English dictionary in my other pants."
"What I mean is, I have very little practical knowledge in what men find pleasing, generally, as you are only my second lover."
"Really?" He can't keep the shock out of his voice. The tone makes her look uncertain, and he regrets it instantly.
"Yes. Is there something wrong with that?"
"Absolutely nothing." He grins to make up for his earlier carelessness. "In fact, I'd be honored if you would allow me to reassure you."
Booth covers her body with his again, shivering violently at the uninvited and terrifying sudden desire to be not only her second lover, but her last.
What they're doing can't exactly be termed 'dating', though they spend most of their free time together. And by 'free time' he means those occasions on which he manages to drag her out of the library or out of the anthro lab to grab some dinner. Once in a blue moon, they get a drink at a bar or watch a movie she nitpicks to death. But almost every night they fall into bed wrapped around each other, until he starts to think of her place as home.
He's getting to know her pretty well, but a lot of it is intuition and observation. There are pieces of herself she keeps hidden away from prying eyes, even his. She doesn't talk about her family, and he knows enough from the file back in Guatemala (vanished parents, AWOL brother, foster care) not to ask. It's not like he tells her about that part of his past either. Whereas he puts his faith in God and his own instincts, her beliefs reside solely in the infallibility of science and logic. His only indication that she even needs anything else is the way she slightly leans into his hand at her back after a particularly rough day, the way her eyes caress his face when he's being exceptionally charming. He can practically feel the vulnerability packed tightly beneath the cool surface. What he wouldn't give to touch it.
Most of the time, they argue incessantly. Brennan belittles his religion, scoffs at his moral inclinations, and makes even compliments come off like insults. She is so brilliant, so infuriating, so passionate, that it drives him to distraction. She is absolutely the last woman on the face of the planet he would have ever imagined himself with, bar none.
He can't get enough.
Booth is still tangled in the bedsheets, dozing blissfully and listening to the sounds emanating from the shower. She really does sing quite well, and he muses whether there is anything at which she doesn't excel.
The phone rings. Even after all these months, he's not in the habit of answering her phone, so the machine gets it. When the unfamiliar voice comes over the line, Booth sits up a little straighter, suddenly wide awake.
"Hey, Tempe. It's… it's me. I just called to wish you a Happy Birthday."
There is a pause, and a deeply exhaled breath.
"I hope you're doing well, and just… I don't even know what to say anymore. I wish you would call me. Even if it's just to yell at me or tell me you hate me or something. Anything is better than never hearing your voice. I know I fucked up, Temp, and I really wish you would let me try to show you that I'm sorry. God, I'm so sorry."
It sounds like the man is practically on the verge of tears, and Booth has no idea what to think.
"Anyway, take care of yourself. I know you always do. Be happy. I love you, baby sis."
He's still sitting there, mulling over whether or not to bring it up, when she steps out of the bathroom. She has this sort of lazy smile on her face, and the fact that he can't muster one of his own makes it clear even to Brennan that there's something on his mind.
He doesn't even try to beat around the bush. "Your brother called."
"You talked to Russ?"
"No, I didn't talk to him. He left a message, and my hearing's still actually pretty good."
Chewing on her bottom lip a moment, she refuses to meet his eyes. Then, she makes a big show of drying herself off, putting on flannel pants and his Rangers Lead The Way t-shirt, sliding under the covers and opening a book. All the while saying nothing, until he can't keep himself in check anymore.
"Aren't you even going to listen to it?"
"No. I'm quite certain it is similar to the one he left last year, and the year before."
"Far be it for me to butt in, but… don't you want to at least try mending things?"
Her eyes flash in the low light of the bedroom. "You're right, Booth. You shouldn't, as you so eloquently put it, butt in."
From the sudden rigidity of her posture, not to mention the cool defensiveness that laces her voice, he knows that he should just drop it, right now. But he can't. For one thing, he doesn't want to set a precedent for tip-toeing around their issues or sweeping things under the rug. For another, he's apparently still as much of a glutton for punishment as ever.
