A/N: Old End-of-the-World fic. I guess the timing's appropriate.
The world ends on a cold day in July.
It is the day before Temperance Brennan's birthday, amongst other things, and when the ground begins to shake in a way quite unlike it ever has before she moves to the window, blue lab coat and all, and presses her hand gently against the glass.
Something doesn't feel right, she thinks.
There's a list, now.
There's a list and it grows every day until they stop counting altogether. Until days roll into weeks roll into months, until missing in action becomes presumed dead.
When Booth, Seeleyremains on the list long after the search parties have disbanded, Angela runs out of things to say.
"No," Temperance says as her friend moves to take it down, her own palms flat on the table, steadying herself. She can't accept it, not yet. Won'taccept it.
She turns her head to the side, watching out of the corner of her eyes as Angela nods, backing away.
"I'm really sorry, Bren," she says softly. "We all are."
The door to the office closes with a quiet click.
Heart sinking, she summons enough courage to cross the space between herself and the scroll of names, hesitating before sighing and pencilling in a name below the others, hand shaking as she forms the letters.
Suddenly, nowhere feels safe.
The Jeffersonian closes a week later.
"It's not about saving the dead anymore," Goodman says solemnly as he closes the doors for the last time. "It's about helping the ones that are still alive."
It's only when he sees the look that passes between the two young women and hears no protests that the gravity of his words finally ring true.
Angela tries to lighten the mood in the way that only Angela can do, and one day she's peering into Brennan's fridge at what's left and then, two hours later, they're eating pavlova like it's their last meal. Because there's a chance that it could be, but even if it's not they know it might be the last half decent meal they'll have in a long time, so they take small mouthfuls and appreciate it for everything that it's worth.
What it's more like is bad meringue, and it doesn't hold its shape properly and the strawberries are squishy and sour and the peach isn't the best any of them have ever had but the cream is sugary and it lookskind of nice, as one could expect from a chef who's really an artist, and none of them can really remember what good pavlova tastes like anyway so they chew it and savour its sweetness, and Angela beams because she knows she's done something right.
"This," Jack says, and it isn't a lie because he can't say he's ever had pavlova before, "would have to be the best pavlova I've ever had."
"You did good, Ange," Brennan offers in that quiet, gentle way that she always affords others praise, almost as if saying it too loudly lessens her somehow.
"This," Angela says dubiously, "is the worst pavlova I've ever seen, let alone tasted, so Hodgins? Bren, sweetie? You can tell me the truth."
Brennan's brow creases and she opens her mouth to retort but she sees Hodgins' smile first and closes it, and he's leaning across the table a little and his eyes are round and warm in that way she's noticed they always are when he looks at the artist, the way she wishes she had someone to look at hersometimes.
"Angela, you are an amazing cook. You are an amazing artist. And this pavlova looks and tastes amazing. " He shakes his head almost bemusedly, as if pulling himself from a daze. "You are amazing."
Angela blushes and ducks her head, and Brennan quietly gathers their plates and slips away, not bothering to hide the smile.
They spend two weeks holed up in Brennan's apartment – just the three of them - before unexpectedly, someone seeks them out; an outsider, a stranger, her hair tangled and clothes in tatters. After two weeks of it seeming like the three of them are the only ones left, it's all Temperance can do not to stare.
"You're Dr Brennan?" the woman asks, and it occurs to her that she'd be crying had she not already shed all the tears she could. "I've read your book," she says, as if this explains everything. "My name is Louise Carter – there were rumours, people said that you were out here somewhere... I didn't know what to do, or why I'm here, but I felt as if I had to..."
"Louise," Angela interrupts with a sidelong look at her friend's pale face, "come in, please."
Louise's story unfolds just like the millions of others like her, they imagine. Separated from her family, fearful of her son's fate, searching through the rubble for little more than answers. What she asks for should come as no surprise, and yet seems incredibly foreign all at the same time.
"I need to know," she whispers, "if... if..."
"If there's a chance he might still be alive," Brennan finishes, her long-ago partner's jibes regarding her tact causing her to consider her words carefully.
"Our equipment," Hodgins says. "We don't have anything we need. We can't –"
"I don't know if we can be those people anymore."
It's Temperance that eventually voices the thought that's been dancing around in their minds, turning her back to gaze out the window. The hollowness in her tone sets Angela's resolve firmly in place.
