Brennan sets down her bag on her desk chair, a smile blooming on her face as she leans across its surface toward the bones laid out there. The phalanges are arranged in gentle curves, like a hand in a comfortable state of rest, like a casual wave hello or goodbye. She lowers her own smaller hand over them, not quite touching.
"Hi, bones," she says softly, and then glances habitually behind her to be sure no one will hear before adding, "Hi, Booth."
She thinks sometimes she should give in and formally identify the bones--though by now everyone in the building's heard her insist that a single extremity is insufficient for statistical identification, and forensic identification is out since the hand had been too badly charred to recover any DNA. She knows the hand is Booth's; she knows the size, she knows the shape, she knows the old healed breaks, she knows. It's Booth. And it's as much of him as they're ever going to recover.
It's not like anybody needs her to say what happened to Booth: there were dozens of witnesses, most of them further back, less injured, and more reliable than Brennan herself. It's not like his family is waiting for his body to be returned. They'd told Parker before Brennan even woke up, and once they let her out of the hospital she went to talk to him herself.
She remembered not to say anything about the remains. She told him that his father had died saving her life and a lot of other people's. That she would have saved his father herself if she could. Parker had cried, more bewildered than anything, she thought. She'd had to wrap her arms around her stomach and look away, biting down on her lip to hold back her instinctive reaction to the child's distress while his mother comforted him. She would have given anything to be able to give Booth back to his son, but she couldn't. Booth's bones wouldn't mean anything to Parker but another box to watch being buried.
They mean something to Brennan.
It's not like Booth is here, sitting on her desk--although a piece of him inarguably is. It's not like Booth's not dead; she saw Booth die. He died with that hand outstretched toward her, waving at her to get down, dammit, get down, with that same exasperated look on his face as always. She can almost hear him yelling at her. It was the last thing she heard before she was blast-deafened for days. The last image burned on her retinas by the flash was that hand, flying too fast to be consciously seen along a violent trajectory, already flash-cooked. It had been found exactly where she expected it to be. She knew it was Booth's hand before she even saw it.
She got her own batch of beetles to debride it, and keeps them in a terrarium in her office; she brings them nice things to eat and puts cool rocks and toys in their tank sometimes. They're not Booth either, but they carry a little of what's left of him, and she honors that; plus the beetles have turned out to be kind of a nice pet to have. She still hasn't named them, though. She's not Zack.
She arranged the bones--the fourteen phalanges and five metacarpals, the eight bones of the carpus, the head and styloid process of the ulna and the lower extremity of the radius--on her desk all neatly. First in the standard anatomical position, and then, with careful, steady hands, she shaped Booth's bones into the configuration burned on her eyes. The fingers outstretched to maximum spread, a broad gesture visible from fifty feet away. Get down. She could only look at them that way for a few minutes before she laid them back at rest.
At first she really did mean to tell someone it was Booth, but no one expected to find any identifiable pieces of him at all. Most of his body had been distributed in a fine mist spread across half the scene, indistinguishable from the other debris. It was a fluke that his hand had been torn off intact, and no one else had seen. Hardly anyone even finds it remarkable that she keeps a set of unidentified bones on her desk.
Even now they're good, sturdy, solid bones. They would have lasted Booth another forty years easily. Only two of them broke in the explosion, and she put them back together so cleanly the cracks are almost invisible. She can feel them, though.
She doesn't talk to the bones much, beyond saying hello and good-bye--she can't get over the sense that it's silly to talk to bones, but then they're Booth's bones, and Booth would want her to. What she does for herself is touch them; bones are physical artifacts, to be understood, to be known. She runs her fingers over their unique surfaces until she can tell each bone with her eyes closed. She can cup the carpal bones in her hand, though she couldn't have closed her fingers around Booth's wrist when he was alive. Angela told her once that people are mostly soft, and as tough as he was, she always knew that was true of Booth. Now she can see it.
The radius is good to hold when she gets the shivers (it happens some days, she'll shake and shake until she's sick with it--Angela and the doctors say it'll go away eventually). The chunk of the radius is big enough to close all her fingers around, and her thumb fits just so into the ulnar notch; she can squeeze and squeeze until her hands are steady again, and she always says thank you when she lays the bone back down. She thinks Booth wouldn't have minded. He liked to help people.
She worried for a while about whether the bones should be in consecrated ground. Booth wanted to go to heaven; she doesn't believe in heaven, but she hopes Booth is there anyway. He deserved it. She couldn't stand to think she was keeping him out of his heaven by keeping these twenty-nine pieces of him here, but she did some Googling on the topic. It turns out that Catholics don't get so hung up on the technicalities anymore. They're confident that their God can find all the little pieces of them when it comes time to put them back together, so Brennan doesn't worry about it. Booth's God will find him when He comes looking--if He ever does--and in the meantime Brennan keeps an eye on him.
Everyone else is keeping an eye on Brennan. They've made her see a half-dozen doctors and talk about her feelings when all she wants to do is work; some of the doctors are nice, and she knows they mean well, but she still hates psychology. No one will say it right out but she can see they all think she's doing this wrong, not grieving right or not grieving at all. Angela's kind about it, Hodgins blunt, Zack analytical, but at least they're trying to help. