Most recent review of The When and the How: A Bone to Pick: Wow, I have to say you have an AMAZING story going here… The issues addressed are REAL and I can imagine would be problematic for our duo. I love the support they give one another when the other is down, it does seem strange that this has all happened withing a week, but I think it has festered for long enough that it is time to let it out as it is necessary for a healthy long relationship that B&B deserve. Keep up the wonderful work and Please, please, please update soon. ~ AFairy88
Chapter 190 A Soft Place to Fall
(Please bear with me while I slowly populate shesgotmoxiedotnet with chapters from The When and the How: A Bone to Pick. This chapter, ‘A Soft Place to Fall’ follows S6, but predates anyone knowing Brennan and Booth have
decided to be together romantically).
“Did we pass? Are we cleared for duty? I already feel like I’ve had enough shrinky-dinking for a month of Sundays,” Booth says, looking at his watch with an exaggerated flourish. He stands. If they can leave now, maybe he can talk Brennan into grabbing a bite with him before he meets the guys.
“Relax, Agent Booth, we’re not done yet,” Sweets tosses off absently, not looking up at him. He’s flipping through his notes, more to make Booth wait than for any other reason.
“Sweets,” blurts Booth, frustrated, “Why is it that when you say ‘relax’, that’s the last thing I feel like doing?” He plops back down, grimacing toward Brennan who hasn’t moved an inch in the last five minutes.
Brennan yawns and glances over at Booth. This brings Sweets’ attention back to the pair. He has no intention of missing anything between these two. Of course, we all know the value of good intentions. Booth, acutely aware of the scrutiny they are under, returns Brennan’s glance with a nonchalant one of his own. Looking around the room, Booth affects a bored demeanor and yawns himself.
“Booth absurdly believes yawning is a communicable disease – contractible through your eyes … from seeing someone else yawn,” comments Brennan, chuckling. “As if there were light-born antigen for yawning.”
Booth grimaces and shrugs. “I never said it was a disease,” he counters, defensively.
Sweets yawns, saying nothing.
“See?” says Booth, as if vindicated. Brennan rolls her eyes. Sweets ignores both of them.
“It has more to do with the power of suggestion and the decreased level of oxygen in the lungs, though no one is completely sure about that.”
Sweets resumes his review of his notes.
Jamming his right elbow into his armrest, and dramatically leaning his forehead on it, Booth drops his left arm behind the couch, letting his fingers dangle toward the floor. No part of him is touching or even leaning toward Brennan, but the exposed length of his body beckons to her. She knows exactly how it would feel if she scooted over and claimed her territory right there under his arm, leaning into his fifth through ninth ribs, resting her palm on his thigh. In her mind’s eye, she sees herself kicking off her shoe, crossing her left leg over her right, and tucking her toes between his calves. If she could just sink her nose into his neck and fill her lungs with Eau de Booth, she knows she’d be able to relax. Yes, that would calm her considerably, she decides, tilting her head to the side in thought. Or, it could do the opposite.
Booth glances over at Brennan and notices she’s intently chewing her fingernails. He tries to catch her attention by staring intently at her profile. Eventually, she looks over and sees his minute, yet frantic head-shaking. At first she thinks he’s shivering because he’s cold. When he puts his fingers to his mouth and pretends to chew on the tips, then glances pointedly toward her mouth, she realizes this is a signal and stops mid-chew. She slowly swivels her eyes toward Sweets, praying this exchange has gone unnoticed.
Tucking her hands under her arms and closing her eyes, she tries, unsuccessfully, to banish the pheromone-induced thoughts poking through her measured demeanor. This, of course, invites more. Inside her eyelids, she sees herself leaning up against him again. She watches as the Booth of her imagination encircles her in his arms then bends his head to plant kisses on her cheekbone. Without realizing it, Brennan starts to slowly shake her head. This is not helping! She thinks.
She bites the inside of her lip, looking around the room for a more effective distraction. Finding none, she recalls that she and Booth have frequently and successfully employed their shared sense of the absurd to keep their minds entertained when solutions to cases evade them. Why not try it now, right? How would Sweets react if I crawled over to Booth on my hands and knees and curled up on his lap like a haughty feline? What if I kissed Booth, right here, right in front of Sweets, tongue contact and all? The prospect of witnessing Sweets turn crimson and lose control of his bladder would almost be worth it, she muses and almost snorts, catching herself before any noise escapes her throat. Agh! This isn’t helping either. I’m still seeing myself over there with Booth!
Holy cats! She exclaims to her internal self, remembering this morning’s revelation that she’s most likely ovulating. This is nature’s nasty, insensitive, impetuous little strategy to ensure the race continues! The elevated progesterone level combines with those infuriating pheromones and creates an irrepressible pull toward my mate! Mate, that sounds nice, she thinks, smiling to herself. At this thought, Brennan giggles spontaneously, then stops abruptly. All eyes turn toward her. Sweets wears a decidedly startled expression; Booth isn’t sure if he should be confused or worried.