"I'm not going to push, but I think we should at least talk about this."
"And I think that you should just leave my personal life alone. It's none of your business."
Something dark and fierce and angry takes a hold of him at those words. He's usually pretty good at controlling it, but she is so far under his skin that he can't. So far in that it feels like she's stabbing him in the damn heart, and the fighter in him rebels against it.
"None of my business? What the hell is that supposed to mean? People in relationships, they talk about these types of things."
"But this isn't a relationship."
They both freeze on the spot. For a moment, she appears to regret what has come out of her always precise mouth. Anyone else would deflate, reassess, apologize. But not Brennan. She sticks by the words, as wrong and untrue and hurtful as he can tell she knows them to be. The ire within him ratchets up a notch.
"Then what? I'm just the guy keeping you warm at night? Fulfilling your damn urges?"
Brennan flounders, uncharacteristically at a loss. "This… it's a mutually satisfying sexual situation for both of us."
That's so typical of her, and yesterday he would have scratched at the superficial response until he burrowed beneath the surface. But, truthfully, at this point it doesn't really matter. Every hope and optimistic thought he's had about them, about their future, is dissolving in front of his eyes.
He gets out of bed, putting his clothes back on in a slow and methodical manner he bitterly thinks she should appreciate. Angry, defeated, fully dressed, he turns to face her.
"Why the hell did you get involved with me, if this is how it was going to be?"
He's not sure what answer he expects. Anything would have been better than the one he gets.
"You saved my life. I thought that—"
"So, what, falling into bed with me was some sort of… layaway payment plan?"
"No! It was… I trusted you with my life. I am also extremely attracted to you, so it seemed like the appropriate course of action."
He stares at her hard for a long time. Maybe he just needs to cool off. Maybe there's something to this he's not getting. But the truth is that she hasn't really let him in, no matter what he's deluded himself into believing. And he's really, really tired.
"I should… I'm going to go for a while. Is that ok?"
Even now, he feels the need to let her make the decision. He doesn't mean that he's not coming back, only that he needs some time to process. But he's not capable of voicing this right now. He won't realize until later how deep her abandonment issues really go, and how much it must have seemed like he was another in a long line of people for whom she just wasn't good enough to stick around. Won't realize until later the finality with which she shuts him out.
"That's fine, Booth."
It doesn't matter what he does or how he tries. She won't see him socially anymore. She won't even meet him for coffee. If they happen to run into one another, she is polite but aloof. Like nothing ever happened between them.
Sometimes, he questions whether any of it was real, or if he just imagined it.
By the time he finishes up his Master's, there's word that an old C.O. recommended him for the FBI Academy. With his service record, all he has to do is express official interest and it's in the bag.
He kind of likes the idea.
Special Agent Seeley Joseph Booth, FBI.It sounds good. Right. He feels like he's finally ready. But he can't find it in himself to go to Virginia without giving it one last all-out, balls-to-the-wall shot with Brennan. So he corners her outside of the gym, a bittersweet homage to how this whole thing started.
"We need to talk."
"I'm sure there's nothing left to say, Booth."
"Look, I…" He hesitates, feeling silly and desperate. "There's an opportunity for me. A spot at Quantico."
"The FBI? But you… you expressed some vague interest in law enforcement, but you never mentioned…"
"It sort of just fell in my lap. And it feels, I dunno…" He shrugs, unsure how to explain this to someone as hyper-rational as her.
"Have you been thinking with your gastrointestinal tract again?"
If he didn't know better, he'd say she was being playful. "Well, it's gotta serve better than my brain has lately, so…"
"So, you're leaving." Utterly serious now.
"No, I… I haven't decided yet. What I mean is… I want…" To stay. But he can't bring himself to say the words. "I want you to have a say in this. If there's a chance, you know, for us, then I can't just pick up and leave, Temperance."
