They try phone calls at first, staticky ones when she can get a connection because the middle of the jungle isn't ideal for reception. But it's not the same. There are still murders in the world but their relationship has been reduced to less than coffee because if one person is in Indonesia and one person is in Afghanistan, at what point will they meet for a cup of coffee? Eventually the calls get fewer and fewer because he's not sure about her, but he can't stand the forced laughter, the awful gaping pauses, the fact that most of their conversation is taken up each time by news of what all their friends are doing. So the calls slow down to every once in a while and life goes on despite the loneliness.
He wants to call her all the time, wants her permanently speed-dialed into his brain. The first time one of his soldiers dies (and even if he's not in the field with them, even if they're not in his unit, if he trained them or knew them or saw them crying over a letter from home, they were his soldiers) and the second time and the third, he's half way through dialing her number before he stops himself. He wants her to say insensitive things about the inevitability of death. He wants to tell her that some of the younger kids have taken to calling him Father and coming to see him instead of the chaplain and how that makes him feel proud and guilty at the same time. He wants to ask her if he is doing the right thing, because he questions every minute, and to have her give one of her Bones-solid answers with no room for doubt.
When the others share stories about their wives or girlfriends or "this hooker I got one time in Atlantic City," he talks about Rebecca and Cam and even mentions Catherine (even though they were never really together because they could never seem to find time to go on a date, which was good because it just made it easier to tell her that he's pretty sure that they couldn't do long distance and he doesn't want to put her through that, so no hard feelings?) and hopes to God that none of the guys are Brennanites.
He's always alone at night. Not that there aren't opportunities for things to be otherwise (even the uniform can't hide the shapes of some of the prettier MPs and there's a girl who works with her mother at a fruit stand who always slips him an extra of whatever he's buying) and he tells Jared this whenever his brother spares a minute from his summer in Greece with Padme to give him a call, which inevitability gets around to some variation of "Are you moving on?".
He thinks maybe he should. But Seeley Booth has always had kind of a knight thing going on and didn't it take a hundred years for Sleeping Beauty to wake up for her prince? (Although there might have been some sort of time difference there. He's not as clear on fairy tales as he would have been had Parker been a Juliet like Rebecca swore up and down he would be.)
He passes around his son's picture, but always makes sure it's safely tucked back into it's place before he goes to bed. They talk twice a week before Parker goes to bed (even if it means getting up earlier than anyone else) and email more often. When Booth says "I've gotta go, Bud," Parker always says "Okay Dad, go be a hero," which makes Booth feel like Popeye after his spinach. On days when he loses a guy or really misses being able to grab a beer and watch the game, he pictures his son's sweet smile and his heart fills with all the joy and protectiveness he felt when he held his baby boy for the first time.
He doesn't picture his partner's smile, although he has long ago memorized each contour of her expressions.
He stays on base a lot, and it's as safe as it can be in a war zone. But there's one day when one of their interpreters brings his brother along, a brother who has been going to a lot of secret meetings at a nearby mosque. Booth's talking to one of the locals near the perimeter and has one of those moments when his sniper senses turn on and he doesn't even tell Satar to hold on a minute before he's running toward the stranger at the gate. He hasn't played weekend football in months, but he still pulls off an impressive tackle, ripping off the guy's tunic and shouting for everyone to get down. The people waiting for him back home don't cross his mind until after the bomb squad has confirmed that the mosque didn't give great training in bomb-making skills. He stares at his pinky, still shaking from the adrenaline, and hears Bones's voice in his head telling him not to be a hero.
He sometimes pictures them at the coffee cart. Will either of them be late? Will she come bearing the news of Angela's pregnancy? Will he still be in his fatigues? Will they do that dramatic, running-in-to-each-other's-arms thing like in the movies? (He doubts it.)
Will anything be the same?