“Oh, Sorry. I’m ovulating,” she says sardonically. “Can we continue?” She clears her throat, focusing her attention on Sweets and adopting an impatient, yet professional attitude. “What is your assessment of my ability to,” she pauses, searching for an appropriate verb, “function in the capacity required by my responsibilities at the Jeffersonian as they relate to our liaison with the FBI, uh, Dr. Sweets?” She clears her throat once more and heaves a sigh, giving him an intensely expectant glance.
“I have a few more questions, then a risk exercise we need to conduct before I am able to accurately assess your readiness for duty, Dr. Brennan. And yours as well, Agent Booth,” says Sweets dryly, resting his left ankle on his right knee, his foot twitching back and forth nervously.
What he’s not telling them is that he’s been tasked with the responsibility of delivering what he knows full well will be unwelcome news. After five unprecedentedly successful years, the liaison between the FBI and the Jeffersonian was a disappointment this past year. Sweets knows the root cause of the decrease in productivity is a direct result of Brennan and Booth’s floundering relationship. Instead of working together as one, they’ve been aimless and disjointed, like mosquitoes bouncing around a porch light. Neither wants to get too close to what’s between them, lest they burn up, yet neither wants to leave either.
Sweets knows these people. This dissonance between them has lasted longer than he anticipated. Much longer. Nonetheless, he still has faith in these two. It is going to take a wicked fierce catalyst to snap them back together and force them to be even better than they were before. Hopefully this will be the first domino in a quick succession of others that will force them to take a hard look at themselves and make some decisions. In preparation for this meeting, Sweets sought counsel from Dr. Gordon Gordon Wyatt, the FBI psychiatrist turned gourmet chef. Gordon’s advice, per usual, was solid, and included a serving of Boeuf Bourguignon that would have made Julia Child cry.
Sweets lays the pad of paper in his lap and inspects his tie before beginning.
“What I’m seeing here are some things I expected,” begins Sweets, clearing his throat and sitting forward. “For example, it is predictable that Booth would maintain that he doesn’t feel responsible for Mr. Vincent Nigel-Murray’s death.” Sweets tosses his pad of paper on the coffee table with a thwap, and sits back. Booth subversively glances at what Sweets has written. Sweets notices, of course, and leans forward, flipping the pad face down making a smacking sound.
Sweets stares at Booth, expectantly.
“What? Was that a question?” Booth stares blankly back at Sweets disdainfully.
“Agent Booth, it is improbable that you absolve yourself of all culpability regarding this particular tragedy.”
Booth’s arms are across his chest defensively, his knee is pumping like the horse head on a pump jack mining crude oil out of West Texas. He gives Sweets the stink eye, flexing his jaw and saying nothing. His look says, I still don’t hear a question, Doogie Howser.
“However, this does not concern me,” continues Sweets, directing his attention toward Brennan, “because Agent Booth possesses well-established coping mechanisms that will get him through this with minimal adverse impacts on his job performance, which may, or may not, be a good thing.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Blurts Booth, taken aback.
“What coping mechanism is that?” It’s Brennan who asks without acknowledging Booth’s question.
“He turns his feelings inward and focuses on others instead,” replies Sweets, toward her, relieved to be diverted from Booth’s question. “He processes his own emotions under the guise of comforting others.”
“Fascinating,” says Brennan, furrowing her brow as if looking at a bone fragment under a microscope, then slowly nodding. After a moment, she regards Booth with the same attitude of fascination. “You aren’t suggesting that his comforting of others is duplicitous?”
“Absolutely not. No value judgment. It works for him while simultaneously benefits others.”
“Well, Dr. Sweets, you say you aren’t making a value judgment, but your tone is circumspect.”
“Thank you,” says Booth, glancing at Brennan’s profile. He’s scowling, but also listening and considering the veracity of Sweets’ observation.
“He will also, if he hasn’t already, find some way to relieve his subverted emotions through an aggressive display of anger or misplaced authority,” continues Sweets, avoiding addressing his inferred opinion of Booth’s coping mechanisms.
“Still in the room here, people,” says Booth, raising a hand and smirking toward the other two. Neither Sweets nor Brennan look at him. Booth rolls his eyes, letting his hand drop.
“Yes. I have observed that behavior myself,” she says, nodding. “Have you noticed that he’s more likely to direct that aggression toward a target at the shooting range lately? He’s been spending a lot of time over there. That is both preferable and quite healthy.” She constructs it as a sentence, but her inflection indicates she’s seeking confirmation.
Sweets pauses as if considering this, then purses his lips and nods, exhaling as if he’d been holding his breath.
“I’ve been working on my Class M!” Booth blurts in defense.
“See … he will be fine. Or at least, as fine as he was before this particular incident, for what that’s worth,” says Sweets, chewing on his final phrase. Gordon had advised that Sweets not sugar-coat anything or use ambiguous euphemisms, even if it irritates Booth. Give it to him straight.