He's hardly ever used her first name in the past, and only when something was exceedingly important. It must be this fact that breaks through to her. Eyes wide with fear, and affection, and something else that he can't quite latch onto, she raises a hand to his face and brushes the tips of her fingers against the stubble on his cheek.
"You're such a good man."
She looks so wistful, so open, that he experiences a split second of terrible hope. But then her expression falls shuttered again, and he knows that she will never give him the answer he needs.
"You should go, Booth."
He does. There is no reason for him to stay.
He strolls in all cock and swagger, but stops short at the sight before him. It's been six years since he swore to push her out of his mind, but damn it if she can't still take his breath away.
Twenty minutes ago, when Cullen shoved the file at him and informed him that he'd better convince that crazy scientist to work with the FBI or expect to be pushing papers for the next year, he's had a sinking feeling he knew exactly who said crazy scientist would turn out to be. It was no secret that since arriving at the Jeffersonian Institute, the infamous Dr. Temperance Brennan had rebuked every olive branch the agency extended. Cullen had clearly had enough. Somehow this predicament now resulted in Booth's career hanging in the balance of his ability to convince her to have a professional relationship with him, when he had so miserably failed at convincing her to have a personal one.
He takes a moment to calm himself, observing. She stands with her back to him, bent over a gleaming steel table in the middle of an elevated platform. The blue lab coat fits snugly around her waist, accentuating the hips he can still sometimes feel beneath his hands. There is a young man with unruly hair at her side, watching intently, but her entire focus is on the task before her. Booth can't see her face, but he can imagine it; the complete concentration and intensity that had made him feel like a voyeur every time he'd found her alone in the lab.
He clears his throat to dispel the sudden tension coiling like a spring within him. She doesn't move, but her assistant turns wide eyes toward the sound. Booth flashes his badge, and the kid speaks.
"Zack, I would like you to notice—"
"Fancy meeting you here."
He finally finds his voice and as it carries across the expanse, her back stiffens. He watches in fascination as the gloved hand poised above an ancient skeleton trembles slightly. And then she turns to face him, fixing him with those startling eyes that have haunted his dreams for six long years. They skim over him, drinking him in, but if anything she's gotten even better at controlling her reactions. Other than the initial glimmer that she thinks he looks good, she's not giving away anything.
"What are you doing here, Booth?"
It comes out like the most natural thing in the world, as if she last said it yesterday instead of over half a decade ago. He holds up the file in his hand.
"Official FBI business. And don't even try to give me the runaround like you did with Jacobs. I don't intimidate."
The young man at her side opens his mouth in a silent gasp. Clearly, he's not used to seeing someone stand up to her. Brennan simply watches him intently, as if to assess the sincerity of his words. Finally, after what seems to be some sort of warped showdown, she snaps off her gloves and steps away from the platform.
"Zack, please finish up here." Stepping close to him (close enough to smell, to touch, goddammit he thought he was over this), she actually, unbelievably, smiles. "Come on Agent Booth. I'll give you ten minutes to plead your case over a cup of coffee."
"Coffee?" he croaks.
"Think you can manage that?"
She moves ahead of him, swaying her hips slightly. He shakes off the shock, grins, and catches up, tucking his hand in that familiar place at the small of her back.
"I think there's a moment for two people. A single moment where they can either catch fire or…"
The doorbell rings just as he's about to become a very happy man. Cursing whoever it is to a life of similar frustration, Booth heads for the door while slipping into his discarded shirt.
His recently self-appointed partner stands in the doorway, uncharacteristically expressive eyes lingering on his naked chest before she catches herself. "Yeah."
"Did we have an appointment?"
Brennan steps into the entryway, handing him a file. "No, uh…it's him. Masruk is the bomber."
Booth nods, having suspected as much. "I guess the wife didn't know the husband very well."
He is momentarily engrossed in the file. The sound of a familiar voice and Brennan's soft gasp hit him almost simultaneously.
He notices Brennan's wide-eyed stare towards the leggy blonde who is wearing one of his shirts, and not much else.
