*waves timidly* I've done something crazy. Actually. Seriously. My hands are mega sweaty right now and I wish I was kidding but I'm not and I'm pretty sure that if it wasn't almost 5am and I wasn't riding a mega caffeine buzz I wouldn't even be doing this because I would have more sense than to start posting just yet. But I've been sitting on this for a while and I think I need to just dive into it.
I can't promise that the updates will be swift and/or regular, but I can promise that I have a huge chunk written (including the end in its entirety!) and though I'm slow oftentimes, I've never actually NOT finished a fic. So I think I should get half points. Maybe.
My (thin) justification for this is that it took four seasons to wrap up the Gravedigger arc. In my head this means that I can go right ahead and stretch the Pelant timeline just as far for fic purposes.
If anyone needs me, well... good luck with that. I'm closing my eyes as I hit post and then I'm hiding.
Let Go in Small Doses
I wake up in the morning or the middle of the night,
I look at you and I know it's alright.
How They Want Me to Be, Best Coast
She's at her best with Booth when she doesn't over think things. When she's honest and her guard is down and the right words just find their way through to him. In the now, she can feel her mind racing. It's everything she can do to keep at bay this constant itch of borderline panic, this thought that she's losing her grip on this thing she barely had before it was all snatched away, and everything she says is wrong. But there's no going back. She can only keep talking. And with every sentence she feels things getting worse but she's nervous and at some point, controlling her speech becomes a task beyond her control. All she can do is keep going. Because who knows what he will say to her if she stops.
You are not a very reassuring person, Bones.
And she isn't. She knows everything is coming out wrong. Knows she's digging a hole. But it's like breakfast, when she could feel the wrongness so intensely she couldn't even cook pancakes. She doesn't know what to do, and she keeps racing in the wrong direction because it's less terrifying than stopping and facing the mess she's created. Than facing the fact that she needs Booth so damn much more than is healthy and it's possible that after everything that's happened, he may not need her the same way.
I'm nice now. I make French Toast.
(See me. I am not a burden.)
He can't define the feeling, even to himself. So there is little he can do to relieve the mixture of wariness and confusion he so often finds in her expression. No, he isn't angry (though he suspects that if she asks him one more time, he will be).
The thing is, he gets it. He gets it. She's afraid and she's out of her element – again – and she is simply reacting. But she had disappeared for three months and no matter how necessary the run had been, no matter how hard she had found the decision, there is nothing worse than being left behind. And what she's doing, the way she is reacting, it is not okay.
Eyes closed. I love you. Over the phone. I love you. Text messages. I love you. Dropped because they know the importance of the phrase and the emotion is there, but they cannot, they cannot bring themselves to look one another in the eye and say the words. It's far too painful.
(See me. Need me. Remember that I am valuable.)
It's especially difficult to swallow because they've been floating in this state of... complacency, since becoming a couple. The arguments have not been real arguments, the resolutions have not been real resolutions, but they are happy. So happy. And everything else can wait.
But three months is too much time. There is no going back to that place and while they would have never considered themselves 'normal' enough for a honeymoon period, it becomes painfully evident – once it ends – that they had been average in ways they hadn't expected. And even though they know – they really do know – that they are complicated and difficult to define and far removed from normal, it stings when it stops being easy. As they sit across from one another at the kitchen table with their daughter between them (literally between them, figuratively between them, keeping them connected when it seems so very possible that without her, in this moment, they would fall apart) there's that old, uncomfortable feeling that had often followed their moments of deepest intimacy and deepest distance alike throughout the life they had lived before (Before Christine. Before Broadsky. Even before Hannah). They don't know where they stand with one another. All they can agree on (without speaking; because everything in this place relies on subtext) is that they'll continue to stand near one another. Or, when even that is too great a burden, they will just continue to stand.
Stand, and refuse to consider any possibility other than that it will be enough.
The Mighty Hut was a mess.
It was impossible to keep the house hospital tidy when one of the occupants was only four years old (even Brennan accepted this), but though the home looked lived-in, it also happened to look neat. Most of the time. Booth stepped around deadly pieces of Lego and absently wondered whether his partner ever let things get quite this bad when he was the one called away for work.