“What do you mean by that? At least I’m not shooting people!” Booth gasps in exasperation.
“Or clowns,” adds Brennan, finally looking over at him. But she’s picking up on a rather wide omission on Sweets’ part and wondering where this is all heading. He seems to be alluding to the discordant interactions between Booth and herself this past year. Though she hasn’t any tangible proof assembled, she knows this must have taken a toll on their fieldwork and lab efficiency.
“No – but you yourself have said that with each death we all die a little,” says Sweets, finally turning his attention to Booth.
“I was referring to lives taken by snipers in the pursuit of eliminating the threat to hundreds of lives.”
“Epps wasn’t a threat to hundreds of lives, Agent Booth,” counters Sweets.
“I didn’t kill Howard Epps, and I didn’t kill Vincent, isn’t that what so many hours being shrunk by Gordon Gordon was supposed to convince me of?”
“Are you saying you aren’t convinced?”
“No – I’m not saying – don’t do that, Sweets!”
“Put words in my mouth. I hate it when you do that.”
“The words you choose, Agent Booth, sometimes say more about what’s going on inside your head than the meaning of the vocabulary. Case in point, when you say ‘Gordon was supposed to convince me’, it implies that Dr. Wyatt was merely fulfilling his duty by manipulating you into choosing his version of the truth over yours.
“Perhaps you may have accepted that Vincent’s death was not your fault. It is, of course, a more rational and palatable viewpoint. However, part of you still feels responsible. Not only for his death, but for the effect his death has had on … others.” Sweets watches Booth very carefully as this final bold suggestion bounces defiantly from his lips. Gordon had suggested getting this, Booth’s complicity in Brennan’s pain, into the conversation early on. Let him stew a bit with it.
Sweets is met with a stunned, stone cold stare. I hope he doesn’t hit me, Sweets thinks. At least not in the face. Is he angry, or just stunned?
‘Booth is a very smart man,’ Gordon had said, refilling Sweets’ glass of Campo Viejo Reserve, ‘especially when it comes to the nature of the tortured human soul. I dare say he will make the implied conclusion without you having to spell it out for him. Fortunately for you both, Dr. Brennan will be none the wiser for a beat, giving Booth a little time to simmer in his kettle of Vichyssoise.’
Brennan wants to reach out to Booth, but it is not something she would usually do in Sweets’ office – so she breathes through the impulse, watching Booth’s silhouette. She can feel his tension rising, see his jaw muscles clench twice. He’s intentionally not looking over at her. He doesn’t want to read it in her eyes that she holds him responsible for her pain. She reaches over and lays her palm on the couch cushion between them, hoping he can feel her affection for him, her belief in him, no matter what responsibility he feels about Nigel-Murray’s death … or anything else.
“If I agree that I do have some … lingering sense of responsibility … does that mean I have to go back to Gordon Gordon and get shrunk again?” He’s going to step over Sweets’ mention of Brennan for now.
Sweets meets Booth’s stare with the same intensity he’s being given. He rejects the impulse to look away until he is certain that Booth has received the unspoken message. He wants Booth to begin considering the impact of his actions this past year on the woman sitting beside him.
“Well, first of all, Gordon Gordon is no longer in the practice of ‘shrinking’ people, as you like to call it. And second of all – no, it doesn’t mean that at all. But it does prove my point—”
“Which was? Remind me . . . you made that point about twelve compound sentences ago and I’ve already forgotten what it was.”
“That you feel responsible,” answers Sweets, adopting a casual, almost bored, attitude, “but that it most likely will not adversely effect the quality of your performance over that of the past twelve months – which may not be a good thing.” Sweets returns his attention to his notes. He stares at his pad of paper as if trying to start a fire with his penetrating focus. He needs a moment to breathe, and think about where he wants to take this conversation next.
Booth’s been noticing that Sweets’ customarily casual and direct demeanor during his interactions with them has been replaced by a clipped and professional coolness. This feels more like a game of chess rather than the usual round of tiddlywinks seem to engage in inside these four walls. It doesn’t escape him that Sweets appears distracted. This obviously isn’t just about that damn photo, he thinks, or some grief assessment bovine feces. What the hell is going on here?Booth ponders the situation and watches Sweets through suspicious eyes, his Spidey senses tingling and on high alert.
“Sweets,” he begins hesitantly, “this meeting is just about Vincent,” he says, not wanting to alarm Brennan unnecessarily. “Isn’t it?”
Sweets looks up, suddenly noticing the increase in his own blood pressure and the disturbing silence surrounding the last question uttered in the room. He wishes his skin wasn’t so pale and prays his cheeks aren’t turning red. He nods solemnly, nervously, feigning nonchalance. “I have been mandated to discuss another issue with the two of you tonight, but it’s nothing to be concerned about,” he says, mustering a practiced professional tone, and flashing a brief plastic grin.
