A/N: So while Booth had every right to be angry, I'm still more stuck on Brennan's heartbreaking "there's something wrong with me" admission and I had to explore that further. Apologies in advance, this was written quickly and I have a serious past/present tense problem that may not be completely under control here. Title courtesy of The Weepies.
She knew she'd never been very good with people, but she thought she had improved at least a small amount in the last few years. Certainly she had learned to connect with Booth. Right? Maybe? But the seeds of doubt had already been planted by Mr. Abernathy and now she was unsure of everything.
She had spent most of the interrogation shooting glances at him, trying to make eye contact like he had taught her to so long ago. Maybe she had not been doing that enough lately and that was how she missed all the signs Mr. Abernathy seemed to see.
But 45 minutes later she exited the interrogation room as unsure as ever, still wondering if she ever really did connect with Booth, or if he was lying about that as well.
"Will you be finished booking them by 5? Christine needs to be picked up from daycare," she inquired as he walked her to the elevator.
"Oh. Sure. We'll see you later then, I guess?" He looked confused. Or angry? Or lost? She no longer trusted herself to know.
"Yes. Later. I have plenty of work to catch up on. At the lab. You should pick up Christine, take the time to father-daughter bond." She was grateful that Sweets' office was on a floor below Booth's so she could hit the down button on the elevator without lying about her plans further. If she could no longer read Booth she knew she also could not trust her more recently acquired acting skills anymore than necessary.
He nodded slowly (in confusion?) and thankfully turned away before she hit "3" instead of "garage."
A few minutes later she was knocking on Sweets' door, forcing herself to wait patiently for his response instead of barging in like she was accustomed. She could not fight with anyone else today. She just could not.
"Dr. Brennan?" He sounded surprised. Or confused. Maybe disappointed?
"Dr. Sweets. Agent Sweets." She stumbled, wondering if she'd ever intentionally tried to not insult Sweets before. "I would like to speak with you. Later. Elsewhere." She didn't think the bureau cared about her and Booth…disagreeing. They commonly bickered in the field. But it had been insinuated that they were fortunate when the higher ups chose to overlook their more personal partnership in exchange for their many successes. She did not know if they would be as kind if they were… fighting.
"I'm sorry, what?" Disbelief. She settled on disbelief for Sweets' current emotional state. Maybe.
"If you are available, I would like to speak with you. About, a personal matter." She rushed the last bit out in a single breath.
Thankfully he seemed to understand, or just took pity on her since she still held the door open with one hand, clearly ready to flee at any moment.
"Okay. Usually you and Booth just bust in here and demand immediate attention. It is very unlike you to make an appointment. Voluntarily."
"Yes. Well, apparently being away from one's home is supposed to change them. Let's just say this is an example of that." She still was not certain about what Angela had been insinuating by her statement, but hoped Sweets would clarify that among many other things tonight.
"Oookay. Seven o'clock? At the diner?" He seemed clear on the fact that this was not official business.
"That will be sufficient."
And so, a few hours later, after catching up on some work in her office (so she could honestly say she did not lie to Booth about her plans for the evening) she was seated across from Sweets at the diner for the first time in three months.
He had ordered quickly but otherwise said nothing, clearly waiting for her to speak first and announce some sort of topic for the night.
"If we started eating breakfast at the diner again, I don't suppose we could have avoided our, Booth and my, disagreement this week?" She didn't have much hope, but didn't know where else to begin.
Sweets tried to maintain a curious expression, to pretend that he hadn't heard all about their pancake battles already, but the fact that she brought up the topic indicated she knew, or guessed that Booth had already confided in him.
"No, Dr. Brennan. Your fight was not really about Aunt Jamima versus Mrs. Butterworth."
She huffed and dropped her spoon back into her bowl with a splatter and crash. "I don't know what that means! And I did not know that about our disagreement. I mean, I know that now. But I did not know that then. I can't discern what a person means from what they are actually saying, Sweets." She was frustrated and no longer sure why she ordered a meal she couldn't stomach even looking at. "He said it was all fine and I thought that meant it was. Now, I'm relying on my interns to explicate the truth of my relationships!"
