AN: This is the last chapter! I hope you can live with a little mystery the way the characters have to. Based on reviews, this audience is small but dedicated. Thanks for reading. It's been a fun ride.
Hacker called with a case, before Booth and Hodgins could go down to check the mirror.
Booth drove to the scene with Bones, letting her precede him to where the body had been found. Witnesses and police officers stood at a respectful distance under the trees. Booth circulated, asking all the relevant questions, but mainly, he watched his partner. How she moved confidently in the rain-wet woods, first to study the layout of the remains, then crouching down to examine them.
He couldn't help recalling his first view of the other Brennan. Standing over a body, with that turquoise streak in her hair, and dismissing an intern's suggestion: No, they can see through that. We have to contaminate the remains more thoroughly… She'd been proud of her team's excellence, because they could make the evidence say whatever we want it to say.
Booth shuddered, and chalked it up to the chilly rain.
When they went to the diner for an overdue lunch, Bones confronted him about why he'd been acting strangely lately. "Angela says Hodgins has been, too. But I suppose that could be a coincidence." She regarded him calmly over her cup of tea.
Booth flailed around a little, first thinking to play dumb, and then to make a joke of it. But she was too smart to be put off by such tactics. So he looked her in the eye. "I'll tell you the whole story someday, Bones. Suffice it to say… I had a weird dream last week. You were in it, Angela—everyone was, but they were all… different." He took the bottle of ketchup to squeeze over their shared order of fries. "You ever had one like that?"
He expected her to answer, 'I can't say that I have,' or 'define different.' But she said, unequivocally, "Yes."
He stopped with a French fry halfway to his mouth. "You have?"
She nodded. "Dreams where your surroundings look significantly different and you can't find what you're looking for, or… when people act in ways they never do in real life." She studied him over her salad—but did he imagine it? The way her eyes slid over him, and that little pause in her sentence… Somehow, he was sure he had figured in some of those dreams.
He was still off balance, seeing meaning in every little detail. But he had to keep this discussion going. "So, in these dreams… people might have traits or jobs or… skills that they don't actually have?"
Bones didn't bat an eye. "Or they say things that are out of character, that they aren't likely to say in everyday life."
Then she took a bite of salad and started talking about the remains they had found.
Booth listened with one ear. The rest of him was thinking, what? She had to mean actual dreams, right? Not mirror universes cloaked as dreams. And yet… she'd worked at that museum for a long time. She knew a lot of its secret corners. Was it possible…
She'd caught him not paying attention to the case at hand. "Sorry. No, I don't have any theories about what happened to the guy. There's not enough information yet, right?"
"You often take pleasure in conjecture, well before we have adequate information."
"Maybe I'm getting more cautious in my old age. More rational."
"You're hardly old. But you're not highly rational, either."
Bones, he thought, you have no idea how irrational I can be.
But, judging by those hints she'd dropped, she had some pretty interesting stories to tell him, too. Even if they were just products of her subconscious.
When he and Hodgins went back to the basement a few days later, Booth was careful not to get lost. He paid close attention to every turn they took, and even considered leaving a trail of some kind.
As they went farther, they encountered fewer museum employees, until the corridors were deserted. Booth saw that Hodgins' eyes darted around nervously. He'd half expected the guy to appear with some big scanning machine he'd borrowed, and to talk about measuring electromagnetic fields or cosmic radiation or whatever that mirror might giving off. But instead, Hodgins had a length of balled-up museum cord under his arm, that they could use to designate an off-limits area.
Booth stopped at a dead-end hallway. "I think this is it."
"Yeah. Okay." Hodgins took a deep breath and started edging down the corridor, as close to the far wall as he could get.
With Booth a step behind, Hodgins saw the exhibit first. "Oh, my God."
The mirrors were gone. All of them, leaving an empty display area.
Forgetting trepidation, they stood in the hallway, staring. Booth could see a dusty imprint on the floor, where the largest mirror had rested, along with drag marks to show it had been pulled out. But no footprints, no signs, nothing to indicate where and why the items had been moved.
Hodgins opened and closed his mouth a few times. "Well," he said, "somebody on staff must… We can find out who's in charge of this. I could start by…"
Booth looked at his dazed expression and quipped, "Does this mean you won't get on the cover of Science?"
Two days later, they carried on a hushed phone conversation.
"I don't want Angie to overhear," Hodgins explained. "She seriously thinks we're dating, man. Why else do we keep spending time together?"
Booth looked up to make sure his office door was closed. "As long as she doesn't propose a threesome. Now, what did you find?"
"Okay, I've got the professor's name who should've been responsible for those mirrors. But he's—gone."
"What, on sabbatical?"
"I don't know! Just gone. He was here on a temporary basis, one of these visiting lecture-and-research things. And then, according to his colleagues, he was going to travel for a while, but no one could agree on where he would end up. And no one has the right contact information."
"Give me whatever you have and I'll—"
"No, it's—weird. I don't think you'll have any luck."
"I'm FBI, for God's sake. We can find anyone."
"I think…" Hodgins sounded strange. "I think this is a sign. That we should stop looking."
"What are you talking about?"
