Booth paced around Brennan's office. He wasn't nervous about the interview with Hannah. He wouldn't be nervous about it. When every other journalist had fallen in line with the bureau's official story, she'd told the truth, freeing him from hell. He owed her the follow-up, and it was just that simple.
Only it didn't feel simple.
Beyond occasionally seeing her doing a report on TV, he'd not thought of her for several years, but he'd cared deeply for her once. Not the way he loved Brennan, but the love had been there, had been real - until it was eclipsed by anger. And now? The anger had been gone for a long time, obliterated by the reality of having Brennan, and then Christine, in his life.
"Are you nervous about seeing her?" Brennan was at her desk, watching him.
"What? No." Yes. He glanced over at her, saw she knew the answer to her question. "I don't know what she's going to ask. I don't know how much it's safe to tell her about what we know, how we know it." Which was all true, as far as it went.
"She knows some of it," Brennan pointed out. "My only priority was winning your freedom. If that blew open the investigation, so be it."
Booth managed a smile as he walked over, leaned down, and kissed her. "My fierce wife," he murmured.
He was starting to take the kiss deeper when movement at the door caught his attention. Not at all dismayed at being caught that way, he looked over at the woman standing in the door of the office, a slight smile on her face.
She was why he was free to kiss Brennan. Nothing else, certainly not their complicated past, mattered. "Hannah." He motioned her in, and they met her together.
He watched Brennan hug her, and then she turned to him. "Seeley." She stepped back, looked him up and down. "You look like hell."
"Could be worse." He could be dead. He leaned over, brushed her cheek with a kiss. "Thank you."
"You know me - always after the next big story." Her eyes hardened. "Journalism is pointless if it's not exposing something like this."
"Can't argue with that."
"I've got work to do in the lab," Brennan said. "But before I leave, I wanted to ask if you're aware of any pressure on journalists not to ask questions about Booth's arrest while he was in jail."
"Yes." Her response was unequivocal. "Rumors, hearsay, mostly. I've been focused on matters in Asia, and while I always knew there was something wrong about the arrest, until you contacted me with the evidence, I had nothing concrete to go on." A smile played around her lips. "A 'former girlfriend insists FBI agent is innocent' report wouldn't have helped at all." Her eyes went hard again. "After the report ran, I heard from four other reporters all saying they'd refused to report on the story at all after being told they had to toe a certain line or face 'dire consequences'."
"Don't journalists accept consequences as a risk to doing the job?"
"Consequences of the kind even reporters have a hard time standing up to, Seeley: 'touch this and your kid in college never comes home again.' Detailed, specific threats against family."
Brennan's expression was troubled. "Are you in danger?"
Hannah shrugged. "No more so than when we were in Afghanistan," she said. "I don't have a kid in college. And now that it's out there, there's no point."
Brennan looked over at him, plainly recalling their conversation from the night before. A point might be irrelevant.
She left, and Booth and Hannah settled in the sitting area, he on the sofa, she in a chair at a right angle to him. She set a small recorder on the table.
It wasn't as bad as he'd expected. She asked him to start from the beginning, and that was more complicated than it appeared: the conspiracy exposed by the Ghost Killer cases; the Ghost Killer origins being Pelant. But Hannah listened to all of it, asking questions only for clarification.
"So that missile accidentally fired at Pakistan by mercenaries was actually Pelant? As was the traffic grid in DC failing? That was passed off as a technical bug."
"The bug just happened to be six foot tall," Booth noted dryly. "They weren't going to admit they'd been hacked."
"Of course not." She moved on, asking questions about how Pelant led to the Ghost Killer, and then Foster's death, the Congressional hearing debacle, and finally the attack at the house. "Someone in the military is involved as well, for Congressman Hadley to have known about your classified mission."
How much to say? "It's wide-spread, Hannah. The bureau, the Justice department, the military."
"You know who some of them are."
"Yes. And we know it functions by coercion, blackmail. Find someone you need, find a weakness you can exploit, and boom."
"Not without risk, though," she pointed out. "Not everyone would sell out their country to protect themselves. You wouldn't."
Uncomfortable, he shifted. "I suspect they know who can be manipulated and who can't."