"Dr. Brennan, you've never been particularly adept at non-verbal communication. Why is this such a concern for you now?"
"Because. Because Booth was mad. And he's lying and I can't tell and what about when Christine is verbal and I'm her mother, shouldn't I know when she's angry or hurting? And Mr. Abernathy compared us to his parents. His stepfather and mother who fought violently. We can't be them! Except we won't because I won't even know when he's truly angry to fight with him." She thought this was the most she'd really said to anyone since she'd been back, and she struggled to fight the tears back.
"Okay, I'm assuming you are not really afraid that you and Agent Booth will come to actual physical blows like Finn's parents… and well, Booth's parents. It's perfectly natural to undergo a period of adjustment after a prolonged separation with a partner."
"This isn't an adjustment, Sweets. I genuinely believed that we had reconciled this afternoon. I know I can't read people like you and Booth and Angela can. But I thought I at least understood Booth. Now I see that was not true at all. And it's my fault Sweets, but I don't know how to fix it. I can comprehend six different languages, why can't I learn this?"
Sweets took a breath. He knew the partners were having trouble, were fairly entrenched in this rough patch, the first really of their more mature relationship. He was not a couples' counselor though, despite the position the Bureau had put him in with the partners all those years ago. But Brennan had come to him, voluntarily, and he had never seen her so desperate to understand, so he knew he had to offer her something. "Honestly, you do have some limitations with interpersonal skills. I always hypothesized they were born out of a combination of you superior intellect, which put you on a different playing field than your peers, and your childhood traumas. But, over the last few years, I promise I've seen you make great strides in your interpersonal relationships. You connect with Booth and Angela and Hodgins," he hesitated to include himself on that list. "But in the last few months, you've been separated from them all and this is a skill that takes practice for you. You are out of practice. I would also hypothesize that these last few months resurrected many of those childhood traumas, and consequently their effects, for you." He sat back and waited for the refutation of his psychoanalysis that never came.
"My father was with me, Sweets. He didn't abandon me. He helped me. This isn't at all like before."
But Sweets had already heard some limited anecdotes about her time away from the others. He knew about the bridge, about being a line cook. Unfortunately, this theory required emotional, not tangible evidence which Brennan was more comfortable with, so he knew he'd need to link the evidence for her, however painful it might be.
"You were alone, Dr. Brennan."
"I've been alone a majority of my life."
"But not recently. Can you honestly say nothing in the last three months reminded you of your time in foster care? Because I have to say, I've had flashbacks just hearing stories, much less living it."
She was silent for a long moment, clearly trying to push it all down like she had been for the last few months. Like she had to do to make it through without falling apart.
"Tell me, Brennan. Please." He tried to show her that he was there as her friend, not her doctor and more importantly a friend who didn't presently need something reassuring from her, like Angela and Booth.
"I have found that it makes others uncomfortable when I discuss my time away." But he could tell she was finally ready to share what she had been hiding beneath all of her tales and pride at being able to survive the last few months. She even appeared a bit relieved at the possibility.
"That's because they love you. They care about you. They also feel partially responsibility for how long it took to bring you home, however, and those stories remind them of all of that time lost. But, this isn't about them tonight. This is about you."
Their food went cold, as did the coffee their waitress eventually brought unrequested and the ice cream Sweet's ordered just to give Brennan a moment to gather herself eventually melted uneaten.
