Hello again! For all cruising and finding this story, it is a sequel. Like numero dos. Like walking into LOTR during the battle at Helm's Deep. That will only make sense to some of you (the hot nerd following, am I right?) The first half was entitled The Letterbox and can be found on my author page.
For the rest of you who have been patiently waiting, I bid you a welcome back. Like the previous first chapter, this too, has no first letter. After Booth's horrible realization for redemption, this story is entitled Heartfelt Paper Airplanes.
She knew him by his scent. It was that overbearing smell of cologne, the slight reek of perspiration and the very faint whiff of ink that heralded the boy who delivered all the mail to the Jeffersonian. She hardly looked up from the file she was reading; she hardly looked up at anyone anymore.
"Just put it on my desk," she told him absently as she licked the corner of a thumb to help turn a page. The rustling of her own paper confused her for a second as she listened to the crinkling of mail being…crammed? She looked up in astonishment to see the young man attempting to shove two letters - two - into the letterbox.
Weeks before, Angela had guiltily dropped it by her office and Brennan had uncaringly thrown it in a corner on a shelf just inside the door. She hated the sight of it, almost perfect in the consistencies, but sometimes it caught the light a certain way and Brennan could tell - from long years of lonely practice - that it wasn't quite the same, it wasn't quite hers. But she couldn't bring herself to move it. It stood where she had first thrown it, which she regretted since it now rested directly in her line of sight.
"Excuse me," she said, more out of politeness than anything, since she wasn't feeling the need to pardon his actions at all, "what do you think you're doing?"
The boy, no older than twenty two, flushed a bright pink, almost as radiant as the crimson she felt roiling off of her face.
"The man - um, your coworker - he said that all letters addressed to you - you know, personal like - are supposed to be put in the box."
"The man?" Brennan echoed hollowly, skeptically. The boy nodded enthusiastically, eager to pin the blame on a more able victim.
"A man you work with. Tall. Six one, six two, brown hair, funny tie-"
"I know who you're talking about," Brennan interrupted quickly. Her heart burned with the knowledge.
"So…" the young mail carrier gulped. "Is it okay then if I keep putting them in here?"
"The letters miss…ma'am, I mean doctor?" He trailed off his tongue fumble with a rising tone much like Parker- Brennan cut off the thought viciously. Parker would only lead to inevitable thoughts of him. And time with him. And memories. Good memories. That was the problem. They were memories she missed. She hated, hated, absolutely abhorred and loathed herself for being so weak as to actually miss him. But she did, every heart throbbing second of every century long day.
"How long have you been delivering these letters?"
"You mean you haven't noticed?" the boy asked in absolute disbelief. The steely glare he got in response shut him up. He gulped. "Just a couple of weeks. Maybe five or six letters. A couple. But there were some in there already."
"What?" Brennan shoved herself back from her desk and stood. Her abrupt movement seemed to be propelling the young mail carrier away.
"I'll just…be going…do you want me to keep delivering?" But he didn't wait for a response upon seeing her face and scrambled away.
Brennan approached her - now Booth's - letterbox. It was almost ironic, how her very innermost thoughts and secrets of the heart had been replaced by Booth's replicas. She squelched the thought viciously. Touching it was almost beyond her, but she managed to gasp in a last breath before her fingers glued themselves to the smooth satiny collage of paper maché. It was silky and bumpy at the same time, with a glossy texture that slid over the new ridges and valleys. The pictures might have been the same, but the feel of the box was totally different. The cardboard beneath was more firm, sturdy, without the wear and aging of years. The photographs and cutouts, wrinkled upon being coated in a shiny topical glue, had folded in new and exotic ways. Brennan let her fingers wander for a moment, entranced at the experience, before she seized the box up to shake it.
Almost as soon as she had lifted it, her fingers found the new bottom Angela had obviously put in for this very purpose. The bottom, papered over, had a door. The door had a latch made out of a big, flat, black button. Fumbling a moment, Brennan then dexterously flipped open the new little hatch. She was floored at the rain of letters that hit the floor, missing the end table the box usually rested on.
Forgetting herself for a moment, she set the box down with one hand thoughtlessly before fluidly dropping into a crouch, her heeled boots making her wobble a moment as she automatically compensated for her unevenly distributed weight. She put two fingers to the floor instantly before rocking back onto her heels to survey her new trove.
There were at least ten letters. Probably a few more. She had expected only two or three, from the messenger's tone. Although Brennan hadn't read any of the letters she had penned since the day she had written them, she frowned, because many of the already drafted letters – obviously from her family and friends – had different titles. She didn't recognize a single one. She wondered if their titles meant as much to their authors as they had to her.