"Right." She looked down at her notes. "Tell me about jail."
No. He wasn't ready to talk about it, and if he ever was, it wouldn't be with a journalist. Even one who might well have saved his life.
"Booth, I can speculate. I know what happens to cops in jail, even when no one on the outside is actively wanting them to die."
"It's not relevant."
"It's the price you paid for integrity. For not giving up on justice. It matters."
"I was doing my job." But he blew out a breath, and told her some of it. The fights, the stabbing, the guards standing by and doing nothing. He told her as if he was reporting something that had happened to someone else. He would not allow the memories to come to life inside his head.
Silence fell. "Will you go back to being an agent?"
"That's not my decision. I was fired for having done my duty in a classified mission for the army even before I was framed for murdering FBI agents."
"Let me rephrase that. If you could go back, would you?"
He looked away, thought again of the conversation with Brennan from the night before. "I don't know. I did classified work for a long time. If that can be used against my family every time someone decides they don't like a case I'm working, then no. I've had other job offers. Private security, other agencies."
"Dr. Brennan told me that she would probably leave the Jeffersonian if you leave the bureau."
"She has more offers for private work than I do. Half the universities in the world would fall all over themselves to hire her."
"The cost to the Justice Department would be great."
"That's the way the chips fall, sometimes. My kid screamed this morning when I dropped her off at daycare, afraid I won't be back. It might be time to let someone else catch the killers."
She reached over, picked up the recorder and snapped it off. After a beat of silence, she looked at him. "I'm sorry, Seeley."
"Yeah, me, too."
"Daddy." At the forlorn voice, he looked over and saw Brennan and Christine. The little girl was clinging to her mother's hand and rubbing her eyes. "Daddy."
"Ah, baby." He went to them, caught her as she flung herself at him and hid her face in his shoulder.
"Daycare called. She woke from a nap, hysterical," Brennan said, with a helpless look.
Why was it worse now, when he was home? Or did it only seem that way? "Shh, Christine. It's okay." He turned to Hannah. "I'm sorry."
She'd gathered her belongings and came toward them now, a compassionate look on her face. "Don't be. We were about finished." She looked from him to Brennan and back again, her gaze taking in the little girl who was now peeking out at her. "You two are a good fit. I always thought you would be, but it's different - and better - than I expected. Don't let this fu- screw with you."
"Thanks, Hannah, for everything."
"Don't thank me for doing my job - isn't that what you'd say? Take care, all of you."
"You, too. Be careful."
"Oh, I will. Believe me."
Booth had thought he'd feel lost the following morning, the first day without a clear idea of what he should do. Brennan, of course, had other plans. "I assumed we would drop Christine off together and then you would come with me to the lab. Cam is spending as much time as she can afford studying the data Angela is decrypting, but you'll be much more likely to recognize names and patterns having to do with the bureau."
He wasn't sure it was that simple. If he spent too much time at the lab, someone might notice - and he wasn't a cop. But it was probably okay for a day or two.
Of course, four hours of staring at names had made him want to beat his head into the nearest wall, partially because that kind of police work had never been his strong suit, and partially because he was seeing too many names he recognized.
Leaving a message for Brennan, he stopped by the daycare to check on Christine, and then escaped. And realized that it felt good to be out on his own - though he was going to have to do something about a car. Her Prius just wasn't him.
An hour later, he sat at the bar of Paradise Lost. Aldo turned to him, studying him, after serving a customer. "Wondered if I'd see you." He motioned with a glass, and Booth nodded. He wasn't on duty, so why the hell not? "I tried to get into to see you and they wouldn't let me. Apparently, the fact that you believe I'm still your priest isn't sufficient." He set the drink in front of him, and tossed the towel over his shoulder. "How are you?"
Booth shrugged. "I'm no longer in that hell hole." He tossed back the whiskey. "I want to kill them all. And not as a cop."
"You done with the bureau?"
"Wouldn't you be?"
"We're not talking about me."
"Christine screams every time I leave her." And every time, his heart shattered. "How much am I supposed to give, Aldo?"
