A/N: The events in this story are set a few months after episode 6.08 (The Twisted Bones in the Melted Truck). I began writing it before episode 6.09 (The Doctor in the Photo) aired, so the events in that episode or anything that happens later on the show did not happen in this story.
Also, this story is post-Hannah – the aftershocks will still be felt, but that's the extent of her involvement. There's a lot of great fic written at the moment that deals with her, but I admit that I felt ready to move past her and focus on other things ;-)
The story will have two parts, each of them divided into several chapters. I hope readers don't mind the somewhat weird structure – I considered splitting it into two separate fics, sequel-like, but I didn't like the idea because the two parts do belong together.
Feedback is love, and concrit is always welcome!
"Here's the sketch you asked for, sweetie. If you need a 3D-rendering, I'd have to -"
"That's fine, Angela, thank you." Brennan takes the piece of paper and gestures for Angela to take a seat. "Cam thinks she found a DNA match, so identification shouldn't be too much of a problem once she's confirmed that."
Angela makes a face and lowers herself into the offered chair in front of Brennan's desk. She avoids the couch these days because her protruding belly makes it impossible for her to get up from there without help. "Too bad the old guy didn't have any teeth left, huh?"
Brennan shrugs, her eyes on Angela's facial reconstruction. "Dental records would have been faster, yes, but I'm still confident that we'll be able to close the case quickly."
"Really?" Angela's eyebrows shoot up. "I know you have faith in Booth's abilities, but unless the guy had his murderer's signed confession in his pocket –"
"We found no evidence of foul play," Brennan cuts her off. "Once we've made the identification, we'll officially rule it an accidental death unless the victim's identity itself points towards suspicious circumstances."
"Easy one for a change, huh? I like it." Angela winces and shifts in her seat, causing Brennan to wonder whether the fetus is kicking her again. Angela keeps predicting that her son is destined to become the greatest soccer player of all times because he always manages to hit her bladder with pinpoint precision. "Booth will be glad to get the evening off, he's been looking tired lately."
Brennan keeps her face impassive. "He's been working long hours, so it stands to reason that he would be tired."
Angela sighs. "He's not taking it well, is he?"
Brennan leans back in her chair and sighs too. She has managed to avoid discussing this topic with Angela so far, but now Angela has her cornered. Brennan fights down her irritation and reminds herself that Angela, too, is Booth's friend and has a right to worry about his well-being. "If you're talking about the breakup, which I suppose you are, then he's taking it as well as can be expected. Booth did everything he could to make this relationship work, so it stands to reason that he would be unhappy about failing."
"Please tell me that's not what you said to him." When Brennan doesn't answer immediately, Angela sits up straighter and gives her a stern look. "Bren, sweetie, please reassure me that you didn't use the word 'fail' when you two talked about this."
"I didn't, and neither did he," Brennan replies curtly, her irritation returning. "I was merely summarizing the situation he's in at the moment, which, objectively, is that his relationship with Hannah failed, given that she left him."
"Is that what he told you?"
Brennan hesitates. She remembers Booth's terse statement six weeks ago – "Hannah left me" – and how she thought that the wording was rather peculiar. She wouldn't have expected an alpha male like Booth to openly admit that his girlfriend had ended their relationship; most men in his situation would have tried to give the impression that they had initiated the breakup, or at least that it had been a mutual decision. She isn't sure whether she should mention that to Angela, though; she knows how carefully Booth guards his privacy and how much he resented it in the past when she shared information about his private life with third parties.
Thankfully, Angela doesn't wait for an answer. "Did he tell you why? I thought they were doing great, considering how little we've seen of him ever since she showed up. Was there somebody else?"
"I wouldn't know." Brennan is now becoming distinctly uncomfortable; she really shouldn't be talking about this.
Angela won't let up, though. "Didn't you ask him?"
"I did. He said it was none of my business."
Angela's jaw drops. "He said that? Getting dumped sucks, but it's no excuse for being a jerk!"