“That’s a lie,” says Booth calmly, chin down, eyebrow up, eyes firmly locked on Sweets.
“Only partially,” counters Sweets, not too confidently, avoiding eye contact. The devil made me do it, Dad, I swear.
“Out with it, Sweets,” commands Booth loudly. “What’s up?” Booth stares a hole through Sweet’s forehead as he waits for the younger man to meet his eyes.
“Agent Booth,” says Sweets, much more comfortable with direct confrontation than subtle passive aggression, “I have a process, and despite your attempts to intimidate me, I will not be deterred from it.”
“Bones, I think while we were gone Sweets here must have attended Ass Hole Assertiveness Boot Camp,” he says, turning to Brennan and sitting back. He knows if he can rile Sweets enough, Sweets will relent and spill. Sweets’ weakness is that he craves Booth’s approval. In most circumstances, Sweets is able to keep this in check, but he’s obviously under a great deal of strain. Booth is encouraged that he might be able to get Sweets to crack, to spill the beans, maybe even spew the FBI’s agenda before he intends to. Get the opponent on the defensive, says Booth to himself.
“It’ll only take a couple of minutes,” says Sweets. “While I was at camp, I got to eat at the Seeley Booth Memorial Cafeteria, by the way.” Looking directly at Booth, Sweets shoots him a broad, toothy smile. In return, he’s given a sarcastic one by his adversary.
Booth glances toward Brennan as Sweets once again flips through the pages of notes he’d hastily scribbled onto his notepad while listening to the two talk about their individual and shared post-Vincent Nigel-Murray’s death experiences. Catching her eye, Booth jerks his head, almost imperceptibly toward the young psychiatrist, then raises an eyebrow a fraction. Brennan responds with a calm fractional incline of her own eyebrow. His look, she knows, says ‘follow my lead.’ Her look, he knows, says, ‘message received.’
Determined to figure out what this is all about, Booth takes a moment to quickly assess the available information. They arrived separately. Sweets saw the cell photo. They explained it, convincingly, he believes. He and Brennan talked about the Vincent tragedy. Booth not feeling responsible. Brennan describing her emotional breakdown earlier today. Sweets’ final question to Brennan had been, ‘Did you two discuss Vincent while in Philadelphia?’ There it is. Sweets must not have been satisfied with her answer. Neither she nor he, Booth, said anything about how they dealt with this tragedy as a team. That is something the FBI would find interesting – their continued ability to handle crises as a team. This has never been a concern in the past. Why is it now? Somehow, Booth has to convince Sweets that he and Brennan are still a team, that they do rely on and support each other. It may not have been true a week ago, but it sure as hell is now.
Then the final two puzzle pieces. First, Sweets has twice suggested that Booth’s performance this past year has been less than exemplary. Second, he gave the impression that Booth might feel responsible for Brennan’s pain. What does this all add up to? He wonders, chewing on the inside of his bottom lip. Sweets said he has been ‘mandated’ to discuss something with them. That’s FBI speak for being ordered to do something, most likely against Sweets’ will, or better judgment. Not good.
Bones waits patiently, watching for the next signal from Booth. She doesn’t have to wait long. Booth, who’s still leaning on his armrest with one elbow and hanging his other arm over the back of the loveseat, begins to swing his arm up and across the back of the couch several times – almost touching her, but not. He taps casually against the back of the couch with his thumb. Brennan listens. It that Morse code? No, too random. Just as Gordon predicted, she is oblivious to the unspoken conversation transpiring between the two men.
Booth begins to whistle quietly while still tapping occasionally on the back of the couch. He sways his head back and forth as if listening to a tune in his head. He smiles at Brennan. It’s a nice, big, wide-open, beautiful Boothy smile. It says, ‘I’m awfully fond of you’, with a touch of ‘I love you’ in it. Then he winks playfully. Finally, she gets it. Act relaxed.
Brennan unfolds her arms, lets her shoulders fall, and slouches slightly in her seat. Taking a rubber band from her pocket, she whips her hair up into a high ponytail. She crosses her legs and swings her foot casually. Leaning toward Booth, she asks in a playful sing-song voice, “Hey, Booth, you have any poker chips on you?” She gives him a cock-eyed smile.
“Sure,” he says, stretching casually to reach into his pocket, he pulls out three. He holds two out to her with a smile, then pulls them away at the last minute when she reaches for them.
“Booth!” she yelps, grinning. He tosses them into her lap. She picks them up and fakes that she’s going to throw them back at Booth. He winces, throwing his hands up.
“Gotcha,” she says, chuckling.
He rolls his eyes, then grins back at her. This is working. They are relaxing, or, at least appearing to.
“Sweets,” says Booth after two minutes. “There’s something else that I wanted to ask you about.”
“Is this on topic, Agent Booth?” Sweets looks up from his pad of paper.