"We've been hiding away here for god knows how long just because somebody told us we're not needed anymore. Because somebody told us we're advocates for the dead in a world that's only concern is now its living. But isn't that what we do, too? Help the living? Give them hope and closure?"
Brennan glances up in surprise and Angela, with growing determination, clasps the woman's hands in her own.
"Mrs Carter, I think I speak for all of us here when I say there is nothing we'd like to do more right now than help you find your son."
Brennan can't help but cringe at the spray of glass as Hodgins knocks out the sharp edges of the shattered windows with the butt of an axe and climbs, gingerly, inside.
"My God," he says as they all drink in the sight of the Jeffersonian and the battered remains of the lab that had once felt like home.
Angela's fingers trace the now-chipped edges of the once-impeccably smooth Angelator, the knowledge of its inevitable redundancy doing nothing to stop the ache that comes when her fingers flick the switch to no avail.
"I don't know why," she says, voice shaking, "but it all just seems so wrong. All this time, I'd just imagined that this place..."
"Was untouchable," Brennan states flatly as she and Hodgins come to stand by their friend's side.
"Like closing and locking those doors kept the world out somehow."
It is several minutes before they can find it within themselves to move, and so they stand, drawing comfort from each others' presence, mourning what now seems like a life a million years ago.
Years of dealing with the dead does nothing to prepare Temperance Brennan for what she sees when they finally stumble into the remains of what was once Washington DC. The acrid smell of smoke fills her lungs with the impossibility of it ever leaving, and the stench of singed and rotting flesh is worse than anything she's ever smelled before, seeping into every inch of her, inescapably horrific.
Angela, never one to fully stomach the worst of what her job has often offered her, falls to her knees beside her, retching in the dirt.
"My God," she whispers, in between her struggles to breathe. "What did we do?"
Brennan looks to her friend in numb concern, trying desperately to feel for her, feel anything past the disturbing oblivion and the sickening lurch in her stomach and the grime that settles and sticks on her like a second skin.
But nothing comes.
She figures there's no point in delaying it any further, and with steely determination returns her eyes to the horizon as Hodgins, who has been silently holding back the sketch artist's hair whilst she regains composure, coaxes Angela gently to her feet.
Time has done nothing to ebb the inner city hysteria, and they walk the streets of one of the great capitals of the world in morbid awe of what it has been reduced to.
In times like these, any man who knows first aid can call himself a doctor; any man with a gun, his own policeman.
"We can't stay there indefinitely," Brennan says eventually, her voice hoarse as they tread carefully through the shards of glass and broken brick. "At my apartment, I mean. Sooner or later there's going to be nothing left. No food. No water."
"Unfortunately, that sounds a lot better than what's left out here," Hodgins says.
Angela bites the inside of her mouth, wringing her hands, her hair, dusty and knotted, billowing out behind her.
"This is it, isn't it? We've come as far as we can come."
"Hey, don't say that. We're alive, aren't we?" Hodgins demands. "We're still in good shape. No one's bleeding or on fire or wasting away. That's gotta mean something, right? We've still got time. We can still... do... something."
"Hodgins is right, Ange. We can't just give up. I don't know what else we can do, but we can't give up."
"Not yet," Angela sighs.
"No, not ever. We're survivors. I mean it. And that's what we're going to do. We're going to survive."
Angela can't help but turn her gaze away from the rubble, can't help but try and tune out from all the screaming and crying, try and pretend she feels as confident as Brennan sounds.
"So let's do it. Let's... survive."
They play cards, sometimes.
Angela and Jack know about ten different games between them, and Brennan's always open to learning and so they teach her, and they play. She learns the rules of poker, blackjack, and countless others, picks up the techniques and methods, makes quiet observations and files tactics away for later. If she were in a casino she'd be done for counting cards but Jack's not too far behind her and his poker face is very good. They're not playing for money, anyway. They're playing to forget.
On the fifth night Angela finds Brennan's liquor cabinet – it's the top right cupboard above the kitchen counter and there's a couple of bottles of champagne and what looks like cognac, and a smaller bottle of single malt scotch. The champagne reads Congratulations and there's another that says Happy Birthday, Boneswith a smiley face and Angela's smart enough to pull the tag off that one before offering it around. She thinks Brennan recognises the bottle, anyway, because her mood dampens a little more if possible and she goes quiet and drinks more than she should, which is therefore more than she normally would because Temperance Brennan prides herself on knowing what's best for her.