"This is a God question, isn't it?" He motioned around the bar, then to his chest. "Not. A. Priest." At Booth's look, he sighed. "Has it occurred to you that maybe you're in the middle of all this because God knows you won't give up?"
"And four months in jail was my reward for that?"
"I keep telling you - God's a bastard. But think about this: you didn't die. You could have, at least twice, and didn't. And those people you once told me you'd trust with your life? They worked around the clock to get you out, and your wife probably got less sleep than you did. Maybe that's not God. Maybe you just got lucky. You decide - you're the one it still matters to."
He poured him a refill, but Booth just stared at it, the rage a living thing inside him. "What, so I can't die until I clean up the FBI?"
"Didn't say that. But you're not dead yet, and as I'm not a fool, I wouldn't take bets against you or that team of yours."
Brooding, he swirled the whiskey around. "I want to kill them."
"Of course you do. But you won't."
How could he be so sure? "So I find a way to end it. Then what?"
Aldo shrugged. "Might be time to do something else. You'll know when it's time."
Two days later, Hannah's report appeared. It wasn't what he'd expected. First, it wasn't a single article, but was rather a multipart report that would run in succession over four days. Second, while each part began with additional back story on the conspiracy, the bulk of each one was their past cases.
She noted that Booth, cleared of all charges, was no longer working for the FBI due to Congressman Hadley's betrayal, and explored the consequences of that - not for him, but for the American people. She'd actually called it a betrayal, which, while it was, dumbfounded him, given how the press usually felt about anything with the word 'classified' attached to it. But if members of the government felt free to expose secrets of other departments for political or personal reasons, it was the public who would suffer.
What would it mean if Booth didn't return to his work for the FBI? She asked that question, and then answered it by looking at the cases he and his team had solved, after first establishing that they were a team: that his partner of nearly ten years, Dr.Temperance Brennan, wouldn't continue the work if he didn't, and most likely, neither would the others - all of whom had other career options.
The cases she'd highlighted were a mix of ones that had received press coverage at the time and the ones that hadn't made the news at all but at had nevertheless mattered a great deal to the people involved.
On the first day, she discussed the early Ghost Killer cases, which led naturally back to Pelant, before turning to the exoneration of Marvin Beckett and the rescue of Megan Shaw, the young girl they'd saved one Halloween. It ended with a quote from the Christmas bombing victim's mother: "It wasn't just that they got Holden justice. He wasn't a job for them. If he had been, they wouldn't have given up their Christmas mornings to come to his funeral. It was just the two of us, you see. My boy was shy, and I'd not had time for friends of my own after my husband died, and then when Holden was grown, I'd gotten out of the habit of friends. It was just going to be me and the priest there, burying him on Christmas. And they all came. Because he mattered to them."
The second day, Hannah began with the McNamaras, before turning to the military cover-up of friendly-fire victim Charlie Kent, the murder of June Harris, the soccer mom with the double life, and the Amalia Rose, the slave ship full of victims that they'd identified and Angela had memorialized. She ended that part with a more recent case, still being discussed on social media: the justice they'd found for Sari Nazeri. He was grateful Hannah was vague about some of the details on that one, whether it was because she didn't know, or because she understood the risk to them all if she drew attention to their CIA contact.
The third day explored the death of Foster before looking back at the Warren Lynch case and the death of Senator Paula Davis. Hannah then shifted to the story of Colin Gibson, the teen missing for two years, and Ivy Gillespie, including quotes from both of them about the difference knowing the truth had made to their lives.
The final part of the report reflected on Booth's experience in jail before turning to the Gravedigger and Broadsky, where she observed that Booth, a man who'd been tried and judged in social media for his sniper activities when the truth wasn't known, had refused to kill the man who'd murdered a friend when presented with the opportunity to do so. She ended with the story of the infant boy they'd found in a tree, documenting that they'd not only solved his mother's murder, but had also found him a home - and had stayed active in his life.
Neither his refusal to shoot Broadsky nor what they'd done for Andy was common knowledge. But Hannah had obviously hunted down the Grants, who'd been more than willing not only to discuss what Booth and Brennan had done for their adopted son, but also what Brennan had done for the entire town, by rebuilding a single bridge. "We were never just a case to them; our town wasn't. Andy wasn't. And despite the murders, they left us with hope."