Around his ninth month overseas, the commander comes around. He's a nice guy who Booth's met a couple of times before, and they talk about their kids for a few minutes (he's got a son and a daughter, both older than Parker) before it's down to business. The commander starts in with the duty to the country bit and then moves on to the benefits he'll get if he stays on for another year (the old army thing, because there are so few good men left who will fight just out of loyalty to the country) but this time there isn't even a moment of hesitation about his choice. The commander squints for a minute (that steely-eyed squint that Booth thinks would terrify him if he were either of those kids waiting for their dad back in Helena, Montana) analyzing Booth. He nods once, crisply, and turns the topic to sports.
The guys around the base aren't the type to throw him a goodbye party, but they give him some jokey presents- a bagful of MREs ("cause who wouldn't miss freeze dried bat shit?"), a picture of him drooling in his sleep- and badger him all night about who he's first going to bang when he's stateside again. He thinks off-handedly of his spur of the moment goodbye party in DC, which leads him to take a minute to wonder about how all the squints are, and it gives him a little bit of a shock to remember that in a few hours, he won't have to wonder anymore.
In the morning, he's driven to the airport by PFC Kumura. He was in the first group Booth trained way back at the beginning, a clownish kid who brought along all his paintball medals from back home. Kumura's grandfather was in the 442nd during World War II, but the kid never has a serious moment, couldn't find his gun unless it were hanging between his legs.
Still, the private has the salute thing down and barks a good "Sir!" as Booth steps out of the jeep beside the terminal. Booth salutes back, wondering if this is going to be the last time he feels that old military stiffness in his spine. He's turning away as Kumura says "Sir!" again, but he turns back. The kid hands him something square and gift-wrapped with a teenaged, my-mom's-making-me-do-this expression that shows that he's not not quite army yet.
"From all of us," the private says, and Booth thanks him without unwrapping it because they're not quite ready for one of those moments.
He looks inside later, when he seems to be the only one still awake on the plane, too keyed up to sleep. It's a little wooden plaque that looks like local work (although local is soon going to mean Bethesda again), with intricate Arabic art around the edge and the Lord's Prayer engraved in the middle. Booth smiles as the possibly gay news photographer next to him snores in his ear. He takes out the duty free catalog and tries to find something really cool for Parker and tries not find something for Bones (because it's duty free and they've got perfect things for everyone).
She wants to call him when they get to the dig and she realizes that she's forgotten a lot about wilderness living, but that she's a little excited about relearning. She wants to call him when Dr. Marumbi, whose work was a large part of her dissertation, compliments her on her notations on the spinal cord of one of the females. She wants to call him to ask how she is supposed to behave around Daisy, who doesn't seem to really be appreciating the opportunity they've been presented with and is acting more like Fisher than like herself (although she was back to her old shrieking self when Brennan found the spinal anomalies, but who could blame her for that?).
She doesn't call because more than she wants to ask his advice in areas where she is seriously lacking in knowledge, more than she wants his encouragement or his mispronunciations, she wants to get back to being the Temperance Brennan who hiked across China, who's stood over graves in countries most people haven't heard of.
She tells herself that it all has nothing to do with Booth, that it was merely an amazing career opportunity, one that she wouldn't have hesitated over for a second had it come before the first time Seeley Booth walked into that lecture hall. And since she's gotten really good at telling herself things- things like "it makes no sense to love your father" or "you and Booth are just partners,"- it almost sticks. But when the bugs coming through the holey mosquito netting in her tent so thickly she can't sleep, sometimes she'll let her treacherous mind open up to the thought that maybe she wants to know that she can go on without him.
She worries about him all the time. It will come to her suddenly, as she examines what might be an early tool. She'll take a sip from her canteen and suddenly Booth will be in her brain, yelling at soldiers, groaning about the lack of decent coffee. And she'll imagine all the attacks and mistakes that could happen. She knows that even if she were dialed into his brain 24/7, he would still be a hero because he was Booth.
And then she'll come back and berate herself for her sentimentality. He's well-trained and exceptionally skilled, and he promised that he would just be a trainer on a base, not a target.