"Go fish," Jack slurs, slapping down his cards triumphantly, and it occurs to Angela that they've been mixing up the rules a little, and that this isn't Go Fish they're playing at all, at least it wasn't when they started out.
She lays down her hand, the three aces on display and the other two, useless cards are stuck unceremoniously to her face, one on each cheek, and she'd like to think she's being symbolic or clever but she's not, she's being drunk and stupid and more like herself than she'd care to admit. More like herself than she's been in a long time.
Brennan's uncannily withdrawn and silent in her intoxication, and when she speaks for what seems like the first time in ages Angela's too dizzy and surprised to correct her friend's impossible conclusion when she gets to her feet, tosses her cards on floor and makes a brooding exit, but not before announcing without slur or stumble, unmistakably,
"Dead man's hand."
Hodgins' brow furrows and he gazes after her, confused, before turning back to Angela and offering her the bottle for lack of a better response, but she's feeling strangely sober all of a sudden and pushes it away, rolling her eyes at his insensitivity.
"What if she's right? She could be, you know. I mean, there's only so long we can survive here, right? Only so long before all the food and the water's gone. What do we... what if..." She trails off and sighs, pulling the cards off her face, defeated. "I'm going to bed."
He watches her leave the same way Brennan did, and lowers the bottle to the ground beside him. Getting wasted doesn't seem quite so enticing anymore.
"Goodnight," he calls after her. But he knows she doesn't hear him.
They're into their sixth week, Angela thinks, when there's a strangely formal knock at the door, bolder and insistent and nothing like the last one, and when the door opens, Angela's arms fly around the person that stands there in an instant.
"Zack!" she gasps, squeezing the air out of him before stepping back to examine the face that has for so long now been nothing more than a memory, pressing her fingers to it, touching it in an urgent desperation to remember its every curve and crevice.
Hodgins expresses his relief in the form of a hearty slap on the back, his hand briefly grasping the former lab assistant's in a tight squeeze. Temperance's hand rests lightly on his shoulder as she forces her cracked lips into a grateful smile.
Angela clears her throat lightly and the smile quickly fades as she freezes, aghast, her breath catching hard in her throat as she notices for the first time that Zack is not alone.
Her friends, once-colleagues, part like the Red Sea before her.
He's much thinner now, just as she supposes she is without ever really knowing. She can feel it in her bones, she thinks, but she can never tell for sure. It seems like forever and a day lies between them, and she wonders if it's time they'll ever truly get back. Angela's shoulders sag in sympathy.
"Hello Bones," he says, a wry smile forming on his features.
Without ever really knowing why, Temperance Brennan runs without looking back.
It's nearly nightfall when he finds her, if there can even still be a nightfall when the blanket of smoke is so thick these days they're beginning to wonder if there was ever really a sun. She's standing, bathed in an ethereal, dusky half-light as she leans against the balcony in the crumpled remains of the Jeffersonian, staring at its broken pieces like it's a skull she can reconstruct, and he isn't sure she's noticed his arrival until she speaks, her tone void of all emotion.
"They told me you were dead," she says.
He has so many stories to tell her, about the fires and the bridge collapsing, about his cell not working, about all the time he's spent searching for her, for his son, for Rebecca. For his family. But then he wonders how he can possibly put all that into words – how he can possibly explain to her how it felt to spend weeks pulling bodies from the rubble and not find one of them alive. How it felt to uncover the bruised and bloody forms of his boss and colleagues, to throw their corpses on a pile with all the other people that died without a name. How it felt to have his heart ripped out to watch the woman that in another life might have been his wife lie sobbing, defeated, over the prone figure of a boy. To have to bury his son as a parent that outlived his child, and watch that same woman whom he might have loved, once, take her own, final, gasping breaths. To be afraid to go looking for the last person that meant anything to him in case he was only met with more bad news. He can't. There are no words for stories such as these; he has none to offer her but just the same he realises she needs none.
In a way, she already knows.
"They told me you were dead," she says again, this time turning to face him, tears shimmering in her eyes. "And I believed them."
His hand moves to her hair, twisting the dry and brittle strands around his fingers before bringing it down to gently cup the side of her face.
"I'm alive," he counters huskily. "Just."