"Ange, please." Brennan has had enough; the memory of that moment still fills her with a vague sense of embarrassment because Booth shouldn't have had to remind her that she has no right to stick her nose into his private matters. She hates that she still keeps making these mistakes, even after months of carefully rebuilding their partnership from the ruins in which her departure had left it last year. Before Hannah walked out, Brennan had allowed herself to believe that they were solid again, that the small distance that remained between them was due to nothing more than the fact that Booth was in a committed relationship now and had to keep his professional and his private life separated more clearly than before. Ever since the breakup, however, she can feel the distance growing; he's quieter and more withdrawn than she's ever known him, but also a lot quicker to lose his temper, as if the constant anger that – according to Sweets – was always there were much closer to the surface now.
"Sweetie." Angela leans forward as far as her belly will allow. "I'm not fishing for sordid details here. I'm worried about him. We all are."
"I know." Brennan doesn't want to admit that she, too, is concerned; she wishes she knew how to help him, how to be his friend without crowding him or making him feel like she's meddling, but she has never been good at these things. If it were anyone else, she'd ask Booth or Angela for advice, but neither is an option now.
"Just promise me you'll be there for him." Somehow, Angela seems to have understood the question Brennan was hesitant to ask. "We both know that he's one of those guys who'd chew off their own arm before they'd admit that they need help, but that doesn't mean that they really don't. You're his partner, and I think he needs a partner right now."
Brennan nods, although the idea that she should be the person responsible for helping Booth through this fills her with a vague sense of dread – not for her sake, but for his. "I'll do what I can."
She rises quickly before Angela can get another word in. "Thanks for the sketch, Ange; I'll better go see whether Mr. Nigel-Murray is finished with the remains."
Angela nods and starts heaving herself out of the chair. "I'll check Missing Persons for possible matches."
Brennan didn't expect Booth to show up at the lab today, but when she arrives on the platform, she finds him standing next to Vincent Nigel-Murray, who is hunched over the bones on the table and babbling at his usual break-neck speed. Brennan hastens to intervene – Booth's patience wears thin even faster than usual these days, and Vincent's loquacious tendencies probably aren't helping matters.
She wouldn't have needed Angela's earlier remark to notice the shadows under Booth's eyes and the unhealthy grayish tinge to his skin tone. He looks like he hasn't slept properly in weeks, and she hates the feeling of helplessness that wells up inside her. If their roles were reversed, he would know what to say, what to do to make her feel better, but without his guidance she's still utterly hopeless at these things.
So she just acknowledges his presence with a nod and a carefully measured smile in his direction and turns towards the nervous intern next to him.
"Your findings, Mr. Nigel-Murray?" She casts a quick, sidelong glance at Booth's impatient expression, hoping that Vincent will get the silent message. She considers asking him to use layman's terms so she won't have to translate, but keeps her mouth shut because she doesn't want Booth to think that she's patronizing him.
Vincent gives her an almost imperceptible nod – perhaps she is finally getting better at non-verbal communication, or maybe Vincent just has a well-developed sense of self-preservation and doesn't want Booth to become any more irritated than he already is.
"As I was just telling Agent Booth, the victim is male, mid- to late sixties. There's substantial damage to the bones, but it's all post-mortem, most likely caused by environmental conditions since the body has, according to Dr. Hodgins, been in the ditch where it was found for at least five months. Dr. Saroyan's analysis of the remaining soft tissue revealed that it must have frozen solid twice during that time period, which is congruent with the micro-fractures I found on the bones. The only ante-mortem injuries I was able to find were two gunshot wounds, one to the left iliac crest and one to the upper part of the right humerus, but they both show extensive remodeling and are most likely several decades old."
Brennan gives the young man a nod of encouragement. "Cause of death?"
Before Vincent can answer, he's interrupted by the staccato of Cam's heels on the floor of the platform. She seems surprised to see Booth, but walks past him with nothing more than a cheerful "Hello, stranger!" as she steps up to Brennan and Vincent. Booth gives her a lopsided grin that disappears quickly, but Brennan is still glad to see his expression softening for a moment.