"Hi. Sorry," Brennan offers sheepishly. He's never seen her this flustered before. If he didn't know better, he'd say that she was… what? Jealous? Disappointed?
"Uh, this is Brennan. Bones, this is Rebecca. My wife."
"The infamous Dr. Brennan? I've heard a lot about you."
The infamous Dr. Brennan looks a little too startled to respond. Booth rubs his hands together self-consciously.
"Sorry Bec, it looks like—"
Parker wanders into the room, rubbing at his eyes. Booth kneels in front of the boy and ruffles his blond curls. "Daddy has to work. Go back to bed, Bub."
Rebecca ushers the little boy back to bed, as Booth ushers an equally dazed Brennan out the door.
She's been staring daggers at him for fifteen minutes.
His hands tighten on the steering wheel. "C'mon Bones. What is it?"
"You don't wear a wedding band."
"I'm not sure I understand why you never mentioned that you are married and have a child."
"It never came up. Why are you so upset about this?"
"I'm not upset. Actually, I'm happy for you. Relationships have anthropological meaning. No society can survive if sexual bonds aren't formed—"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
She uses their arrival at the Hoover as an excuse not to answer.
If anyone had told him how well they would work together, he would have laughed until his sides hurt. Bones is bossy, and condescending, and the most irritating woman he's ever met. She constantly questions him, pushes all of his buttons, and she does it on purpose. She drives him crazy, on purpose.
It's making him better.
They challenge one another in ways that could be completely counterproductive. Instead, it's the most successful partnership he could have ever imagined. And even though she's a complete pain in the ass, he likes her. He sees her, really sees her. The Temperance Brennan she shows the world is not the same woman underneath her solid shell of pain and loneliness, and he recognizes that. He respects that.
If things were different, if he weren't the type of man who values family above all else or if he didn't have a family to value, he would have made it his mission to chip away at her walls and reveal the amazing woman residing within.
As it stands, his mission is to be home in time for dinner with his wife and son.
He can't really pinpoint how or why it all changes. The when is clear enough, though. He's on her doorstep at midnight with Chinese instead of at home with his wife, and he knows he should feel guilty. But she's become a good friend, and she's just identified the bones of her own mother, and there doesn't seem to be anyone else she would let across her threshold.
He thinks Rebecca will understand.
When he holds her, after her whole world is turned on its axis by the story of a man who Booth is pretty sure killed her mother, the words he offers aren't false comfort.
He knows who she is. It's himself he's starting to worry about.
He holds her again as they watch her father and her brother drive away. Her whole family, found and lost in the span of a few days.
Well, not her whole family.
Because there's more than one kind. Of family, that is.
He tells her that, later.
He tells her that, and for a moment he wonders what it would be like to show her.
For weeks after, he'll berate himself for that moment of weakness.
That night, he gets home late and watches his son sleep for too many minutes to count. He thinks about how he cherishes this boy, and the boy's mother. How he would do anything for them, anything at all. He wonders what would happen if Rebecca ever asked him to stop working with Bones. How he would do it, but it would be like losing a piece of himself.
When he slips into bed beside her, his wife is warm and soft and familiar.
He tells himself it's enough.
Sully's a good man. Solid and dependable.
Booth tells her so, because she has a right to be happy. To be loved. He wants that for her, so he's glad that she's giving the thing with his old buddy a real shot.
Really. He's glad. It doesn't bother him at all when she brazenly informs him about their sexual escapades.
("Bones, I don't really need to hear—"
"Does Rebecca know you're so sexually repressed?"
"I am not sexually repressed. I am the least sexually repressed guy there is."
"Don't men discuss their conquests with one another?"
"We're not men, Bones."
"I mean, I am. You're… not."
"But… we're partners. You said that partners, they—"
"That's not exactly the kind of sharing I was talking about."
"I don't think I understand."
"Neither do I, Bones. Neither do I.")
After that particular conversation, he pounds into Rebecca on their dining room table and comes so hard he screams.
Standing in the shower, he tries not to notice that his heart feels as battered as the skin he's scrubbing raw.