There's an archaeologist who she met in her first days in Maluku, French, but with exceptionally good English. He knows Dr. Goodman from a recent conference and they start talking about that, but soon they're laughing over the team of paleontologists who returned disappointed to their institution after a few weeks (although it's beyond the understanding of either Dr. Brennan or Dr. Lenoire as to why they thought a site of multiple humanoid remains would have any application at all to paleontology).
Lenoire is smart and relatively handsome (despite some unfortunate facial hair that Brennan is not particularly fond of). They are the last ones up, discussing cooking as an art versus cooking as a science, when she invites him back to the well-equipped private tent that is a benefit of being the head of a project of this importance.
Close to morning, she shakes his sweaty shoulder (it doesn't bother her; Temperance Brennan has never been squeamish and anyway, sweat is just something you have to get used to in the jungle) and asks him to leave before anyone else wakes up. She doesn't want to undermine her image as the leader of the team any more than it was on the first day when Dr. Moretti asked her to get coffee and when would her boss, Dr. Brennan be arriving to head up the digs. Lenoire doesn't seem to mind at all. In fact, he seems to mind so little that it's a almost insulting. He treats her as a colleague for the rest of the week and when they work late together (he's analyzing section B4 of the dig while she does C4), she leaves before he does and goes to bed alone.
She doesn't tell Angela any of this when they video conference later in the week. She thinks Angela might be able to tell, but she doesn't mention it. Instead they talk about the new technique she learned for making impressions of skull remodeling or the new bakery Angela found that's "keeping her fat and happy." They both laugh when Brennan responds, "Isn't that supposed to be Hodgins's job?" and move on to trading the stories about the trouble Cam's been having finding a new forensic anthropologist. The stories make Brennan smile, not because they're amusing (although they are; it seems that there are a lot of eccentrics in her field, like the latest test case who, when it looked like he would get the job, began insisting on working without pants on), but because each failed attempt at finding someone to fill her position shows that she's not so easily replaceable.
Each time she and Angela finish a conversation, she misses her best friend's perspective and knowledge, but at the same time she is relieved that they went another session without talking about Booth. It's not really like Angela to avoid the topic, but Brennan believes that her friend has decided that the best course of action in this situation would be "giving her time and space."
She conferences with Cam occasionally as well, and Sweets will sometimes lean over into the shot. For the first few months, he asks seemingly random questions about "you" and "everyone," although even Brennan can tell that these are just euphemisms for "Daisy." After a while, he stops even that and doesn't hyperventilate during their conversations anymore, which Brennan considers (somewhat sadly) more proof of the ephemeral nature of love. She mentions this to Cam, testing the waters on her theory. Cam shakes her head and says that Sweets's love for Daisy didn't disappear, but sometimes you just have to deal and get on with your life. Brennan considers and decides to defer to Cam's superior knowledge on the subject.
Max doesn't call or email. She made the mistake of giving him her contact information so that he could send her some books that she didn't realize she would need and now he mails her packages, huge boxes that take weeks to reach her in the jungle. They're full of random things, some whose significance she recognizes (a CD called Poco Gold, a deck of cards, thick socks, a stuffed monkey that greatly resembles an animal who lived in her bedroom from ages one to five) and some she doesn't (a silver bracelet, a newspaper from March 16, 1976, a copy of The Outsiders and one of a cartoonishly-illustrated children's book called Goodnight Moon). He sent a copy of the Washington Post sports section with a headline and picture about the Flyers with a note to "Forward this to Booth." She ignores it and keeps the newspaper buried under some files, where she spots it whenever she sorts through her workload and the scarred table beneath is revealed.
She is sorely tempted to stay. It is true that she has some personal problems here, but she loves working on these evolutionary connections, loves going back to the roots of her work. She's jealous of the way her friends can connect with and understand other people, but she knows that she can't do the same. It's easier, better, for her to pull back, to disconnect. After years of being by herself and cutting herself off and training the feelings out of herself, it's all too much. She needs to back off and find herself again.
