A/N: Everybody's doing it, and I'm no exception. I need the light at the end of the tunnel, so I'm rubbing the twigs together myself.
SPOILERS for possible spoilers for the rest of season 6, 7 etc.
It had been nothing more than a logic problem. An equation. And while logistics were admittedly not her expertise, this problem had seemed to complicate itself the further she probed.
It was Old Brennan he'd loved.
She could be Old Brennan. She could say things literally and not try to impress him by using some figure of speech he'd taught her. She could posture ridiculously in the name of tribes and customs. She could pretend she didn't understand things she really understood, which would make it more credible that she were inhuman, more credible that she wouldn't be jealous or resentful or (metaphorically) mind-bendingly lonely without him.
She could be more Old Brennan than she'd been in five years.
But she'd resent it, because after all this time she realized he'd trained her to be the Brennan he didn't want. All his pointless euphemisms, all his earnest faith and blind promises: upended in seven small months of being away from her. In retrospect his values seemed fragile as glass threads and she felt more stupid than she ever had when she remembered how she'd thought about being with him in Maluku, and how the best adjective for those fantasies had been "sustaining."
It hadn't worked.
It wasn't working.
Old Brennan had been her last, best hope and she'd failed. Hannah was still there, making her invisible.
She wanted Booth to wake up, to be Old Booth, but all she got was his steady appreciation for things that were meant to show him where he'd gone wrong: a rotary phone that Hannah never could have chosen on her own, a reiterated invitation to her pool that was supposed to remind him that they were a family.
It wasn't enough.
She had the constant feeling of racing a clock. Every minute, even on her own time, in her own apartment, was one of a finite number.
It should have been the bones and death that she saw every day that gave her this sense of time running out, her life passing her by. But they hadn't.
And now instead of waiting for his knock in the evenings, instead of letting him in and taking the bags of food out of his arms and putting on a movie and enjoying the unspoken knowledge that she was his and he was hers, she existed only in her lab. She stayed with the bones until the last possible moment, and when she went home she walked in her own front door to the most spectacular loneliness. It was dense and resounding and if she tried to stay awake it would drag her down with alarming velocity, so she made sure to go straight to bed.
Touching her own skull - the skull that she could only see as her own, despite what anyone said - upended on the gurney below her, was her last straw. She turned the bones over in her hands, seeing her own lonely life lived to completion (no - not completion. To its end, but not to completion). She ran her finger over the skeletal zygomatic arch because it was something Booth had done for her once or twice, and she didn't know that anyone had ever done that for these bones, when these bones had been a person. Had been her. The bones deserved it. She deserved it.
Toward the end of the day she went out wandering, no longer able to trust that Booth would notice she were gone, but hoping he would. She needed him to, and somehow she still equated the depth of her need with his ability to sense it: that his disinterest in her could be overcome if she only needed him enough.
She lost it in his car.
He'd come, he'd found her, he'd picked her up. Rescued her, in the heroic way she remembered. Or maybe his heroism was all in her head, too, like the skull that was hers but wasn't. Regardless, she'd ended up in his arms, held tightly, securely, while he'd breathed hard against her and she'd felt his heart beat through his jacket.
In that moment he was Old Booth again but she was New Brennan, in love with him and unable to stop.
He drove her home and it didn't seem right or fair that he could come save her from something that wasn't dangerous - a reckless driver not looking for pedestrian anthropologists on the side of the road - only to take her home where she would die slowly, a little more each night. She was overwhelmed by the injustice of it, and by how much she'd wanted him to say he still loved her when he'd held her.
He hadn't said it. He hadn't said anything but, "Bones. Why'd you do this? Why're you out here? It's late. It's...raining."
He'd given her his jacket. She didn't know if she was going to be able to give it back when his car finally reached her building. Just the thought of his car reaching her building filled her with a spike of wet dread, and as she counted down the city blocks, it became harder for her to breathe. She stared at him and let her wide and tearful eyes beg him to stop the car, to turn around, to say anything that would give her hope.
"Bones," he said, finally. He didn't stop the car or even slow down, but at least he was talking. "I don't know what to do for you."
She coughed nervously. She tried to blink back tears but it just sent them down her face. She couldn't answer him.
"Why're you taking this case so personally, Bones?" His face was serious, sympathetic, but not in love with her. His words were worse: the case. Like the case could ever push her this far. He didn't know her at all, anymore.
"The case, Booth, is not-" She put her hands over her face, both of them. She'd started the sentence so evenly that it shocked her to have to stop halfway through, but her throat had constricted and her mouth had pulled sideways and then she was crying, albeit soundlessly, such that she couldn't speak. Booth handled it the way he handled everything about her, lately: calmly, distantly.
"Bones. Maybe..." he adjusted his position in the driver's seat "...maybe you should get some help. See somebody."
She wanted to scream. It was all she wanted, to see somebody. Just one somebody, all the time. Her shoulders shook but she maintained silence.