"Sorry to interrupt, people, I just wanted to let you know that CODIS gave us nothing, but we've got two partial DNA matches from the Armed Forces DNA Registry."
Booth frowns at this. "If the guy is really that old, what made you think that you'd find him in the Registry?"
Cam shrugs. "Just a hunch – those old gunshot wounds made me think he might be a veteran, and he could still have been in the reserve in the early nineties. Also, I haven't had a chat with Greg for ages, so I figured I might just as well give him a call."
"I find it remarkable that you're still good friends with several of your former romantic partners," Brennan can't help interjecting. "Most people find it difficult or even impossible to keep interacting with a person they have been intimately involved with after –" She realizes too late how spectacularly she has just put her foot in her mouth when Booth's face hardens, but Cam comes to her rescue.
"What can I say? I'm the world's best ex," she quips with a smirk before resuming her professional tone. "Anyway, they're not allowed to release identification information unless there's a complete match with the remains in question, but Greg promised me that he'll try to contact the partial matches and see whether they'll cooperate with us. If we're lucky, they might even save us the trouble of further DNA analysis because they've been wondering for months what happened to Uncle Archie."
Brennan nods. "If Angela's reconstruction" – she holds up the sheet of paper that she brought with her – "doesn't get a hit from the Missing Persons database, it's our best shot. Mr. Nigel-Murray, can I have the rest of your report now, please?"
Vincent has barely started speaking when Booth's cell phone rings. He glances at the display and shakes his head before answering the call. "Agent Tomlinson, I said I'd be back in an hour, can't you just once – okay, fine, patch them through." He moves away from the group around the table while he listens, and Brennan turns to Vincent as he begins talking about the cause of death, sounding a lot more relaxed now that Booth is no longer glaring at him.
She quickly becomes engrossed in the analysis of the victim's alcoholic osteoporosis, and is therefore badly startled when Booth is suddenly next to her and snatches Angela's sketch from her hand.
"Hey, what are you – " She doesn't finish her protest because he has already turned away and walks towards the farthest corner of the platform in three long strides. Brennan is about to follow him and demand an explanation when Angela comes rushing up the steps.
There are hectic red blotches on her cheeks, and she's completely out of breath when she comes to a halt at the table and waves a computer printout at them. "Guys, you need to hear this before – "
That's when she notices Booth, who is leaning against the railing with her reconstruction in his hand and his phone still at his ear, and her eyes widen in shock. "Oh my God."
Brennan, now thoroughly alarmed, turns from Angela to Booth and hears him say in that cold, clipped tone he only ever uses when things are really, really dire, "No, that won't be necessary."
He snaps the phone shut and focuses on Angela, his expression stony. "Got a hit from the Missing Persons database?"
Angela nods hesitantly and opens her mouth to speak, but Booth cuts her off. "Name's Joseph Henry Booth, born 1947?"
Angela, her eyes now filling with tears, nods again. "Reported missing by his landlord last December."
For a moment, there's utter silence on the platform; then Booth jams his phone into his pocket, turns around on his heel and walks away before anyone gets a chance to approach him.
They all stare, utterly dumbfounded, as he swipes his card and disappears from the platform. Once he's out of sight, Cam is the first to pull herself together. "What are you waiting for? Go after him!"
Brennan's mind is still reeling, and it takes her a second to understand that Cam is talking to her. "What? I – no, I can't …" She doesn't know how to explain the sudden surge of panic she's experiencing, but she does know that she's not the person he needs now, who will find the right words to help him cope with something of that magnitude. "Cam, you've known him for so long, you know his family –"
"Sweetie, go." Angela places a hand on her arm, but Brennan shakes it off without even realizing it.
"Ange, you don't – "
"Dr. Brennan, you're his partner, and you are going after him now." Cam's tone is steely. "I have to call Greg and tell him he can stop trying to reach Jared."