Brennan fully expects Booth to yell at her for making him wait on a court day when she rushes out of her office with her original notes, but she doesn't find him where she left him with David. David tells her Booth went after her to make sure she didn't dawdle, so Brennan retraces her steps and finally sees him standing in Angela's office with his back to her.
"Sweetie." It's not what Angela says that silences her, it's the look, the tone, something in the artist's demeanor that she can't pinpoint. She steps closer and realizes Booth isn't seeing or hearing either of them; his eyes are fixed on the holographic image of a young woman that's slowly spinning on the Angelator.
"Booth?" Brennan is almost hesitant to address him; he's deathly pale, and she has never seen him look so… lost. He flinches when she touches his arm, and she's really beginning to worry now. "Booth? What is it?"
It takes him a while to answer; when he finally does, she barely recognizes his voice.
"That's my mother."
Brennan handles matters with the FBI; they promise her they'll send another agent to take the case and to interview Booth within the hour, and she's deeply grateful for the intensity at which her team has begun poring over the remains the moment they heard what they're dealing with.
Booth sits on the couch in her office and keeps staring at the evidence bags containing the artifacts which were found with his mother's remains. When she sits down beside him, he's twisting a bag that holds a metal belt buckle between his fingers; she knows she should warn him that he might be compromising evidence, but she can't bring herself to say the words.
"Mom loved seashells."
It's the first thing he said since he entered her office, and it takes her a moment to understand that he's talking about the belt buckle, which is shaped like a scallop shell. She places her hand on his arm and wishes that she were better at this, that she had his knack for saying the right thing to grieving relatives, but all she can think of is a weak, "Booth, I'm so sorry."
She doesn't think he even heard her. "He always said she left – that she was just fed up with us all and left us."
"Your father said that?" Brennan feels bile rising in her throat at the horrible direction in which her thoughts are racing. She knows what it means to be left behind by the people you expected to be there for you always, but something makes her suspect there's more to this – something in his tone that tells her that his thoughts have already reached a place which hers don't dare to approach yet, probably have the moment he saw his mother's image on Angela's holographic screen.
"Yeah." She knows next to nothing about his parents – he doesn't talk about them, but given who he is, she pictured a respectable, all-American couple in a suburban house with a white picket fence. "There was all that noise one night – we stayed in our room because we thought he'd come home drunk again and was pushing Mom around, and it always got worse when we got in the way… but in the morning, he told us that she'd up and left. Son of a bitch!"
She startles violently at his sudden outburst; he jumps up from the couch and flings the evidence bag across the room, where it knocks one of her tribal statues off its shelf. Booth flinches at the sound of shattering pottery; his angers disappears as quickly as it flared up and is replaced by an expression of horror.
"Bones, I – I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"
"It's okay." Her mind is still reeling from what she just heard, but she's on her feet and has her arms around him before she has time to think about it. "It's okay, Booth, it's nothing. It's okay…"
She keeps whispering meaningless platitudes because her panicked mind can't come up with anything better to say, but he still clings to her like a lifeline, and she can feel him shaking under her hands.
Again, she finds herself wishing their roles were reversed; he would know what to say, how to make her cope better, but she finds herself helpless in the face of the waking nightmare that is only just beginning.
The agent the FBI sends, one Timothy Sullivan, seems capable and sympathetic, but he still asks her to leave while he interviews Booth, and Brennan hates the concept of her partner suddenly finding himself on the wrong side of the game, of him being a person of interest in a criminal investigation instead of the one who brings justice to the victims.
Her hands aren't tied the way his are, though, so she figures she can still work on giving him the answers he so desperately needs.
She's clinging to the hope that their findings will point towards a natural cause of death, an accident or an illness, or maybe even prove that Booth's initial identification was erroneous even though her rational mind reminds her how that's highly unlikely given that he recognized his mother's belt buckle.
Yet the cold, hard facts that she has always found comforting in their reliable steadiness are now turning against her, because everything they uncover adds to the grim picture that has been forming in her mind since Booth's words in her office.
Angela has already pulled the data; there are no dental records for Booth's mother, but the bones fit her general description and the age at which she disappeared. Hodgins puts time of death into the late seventies, which is congruent with the timeline; Zack reports multiple signs of blunt force trauma occurring over a prolonged period of time as well as perimortem fractures to the parietal and the mandible, although cause of death was a severed spinal cord between the C3 and C4 vertebrae.