It made him feel a little better to imagine that this was the case. That the house fell equally to pieces whenever either one of them was left to play the single parent, and Brennan just happened to be skilled at putting the place back together prior to his return.
He stepped on a hidden Lego block and – since stepping on Lego was goddamn close to the worst thing that could ever happen to a person – internalised the curse on the tip of his tongue with great effort, mindful of the small child sleeping upstairs.
Christine didn't take naps, typically. And when she did play hard and succumb to exhaustion, it never lasted long. So with these facts in mind, Booth silently moved up the stairs, coffee in hand, and headed toward Brennan's office.
...Because it was one of the last clean spaces standing and she wasn't around to object.
The paperwork that accompanied a closed case was far from his favourite thing on the best of days, but he had come to take his partner's assistance in this department for granted over the years, and if he hadn't already put this off as long as possible, he'd be tempted to leave it the extra three days remaining before she was due back. But the knowledge that Brennan could make this work meant that he could too. Even if he was out of practice.
So he resolutely laid the files out on her desk, and he managed to get nearly halfway through his pile before he heard it.
Booth looked up and frowned, but when no sound immediately followed, he turned back to the report in front of him.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He threw his pen down and stood up, wandering into the hall after the noise. "Chris?"
His daughter didn't answer, but the thumping grew louder as he descended the staircase and neared the front hall.
"Christine? Where are you?"
Booth flung open the closet door and pushed aside the wide range of jackets to reveal the little girl sitting against the back wall. What had been the back wall. There was a gaping hole in the drywall and Booth suspected that Parker's baseball bat – held in Christine's too small hands – had something to do with it.
"What are you doing?" He snapped himself out of his stupor and snatched the bat out of her hands. "Give me that."
"I'm looking for Narnia. I know magic isn't real, but it's good to make sure, right?"
Booth shook his head and hauled her out of the closet, rearranging the coats to cover the hole in hopes that Bones wouldn't see it before he had time to fix it.
"Why do you only do things like this when daddy's watching you, huh? Do you enjoy it when your mother yells at me?"
"No," she shook her head, "but I had to see. It was an experiment."
"Narnia wasn't even through a closet, you goof. It was a wardrobe."
"I know." Christine rolled her eyes in a very Brennan-like fashion. "But we don't have any wardrobes. And I think a closet is kind of like what a wardrobe would be like, maybe."
Booth scooped her up easily with one arm and carried her up the stairs, tossing the bat into Parker's room before heading back to Brennan's office.
"No more destroying things in the house with baseball bats, alright?" He set her down on the floor and pulled one of her books off a shelf. "I shouldn't even have to tell you things like that."
She took the book from his outstretched hand and began to skip out of the room, only to stop suddenly in her tracks at Booth's authoritarian call.
"Hold up there, Missy."
"Yes?" she answered innocently.
Booth smirked and stared pointedly at the couch in the corner. "Park it."
"Nope. I have to finish this and you apparently can't be left on your own. You sit where I can see you until I'm done or until mommy gets home. Whichever comes first."
"Mommy won't be home until Thursday."
"Yeah, well, you should have thought of that before you started putting holes in walls."
Christine sighed and reluctantly settled on the floor with the picture book spread out in front of her, making sure to loudly breathe her continued displeasure every few seconds. In the years since Christine began talking, Booth had been repaid many times over for all the evenings he had sat fidgeting in Brennan's company, making a distraction of himself as he waited for her to finish reports and examinations. Not for the first time, as Christine flipped onto her back and began kicking her legs absently in the air, Booth wondered how Brennan had still managed to get things done.
His phone buzzed against the desk and Christine sat up attentively to watch him answer it.
She sounded tired; that was the first thing he noticed. The second thing he noticed was the way his daughter hovered cautiously near the desk – instead of clamouring into his lap to try and wrestle the phone from him as usual – while she waited to see how much of her latest adventure he was going to share.
"You back at your hotel?"
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and Booth was just about to repeat his question when she answered.
"I'm in a cab."