Booth was glad that the report wasn't just about him. She'd profiled the team as well, discussing each of them in turn - Angela's art, Cam's connection to the slave ship; exactly why Hodgins was no longer a rich man...all of them were there, worked into the stories, including a paragraph on Vincent.
Well, hell. He dropped the paper - he was alone in the house at the moment - on the table in front of him. Some of the cases Hannah had dug up, he'd not thought about in years. The government might not appreciate his service, but others did, and he'd lost sight of that. Whoever was behind the conspiracy could try however they wanted to destroy him, to destroy his reputation. But the message was clear that the people whose lives they'd touched would never buy it.
He still didn't know if he wanted anything further to do with public service, even if the opportunity presented itself. But, 'they left us with hope' might not be a bad career epitaph.
Booth stepped back and eyed the shelves he'd just hung in the study, a large room in the back of the house. There were desks for both of them, as well as a child-sized one for Christine, plus wall space for books. And more books. And archaeological doodads. And sports memorabilia. And books - because he was married to Temperance Brennan.
He'd liked the house immediately, but the more he worked on it, the more it grew on him. It suited them. Still a lot to do, and he needed to think about that bathroom Wendell had suggested, but for now, it was comfortable. Not yet the home he'd sacrificed, but they were together, and that was what mattered.
Next up on the list, however, was the security system being installed later that afternoon. Motion activated cameras on every window and every door, as well as in strategically picked trees. Wireless ones, which, after Pelant, he didn't like nor trust, but Angela had told him she would help him secure them. And, because he didn't trust the wireless ones, they'd be backed up with redundant wired cameras where possible.
He still wanted a dog, too, but was having trouble deciding on breed and age. A puppy that would grow up with Christine wouldn't be big enough to help protect her right now.
As he had most days in the ten days since his release, he'd spent the morning at the lab, working through the decrypted files, before coming home to work on the house and try to figure out what to do next with his life. The last part of Hannah's article had run two days earlier, and, based on what the team was telling him, the case, his frame-up, and Hannah's story was dominating the social media networks at the moment.
Apparently, there was a petition out there on some site with seven million signatures (was that a lot?) calling for his reinstatement with the bureau, but Hodgins hadn't had to tell him that not everything being said the comments floating around was positive. There were plenty of people who would never believe the men who'd died hadn't been FBI agents.
He didn't give a flying fuck. What he did care about was that Stark had resigned the day before from the FBI. Booth didn't have any evidence yet, but his name had popped up in the files enough to convince him that the man had been part of the conspiracy. Probably not its head, as Booth thought they were looking for someone older. But involved.
So far, though, his former boss was painting himself as the fall guy for Booth's having been framed, publicly acknowledging that he should have confirmed the identity of the men prior to the arrest, blah, blah, blah. He wasn't wrong on that point, but privately, Booth thought the exit was part of something larger, a restructuring by whoever was in charge of the conspiracy.
In the midst of the usual noises of the house, something else caught his attention, and he went still. A car pulling up out front, when he wasn't expecting anyone to stop by. Picking up the new Sig Sauer handgun he'd bought, he moved quietly through the house - well, as quietly as possible through a hundred year old farmhouse. Yeah, the floors were on his list.
Through the glass in the door, he could see someone on the porch, and he debated whether or not to answer. But even as the figure raised his hand to knock, Booth recognized his uniform of an Army officer. Friend or foe? He opened the door, making sure the other man would see the weapon.
He recognized him immediately, though it had been years since he'd seen him last. And back then, he'd been a Lieutenant Colonel, not a, um, four star general. "Ah, Colonel, uh, General Davis." He nodded toward the rank. "Congratulations, sir." He'd respected him as a Colonel. He'd reserve judgment now.
"Thanks, Booth. May I come in?"
There was a driver in the car - not unusual, given the rank, but it made him twitchy. Still, he stepped back, motioned him inside. "We're still settling in."
It was also clear that he was aware of the weapon, and that he was unarmed. Booth tucked the gun into his waistband. If Davis chose to believe he was safer that way, he could do so. "What's this about, General?"
