"Your clothes," she said in a much more subdued voice. Booth grunted in surprise as he felt denim smack his abdomen; he couldn't see her hovering somewhere beyond the edges of his vision. He wasn't sure if he had been staring entranced at the ceiling fan or had fallen asleep. He was too embarrassed to ask. He was losing his mind.
He sat slowly up, realizing he was sore from lying prone and stiff on a couch for three days. Or was it from crouching endlessly, shooting at a tree? Was it even his fall in the shower? He shut his mind off like a leaky faucet, the memories still too stark. He swallowed a disgusting lump in his throat.
But, like a leaky faucet, some drips got through. Her face. Her shaking hands. A glint of gold that was Parker's curls in the doorway. Her lips, so lusciously red, suddenly white with anger. He focused sharply on Cam as he pulled his jeans on underneath his towel.
She wasn't speaking. That wasn't like Cam.
She sighed noisily and threaded her fingers together in front of her face the way she did when she was about to ream another administrator. She wasn't angry though…her body language didn't say that. It just said…sad.
"I brought you something else," she said quietly. Booth stiffened, half expecting Brennan to walk through the door. His face must have been devastatingly hopeful for she shook her head quickly, already too fast on his train of thought.
"It's in the other room. With some lunch." Booth covertly scanned the room for an alarm clock. It was two in the afternoon.
"What are you doing home from work?" he asked thickly, confused.
"It's fourth of July," she told him simply. He squinted at her.
"Fourth of July weekend. No work today."
"But…" Booth said thickly. "I called…I thought…"
"That's why Michelle isn't at school."
"It's raining," Booth said stupidly.
"It was this morning when I picked you up, but not anymore," Cam informed him.
"How long were you gone?" His tongue was thick again, swollen up in his mouth as he struggled to unfold his shirt that was all bunched up against the not quite dry skin of his back. It was right above where his fingers could reach. He struggled briefly while Cam watched him, her face still strangely…pitying? –before she came over in exasperation and with surprisingly gentle dexterous fingers unwound the cotton behind him, leaning over his shoulder. Booth didn't mean to, but he let his head thunk against her collarbone in despair.
Immediately he felt her stiffen. He jerked his head up in apology, wondering when it had become hard to talk to his best friend. One of his best friends. His only friend, at this point. And not for long.
"Let's go into the kitchen," she said instead of any explanation as she slowly pushed herself with two hands to his shoulders and stood back up. Booth swallowed, his thick tongue swallowing down his throat, the wad of guilt getting lodged now in his airway, forcing him to open his mouth to breathe. He wanted to lean against Cam and maybe growl, or cry, or scream, or say sorry, hoping against hope she could be a dry run for Brennan.
But that's all she had ever been, and that wasn't fair to her at all.
He levered himself heavily off of her springy bed, scooping up his towel against her protestations to leave it out of long force of polite habit. He hung it on a peg where it didn't belong as he followed her down the hall, carpeted nicely and accented so differently than his own home, with pictures of Michelle graduating and old pictures of when Andrew, Michelle and Cam had all been a family. He realized the pictures on his wall were of strangers on baseball cards. It struck him suddenly, that he didn't have a single picture in his possession with the friend in front of him, or with Bones, or with the lab, except for the newspaper cutout from so long ago. It made him more ashamed than ever.
He froze, a deer in the headlights, upon seeing her kitchen table under the simple chandelier. Her entire table was covered with Brennan's letters, laid out, arrayed in a small phalanx of tiny soldiers, their blank white faces glaring with untold secrets concealed by archaic, now meaningless, titles.
"Where…" he stuttered. "Where did you get those?"
"I had to get you underwear," she said in a low, not quite accusing, voice. "The drawer was wide open and the letters strewn around the room."
"Brennan," Booth said her name in a tight admission of his guilt at her discovery. He swallowed, wiping his mouth with the back of a forearm to gain time to think and to hide his face. "Why…why did you bring them here?" Another horrible thought struck him to the core. "You didn't…you didn't read them?"
"Just this one." Cam carefully handed him Zack's letter, which he knew had been left unfolded on the sink. "There was another in the tub, shredded beyond repair."
"You read this?" Booth's whisper was half terrified, as if it was his own diary, and half angry, as if he had any right to judge. But she had encroached on Brennan's…privacy, thoughts…everything. It wasn't the same as what he had done. He had made a pact with Brennan – a tacit, delusional pact… Booth swallowed.