Never before has Brennan cursed her gift to see an image in her head while she's going over the bones, an image that includes not only the victim's last moments, but their life up to that point as well. She can't shut it off now that she sees the evidence of this woman's life before her – the indicators of physical abuse that must have gone on for years, and the injuries from a fall that was the result of being pushed by someone considerably taller and stronger than she was.
She calculates the most likely height, weight and body type of the victim's assailant and can't help thinking that Booth must look a lot like his father.
Agent Sullivan's expression is grim when he walks out of her office; over his shoulder, Brennan sees Booth still on the couch with his head in his hands.
"Agent Sullivan, I –"
"Dr. Brennan." His tone is sympathetic, and she can tell that this case is getting to him too; he mentioned earlier that he and Booth have been friends for a long time. "I appreciate that you're looking out for your partner, but I can't discuss an ongoing…"
"My team and I are a part of this investigation, Agent Sullivan," she interrupts him coldly and presses a folder into his hand. "Here are our preliminary findings; you'll have my final report within twenty-four hours."
She watches as he flips through the pages and nods, as if they only confirmed something he already knew. "Thanks, doc."
"You're bringing in his father?"
His shoulders slump ever so slightly; she wonders when she has started to pay so much attention to body language in conversation. "I need to find him first. Booth says he hasn't seen his old man in decades – he doesn't even know if he's still alive."
Her expression must give away how much of a shock that revelation is to her, because his voice softens. "Look, doc, if you want my advice, you take him home and keep an eye on him tonight. This is a tough one, even for a guy like him."
"I don't need a babysitter, Bones." Booth's tone is gruff, but he still holds the door to his apartment open for her.
"I'm aware of that, but I thought that perhaps you could use a friend." For once, she seems to have said the right thing, because he smiles, even if it's just a pale shadow of his usual megawatt grin.
"How did she die?" It's the first thing he has said about his mother's case since Agent Sullivan left, and the blunt question takes her by surprise, but facts are something she can give him.
"The evidence points towards a heavy fall, most likely down a set of stairs. She hit the back of her head first, then struck her chin against a hard surface, which snapped her neck." She keeps her tone clinical; so far, he has reacted badly to her attempts at sympathy.
"She just fell down the stairs? Did she trip over something?"
She hesitates, which in itself is probably an answer. "She was either pushed, or stumbled because of a blow she received while she was standing on top of the stairs."
"Right." With that, he turns on his heel and makes a beeline for his liquor cabinet. She tells herself that anything which dulls the shock is probably a good idea right now, but to her utter surprise he grabs an armful of bottles and takes them to the kitchen. When she follows him, she finds him standing over the sink, methodically pouring bottle after bottle down the drain; the air is thick with the smell of alcohol, but that's not what makes her eyes sting.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" He keeps his eyes on the dark brown liquid sloshing around in the sink. "I'm making sure I don't drink myself into a stupor, because that's exactly what I'd do if I had this stuff around tonight."
We thought he'd come home drunk again…
"I understand." She takes the last bottle from him, the one with the expensive Scotch his grandfather gave him for his thirtieth birthday. "But I'll keep this one safe for you until… until this is over."
"Until my mother is no longer dead and my father is no longer a murderer?"
She knows the facts, but his harsh words still come as a shock . "Booth, we shouldn't jump to conclusions before…"
"Bones." He's finally looking at her, but she can't read his expression. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but we both know that pretending won't change anything."
She wants to scream, to rant and rave at the unfairness of it all, but of course he's right, there's no point; so she just nods and goes to open the windows to make the alcohol fumes disappear.
Later that night, she calls David and tells him she won't be able to see him any more. She's got more important things to think of now.
The next time she sees him, Booth acts as if nothing had happened. Everyone at the lab walks on eggshells around him for a few days, but he seems completely oblivious to the badly veiled mix of sympathy and curiosity, so people eventually begin to relax again. Brennan wishes she could buy into the comforting feeling of normalcy, but she has trouble believing that Booth's carefully maintained nonchalance is genuine. Again, she finds herself struggling with the apparent reversal of their roles – he's the heart person, he should be the one going by his feelings so she can keep relying on her rational mind instead of questioning herself at every turn because she can't interpret the signals from what Booth would call her "gut" when they insist that something is wrong but refuse to be more specific.
