Notes: Thanks for the reviews, everyone! I'm hoping if I breach canon because of something that's happened in another season, or because I just don't know these people that well yet, you guys will gently correct me. Come on, public library patrons, turn in your seasons of BONES! I'm in the dark here!
She was nine years old the first time it dawned on her that she was different, that her brain was different. Nine years old and standing alone in the corner of a park, surrounded by stones organized by color, texture, size, and general location of discovery.
That year, she wanted to be a geologist. The year before, she had wanted to be a geneticist, had spent the spring predicting the colors and patterns of litter after litter of impending baby cats. There were a slew of strays in the neighborhood and it was not hard to lure them close enough to study. But Russ kept sneaking behind her and dumping the food she left out for them. Brothers. It was difficult to maintain enthusiasm for a project when you were constantly being sabotaged.
She sits awake for half the night, thinking of that bright-eyed nine-year-old in the park. The one who thought the other kids were approaching to look at her rock collection. To share in her wonder of nature and science.
Later, at the water fountain, washing off the blood before her parents could see it, she knew she had been stupid, literally giving them ammunition. She didn't even know those kids, didn't know why they felt like they had to prove their superiority. Okay, so maybe she recognized a feature or two. Crooked nose or frizzy hair. She couldn't place them, didn't ordinarily see them at the park, so she didn't recognize them there. They belonged at school. She wasn't a snob. She would have recognized them at school.
She sits awake for half the night, nursing bruises she thought had healed. Logically, she knows that her intellect is worth far more than any social skill she might be lacking. Social skills, after all, do not solve murders, or return faces to the faceless after decades or even centuries of anonymity. What she does is rare, while social skills are a dime a dozen – a figure of speech she has finally learned after repeatedly checking the prices of things.
Of course her intellect cannot sit with her when she is upset, or talk her out of the guilt and self-loathing that comes with having a lost life weighing on her conscience. This is one of those rare times when she wonders whether a balance would have been better – a little less intellect, a little more humanity.
Tears come at last, and this is good. Tears are human. Not that she is so out of touch that she thinks of herself as inhuman. Clearly she is a human. Her biological attributes tie her irrefutably to that particular species. But she finds it comforting, at times like these, that she is able to do, as Booth puts it, "what people do."
Only a few of the tears are for the dead man. She feels guilty. Not enough of the tears are for the dead man.
More of her tears, right this second, are for the nine-year-old, dodging stones, desperately scrambling to put them back in order. She wanted to write down her method of organization, but the throws were coming so quickly and she was bleeding and someone had taken her pen, and she knew it was a losing battle, trying to catalog her research, knew these other children, these mean little children had ruined her research and her morning and her favorite shirt.
The hardest part, at nine, was understanding that the other kids didn't care about the science. Even Russ, who gave her his baseball jersey and hid the bloody shirt before their parents could see, didn't care about the science. He only cared about his oddball of a baby sister, crying not because she was injured but because some filthy rocks got scattered.
She has never made much sense to anybody.
The phone's ring startles her out of her tears, which have nearly dried up anyway. It isn't logical to cry over something that happened more than two decades ago. Not when so much has happened since.
She picks up the phone, answers with, "Brennan," even though she knows it is Booth and Booth calls her Bones. She has always liked the nickname, likes the intimacy of having a nickname, even early on when it bothered her on some level. Russ had nicknames in high school, and Dr. Saroyan thought of Zacaroni and Hodge Podge. It has never occurred to her to call Booth by a nickname. She wouldn't know how to even think of one.
"Hey, I forgot to ask you, I wanted to, uh -" He has clearly forgotten to get his story figured out before calling her.
"You wanted to make sure I'm not sitting awake at two seventeen in the morning, upset because my lack of awareness of the common entertainment methods of my fellow man ended the life of one such creature?" She is overly formal on purpose. Longer words are safer when she is upset. They keep responses at bay.
She hears his breath. She marvels that she understands what he is doing. She knows he is taking that breath to buy time – really, why do so many figures of speech have to involve money? – because he wants to say something that will make her feel better, and he doesn't know what that is yet. She finds it easier to understand Booth's motivations than to understand anyone else's. Even her own, sometimes.
"Yeah." He finally decides on the truth, and she is glad. He likes to joke, and avoid, and evade. But he is straightforward just often enough.
"I'm fine," she says, which is both a lie and an evasion. There are moments, then, when it is too easy to do what people do.
He breathes again. She waits for him to speak.
"I know you are," he says easily, as though this is not even in question. "I'm just up, you know, figured you might be. Wondered whether you could stand a little company."
She thinks about kids with rocks. Ruined shirts and stolen pens. The loneliness of intellect when you've got nobody to share it with. She opens her mouth.
Then she thinks about how she handed the rocks to those children. How she misunderstood their intentions and she ended up getting hurt. She closes her mouth again. She doesn't know what she should do.
She decides that it is her turn to buy time. And she has just the currency. "If I were going to give you a nickname, what do you think it would be?" she asks him, knowing full well that this is an illogical place for the conversation to go. There is a slight thrill in being illogical, like she is dressing up for Halloween.
He laughs a small half-laugh that she has come to find comforting. "What?" She reads both bewilderment and affection in his tone, hopes she is reading the latter correctly.
"A nickname. Like Zacaroni or Hodge Podge or … or Bones. What would yours be?"
"See, Bones, the thing about a nickname is that it's something you give somebody else." He is always game to explain human nature to her, even out of context at two twenty-one on a Friday morning. He is as willing to explain human nature to her as she is to explain forensic anthropology to him, and they understand each other just about as well. "You can't ask a person to give themselves a nickname. It just sort of happens. It's not really … planned … What is this about?"
"I don't know how to give nicknames." She is beginning to regret broaching the subject, but she can't seem to let it go.
"Well … that's okay." She knows it is impossible to hear somebody shrug, but the image comes to her mind so clearly that she knows that's what he's doing.
She can't help but smile. "Yeah … I know it's okay. I'm just curious. What do you think your nickname would be? If I … you know. Gave you a nickname."
There is a pause. In the silence, she can picture him running one hand through the back of his hair. She has come to know his mannerisms quite well. "Bones …"
"You can't imagine me calling you by a nickname, can you?" she asks after a minute.
"I really can't," he says. "Booth works fine. So is that a yes or a no on the company?"
She closes her eyes. Pictures herself, age nine, with a fistful of rocks. Loosens her grip.
"I would love some company," she tells him.