Spoilers: Through Santa in the Slush.
Word Count: 2357
Special Thanks to: tempertemper77. Thank you for laughing at me, and for helping me brainstorm for this chapter when I felt stuck. I'm sorry I couldn't work in any belly dancing. ;) Maybe in another story.
Acknowledgments: I'm perpetually behind on responding to comments, so until I get temporarily caught up, thank you, witchofthedogs, tempertemper77, a2zmom, mdemvizi, sillysun22, dabhug, lime_mhc, oltha_heri, buffyangellvr23, tidbit2008, alderaan_, saulalovin, justice79, last_archangel, seeaseye, killmotion, torigates, pinktealeaves, erinm_4600, raaby_lilly, pipergirl07, bamax, makd, & geezbones, for commenting on Part 3.
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In the end, it's better to say too much than to never to say what you need to say again. - John Mayer
Brennan knows something is wrong as soon as she steps into her apartment and shuts the door behind her. There is no identifiable reason for her discomfort, but it is there--in the rapid tattoo of her pulse and the quickening of her breath. Perhaps she is simply listening to the intuition of which Booth is such a proponent.
The click-click of her footsteps stills as she turns the corner and sees it.
A slender blue tie she would recognize almost anywhere lies on the hallway floor--next to it, blood.
An obscene pool spreading toward her shoes.
She steps back.
Crimson smeared across her formerly pristine walls like paint on canvas for a modern art installation at one of the museums she’s visited with Angela.
Her hand flies to her throat. The sound of her own respiration rattles in her ears. Breathe in, she tells herself, feeling her diaphragm expand. Now, breathe out. The silent instructions give her something to focus on besides the acidic taste of fear and the raw panic that claws at her stomach.
She steadies herself against the wall, the plaster cool and solid beneath her palm, despite the unreality of the sight laid out before her.
A sound like a moan filters to her ears, and she cranes her neck, attempting to see where it emanated from. Her bedroom door stands slightly ajar, a beam of light edging out of the room. Her gun is in her bedroom, and though caution tells her to be wary, she finds herself drawn helplessly toward the room as if pulled by an invisible string. “Booth?” she calls out, her voice uncertain, even though she knows it is unwise to announce her presence.
She strains to listen for sounds of an intruder, but none reach her ears.
The blood has spread so there is no longer a clear path to the room; she steps through it, grimacing as she does so. Pushing the door in, she steps inside and gasps as her brain registers what she sees.
“Oh my God.” Despite her lack of belief, these are the words that spring to her lips.
“Booth…” Brennan wakes, shivering, her hands opening and closing convulsively on the nubby folds of her blanket. The nightmare weighs on her body, making her feel claustrophobic; in spite of the chill enveloping her skin, she shoves aside the blanket and rises from the bed. Movement provides some relief.
Staring down at her bedside clock, she watches the red numbers (not blood-red, thankfully) shift from 4:32 to 4:33. When the numbers become 4:34, she feels confident she is fully awake. She should try to go back to sleep. It was just a dream, she reasons. Dreams don’t actually possess the power to hurt anyone.
Brennan moves to the bathroom and runs the faucet until the water hovers just on the edge of hot. Her hands tremble as she holds them under the stream, but she tries to ignore that the same way she avoids glancing at her reflection. Without looking, she knows her skin is leached of color.
Dreams might not cause corporeal harm, but she is compelled to admit they can still disturb one’s equilibrium. This is at least the fifth time she has had this particular dream. The first occurrence was around the time Russ joined their father in jail. She knows because she keeps a journal on her computer to help, and both events were noted in entries. The journal serves as a silent witness to her days and nights and helps her sift through the sensory input with which life bombards her. Without knowing exactly how it works, she believes the journal gives her a place to germinate the beginnings of her books.
Drying her hands on a towel, she tells herself she should try to fall back asleep. There is still time before she needs to get up and prepare for another long day. But her body doesn’t appear to want to obey her brain’s dictates because instead of sliding back underneath her blanket, she grabs her cell phone from her nightstand and carries it out to the living room. The darkness presses against her, trying to find a way in, so she hurriedly switches on several lights before collapsing onto the couch.
