Soo it's been longer than a week. My bad. I really did have good intentions, but in the interest of fairness I was determined to watch episodes three through present before I got down to it, and due to a lot of feet-dragging I didn't get that done until yesterday night. I'm still feeling pretty irritated with Booth, but I've gotten over my episode two inspired rage and I'm making an attempt to be a little more objective with this one. It didn't come to me quite as naturally and immediately as the first part did, so hopefully it still goes over okay. Your reviews for the last chapter went totally over what I expected, so thank you all.
This overwhelming urge.
Toward you I feign disinterest
while I covet the attention,
while I crave your affection.
Ravenous with lust;
Jackal in heat, spit dripping.
This mechanical impulse knows not loyalty or mercy.
Animal, Against Me!
A month passes. Long ago this would have been considered a significant passing of time, but that was then; before Afghanistan and Maluku and Hannah and abrupt personality shifts and weeks without speaking even when they weren't in the midst of an actual fight. That was before they became more like acquaintances or cubicle buddies in an office. This is now. And a month passes within the blink of an eye.
Brennan tries to bury herself in her work, Booth tries to run his body into the ground, and neither of them can come close to escaping the other.
It's ten thirty at night and Booth's jogging through the city. He observes the passing public and catalogues vehicle proximities without conscious effort… it's years of behaviour so fiercely ingrained that it's long since become natural. He rolls his eyes when some young kid running in the opposite direction gets tangled up with a bike he probably would have heard coming were it not for the headphones blaring into his ears. Seeley Booth doesn't take an iPod with him with he runs; partially it's because they limit his awareness of his surroundings but mostly it's because he thinks any self respecting guy should have the discipline to run without a secondary source setting the tempo.
His thoughts turn to Brennan – the way they always do eventually – and he picks up the pace, but he's already reached that phase three times since he left his apartment and while he's undoubtedly in good shape, he can't sprint at full speed forever. So he gives up on not thinking about Brennan and resigns himself to her ever-near presence in his head.
They're a mess. They've been a mess for a long time. And when he replays past exchanges between them sometimes he can see her faults and sometimes he can see his, but he can't find the exact moment he started to lose his grip on everything from her to Hannah to suspects and witnesses. The moment his Pandora's box sprung open and his inability to promptly slam the lid shut sent his carefully controlled universe hurtling into chaos. He has no more patience. He's angry about eighty percent of the time that people are talking to him. He can't be bothered to charm and cajole suspects that are probably guilty anyway and his partner is driving him up the friggen wall. And the thing is he knows she's doing it on purpose. She's not that sheltered anymore. And maybe in the past he would have watched her carefully to discern exactly why she's acting like she's fresh out of the lab, but they've grown so far apart he can't manage to be anything but irritated.
They had started out rough when they returned but by the time they caught the Shore case he had worked to restore a balance of sorts. He had been more or less successful fooling himself into believing he could make it work. In fooling Brennan and the squints that he could have Hannah as his girlfriend and Brennan as his partner and be happy. But Hannah was shot and it was like Cam being in the hospital all those years ago all over again. Because he had seen it as his job to protect her and he hated that he hadn't been there. And yet, once he had been certain Hannah would recover, he could not, could not banish that tiny part of him that had twisted up when he had looked at Brennan and imagined her being the one in that hospital bed. And the weight of that guilt had been overwhelming. In that moment, denial had come off the table.
He had woken up every morning to that niggling guilt, that niggling fact that when the shit hits the fan, he's still relieved to see Brennan okay because the thought of something happening to her is devastating. He had wild sex with his girlfriend and it was like Brennan was sitting in the corner watching, smirking, knowing what he had known. That Cam wasn't the one back then and Hannah couldn't be the one now. She will always be first, and he will never be happy.
