You Can't UnRing the Bell

Let's Find Us Again

Brennan didn't really like the expression 'getting back to your real life'. Life's always real. Or it's supposed to be, anyway. But as much as she refused to word it that way, it was exactly what she felt when Booth parked his car in front of her apartment building.

"Thanks," she said, getting out of the vehicle.

She opened the back door to get her bags and her computer. Her hands were full and she struggled for a second, wondering how she'd get her keys. Without even a thought, Booth took the heaviest bag from her and led the way to her front door.

They had barely arrived in Washington when Angela had called them to tell them they were all waiting for them at The Founding Fathers. Though both very tired, they had gone straight to the bar. Brennan had realized she was truly happy to be surrounded by all those people. People who cared. People who didn't judge her. And she would probably still have been smiling if the uneasy silence between Booth and her hadn't resurfaced as soon as they entered her apartment.

She motioned for him to drop the bag near the couch and watched him say, "There you go." His smile didn't reach his eyes.

She followed him as he walked back to the door. She didn't want him to leave yet. She didn't ask herself why.

"Thanks again for..."

"No problem," he said before she even finished.

"... the slow dance."

Her words hit the emptiness around them. She looked down and bit her lips.

"I know it wasn't easy for you. Thanks for doing this for me. It meant a lot."

When she looked at him again, his hands were shoved in his pockets and he was shrugging.

"I'm glad you had fun," he said.

She took one tentative step towards him. Why did she need to push it?

"You uhm... You want another drink? It's still early," she said, realizing how tired she really was.

An overwhelming wave of sadness hit Booth. He was totally drained of everything he had. He was way too tired to pretend he was fine. To pretend she wasn't driving him crazy with her incessant apologies and her fucking habit of licking her lips.

"No," he let out, dryly. But of course, he couldn't just leave it at that. To soften the blow, he added, "I really should go home," squinting.

He watched her nod slowly take a deep breath.

"I feel very lucky," she said.

"So you said. Three time, at the bar."

He really did try to smile, but he didn't feel lucky right now. He felt... tired of feeling.

Right. I should shut up now, she told herself before adding, "I'll see you tomorrow?"

Her tiny, pleading voice was enough to crush him. That, and her batting eyelashes. This was the second time he had heard this tone coming from her. And both times, it had come with an overpowering sense of guilt. He could not leave her this way.

Shit, he sighed inwardly. But his voice was very soft when he murmured, "You gotta stop doing that," pleading in return.

When she felt the sting of tears reach her eyes for the millionth time in just a few days, she sighed out of frustration. She was probably suffering from a hormonal imbalance. She felt as though she had done nothing but cry for no reason this weekend.

"I'm sorry," she brushed off. "It's just this whole High School thing and... I'm tired..."

She didn't even bother to finish. Booth seemed concerned enough. She tried to laugh at herself. She couldn't let him feel this way. But trying so hard to pretend she was feeling alright just made matters worse.

"Hey..." he whispered, stepping closer to her.

It just wasn't fair. He was the one who had gotten hurt. By her. It made no sense for him to let her lean on him again and again and again. But he couldn't help it.

He held out his arms and gestured, "Come here."

She couldn't move. She looked at his chest, urging, physically hurting to snuggle against him. But she rapidly shook her head 'no'.

"Come on," he insisted, tilting his head.

"Booth," she let out, stuck in place. "We both know this wouldn't be a guy hug and... Considering everything that happened, it's not fair. I know how difficult this is for you." And you have no idea how difficult it is for me.

"It's really not," he confessed, surprised at how true it was.

She locked eyes with him. She hated herself for what she was putting him through. He would realize some day just how bad she was for him. Maybe they needed a break. Maybe some time apart would be beneficial. She couldn't figure out why she needed him to reassure her every five seconds. They had opened a door, as he put it, and now she had no idea what they were supposed to do. She had lost every marker. Everything was slipping through her fingers and she didn't know how to hold on. She didn't know what she could hold on to. She didn't know if she had the right to. But this was her problem. Her screwed up self. It was her turmoil, and she couldn't drag him into it. She would have to stop.