"I... I can't..." She takes a deep breath, taking a step backwards and reclaiming her personal space. "I went through the stages of grieving - every last one of them. It took me weeks, months even. You don't understand what this is like for me. You can't just come back here and expect to go back to the way things were. I'm glad you're okay, because when you didn't come back I felt like I couldn't breathe, and I think I might have loved you, maybe, but I don't know because I've never been in love before, at least I don't think I have, and I don't know what that's supposed to feel like, and maybe I'll never know. But I mournedyou. I accepted you were gone. Booth," she says, raising her gaze to meet his eyes. "I said goodbye."
"I... I don't understand."
She realises now that he wouldn't, that maybe she doesn't really either, and it occurs to her too late how ironic it is for him to be the one not knowing. And yet...
"No," she disagrees softly. "You understand." She turns away from him, leaning on the railing for support and gazing out over the rubble like a queen over a kingdom. Her fallen kingdom. "You just don't know what it means. For... us. And it scares you."
He doesn't move, only stands there, broken and confused, until she musters enough courage to turn around and face him again, ready to confess. She lets out the breath she wasn't even aware she's been holding.
"It scares me too."
Every passing day seems like another year they've spent waiting, and no one wants to say it but that's what they're doing, just waiting, waiting for the food to run out, for the water to run out, for the sky to fall down and crush them all, waiting to die.
Booth and Zack have stories, stories of the world outside, the world they've been shutting themselves off from, and they're grateful and accepting of the food they've brought with them as they sit and listen, hear about how they went to Hodgins' place looking for them first and how they'd barely recognised it because it was near flat to the ground, hear about something that was sweeping through the ruins like the smoke, something they called the Sickness.
How it starts with a cough and progresses to symptoms that are so much worse. How its victims never live more than a couple of days once it takes hold, a week at the most. Zack says he's never seen anything like it and neither has Booth, but Zack's ignorance means so much more, and Brennan is quiet and unmoving as she hears their recount.
She's cautious and wary; skittish, especially around Booth and Angela notices and wants so desperately to say something, but it's like her best friend's disappeared inside of herself, and so she talks to Booth instead.
"When Brennan's parents disappeared, she never got closure. She never got told what happened to them. And I think the thing that hurt her the most was the not knowing. The time spent wondering, hoping, that they'd come back some day. When you didn't come back, Booth, I... I just don't think she could've gone through all that again. She gave herself the closure she never got by telling herself that the only possible reason for you not being here was that you were dead. It's messed up, but it worked for her. It's what got her by."
"I wanted to come back," he says, quietly, and she can tell he's struggling with whatever words, whatever memories he's reaching for. "But I had to find Parker first. I had to know. That was my closure."
"She wasn't being selfish, Booth. She was being practical. And her being practical is the reason we're all still alive right now, so forgive me if I'm not about to argue with her. Just... give her time."
And time seems to be the one thing they've got left, he thinks bitterly.
The one thing they've got left, and it was fast running out all the same.
He's holding a lighter, and it flickers. on, off. on, off. The flame licks his fingers as he flicks them through its tip, a startling throwback to his teenage youth.
"It works," he says, simply, almost amazedly, and blinks like it means something. She isn't sure she understands. "After everything that's happened, after everything that's fallen apart – this thing still works. It's some kind of messed up miracle, don't you think?"
("Are you drunk?" she asks, blunt as ever.)
He takes her hand in his and presses the lighter into her palm. She can feel the warmth of the metal against her skin, the warmth of his hand enclosing hers, briefly, and her heart thudding dully in her chest.
"Booth," she begins, and finishes there.
These are the only words they speak all day.
In the end, it was always inevitable that at one point or another, people were going to start having sex.
Angela and Hodgins first, maybe, Brennan suspects, and it would probably only be so long before something happened between herself and Booth, if she'd stop shutting him out, stopped pushing him away all the time. They've been dancing around each other for weeks, now, and a part of her tells her that perhaps it was even longer before that. Her only regret is not knowing if what they have is real – would have been real, stayedreal – had everything that has happened not happened.
If fate – the fate she so desperately wants not to believe in – hadn't done what has been done.
What she hasn't anticipated is the uncanny, somewhat ulterior relationship that has developed between her best friend and her once-upon-a-time partner; the half-smiles, the glances, the feather-light touches when they think no one is watching. It's during one of these quiet exchanges that Brennan realises she was wrong after all, and that Booth and Angela have most likely been sleeping together for weeks now, and she's been as blind as ever to what's been right under her nose.
