A/N: Writing this story was a lot like throwing up. You feel absolutely sick to your stomach, and everything hurts, and every time you heave your entire body tenses and you feel like you're turning inside-out. But piece by piece it all comes out, and when it's over and you're left pale and shaking, you somehow feel better for it. Something toxic has left your system.
I started writing a very lengthy author's note, but it really wasn't worth reading. Well, maybe it was, but now the world may never know. It's probably better that I do less rambling anyway. So enjoy (as much as one can enjoy something like this) and let me know what you think.
The story didn't want to be written. It just didn't. Brennan closed the screen on her laptop and sighed, resting her elbows on the desk and setting her face in her hands. The lab was quiet—this early in the morning, it always was. Nobody else was there but a few night shift security guards, waiting impatiently for seven AM to arrive so they could leave. One guard in particular, a man named Jorge, poked his head into her office every hour or so with a smile and a wave. Just checking on you, he would say, his wrinkled face splitting into a soft smile as he nodded and left.
She didn't tell him she didn't need checking on, because to be honest it was nice to have the company. She had woken up just after three in the morning, sheets soaked with sweat, heart pounding, skin crawling as she thrashed against an unseen enemy. From that point on she had been wide awake, and very alone, so having the old man peek in every once in a while was welcome company.
She had lain in bed for an hour before the feeling of being watched through the dark became too unbearable. She turned on all the lights and the radio, and took a hyper-vigilant shower, peering around the edge of the frosted glass door every few minutes for a reason she couldn't pin. She felt stupid, but at the same time her unease had to be placated. Nobody had to know she was like a little girl in the dark, peeking under her bed with a flashlight to make sure there were no monsters waiting for her to close her eyes.
She arrived at the Jeffersonian at half past four, surprising Jorge as she slid her security pass through the door and let herself into the lab. They usually crossed paths as she was arriving and he was leaving at the 7 AM shift change, not this early in the morning when the streets were dead quiet, occupied only by street sweepers and the occasional late-night traveler. And people like her, too shaken to sleep, too unsettled to be alone in their apartments.
"Early morning?" he asked as she had entered the building. "Or late night?"
"Both," she said. He nodded.
"You need some coffee?" he asked. She shook her head. The last thing she needed right now was a stimulant. He shrugged.
"Suit yourself," he said. "Call if you need me." The moment he disappeared around the corner she wanted to call out, to make him return and sit with her. She remembered being five or six years old, having a bad dream and yelling out into the dark. She would hear her father's heavy footsteps thundering down the hall, and soon he would appear in her doorway, lit from the hall light behind him, rubbing his face and looking around with bleary eyes.
"What? Huh?" he'd ask, looking down at the little girl with her blankets pulled up to her chin, wide blue eyes wet with fearful tears.
"Bad dreams," she'd choke out, and he would sit on the edge of her bed and rub her back until she finally fell asleep. When he thought she was asleep and began to stand up she would whimper, and immediately he wound sit back down, never leaving her alone to sit with her fear. Now there was nobody to rub her back and chase the monsters away, and she had to sit with that fear all by herself. No superhero daddy to chase away the bad dreams.
She was a thirty-four year old woman, for God's sake. She didn't need anyone to chase down her demons or check under her bed, she was an independent adult who could take care of herself. That's what she told herself, anyway, when she jumped out of her skin in the parking garage when she heard someone's car trunk slam shut.
Where are you going? Shut up, come here, you ain't goin' nowhere…
"Stop," she said out loud, forcing herself into the present with the power of her voice. She gripped the edge of her desk, feeling the smooth surface beneath her fingertips. She was real, this was real; it was 2010, not 1992. Eighteen years later and she still couldn't tell the past from the present sometimes.
"Dr. Brennan?" She opened her eyes and looked up, seeing Jorge's portly frame standing in the doorway. "You a'right?"
"Yes," she said. "I'm fine, thank you." He nodded with raised eyebrows, giving her an extra moment's watchful stare before heading off again. When he was gone she let out a shaky breath and leaned back into her chair, closing her eyes and pressing the heels of her palms against them.
I still don't think it was fair, even though they gave me fair warning… the water was so hot…
It was hot. Stifling. In the middle of the summer, with the humidity permeating every pore of every thing, it was like being masked with a wet cloth. Every breath was labored, and every inch of her felt sticky and moist. It was like being locked up in the mouth of a monster, kicking against the cold metal teeth but it never opened its mouth. Glow-in-the-dark safety latches wouldn't be mandatory in cars until 2002—this '82 Corolla offered no way out. She couldn't get enough force behind her kick, her legs folded up and jammed into her chest. She was too tall and lanky at sixteen to be locked in the trunk of a car. Every part of her body ached, from her bent neck to her back to her cramped legs.