She doesn't leave with Sully.
Booth still doesn't get why, but he's not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He only knows that watching Sully sail away without her is like being released from a vise.
He doesn't want to examine that one too closely, either.
When he tells her with conviction that everything happens eventually, it feels like he's making a promise he can't keep.
After everything they've been through together, she can still surprise him. She's laughing, and singing, and jumping around, and for a moment he sees the carefree girl that he hadn't dared hope still existed inside his partner.
He can't take his eyes off of her.
Until he hears someone call his name.
When he turns, there are a million things that happen in the span of a second.
He realizes his mistake with Pam Nunan.
He understands that there isn't enough time.
And (he's ashamed to admit it, more ashamed than for anything else he's ever done, and that's saying a lot), he forgets. Forgets that there are a wife and a son waiting for him, relying on him, needing him to come home. Forgets that he isn't free, that there are people he is responsible for, that there are promises he has made. Forgets about justice, and cosmic balance sheets, and all his sacred duties. Forgets about everyone and everything that isn't this woman who has mesmerized him with her startling eyes and vulnerable heart and fierce passion, his entire world in the crosshairs of a mad-woman's sights.
He steps in front of the bullet.
Three days after he's back from the dead, he comes home to packed bags.
"We need to talk," Rebecca informs him.
The words cut him more painfully than a bullet ever could.
"I'm going to stay with my parents for a while. We'll work something out with Parker, but this… us… it isn't working. Not anymore."
Her tone broaches no argument, and he knows her too well to think that trying will do any good.
"Why are you doing this, Bec?"
"You know why. We're not… who we should be to one another. Maybe we never were."
"We're married. We made vows. You know what that means to me."
"We're only married because we got pregnant Seeley, and you know that. You wouldn't have asked me otherwise. If I had been a stronger person, not so afraid of missing my chance at love, maybe I wouldn't have said yes and we wouldn't have ended up here."
He recoils as if slapped.
"How can you say that to me? You know I love you. This family is the most important thing there is."
"And yet you risked it all, risked your very life, for another woman."
There's nothing he can say to this, no argument he can make. Rebecca's right. That single, nearly subconscious decision spoke louder than any words ever could.
"You and Dr. Brennan have grown pretty close these last couple of years."
"She's my partner."
It sounds lame even to his own ears; this statement they've made countless times to explain away a connection that defies explanation. Rebecca outright laughs.
"Oh, God, are you still saying that? One of the things I respect most about you is that you don't lie. Not even to yourself. So please don't do it now. Don't use that ridiculous line to pretend you're something that you're not."
He stares mutely, unable to comprehend what is happening right in front of his eyes. Unable to hold onto something he's not sure it's right to be trying to hold onto in the first place.
"Becs," he whispers hoarsely, "please don't do this. Please don't leave me."
She presses a hand briefly to his cheek and smiles so sadly that he swears it breaks his heart.
"Oh, Seeley. You left me a long time ago. I'm just making it official."
When her phone calls and messages remain unanswered, Bones breaks into his house to find him sitting desolately on the living room floor.
Anger at his apparent lack of trust in her forgotten, she holds him through the night.
Her first sight back on American soil is her best friend flashing an astounded customer service agent.
"You know, diving in a pit of cadavers is no way to handle a messy break up."
"Angela, nothing Pete and I ever did was messy."
The artist laughs, arching an eyebrow suggestively. "Then you were not doing the right things."
Brennan shakes her head in affectionate exasperation, steering them toward the terminal for baggage claim.
"Hey, before I forget. Zack told me to give you a message."
"Why couldn't he tell me himself?"
Angela grins broadly, while struggling to keep up with her friend's brisk pace.
"Poor kid. I think he was afraid you'd kill the messenger."
Brennan slows marginally, frowning.
"There's been an FBI agent calling for you all day."
At this, the anthropologist stops walking completely. "I believe I made my position on consulting with them perfectly clear."
"Well, I guess somebody didn't get the memo."