But she did tell him, and once she started talked it was like a damn of memories that she couldn't plug back up. She admitted that the night she and Christine spent under the bridge wasn't at all like camping. It was however like the night she spent under a railway underpass when she was sixteen and had been thrown out of her third foster home for not folding the laundry properly. She told him about the nights they spent in the car at less than reputable bus stations, and how she frequently woke up gasping for air like she was back in that car trunk again. She clarified that her father was not truly with them most of the time, only showing up when it was time to move and then disappearing after they were fairly settled. As a result she often went days without uttering a word to anyone, just like high school. She loved Christine but her limited verbal skills and inability to converse grew frustrating and isolating. She described how the smell of the diner's deep fryer did not remind her of this place, or stealing Booth's fries, but of the dish-washing job she took senior year because her fourth foster family gambled away the money the state gave them to care for her. She even admitted how she was reduced to eating the leftover scraps off customers' plates, just like back then. And the dirty motel rooms weren't any better than the first few apartments she had on her foster-kid scholarship in college. She tells him how she worried every day about what would happen if she or Christine were ill or injured. How there is nothing she wanted less than to still be out there, despite Booth's accusations.
Finally, she stopped speaking and relaxed back into her chair, a clear weight lifted even if she didn't know what this had to do with Booth.
Sweets took a deep breath before beginning. "So you tried to shut down, now. Just like back then, to make it easier to do things you never want to admit to having to do. But it was more difficult this time. Every time you looked at Christine you couldn't block out Booth. Couldn't shut him or her out."
"Yes. Of course I love them, and thought about Booth all the time Sweets, how could that be a problem?"
"It's not really. But if Booth wasn't here waiting, it would have been easier for you to make it through the last 3 months without knowing what you were missing. To block out your life here the way you blocked out your family, the memories of your parents, Russ, back then to make the status quo more tolerable."
"Even if that is true, what does this have to do with my inability to comprehend Booth's emotions now?"
"You're still trying to pushing him away. These last few years, you understood Booth because you wanted to. But right now, you're still afraid that this isn't really over, especially with Pelant still out there, and subconsciously you are keeping him at a distance just in case and you resent that he made it more difficult for you to pretend these last few month. You are reacting the same way you did with your father those first few years he was back in your life. You've fallen into one old pattern, Dr. B., and as result you've also fallen back into another: not being able to, to willing to communicate with those around you.
She was angry at first, because he clearly had touched on something. But she remained silent as she took his assessment in and admitted that while his theory had some flaws, his premise seemed sound enough.
"How do I fix it? How do I fix me?"
"You're not broken, Brennan. You're just fighting yourself. Remember the journey you took to get to that good place with Booth, and the rest of your friends and family."
"I don't have 8 years to start all over again Sweets. We have a child!"
"It is just like riding a bike. You never really forget, but you have to get back on the bike in order to remember that. Talk to Booth, really talk to him. Make him explain what he's feeling to you, and you offer up something in exchange. Just like at the beginning of your partnership. You were never hesitant to ask him questions back then about what he was thinking or feeling."
"It's not fair to put all of that on him, this is supposed to be a partnership. He's angry too and he has every right to be."
"Tell him that, too! He loves you, and frankly he needs to hear that you still need him, even if it is just to talk to you right now instead of picking up your relationship like nothing happened this summer. Ease in to the bigger stuff, the specifics of your time away. And let him be angry, but get started Dr. B. The longer you wait, the longer it will take you to remember how to be together. Emotional relationships are not an innate skill for you, but that's okay."
She was clearly not convinced that she was not broken. But at least he had provided some hope, some plan of action for her to try and fix things.
Sweets reached for the check, clearly indicating that he had said his piece for the night. He knew she needed time to work through what they had discussed and only hoped that he hadn't offended her. "Go home, Dr. B. Go kiss Christine goodnight and just talk to him, let him talk. It will get easier, just like before, I promise."
"I couldn't ride a bicycle until I was 11 years old, Sweets." She still feared he was overestimating her abilities to change this. But, at least she understood his metaphor.
"But you can still ride one now. Even if we have to put the training wheels back on for a little while."
As he held the door open for her, she paused to look him in the eyes. She saw confidence.
She nodded slowly in tepid agreement before stepping out of the diner and finally, finally going home.