He can't look at her. He can't talk to her. He can't listen to her squint speak or watch the way her eyes light up when she finds something particularly clever or fascinating. And he finds himself doing anything to limit that intimacy they used to share because the truth of it all is he just can't handle it anymore. And he sees he hurts her, but he pushes it to the back of his mind right there with that fact. And it's the first thing he thinks about in the morning and the last thing he thinks about at night and it jumps to the front of his head a million times in the hours between, but there's a desperate part of the Booth he used to be – the one who was purposefully optimistic and chose to indulge positive thinking because isn't the world dark enough already without intentionally looking for sewage? – that clings to the idea that if he fakes it enough, eventually, eventually he has to make it.
He thinks of her in a skeleton leotard and a red tutu, and she looks ridiculous. But she's vibrant and cheery and she has that open, light-hearted face she gets when she finally breaches layers of logic and self consciousness and just plays the way she should have been able to do for a lot longer than her childhood allowed her. He sees the way a juvenile magic trick producing a simple flower delights her. Look, Booth! And the fact that the little things she does are done so completely unwittingly, with no thought to the effect she has on him, just fills Booth with a rage that's equal parts for her and for himself.
It's been a month and they're no better than they had been the night she accused him of ruining her life. He's been trying really hard to think of that as a tantrum, but her words keep circling his head and he knows she rarely says things she doesn't mean. Regardless of whether she currently feels the same way she did then, there's no doubt in his mind that at that moment she meant every word.
Running doesn't do any good anymore. Booth finds himself eight miles away from his apartment and he still feels every bit as antsy as he had when he first left. He takes a brief moment to covet her ability to compartmentalize. He's willing to bet she's immersed in some long dead skeleton of blah blah blah from the blah blah era and having a grand old time. It's yet another thing that doesn't seem quite fair.
With a sigh, Booth turns down the next alley and doubles back to his apartment. He's punished his body enough for one day and it's about time he acknowledges that there's only one thing he can do that will slow his mind down enough to let him get a decent night's sleep.
Booth's constant presence in the lab had never really been necessary. That's another one of the many things Brennan's realized this year. She knows she took it for granted before. Mostly she's glad she hasn't seen him in a while but partially she wishes she had appreciated his visits more back when he was him and she was her and they were them. She's not even angry anymore… there's just this not-so-little spot somewhere inside of her that aches all the time. But it's like the seasonal asthma and the shin splints and the joints that stiffen before rain… she's growing accustomed to it. She can live with it. It's not going to kill her. Obviously.
And she still has Angela. Angela, who isn't quite the same as when she left either, but is still her friend. Angela, who is not going to leave her because she – to quote Angela directly – loves her unique ass way too much. She's pretty sure Angela wasn't being literal. She hopes she wasn't. Either way she's been talking to Angela a lot this month.
"Do you think it was my fault?" She asks. Angela's pulled the Hoover debacle out of her and she feels a strange relief at this new ability to analyze the events with an impartial party. Although it's not like she could have continued keeping it to herself; she and Booth couldn't have made their last "conversation" more public if they had taken out a billboard.
"I think that he waited for you for as long as he could." Angela says slowly. "It's not about fault, Bren. At the end of the day there are still two people who used to love each other who now can't be in the same room without getting physical."
Brennan drops her head. "You think I shouldn't have hit him."
"We're in our thirties, Bren. You're getting a little old to be hitting people when they make you angry. Even when they deserve it."
The knock on the door startles her slightly, because it's late and no one except Booth ever really dropped by unannounced and it's been months since he's shown up at her door without a precursory call or text. She's still dressed in the jeans and silk shirt she wore to work, because she just can't can't can't relax enough to change and she's been contemplating heading back to the Jeffersonian again tonight anyway. But the soft knocking begins again and she sighs, unfolds herself from the chair, places her full mug of tea on the coffee table and heads for the door.
Brennan swings the door open without checking the peephole – doesn't she always? – and there's another one of those moments where the situation is so unfamiliar and uncomfortable she can't do anything but freeze. Booth stands in front of her and he's shifting his weight from foot to foot like he's half expecting her to take a swing at him, and then she's not so frozen anymore and she leans uncooperatively against the doorframe. Just because there's a not-so-little part of her that misses him doesn't mean he deserves to be let in without question.
