Booth's presence at her office door was like a draft. From the moment the contents of the artifact bag had hit the table, the room had felt stagnant, frozen in time fifteen years ago.
"I have to miss court," she said. She could barely feel her ribs expanding, could barely feel the dead air entering and leaving her lungs.
Booth's voice was quiet. "I know."
Her finger traced the channel cut into the piece of steel she held in her hand. "Russ made this for my dad in high school shop class." She held it up by the key on the ring attached to it. "It's an Erlenmeyer flask. He drafted it, cut it, polished the edges, milled Dad's initials into the steel, and even etched measurements onto it. Russ was so proud. So was Dad." She smiled, but her whole face pulled at the smile. "I don't think Dad ever went anywhere without this."
A thick weight hung around Booth's words, in the air, in her throat. The same sense of futility that kept his comments short held her mostly still as she looked over the handful of her father's last belongings. In vivid memories, Matthew Brennan chased and tickled her at a picnic, kissed her mother, smiled and waved from the family car. She drew a finger along the clean lines of the "M" on the slightly rusted metal in her hand.
"My father was a science teacher, you know. I did my first experiments with him. He taught me about controls, duplication of results, documentation, about objectivity." She took an uneven breath and blinked several times to clear her vision. "I find I have very little objectivity now."
"Of course you don't, Bones."
"I always knew that for my parents to disappear like that they...they had to be dead." She glanced up at Booth, but his whole face was suffused with such sadness that she could not bear to look at him. She looked at the key ring again, tracing the "B" that didn't quite meet at the top, much like the pieces of her life that seemed suddenly to fit even less well. "I thought that when it was confirmed I'd feel relief, but all I can think now is that my father was murdered."
"Do you know that?"
"Yes. I was examining these remains--my father's remains--yesterday, when they were still a John Doe." There had been comfort in that anonymity yesterday. Today, it just made her feel invisible. "There's a left frontal skull fracture, which is almost certainly the cause of death. It was caused by a blow from a tube approximately an inch in diameter."
"Like a tire iron."
She looked at him almost steadily, though her face was contracting beneath her skin and her throat felt tight and dry. "My father was murdered, Booth. And I still don't know what happened to my mother."
The trees and fields appeared to flicker as the SUV sped along the highway. Booth drove in silence, respecting her distance. Her stomach was taut, like she'd done more than the hundred situps that had been part of her workout yesterday. The seven miles she'd run hadn't been enough and all night she'd dreamt of chasing after her parents' car, chasing after Russ's car. Even in her mind, she could not catch them any more now than she'd been able to fifteen years ago.
"Bones, we're going to find out what happened to your mom, too."
She just nodded, staring out the side window.
"We have your parents' real names, their FBI files, that safe-deposit box from the key your dad was buried with, and all the FBI notes your folks hid there. McVickar is going to have more answers about why his blood was in the car with blood from both your folks. We're going to find out the truth."
"I appreciate your help, but you can't know that, Booth."
"Well, if McVickar doesn't know, or won't share, we'll keep looking. We've got a solid case now. We have leads. And I'm going to keep looking." He brushed his knuckles against her arm. "Hey. Finding the truth...that's what we do, right?"
"Right." She nodded, then looked at him. "Thank you." She couldn't describe how she felt, but warmth spread through her abdomen, and her tear ducts contracted. The thickness in her throat was still there, but it felt less oppressive.
When Booth parked the SUV the farm seemed entirely incongruous. It was peaceful, with well-kept fences, old trees, out buildings, animals grazing. McVickar had lived here quietly for...how long? As long as she'd been on her own? And yet this criminal who'd turned evidence and gone into hiding, who'd likely driven her parents away from her, and possibly killed them, had been living here comfortably. Everything about it seemed wrong.
"Can I help you folks?"
Booth held his gun on the man while Brennan disarmed him. When she was standing beside her partner again, holding McVickar's own .22 on him as she squinted into the sun she said, for the first time in her life, "I'm Ruth Keenan's daughter." The words awkward. Like a lie.
An hour later, the place was crawling with U.S. Marshals, more FBI, and a couple of sheriff's deputies who were interfacing with the local authorities. McVickar's story had changed at least four times, and the presence of his blood in the last known location of a murder victim--plus the connection of that victim to notes implicating the FBI in the murder of a young civil rights activist--were not helping his case. He sat in the back of a squad car, occasionally trying to get Brennan's attention.
Brennan just felt...empty and young and vulnerable. She could not stop staring at her fingers as she sat on the top rail of the fence, sidelined by orders from every involved agency--including the FBI--all of whom claimed she was too closely involved. She was about ready to give in and ask Booth if they could go home for the night when one of the agents sent up a call.
They climbed over a compost pile and past where an agent held back a thick bramble of wild blackberries that were fragrant with ripe fruit. A skeletal hand, partially disarticulated, rose from the detritus of last year's leaves.
"All right. Cordon off the area," Booth called.
"I want my people here," Brennan said. "My kit. Booth, I need my kit."
Within minutes a junior agent had fetched her coveralls and her tools. They worked through the night uncovering five bodies. She was establishing a perimeter for the sixth when a glint in the artificial light caught her eye. Cold washed over her, and she sat back on her heels, brushing at the spot with her gloved fingers instead of her shovels and brushes.
She had no idea why he'd chosen now to come and check on her progress. So often he showed up just as something important was being discovered.
"Bones? What have you got there?"