Davis didn't mince words. He never had. "The military, by which I mean pretty much everyone, including the DoD and the Joint Chiefs, is furious over what Hadley did to you in that Congressional hearing," he said bluntly. "It's been a top issue for us, including during your incarceration - which was always suspect, but we weren't in a position to do anything about. But with that stunt, Hadley put every classified mission at risk: past, present, and future, therefore putting the U.S. at risk. A number of our best special ops people have indicated their desire to separate ASAP, and who can blame them?"
He grimaced. "Some want Hadley charged with treason. I think you can make a case for that, actually, though whether it's wise or not is a different matter. But we're going in a different direction, at least for now. That mission will be de-classified, with the details presented in such a way as to make clear who it was you shot, why, how many lives you saved in the process - and how many lives Hadley put at risk with his actions. He may not be up on charges, but his career is over."
How was he supposed to respond? That he didn't really give a rat's ass? He'd been a soldier too long for that. "That's unnecessary on my behalf, General."
"Figured you'd say that, but it's not for you, though I hope to hell there's a benefit here somewhere for you. You did the right thing, Booth, and that mission should have stayed known only to a few. But he put it out there, and the public, Hadley, whoever's steering him - they need to understand. We can't have the security of classified missions used as pawns in someone else's game. You know that."
He sighed. "We've spent four months debating whether by de-classifying it, we'd be doing what Hadley wanted, before finally deciding the benefits might outweigh the risks, either way."
"I'd say that's the last thing he expected."
"That's what we're hoping." He was silent for a moment. "Your years of service to this country shouldn't have been rewarded in such a manner. That pisses me off. I read that article by that reporter. Saw that you might not go back to the bureau, even if you could. Don't blame you a bit. But there's a place for you at the DOD, military or civilian, your choice, if you want it."
It was unexpected, though it probably shouldn't have been. And it mattered to him, more than it should have. "I don't know what I'm going to do yet, General," he said carefully. "But thank you."
"No need. Call me if you want to discuss the options." He started to turn back toward the door, and then paused, looked back. "Booth, you were in the army a long time. You know the signs of PTSD as well as I do." He glanced down at the gun. "Find someone to talk to. Don't let those fuckers do this to you."
With that, he was gone. As Booth watched the car pull away, it occurred to him that Davis was the first person outside his circle that he'd felt completely confident of since the hearing.
Booth swung the ax at the base of the small, dead - he hoped - tree. "I. Do. Not. Have. PTSD."
He glared at Sweets, who lifted his hands in surrender. "Okay."
Another swing, another glare. "Okay? Just okay? That's it?"
"You have an ax," Sweets pointed out.
"Damned straight I do." Another blow and the tree came apart. He dropped the ax, mopped at the sweat on his forehead with his shirt as he looked over at Sweets. "I know the symptoms."
"So why am I here?"
"To tell me I don't have it," Booth muttered. "And don't roll your eyes. I can pick the sharp object back up."
"We haven't talked enough since you were released for me to form an opinion one way or the other," Sweets said. "With anyone else, the reluctance to talk would be a concern, but since you're you, it just means I don't have much to go on. If anyone was entitled to PTSD, though, it would be you," he added more quietly. "And if you do, you've got plenty of support."
"I don't need this shit."
"Why take the tree out?"
The abrupt change in topic had Booth looking at him suspiciously for a moment, but then he turned and stabbed a finger back toward the house. "When I'm in the guestroom, the trees are angled in a such a way that I can see if a car's parked in front of the house - except for this one. I like the trees and the long drive, but I want to be able to see the street."
"Uh huh. How are you sleeping?"
"Has Bones talked to you? ...of course she has. It's not that bad. I go to bed, I sleep. I wake up. I check the yard. I go back to bed. Nothing wrong with any of that."
"Are you having nightmares?"
"Sweets, damn it."
"Do you want my opinion, or not?"
"I dream sometimes."
"Have you told Dr. Brennan?"
"About the dreams? Why the hell would I do that?"
"About any of it?"