The word falls awkwardly off her tongue, because it's the polite, normal thing to say but it somehow still doesn't seem to quite fit. If Angela were here Brennan would ask her if there's perhaps a greeting more appropriately suited for a friend-that's-not-really-a-friend-anymore-even-though-you-can't-quite-make-yourself-stop-missing-him.
He doesn't know what to call her anymore. He's lost the privilege of 'Bones,' and 'Brennan' always takes them back to the coma dream. 'Dr. Brennan' sounds simultaneously aggressive and defensive coming from him and 'Temperance' is far too intimate. 'Tempe' isn't even an option. There was really only one name that ever felt natural – even if it was initially an irritant – and they both feel its loss.
Booth hasn't brought food and she's immediately grateful for that. Because they're past that point and if she had been greeted with pizza or Thai she has no doubt that she would have turned around and slammed the door in his face. They can barely eat in a group setting anymore; attempting to force the former familiarity of three AM takeout binges would have desecrated every good memory she has.
So no, he doesn't bring takeout. Instead, Booth pulls a bottle of tequila from his coat and silently holds it out for her to see. Because in the beginning, before he saved her life and she saved his, before they sang Poco together and he knew about dolphins and she knew about his list, he needed alcohol to find the courage to have a difficult conversation with her. And they've never been closer to that place than they are right now.
They share a look and for once they're on the same wavelength. Their gazes are solemn and already a little defeated, and they both know that this will be another defining moment. Because the last time they did this it nearly ruined them, and while in that specific instance a year apart enabled them to begin repairing the damage, prolonged separations haven't done a thing for them since. Maybe they've matured too much. Maybe they haven't matured enough. Either way, when he pulls out that bottle they both know that what happens tonight will be final. Catch fire, or…
She shrugs with forced indifference and continues the silence, stepping out of the doorway and walking into the apartment. She doesn't look to see if he's following her and he doesn't expect her to, so there's still some semblance of normalcy in that. He immediately goes to the couch and moves her tea mug to the mantle, and she goes to the kitchen to find shot glasses.
When she pulls two down from the top shelf in the cabinet beside her sink she rests them on the counter without relinquishing her grip and she stares off into space trying to quantify the strange feeling of wrong-ness that has settled within her. And then she gets it. Statistically they drink for pleasure in bars and they drink to forget in their apartments, and while shot glasses are just fine for the Founding Fathers, in their apartments they've always seemed superfluous because really, why bother when you know you're going to consume the whole bottle regardless? But that was then and this is now, and their mouths can't be anywhere near each other anymore. Passing the bottle back and forth is out of the question.
That not-so-little-spot-that-aches-all-the-time pulses brighter, and Brennan determinedly tightens her hold on the glasses and marches into her living room with her jaw clenched tight.
Booth's eyes follow her warily when she returns because he's not sure what changed in the twenty seconds she had been in the kitchen, but he clearly sees that her mask of indifference has fallen away and she looks pissed.
He doesn't give her time to start yelling at him. He twists the cap off the sealed top and fills the two shot glasses to the brim with a steady hand. She glares, but she sits down on the couch beside him – careful, oh so careful to keep a full cushion between them – and reaches for the glass nearest her.
They down the shots fluidly and without ceremony then slam the glasses back on the coffee table in one synchronized motion.
"I can't stand cats. They're unpredictable and they creep me out."
In another time the confession might have been humorous and at the very least it would have teased an indignant response from her, because cats are elegant and independent and she likes them very much. Tonight all she can do is stare at him incredulously. Because seriously? That's the best he can do?
Booth pours two more shots and again they down them quickly, and then he watches her expectantly and she realizes that it's her turn to make a statement. Only it doesn't seem fair because why should she have to say anything at all?
"The most pleasurable public sex I ever had took place in the back of an ice-cream truck." She puts forth petulantly.
