The wind blew through the camp, sending dust everywhere. He could feel the grit in the lines around his eyes and mouth, on his lips and tongue, around the collar of his t-shirt under his fatigues, in his damn boots.
Booth had been here a month, and he still didn’t know whether he had made a difference. He trained soldiers every day, teaching them what he’d learned in sniper school, and in his years hunting bad guys for the Bureau. The days went by quickly, but whereas he’d once had a pile of folders representing closed cases to show success, now Booth had young soldiers who may or may not come back alive.
He’d been in control—mostly—as an agent; now, there were a hundred things out of his control. He could train the soldiers, but they were the ones out there doing the job, and there were a hundred ways to fuck up out in the field.
A hundred ways to not come back alive.
Booth entered the tent that was his current home and pulled out a piece of paper. He could have typed the letter, but it felt more personal, more real, if he printed the words by hand in neat, block letters.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Ryerson, I regret to inform you of the death of your son.
That much was true; that much was always true. Booth regretted every death of every soldier who had ever served under his command, or that he’d trained.
Specialist Ryerson was an integral part of our unit, and he was an exceptional soldier.
In truth, Ryerson had been a pain in his ass, who had questioned every order, and who had given him attitude every time Booth turned around.
He will be greatly missed.
By his parents, certainly, and maybe a couple of other guys, but not by Booth. He hated himself a little bit for that, but he wasn’t going to hide from the truth inside his own head.
Booth finished writing the missive, peppered with white lies, and put it in the stack of mail to be sent out the next day. Only then did he allow himself to turn on the laptop, still marveling at how much things had changed since he’d last been deployed.
This time, he could hit the power button and be instantly connected to friends and family back home, instead of waiting weeks for snail mail. This time, he could look forward to near-daily emails from Parker, and the occasional message from Rebecca, usually with pictures attached.
Booth read Parker’s email, grinning at the spelling errors—although they were growing fewer.
Hey Dad! We went to the pool and I jumped off the high dive! The tallest one! It was cool! How are you? I hope your okay. Are you saving alot of people?
Booth smiled through the wave of homesickness. Only a few more days until his next video call with Parker, but it couldn’t come soon enough. He wanted to be back in D.C. with a yearning that had surprised him with its intensity, and though he tried not to count the days for fear time would pass even more slowly, he couldn’t help it.
Ten months, twenty-two days, and seven hours, he thought. “What’s a year?” he’d asked, before he’d known just how long a year could be.
Booth pecked out a response to Parker, struggling to find some middle ground between the truth—I hate being in Afghanistan, away from you and my friends and my work—and lies—I’m saving a lot of lives, and I love it here.
In the end, Booth did what he always did: he wrote about the scorpion he’d shaken out of his boot that morning, and how one of the youngest soldiers had caught a bad guy because of what Booth had taught him.
Private Cormac had gotten lucky when the suicide bomber’s detonator turned out to be bad; otherwise, they’d both have been in pieces.
Still, there was no sense in burdening his son with the truth.
The next email was from Cam, full of complaints about the temporary replacements she’d hired for the interim, although she had words of praise for Agent Perotta, who had taken his spot for the year. You’re missed, though, Seeley. Take care of yourself.
He wrote back, a slightly more truthful email this time, even though he didn’t even come close to admitting how homesick he was, or how much he regretted leaving.
Because it was Cam, though, he finished the email, It’s different than I expected, and I miss the FBI more than I thought I would.
Booth didn’t say that he missed Bones. He didn’t need to, and he couldn’t bring himself to ask Cam if Brennan had talked to her, because then he’d have to know whether Bones had asked after him. It was easier not knowing.
The day’s email also brought a message from Angela, who had attached pictures of Paris. He looked at the picture someone else had taken of Hodgins and Angela in front of the Eiffel Tower, and felt a pang of envy.
He hadn’t managed to see Paris when he and Bones were in London two years before, and now he regretted it.
Booth sent back an email, thanking her for the pictures. I’m still in one piece, he wrote, striving for the right self-deprecating note. And the work is definitely a challenge. I’m beginning to miss the interns.
Rubbing his eyes, Booth glanced at the clock and knew he should get to bed. It was late, and he had to be up early the next morning, but he hit the refresh button one last time, just to see if he’d gotten any other messages. They had a long day planned, and Booth wasn’t sure he’d be up to checking his email.
The computer chimed, letting him know that he had a new message, and Booth blinked when he saw the name in the address box: Dr. Temperance Brennan. He hadn’t thought she’d have internet access in the Indonesian jungle.
Booth opened her message, swallowing against his suddenly dry mouth.
We’re in Jakarta this week. I probably should have stayed on the dig site, but we needed supplies, and I wanted the chance to check my email. I knew I’d have a lot of messages.
I know we said we’d meet after a year, but I needed to know that you were safe, and one of the other anthropologists suggested that those in a war zone need letters from home. That it might be important for you to hear from me.
The dig is going well. Work is moving quickly, and while it’s challenging, I’m enjoying the change of pace…
He read through to the end; Bones’ letter sounded so much like her. He could hear her voice in his ear, see the way her face would light up as she talked about her new discoveries. Even though he didn’t quite understand half of what she was saying, Bones’ gift as a writer made the Maluku Islands come alive.
For a moment, he was in the humid jungle, rather than the arid steppes, and he could feel the rain, smell the warm, green air, see Bones as she wrangled with other scientists and directed traffic.
Booth could be with her again, if only for a moment.
He had to read the end three times through eyes going blurry with fatigue before he believed what he was seeing.
…I love this work, but I miss D.C. I miss catching murderers. I thought that this would be more meaningful, and while I believe that I will leave a legacy by being here, now, I miss you, and I miss the work we did together.
Stay safe, Booth.
He closed his eyes and sagged against the camp chair, feeling the relief pass through him as her words sank in—she was safe and mostly happy, and she missed him.
And, while Booth wouldn’t worry her unnecessarily, he also knew that Bones was one of the few people he could be honest with.
He started out with, I miss you, too.