Booth went over to study the tree. Now he could see that yes, it had been dead, apparently of a lightning strike. Good. He hated the idea of taking out a tree needlessly. But it had to go. "There's nothing to tell, Sweets. Jail wasn't all that interesting."
"You know better than that."
Booth picked up the ax and handed it to him before he grabbed one end of the biggest chunk of tree and started back to the house, dragging it behind him. "Let's go have a beer. I'll chop this up for firewood later."
They were settled on the porch before Sweets spoke again. "Look, PTSD, like any mental illness, varies from person to person. Based on what you're telling me, you don't have some of the symptoms. But you're not telling me everything, and there are things that concern me."
"You're hyper-vigilant. Hodgins says the security system you've installed and which Angela helped you with was top of the line, generally reserved for banks and heads of state. You've chopped down a tree that impedes your view of the road - despite the security system - and you did it with a gun tucked in your waistband."
"Nothing wrong with wanting Bones and Christine to be safe."
"Nothing at all wrong with it. You asked, and I'm telling you - this is excessive for this neighborhood. Does that mean there's a problem? Not necessarily, not given what happened to your old house. But you're having trouble sleeping, having dreams. Again, not outside the norm, but if that continues, and the dreams are of things that happened to you in jail, it's a concern - especially if you can't bring yourself to discuss it with anyone."
"I'm talking to you, aren't I?"
Sweets just looked at him.
"So what do you recommend, Dr. Sweets?"
Sweets ignored the sarcasm. "Talk to Dr. Brennan. Tell her about the dreams."
"Of course you can tell me. But you'll do better telling her."
Booth scowled. "I don't want to upset her."
"Trust me, she's already worried."
Sweets hesitated. "This would not be my recommendation for everyone in your situation. But find something to do. Figure out what comes next, career-wise."
"How the hell will that help, if I'm looney-tunes?"
"You're not nuts. You're exhibiting signs of extreme stress due to having spent nearly four months in constant fear for your life. You, normally a very powerful, in-control man, were powerless for that entire time, at the mercy of people who wanted you dead. Getting your life back will give you a sense of control." He motioned to the security camera in the corner of the porch. "That's what this is about. Proving you're in control. But actually being in control, doing what you know you do best, might be better."
"That's it? That's your therapy?"
Unfazed by the sarcasm, Sweets said, "It's not therapy. In my professional opinion, based on years of personal history with you, you have some symptoms of PTSD. If left unaddressed, they'll likely get worse, but at the moment, I believe that opening up to Dr. Brennan, and finding a way to feel like you're in control again, will help a great deal. Medication to help you sleep might also be in order. If you do all of that, and things don't improve, we'll re-evaluate."
"Well, hell." He hated when Sweets made sense.
It wasn't the pain. He could live with pain. It was the sheer hopelessness of being held by two men, arms twisted behind his back, while three others took turns beating on him. And beyond them a circle of prisoners stood watching, cheering, and making sure the guards couldn't intervene. Even if they wanted to.
He was going to die. If not now, soon. The assaults were getting worse. Each time the guards looked the other way, the inmates got bolder.
The only reason he wasn't dead now was because they were enjoying playing with him.
Big guy shoved to the front. "Time to eat all those pretty teeth of yours." He drew back a meaty fist and prepared to plow it into Booth's face.
Booth jerked, and was across the room, leaning against the wall of their bedroom with no memory of moving.
God. He was covered in sweat, his heart pounding as hard as it had that day, one of the worst beatings he'd endured. Two days later, he'd been stabbed.
"Booth." Brennan's voice was soft, and brought him the rest of the way out of the dream. She reached out and turned on the lamp and he grimaced at the light. At the exposure. Damn it. Had he had to actually leap out of the bed in response to the dream? Like a child would?
He rubbed his face with his hands. "I'm going to go do a perimeter check, Bones. I'll be back."
"Shouldn't we at least look at the cameras first? That way you'll be able to determine their accuracy, if what you see here matches what you find outside."
There wasn't a hint of censure in her tone at having been awakened by a mad man escaping from her bed. Just a reasonable suggestion. They'd spent - or rather he, the unemployed one - had spent an insane amount of money on that security system. And she'd never said a word. How stupid would she think him if he wouldn't even use it?
