A/N: New chaptered fic! I've been sort of playing around with a few different ideas for a little while, then today they all came together out of nowhere and formed the basis for this story. It's been forever since I wrote a chaptered fic... and yes, I am aware that I left "The Misfits in the Mountains" to rot, sorry about that. It was a really plot-driven fic and I have a terrible time writing those, so it kind of lost its luster to me. I would say that maybe one of these days I'll do something about it, but to be totally honest I probably won't. But I like this one, I'm going to stick with this one, be not afraid. :)
Anyway, enough of my rambling. Enjoy the beginning of this, and let me know what you think!
In all it's misery it will always be
What I love, and hated
And maybe take a ride to the other side
We're thinkin' of
We'll slip into the velvet glove
And be jaded...
- Jaded, Aerosmith
The sky was unusually dark for two o'clock in the afternoon when their plane landed, and Booth let out his first real breath since they hit turbulence over Georgia. They had flown through a thunderstorm that rattled the plane and its passengers, knocking drinks off of fold-out tables and forcing the flight attendants to take their seats. That storm had followed them all the way to Jacksonville, Florida, and their rainy landing had Booth gripping the arm rests of his seat as if he were trying to hold the plane together.
Brennan watched him bemusedly—she had never been particularly shaken by storms or by flying, so the combination of the two had not bothered her. The only thing that annoyed her was her small plastic cup of Sprite falling off the table and onto her lap, the cold sensation of liquid soaking through her pants snapping her out of her nap.
"I don't know what you're so bothered by," she had said as she pressed paper napkins into her jeans, soaking up as much liquid as she could. He gritted his teeth, shaking his head slightly.
"I just don't like turbulence," was all he said, at that moment and for the rest of their flight. Now that they were safely on the ground, though, he relinquished his grip on the arm rests and finally cracked a smile.
"We're here," he said, not bothering to hide his immense relief.
"You say that as if there was a real threat of us not making it," she said, following him down the narrow aisle of the plane, squeezed between harried passengers who, like Booth, seemed eager to get off of what they perceived as a winged death-trap.
"Come on, haven't you ever seen Lost?" he asked. She gave him a very plain look and he sighed. "Of course you haven't, what am I saying? You have got to get a TV."
"If watching television is endowing you with irrational fears about flight safety, then I'd rather not submit myself to similar brainwashing, thank you."
"It's not brainwashing, it's entertainment," he argued as they found the luggage carousel from their flight, waiting for the bags to start coming out.
"You didn't seem very entertained when we hit that turbulence an hour ago," she pointed out, and he made an indistinct growling noise, leaning over and grabbing her suitcase, then his a minute later.
By the time they got out to the rental car parking lot, the rain was coming down full force. They splashed through the waterlogged parking lot, bottoms of their pants soaking through with water as they found the tag number they were looking for. Booth unlocked the SUV and took Brennan's bag, letting her climb into the dry vehicle while he loaded up the luggage. She took in a breath of relief as she shut the car door behind her, settling into the seat. The air was so dense and humid here, especially when it rained, that she could barely catch her breath outside. It was oppressive and thick, a feeling similar to breathing through a wet cloth. A minute later Booth stepped up into the driver's seat and quickly shut the door, shaking his head like a wet dog.
"Geez, it's really coming down," he observed, cranking the engine. Cold air blasted out of the vents, and while normally in this climate that would be appreciated, with both of them soaked through with rain they quickly began to shiver. She turned off the air and pulled the printed out directions from her bag.
"We're supposed to get onto I-95 out of the airport, then left onto Florida 9A, then right onto A1A and take it all the way to St. Augustine. After St. Augustine you turn left onto A1A Beach Boulevard, and the neighborhood where the bodies were found is supposed to be on the left."
"Sounds easy enough," he said, flicking the wipers on high speed. "If we can get through this weather."
"I just hope the remains have been secured, I'm afraid some of the evidence might wash away in rain like this," she said.
"The crime scene investigators here are used to these conditions, I'm sure your remains are fine," he comforted, pulling onto the interstate. They drove down the interstate at a cautious speed, and while Booth had not seen a Doppler radar image of the storm, he was quite sure that it was very dark, very wide, and passing straight over north Florida. It seemed that no matter how far they drove or how long they had been on the road, the rain never stopped.