She scooped them all back up, hesitated, and randomly threw one on her desk and paused. The one on the top of the pile was in Booth's untidy scrawl. Letter to a Partner. Of course it was. She debated whether she should open it first, previous to all of the others. She didn't know what Booth had done, or in what order he read hers. The letter was ridiculously tantalizing, laying Booth bare when she had been flayed to the quick. She carefully put it back, satisfied with whatever letter she had already thrown on her desk. She was lying to herself. She'd never be satisfied. Unless this letter was truly exceptional. She almost snorted. It wasn't as if Booth was very good with the written word.
She wondered where the other letters were. She had already realized – really it wasn't that hard – what Booth had done. She had sneered at him, and given him the tacit permission he of course had seized. There was still one problem; she knew many of the recipients of the letters were dead. Who would answer them? Brennan clutched a heel of a hand over her breastbone. She had never realized it until this moment, but she wanted the letters answered. She wanted to understand her life more than she had ever thought possible.
She had spent so very long running from what she thought would hurt her to know, and here she was, holding onto all her secrets, all of her pain, and longing – quite literally – to open it up again. She closed the tiny button door to her letterbox, the others neatly folded at the bottom, as she approached her desk warily. Little known to her, Booth had felt the same way about the first letter.
"Slow down!" called a woman's voice outside her door. She disregarded it; it obviously wasn't directed at her. She hesitated, and sank down behind her desk. She felt her knees creak a little and winced as she settled herself. There really was no need to wear high heeled boots if she wasn't going to see Booth. Disgusted with herself, she unzipped them and left them peeled off under her desk. Similarly, her dress felt tawdry and cheap. What was she thinking? This wasn't her.
Suddenly changing clothes was the most important task she needed to accomplish. She swallowed. She stood, her tights wet with the intrinsic sweat that accompanied knee high leather, and strode purposefully towards her door. She shut it against any intrusions.
A little boy's voice still managed to slip in.
Brennan yanked the door open again, hard. What was he doing here? Against her express orders? She had to remind herself she was not actually a queen, for all that he treated her like one. Still, this was the Lab. Her space. Her Lab. He was not part of it. Not anymore.
She felt like a peeping Tom as she cracked the door just enough to put her eye to the opening. She watched, feeling her face shift in unpleasant ways she knew had to do with that homesick look Angela sometimes got when she talked about the art museums in Dallas and Austin, or when Booth reminisced about Philly – Brennan squashed that thought cruelly. It made an ugly little impact in her mind.
"Dad, Dad, Dad!" trilled Parker – for of course that's who it had to be – as he caught his father's hands. Booth had just emerged from Cam's office as she stood, hip cocked behind him, smiling a self satisfied smile at the scene. Brennan wanted to slap that stupid smirk right off her face. She had to remind herself that Cam had known Booth for a long, long time before he had ever walked into her life. She still felt the urge to kick her. That's normal after pursuits, Booth's amused voice echoed in her mind, memory unbidden punching her in the throat so she could hardly breathe, We try not to do that.
She slammed the door but regretted it. The blinds rattling made her realize they were open; she turned away but still felt four pairs of curious eyes on her as she stalked over to her computer. She almost sat, but then kept walking towards the other wall. A pair of jeans was folded in a cabinet. She huffed back down, perfectly aware how irrationally childish she was being and stripped off her black tights under her desk. She had just managed to shove one leg through a pant hole when the door opened.
"Bones, Bones, Bones, Bones!" Parker accentuated every long striding step with her name. She quickly let her jeans drop to the floor and shimmied out of that leg. She didn't want to change in front of Booth's son. She swallowed back a flash of regret. She realized this was the first time anyone had called her Bones in weeks.
"Hello Parker," she smiled politely.
"I finished Dracula!" he announced. His smile was broad as he puffed out his chest. It was most probably the longest book he had ever read. "It was the longest book I've ever read!" he assured her. She suppressed a smile and the thought that she really did love Parker.
"What did you think?" she asked composedly. At least she hoped she was composed. Booth's solid, skulking presence was impossible to miss in any doorway.
"Parts of it were boring," Parker frowned. "And some parts they talked in spelling I didn't understand." Brennan let herself laugh, even in front of him. She very carefully didn't look at him because she knew that he hadn't stopped looking at her.
"Well what about the other parts?" she asked, hoping she didn't sound too much like an English teacher quizzing him. Parker lit up like the Christmas tree he had once delivered.