She's trying to make him uncomfortable and she stares steadily into his face. She's expecting an irritated sigh or a frustrated quip or at the very least a deep flush. When he takes her words in stride and simply refills their shots she tentatively concludes he has some sort of plan in mind and decides to give him the benefit of a doubt. At least for the next few rounds.
"The first goal I ever scored as a kid was in my own team's net."
"Russ once convinced me to do his math assignment for him and I felt so guilty afterward that I vomited."
The pattern continues. Shot. Confession. Shot. Confession. There's none of the mounting pressure she had felt when she first opened the door. They're in no hurry and he's being patient in a way that reminds her slightly of the old Booth even though his face is still far too serious and his tone is still far too guarded for her to truly believe anything's really changing. The small confessions continue and as the bottle empties the statements become more revealing and less dinner-party-anecdote.
She learns that his last baby tooth was knocked out by his father after Jared spilled grape juice on the carpet and he took the blame, he learns that she was suspended from school for a week in the eleventh grade for breaking a classmate's arm after another classmate locked the two of them in a custodial closet.
Booth had started indulging small defiances soon after the grape juice incident, because he had concluded that if he was going to get smacked around either way, it was easier to handle knowing he had explicitly done something to deserve it.
Brennan had clammed up and starkly refused to explain her seemingly excessive, violent panic in that dark confined space after Jamie Kirkland had been taken to the hospital and she had been escorted to the principal's office. While before she had been invisible to her peers, from that day on she was pointedly avoided.
Kids are cruel and so are parents. These are old lessons.
They both have a fairly high tolerance for alcohol but these past months have been emotionally exhausting and they're not in peak condition. By three quarters of the way through the bottle Brennan's head is swimming and Booth's hand is no longer quite so steady. Alcohol sloshes over the rims of the shot glasses and creates sticky puddles on her expensive coffee table, and neither of them care.
After the next shot Brennan tells him that whenever her mind isn't fully occupied by work, it drifts to what a mistake it was to leave the way she did (and yes, she definitely now recognizes it as a mistake). It's something they probably both already know but she feels the need to say it aloud anyway. And then she takes the bottle away from him and pours the next shots because she needs to be able to focus on something. The shots go down just as easily as all the ones before and Booth tells her that every few months he still dreams that they're married.
She sits back in her seat and watches Booth slowly try to keep all the alcohol in the glasses this time around after she admits that their guy hugs always made her illogically feel as if everything wrong in her life maybe wasn't so bad, and after the next shot the air becomes charged and even in her intoxicated state – because at this point, she's definitely intoxicated – her stomach fills with dread. Booth is fiddling with his empty shot glass, turning it over and over in his hands, and the restlessness of the action lets her know that the rules are changing and the game is no longer safe.
"I've been trying so hard to hate you." He admits softly.
And while he's being honest, it stings just the same and to her horror she feels tears beginning to prick the back of her eyes. "Why?" She asks, because it's the only word that she can manage and even it hurts to force out because her throat keeps trying to close. "Why?"
The game ends. Up until this point they have been accepting the confessions of the other with silence, and when she questions him they can no longer hide behind it. It's probably a good thing… there are only a couple shots of tequila left anyway.
"I really was happy with Hannah for a while. It was good between us… and then we came back and I couldn't help being angry with you for complicating that."
Part of Brennan longs for a time when she simply felt nothing, because this see-saw between rage and heartbreak is draining her dry. His words make her stomach flip and she clenches her fists reflexively and it's like that moment on the platform just before she struck him, but she tucks her hands under her thighs and forces back the impulse because Angela's right and she really is too old to be hitting people. Unless they're sociopaths with creepy serial killer hands. Through an alcohol induced fog she struggles to put words to what she's feeling and hopes that this time things will be different.
"I never hurt you on purpose. I realize now that saying 'no' to protect you, to save us, displayed extreme naiveté and that my fear caused more damage than I would have thought possible, but I didn't want any of that to happen. I didn't know it would. There was never a moment in which I deliberately contemplated what I could say or do to cause you injury, and then set about to act on it. And you did. You knew what you were doing and you… and I can't understand… I don't understand why. You were my friend." The words stumble off her lips and she cringes at the blatant vulnerability oozing off of her, but she can't help it. "You were my friend."