“Well, I’ll leave that to you to determine. While we were in Philadelphia, Bones woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare. She was screaming so loudly, I thought she was being attacked, and I busted into her room with my gun loaded.”
Bones bites her bottom lip, nods. “It was frightening,” she says, her brow knitting together.
Staring straight forward, her arms across her chest, Brennan speaks in a monotone. She recounts her experience early Saturday morning: The bloody nose, the broken hotel room lamps, and the nightmare about stuffing people into the cells of a hornet’s nest.
“I found the last part of the dream quite disturbing,” says Brennan with consternation, her chest rising as she fills her lungs to capacity, then falling slowly as she exhales. She stares, transfixed, at the floor, then glances up at Booth with a slight question in her eyes. Booth blinks, nods deeply without hesitation, grimaces. Go ahead, he’s saying. You can do this. He wants to pull her over to him and wrap his arm around her, kiss the soft skin at her temple, hold her warm hand, breathe in her scent, make sure she feels his love. He tries to impart this through his actions. He adjusts himself in his seat so his back is to the corner and he’s facing more toward Brennan than before. He crosses his right leg over his left, do he’s also leaning toward her.
“Whenever you’re ready, Dr. Brennan,” Sweets says, engrossed in the story as well as the unprecedentedly open non-verbal communication Booth is demonstrating. And were they being … playful … a moment ago?
“In my dream,” she begins, looking at Sweets, then flicking another glance at Booth, who sends her a comforting message with his eyes. Though imperceptible by anyone else, she understands what his look means. This is a good decision. You can trust Sweets about this. I’m right here. Swallowing, her brow knitting together again, her lips pursing for a moment, she closes her eyes to remember the shadowy images of that night as she considers her words. When she’s ready, she opens her eyes and begins to give their psychiatrist the core of her nightmare.
“Somehow, the edges of these hornet nest cells were sharp. Not all of them, because Angela and Dr. Saroyan weren’t having any … difficulty. Neither were the interns … though I never saw any of them. The suggestion of Hodgins was there somehow as well. Ange and Dr. Saroyan were flitting around like two girlfriends, chatting and laughing.” She pauses. Here comes the hard part.
Booth slides his arm across the top of the loveseat but doesn’t touch her. He’s just letting her know he’s there. Sweets notices this out of the corner of his eye but doesn’t call any attention to it lest Booth continue to guard his affections.
“But Booth,” she says, looking up at him, “Booth is standing right in front of me. I’m gently pushing him backward until we get to the cells, the honeycombs, and he goes willingly. But when we reach the nest … and I try to push him inside one … he’s too big. He doesn’t fit.” She stops again, takes a breath. “So I try to move him over in front of another cell. He doesn’t resist at all. I push and push. He just smiles at me as if I were trying to arrange him in a group photo. But then I notice he is bleeding.” She stops, swallowing dryly. “Dreams are meaningless, I’m sure. Random neurotransmitters firing haphazardly inside a brain frantically consolidating and processing information, forming neural connections, building up new neurotransmitters …”
Sweets sits forward slowly, reaching out his hand as if patting an invisible child on the head. “Dr. Brennan, let me be the doctor here, okay?” She meets his eyes and squints at him for a moment, then nods. Sweets leans back. “Please continue.”
“I notice Booth is bleeding and I know he knows he’s bleeding. There’s bright red blood … but he doesn’t mind. It doesn’t bother him, but it panics me,” she says, her voice raising to a panicked pitch, her shoulders rising as she tenses up. “I realize I have been pushing him into razor blade edged cells, cutting him. I am what’s making him bleed. Me! And he- he doesn’t stop me. He just lets me … like maybe he’s numb.” She stops, shrugs, swallows, stares to the right of Sweets’ face. Her eyes are glossy, but she maintains her composure.
Sweets glances over at Booth who is intently watching Brennan’s face, compassion in his entire posture. He notices that Booth is gently dragging his fingertips back and forth on the back of her shoulder without moving his hand. It’s subtle. Sweets had almost missed it.
“Then what happened?” Sweets prompts Brennan.
“That’s all I remember. The next thing I knew Booth was pounding on my door, screaming for me to open up.”
Booth mentions that they, he and Brennan, spent a substantial length of time talking about what had just happened until she relaxed enough to fall sleep. He omits the part about the conversation occurring while they sat on the floor, Booth wrapped around Brennan, neither of them wearing much clothing.
Throughout the discussion of the death and its aftermath, Sweets notes that the wall of tension between Booth and Brennan had dissipated like a mist burned off by pure rays of the morning sun in early June. They allow themselves to exchange furtive glances. Their narrative falls into a companionable cadence as they provide details about what they discussed that night. There are several instances where Sweets makes a suggestion and is informed that Brennan or Booth had said that same thing during their discussion.