"I don't know what I'd do if it rained like this in D.C.," Booth said a few minutes later as they pulled to the side of the interstate, parking the car and putting their flashers on. Most other drivers had done the same, because at this point the rain was coming down so hard that they could not see the hood of their own car. They could barely see two blinking pinpricks in the distance, the flashers of the car ahead of them.
"It's certainly a different climate," Brennan observed, seeming agitated. "I really hope they've secured the remains, this kind of rain could destroy valuable evidence…"
"Bones, it's fine," Booth insisted. "I'm sure they've got it covered, they live here, this is nothing new to them." She made a humming sound that did not seem to agree but didn't argue any further. Suddenly the sky was illuminated by a white hot strike of lightning. They both jumped and Brennan sucked in a sharp gasp. Simultaneously a peal of thunder roared around them, shaking the SUV.
"You okay?" he asked, and it was at that point she realized she was grasping onto his arm tightly. She let go immediately, folding her hands into her lap.
"Sorry, I…" She coughed, not knowing what she was sorry for.
"That was some lightning, huh?" he said, allowing her to bypass her awkward apology. She seized the offer and nodded.
"Yes, it was," she said. "It looked to be less than a hundred meters away."
"English, please?" he asked. She scowled at him.
"Roughly three hundred feet, or less," she clarified.
"Oh, like the length of a football field," he said. She shrugged.
"If that's how long a football field is, then yes. Did you know that the state of Florida has the highest average number of lightning strikes per year in the entire country?"
"I did not know that," he said, looking a little amused. "I also don't know how it is that you know that Florida has the most lightning strikes, but you don't know how long a football field is."
"I prioritize my intake of information, Booth. Football is useless knowledge; meteorology is science." Booth opened his mouth, ready to argue vehemently against the categorization of football as 'useless knowledge', but he then shut his mouth and shook his head instead. It wasn't worth arguing about, not when he knew it was a losing battle.
A few minutes later the storm lightened up to the point where he could see the road in front of them, and they continued on their way. It was still a fierce storm though, and they would have missed their turn onto A1A entirely if there hadn't been an ocean blocking them from driving any further east.
"You know, there's still an active archaeological site in St. Augustine. It's the oldest European-occupied city in the entire country, and they're still making new finds. I find that incredible."
"Yeah? Interesting," Booth said, having nothing useful to contribute to that conversation.
"Has Catherine ever come down to Florida to work at their marine bioscience labs?" she asked.
"I don't know," he said vaguely. "I haven't asked."
"Oh," was all she said. He started to open his mouth to ask her something about Hacker, before he realized that he didn't actually care about Hacker's life. In fact, he frequently wondered why Brennan was so curious about Catherine's work and personal life, but he had never asked her about her questions. He didn't want to unwittingly throw himself into an awkward conversation like the ones that had plagued their partnership over the past few weeks, so he kept his questions to himself.
By the time they reached St. Augustine Beach the rain had mostly passed them, still falling but nothing like what was coming down previously. They could finally see the ocean from the road, which had been obscured by the sheets of rain before. The waves were dark and choppy, and for as far as they could see out into the sky there was cloud cover. It was not an ideal day for a trip to the beach, that was for sure. Soon the view of the beach was blocked by rising dunes and clusters of houses and condos, and before long they saw a sign that read, "Sandbar Estates."
"That's the one," Brennan said, and Booth made a left turn into the neighborhood, which was lined in the front by palm trees and sand-hardy shrubs. The neighborhood itself was less of a neighborhood and more of a circular drive. The large expanse of grass in the 'donut hole' of the circle had a tennis court, a set of swings, and a few picnic tables with a grill pit. Along the right side were large, sprawling two-story houses, colored in typical beachfront deco and practically oozing money.
"Wow," Booth said as they slowly wound around the circle, easily finding the crime scene as it was the only house wrapped in yellow tape. "This is some neighborhood, huh?"
"Beachfront property is extremely valuable. I wouldn't be surprised if these houses were in the million dollar plus range," Brennan said. He nodded.