While she's wishing they hadn't consumed quite so much liquor, Booth is wishing that they had a little more. Because there isn't any way to try and explain this without appearing petty and cruel. And maybe that's because the truth is he was both.
"It was a struggle being around you. And you were so oblivious to how hard it was for me… sometimes I just wanted to shake you. I know what I did wasn't right; your feelings are important and dismissing them was very, very wrong, but I just couldn't find it in me to pretend I was okay anymore. I wasn't okay. I'm still not okay. You broke my heart."
Her tone is emphatic and utterly sincere and he knows she means it, but he also knows she still doesn't quite understand.
"Things couldn't stay the same." He says gently, and her heart squeezes again because she's forgotten how it feels to have him be genuine with her, and now everything hurts even more. "It wasn't fair for you to expect them to. I couldn't be with you without being with you anymore."
"Why wouldn't you explain that to me?"
"I guess I was just a little tired of explaining things like that to you. I didn't feel like it should have to be my job anymore. I can't hold your hand forever, Temperance. You have to try a little on your own. You can't expect people to just give you all the answers."
She flushes, because at the top of the list of things she has realized she took for granted lies his patience. And then she's confused because friendship, as explained to her by Angela and Booth, has always been corner-stoned by love and patience and acceptance. So where exactly did it all go wrong?
She's regretting the alcohol immensely now because it's amplifying her emotions and she suddenly wants to just curl up in a ball and cry. But she won't do it. She sits quietly and tries to focus her thoughts and quantify her emotions but everything's swirling around too quickly and it takes her a lot longer than she knows it should.
"You pushed me out of the nest, Booth. And it wasn't fair." Brennan says finally. Booth raises his eyebrows at the surprisingly adequate metaphor and she swallows before continuing. "You didn't even give me any warning. You just stopped talking to me and then you got angry when I crashed instead of flying. I was trying to keep things the same and I didn't know it was the exact opposite of what you wanted."
And then he gets it. He gets it and he can't believe it didn't click before. But before he had been dead set on not thinking about her point of view so the miss really shouldn't be as shocking as it seems. Brennan appreciates stability. She finds a routine and she adheres to it. She makes a joke that causes him to laugh and she repeats it over and over, expecting to elicit the same reaction from him every time. And the more distant he's become the more clinical and literal she's become in turn because she's been trying to push him back into his role. When she does things like call love an idiot he's supposed to give speeches on the validity of emotions, and when she goes on squinty tangents he's supposed to be amused and crack a silly joke. She's been repeating past behaviour in an effort to provoke the same reaction. She's been begging him to reassure her that they're still okay. That their relationship is solid. That somehow, the vestiges of the centre will hold.
The whole situation is so fucked up he can't even begin to process it. But while he's still reeling from this sudden revelation Brennan continues talking.
"I don't like the control you have over me." She says carefully. "I never noticed before you… before. You can make me feel normal, and worthy, and funny, and good on the inside, but you can also make me feel very very small. That is not a feeling I enjoy."
There are a lot of responses Booth can give; some of them explanatory, some of them apologetic. But they're drunk and emotionally exhausted and they're talking which is such a good sign he is willing to believe there will be opportunity to convince her that opening herself up – even if she gets burned occasionally – is always worth it, some other time. Some other time when they're sober and he's feeling that truth a little more strongly. For now, he settles on picking up the tequila and evenly distributing two more shots.
Brennan eyes the shot glass warily but she dutifully knocks it back at the same time he does and then waits for him to make the next move.
"I'm sorry." He says, and he hopes it's enough because he's spent and he doesn't have anything else to give at this exact second.
She nods and refills their glasses, even though she shudders a little before they throw them back as her body tries to discourage her from pouring in any more poison.
"I forgive you."
Booth takes control of the bottle once again and they repeat the cycle.
"When we're back on solid ground, I'm going to ask you on a date."