She confronts Hodgins about it, and he shrugs apologetically.
"It's a lonely world we're in now, Dr Brennan," he says, as they watch the pair through the window. "I guess they're just taking what little comfort they can get. To tell you the truth, I don't really blame them," he adds, but she senses she's not the only one feeling slightly hurt.
It's the night after this discovery that the insomnia sets in, and Temperance only wishes she could blame it on something, or someone,else.
She knows something's wrong when Angela first starts coughing – a deep, throaty, hacking cough - and she watches the glance that passes between Booth and Zack with a sinking heart.
"No," she says, the explanation already forming in her mind. "No. Get me medicine, anything. Supplies, from the hospital. There has to be -"
"Temperance," Booth says quietly.
"- some kind of treatment, surely by now they've -"
"Don't call me that," she snaps, and wonders what exactly she wants him to call her.
He takes her by the shoulders, gently but firmly, ignoring her protests.
"You don't understand," she hisses, trying to push him away. "I can't... she can't... What kind of doctor am I if I can't save my own best friend? What kind of person -"
"We've tried, Dr Brennan," Zack says. "We've been to the lab, the hospital. There's nothing left. It appears as though all of the supplies were extracted weeks ago."
Hodgins looks pained and aged beyond his years as he steps forward, apologetic.
"We're sorry, Dr Brennan. There's just nothing we can do."
She takes a few deep, shuddering breaths before shaking her head and finally breaking free of Booth's grasp and pushing him away.
"Then you can stop calling me Dr Brennan," she says. "I'm not a doctor anymore."
Angela's condition deteriorates quicker than anyone expects, and it hits Temperance the hardest.
"I can't handle this," she tells him one night, the first words she's spoken to him in days, weeks perhaps (how long have they been here, again?)and she's surprised but grateful when his arms are around her and offering her support and she falls heavily against him, defeated. It's warm and oddly comforting to be wrapped in his embrace again; she savours the moment.
He surprises her (silences her) by kissing her, and she can taste the salt of her own tears on his lips as he brushes them, once, twice, three times against her own.
The first time she and Booth have sex it is a loveless act; passionless and almost mechanical as they move together, clinging desperately to whatever sense of touch, sensation they can. Temperance does not come, and when he pulls out of her and collapses, breathless at her side she turns away in shame.
The encounter is just enough to make her drowsy and in the haunting half-light that tells them somewhere on the other side of the smoke, a star might still be burning, she slips into the tattered remains of her shirt and curls up, defeated, welcoming the cool oblivion that finally washes over her as her eyes drift closed.
He will not talk to her afterwards and the next day, when the gravity of what they have done hits them, all he affords her is furtive glance through his lashes before turning his attention, undivided, to their dying friend.
It hurts Temperance to feel like she isn't welcome at Angela's bedside anymore.
He lies on his back beside her and they stare up at the ceiling and pretend it's the sky they haven't seen for so long; Angela laughs even though it pains her to do so and when her hands fly to her stomach with a wince Booth is with her in an instant, making her comfortable in any way he can.
"Hey, take it easy," he soothes (lies), "you're going to be okay."
For the second time since his return, she turns and flees with so many tears in her eyes she can't see where she's going and asks herself, not for the first time, why she'd wanted him back so much when all he'd seemed to have brought her was more pain.
She feels guilty for almost wishing she were the one that was sick, but not in the way that she should. Not because she wants to share, to take away all of Angela's pain but because she wishes she had the promise of some kind of ending, an escape from the nightmare that they're in, and Booth at her side and hanging on her every word and actually listening to her, instead of just waiting for his turn to talk.
She notices how he never calls her Bones anymore, and wonders if it's because the name has begun to ring too true, a sullen reminder of what they have all been reduced to. And like a law, somehow this when she feels she needs to hear it most.
She watches him, digging her best friend's grave in the dirt, and something inside of her snaps.
She hates this, hates this world that she has no control over anymore, this time and place and role reversal where suddenly she's the insane one, his stoic rationality flaring her anger, and when she feels his arms wrap around her in an attempt to still her movements, she hates herself for the familiarity that she no longer finds there.