Nobody else seems to notice, though, so she finally tells herself she must be imagining things. It isn't like her at all, but she has never been in such a quandary before, and if Booth is able to cope with the situation on his own, she should be grateful instead of doubting him.
She doesn't hear from Agent Sullivan again, which doesn't surprise her – she has done her part in his investigation, so her input won't be required anymore until there's a trial in which she's needed as an expert witness.
She and Booth go back to doing what they always do – they solve crimes and put murderers behind bars, and every now and then they share a drink to celebrate the successful closing of a case. She keeps an eye on Booth's alcohol consumption during these occasions, but his habits don't seem to have changed – he didn't go teetotal, but he never gets drunk when they're out together either. She wonders if he has re-stocked his liquor cabinet, but she doesn't ask – his good bottle of Scotch is still at her place, and so far he hasn't wanted it back.
Yet as the weeks pass, she's beginning to notice subtle changes in his behavior. It's nothing she can pinpoint, but he seems to withdraw a little from the people around him, as if an invisible wall that nobody but her notices had gone up between him and the rest of the world. He's still the easy-going, jovial guy he used to be, but nothing seems to pass through the amicable façade any more. Even Angela thinks that she's imagining things, but this is a topic Brennan knows too much about to just accept it. It's different with her – there are no changes in his behavior towards her as long as she doesn't bring up his mother's case (he froze her out whenever she tried, so she quickly gave up her attempts to discuss the matter), but it seems to her that she's the only person he still really talks to, and she feels woefully unqualified for that kind of responsibility.
The nagging sense of worry grows into full-blown alarm when he begins to bring her along for his weekends with Parker. The first time, she's genuinely pleased by his invitation to join them for a trip to the zoo, and she enjoys answering the little boy's enthusiastic questions. She doesn't think much of it the second and third time, when it's the ice rink and the fairground, but when Booth begins asking her to spend the evening with them whenever he has Parker overnight, she's beginning to wonder if there's something she's not seeing. So she starts making excuses – she has work to do, she really doesn't like watching TV the whole evening, she feels like she's intruding too much on his time with his son – to gauge his reaction, and the almost desperate way in which Booth keeps trying to change her mind confirms what she's been suspecting for a while.
He doesn't want to be alone with his son any more.
The realization hits her like a physical blow, and she fleetingly wonders if this is what people mean when they speak of metaphorical "heartbreak" – although it feels more like asphyxiation to her, because the thought that her partner no longer considers it safe for his son to spend time with his father settles on her chest like a crushing weight and makes it hard to breathe.
As much as she hates psychology, she can't help the logical conclusion that Booth fears he might be too much like his own father, that he too might be capable of harming the people close to him. She knows how he's struggling with the blood on his hands, how he feels that he needs his "cosmic balance sheet" to atone for the lives he has taken, but this is different, this is Booth doubting himself as a man, a father, as a human being on the most basic level, and the very concept feels downright offensive to her.
She wants to make him understand that people are more than a combination of their parents' genes, that his whole life proves he's nothing like his father, but she has no idea how to bring it up given that he still refuses to discuss anything even remotely related to the topic. She's afraid that insisting will only drive him to shut her out too, and she can't risk that, not when she feels like she has become his last connection to the world he was used to before his mother's face appeared on the Angelator. So she keeps her struggles to herself and tries to do her best, but she can only watch with a growing feeling of helplessness as he draws away further and further from the odd little family they've built together.
In spite of her discomfort with her new boss, Brennan was hoping that Dr. Saroyan, who allegedly has a long history with Boot, might get through to him, but she can tell that he's keeping Cam at arm's length as well. Rumor has it they were more than friends once, and Brennan is pretty sure that Cam wouldn't be averse to starting another sexual relationship with him, but Cam, too, doesn't get past the barriers Booth keeps putting up around himself.
As grateful as Brennan is that she, at least, still gets to see him with his guard down, she can't help wondering what is so different about her that makes him consider her safe.