“This is clearly PTSD,” says Sweets. “The emotional and psychological trauma, stressful events, shattered sense of security –”
“Booth recognized it as PTSD immediately and suggested it may not be just from Mr. Nigel-Murray’s death, but perhaps also from my childhood,” says Brennan.
“Very good point. Well done, Agent Booth,” says Sweets, nodding to the man to his left. “Now, was there something that happened that particular day that may have precipitated such an emotional event, such a breakthrough into the past trauma? Many times a PTS event will occur after something similarly traumatic …”
“It seemed to me,” says Booth, “That there wasn’t another traumatic event, except Vincent’s death, of course. Instead, could it be possible that this came out … this explosion of fear and emotion, as a result of …” Booth looks for a word, but can’t find one.
“Booth speculated that perhaps my subconscious needed to feel safe enough to allow the trauma to make itself felt. That until there was sufficient support, concern, and a … what did you call it?” She turns toward Booth, touching him on the forearm.
“A soft place to fall. Someone to catch you, hold you if you need it. Put band aids on your scraped knees …”
“Arrange to have your hotel room cleaned up and the sheets changed …” Brennan adds, nodding an appreciative yet self-conscious smile in Booth’s direction, still not wanting to give too much away.
“Terrorize and cuff your shampoo and body wash bottles,” says Booth, in guilty amusement.
“Soak a towel in warm water and tease the dried blood from your face and arms -” Brennan says, grimacing, then smiling with quiet appreciation.
“Remind you that you have always been strong, with a generous and tender heart,” mumbles Booth, looking sideways at Brennan, “but perhaps now you are less guarded and maybe that is why it feels so unsettling.” Having said his piece, Booth looks down with consternation at the one poker chip he has left in his hand. He flips it around expertly between his fingers. This last item he shared is a little more personal than what he’s like to be talking about in front of Sweets.
“I concur, Agent Booth. Dr. Brennan, you have always been strong,” says Sweets, joining in. “Seeing it as impervious was a perspective you adopted to facilitate your own comprehension. The strength has always been there, as have the feelings. You just hadn’t let them out or, perhaps, given them much credence in the past.”
“That’s exactly what Booth said,” says Brennan. Remembering another significant revelation of the past couple of days, she continues. “He surmised it was necessary to feel I had someone to tell me it’s okay to feel embarrassed by that rush of unaccustomed and overwhelming emotion. Someone to insist that I … or anyone in the same situation … can allow yourself to experience the richness of intimacy without intercourse, between friends who care a great deal for each other.” Brennan’s voice has gone low and quiet. It sounds to Sweets like it has taken on a wistful and reverent tone. She can feel the poppies beginning to bloom on her cheeks, but she refuses to acknowledge them in anyway, even to herself.
Sweets leans back in his chair smiling at his companions who exchange a warm, appreciative, glance before looking away from each other. The only thing they are not doing is touching each other. But they are touching each other, aren’t they? Sweets tells himself. Even though it may not be physically. And it is clear that Agent Booth has somehow managed to regain access to his affection for Dr. Brennan, an affection that has been dormant for the greater part of a year.
“Since you had some time … away from the team … were you able to discuss this past year’s professional challenges?”
“Meaning what?” It’s Booth.
“Can you be a little more specific?” Brennan asks.
“Well. Let’ just look at the facts,” says Sweets, sitting forward and reaching underneath his chair to pull out a slim FBI folder.
Booth and Brennan glance at each other.
“There’s been talk in the bureau that maybe it’s time for a break,” Sweets says, his eyes on the closed FB fonder n his hands.
“What? What kind of break? Like a hiatus of some sort? How do they propose to impose a break on murder?” Brennan snorts sarcastically. She looks at Booth and shakes her head. “That’s absurd.”
“Sweets is referring to a professional hiatus,” explains Booth dryly. Brennan sits up straight when comprehension dawns on her.
“They can’t do that! Can they do that Booth?”
“They can do anything they want,” answers Booth, not taking his eyes of Sweets.
“Over the last twelve months your case load has significantly decreased – by 35% to be exact.”
“How do they calculate that? Bureaucracies can manipulate numbers to appear to say anything they want you to think they say,” says Brennan. “Scientists do it all the time. Except me, of course.”
“Your time to closure has increased 26 percent. What used to take you ten business days to resolve, now takes you thirteen says. This all adds up over the course of a year.”
“I’d like to see those numbers,” blurts Brennan, leaning forward. Sweets makes no move to offer her the folder.
“Sometimes there are just fewer cases –” Booth shakes his head.
“Not true, Agent Booth. While other parts of the country are seeing decreases in violent crime, the Northeastern states have seen an 8.3 per cent increase in murder in 2010 alone. Not so in the case of your partnership, Agent Booth. In the past six years liaising with the Jeffersonian, year over year, your case load and solve rate increased by six percent in your second year, ten percent in the third year, nineteen percent in the fourth, and twenty-three percent in the fifth. Do you have any idea what the sixth year percentage increase was?”
