The Scientist on the Spectrum
Notes: I am new to this fandom. I have only seen Season Two, and the last episode of Season Six. (Wowzie wowza. What the heck HAPPENED between Season Two and Season Six?)
This story takes place in Season Two, since, you know, I've watched that season.
So digging this show!
"It had to be me."
She is positively vibrating with negative energy. Operating on a heightened frequency he can pick up across the room. Brennan tends to be a person who stills in distress. Booth doesn't like this nervous activity.
"It had to be me, of all people, he reached out to."
"Bones ..." His head tilts slightly, lowers so he can see her better. His expression is a cross between a wince and the faintest of sympathetic smiles.
"He had to pick the one person in the building who wouldn't – Why did he have to pick the person who was least likely to –" She is searching for words, a fight he is not used to seeing her undertake. Most of the time, she has no trouble finding words, and the only problem he has is that they are ten syllables long and are meaningless to him. Now she is spitting out random syllables and halves of phrases. He is uneasy.
"He must have thought I would understand." She stills then, all at once, and sinks into the chair, fixes her gaze on the surface of the desk. At a point somewhere beyond the surface of the desk. Her voice gets soft. Small. Flat in a way he has come to recognize not as an absence of emotion, but as an overload of it. "He picked the only person in the building who wouldn't understand."
She is still for maybe thirty seconds, while Booth shifts his weight, chews his lip, studies her. He is responding much more slowly than usual. He doesn't know what to say. She's right. She is the only person who wouldn't have recognized the reference in the final phone call from the serial killer.
Guy got his thrill from risking capture. In the sixteen months he'd been on the FBI's radar, it was his pattern to call the lead investigator just before murdering the victim. He would feed them some clue to the victim's location, usually in a riddle or a song lyric or movie quote, before setting up a potentially fatal situation – bomb with a slow timer, slow-acting poison, small fire – and leaving the victim to his fate.
Twice they had found the victim in time. Twice they hadn't. Three times now.
"Call never should have come to you in the first place," he tells her.
"I'm … aware of that, Booth!" The pause for a gulp. She seems hurt that he has pointed it out.
"What I mean is, he shouldn't have known you were working the case. I don't like that information out there. I'm investigating the case, he should have dealt with me. Never should have brought you into it." He feels like he has failed to protect her, not from danger this time, but from hurt.
She presses her lips together, looks sideways, out of her office. He can see sweat and a bit of blood on her forehead. He is sure he looks just the same, filthy and defeated. Maybe not quite so sad. It is her phone, not his, that rang at the eleventh hour. She is the one who misunderstood the clue. Who thought that "Houston, we have a problem" meant that the kidnapped man had been taken to Texas.
It wasn't completely illogical. The first two murders happened in Texas. By the time she'd chanced to echo his exact quote, they were twenty minutes in the opposite direction from the Air and Space museum, and already too late.
"The fact that you've pointed out it shouldn't have been me confirms I mishandled the call," she says, in a shaky voice, "I jumped to a conclusion."
He offers her something that is not quite a smile, given the circumstances. "Yeah, Bones, well, I've been trying to get you to do that for years."
"This is why I continue to resist," she says, and lets her head sink onto her arms.
He comes to sit across the desk from her. Picks up her pen and doodles on a notepad neatly placed next to the phone.
"I didn't know," she says into her arms. Then makes a small sound and picks up her head so he can hear her better. "I didn't know. I still don't know. I don't understand why you people, why everybody thinks it's okay just to reference things that – that you have no rational way of knowing whether or not your conversation partner has been exposed to. You just assume. You assume that everybody has had the same set of social and cultural experiences as you, which is clearly incorrect! I've never been able to grasp why pe- why you – why people -"
And then all at once, when he doesn't quite expect it, she dissolves into exhausted, defeated tears. Her hands raise as though she is handing the question to God, except of course she does not believe in God. Yet another way she is separate from his social and cultural experiences.
"Aww, come on, Bones." He reaches across the desk, touches her hair, pulls his hand back. He doesn't like feeling so far away from her, but he is not always sure what is okay to do when she's upset. She has a variety of types of upset. Sometimes she is rigid and resistant to touch. Other times she seems to need to be held so tightly it would be uncomfortable for a regular person. He is immediately ashamed of himself for thinking of her as irregular. But clearly, she is unlike anyone else he knows.
"He should have said what he meant," she says, almost pleading. There are echoes in her voice not just of this murder but of a lifetime of trying to figure out the meaning behind people's words. "Why can't people say what they mean? Particularly when a life depends on it?"
He doesn't have any way to make it easier for her, the disconnect between what people commonly say and what she is able to understand. She can look at a bone, free of its flesh for centuries, and give the person back their face and their name and the story of their death. But she cannot understand a movie reference. She is separated from her fellow humans by brilliance and brain chemistry and a possible autism spectrum disorder. She is lonely as the oldest, most forgotten bone.
"I understand the dead," she says, "because they don't speak in riddles. They can't confuse me with idioms or figures of speech. They can't lie." She stares away from him, always away from him when she is ashamed. "I cannot understand the living. And sometimes that is a life-or-death skill." Her voice gets quieter at every turn. "I got that man killed."
"The murderer," Booth says firmly, "got that man killed, Temperance. Not you." While he speaks, he stands and steps around the desk, leans backward against it. Chances to lay a hand on her shoulder. "Not you."
She shrugs off his hand and draws into herself. This is one of the no-touching days. He knows, then, that she will separate soon, even from him. She will go home and put on music loud enough to drown out echoes of a movie quote that keeps circling in her head. She will go home alone because she thinks she deserves it. She will study popular culture, not in a fascinated anthropologist way but in a desperate attempt to learn every movie quote and song lyric she might ever need to know when the chips are down.
When she realizes this is impossible, she will cry, alone in her apartment.
He can scarcely stand the thought.
"I'm going home," she tells him, quiet, and rises from the desk, and circles past him, leaving an arm's length of personal space around her.
"Let me drive you?" he asks.
She shakes her head and walks away, letting the distance widen between them.