"So you know what they are."
"I didn't even finish this one," Cam snapped, her cool demeanor finally fracturing just the slightest for a fraction of a second to show her frazzled, scandalized interior. She sighed, and folded her arms even more tightly up against her chest, one of her favorite positions that left tiny bruises up against her ribcage, if Booth remembered correctly.
"As soon," she started, her voice shaking the slightest bit in anger and perhaps disgust, "as soon as I knew what it was…what it was saying…what it meant to her…I couldn't read that. I stopped. I dropped it. And then I found the others. All of them. And you know what else I gleaned from being a cop? They had all been opened. Every. Last. One. And you were hiding them in your underwear drawer. What-how-could-" she was suffering from the same choking rage, indignation, disbelief that had strangled both Brennan and Booth in their first face off.
Booth sighed like an enraged horse through his nose. "Did you read them all?" Cam laughed a sour little bark, as if his only response was typical.
"What do you think I am, some kind of dumbass? As soon as I realized what I was reading, I put it back. So here they are."
"I read them." His confession was quiet, quiet enough to sink into the carpet and the silence was long enough for Booth to notice the tarmac outside weaving in the heat waves rising from the road.
"No shit Sherlock," Cam finally sighed.
"She found out," he confessed again. She tightened her hair in its tiny pathetic ponytail – her new haircut not giving her the same severity she was used to controlling – viciously.
"She was bound to." Booth swallowed and stared at the letters. To his embarrassment they all began swimming in his vision.
"She's never speaking to me again." He realized he was about to cry.
"How much have you had to drink?" Cam asked wryly. Booth pouted.
"A little." He sniffled. She pursed her lips and chewed the inside of one for a long moment pensively.
"You want waffles?" Booth yanked his head up in shock.
"You're not mad?"
"Oh," she said cheerfully, "I'm furious. I called Angela. But she already knew." Booth felt his cheek crack with the pressure from grinding his teeth together so tightly.
"What?" Cam swirled around, her tight jeans flattering with the almost goofy looking crop top she had hoarded secretly since the late eighties.
"Blueberries or chocolate chips?" she asked sweetly.
"What?" Booth was still frozen.
"Because she is a moderator between the two of you and she needed to know. Especially since this will affect all of our lives and careers."
"Brennan is never speaking to me again." Booth's admission sounded hollow in his ears. It was the truth and they both knew it, regardless of Cam's quick pouring of water into the instant mix.
"She has her own prerogative," she said. Her manner was quiet. Booth realized suddenly that Cam was indifferent to his plight. She thought he deserved it.
"Chocolate chips," he choked. She nodded without looking at him.
Booth had almost no appetite, both from the sick admission of guilt and glutting for days, and the terror he felt as Angela stormed closer, almost as terrifying as any general coming to ream him for loss of his platoon.
The cars outside kept him jumping, his sniper senses blaring as each one breezed past. Booth knew what Angela's minivan's transmission sounded like without looking out the window.
However, each car that roared steadily down the quiet neighborhood had his teeth on edge and his skin crawling. He would hold his breath until each one passed, the Doppler Effect soothing in its slow crawl of sound waves past his vantage point in the front of the house next to the windows. He knew it would happen but prayed it wouldn't; the eventual sound of a larger motor puttered to an idle, the slow slick sound of tires turning on pavement, the dark rumble of axles struggling with suspension against cobblestones, and finally the ominous silence and door dings of a car being turned off.
When the car door slammed shut, Booth thought he would faint.
Cam left the table with her usual grace to answer the door. Michelle flitted into the room and then out again to grab waffles. Another set sat waiting and covered for Angela.
The fractured reflection of Angela loomed as she walked up the driveway and Booth let his face fall into his fingers in defeat. Michelle wandered pensively back in. Cam had let herself out to quietly confer for a moment on the doorstep, prolonging the agonizing wait before the torture even began.
"Are you okay Uncle Booth?" Michelle asked tentatively.
"I'm in trouble," he said glumly. "And if I were you, this would be a great time to go shopping. Or move to Canada."
"To get out of the house?" she finished wryly. "I figured that out as soon as I smelled waffles. Cam only cooks straight starch when she's upset."
"Smart girl," Cam said approvingly from behind her. "Booth is right, why don't you go to Bekah's?"
"Yeah, sure," Michelle said, curiosity scrawled across her face as she passed yet another person in her home. "Hello Aunt Angela."
