'What have we got?' Booth stands a short distance from the remains, his hands stuffed in his trouser pockets. He is not fond of gloves, and keeps his hands tucked away to prevent accidental contact with potential evidence. And to avoid the ick factor.
'Looks female, late teens or early twenties. It's hard to say for sure.' The ME is kneeling beside the body, and Booth is reminded of Bones. She has been popping into his thoughts with increasing frequency ever since he received Angela's message. He does his best to keep her out, but it isn't always easy.
'Decomp is substantial, but there's still flesh here. Do you want to bounce this to Medico-Legal at the Jeffersonian?' The ME is looking up at Booth expectantly. He stares back absently, seeing someone else in her place.
'What? No,' he says, the abruptness of his answer surprising the ME, who is expecting a yes. 'No, our guys can handle this.'
'Okay.' The ME sounds slightly dubious, and Booth feels momentarily uncomfortable.
'Our guys can handle this,' he says again, more to himself than anyone else. He hopes he is right.
'Dr. Brennan!' Camille Saroyan disembarks from the forensics platform with her characteristic grace, the sharp click of her high heels reverberating through the cavernous workspace. 'Welcome back.'
Brennan nods professionally, looking mildly ridiculous with her arms full of anthropology journals, laptop and what appears to be a carefully bubble-wrapped human pelvis. 'Dr Saroyan.'
'How was Indonesia?' Cam asks, as she catches up with Brennan, who has barely broken stride and is headed in the direction of her office.
'It was very rewarding, from a research perspective.'
Cam almost collides with Brennan, who comes to a complete stop in her office doorway.
'Who are you?' Brennan's tone is accusatory. The man behind her desk, his fingers wrapped around a rather delicate looking coffee mug, freezes at the shock of the intrusion.
Brennan turns to Cam so suddenly that she almost drops her pelvis. 'Why is this man in my office?'
'Uh,' Cam draws the syllable out slightly longer than is necessary. She blinks, and introduces Dr. David Best, Dr. Brennan's temporary replacement.
Best sets his coffee down gingerly, and skirts around the edge of the solid wooden desk, his hand outstretched. 'Dr. Brennan. Such as pleasure to finally meet you.'
Brennan gazes at him, unconvinced, over the top of her stack of journals and human bones. Dr. Best smiles awkwardly. 'Sorry. Can I help you with that?' He is about Brennan's height, thin, with sandy blonde hair and almost delicate features.
'No, thank you,' Brennan slides past him into the office. 'I'll just put it down here. On my desk.'
Behind her, Cam rolls her eyes and steps in. 'Dr. Best has done a brilliant job filling your shoes this past year, so to speak.'
'I'm sure,' Brennan's tone suggests that she doubts this.
A high-pitched giggle escapes Dr. Best, who flushes bright red and says again, 'Sorry.'
'Obviously,' continues Cam, flicking a raised eyebrow in Best's direction, 'Dr. Best will not be remaining with us, now that you've returned.'
'That's right,' says Best, his blush receding. 'I'm heading back to Berkeley at the end of the week.'
Brennan is opening her mouth to reply, when she is nearly bowled over. 'Dr. B! Welcome home!' Hodgins, appearing seemingly from nowhere, envelops her in a bear hug, for which Brennan extricates herself with surprising tact
She turns to Hodgins. 'Thank you, but I've been home for five days.'
'Yeah, home in your apartment maybe, but not here home. Home-at-the-Jeffersonian home.' Hodgins' hair is shorter than Brennan has ever seen it, cropped so close to his scalp that the curl is gone completely. And he is clean-shaven. Hodgins notices Brennan inspecting him – she is not particularly subtle about it – and runs a hand over his head. 'Angela likes it,' he says, smiling goofily.
Brennan finds herself smiling back. 'It suits you,' she says, as the aforementioned Angela appears behind her husband.
'Welcome home, sweetie,' Angela links arms with Hodgins, and Cam rolls her eyes for a second time, a small smile playing on her lips.
'As I told Hodgins, I have been home for several days already. But…' she says, as Angela starts to speak, 'Hodgins is right. The Jeffersonian is a kind of home too, I suppose.'
'It has been suggested,' contributes Dr. Best who until now has stood, forgotten, behind Brennan, 'that, as a function of human social evolution, we have evolved to live in so called tribes, and that even now, in what could be considered a mass society, it is still our instinct to form strong social networks that operate in much the same regard as the more primitive tribal groups.'