It's pitch-dark around her, her ears are deaf from the explosion, and she can't breathe because there's nothing but dirt and dust where there should be air. You're about to die, her rational mind concludes, but there's another voice insisting that it can't be, that he'll come through for her like the always has, that there's no way Booth will let the Gravedigger take her away from him. Her rational mind dismisses it as the delusions of an oxygen-deprived brain, but before she can try to reconcile the two voices in her head, there are hands reaching for her, pulling her up and away from the dirt and the darkness towards the sunlight and glorious, breathable air. She knows that it's him before she can see or hear him, and she wants to cling to him and never let go, but she knows that she has to, that Hodgins needs saving too, that there will be time to say what she wants to say later when they're all safe.
Then they are safe, and Booth is back with her, and now he's the one clinging to her as if it had been him who'd been buried alive. Brennan hears What you've got is faith, baby in the back of her mind and wonders if this is why she of all people can still reach him, if he somehow knows that she can see him for who he really is even though he has trouble seeing it himself right now.
She sits next to him in the uncomfortable church pew and watches him pray to a god she doesn't believe in, but she doesn't mind because she has found that she does believe in him. He seems more shaken than she is from the experience of almost losing her; it's obvious that he has neither slept nor eaten in the last twenty-four hours, but she can't bring herself to refuse when he offers to take her home. She offers to cook dinner for them, and they even have a glass of his good Scotch afterwards; at last they find themselves on the couch with their arms around each other because even though they both know he should leave so they can get some rest, neither of them wants to be the first to let go.
If this were any other man, any other situation, she knows what would happen now, and she's sure that he does too. Yet he doesn't move, and neither does she; they have been dancing around this for so long that it has become second nature to them, but she knows that he now sees his mother's face when he looks at her, that he's struggling with the question if he can ever be certain he won't turn into the kind of man his father had been.
She recognizes the moment he's about to pull back, and she tightens her arms around him and tells him that she knows who he is, and that she'll be there to remind him whenever he's afraid that he might be forgetting it.
His eyes grow huge, but he doesn't push her away, and at long last he says slowly, almost as if he were hesitant to speak the words, "Bones – when this is over…"
"Yes." Her answer is quick, certain; she knows what this is, and that they will deal with it no matter how things turn out. Everything beyond that is uncharted territory, but she thinks of Hodgins' words again and realizes she has been walking through uncharted territory for a long time, maybe since that tequila-soaked kiss in the rain. She's scared, but these past months have taught her that it's easier to be strong for someone else than to be strong for yourself, and she wonders if that's what he meant when he used to talk about love.
When this is over. It becomes their mantra in the weeks that follow; they never mention that evening in her apartment, but sometimes she catches him looking at her when he thinks she doesn't notice, and even though it's irrational and sentimental, she's certain that she can hear the words he doesn't say out loud. She learns – from Caroline Julian, not from Booth – that they're building a case against Booth's father, and that Caroline is confident the matter will be dealt with within the next couple of months.
Brennan pushes it to the back of her mind, just like she's sure Booth is doing; she can't let it interfere with their day-to-day work, because what they do is too important – and too dangerous – to not give it her full attention. She keeps watching him, keeps looking for signs that he's finally starting to pull away from her too like from everyone else, but it never happens, the center holds, and the unspoken when this is over remains a promise between them that sometimes feels like a lifeline.
It's easier to be strong for someone else – which is why she pulls the trigger without hesitation when Howard Epps turns towards her, tire iron still half-raised. All the agents assure her that there'll be no consequences, that it was an obvious case of self-defense, and even though she suspects that it's not entirely true, it doesn't weigh on her mind like the first killing shot she ever fired did. Booth keeps watching her as if he expected her to break down any minute, but all she feels is relief that this was one kill he didn't have to make, that Epps didn't manage to leave him with another burden when he already has so much, too much to bear. He doesn't know, of course, and it's a secret she's determined to take to her grave because whatever the cost may be for taking Epps' life, it's hers – and hers alone – to pay.
Booth doesn't look at anyone in the packed courtroom throughout his testimony. He wears the same kind of poker face Brennan has often seen in the interrogation room, when he doesn't want to let the suspect know that he's on to him, but this is something else entirely, this is Booth trying to do what she does so well: to compartmentalize until there's no hurt, no shame or fear or anger, just facts that need to be dealt with.
He's the prosecution's most important witness – his brother was too young at the time to remember anything. She knows that he implored his grandfather not to attend the trial because the old man has a heart condition and shouldn't be forced to watch his grandson's testimony get his son convicted for murder, but right now she finds herself wishing that there was somebody in the audience who has been a part of his life from the beginning, who can truly understand how much it costs him to take the stand today.