Booth couldn't yet see Angela behind Cam but he heard her politely greet Michelle. She sat gracefully down at the table. Booth had expected her to ream him, coming in kicking and screaming, take out his gun and slowly blow his fingers off.
Her quiet composure was much, much worse.
She pulled the plate of waffles to her and slowly began to pour syrup and eat. Cam seemed in no hurry either, fluttering about Angela's bulky and cumbersome pregnancy and offering her orange juice and assorted fruit she certainly had not offered Booth.
It was only when Michelle came clumping back down the stairs did Booth become aware that Angela was carefully not looking at him because they were both waiting for Michelle to leave.
The door slamming shut again had Booth wincing a second time. It was like waiting for Angela all over again but backwards as the tires of Michelle's car slowly backed down the sloped driveway and into the street. Booth almost let out an audible sigh of relief hearing her pull into forward gear and drive away.
The waiting was over.
So he thought.
He turned his eyes up to Angela expectantly, the way a dog waits patiently for a kick after constant abuse with a tired weariness that is more heartbreaking than the cries. Booth realized the metaphor wasn't actually a metaphor at all. He had been that dog, many, many times. He had felt this way many, many times. The bile, the fear, the hate, and the shame, and the terror was all familiar. It was just a very different kind of thrashing with a bite instead of a belt.
"Interesting," Angela said quietly, staring across the table, not at Booth, but at his plate. It was the first word she had spoken in the kitchen.
Booth didn't say 'what' as unlikely as it would have been to get his throat working, but he did turn his attention to Angela's face. That satisfied her, to know he was at least paying attention. She continued.
"Brennan hasn't eaten hardly anything in days either."
"Have you been staying with her?" Booth's voice was hoarse and quiet with rough concern.
"Yes." Angela's answer was bitten off as if she was swallowing down a whole slew of things she wanted to say instead. Booth let his head hang a little lower, avoiding eye contact. "I've been looking for you for days. You haven't been home. I didn't know you were staying with Cam."
"Just now," Booth said quickly, interrupting Cam's open mouth. "Jared found me."
Angela's eyes narrowed. "He found you?" Her inflection matched his in the fact she was querying about his diction.
"In the diner. I've been staying with him for the last few days." Booth wasn't even sure how many days it had been. Padme could have been shortening the length for his sake.
"Why aren't you there now?"
"I think I was annoying Padme."
"Scaring her, more like," Cam finally put in. "She called, not Jared. She thought you were going to kill yourself."
"Right," snorted Booth. The unlikeliness of that was almost ironic. After all Brennan had been through…taking one more thing from her was unreasonable, ridiculous. How could they not see that? It wasn't even his life anymore to keep.
"If you ever do that to Brennan," Angela said with a deadly quiet. "I guarantee I will make sure you end up in hell."
"I wouldn't." Her eyes were dark with hate.
"I wouldn't," he assured her. "Plus, I'm Catholic."
"Like that's ever stopped you," Cam muttered. Her eyes were dark too, but with real concern.
"When my mom died," Booth blurted, and realized both of their attention had fixed upon them in genuine, ravenous interest. He never volunteered about himself. He wished he could take it back but their faces gave him just the spark of hope he needed to face the confrontation. "I didn't move for a week. I just watched tv and ate in my room. I locked the door and just…lay there. I didn't even see Jared. The day I got up was the day of her funeral. After that…well..." He couldn't even finish.
They didn't press him. They were too busy digesting the longest speech he had ever given about his past. It was a whole five sentences.
"How," he swallowed, but the rest of his throat was so swollen he couldn't spit out any more words. Angela understood.
"She's doing really badly. At first…she scared me. She cried…raged…a lot…but now…now she's gone all cold. Silent. I'll be lucky to get three words out of her in an hour and they'll just be 'yes,' 'no,' and 'dunno.' It's really like…someone died."
"Like I died," Booth finished softly, his worst fears confirmed. He thunked his head on the table. Every single fear: fear of trust, of being unlovable, of everyone leaving, of letting people in, of hero worship, or friendship - he couldn't have done a more royal mind fuck if he had carefully planned it out. Evidently Angela thought so as well, for her voice was no longer concerned as she spat out her next question.
"It held the letters."
"Why, why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want her to know."
"She would have known."
"Better now than later."
"What?" Of all the things he had expected it wasn't that.