She already had the laptop open. An older one she was no longer using, it wasn't particularly powerful, but it was more than adequate for the camera software, and they'd been keeping it in whatever room they were in, 'just to check.'
By the time he settled next to her, stiff and uncomfortable, she'd brought up the cameras. Silently, they clicked through the images. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, and he rubbed a hand down his face again.
"I'm sorry, Bones."
"For what?" She closed the laptop, set it on the shelf of the table next to the bed. When he didn't answer, she said, "Do you still want to do a perimeter check?"
More than his next breath, mostly to shake off the final vestiges of the dream, but partly to get away from her. From her patience. Her love. "No, I'm good."
"Tell me what you were dreaming."
No. Hell, no.
But he remembered what Sweets had said. What was worse, to take her back there with him, or to risk her having to live with a nut job who came out of bed screaming in the middle of the night?
He swallowed, and staring down at his fists, told her, barely aware of her hands closing over his fists, rubbing, soothing, until he relaxed, let her in, let her link her fingers with his.
"I was going to die," he said flatly. "That last time, right before I was stabbed, I saw that guard watching, and he didn't care. Not one of them cared. 'Save the taxpayers the cost of a trial,' they kept saying. I was never going to see you again, or Christine, or Parker." Tears were slipping out and on a harsh breath, he turned a little, rested his head against her shoulder.
Brennan slipped one of her hands away from his, reached around him. "The betrayal was the worst of it, wasn't it?" Her voice was quiet.
"God, Bones. All of them...they should have had my back." He broke.
Brennan held him through the storm, wept with him, though she doubted he was aware of that.
Finally, he slept. They'd rolled to the middle of the bed at some point, and she stayed in the same position that he'd found comfort in, one hand yet clutched in his, the other stroking his hair. His sleep seemed one of peace now, but still, she watched over him. "I will always, always have your back," she said softly.
She hadn't slept, content to watch over him. Self-indulgent, perhaps, because she had a full day ahead of her, but he was home, and with her, and even as troubled as she was by what he was going through...he was home. And he was going to stay that way.
When the sky outside began to lighten, though, she finally shifted, eased away from him, and went downstairs to make coffee. Christine would probably sleep another hour or so, but that would give her time to continue her research into PTSD. She'd known some about it, of course, but it only made sense for her to learn more about it.
She was at the breakfast bar, taking her first sips of coffee in front of the laptop when he came downstairs. "Good morning."
He helped himself to a cup of coffee before turning back to her. "Morning."
"How are you?"
He took a sip before meeting her eyes. "Better."
But he didn't look better. Not as much as she'd hoped, at least.
He sighed, sat the cup down, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Bones...I might be a bad bet. PTSD sometimes isn't even diagnosed for months, and often gets worse."
"What did Sweets say?"
"I have some symptoms, but not all of them. And it's too early to tell."
She didn't know about other people. But she knew him. She knew them. She slipped off the stool, and went over to wrap her arms around him. "Then we'll just wait and see." She rested her cheek against him for a moment. "Although our vows didn't include them, the traditional marriage ceremony includes the words, 'for better or for worse' do they not? I'll place my bet on you, on us, every time."
Some of the tension eased out of him, and he brought his arms up and around her, and held on.
Booth sat back from the laptop on Brennan's desk and rubbed his eyes. He hated this. Hated looking for names he knew, hated finding them worse. Plus? Combing through pages of data was his least favorite kind of cop work even on a good day.
There were not-good days, though, and there were bad ones. Sitting in an office in the Jeffersonian, poring through decrypted files and knowing he could take a break and see Brennan, or Christine over in daycare, anytime he wanted - that was a hell of a lot better than jail.
But really, he was the best one to go over the files, and he knew it. Sweets helped when he could, but someone at the bureau was determined to keep the younger man buried in busy work - his words - so his time was at a premium. Cam had done her best, but she'd had to cross-index most of the names, researching who they were, whereas Booth actually knew a lot of them. And that angered and grieved him in turn. Some of the names were people who'd apparently been victimized, blackmailed into doing something they clearly didn't want to do, while others had pretty clearly been willing participants.