Just one more time, she told herself, about to accept his comforting arms. But he had dropped them to his sides. He had taken it back.

Neither of them knew what to say. And so Booth turned around and opened the door.

She gave up, too and walked to the couch to empty one of her bags. To sort it out. You're lucky. You're lucky he still wants to work with you. Just be grateful.

When she didn't hear the door close behind him, she looked. He was still there, shifting on his feet.

"You ok?" she asked, curious. Her heart started pounding. She was scared. She didn't believe in jinxes, but...

"Yeah, uhm..." He cleared his throat, massaged the back of his neck and then pointed to her with his free hand. "I just... need your ring back."

"Oh."

Her left thumb immediately went to touch the diamond still on her fourth finger. Her eyes searched his left hand. No ring.

"Right," she said with a chuckle. "I didn't realize I was still wearing it." She felt her cheeks flush.

"See? I told you you'd get used to it," he laughed, walking up to her.

"Yeah," she whispered to herself.

With an irrational pinch of regret, she pulled on the ring. Booth's eyes on her were making her self-conscious. She rotated the ring on her finger and pulled again. It wouldn't come off. She chuckled nervously. And tried again. Harder. OUCH.

"I can't," she mumbled, now more embarrassed than anything.

Booth closed the gap between them and held out his hand.

"Here... Let me."

"No!" said yelped, turning her back to him, as if she didn't want him to see her struggle with this stupid piece of jewellery. "I can do it. I just need some liquid soap."

She walked straight to the kitchen, still trying to take it off. Cursing herself. Cursing the stupid timing of everything. Her finger was really starting to hurt.

Unbelievable!

She had rarely felt that foolish. She was out of liquid soap. Maybe if she tried some shampoo or some petroleum jelly... She tried one last time on her own, pissed and feeling like her knuckle was about to burst.

"I can't believe this!" she groaned, frustrated.

She turned around again, almost bumping into Booth.

"Stop," he said calmly, pushing her right hand away. "You'll hurt yourself."

So what?

"I'm fine!" she protested. "I'm stuck. I'm..."

She went to try again, but Booth took her hand. His heart stopped at the sight. Her finger was all red. He sighed.

Brennan blinked rapidly when her stomach fluttered. His large hands wrapped around hers. His gentle touch, trying to soothe her skin. She breathed in discretely and looked away. Maybe he was being nice to her on purpose. So she'd feel bad. Maybe she hadn't apologized enough.

"I'm sorry," she breathed out. For this. For that. For everything. Again.

"It's alright," he laughed. "I'm sure you didn't make the ring shrink on purpose."

But when his eyes met hers, his light expression darkened. She wasn't apologizing for that, it seemed.

His eyes were sad again, and it killed her one more time. She had broken him, hadn't she? She tried to lift the mood.

"The ring didn't shrink, Booth. My finger swelled," she stated, bringing her attention back to their hands.

"Are you sure, because..." He tried to pull on it as gently as he could, to no avail. "...it really won't come off."

"It's ok." She took her hand back. "I'll put some ice on it; the cold will help to get the swelling down..."

"I know a trick that's faster," he said before he could stop himself.

She looked up at him.

"I'd rather you didn't cut my finger off," she explained.

He chuckled.

"Something a little less drastic..." he lingered, waiting for her to give him her hand again.

She looked at his palm in front of her. She chewed for a second the inside of her cheek, and finally surrendered to him.

She waited. Booth seemed to be hesitating. She looked up at him.

"What?"

"Just... don't look. At me, I mean."

She frowned, about to take her hand back.

"Why? Is this gonna hurt?"

His eyebrows rose in surprise.

"Would I ever hurt you?" he asked.

Probably. She chased the thought out of her system and sighed. After one last look into his convincing stare, she shut her eyes tightly, wrinkling her nose in the process.