He glanced at his watch. "Late dinner?"
Christine concluded that Booth wasn't presently planning to tell Brennan about the closet wall, and she pulled herself up on the arm of the computer chair and leaned toward the phone.
Brennan's low laugh sounded in his ear.
"Careful; you're gonna hurt yourself." Booth pulled Christine into the chair and activated the speakerphone function before placing his cell on the desk. "She can hear you, okay? You don't have to shout."
Christine lowered her voice. Just barely. "We slept in the living room yesterday," she informed Brennan proudly. "In a fort."
"That sounds entertaining."
Christine nodded enthusiastically and Booth set out to assuage the hint of wariness he had picked up in Brennan's reply. "Don't worry, Bones. We'll have it all cleaned up before you get back."
"I wouldn't be too sure about that," she responded wryly.
He was still thinking of a reply when he heard a car door slam simultaneously through the phone and the street just outside the house. He sat up straight and listened intently, and in his lap, Christine picked up on the change in his mood and watched his face with excitement.
"What? What is it?"
Instead of answering, Booth winked before jumping out of the chair with her and bounding out of the room.
Christine gripped his shirt tightly as he ran down the stairs. "Wait; we forgot to say bye to-
Booth opened the front door and Christine gasped, pumping her legs to be put down at the sight of the taxi cab and the partially obscured glimpse of Brennan standing on the driveway.
Brennan stood straight, phone still tucked between her ear and her shoulder. "Hello... where are your shoes?"
Christine threw herself at her mother with so much force that Brennan had to take a half step back to keep her balance, and the phone fell out of her grip and clattered onto the asphalt. Booth approached at a more subdued pace and bent to pick up her phone before pulling her toward him, Christine sandwiched between them, and placing a kiss on her upturned lips.
"Look at you, being all sneaky."
Brennan grinned and adjusted her hold on their daughter. "I can be very sneaky."
She looked exhausted. Which made sense, Booth supposed, when she had spent the better part of a week digging through charred rubble.
In tune with his thoughts, Christine crinkled her nose. "Your hair smells funny."
Booth gathered her bags and shut the cab door, and in another minute they were walking toward the open front entrance.
"Booth..." Brennan began, her tone a mixture of disbelief and disappointment when she stepped inside and took in the state of the ground floor.
"I know. I'm sorry. Catch some sleep, okay? I'll have all this sorted by the time you wake up."
"I wanna come," Christine chimed in.
Booth opened his mouth to insist she stay with him, knowing how little sleep Brennan was likely to get with her company, but Brennan shook her head. "It's fine, Booth. I would like to spend some time with her."
Booth nodded his head and gave her another quick kiss. As she turned to walk up the stairs, he touched her arm just before she left his reach. "Hey."
Brennan turned expectantly toward him.
"I'm glad you're home."
She fixed him with a crooked smile. "Me too."
It took the better part of an hour and a half to restore order to the house (still much faster than it would have taken had Christine been underfoot). Bed sheets were taken down from the living room and thrown in the laundry, pillows were returned to the cupboards and beds from which they had been borrowed. Pasta sauce was scrubbed from the stove top and pieces of dropped, hardened spaghetti were removed (with great difficulty) from beneath Christine's usual seat at the table. He hadn't had a moment alone with his partner yet, had barely said hello to her, but already he felt her presence in the house. Everything felt easier when he knew she was only a floor away. By the time he had picked up and stored the last of the Lego it was nearing Christine's bedtime, and he climbed the stairs to drag her from Brennan's side and get her in the bathtub so that his partner could get a few hours of much needed sleep.
What he found, once he reached the master bedroom, distracted him temporarily from this goal.
Brennan was half covered by the blanket, fast asleep, one arm slung over their daughter. Christine lay on her stomach studying her mother quietly. Motionless. More still than Booth had seen her in any given moment since Brennan had left.
She looked up when Booth leaned against the doorframe with his arms folded across his chest. "She's sleeping," she whispered.
The corner of Booth's mouth quirked upward. "So she is," he agreed lowly. "Come on, kiddo. Let's get you in the bath. Time for bed."