"They were awesome. They cut some girl's head off! She ate babies! And there was this guy who could become mist and kill you with his mind. And he drove this guy so crazy he ate like fifty bajillion birds – while they were alive. Gross!" Brennan had to reevaluate if the macabre was really quite good for Parker. He sounded suspiciously thrilled.
Booth was on her train of thought before it was completed.
"No Bones, you didn't make a little serial killer. All boys are like that." She flinched at the name. He noticed and his voice fell off. He had squashed, she could tell, whatever else he had wanted to say.
"Also," Parker said dramatically, as he flopped spine first onto her couch and grinned up at her while his head lolled at the ceiling, "we have to dance for class." He said it in a tone that suggested the two were somehow related. Brennan couldn't tell how. She frowned. She scratched an earlobe. She furrowed her eyebrows the way she did when she didn't want other people to know she was confused too.
"Excuse me?" she finally managed. Booth smirked. She studiously ignored him and his little grin wilted. She almost felt bad. She glanced a darting pass at the letterbox. She fortified her animosity.
"Yeah I know right?" Parker added expressively, as if he were explaining himself quite well. Brennan felt her head slowly starting to shake as she squinted.
"No," she said slowly, still shaking her head in that smooth, metronomic gesture, "I don't know."
Parker rolled his eyes. "Well of course you don't!" he exclaimed, "I haven't told you what we're doing yet." Brennan changed her slow shake to a slow nod, hoping he'd continue before she had to figure out another socially acceptable way to make conversation without actually making conversation. With words.
Parker took it for fact she was interested. "We have to put a presentation together based on a song," he moaned. "So lame, right?" Brennan had stopped nodding. She took this as her cue to continue her glacial nod as she turned her face slightly to the right, eyeing him more with her left eye as her right flicked towards Booth.
He grinned conspiratorially, like old times. She had been checking more to see if he was following this, or that he was still there. His face looked more horrible than it had when he hadn't been sleeping. She turned her face suddenly sharply the other way towards Parker and kept nodding.
"Well there are girls in our group."
"Ooh," Booth sing-songed, trying to edge into their dialogue.
"Dad," snapped Parker. Booth wilted. Parker rubbed his mouth and Booth's eyebrows drew down in a thundercloud. Brennan lifted her own eyebrows, nonplussed. She had never seen Booth and Parker on anything but perfect terms.
"Parks, I gotta tell your Mom a few last things we need to wrap up. You gonna be cool here?" Parker gave him quite a cool glance to accentuate his shrug.
"I'm cool," he said, squirming into an upright position that was half sitting, half slouching. Brennan straightened her spine in over correction behind her desk as she wondered what to do about her jeans. Upon seeing Booth, she desperately wanted them on more than ever. She couldn't remember the last time she had worn jeans.
"What's wrong with girls?" Brennan said. Parker grinned and his smile was so absolutely Boothy Brennan almost shoved her fingers over her temples to stop the headache that started pounding.
"Aw, there's nothing wrong with you," Parker assured her. "It's other girls."
"You like Cam," Brennan said, still confused.
"But she's like…my aunt," Parker groaned. "Seriously, it's not the same. We're friends." He gestured between himself and her. She swallowed hard, feeling as if memory had ruptured her windpipe again. Parker's smile hitched. "Aren't we?"
"Of course," she smiled painfully. That didn't seem to be the appropriate thing to say. She felt a flash of panic. Perhaps she was being condescending. Demeaning him. She groped for the right word and then slumped as sudden tension left. She nodded a couple times.
"Totally," she enthused, with all the drawl she had picked up from the Jersey Shore. Parker similarly liquefied, slumping again. Brennan had to wonder when he had sat up quite so straight. She straightened up. She almost smiled as she watched him do the same with an almost audible sigh, as if he were tired.
"Anyway," Parker said, flipping his hand nonchalantly. "These girls. They want us to like choreograph a dance routine. To rap music. How stupid right?"
"So random yo," Brennan echoed. Parker frowned at her and shook his head twice as fast as she had been shaking hers.
"Don't do that," he told her severely. She blinked. Wrong anthropological subgroup. Her ears burned; she had never been shamed in front of a class before for the wrong answer. She realized she needed to reclassify Parker in another group. She frantically searched for more words.
"So what's wrong with dancing?" she asked casually, hoping none of the words were offensive. He shrugged and she relaxed. It was like talking to Booth. She wondered if Parker was as prudish about sex as his father. She found it best not to test the waters lest his father go ballistic. The idea was highly entertaining until she recollected that Booth was no longer speaking to her. Correction: she was no longer speaking to him. She had to wonder if Parker was slightly more evolved than the both of them.