"I wonder how much it hurts the property value to have someone die in your house," he mused. She shrugged and zipped up her rain coat as he brought the car to a halt outside of the house. He pulled the hood over his head to protect him from the rainfall and they walked around the back of the house, where several crime scene investigators were still milling around.
"Seeley Booth, FBI," Booth said, flashing his badge at the first officer he saw.
"John Petre, St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, how're you doin'?" he asked, shaking Booth and Brennan's hands.
"Wet," Booth said, and the officer laughed. "This is my partner, Dr. Temperance Brennan."
"Nice to meet you," Officer Petre said, nodding. "The remains are over here, under the house." They walked with him across the wet grass to where the dune sloped down, turning quickly from sparse grass to sand. Around the back of the house was a wooden deck perched up on stilts, which had a staircase that wound around the front and side of it leading to the bottom of the dune. The officer lead them underneath the stilted deck, walking between the posts holding it up and beginning to climb up the slope. It was drier under here and Brennan was glad—it was less likely that any evidence would be lost under here. They continued to scale the dune until the stilts became much shorter, and they realized they were underneath the house itself at this point.
"Most properties along the beach are stilted," the officer explained as they practically crawled in the small space beneath the home. "Being so close to the water, if a bad storm comes through it wouldn't take much of a rise in the tide for the house to flood. This way if the water rises high, the house is still mostly safe."
"Makes sense," Booth said, finding it increasingly uncomfortable in the small space. Ever since the day he was locked in that toy submarine, small enclosed spaces gave him the serious heebie-jeebies.
"Here they are," the officer said, indicating slightly ahead to an area of dug-out sand where they could see the edge of the badly decayed remains. "We didn't move 'em out because we figured you'd want to see the way they were put in there and all."
"Thank you," Brennan said, struggling to reach back into her pockets in the cramped space and pull out a pair of rubber gloves. "That is very useful to me." She began pushing sand away from the bodies until she could properly see one of the faces, or rather, what was left of a face.
"What've we got, Bones?" Booth asked.
"Racial markers indicate Caucasian," she said. "Given the bluntness of the eye orbits and the robust mandible, I'd say male. Teeth indicate middle age, maybe forties. I'll be more able to tell once I see the full skeleton. The other one," she began, pausing to brush more sand away from the second skull she found, "also appears to be white, but sharp eye orbits and a smaller nasal aperture and more modest mandible indicate female. Teeth suggest middle age as well."
"So a white middle aged couple, then?" Booth asked. She nodded.
"It appears to be, although we'll need positive identification to know for sure."
"Right," he said. "Okay, well, let's get these guys bagged and on their way to the lab." They spent the next hour carefully excavating and bagging the partially-fleshed remains, and when they were done they were put in a truck bound towards Jacksonville.
"So how did these get found anyway?" Booth asked as they stood underneath the porch with the officer, shielded from the rain which was still coming down.
"Neighbors called. They said they smelled something dead, but we told 'em it was probably just the low tide smell. We've had a lot of die-offs wash onto shore lately, the low tide smell is terrible on hot days. But when the tide came up and it still smelled, we came to look. We thought maybe a dog had dragged something under the house maybe, but then we found… well, that. So we called you, and here you are."
"And that was this morning?" Booth asked. Officer Petre nodded.
"Yep, just after sunrise, around seven. We called y'all right after we saw how rotted they were."
"Gotcha," Booth said. "Okay, I'm going to need to talk to all of the neighbors over the next couple of days."
"Y'all sticking around?" the officer asked. Booth nodded.
"The remains are going up to our team, but we'll be here for a while working the case. What's your read on it? You're from around here, you know this area." Officer Petre chewed on the inside of his cheek for a minute before he spoke.
"Well, it's a real high-end neighborhood, I'm sure you noticed," he said. "But it's right on the beach, so anyone can walk up from the beach into the back of the neighborhood, it's not like it's gated or anything."
"Right," Booth said. "What about the people here? What are they like?"
"Well, they're alright I guess," Officer Petre said. "From a legal standpoint, you know, they never cause any trouble for us. They're a real close-knit neighborhood, lots of block parties—course we never get called out to 'em, not like the parties the spring break kids have down the beach a little further, towards Crescent Beach—and they're just a quiet group of people. Rich and quiet."