They're all here, of course – his entire "Squint Squad", who will all have to testify as expert witnesses later, but that's not why they're present now. Even if he isn't looking at them, Brennan is glad that he knows they're here, that they won't let him go through this alone. At the same time she's well aware what it must mean for a man as private as Booth to share the horrors of his childhood with such an audience, and she can only hope that they're making it a little easier and not harder for him.
Caroline is gentler than Brennan has ever seen her when she questions him, as if it pained her too that she has to make him relive his entire childhood up to the day his father left, that the world will now know how his father used to beat up his wife and his small sons whenever he came home drunk, how he told the two children that their mother had had enough of them to explain why she had disappeared, how Booth's grandfather finally put an end to it all when he walked in on his son beating his grandson within an inch of his life.
The calm, detached tone of Booth's narration makes her shiver, and she feels sick to her stomach by the time he's done. She can tell from the expressions of her co-workers that she's not the only one – Angela's eyes are filled with tears, and Hodgins, white as a sheet, is chewing his lower lip until he draws blood. Cam alone looks resigned rather than shocked, and it's obvious that none of what she just heard was news to her. Brennan feels torn between resenting Cam because Booth trusted her with something he couldn't share with her and being glad that Booth had someone to help him carry the burden of those memories when he needed it.
She holds out her hand, palm up, when he's finally done and comes to sit beside her, and Booth takes it without hesitation and doesn't let go until it's Brennan's turn to testify.
She spares only one glance for the withered, prematurely aged man behind the defense table. She wants to fling all the hatred she's capable of in his direction, but she can tell that he doesn't care at all how the trial is going to turn out. Judging by the resigned expression of his lawyer, they both know this case is open and shut, and she doesn't need Cam's medical expertise to understand that the sentence won't matter because the man is dying, that he's been killing himself slowly over many years and that it won't matter much to him what happens with what's left.
She knows it will matter to Booth, though, so she puts everything she has into her testimony and does her best to remember everything she has ever been taught about speaking to juries and making laypersons understand what she's talking about. She describes the victim's injuries – not only those that led to her death, but also everything else she learned from the woman's bones, and every shocked gasp from the jury is as small victory she feels she has won for Booth's sake.
Caroline has been well-prepared, because she lingers on the questions about the victim's defensive wounds – injuries she suffered by shielding someone considerably smaller than her against a stronger, taller opponent, and Caroline doesn't let up until a few jury members are wiping away tears. Brennan allows herself a quick look in Booth's direction because she knows what hearing this must do to him, but he keeps his eyes fixed on a point above her head.
She has no idea what to say to him when she returns to her seat, but he just takes her hand again and whispers a hoarse "Thanks, Bones", and she's so relieved that she almost bursts into tears in the middle of the courtroom.
He insists on staying for the verdict even though there can be no doubt about the outcome, so Brennan stays too to wait with him and lets him cling to her hand – or maybe clings to his – when his father is found guilty of second degree murder. She knows the sentence won't matter to the wreck of a man behind the defense table – whether it'll be twenty years or fifty, he's going to die in prison before he has served even a small amount of that time.
Booth doesn't speak when they walk out of the courthouse together, but he doesn't let go of her hand either, and she hopes that her touch can tell him all those things she wants to say but doesn't know how to put into words.
"You take good care of my boy, Temperance."
Brennan just nods when the kind old man whispers the words into her ear as he hugs her good-bye. She watches as Booth's grandfather, head and shoulders bowed by more than the weight of his years, slowly walks away with Jared, leaving only two people by the open grave. She has never attended a Catholic funeral before, so she wouldn't know if the ceremony was everything Booth expected it to be, but she's glad that he finally got the chance to lay his mother to rest. She has never understood the use of elaborate rituals for the dead who won't know what's happening in their name, but now she looks at the headstone with its pattern of seashells and realizes what they can mean for the living.
Booth has his eyes closed and seems to be praying, but he reaches out towards her when he hears her approach. She lets him pull her into his arms and leans her head against his shoulder, allowing herself a moment of respite from the chaos that the past days have been.
He's looking at her when she raises her head again, and she knows what he's going to say before she hears the words.
"It's finally over."
It's strange, she muses, how sometimes an end can be a beginning.