"There's nothing wrong with it," Parker whined. "I guess…but I don't know how and I'm going to look really dumb."
"You can't actually look dumb," Brennan corrected him. "It's not a physiological trait."
Parker made a face that was half a frown and half a smile. "But I'm going to embarrass myself."
"Because you don't know what you're doing?" she frowned.
"Duh!" Parker enthused. Brennan quickly grabbed a pen and jotted the word down for future use.
"Well why don't you practice?"
"But dancing is for sissies." Sissies was written under duh.
"Who told you that?" Parker shrugged and made a sound that she wrote down phonetically as "idunkno." Brennan looked back up at him.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Nobody," Parker mumbled, slouching again. "Everybody. Boys don't dance. That's lame."
"That's lame," Brennan echoed, working in the hunched shoulders Parker was sporting.
"What!" Parker screeched and Brennan had to wonder if she had said something wrong. "I'm not lame. You know what, I'm going to get the guys together and we're going to choreograph our own dance too and we'll be the best group ever. Then dancing won't be lame when I'm awesome!" He bellowed the last word and sprinted out leaving Brennan half finished penning the word "awesome."
Booth stuck his head in.
"How'd you do that?" he asked in bewilderment. She was equally bemused.
"Do what?" She spoke carefully, both of them hyperaware this was their first real eye-to-eye conversation in weeks.
"Convince him to dance?"
"I did?" she said in astonishment. Booth shook his head with a scowling smile and mimed shooting a gun at her. She assumed this was some gesture of goodwill for he didn't have his usual grim intensity that came when he was actually hunting someone as a sniper. He patted the door twice and left. Brennan frowned after him and then carefully knocked her knuckles twice on her desk as if mimicking the gesture would force it to go into the subgroup. She wrote it down anyway.
It was only then she managed to stride over to the blinds, suddenly aware how short the dress was without tights, and close them. She struggled into worn jeans and an old tank top she kept for late nights at the Jeffersonian when her body hurt. Her body didn't hurt from the inseams and the high heels now, but her mind hurt. Her…her heart didn't hurt but something metaphorically like a heart hurt. Was that what a soul was? She squinched up one eye as she folded her dress. If only she could ask Booth.
She sighed heavily as she eyed the letter on her desk. It hadn't really ever left her mind; she was too good at multitasking for that. So before she picked it up, her brain had already informed her that it was from a friend since it didn't have postage, from someone in the lab since it was in a Jeffersonian envelope, and it had to be a woman since the handwriting was so well penned. That left two obvious candidates. Turning the envelope over and opening it let out a certain scent she'd never in a hundred years forget – regardless how improbable she would ever live another hundred years – the scent of Angela's perfume. She wore the same perfume every day since Hodgins had bought it for her before the gravedigger had taken him.
Regardless of how long she had left to live, Brennan would know that smell for the rest of her life.
She swallowed. She wasn't sure if Angela's letter would be the best one to read first. She couldn't even remember what she had written to Angela. It probably had been cruel.
It wasn't a piece of paper. It was cardstock. It had one line on it.
Come see me.
Brennan wasn't sure if that meant now, or at the end of the day, or at the end of the week or…what it meant at all. She would pop in and see Angela, ask her, and then come back during the appropriate time. She sighed and got up, walking out and forgetting her bare feet despite her strict mandate that close toed shoes be worn at all times in the lab. She realized it was later than she had thought; then again, Parker did have to come home from school before meeting up with Booth. The lab was full of mostly hangers-on. People like Zack and Hodgins who raced beetles. Very simply, people with no place else to go. Brennan didn't like that she was one of those people.
She used to always have a place to go.
But lately she had been avoiding the diner and Founding Fathers like the plague. She wouldn't want to run into certain people who had invaded her privacy, read her diary and had the gall to stand there, half naked, and try to explain.
She half knocked on the doorframe, the two knocks Booth had just inadvertently taught her. Angela looked up from her computer; her eyebrows went way up. Brennan had to assume it was her attire, since nothing else was out of the ordinary.
"Well to what do I owe this pleasure?" Angela simpered. Brennan frowned a laugh. She would never understand her best friend. She half held up the letter with an apologetic smile, opening her mouth to explain. Angela's delight drained from her face like a colander; certain parts of her face still clung to her previous smile. It stayed in place, but the other parts of her face changed. Brennan wasn't any good at the minutiae that Booth's 'gut' picked up, but she would have almost said the smile was now…sad.
"Sweetie," Angela said, coming over to grab one of her arms and the back of another shoulder. She squeezed slightly as her eyes blinked over bright.
"I have something to tell you."