It happened in an instant and left her standing alone, hands covered in soap bubbles, while he stormed out of the room. They'd been cleaning up the last of the dinner dishes, Booth drying and putting away each item as she finished with it, when he abruptly threw down the towel and walked out.
Puzzled, she rinsed her hands and went looking for him.
He was sitting on the couch, elbows resting on his knees, shoulders hunched forward. He didn't answer.
"Are you okay?" She sat down beside him and reached for his hand, looking for signs of an injury. "Did you cut yourself?"
He pulled away. "I'm fine, Bones. Just ... Give me a minute, okay?"
She sat back, tucking her feet underneath her and folding her hands in her lap. But as time dragged on and he continued to sit silently, she wondered if maybe there was something else she was supposed to do. Should she rub his back? Say something? Get him a glass of water?
"That song you were humming," he finally said in a low voice. "What was it?"
He looked up, a hint of irritation in his eyes. "Just now. In the kitchen."
"I was humming?" She searched her memory. "Oh. That. It's called 'Look to the Rainbow.' Do you know it?"
A sigh rippled across his shoulders. "I used to."
So that was the reason he was acting like this. Something else lost to that damned tumor. At least this time it was something she could fix. "It's a simple melody, Booth. I can teach it to you—"
She blinked, taken aback by his vehemence.
"I mean," he said more softly, "no. Thank you."
"Oh. Okay, then."
He didn't say anything else, and Brennan began to wonder if she should leave him alone and return to the kitchen, but as she was about to get to her feet his voice drew her back down.
"Mom used to sing that."
Oh. And then ... "Oh."
He glanced at her and then away. "Yeah. Oh."
"I didn't know. If I had known, I wouldn't have hummed it."
"It's okay. It just hit me kind of hard."
"Music can't actually hit, you know. Unless it's loud enough to damage your tympanic membrane. And even then it would take extended exposure--" She saw him watching her, recognized the look in his eyes. "That isn't what you meant, is it."
He went back to staring at his hands, and Brennan went back to waiting.
"There was this one night," he said, just as Brennan was starting to think about getting up again. "It was late, and I was supposed to be asleep, but I had this …" The corner of his mouth quirked just a little, and his hands moved in demonstration. "This cheap little plastic flashlight. I used it to look at baseball cards after my parents sent me to bed. I'd traded for some new ones that day and I wanted to memorize the stats, so I was awake when Dad came home."
His smile faded. "He was drunk, and he laid into Mom about something. I don't even remember what it was, but I remember the fear in her voice." He stopped. Took a breath. "I pulled my pillow over my head, but I could still hear them—Dad yelling and Mom crying, and then I heard this crash and she made this horrible little whimper, and I knew he'd hurt her." His hands curled into fists. "I wanted to go to her, to try to protect her from him, but I was too scared."
The admission cost him. Booth placed a high value on strength and honor. He would have felt duty-bound to defend his mother. But he was so little, and his father was big, angry, and drunk. It was no wonder he'd been scared. He'd done the wise thing, staying in his bed, but the Booth she knew wouldn't see it that way. The Booth she knew would see it as weakness. Maybe even cowardice.
And he'd be wrong. Her personal—though admittedly subjective--observations indicated that he was the strongest and most honorable man she knew. He needed to know that. And here at last, she realized, was something she could do to help.
"Being scared might have saved your life that night. Your mother's, too."
It was brutal. She knew that. But when he snapped his head around to stare at her she continued her train of thought, determined to make her point.
"You were just a little kid, Booth. If you'd gone out there he probably would've hit you, too. And then your mother would have tried to defend you and--" She hesitated, thinking of a kid she'd known in high school who'd ended up in a wheelchair after being shoved down the stairs by an angry mother. "It could have been really bad for both of you."
She wanted to touch him, but she wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do in a situation like this. Then again, if she were the one who was upset Booth would reach out to her. He'd done it before. in the end she rested her hand on the cushion between them.
"She came in later." His fingers brushed over hers, and she felt the pressure of a light squeeze. "She always came in to check on me before she went to bed." He stroked his thumb across the back of her hand as he talked, but she could tell he wasn't really aware of it, his mind on the events of that night. "I didn't want her to worry so I pretended I was asleep, but the shade was up, and it was a clear night outside my window. I could see that her cheek was cut and swollen, and she had a split lip." He paused. Took a breath. "And she was crying."
Her eyes stung as she pictured it in her mind the little boy in superhero pajamas who didn't feel at all like a superhero.
"That must have been very hard."
His chin dipped in acknowledgement. He breathed out, then in. "She sang that song. I'd heard it before; it was one of her favorites. But that night was different. Her voice was kind of soft and quivery, and she had to stop a couple of times because she was crying so hard. But she made it all the way through. Afterwards she sat with me for a long time, and I was almost asleep when she finally stood up. She kissed me--" His free hand rose to his forehead, fell away again. "Then she straightened my covers, set my baseball cards and flashlight on the dresser, and left." When he looked over at her there were tears in his eyes. "It was the last time I ever saw her."
She knew Booth well enough to know he'd probably never told that story before. Her chest felt tight, and tears burned behind her own eyes.
"I don't know your mother, but I think--" She turned her hand over and laced her fingers through his. "I think she would be very proud of you."
There was a kind of intensity in his expression that she didn't completely understand. It made warmth unfurl in her stomach.
"You're a good man, Booth--a man any mother would be proud of."
"Yeah?" There was hope in his voice. And something else. Something young and vulnerable. Which made no sense at all. But it was the only description that seemed to fit. She squeezed his hand.
He stared at her until she started to think maybe there was something else he wanted from her, something she'd neglected to say or do.
"You know that line, follow the fellow who follows a dream?"
She nodded. "What about it?"
"Do you think you'd ever follow a man who followed his dreams?"
"I have my own dreams to follow, Booth. I don't need anybody else's." She slanted a speculative look in his direction. "I might walk alongside, though. Just, you know, to see where he was going."
"To see where he was going." He said it slowly, a laugh in his voice.
"That's right. It'd be interesting, don't you think?"
"Yes," he said. "I think maybe it would." He hesitated. Then, "That line doesn't work quite right if you change it, but I think it'd be kind of interesting to hang out with a woman who follows her dreams, too."
"You think so?"
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes before Brennan got to her feet. "I have a dream right now," she said. "Would you like to hang out with me while I follow it?"
"Maybe," he said, getting to his feet beside her. "What's the dream?"
She grinned. "I'm dreaming of a clean kitchen and a cold beer."
Humor rose in his eyes. "Now that's a dream I can get behind."
He took her hand in his again, and the simple act seemed somehow both familiar and affectionate.
A/N: The song, "Look to the Rainbow" comes from a 1968 musical named Finian's Rainbow, starring Fred Astaire and Petula Clark. At last check, a clip of the relevant segment was available on YouTube.