Christine nodded and kissed Brennan's cheek softly before scrambling off the bed and tiptoeing into the hall.
"Can I stay home with Mom tomorrow instead of going to daycare?"
"We'll see in the morning, okay? I'm not sure she's staying home; she may want to check in at work."
"But she's home early. Nobody in the lab has to know; I won't tell."
Booth chuckled and turned on the faucets while Christine dutifully pulled off her clothes. "I promise we'll at least get breakfast, alright? Sound fair?"
Christine nodded and raised her arms to be lifted into the high tub.
Regardless of the short nap she had taken earlier, it had been a high energy day, and by the time Booth pulled the stopper on the bath water, Christine was rubbing her eyes sleepily. She allowed him to carry her down the hall to her bedroom and offered drowsy assistance while Booth helped her into her pajamas, and though she insisted on a story (because she abhorred change in her routines as much as her parents), she was dead to the world before Booth finished the third page.
Brennan hadn't moved by the time he made his way back to their bedroom, and he did his best not to disturb her as he slipped into the bed. It was still early by their usual standards, but if everyone else was sleeping, he couldn't see any reason not to give it a go as well.
"Is she sleeping?" Brennan asked, eyes still closed.
Booth shifted freely beneath the covers following this indication that she was awake, and then his hand came to rest comfortably on her hip. "Out like a light."
"Good," she murmured. "Did I miss anything?"
"Not a thing, Bones," Booth assured her, absently tracing patterns over her hip bone. "Smooth sailing on the home front."
"Good," she repeated. Eyes still closed, she pushed her face deeper into her pillow. "Tell me something happy."
Booth frowned at the odd request and his hand stilled. "Are you okay?"
"I would like for you to share with me something happy," she insisted.
Even when she was barely conscious (perhaps especially then), there were times when he found himself powerless against her.
"Christine's decided she wants to be a forensic anthropologist."
Both eyes finally opened. "Really?"
"I thought it was pretty cute."
"She is very imaginative."
"I'm hoping that by next week we can graduate up to FBI agent for animals."
Brennan chuckled softly and closed her eyes once more. "I wish you could have come with me."
"Missed me, Bones?"
"No." Her eyes opened again and glittered intensely, the way they did when she was facing a puzzle and she hadn't yet managed to solve it. "Something was wrong. At the site; something didn't make sense."
"Something like what?"
"I don't know. That's why I found myself wishing you could have been there."
"Like a crime scene?" Booth reached, hoping to fall somewhere close to her train of thought.
An earthquake in Washington had caused a fire in a small, privately owned chemical research lab, and the subsequent explosion had claimed the lives of nearly everyone in the building. Brennan had received the call requesting her assistance, and she had been well on her way to the airport by the time the story first aired on television.
Tragic, yes. Criminal? The thought hadn't crossed his mind.
Brennan watched him closely for signs of doubt. "I know it seems unlikely. Forensically, the injuries and markings on all the recovered bodies are consistent with an explosion and prolonged exposure to high heat."
"But something didn't make sense."
She nodded again and kept her eyes away from his even though all hints of sleep had vanished. She hadn't intended to even mention the passing unease that had appeared despite everything she uncovered being textbook average. Nevertheless, amidst everyday, normal conversation between them, it had slipped out. And she wasn't quite sorry for it.
"Do you remember the name of the Fire Chief?"
"Of course, Booth," Brennan replied somewhat haughtily. "I'm not incapable of-
"I'll give them a call tomorrow. And the state police."
She shook her head. "It's probably not necessary."
"It can't hurt anything."
"It could, potentially. Statistically, law enforcement agencies outside the FBI harbour a great deal of resentment when the FBI assumes control of cases by force."
"I'm not assuming control, Bones. Just asking a few questions. Otherwise your brain isn't going to let it go."
She nodded and then offered him a crooked smile. "I find that having an FBI contact to expedite processes such as these has yet to leave me feeling less than incredibly satisfied."
"Are you telling me you've been using me all these years for my position?"
"And your body," she added easily.
"Welcome home, Bones. Welcome home."