"I assume that somebody is Booth?"
"I don't think so. Zack would have mentioned if it was him."
Brennan resumes walking at twice her previous speed, causing Angela to practically run after her.
"Hey, what happened with you guys, anyway? He's so…"
"Aggravating? Egotistical? Pig-headed?"
"Hot, Bren. Extremely hot."
The woman in front of her slows ten feet from the baggage carousel, and snorts gracelessly. "His marginally pleasing appearance doesn't change the fact—"
"Marginally pleasing? You're joking, right? I mean, even with that whole 'I'm a good Catholic boy' side-part he's got going, the man is sex on a stick. I could just eat him up."
"Despite your carnivorous inclinations towards him, I do not wish to have any further contact with Agent Booth. Or the FBI."
Angela sighs, throwing her hands into the air in exasperation. "Okay, okay, I give up."
She waits with her friend as pieces of luggage begin to circulate in front of them, and then: "Wait, did you just call me a man-eater?"
He intercepts her at the doorway to her office, and he looks every inch the part of an FBI agent. The same one who has been calling her, she presumes.
The first thing she notices is that he is aesthetically appealing. The second thing she notices is that he's not wound nearly as tight as Booth.
But she still has no interest in working with the FBI, and she intends to make that perfectly clear.
"You're a tough woman to get a hold of." He smiles charmingly.
"That's because I'm the best at what I do, which puts me in very high demand. It also makes my time exceedingly valuable, and right now, you're wasting it."
She brushes past him into her office, considering the matter closed.
Her visitor, apparently, does not share this perception. He follows her in, chuckling softly. "Wow, Booth wasn't kidding about you."
"Are you still here?"
The man sighs wearily, all traces of humor now gone from his face. "Look, Dr. Brennan… I'm sorry. We got off on the wrong foot here, and I... I really need your help."
She looks up at him, her clear blue eyes appraising his sincerity. Reading people has never been her strong-suit, but he looks genuinely distressed. He's come all the way down here; she may as well hear him out.
"You have three minutes," she says pointedly. "Agent…?"
He offers a tired smile, happy with the concession. "Sullivan. Tim Sullivan. Call me Sully."
"So, you see, Dr. Brennan? With Booth on medical leave for that damn back of his, part of his caseload falls to me. And with the decomposed corpse that was found this morning at Arlington National Cemetery, not in a grave, mind you, I'm in a hell of a bind. If you could just come down and take a look, you know, see what you think? I'd consider it a personal favor."
She says yes. Partly because he's piqued her interest, partly because he's attractive. Partly because she knows it will drive Booth insane that she's playing nice with an agent other than him. Not that she cares in the slightest. But still.
And that's how it starts.
They really do work quite well together. Sully is funny and unassuming. He listens to her opinion, taking it under advisement, and hardly ever arguing matters of scientific rationale. She agrees to consult on his cases, he agrees to take her into the field, and they continue to agree, about ninety percent of the time.
When they return from Washington state, where a human hand had been found inside a bear, their relationship is no longer just professional.
By their fifth case together, it's clear to Brennan that something isn't working.
Sully is a superlative sexual partner, and an excellent companion. He is a man of many interests and talents, a good man, and she finds their personal relationship more than satisfying.
It is the professional aspect that bothers her.
What they're doing is exceedingly important, and they're good at it. Better than good, in fact. What bothers her is that, while he is devoted to his job, Sully lacks the passion in his work that he brings to the bedroom. He cares, deeply. But it is not of paramount importance to him the way it is to her.
Suddenly, his agreeable nature, his unquestioning respect for her superior knowledge, his lack of resistance to follow her lead are not so satisfying after all.
If she was a woman who could admit to the merits of psychology, which she isn't, maybe she could understand her discontent. But as it stands, she doesn't realize that the dwindle of excitement, the unshakeable sensation that there should be something more that she's missing, is simply her brilliant mind expressing its need for a challenge. Its need for a challenger.
And so, they flounder on.