There's next to nothing left in the bottle now but Brennan picks it up anyway and drains it evenly between the two glasses. It amounts to less than a quarter shot each but it's fine because it's the ritual itself and the absolute truth it has come to represent that matters at this point.
"When we're 'back on solid ground,' I'm going to accept."
The sun's coming up now and they've moved to her balcony. It's been six hours since Brennan first opened her door and granted Booth entry and the world looks exactly the same way it had the day before, but as they take in the morning through an inebriated haze they feel the stirrings of change and know that they are different.
He puts a hand on her hip and draws her to his side, and it's awkward and they both immediately feel it, but they've been nothing but awkward recently so it's to be expected. It's awkward, but it's a start. Maybe tomorrow he'll try again and it will still be awkward, but maybe it won't. They have time to find themselves again and after everything that's already happened a month or two of transition isn't going to break them.
He doesn't move his hand and when she turns her gaze away from the city skyline to find his face it's a tense mask of solid determination. He will make them work again. And so she decides that she can show him that she's determined too. She can show him that this means enough to her to give it one last try even though she can still feel that smarting not-so-little-spot aching away in her chest. She drops her head on his shoulder and it feels exactly the opposite of the comfortable way it used to, but it's a process and they'll get there. Eventually.
The moniker falls easily from his lips onto her ears, and they're both so concentrated on braving the new awkwardness in order to get back to a good thing that they take no notice of the natural exchange. But maybe that's for the best because effort is important and they've always taken it for granted that they can pick up their pieces and glue them back together with relative ease. They can't afford to take anything for granted this time around. So he automatically calls her by a name that appears nowhere on either of her birth certificates, and she automatically responds, and they are both a step closer to 'eventually' though neither of them know it.
"You wanna go to the diner and grab some breakfast? We're going to need all the coffee and grease we can get if we plan on being mostly sober in time for work."
She's fairly certain neither one of them is making it to work this morning – not entirely sober, anyway – regardless of how much food and coffee they consume in the next two hours, but she chooses to keep that thought to herself. He's making a gesture and she can recognize it as such. Progress.
"I would like that very much."
An hour later they're still leaning over her balcony and Booth's come to the same realisation Brennan has and calls work, letting them know he'll be in at noon. Brennan calls Cam and does the same. It's soon after this that the buzzes begin to wear off and leave Brennan with the beginnings of what promises to be a monumental headache, and Booth slouching further against the railing while shielding his eyes from the increasingly bright sunlight.
"This was the worst idea I've ever had." Booth mutters.
Brennan almost laughs but even thinking about doing so hurts her head and it's not even that funny. Not really. It's just one of those things that are humorous solely because Booth's said them and it's something she associates with her Booth so the thought warms her.
"We do look quite 'haggard,' as you like to say." She admits.
"Like Clark Kent and Wonder Woman after a really, really bad date." He offers with a small smile.
Brennan smiles back tentatively. She knows she's not traditionally funny, but she likes that she can amuse Booth. She always has. And maybe he didn't laugh when she answered his case question in German or when she talked of localised blizzards, but Clark Kent and Wonder Woman having a bad date still makes him smile and that counts for something.
When his hand falls to the small of her back as they pass through the french doors into her living room it's awkward again and, again, they both immediately feel it. When they reach the diner and he opens the door and repeats the motion it's still awkward, but they're determined. And when they both head straight to their spot in the back corner – a spot they haven't frequented as a twosome nearly as often since they came back – it's like an action carried out through muscle memory and neither of them actively take notice. It's progress. And so they settle into their new-old seats and place their orders and he explains to her that "Beiber Fever" is not in fact at all deadly or contagious or even a real fever, and though they don't know it yet they've take a second step forward.
By the time they leave they're enduring full on hangovers and as they walk slowly Booth accuses her of being a bad influence on him – because he's too old to be going to work hungover and the only time it ever happens is with her – and Brennan gives him an indignant shove.
It's not at all awkward and just like that they're three steps in, and they're both suffering too much to take active notice. Progress.