"What if you two…you know…eventually ended up together, and she discovered it then?"
"It would have happened."
"I know," Angela snapped irritably. She gestured at Cam. "We all know."
"Will she be okay?"
"No!" Angela finally snapped. "No! She'll never be okay again! Don't you get that? She's got trust issues a mile high and you just made it a mile more. She won't even look at me. It's like she expects me to eat her, or leave her, or…I don't know. Don't you know what you've done?"
"Yes," Booth whispered. He stared at his scarred, interlocking hands. "I know." He knew more than Angela, more than he was sure he should know.
"What was in those letters?" Angela snapped. "What on earth could be so goddamn horrible?"
"I…" Booth started, but stopped. He stood up, over their enraged protests, and moved quickly to the counter, his fingers dexterously combing through them. Brennan had said the letters were his, to do with as he wished.
He knew, finally, like a stroke form the hand of God's paintbrush, what he had to do now. It was so unflinchingly obvious he felt like a dumbass for not seeing it before. It was the whole reason he had even read them, kept reading, knowing deep down what he would eventually have to do to make it right.
"Seeley Booth," snapped Cam. "Sit down."
"She wrote this," Booth said quietly, and the two's faces went into a blank kind of horror when he offered them their letters, one in each hand.
"We can't read -" Angela choked.
"They're addressed to you," Booth said quietly. His voice seemed suddenly incapable of talking over a library murmur. He felt very, very old. Inflection, emotion, especially hot emotions like anger, or joy…seemed utterly beyond him. Now in his voice all that could be expressed was a quiet sadness, a tentative hope, a gentle remonstration, or a subtle cajoling.
"They…they're addressed to…us?" Cam fumbled. Booth nodded solemnly and leaned the last little bit forward and firmly placed the letters in each hand. Both of their fingers curled around the envelope of their own accord, just as his had. But their grip was fearful, cautious, whereas his had been desperate, wonderful, fierce and aching.
"What does this mean?" Angela asked him, frowning, shoving the title up under his nose. He hadn't noticed before it said "letter to an opposite." Angela scowled in envy at Cam's, which was addressed: "letter to a hero."
"Brennan addresses all her letters rather cryptically," Booth said wryly. "I opened the first one because it was addressed 'letter to a soldier.' I thought it was for me."
"Wasn't it?" Cam asked in astonishment.
"What did it say?" Angela asked impatiently. Booth's face went paler; they both noticed it.
"It was the letter she wrote me after she thought I had been shot and killed. It was dated the day before my funeral."
"Oh my God," Cam muttered, immediately dropping her letter as if it were on fire.
"It was heartbreaking," Booth admitted. "It's why I read another."
"And another," Angela sighed with a sardonic edge to her voice.
"Yes." Booth's voice was pained, honest. He still had trouble speaking above a low rumble.
"I can't read this," Cam protested, trying to hand it back to him. Booth took it, then tossed it carelessly over the waffles back in front of her.
"It's addressed and written to you. It was going to be mailed at some point. It's for you, Camille." Her face was ashen. She looked over in panic to Angela who was holding her letter in both hands, her face thoughtful. She caught Cam's glance.
"I will if you will."
"I can't believe it."
"It's addressed to us," Angela argued. She looked up at Booth. "Isn't it?"
"You're sure," Cam agonized. "You're sure this is the right letter?"
"Yes," Booth said, a tad impatiently, waiting for them to open the letters. "I'm positive." It was beyond a need for them to share in his guilt; he knew now what he was. How to make it right. He was a postman of heartfelt paper airplanes.
With bated breath, Angela slid her finger into the loosely folded envelope flap. Cam swallowed and did the same. They were slightly out of synchronization, to Booth's annoyance, Cam a step behind the bold and blatantly curious Angela.
The envelopes hit the table only a fraction of a second after one another. Booth's chair scraped across the tile in concordance with the rattling of the letters being unfolded, one after another. Cam checked again that Angela was reading. Angela's eyes were voraciously tearing across the page, stopping in places, unfocusing, as Booth had done, to think, to dwell, to place the dates and times in order to set her frame of mind.
Cam's hesitation was lost in the wind with Brennan's opening paragraph. Subtle amusement flitted across her features, followed by a brief flash of hurt. Angela was veering between heartbreaking pity, tears and angry outrage. Booth found himself reading their faces side by side with the same tenacity he had kept in reading the letters themselves.