She decides to tell him that she no longer wishes to be in the field after the FBI Christmas party.
After about forty minutes of incomprehensible conversation with some of the other agent's girlfriends, she retreats to the bar for a drink. Turning with her refilled glass in hand, she meets an immovable object.
"Hey!" exclaims said object, upon finding some of her Long Island Iced Tea drenching his perfectly tailored suit.
"I'm sorry," she replies. She grabs a handful of napkins to help clean up the mess, only to stop in her tracks. "Oh. It's you."
He laughs lightly, not seeming to take offense. "Jeez, way to add insult to injury, Bones."
"Don't call me Bones."
"No can do. But, actually, I'm glad I ran into you. Well," he looks at his pants ruefully, "not literally, but I was hoping I'd see you tonight."
Brennan narrows her eyes suspiciously. "Why?"
"I just wanted to say, you know, congratulations. You and Sully have really been hitting 'em out of the park."
"I don't know what that means."
"It means that you work well together. Get cases solved."
"And your alpha male pride isn't wounded over another agent's superior performance?"
He looks a little taken aback, but quickly recovers. "Wow, you really don't pull any punches. No, Dr. Brennan, my pride isn't wounded. Because I don't matter. The victims, they matter. Their families matter. Not me, and certainly not my pride."
For a moment, she's shocked into silence. The ferocity, the passion, behind his voice and eyes stir something inside her. She's struck by the notion that she may have misjudged this man.
"I'm… I'm pleased to see that your lumbosacral ligament appears to no longer be causing you any discomfort."
Booth's brow furrows in confusion, although if it's due to her language or her sudden change of topic, she can't be sure. But he seems to accept that this is the turn the conversation has taken.
"Is that a squinty way of saying you're glad my back is better?"
Now it is her turn to be confused. "Squinty?"
"Yeah, you know. The way you science geeks squint at things?"
Perhaps she hasn't misjudged him as greatly as she thought, after all.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees a woman watching their interaction with great interest. Tall, blonde, long-legged. Exactly the kind of stereotypical archetype for beauty she would have imagined him with.
She points over his shoulder. "We've taken up enough of each other's time, Booth. It appears as if your date—"
"Tessa," he interjects firmly.
"Fine, Tessa, is wondering what's keeping you."
She makes to move past him as he puts out an arm to stop her, successfully knocking the remainder of the drink out of her hand. Brennan glares, wishing she had never heard the name Seeley Booth.
"Man, are you always this clumsy?" he teases. "Isn't that kind of… a detriment to your chosen profession?"
"Isn't being rude and completely unlikable a detriment to yours?"
To her great surprise, this evokes a hearty laugh. And, despite the fact that he really is the most irritating kind of man, she smiles in response.
"C'mon Bones," he says, steering her gently to the bar with a hand at her back. "I think I owe you a drink."
"So, you see, Bones? With Sully asking to scale back on the casework so he can play Renaissance Man with the carpentry and the sailing, they're probably gonna bench you too. I told Cullen that it would be a real shame to lose you, and with the skeleton they found in that fallout shelter over at Dupont Circle today… Sully said he's cool with us working this together. All I'm asking is for you to think about it, okay? Let bygones be bygones?"
She says yes. Partly because he's piqued her interest, partly because, despite what she told Angela, she finds him more than marginally attractive. Partly because she knows working with her will drive Booth insane. Not that she cares in the slightest. But still.
It probably won't last beyond this one case anyway.
She won't even need to go into the field. He'll just bring the whole shelter to her at the lab, and she can perform the cursory examination while everyone else is at the Jeffersonian Christmas Party. She'll satisfy her curiosity regarding Booth, and never have to deal with him again.
And that's how it starts.
You see two people and think they belong together, but nothing happens.
But it will. Someday, it will. Whether you chalk it up to fate or random convergence, whether the course of a life is altered or stays on track, no matter which out of a thousand possible encounters finds its way into existence, the only thing it really takes is time.
Because everything happens eventually.