Booth couldn't help but smile at how cute she was. Then he remembered what he was about to do and swallowed with difficulty. He fixed his eyes on her face and let his heart beat as fast as it needed to.

Warm. Almost hot. Moist. Wet. Soft. Brennan's eyes flew open and instantly locked with his, still on her. A gasp escaped her lips as she tried to breathe. His lips were wrapped around her finger; his teeth were grazing her skin behind the ring. His tongue, almost sensual, was slowly dancing up, down and around her finger. His gaze was intense. Primal. Sexual.

Maybe he wanted to test her. Maybe he wanted to test himself. Maybe he was just a moron. But he was enjoying seeing her gasp for air, her lips almost trembling. Her chest heaved up, pressing her breast against her tight shirt. Booth didn't even try to fight the tension gathering up in his lower abdomen.

He knew she knew. The ring was easily moving now. Yet he kept brushing the skin of her finger with his teeth, pulling her finger out of his mouth very slowly, pulling the ring off way too softly. Until her finger was finally free.

He let go of her hand to take the ring out of his mouth, and she brought her wet finger behind her back, like ashamed of having enjoyed every single millisecond of this torture.

"That was good," she whispered. But as soon as the words came out of her mouth, she winced. His head jerked up so he could look at her. "Effective, I mean. It worked."

Booth dried the ring with the hem of his shirt.

"Yeah," he said on a joking tone. "I'm a man of many talents."

Ok. Let's not go there tonight.

Shook up more than he'd care to admit, Booth almost dropped the ring. He laughed out loud, for no reason, and handed it back to her.

"Here," he said.

She instantly stepped back, as if he had been handing her the most dangerous weapon ever created.

"You... No. You needed it back," she corrected him.

"Right."

He stepped back, too, almost losing his balance, almost hitting the table behind him. He dropped the ring in his pocket and clapped his hands once before rubbing them together.

"Ok! See you tomorrow!" he let out, entirely focused on getting out of there.

She was still licking her lips and holding her ring finger when the door closed behind him.


She hadn't seen him for three days when a body finally showed up, requiring their collaboration. He hadn't called her to tell her like he usually did; she had just arrived at work that morning, and the remains were already waiting for her. Surprised? Yes. Taken aback? Sure. Confused? You bet.

Here she was, desperately trying to hold on to their partnership, and he was suddenly acting like he didn't care. At first, she thought she was overreacting. Then, she tried calling him, twice, only to reach his voicemail. But what made her absolutely sure that something was definitely off happened later that afternoon.

"Someone should call Booth to tell him we got an ID," Cam said.

Brennan was about to tell her boss that Booth had been unreachable all day, when Angela said,

"Oh, I just did. He said he's on his way."

The anthropologist turned to her best friend, trying not to sound so surprised.

"You did? You talked to him? When?" she inquired.

"Yes, about 21.3 seconds ago," Angela laughed.

Brennan excused herself and, on her way to her office, she took her cell phone out of her lab coat pocket and dialled his number again. Nothing. No answer. Ok. You can't jump to conclusions. You need all the facts, first. Before she even got to her office, she turned around and walked back to the forensics platform.

"Ange, may I borrow your phone? It'll only take a second."

The artist handed it to her, slightly concerned.

"Is everything ok, Brennan?"

I'll know in a second... She dialled his number from Angela's phone, turning around for some privacy, plugging her other ear with her finger. And sure enough, a very annoyed Booth answered.

"No, I can't go any faster, Angela. It's called a traffic jam. Jam. Like jelly. Meaning very, very thick and sticky. I'll be there as soon as I can, ok?"

"Good to know," Brennan spat into the phone.

Booth's heart stopped and he would have probably slammed on the breaks if his vehicle had been moving at all.

"Bones?" he checked.

But she had hung up.

Dammit.

The steering wheel took a direct hit. Or two.

Brennan practically shoved the phone back into her friend's hands.

"What's wrong?" Angela asked, almost whispering.

"I'll be in my office if you need me," she answered instead.