She finds out she's (thinks she might be) pregnant two weeks later, because amidst all the chaos and the turmoil she's lost track of her pills, and she wants so much to cry and laugh bitterly at this cliché she's trapped in, the mocking coupling of her best friend's death with the beginning of a new life, and it's all her fears, all her reasoning and i wouldn't want to bring one into all this hopelessly, impossibly amplified. She should feel something, she thinks, an urge to get it out, get rid of it, a bit of tenderness and warmth maybe but all all she can feel is numbness, and Angela's voice echoes in her ears.
everyone around you is dying.
She can't exclude herself from that list.
The pregnancy turns out to be a false alarm (or she did something wrong and lost it, maybe, and someone decided to retract a miracle from someone so undeserving) and she debates telling Booth about it, makes it as far as the office he's secluded himself in, even, but when she gets there all she has are silent tears and a wealth of misunderstanding that comes with doing something that should have been right but for all the wrong reasons.
She thinks she can hear him judging her.
"I thought you were dead, Booth. Do you have any idea what that felt like?" she says instead, and she doesn't even know where it comes from.
She picks a fight with him and it's because she's bored, maybe, or tired; sick of the state of inertia they're trapped in and she thinks if they're fighting it might be a bit like they used to be, a bit like before.
"Jesus, Bones, you think it was any easier for me? I didn't know whether you were alive. I didn't know whether or not coming here was a mistake and that all I'd be finding was someone else I needed to bury. But I never gave up hoping. Whatever happened to having a bit of faith?"
"I don't believe in God, Booth, you know that. I'm not like you. I can't pray, or believe in something that goes against the cold, hard facts. And to me, those facts told me you hadn't survived. The authorities only confirmed that. I'm sorry if my being logical is some sort of betrayal, because I didn't mean it to be. It's just... it's just me. It's who I am."
"Not faith in God, Bones. Faith in me. I just thought... thought that maybe, maybe you, you know, had a bit of faith in me. But obviously I was wrong."
"Apparently we both were," she says quietly.
He would have made a good father, she thinks.
(she doesn't think she's ever felt this cold before.)
"I miss her," Hodgins says quietly one day, not quite a non sequitur because it's something that's been playing on their minds for a long time. "She made all this seem, I don't know? Less foreboding, somehow, and..." He takes a deep shaking breath. "God, I miss her."
"I miss her too," Brennan whispers, and her hand closes tightly around his.
These pages were her half-life, once. Hours spent typing, rereading and revising, arguing plot points with her editor and defending her influences to her friends and colleagues. In some ways she lived her life through them – proof that she understood the basics of human interactions, even if she was a little awkward when it came to consciously acting them out, proof that she could know people, too. She wishes, foolishly, that this were some kind of bizarre story she were writing, that you could turn the page and breathe a sigh of relief because there was an explanation, dammit, and with that would come a solution, and the ending could be reasonably happy.
She guesses she's just one of those people that was never meant to get their happy ending.
Her anger is palpable. This is one thing that has not changed – she's exceptional at hiding things, at keeping everything tucked away and compartmentalised behind those intense blue eyes, but her ire has never been something she's been particularly good at masking.
So she's angry, and she's cold, and ice and fury have never been a good combination, and she doesn't realise the tears are streaming down her cheeks because she's too caught up in pulling every single book off her shelves and tearing out every single page with the intent of starting the biggest fucking fire anyone has ever seen because jesus. it's so cold in here, and when did she turn so bitter?
The room is in shambles by the time Booth senses something isn't quite right and finally makes it over – the desk is upturned and there's files and folders and once-important documents scattered everywhere, and somewhere in the middle of the chaos is Temperance Brennan, shattered and stagnant and waiting so desperately for something to change. She's leaning against what he thinks was once her bookcase – it's so empty, now – and the lighter's in her hand, and oh. It flickers.
on, off. on, off.
Her knees are drawn up to her chest, the manuscript of her third novel discarded at her feet.
"Don't do it," he says, because he can sense this symbolises something, even if he doesn't know what, and then he sees her parents' file and it's more symbolic than he thought – too symbolic, for a scientist, but for a writer, perhaps just symbolic enough. "We're not that desperate. Not yet. You can keep all that -"
"No," she interrupts. "If they... if they have to go at all, it's important that they go first. Important to me," and she meets his eyes.
On some subconscious level, he supposes he understands, because he gives the slightest of nods without thinking. Important to her, and it's good enough for him.
(he doesn't think he's ever felt this cold before.)