"Okay," he sighed, "there's more. I asked everyone I could think of, right? I made it sound like I just happened to find these mirrors and then got obsessed with curiosity about their context and time period and… I talked to the grad student who was working with this professor—his name is Dr. Sisko—but she didn't know anything. They didn't have any mirrors, as far as she knew. Maybe some fancy combs, jewelry and stuff that went down on the Titanic, but…"
"Shouldn't there be records of all this? Collections, acquisitions?"
"Yeah. I asked Angela to help me with that. But there were no records. Not for the ones we found. I mean, there were some mirrors. Individual ones, like belonging to famous historical figures, or part of a larger display. But no record of that many mirrors, all in a collection."
"That just doesn't happen, right? This place is meticulous about keeping records."
"I know. Angela didn't have a good explanation either. That professor must just have been storing them here, and we never acquired them at all. But even then, there should have been something…"
They kept talking in circles for a while. Why were there no security cameras in the basement? They could have seen who took the mirrors. And this professor—hadn't he left a number or forwarding address? Booth could still look into his whereabouts.
Hodgins went quiet after that. "Booth… I'm not sure I want to know."
"But you're the one who wanted to study this thing. You were the one saying, 'Don't you want answers to this mystery?'"
"I know, but…"
Booth thought of his time with the other Brennan, and how it haunted him. Did Hodgins feel the same way? Maybe not, if he couldn't claim Angela in that world. She'd only wanted him for a boy toy, because she'd been with Grayson…
Booth sighed. Mysteries. They'd talked about a few more over the past week. Like what'd happened to the other Hodgins? Booth's counterpart had shown up. But had Hodgins been captured or killed, during his spy activities? And the mirror—why did it only 'work' for Booth, sucking him in first? Arbitrary timing, or something else?
"I think," Hodgins said now, "this is one mystery we'll just have to live with."
Booth realized he wouldn't mind not getting another look at that creepy mirror. "Well, this saves us having to decide whether to study or destroy it."
In the following days, Booth made perfunctory efforts to find the elusive Dr. Sisko. But Hodgins was right: the usual channels just didn't work. It was like the guy had dropped off the grid.
Oddly, Hodgins hadn't formed any conspiracy theories about that disappearance; as if their tumble through the mirror had spooked the ideas right out of him.
Now that the anxiety of their experience had worn off, Hodgins seemed to be smiling more. He looked content with his life and his job, exactly as they were.
Booth wished he could feel the same way.
Although he was working a case with Bones, he tried to avoid going into her office. Because that carved massager still sat on her desk like a damn paperweight.
If he saw it, he knew he would be reminded. Of moonlight shining through metal bars and gauzy curtains. Of dark wood rafters, and golden lamplight on ivory skin.
If Bones smiled at him a certain way, at the diner or just in the car, he would see her eyes dilated with lust, and hear the way she'd surrendered to him, pressing the massager into his hand. Whatever you like, baby.
But one afternoon, he found himself standing by her desk, listening to her talk about the victim's bones. She was describing the marks left on them and musing about what other tests she could do; and even if it was totally unprofessional and weird, for Booth to be thinking sex during a murder investigation, he couldn't keep his eyes off the 'paperweight.'
This time, she caught him staring at it.
"Booth? Does this interest you?"
"Uh… no, I just… thought I saw it someplace before. What…" He had to clear his throat. "What is it?"
She picked it up, and he realized it wasn't exactly the same as the one he'd seen. This one had no loop of fabric on the underside, to slip over your hand. Instead it had a hole through the base, where a small wooden cylinder was stored. Bones drew it out, then ran it smartly over the ridges on the dome. It made a music Rrrt sound.
"I got this from a colleague in Southeast Asia. It mimics the sound of a frog croaking. Sometimes they're carved to look like animals, frogs or lizards, with ridges down their backs. Angela has seen them in American catalogs. But this one is authentic, and it can create more variety of tones." She ran the stick over the beads again, and Booth nodded to show he agreed.
But he was really thinking of lying in bed with a woman who looked exactly like Bones. Except for strands of blue in her hair, and a silver skull necklace on a cord. She'd trailed her fingers over his naked chest, toying with the carved massager. This is from another culture, you know. I've had it for so long I've forgotten the original context. When we fabricate so many histories, it's hard to keep the actual ones straight. But that's what's so interesting, isn't it?
"Booth?" Brennan held the object out to him, so he could try making the sound himself.
He shook his head, stuttering. "No, so that's it, huh? Just a… frog croaker or paperweight." He knew his voice sounded strange—too much doubt or relief—and she noticed.
"Why? Do you know another use for it?"
Her tone sounded straightforward, but just for a second, her mouth twitched with the hint of a smile. As he met her gaze, her eyes glittered: the same dangerous poise her counterpart possessed.
Booth felt his blood heat in response. Fire and boldness brimmed inside him, and he stepped forward, putting one hand on the desk and leaning over her. He saw a question in her eyes, at his behavior, but that challenging gleam still teased him.
Suddenly he knew he could make one dream a reality. He would find out what dreams she had experienced. He would tell her—something—about his.
Bones still held the musical paperweight in her hands, waiting for his answer. Do you know another use for it?
"Yes, I do. And someday, Bones, I'm going to show you."