“I have a feeling you’re going to tell us,” says Booth, with a smirk.
“Negative eight percent. Your case load and close rate have both decreased. And the time to close a case has increased twenty-six percent. It’s almost as if you haven’t wanted to work together.” Sweets tosses that hot bag of poo out there and lets it gurgle for a moment.
Brennan feels the loneliness of the last year as if she were immersed in it all over again. She realizes that what she’s been going through has affected more than just her moods.
“Have you been aware of this?” Booth says, turning toward Brennan.
“Everything organic is cyclic as well, has a life cycle, Booth. … I’ve felt it, yes,” she says, looking away from him and Sweets, toward the wall resting her right cheek bone on her upturned left fist so neither of them can see her face. She can feel the tears welling up and she widens her eyes so they don’t fall. She pulls on the skin below each eye to allow those tears to fall inside her lids rather than down her cheeks. Maybe they won’t notice, she lies to herself, unfooled.
“Sometimes these things happen. Something fabulous and successful runs its course. And then it’s time to move on – the magic’s gone. Maybe you know each other too well. You need something different,” suggests Sweets with a shrug.
“In the last year you both seem to have regressed. You, Booth, at times seem to have lost your sense of humor, your fluid thought process –”
“I know! I know,” insists Booth. “I know that now. Bones has explained to me how difficult, unpleasant, sometimes rude, and insensitive I’ve been. I hadn’t realized it was affecting our work.” Booth runs his hands through his hair. An uncomfortably cold and steely fear is running down the back of his neck all the way to his tailbone. He can see now that he has screwed up.
“Dr. Brennan, you- sometimes when you’re working a case, you seem to have forgotten how to connect with others. You haven’t been working together as a team, guys.”
“Sweets is right, I’ve felt it. I’ve been rigid. And unhappy,” she murmurs, her shoulders falling, her head leaning to one side as if it’s too heavy to hold itself up. She knows the tricky part is going to come up soon and she’s not looking forward to it. If they have to talk about this difficult last year, they’ll have to talk about Hannah. They’ll have to talk about their separate pain. Please don’t make me tell him how devastating that was for me, Sweets, she thinks, swallowing dryly, hearing a clicking noise in the back of her throat. Please don’t make me give him one more thing to hate himself for. Hasn’t he been through enough? Can’t we just admit this past year was a cluster-duck and move forward? But I know you. Sweets, you’ll make us pull out all the garbage, sift through it, pass it around the room, talk about it. You’ll force us to emote about it before you let us move on. I don’t want to do this! This is going to hurt Booth … isn’t it enough that it still hurts me? Let me take the hurt. I am good at boxing hurt up, hiding it away. Booth is sensitive. I’d rather keep it inside me, than bring it out and see Booth hurt all over again.
For the first time Brennan feels regret for going to Sweets for assistance in overcoming her fears so she could have an open heart for Booth. Sweets knows, first hand, how crushed and lost Brennan was when Hannah appeared, how devastated she was when she realized she had lost her chance with Booth, then how she further sank into her own personal hell when she learned of his proposal to Hannah. Sweets possesses all of this information, which now translates into power, the power to send Booth back into his hole. She can’t let this happen. But what can she do about it?
“Jesus, Bones, why didn’t you tell me you saw this happening?”
She turns toward him and stares into his eyes, her own still glossy. The words don’t come.
“You couldn’t. I was unapproachable,” he chagrins, realization dawning.
“You once told me the greatest unkindness is to kick a man when he’s down,” she sputters, finally finding something akin to a voice.
There. She said it. Booth was a man down. Down for the count. Down for months. Almost a year. Exactly the amount of time their work had suffered.
A palpable pall falls over the three of them. The only sounds remaining are the humming of Sweets’ clock and the buzz of the thermostat. For five minutes, the three sit in silence, letting the last words spoken sink into their skin. Eventually, it’s Sweets who breaks the silence.
“The FBI would like to implement a new arrangement. Take Booth out of the field except to train other agents, and we’d like to consider having the Jeffersonian train it’s assets to liaise with law enforcement. See if we can duplicate what you two had those first five years.”
“But, Sweets, I-, I don’t work for the FBI. They can’t just-”
“But I do,” Booth says, deep in thought, trying very hard not be give in to an overwhelming sense of resignation.
“But he does,” concedes Sweets.
“But I won’t work with anyone else,” she pleads, leaning forward toward Sweets, then turning toward Booth.
“Then the FBI could decide they no longer have need of your services,” Says Sweets, frimacing apologetically.
“That’s absurd! I am the best forensic anthropologist they could ever find,” she almost shrieks.
“Are you sure? When was the last time you checked?”
“Sweets!” Booth erupts threateningly, startling the younger man who winces in response. If, ever in their relationship, Booth were going to hit Sweets, it would have been at this very moment. But he doesn’t. This is too important. He needs to maintain control.