"You could take some time, you know?"
Time. It was time that had done this to her, its illusory comfort and her greed for safe delays. She was angry, at time and at herself. "I don't need time," she said. Her voice was ragged and didn't sound right. "I need..." She knew, but she couldn't say.
"What, Bones? Tell me," he said. He was always so gentle. So accommodating. It was such a lie. But he pulled the car over, right near the mall where nobody without a badge would dare pull over, and he put it in park and turned off the ignition. He turned to her with his head but not his body, and she knew he knew her answer already. She couldn't tell if he wanted her to lie. She couldn't tell those kinds of things without his help.
"Another chance," she wept. "I need another chance. I don't want any regrets. I made a mistake. I missed my chance."
She made herself look him in the eyes because it was the most painful. Penance. Atonement. Anything. He looked away. He looked away.
"Sometimes you get one wrong," he said. "Everyone makes mistakes. You can't beat yourself up." It was the most generic string of platitudes she'd ever heard. He wasn't supposed to talk to her that way: it was too much for her. It was like he wasn't any kind of Booth anymore, Old or New. Like she'd watched him die, same as she'd been dying since he'd come back from Iraq without his heart.
"Booth," she cried. He stared at the console and she wondered if he even registered that she was far enough outside her comfort zone that she couldn't see the way back.
"Bones," he said quietly. "I can't. You know I can't."
She did know. Of course she knew. But he'd told her - once - that love was the breaking of natural laws, and she'd hoped that if anyone could deliver the impossible, it would be him. And he couldn't. She cried out loud, mourning too many things at once. It was too unbearable a pain to muzzle.
"I have to take you home," he said. It was meant to indicate that he had no choice, but what it did indicate to her was that he'd made one.
"I know," she said.
What Bones didn't know about was the fight: the first one and the ones that followed.
She never heard Hannah say, "I know something's going on with you and her."
She never heard Booth tell her exactly what that was.
She wasn't there when Hannah gave the ultimatum, when she said, "I need you to get out of there. Transfer. We could go anywhere." And Booth stood awkwardly still with a pained expression and told her he didn't want to leave the Jeffersonian. That Bones was his friend.
"If she were your friend, she wouldn't have said those things. She's not your friend, Seeley, and I don't like it."
"You don't know Bones," he snapped before he could censor himself.
Bones missed Hannah taking a few days to herself in a hotel, trying to figure out what it meant that her fiancée wouldn't let go of a woman who ostensibly shouldn't have been more important to him than his future wife.
And Booth would never, ever tell Bones about the heartbreak of taking Hannah to the airport for the last time. He insisted on going and apologized for everything and nothing and none of it made things okay between them. She was already gone, and so was he.
The first that Bones ever heard about any of it was Booth's knock at her front door.
When she invited him in, he declined. He stood there, looking battered, slow on his feet.
"Hannah left me," he said. He didn't try to make it sound more equitable; he owed her that dignity.
"I'm sorry to hear that," she said stoically, but her heart had jumped to a dizzying number of beats per minute.
"I..." he trailed off into a weary sigh. "I want you to know. I chose you, Bones." He didn't explain any further. She didn't know what to say. She wanted to rush at him, grab him, crush him with her joy, but he looked so solemn and weighted that she didn't dare.
"Booth-" she started. He waved his hand at her to stop her. She was on her toes with nervousness.
"Just give me...a little time, Bones, alright?" He rubbed his forehead and Brennan noticed his eyes were red and irritated. He looked older. For the first time she had a real sense of the depth of love, seeing what it had taken out of him. It was frightening, striking, and she had a moment of deep fear, like she were about to jump off the high board and she'd just looked down.
She nodded. "Time. Of course. I will...give you time, Booth."
He nodded with her, and slowly backed off her doorstep.
"Would you prefer...?" she left off 'company,' but he understood. He gave her another weak wave.
"No thanks, Bones." He tilted himself in the direction of the elevator. "I'm gonna ride this one out on my own."
She watched him go, grateful and worried and relieved and she was having trouble breathing again.
She shut her door and leaned against it from the inside, crying over a wide smile.
It was quiet, except for the rustling of the sheets over their bodies and their heavy breathing.
She gave him nothing but a gaspy, quiet "Booth" when she couldn't forestall it anymore. It just about broke his heart.
He gathered her shoulders in his arm, trading his support for hers.
"Bones," he said in low tones, pressing his jaw to her cheekbone and letting the vibrations of his voice carry. "It's okay, baby, I'm right here."
She knew he was; she could feel him everywhere. He was warm and he was sure and it was right.
"Booth," she sighed.
She let herself go, and, like every time she let herself go with him, the first words her mouth formed were, "I love you."
No matter how hard he was concentrating, no matter how deep in the moment he was, he always smiled when she said that.
"You're going to love me more in a minute," he said, because their first, serious 'I love you's had come and gone, but damned if he wasn't right about that.