There's a painting, on the wall; one of Angela's, a gift, and the strokes are bold and emotive and it's one of Brennan's favourites, Pathway to the River Styx, not her usual type of thing but there's an obvious state of mind to it that's doomed and so refreshing from where she's standing.
The edges of the pages yellow, brown and curl as they're enveloped in flames.
This is an analogy.
(nobody's feeling any warmer.)
He gives her three days, and it's raining when she finally comes to him.
When Jack Hodgins was a kid he was the kind that was both intelligent and cool, kind of like he was now, kind of like he had been, like all of them had been, once. The kind that pressed crickets into unsuspecting girls' outstretched palms, half for the amusement, half for the wish they could share his fascination.
Seeley Booth had been another kind but not entirely; charismatic and overconfident, and dropping spiders down the shirts of the girls he liked and whose hair he pulled because that was how you let them know you liked them. He wishes things could be that easy now – that he could tug fiercely on Temperance Brennan's wet and tangled curls in his frustration with her, jerk her head sharply to make her see, kiss her slick and senseless, maybe, and his hand on her back is like the spider but she doesn't shy away from that (and he almost wishes she would).
"I was afraid. Of things. You have to understand..."
us. you. myself.
It's something indefinable that terrifies her; he isn't sure what and neither is she, and he closes his eyes and tilts them heavenward, God grant him patience. He has to raise his voice above the downpour -
"What did you want me to do, Bones? Sit around waiting for you until the end of the world like they do in the movies? Because look around you, Temperance. We've made it. Don't you think I've waited enough?"
"But you... Angela -"
"Angela was a good friend to both of us. We enjoyed each other's company. I cared for her and her death shook me. A lot. But it wasn't..." He pauses, and she wonders fearfully if he's actually going to say it. He seems to reconsider, gesturing to the space between them. "...this."
She stands still a moment longer, the rain coursing down her skin and soaking every inch of her in its cool, sweet slickness. It's probably toxic, she thinks idly, making them sick as they speak but she doesn't care and pushes the thought away.
"Why didn't you say something," she demands. "Why didn't you tell me?"
He growls, a rumble that reverberates deep inside his chest as he crosses the distance between them and crushes her to him, pulling her body flush against his own.
"Tell me how it's possible for you to be both the smartest and the most clueless person I've ever met," he sighs, drawing their faces together until they're only inches apart.
She hopes it isn't a question he's expecting an answer to, because she doesn't have one to give him.
"Tell me there's hope for people like you and me," she murmurs instead.
"Lie to me," she says, and closes the space between his lips and her own.
They make love like it's the first time, the last time, and maybe it's a little bit of both – while the world crashes silently down around them.
His lips are too gentle on her skin, later; languid and lingering when what she wants, what she really wants is for him to fuck her, for him to take her right there and be done with it, be harsh and unforgiving and do something, anything wrong to give her an excuse to push him away and hate him, to take them back to where they were, once, teetering on the edge of a very steep cliff, to say I told you so in not so many words and lament the deterioration of a partnership. He doesn't, though, and in some ways she is grateful.
She reflects that the days are more predictable now that she has lost all sense of routine, somehow, and that there's not much point in worrying over the future – where she'll be tomorrow, if he'll still be alive and if so, if it's her arms he'll be seeking out because in some ways, there's nothing left to tear them apart.
Her eyelids are rough and scratchy when she opens them, like paper, like onion peel, and she touches herself, traces the striking bruises, dilute violet and plum blossoming on the insides of her thighs, her hips, and her breasts, and marvels at the most colour she's seen in what feels like years, decades.
He stirs beside her, presses against and moulds himself to her and they're easily both awake and fumbling again, their skin cold and clammy but burning all at once, joints stiff but muscles fluid with heat and she gasps when she finds herself impaled on him, slick and far more ready than she'd thought. Their chests rise and fall and in their irregularities, brush ticklish against each other, sending shockwaves dancing over hypersensitive skin.
"This doesn't feel like an ending," she breathes against him, mere seconds before his lips are capturing hers.
"No," he agrees, and the words stop there.
What he doesn't say (what she wants him to say; and maybe, it's because it isn't true) is, it's only a beginning.
He calls her Temperance when he comes, crushing her to him, hands slippery on her surfaces as her breath catches and she's arching, writhing beneath him. She tumbles and she falls, hard.
This is where the world drops off –
Welcome back, she thinks. And then, I never really left.
Somehow, she's back on solid ground.
(and it's not as comforting as it should be.)