The Victim in the Could Have Been

by Amy L. Hull

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Thank you to Ayiana and JSQ for their awesome and FAST beta work! Direct references to/spoilers for "Pilot," "The Girl in the Fridge," and "Mayhem on a Cross." Warnings: mentions of child abuse.

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Knocking, fast and insistent, jerked her from an uneasy sleep punctuated by Gordon-Gordon's belly laugh, bone-jarring music, enclosed spaces, and Sweets's scarred back. She glanced, bleary-eyed, at the clock as she shoved back the duvet. Her feet had barely touched the floor when she heard Booth's yell.

"Bones!" The knocking switched to the urgent pounding of a palm against the door and he bellowed again, "Bones!"

She opened the door, frowning. "Booth, what are you doing here? It's 3:30 in the morning."

"I couldn't sleep. I had to see you."

She sighed. A bleary-eyed neighbor, his red terrycloth robe hanging open, peered into the hall, and she pulled Booth into the apartment by his wrist. She closed the door behind him and flicked on a light. "You just saw me at your place. We had dinner with Sweets and Gordon-Gordon." She paused. "You remember that, right?"

"Yeah, Bones," he said, his voice flat now, his shoulders sagging. "Bones, I... you..." He looked up at her, eyes red-rimmed.

"Booth, are you all right?" She looked him up and down, but there was no evidence of injury, and he didn't smell of alcohol.

He looked away, up and off to the side the way he did when searching for words. He swallowed, put a hand over his mouth. He wasn't returning her gaze.

She placed a hand on his arm and guided him toward the sofa. She was at a loss. Booth was supposed to be the communicator, and she didn't know what to do. "Can I get you something?" she asked. "Tea? A drink?"

He nodded. "A drink."

She poured scotch into a tumbler for him, hesitated, then poured a finger for herself. Anything this upsetting to him...

"Is this about earlier?" she blurted.

He looked up, and his expression moved from the unidentifiable-sad? tired? lost?-to pain. Pain and grief. She knew those well enough.

She sat beside him and offered the glass.

He took a gulp then stared at the amber liquid, elbows on knees.

She set a hand on his knee. "Booth, I told you, I'm all right."

He shook his head, then chuckled. It was a dark, cynical sound, entirely unlike him. "I should have figured this out so long ago. They're all you, aren't they?"

It was her turn to stare into her drink. "I don't know what you mean."

"In the Maggie Schilling case on the stand, you said, 'I don't matter. Only Maggie matters. Only Maggie.' But that could have been you, your remains found in the trunk of a car, years later, just like Maggie in that refrigerator-"

"I wouldn't have been the same. A car trunk is not air-tight like a refrigerator, otherwise I would have suffocated." She kept her voice even, clinical, while her heart pounded. "My remains would have been older, much more desiccated-"

"Bones, I don't want... I couldn't sleep because I kept seeing you crammed into a trunk, and I kept hearing what you said on the stand." He took another drink and breathed out the alcohol fumes. "You...you said that Maggie wanted to live. That even in pain, lying on her side, with her ankles grinding together, she wanted to live."

She heard him swallow. He touched her chin with one finger and turned her face to his. "I backed you into a corner so you had to say that, Bones. I did that to you."

Her breath caught, and she bit her lip. She breathed deeply, exhaled. "You did what you needed to do to get justice for Maggie, Booth. It's all right." She forced a smile.

"It's not all right. I forced you to relive that, and I didn't even know what the pain in your voice meant. You sounded the same when you talked about Cleo Eller, wanting to live, fighting hard even though she could barely get up in the morning. God, Bones. You'd lived that." His voice scraped, as rough as the crunch of dry leaves. His hand closed over hers. "And you never told anyone-ever-until tonight, did you?"

Her chin quivered as tears stung again. Looking away from him, she shook her head.

"Hey. The kid was right about this one. What they did to you? It was unfair, and you did nothing wrong." He leaned forward, tried to catch her eye.

She couldn't risk glancing at him, not when she couldn't even breathe steadily. When she'd blurted out the story in Sweets's office, she'd thought she could relate the events calmly. Losing control of her voice, of her emotions, she hadn't expected that. She blinked rapidly and shook her head again. "It was a long time ago. I've learned to be more careful. I'm fine."

"Bones, you did nothing wrong. They were wrong. I hate that that happened to you." The hand not touching hers clenched into a fist. "What they did was criminal, cruel."

She nodded and swiped at an errant, escaping tear. "I know. They were wrong," she repeated.

"So don't you dare apologize for them." Booth rubbed his face with one hand, then stared at her. She let him meet her eyes. "How did you survive, Bones?"

"I...I just did. I realized that first night that I wanted to live. Even alone, in pain, and terrified, I decided I wanted, my life. I had...have...plans for my life." How did he do it? Get her to say out loud things she'd never told anyone? "I decided to live, and I was lucky enough that I got to do that."

"Every time, every victim that shook you to the core...they could have been you," he whispered. "I might never have met you." His thumb stroked her hand absently.

She tipped her head and met his gaze. "You said...if it weren't for your grandfather I might never have met you."

There was a long silence, and she leaned into his side and turned her hand, interlacing their fingers. Squeezing his hand she whispered, "I might never have learned to do this."

He squeezed back. "Naw. Angela would have taught you that one."

She laughed, the sound brittle in the linger tension, but comforting nonetheless. "I want to meet your grandfather someday. To thank him." She leaned against his shoulder as her eyes drifted shut. "Booth, you know we both have to be at work in four hours, right?" she murmured.

"Yeah." He chuckled, and this time there was some mirth in the sound. Then he looked at her, their faces uncomfortably close as she met his gaze. "You remember this, Bones. What you said on the stand back then? That you don't matter? You were wrong." He raised their intertwined hands and kissed hers lightly. "You matter, Bones. To all those families who know truths only you could give them. To Angela. To Hodgins and Cam and Russ and his girls. To all your squints."

"Our squints, Booth."

"Just let me talk, okay? You matter." He held her gaze. "You matter to me, Bones. You matter most of all to me. Don't you ever forget that."

She gave him a tiny nod then nestled back in. He leaned his head against hers, and they slipped into sleep.

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~end~

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