The Blackberry is cool in her hand, and she stares down at it, nibbling on her bottom lip as she struggles to make a decision she has avoided making for some time now. Blood on her floor. She remembers Booth by her side as she stared in shock at the pool of blood on her apartment floor and concluded that Kirby had killed Russ. He hadn't, but she didn't know that at the time. All she'd known was that no one could have survived that much blood loss. All those years she'd ignored Russ' birthday phone calls. All those wasted years when they could have been family. Not the family she idealized, but still family. Pride, foolishness, anger separated her from her brother.
It could have been too late for them.
Booth was her family, too. He had told her once that there was more than one kind of family. She hadn't known then whether or not to believe him. People said things, things they didn't mean, intending to comfort, bolster, reassure. Better to not say the words at all than to say them and not mean them, she believed.
But time had shown her the truth of his words, hadn't it? Upon finding Booth's tooth in that dim hallway, the same panic rose in her that had been there when she'd seen that pool of what she'd thought was her brother's blood. The same rage. What punishment would she have meted out on the bones of Veleska Miller's face if her father hadn't held her back? How much blood would she have spilled in Booth's name?
Once her decision is made, she acts. She has never seen the value in delaying once a course of action has been chosen; tomorrow is an unknown entity, this life the only one that is guaranteed.
He answers on the third ring. “Hello,” he says, his voice sounding different than usual. Sleep has smoothed it and paradoxically roughened it as well.
“Hello, Booth," she says, and her voice comes out softer than she intended.
“Bones?” His voice sharpens. “Are you ok?”
“Yes. I… I’m sorry to wake you. I’m fine.” She curls her legs beneath her. “That is, everything’s all right. I just…” She could drive to his apartment, but she doesn’t think that would be wise at the moment, so in spite of her distaste for asking anyone for anything, she steels her resolve and makes her request. “Could you please come over?” she asks, half-ready for his refusal.
“I’ll be right over,” he says, and she hears his bedding rustle as he moves. Part of her is surprised at his immediate acquiescence. Part of her isn’t; Booth has never refused her anything she truly needed. Recognizing that makes this somewhat easier.
“See you soon, Bones.” He doesn’t say, “You’re welcome,” but she knows he means it all the same. The words slide in neatly beside the countless others that sit, unspoken, and fill the space between them with their ghostly weight.
As Brennan waits for Booth to arrive and ponders what she will say once he does, she examines her hands and finds that her cuticles are dry and ragged. She rises and pads back to her bathroom in search of lotion. So it is that when the knock sounds at her front door, Brennan is smoothing lotion over her hands. She pushes up the sleeves of her pajamas, rubs her hands over her arms in an effort to get rid of the excess lotion, and then hurries to the door.
On impulse, she looks through the peephole to confirm that her early morning visitor is in fact her partner. He would approve of this safety measure, she thinks, allowing herself a wry smile. She undoes the locks and opens the door, standing back to let Booth in. A wave of cool air follows him in and she shivers. Instead of brushing past her and making his way into the living room, he stands to her side with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans and silently waits, shoulders hunched, while she closes and locks the door. It isn’t until she turns and walks toward the couch that he moves, following behind her.
They sit, bodies angled toward one another. Whatever she had planned to say vanishes into the distance as she looks at Booth. It is a relief simply to have him near her so her eyes can see the evidence that he is whole and safe--at least for the moment. True safety is an illusion in their world, where bullets and madmen wait to make themselves known. But at this moment Booth's body is real and solid, taking up space next to her.
His hair sticks up in messy, uncombed tufts, his eyes appear soft and slightly unfocused. This, then, is a Booth the rest of the world doesn’t get to see. The thought fills her with unexpected satisfaction—until she acknowledges that this is also a Booth she has never really seen herself.