She was furious when she finally reached her desk. She paced around for a minute before willing herself to calm down. She pursed her lips together and stared in front of her. He had told her over and over again that they would be fine. This was not fine. She had tried her best to try to act normal. She couldn't help but be angry with him. This was precisely why she had decided not to go there. Them. It was the only thing that had ever made complete sense in her life. It was the one thing she could always count on. No matter how much they argued, no matter how stubborn they were, no matter how badly they got on each other's nerves... at the end of the day, they would still be them. But they had shifted. And how was she supposed to get them back on track if he didn't help her? She couldn't do this on her own.

She was still staring into nothingness, ignoring all the files on her desk that needed her attention, when Booth came in.

She thought she'd still be mad when he'd get here. In fact, she tried to find that anger. But it was gone. All she felt was... alone. Completely alone.

"Great job on ID-ing the victim, Bones. We already got a warrant for the..."

Really? He was going to ignore the fact that he had been avoiding her? She interrupted him, but her voice was calm.

"When I asked you if we could still work together, you really didn't want to say yes, did you?"

Booth took in the initial shock of her bluntness. Why did she have to go there again? When would she understand that he was trying his best to act normal? He sighed.

"But I did say yes. And I meant it. I mean it," he repeated in the correct verb tense. "Look. As much as it sucked being rejected, I'm sure it wasn't thrilling to do the rejecting either."

Her face showed him astonishment, like he had just revealed something she didn't already know.

She got up and started circling her desk to reach him when she realized this would be easier with furniture between them. So she stayed still.

"I didn't reject you," she refuted with an insisting tone, shaking her head.

Booth snorted faintly.

"Felt like you did," he said.

"No!" She needed him to understand. She needed him to see. "I explained... poorly, maybe, but you need to know... It's not like I don't feel anything."

She felt so much, in fact, that she didn't even know what was what anymore. She studied his features to see if he was really listening.

There he was again. Grasping at her every word. Sifting through them. Filtering them. And ultimately always finding it. Finding what killed him every time. What held him back: hope. She would tell him to go to Hell that he would manage to suck up some hope from it. This was never going to help anyone. And definitely not himself. He was a man, for God's sake. A real man. Strong. Stronger than this piece of fuckingly helpless little boy standing in front of her. So he dismissed it.

"Ok," he said, looking around her office, "at some point, we're gonna have to stop talking about this."

"I know..." she murmured.

You know!? He wiped his face with his hand. Stop saying you know! You don't know. You don't wanna know.

"...Booth, listen..."

"No," he cut her off. "You know what? I'm gonna make it easy on us. I take it back."

Brennan's heart jumped in her chest.

"What?" she croaked. "You can't do that!"

"Why not?" He raised his hands. "It's done. I took it back. Never happened."

And on that note, already regretting it, he ran out of there.

Brennan watched him leave, frozen in place, agape. That's what you wanted, right? So things would go back to how they were? Congratulations on your success, Dr. Brennan.


Angela had studied her best friend all day long. Something big had happened. Something she didn't even want to think about. How did she know? Simple. When Brennan had something on her mind, her perfect scientific vocabulary went to hell. And when Brennan had stumbled on a word that even she could pronounce –'metacarpal', see?- there were no more doubts. They needed to talk.

So after work, she pretended to need her approval on her most recent facial reconstruction and trapped her in her office.

Brennan felt something was up as soon as Angela closed the door behind them.

"Sit," Angela ordered.

Brenna rolled her eyes.

"Ange..."

"I said, sit."

And so she did while Angela sat on her desk.

"Talk."

"To say what?"

But this wasn't going to work today. Angela tilted her head, serious as ever, and crossed her arms over her chest.

"I don't care how long we sit here, but we are going to talk about it."

"About what?"

"About whatever's about to make you cry."

Brennan brought her hands to her lap and sat up straighter. She was not going to cry again.

Silence. Angela unfolded her arms and leaned forward, lowering her voice.

"Talk to me. I'm here."

"I really don't know where to begin. Maybe if you asked me questions..."