Motion at the door caught his eye, and he tensed, hand on the gun next to him before his brain could catch up to the reality that he was at the lab and that it was probably only Brennan or one of the squints.
Only it wasn't any of them, and he slowly stood, though he left the weapon where it was. Accessible.
"Cullen." He'd not seen his former boss in how long? Five years, at least.
"Thought you'd be here."
"They're never going to let you retire, are they?" The other man was in a suit, lessening the already minimal chances that this was some weird casual visit.
"Doesn't look that way." He looked around and Booth tried to recall if he'd ever been here before, back when he and Brennan first started working together. "This mess you've uncovered already took Stark, and is probably going to topple the director as well. They want to make me interim while they try to find someone they can convince the public is clean." He snorted. "Not that they have proof I am."
"They don't know how far it goes, or doesn't go."
Cullen gave him a sharp look. "You do?"
Booth hesitated. Trust him, or not? They'd worked together for a long time, and he'd watched the man break when his young daughter died. Once, he would have trusted him with his life. But now he would be, if he told him the truth about the files. More, he'd be trusting him with lives more precious than his own. Brennan and Christine.
But there hadn't been a whisper about Cullen in any of the files.
"There's a source," he said slowly. "Unknown to anyone in the bureau. The data is being compiled now."
Cullen snorted. "You and your team. Doesn't surprise me."
"Anything they find, Angela will give Caroline Julian. I'm a civilian. Not involved."
"Uh-huh. And you've got a bridge to sell me, too. But about that...they want you as Deputy Director of the DC office. After all, they don't have to convince the public you're clean. Your reporter friend did that for them," he ended dryly.
Deputy director of anywhere would mean another Congressional hearing. "Hell, no."
"Told them you'd say that. What if it's unofficial? Would you consider coming back to your former position and helping me clean up this mess?"
Another job he wasn't sure he wanted. But he couldn't spend his life like this, either. "I don't know."
"I wouldn't blame you for running me out of here, Booth. But it's a chance to make it right. To make it what it's supposed to be. Especially with those files Angela's working on that you don't know anything about."
The conversations with Aldo and Sweets came to mind and Booth sighed. "Let me talk it over with Bones, sir, and I'll get back to you."
Booth pushed the offer to the back of his mind and focused on the files. Thinking about Cullen had him approaching them in a different way: who else, like the former deputy director, wasn't there? Who might be able to be trusted?
They didn't discuss Cullen until that evening. When they arrived home, Brennan went to fix supper, while Booth did a check of the yard. Maybe the day would come when it wasn't the first thing he thought of, but his caution wasn't hurting anything. He was coming to trust the cameras, though he'd probably never do so completely, not after Pelant.
But he had learned more in the Rangers than how to aim a weapon, and physical markers were set up around the house that would tell him if anyone had been around.
No one had been, none of the wires were tripped, and he relaxed a little more.
It was a good evening at home, the kind they'd not had in nearly five months. Christine hadn't cried when he left her at day care that day, and after supper, they played with the Legos Max had gotten her.
It was only after she was in bed, peacefully sleeping, that Booth pulled Brennan down next to him on the sofa, and told her about Cullen.
"I guessed as much. I saw him, and he was in a suit."
Amused that their minds had run along the same lines in respect to the significance of Cullen's clothes, Booth smiled as he sipped his beer.
"Are you going to do it?"
The smile faded, and he said slowly, "I think so. It won't be the same, Bones. It will never be the same. I'll never view working there the way I used to, and I'll never look at any of the people in the same way."
"You won't trust them."
"No. But there are good people there, people who deserve good leadership and a chance to do good things. A chance to make things better, to fix what's broken. And you and me? We do good things together, too."
"You don't think the conspiracy can be completely eradicated."
"I don't see how. But we'll try, and we'll make it harder for them. And easier for the good guys."
They were silent for a while, curled up together. "Things will probably still be rough at times," he said. "But I have to believe it will be worth it. And I've got you."
"And the team."
"Yeah. Crazy squints." He tilted her face up, and kissed her. "And Bones? I'll always have your back, too."
"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come." - Anne Lamott