Angela finished first, her letter shorter, and Booth watched as she flipped to the back impatiently, found the one line scrawled there and her anger melt into aching sadness then back into impatience as she started over, rereading, skipping lines, her eyes flicking back and forth, up and down as her thumb traced the words up against the light and then smoothed the paper out as she pressed it down against the grain of the table, making sure she was reading each carefully inked word correctly.
Cam's eyes were swimming with tears. She was struggling to finish. She stood abruptly, her chair almost tipping backwards. She hardly noticed, one hand to her nose, her arm shielding the bottom half of her face as Booth had done not an hour ago. She walked away down the hall, not to her room but to anywhere but the table, too ashamed to have an audience to her pain.
Booth heard a door slam, and the more painful, heartbreaking sound of a tiny sob ripping out of his friend, quietly, smothered, as she finished her letter in private.
Angela was sitting stupefied, her letter resting quietly on her stomach. She stared off into space for a minute, for two. Cam's clock was shatteringly loud in the silence. Booth was breathless; he didn't want to break the spell. Thoughtfully, as if she was still in the trance Brennan had always cast over him with her written word, Angela walked dreamily into the kitchen. Booth didn't move, rooted to his chair like a tree trunk to the ground. She came back with more focus, printer paper and a pen in her hand. She sat down with a crash and opened the pen cap. That tiny sound popped the spell over Booth and he spoke quickly, urgently, his voice hoarse and too loud.
"What are you doing?"
She glared at him.
"What does it look like? I'm writing her a response."
"I'm answering her letter." Angela seemed to find his surprise incredibly stupid. It had never occurred once to him to do what Angela was doing. She scripted the date, the opening and then hesitated, looking back up at her audience. Cam had come in quietly, leaning against the doorframe, arms and legs crossed around her, the letter carefully tucked up under one arm, still unfolded. Her face was dry but her eyes were puffy.
Angela paused slightly, before she carefully folded up her unfinished blank page of a letter and put it back into the envelope titled letter to an opposite as an answer. She tucked it, and Brennan's letter to her without Booth's permission, into her purse. She swung it up onto her shoulder. She stopped, leaning slightly on her fingers on the tabletop, the congealing remains of waffles mixing strangely sweet in Booth's swampy sorrow.
"She won't work any cases with you for a while," Angela said quietly and moved towards the door. Cam cleared her throat and Angela paused, her pity extending to her friend enough to hug her. Over Angela's shoulder, Cam's eyes met Booth's and Booth knew she was accepting the hug from him now.
"Why didn't you stop?" Cam asked. "Like I did?" Booth swallowed, the million dollar question on his tongue. He told the truth.
"I wanted to know every part of her. Reading these letters I learned every part of her. Who she was, who she is, her family and her heartache. The selfish part and the best parts. She…she's my best friend. I just wanted to...to know her." Angela tilted her head quietly, letting go of Cam. The two now in on his secret had gleaned some understanding. Angela still asked.
""The more important question is, why did you do it? Why did you read them?"
A thousand things to say ran through his mind. He said the simplest, the most pure unfettered form and it felt so good to finally say aloud. His purpose now was clear, and his previous confusion about their relationship had been burned away by the confrontation and the anger, leaving only a gentle understanding, a deep sorrow and a lot of hope. He needed to fix it; he finally knew how.
"Because I love her."
They both turned to go, Angela to her car and beyond, somewhere to finish her letter, and Cam to walk her out the door, and perhaps do the same here.
"What are you going to do with the letter you write to her?" Booth called desperately. Angela turned around, a half smile on her face. She tossed her hair.
"Why, I'm putting it back in the letterbox of course."
To be continued.
I ended here because this is a good ending in a lot of ways (except of course, happy satisfaction.) It resolves the conflict – Brennan found out about the letters, and it gives Booth an entire arch of redemption for which to strive. I asked everyone whether it should be one story or two, but I realized I wanted more of Brennan, and more of Booth. And I didn't want only their perspectives, but everyone's. So the next story will be the dichotomy; Brennan will be the narrator, Booth the postman, and the authors of the letters are the answers to Brennan's unanswered life. I hope you all enjoyed; this story was a joy and a pleasure to write, cathartic and sweet. At times I endlessly amused myself, and at others I prevaricated if perhaps I was putting too much emotion into a simple fanfiction. I hope everyone who fell in love with the story as much as I did will follow into the sequel. All the best.