"Did something happen between you and Booth?"

Brennan's throat tightened.

"Define 'something'," she managed to blurt out.

"No. You define 'something'."

Brennan felt stuck. If she started talking about it, she wouldn't be able to stop. But she took a deep breath and tried to stay objective. She tried not to relive everything.

"Booth said... he wanted us to try to be together."

She waited for her friend's reaction, which didn't come. Maybe she hadn't understood.

"Together together. He said he wanted to take a chance and... He said he knew from the beginning and that he wanted us to..."

But her friend still wasn't reacting.

Angela tried to remain as composed as possible. As much as she wanted to yell 'FINALLY!', she knew this wasn't a happy ending.

"Ange? You don't look surprised," Brennan remarked.

"Should I be?" the artist said.

"He kissed me, too," she added.

"And you said no," Angela guessed.

Brennan started to frown before she said,

"And that doesn't surprise you either." She sighed and got up. "So can I leave now?" she asked.

Angela stayed put. Her gaze followed her friend who was not even close to the door and she realized she still wanted to talk.

"I'm sorry, Brennan," she huffed.

Stunned, Brennan looked at her friend.

"For what?"

Angela went and took her by the shoulders.

"You're hurting," she whispered.

Brennan's voice got stuck. "No! I'm fine. He's... He's the one who got hurt... I'm..." Until no words could come out anymore.

Angela gently pressed her arms.

"I'm so sorry," she said again, feeling her pain.

Brennan stopped shaking her head no when the first and only tear escaped her eyes. She took yet another deep breath and brushed everything off.

"He took it back anyway, so... It really doesn't matter."

What??

Angela's steady and soothing voice reached her ears.

"You know that no matter what he says now, he can't take it back, right?"

Brennan shrugged.

I don't know anything anymore.

***

Angela found Booth in her office. She didn't bother to knock.

"We need to talk," she spat out.

He instantly knew this was not going to be a pleasant conversation. He rolled his eyes before she even began to talk and sat back in his chair, waiting for it.

"You waited all those years for the right moment to tell her how you feel... and when you finally do, you go with 'Let's take a chance' and 'Let's try'?! What is wrong with you?"

Booth wasn't even going to respond to that. He grabbed his baseball and squeezed it over and over again. He wasn't going to discuss any of this with her.

Angela wasn't done.

"What did you expect her to say? Did you want her to turn you down so you would not have to try? Oh! And then you take it back? Who does that?! You're a coward, Booth." She pointed a finger at him. "And I say that with the utmost platonic affection. You're a freaking coward."

Booth had listened anyway. He knew all that already. She had missed the part about how he had told her that he knew. That he just knew. But in the end, it didn't matter. Everything she had said was true.

"I know," he said.

"And... what?" Angela stopped moving completely. She had never seen that side of Booth before. So... completely wrecked.

He threw his head back and stared at the ceiling.

"I know," he repeated in a low, self-deprecating voice.

What had Brennan done to the poor guy? She wasn't yelling at the right person, was she?


Booth reached the top of the stairs to the platform in two long steps. He checked around, making sure they were not going to be interrupted. He refrained from thinking she was gorgeous, and concentrated on being mad.

"You told Angela about us," he stated. It almost sounded like an accusation.

Brennan stopped what she was doing and looked up at him.

"I... I didn't know I wasn't supposed to," she explained. "You never said it was a secret."

Booth shook his head.

"It's none of her business, that's all. I thought... maybe, that this was important enough to keep between us."

"Booth..."

"No, it's fine. Really."

She grabbed his arm and forced him to listen.

"If I can't talk to Angela, I have no one to talk to!"

"Well, neither do I!" he almost shouted.

They stood there, together. So alone.

"Excuse me?" a voice said.

They both turned towards it at the same time.

"Hi."

A few clicks of heels on the stairs, and she was next to them. Brennan instantly straightened her back to stand taller. But one look at Booth, who was now smiling, and she felt invisible.

"I'm Dr. Catherine Bryar. I think you were expecting me."


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