She wanted to yell out, but in the middle of the night there was nobody to yell to. Who would hear her? Who would think to look in the trunk of the car? The suburbs were sweetly deceptive—nobody would have ever guessed what went on behind each and every locked door. You never knew when hell was across the street. You only saw your neighbor's smiling face, their amicable wave, and that awkward, quiet girl they took in from the foster care system. She never really talked, but they assured you that she just needed to come out of her shell. She was clumsy, too—bruises all the time on her arms and shins. Tall, skinny girls were clumsy like that though, all knees and elbows.
That was the story. That was the statement given, laughing edgily, his stubby nails sinking into her shoulder. She would nod and look sideways, and nobody ever said anything. Nobody ever guessed, or if they did they did so quietly, lying awake at night staring out the window at the orange lamps illuminating the empty street. They never gave it a voice, or legs to stand on. It hid, and it grew, and it got uglier and uglier with each passing day.
Blood was still oozing out of her nose in a thin trickle, and she used the one hand that wasn't wrenched awkwardly under her head for support to wipe it away. She had fought when he pulled the car into the garage and tried to subdue her, lashing out at him with soft, ineffective blows. Her parents never allowed her and Russ to fight, she didn't know how to throw a punch to save her life. When he backhanded her, she fell hard, and it didn't take much from there before she was immersed in darkness.
All over a dish. Three pieces of broken china, cracked into nearly perfect thirds on the linoleum floor. They sat in the living room, half a dozen or more beer bottles littering the floor by the reclining chair, television blaring. The blue-green light from the TV screen was the only thing illuminating the house except for the light over the kitchen sink. She stared down into the dirty water, seeing her own rippled reflection between floating clumps of suds.
"You done yet?" she heard him ask. She hesitated to answer, then heard him speak again. He wasn't really asking her, he was just talking to the air. "Too fuckin' stupid to wash a dish. Gifted my ass… can't even wash a fuckin' dish… a dish for Christ's sake…" He downed the rest of the bottle, letting it hit the carpet with the others. Three beers when he got home from work, two scotches at dinner, and now a six pack and a half for a nightcap. She didn't have to see him to know that his eyes would be shot red, and his hands would shake and grasp at the air like they were looking for some neck to wrap themselves around. She didn't have to see it; she could hear it in his voice, in his incoherent, angry statements that required no answer, no acknowledgement, and in fact were better off unacknowledged.
It was caught up in this thought, in this moment, that she reached for the next plate and felt the slick ceramic slide through her wet, soapy fingers. Her stomach hit the floor when the dish did, and when it cracked, it was the only sound in the entire house. The television, his drunk rambling, it all faded away into background static. It was white noise, a backdrop for the sound like breaking bones, like the earth's crust breaking apart and swallowing her whole. She wished it would. She wanted nothing more than to disappear from that spot, from that moment, from that life.
He struck fast and hard, and the counter hit her in the middle of her back. He picked her up by her hair and dragged her face down to the floor, like she was a dog having her nose rubbed in her own mess. She could only vaguely hear his words—You see what you done? You see what you done?—because somehow, in some way, she wasn't there anymore. She was standing outside of herself, watching this happen. She saw an empty, glazed look take over her eyes as she bit down on her lip, making no sound disturb the beautiful, soft, snowing static.
And then she was in the car trunk. Somewhere outside the grasshoppers and cicadas chirped and whistled, and the hot water heater ticked and hummed, and the neighborhood slept, and she cried. She cried the kind of quiet, stifled tears that do not want to be found, that never see light. The kind you bite into your fist so you don't make a sound, choking on heaves of hot air as your face is streaked with the tears you blinked hard against, squeezed your eyes shut against, begged to stay inside.
You begged all of this to stay inside, to stay locked up and put away, to stay dissociated. You begged the girl you watched being shaken and backhanded and thrown to the ground to stay quiet, to bury it deep, to tie a rock to it and throw it in the water and just forget it ever happened. You begged her to run and stay away from you. You did not want to feel her. You did not want to see it through her eyes anymore. You didn't want to see through her eyes ever again.
The static faded, and Brennan became aware of where she was again. Weak light filtered in through the Jeffersonian's tall glass ceiling, and her hands were wet. She used her jacket sleeve to wipe the streaks of black from under her eyes and as she did, she realized someone was standing in the door frame, watching her with a worried scowl.
"Dr. Brennan?" Jorge asked. She sniffed in a would-be dignified way and soaked the last of the moisture into her sleeve, dabbing her face tenderly.
"I'm fine," she said brusquely, harsher and thicker than she wanted it to be. He released a long, drawn-out sigh and nodded.
"I'll get you coffee," he said, stepping out of the doorway. "Decaf, I think."
"Yes," she said, nodding. "That would be… thank you, Jorge." The old man gave her a look that was very knowing, and very sad, and somehow very easy to look at. It was not judging or pitying, it was not something she felt scorned by. It was just seeing.
He left her alone, his echoing footsteps shuffling off until they were inaudible. She was left with only her thoughts, which were in themselves far too much company for one person, for any one person.
She opened her laptop and pulled up a word document, and began typing. Perhaps this story wanted to be written after all.