She traced the outline with a finger, wiping the dirt from the surface. "It's a belt buckle. My father had it specially made for my mother because she loved dolphins." There was a different finality, now, in using the past tense to speak of her mother. "These are almost certainly my mother's remains, Booth."
"My God, Bones. I'm so sorry." He reached out a hand. "Come on, you've been working all night. Let's get you out of here."
"No!" Her sharpness and volume surprised even her. "No," she said more quietly. "I'm going to finish here first." She picked up a brush and began defining the perimeters around the body, caressing the edges of her mother's remains in their crude burial site as she felt tears begin to leak onto her cheeks.
Booth knelt beside her and set his hand on her back. It was warm, even through her coveralls; the night had grown damp and chilly, and every part of her had been stiff even before she'd tensed up with her discovery. "Bones."
She tried to shrug away from him. "I'm not going to change my mind, Booth."
"I know that. This is the last time you'll have with your mom. The last thing you can do for her. I just want you to know that you don't have to do it alone. I'm right here, and I'll be here to take you home or for coffee or for a stiff drink when you're done."
She paused again, then glanced at him. "Thank you."
He nodded once and stood, shouting orders about the proper retrieval of the other five sets of remains.
"So it looks like my parents ran to protect us from the criminals they worked with in Ohio. They appear to have changed our names out of fear of retribution after they stole the safe deposit box documents proving the FBI framed Marvin Beckett. Then when they went out Christmas shopping when I was fifteen, they saw McVickar and lured him away from us."
Angela's eyes went wide and she clasped her hands over her mouth.
Hodgins muttered, "Conspiracies, man--" before Angela elbowed him in the ribs.
Zack just stared.
"I can't believe your parents stole the evidence that could clear Marvin Beckett." Hodgins breathed.
Brennan couldn't help smiling slightly. The emptiness and loneliness that had expanded with the certain knowledge that she was truly an orphan were slightly soothed by the lengths to which her parents had gone to protect her and Russ. "Apparently so. And it's been here, in Bone Storage, ever since the same time I arrived at the Jeffersonian. The key, that is. The papers have been in the safe deposit box since I was about four years old. Mr. Beckett visited me, thanked me for proving his innocence and getting him released from prison."
"Wow." Angela shook her head, then took Brennan's hand and squeezed it. "Just...wow, sweetie."
"I told him it was my parents who found and preserved the information, and, if they were not deceased, it was to them he owed his exoneration." She looked at where her hand was joined with Angela's. The connection was comforting, she found, much like Beckett's firm handshake when he thanked her.
"From the best we can piece together from the evidence and what McVickar is willing to say, he caught up with them. They fought, Dad hit McVickar, McVickar got Mom in the head with a bolt stunner, and when Dad checked on her, that's when McVickar grabbed the tire iron from him and hit Dad. My parents fought back and got away, but Dad died of the head injury in Pennsylvania, and that's where Mom buried him, and where he was found."
Angela squeezed her hand.
"Ruth managed to stay ahead of McVickar for a couple of years, but the asshole caught up to her in Virginia," Booth said. He glanced at Brennan and she met his eyes, then nodded for him to continue. "McVickar was apparently interested in a relationship with Bones's mom, but when Ruth said no, he killed her, same as he did to those other five women."
"God," Angela breathed. "And the government was protecting him all that time."
"The government murdered Marvin Beckett, Angela. Is that really such a stretch?" Hodgins's sarcasm shifted as Booth glared at him. "But...I'm sure they didn't know about the ongoing serial killer part."
"They didn't know. But even if they had," Booth conceded, "they wouldn't acknowledge it now. Not with Deputy Director Kirby implicated in murder and cover-ups."
"Have you decided what you're going to do now, Dr. Brennan?"
"Zack, what does that even mean?" Angela asked.
"New information of this magnitude often brings about a need to reevaluate priorities, and many people make significant life decisions in the wake of--"
"I've decided, yes. Once the investigation and trial are over, I'll bury my parents together."
Zack opened his mouth, but Hodgins took his arm and pulled him to his feet. "Time for us to get going. Good night, Dr. Brennan. Take care."
Angela hugged her. "You know where I live. Make sure you call if you need me."
"I will. But why would I have forgotten where you live?"
Angela just kissed her cheek and followed the guys out.
There was a long silence, and Brennan studied her hands closely before looking up at her partner. "Booth? I don't know if this is appropriate or not, but I have something to ask you."
"You can ask me anything, Bones."
"It's a personal favor." She chewed on her lower lip. "Now that we know what happened to Mom and Dad, I think I should make sure that Russ knows. I've been thinking about him a lot this past week, and I want the chance to see if he'll forgive me for avoiding him, for shutting him out all these years. But most of all, I want him to know what happened. I know what it's like to wonder, to not know."
Booth nodded and covered her hand with his.
She met his eyes. "Could you help me locate him so that I can tell him what we've learned?"
"I can do that."
She held out a marble. "This was with my mother's effects and I want to give it to him. This and the keychain... Why are you smiling?"
"I just think it'll be good for you. I think you need this. And I'm glad you're choosing to do it on your own terms."
Brennan nodded. "I do best with things on my terms."
"Like I hadn't noticed?"
She rolled her eyes at him, then looked at him steadily. "Now that I'm finally ready...I'm afraid he won't want to see me."
"Either way, you've got all of us. The squints, me. We're all your family." He pulled her to her feet. "Now, come on. I need pie. Let's go get pie."
"I don't like my fruit cooked."
"Fine. I'll have pie, you have fresh fruit."
Brennan smiled and followed him, squeezing Russ's marble in her pocket.