'That's nice, David.' Angela makes a face, and Brennan, ignoring them, turns to Cam.
'Have we got a case? I'd like to get back to as soon as possible.'
'We've got some 1500 year-old remains for you to examine.' Cam's tone is falsely enthusiastic.
'Bones?' asks Brennan, trying to hide her disappointment that the FBI will not be involved.
'No, Tollund Man-esque,' Hodgins cuts in. His excitement is real and palpable. 'Our very own, real life, ancient bog body.'
'No, Northern Germany. The body arrived yesterday, so it's still fresh…relatively speaking.'
'He means no one has messed with it yet,' supplies Angela, knowing that Brennan prefers her working specimens to be uncontaminated by the sloppy prodding of other, less accomplished anthropologists.
Brennan, cheered at the prospect of an uncontaminated mummy, follows Hodgins out of her office. Stopping just outside the door, she turns to Best. 'Dr. Best, if you could clear my desk of all your things before the end of the day I would appreciate it.'
Booth stands in the FBI forensics lab, looking down at the decomposing remains of a young woman, aged somewhere between 18 and 25 years old.
'We've done a facial reconstruction,' the pathologist holds up a sketchpad. The girl looks back at Booth, her expression frozen forever by the reconstruction artist's careful hand. 'And we've run it through Missing Persons, but no matches.'
Booth sighs. 'Cause of death?'
'Drowning, though she was likely incapacitated by a single blow to the temporal bone.' The pathologist's gloved hand hovers over what is left of the girl's head. 'We found fractures.'
'Drowning? Are you sure? She wasn't found in water.'
'Sure as I can be, with so little flesh to work with. The blow would have knocked her out, but it wouldn't have killed her.' The pathologist's tone is abrupt, and Booth senses that his last question might have offended the guy a little.
'So, we have cause of death, but no ID.'
'Right. Look,' the pathologist is loosing interest in Booth rapidly. 'We've got a huge backlog, lots of bodies to examine. You won't get more from us, at least not in a hurry. Maybe it's time to call in your friends at the Jeffersonian.'
Booth's jaw tightens imperceptibly. 'Thanks,' he says to retreating pathologist's back. 'Thanks a lot.'
As he sits at the traffic lights in his FBI-issue SUV, Booth dials Cam's office number. 'Camille,' he says when she picks up on the fifth ring.
'Don't call me Seeley.'
'Don't call me Camille. What's up?' And so ends the friendly banter.
'I'm bringing you a body.' The lights flick to green and Booth accelerates through the intersection.
'Okay, I'll tell the techs.'
'Actually, I'm bringing Bones…Dr. Brennan…a body.'
The correction catches Cam's attention in a way that the use of Dr. Brennan's nickname never would have. 'Ah.' She doesn't need to say anything more.
Booth exhales through his nose. 'Angela told me she was back.'
'How far away are you?'
Booth glances in his rear-vision mirror, checking that the van carrying the remains is still behind him. 'Ten minutes.'
She is standing on the platform, bent over something Booth can't quite see. She doesn't look up, absorbed as she is in her work. Her hair is pulled back in it's standard ponytail, and her lab coat is still blue, and it could easily be a year ago. He could spring up the stairs to the platform, coat flying behind him like a cape, superhero that he is. He could say: 'What have you got, Bones?' and her gaze would track from the body on the table to his face.
But it is not a year ago, and they are neither of them those people. He stands just outside the Perspex doors that are the entrance to the lab, far enough away that the motion sensors can't see him, and the doors remain closed. She is thinner: he can see that even from a distance, and there are dark smudges under her eyes. He feels a rush of concern, and a wave of guilt that he wasn't there to protect her from whatever it was that caused the pain that is written so clearly across her face. And, uncomfortable at this sudden wave of emotion for the woman on the platform, he reminds himself that he has moved on, and swiftly crushes his guilt.
He had once promised her that nothing would change between them; that he would always be there. She had responded with some science babble about how everything changes, from a subatomic level up. Looking back, he can't help but think that maybe she had it right. Everything changes. Even them.
I know it seems like I'm drawing this out, the whole Booth-and-Bones-meet-again thing, but that's only because I'm drawing it out. Let's face it, they're not going to leap into each other's arms after a year apart.
P.S. Thanks everyone for your lovely reviews. Totally loving the validation.