"No problems with any of them that you know?" Booth asked. Petre shrugged.
"I mean not that I know off the top of my head, but I reckon you'd have to look 'em up in the system to be a hundred percent sure. Everyone's got their secrets, especially in a neighborhood like this one. You know how it is."
"Any segment of society, whether it's an entire region or just one neighborhood, functions as its own distinct subculture," Brennan piped in. "They have their own customs, expectations, taboos, pastimes, even their own distinct dialect in some cases."
"Sounds about right," Officer Petre admitted. "These people are like their own little society. They keep to their own."
"That will make eliciting information problematic," Brennan said. "Distinct subcultures, as a general rule, do not divulge much about themselves to outsiders. Booth, remember the circus people we lived with?"
"Circus people?" Officer Petre interrupted. "Like, a circus circus?"
"Yes," Brennan answered. "A traveling circus. Anyway, Booth, remember how we had to go undercover because otherwise they wouldn't cooperate with us? These people function in a similar way, as a distinct subculture. Often members of the elite upper-class see themselves as above the law, and they will protect both themselves and each other against law enforcement's attempts to bring them down to the level of the law. Fraud, money embezzlement, the economic collapse… white-collar crimes, and much more common than most people think. People in these types of elitist, wealthy subcultures see themselves as powerful enough to bend the rules to suit their needs. Breaking that will be very difficult." Booth considered her words, cracking his knuckles.
"Maybe," he said slowly, carefully considering something unspoken. "Hey Bones, did you see that "For Sale" sign outside the house next door? The blue one?" Brennan gave him a cautious look.
"You don't mean…"
"You said it yourself. They resist outsiders, they think they're above the law, and they're an exclusive, tight-knit group. There's no way to break through unless we become a part of that."
"More undercover work?" she asked, and he wasn't sure if she sounded apprehensive or excited, or both. He nodded.
"Yeah. I mean, if we can get the owner of the property to let us use the house, and who's going to say no to the FBI?"
"Well, legally anybody can, it's their third amendment right, no quartering without consent," she said. He shrugged.
"Yeah, but like I said, who's going to say no? We'll see. I think it's a good idea. What do you say, Bones?" She bit down on her bottom lip, then nodded.
"Well, I suppose you're right, it would be the most effective way to break into their social group and get the most information about the murder…"
"That's the spirit, Bones," he said, moving to put his arm around her shoulder like he always used to—but then, feeling the awkwardness of their partnership like a tangible barrier pushing them apart, he let his arm drop to his side instead.
"Well it sounds like y'all have it worked out," Officer Petre said. "If you need anything from us, just give me a holler."
"Will do, thank you," Booth said. He and Brennan left the scene, walking through the light drizzle back to the SUV parked outside of the yellow tape. Booth looked around hesitantly, making sure none of the neighbors were watching, then pulled one of the fliers out of the box on the edge of the yard. He slipped into the vehicle and looked down at the paper.
"Doesn't list a price," he said, pulling out of his cell phone. "Bet you it's seven figures." Brennan didn't respond though; she was too busy tending to the knot growing in her stomach. When they had gone under cover at the circus, it had been wonderful, but now? After what had happened between them? The last thing she could imagine was being with him every moment, day and night, sleeping under the same roof. Not that she didn't want to be with him, but the awkwardness between them… she was afraid it might break them, really break them. They were barely making it as it was, just seeing each other at work and maybe for a beer after they closed a case. Could they really survive another undercover operation?
She hadn't been paying attention as he spoke to the owner on the phone, but she became aware when he flipped the phone shut, grinning.
"They said yes," he said, practically buzzing. "They said they'd love to let us use the house for an undercover gig—well if, you know, we're real. She was kind of skeptical, but she said sure, if we're real then she'd be happy to. Said it'd be 'patriotic' for them, to help the bureau. How great is that? I told you they'd do it." Brennan smiled and nodded, but the smile didn't quite extend to her eyes.
"Yeah," she said as he revved up the engine. She looked out the window at the empty blue house, then at the water droplets on the window in front of it, blurring the building and sea beyond them. "Great."