You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don't want me to
Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine
Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
I always will...
- Poison & Wine, The Civil Wars
Her nails hit the Formica countertop in an easy rhythm, back and forth—clickclickclickclick. The first late-autumn sleet pounded the windows of the diner, soaking passers-by who Brennan half-watched out of her peripheral vision. They were mostly just shapes, blurred by the icy rain and her lack of focus.
Her lack of focus had not just been visual as of late. When she stood over the table in the lab, she often lost herself in the pile of bones, and had to be pulled out and into reality by one of her coworkers. Holding a rib or an innominate in hand, she would stare at the smooth white curve of clean, dry bone, eyes lapsing until she was seeing two curves, then one, then two, edges softening and turning into a fuzzy white blur.
Then the white bone would turn to stone, a curved wall wrapping around the outside of the building where they stood inches apart, miles apart, and somehow closer than ever. Where, in the space it takes to breathe, the line between them was blurred too, for a moment. Just a moment, one in which she and all the pieces of her that he held were put together again, and for the first time she felt a sense of returning to herself, in him.
But she withdrew, pulled back, and left those pieces of herself in his hands. She walked away from him, and that of her that was his, and had felt the hollow ache where those parts should be ever since. The specks on the glittering table came into sharp relief again, and she reached for her coffee. Her hand bumped it clumsily and it tipped over, hot brown liquid spilling all over the surface.
"Oh," she said softly to herself, standing up and stepping back from the edge of the table. Looking down in the spreading pool she saw her rippled features, face distorted in its reflection. That was how she felt—warped, unclear. The cup emptied and the reflecting pool stilled, giving the mirrored version of her greater clarity. Her face was expressionless as she looked down at herself, bangs hanging down and partially obscuring her eyes, mouth soft and untelling.
A man walked by and saw a woman staring down at a spilled drink, which dripped off the edge of the table and splattered quietly at her feet. Her face was blank, and she was completely still, seemingly locked in place. He cleared his throat as if to speak, then decided against it. He was already running late, he didn't have time to deal with her if she was one of those crazies who starts telling you their whole life story in the middle of a diner. She did look a little… well, not quite unhinged, but getting there, the way she just stared at the coffee like she was trying to get something out of it. He grabbed a handful of napkins out of the dispenser and tossed them in the middle of her mess, then left. There, he did something.
Brennan blinked slowly and looked up, barely hearing a man with a brown jacket tucked up around his ears grunt something indiscernible as he brushed by. Her synapses fired sluggishly, and it took her a moment to connect his passing with the appearance of the napkins that had wiped out her face, and understand that he was the one who put them there. By the time she realized she should thank him, he was already gone.
Booth shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket as he strode down the slushy sidewalk, taking care to stay as protected by the shop overhangs as possible. He'd left his car parked in a garage down the street, not knowing the low grey clouds that had threatened them for days were finally going to unleash their half-frozen wrath. Had he really left the desert for this?
No, not for this. He saw the shadow of himself in the shop windows as he passed each one, a blur of a man in the corner of his eye, one he chose not to focus on. Whenever he looked into his eyes, he did not see them. Whenever he spoke aloud, the voice sounded disembodied, as if it were coming from someone else. He did not feel real, he was not real. When Parker jumped into his arms, someone else was hugging his child. When she kissed him, she was kissing the man she met in the desert, but that man was still in the desert, elsewhere completely.
She was tall and blonde, sharp, fiery, full of wit and attitude. She was absolutely his type. In the vast nothing that the desert was, in the hollow emptiness that each bullet hole carved out of him, she had been something familiar. She looked like home, somewhere he had been before, someplace he had once laid down to rest, and he became attached to that. But now he was physically home again, and that home in her that he had been drawn to in the desert was no longer his resting place. She was only a reminder of the shell blasts, the glare of the sun on miles of endless white sand, of crumbling buildings and anguished screams that he did not need to speak Arabic to understand. A mother losing her child crosses all language barriers with disturbing ease.
But she was ever alive, like a reminder that the sun also rises (a book he hated), that life goes on, that you can emerge from the desert sunburned and hungry but whole. She was still whole, and he held to that, hoping that by doing so he might find the scattered pieces of himself too. The pieces he loaded into a gun and lodged into the skulls of insurgents. The pieces he gave away to the mutilated, starving children he saw trolling the streets for food, shelter, money, anything—victims of a war they did not understand and had not asked for. He saw Parker in every one of them, and he gave pieces of himself to them, since he had nothing else of value to give.
And then, of course, the pieces he left in her before he deployed. Those were the parts of him he missed most desperately. The pieces that fell from his lips, that she had tossed into the wind or maybe kept, he could not know. They didn't talk about it. There were a lot of things they didn't talk about, like what he lost in the desert and what she found in the jungle. But most of all they did not talk about those, the missing pieces.
He finally rounded the corner where the diner stood, ever-present like a beacon of light on the shore. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, it was unchanging. He looked into the window and frowned—she was standing next to the table, staring mindlessly at what looked like a spilled drink. A stack of napkins lay untouched in the middle. One, two, five, ten seconds passed and she simply stared, her expression giving away nothing of what might be going on inside of her. He let his vision relax and shift forward, focus falling on his own reflection in the glass before him. After staring at that man for a moment—not really him, but the man reflected onto glass, the man he might have been once but did not recognize anymore—he tore his eyes away and let himself in.
"Hey," he said as he approached her. Her head snapped up and she looked almost startled by him.
"Hello," she said plainly. They both looked down at the table.
"What happened?" he asked. Something about that simple, innocuous question seemed to snap her into focus, because she reached down for the napkins and began blotting up the mess.
"Nothing," she said, looking up at his face as she sopped up the remaining coffee. "I just, I knocked over my drink. It was a mistake." She hadn't meant to say 'mistake', she had meant 'accident', but when she looked at his eyes, really looked at them, her stomach turned and 'mistake' was all that came to mind.
"Right," he said, looking out the window at the familiar street outside. Cold sleet still pounded the street, seeming to turn icier by the minute, but here with her he felt a burn the likes of which he rarely felt anymore. Not a warmth, not something of comfort he could wrap his arms around and sink into, but fire, like being trapped in a burning house you cannot escape from. Mistake had been an awkward choice of words, but feeling the way she kindled within him a fire he could not deny, and would only burn him dare he touch it, it seemed perfect. "A mistake."