They still haven’t spoken, but the silence held between them speaks of a comfort that has grown out of other wordless moments. Booth yawns, squeezing his eyes shut, and stretches his arms overhead; she feels a second's guilt for pulling him from the cocoon of his bed. He is waiting for her to speak, she knows. So she lets him wait while she gathers her thoughts.
“I’ve been told I’m cold and emotionally distant,” Brennan says, speaking at last. There was a time when Booth was simply a distasteful aspect of her job. Certainly not something to look forward to. Certainly not a person upon whom she could rely.
Booth’s gaze snaps to her. “No one who really knows you could ever say that.”
She inclines her head in acknowledgment. “I’m glad you think so.”
“It’s not what I think, Bones. It’s the truth,” he says, frowning.
His stubborn insistence coaxes a smile from her and convinces her she is doing the right thing. "I have feelings, just like other people."
"I never doubted it," Booth replies, and she believes him.
The nightmare's icy grip has loosened, but she still feels cold. She wishes he would shift closer and pull her into his arms. But without imminent calamity about to strike, he won't be that bold.
This last step is hers to take; perhaps it always was. If she wants him, she will have to reach for him; she has never been good at reaching.
"Do you remember telling me that there is more than one kind of family?"
"Yeah," he says, nodding slowly, "I remember that." He tilts his head, watching her, and she remembers again how proficient he is at reading people. What has he already read in her?
"I wasn't sure I believed you then," she says, letting her gaze drift from his face to the frayed cuffs of his sweatshirt. Despite its apparent age, the sweatshirt looks warm and soft, and she is still cold.
"I figured as much."
"But I believe you now."
"Good. I'm glad."
"And I want to tell you something I should have told you a long time ago." Though it is difficult, she forces herself to meet his eyes. "You... You are family to me."
She watches him absorb her secret, the impact evident in the straightening of his shoulders and the way his gaze turns thoughtful.
"Thank you. I'm guessing it wasn't easy for you to tell me that."
She shakes her head. "It wasn't," she says, wondering if her relief is written on her face.
"Look, Bones, I'm glad you said it, but I already knew."
A slow smile dawns on Booth's face, warming his eyes--and her. "Of course."
"How?" she asks. "I never said anything."
"You didn't have to. Some things you just know."
"So your gut told you?" she asks, returning his smile.
"Something like that."
"So what else does your gut tell you?" she says, raising her eyebrows pointedly.
Booth's smile widens. "That you want another guy hug."
"What? I do not." She is lying, and they both know it.
"You sure about that?" he shoots back with a grin. "This is a one-time-only offer," he says.
"In that case..." Brennan crosses the last bit of distance separating them, reaching for Booth. He reaches back, and it isn't nearly as difficult as she imagined it would be.
She was right; his sweatshirt is warm and soft. His cheek, though, is scratchy with stubble. She doesn't mind. Folded in Booth's arms, held against his chest, Brennan feels warm for the first time since she woke from her nightmare. "I'm not stupid, Booth."
"Who said you were?" he asks, and she feels the words vibrate through his body and into hers.
"These aren't guy hugs," Brennan replies, sighing happily as his hand rubs slow circles over her back.
"I know." Even though she can't see his face, she knows he's smiling because she feels his cheek move against hers. "Sure took you long enough to figure it out," he says, toying with her hair.
She cuffs him in the shoulder; he laughs a low, rumbling laugh that fills her with inexplicable joy.
"So what made you tell me all this now?"
"That's a secret, and I think I've revealed enough of those for one day."
"So you interrupted my beauty sleep to tell me something I already knew?" he complains.
"Apparently," she says, hiding her smile in his shoulder.
Booth pulls back to look at her. "That's ok," he says, eyes twinkling, "I'll figure out the rest of your secrets eventually."
"I highly doubt that."
"I can be very persuasive," he whispers into her ear, making her shiver, though not from cold this time.
"It's like a very wise man once said: 'Everything happens eventually.'"
A/N: And that, dear friends, brings us to the end of this particular journey. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If not, I'm still thankful you came along for the ride. :) If you have a minute, I would love to hear what you thought.