Sometimes when she examines bones, she gains what she supposes Booth would call clarity. She believes that she is clear- and rational-thinking all the time, but she does notice the way that everything goes away and she can see all the hidden answers as if they were inscribed on the bone. Seeing them doesn't mean that that is what she wants to see.
There's some kind of notching on the femur that she's unfamiliar with. I am not a coward, but I am scared. Like Booth. Perhaps it is from disease. But his fear compromises his reasoning. Is it something prehistoric? I am that way too. I felt that terror for Booth's life when he was trapped on the submarine. I allowed emotions to conquer logic. So I can be similar to Booth. But I am not sure I want to be. Or something modern that she is merely unfamiliar with? If we open ourselves up to feeling, to relationships, it makes us vulnerable. Can I do that? She knows that she has the bravery to tell the truth without flinching or to take a bullet for someone. But does she have the kind of bravery that Angela and Booth and Cam have, the bravery to take a leap of heart?
Daisy, whose voice, by May, is once again regularly reaching the highest registers of human vocal capabilities, nearly breaks down as she helps Brennan load their suitcases on the truck. She almost makes them late for their flight by ambushing each member of the team with flying-armed hugs and demands that they "keep in touch every single day!"
Brennan says polite goodbyes and reiterates her contact information so that they can reach her with any questions or breakthroughs. Dr. Lenoire shakes her hand just a touch too long and asks if she's sure that she doesn't want to extend her stay on the site. After all, they've just begun to find what's buried here.
She looks at Daisy in the front seat of the truck, chattering at the driver through her tears, probably not realizing that he can't understand her because of her accent and the speed of her speech. Brennan thinks of the shininess of the lab, of the richly overpowering smell of coffee at the diner, of the spicy burn of Thai food at midnight. Of Booth's face looking at her over the containers, crinkling into a smile as she understands (or mangles) a piece of pop culture that has slipped into the conversation. The last time she saw that face- and for weeks before that, whenever she noticed him looking at her- it was creased with sadness: the natural, resigned sadness of separation and the sharp, bitter sadness that comes from rejection.
She turns back at Lenoire and he tips his head. Her face is too set and certain to be answering anything else. She climbs into the truck for the ride back to the airfield.
The whole week is sunny, but the Saturday they've decided to meet- in their one minute conversation when Brennan woke up from her jetlag-induced near coma- it rains a heavy, humid, misty rain. He shows up with an umbrella. She has one too. They bump as they try to get close to each other.
He feels odd out of his uniform. She thinks he looks just like she remembered in jeans and a Naughty Comet t-shirt, a gift from Gordon Gordon. Her hair is cut shorter now, pulled back in a ponytail that he wants to tug out.
They nod to each other, ask about flights, staring in a way that pretends that they aren't. They each thought it would be easier now. It's as awkward as it was on the phone. Booth made his move and doesn't know where to go now. Brennan thinks that it would be easier to accomplish the physically impossible task of walking on water (just because it's written in a book that they put in hotel rooms all over the world, doesn't mean that it actually happened) than to figure out what to do next. He speaks first.
"Look, maybe this was-"
"Do you want to go to the diner?"
He smiles, turns, getting back into an uncoordinated, civilian manner of walking. "Yeah, let's go to the diner."
"No pie, though."
"A year and still you don't want any pie?"
"Why would a year change the way I feel about a dessert?"
"Maybe Brenda the waitress will give me a second one free. Soldier discount and all."
"Flirting discount maybe."
They walk away. Their umbrellas scrape against each other because they stride so close together. She reaches over and takes his hand. He doesn't say anything.
It's not a reset. They don't have some simultaneous, selective amnesia. Everything that happened between them did happen and they remember it. Sweets would call it denial, they think of it as equilibrium. Things will move forward between them, probably soon, it's impossible for them not to, but for the moment, they have their solid ground and that will do until they can trust that when they leap, the force of gravity won't bring them crashing down.
Perhaps they will grow Brennan's wings. Maybe they will have to parachute off on Booth's faith alone. But in the end they will be together. It's not the way most people do things. But they're Bones and Booth and when have they done things like most people?