Booth feels a panicked sweat seeping down through his shoulders. We can make this work, he’s thinking. If the FBI will allow us to. Or maybe we could go out on our own? Shaking him out of his thoughts is the voice of his partner beside him.
“It’s my fault,” she blurts, falling back against the couch cushions, anxiously lifting her index finger toward her mouth, then looking at it and dropping it back in her lap. If she puts that fingernail in her mouth she might bite off the phalanx.
“It’s not your fault, Bones. It was never your fault!” You’ve loved me and been there for me the whole time. You haven’t failed once, he thinks. He knows her well enough to suspect what she’s thinking.
“No. It’s my fault, Booth. I shouldn’t have been too afraid to pursue our relationship and I shouldn’t have taken that assignment in Maluku. I ruined everything.”
Booth looks at Sweets who is watching quietly, seeing how this will unfold. “Sweets, don’t let her take responsibility for this. This is not her fault. This is my fault.”
Sweets, shrugs with his eyebrows. It’s a non–committal response. There is no right or wrong. Booth can see this goes much further than what’s being said. Aspects of their partnership this past year have created a labyrinthine mess. There have been more dead ends and false starts to keep count. The challenge with this kind of mess is that those inside it are too close to it to have any perspective, to see any path that leads to open air. In Greek mythology, Theseus had Ariadne who provided him with a piece of string so he could find his way out of the labyrinth after killing the beast. Booth has never known Brennan to run out of string. She creates string out of thin air. Puzzles frustrate me, but they relax her, she’s said so herself. This should be a piece of cake, right? Then why am I sweating profusely? He thinks.
“Booth,” says Brennan, turning to look at him, laying her fingers on his forearm. “Booth, it is going to be fine now. We don’t need to worry about it. We will be fine now. Okay? We just have to move forward and work hard. Show the FBI we can do a good job. Come on, we’re Bones and Booth!” Brennan forces a smile which falls dead immediately when he doesn’t look at her.
“What’s done is done, right Sweets?” Booth doesn’t touch Brennan’s hand on his arm. He stares straight forward at Sweets.
Brennan looks to Sweets. Sweets looks at Booth.
“That’s not how the FBI works, Bones,” says Booth, in a flat tone. “They’ve already made a decision, Haven’t they Sweets?”
Sweets exhales and grimaces.
“Their process probably started months ago,” explains Booth. “There may be nothing we can do about it. That’s really why we’re here this afternoon, isn’t it, Sweets? Sweets has something he needs to tell us. Something we’re not going to like.”
Brennan looks from her partner to her psychiatrist. “What? What! What are you saying?” She’s whispering.
Sweets sighs heavily, opens the flimsy file on his lap, and scans the page.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, give me that!” blurts Booth thrusting his hand in the air toward Sweets. At the same time Sweets holds it out toward him, accidentally smacking Booth’s fingers with it. The folder is flimsy. There’s only one document inside, but it’s official looking. The only thing missing is an inked signature at the bottom of the page. There are actually three blank lines awaiting signatures. The names printed below those lines are “Dr. Lance Sweets, Special Agent Seeley Booth, and Forensic Anthropologist Liaison from the Jeffersonian Institute, Dr. Temperance Brennan.
“Where’s the rest of it?” Booth looks at Sweets, accusingly.
“The rest is on my desk. It doesn’t matter, Agent Booth. This is the only document that carries any weight, contains any thing of import for this discussion.”
“I want a copy of that. On my desk. Before our meeting tomorrow, Sweets. Every sheet, every note, every napkin with a doodle or a coffee stain on it. Everything.” He says this more to be intimidating rather than to make sure he gets it all, He’s not sure he wants to see everything that’s inside that file. He’d rather forget this entire last year existed.
“I’m not signing that,” says Brennan defiantly belligerent, tightening her arms around her tense midsection.
“You don’t have to agree to it. You just have to sign it. Your signature acknowledges that you’ve been presented with the information,” explains Sweets. “Not that you agree.”
“Where does it say that?”
Brennan shoots him the ‘are you kidding me’ stink eye. “That’s horse puckies. And I’m not signing it,” she hisses.
“And neither am I,” says Booth, tossing the offending folder on the coffee table with such force that it slides off the other side and lands on Sweets’ shoes.
Sweets feels relieved and encouraged, oddly invigorated, for the first time since they walked through his door an hour ago. Thanks to Chef Gordon, this strategy is working. He didn’t manufacture anything he’s told them about their situation. It is all true and ugly. However, the FBI has given Sweets a tiny slice of latitude based upon the strength of Sweets’ success working with this team.
What Gordon suspected, and Sweets now has confirmed, is that if Dr. Brennan and Booth’s relationship was too far gone, they would sign the document, even though it wasn’t an admission to anything more than having been delivered the information. But if they refused to sign it, for any ‘reason’, it meant they were willing to fight. For their careers, and, even more, for each other.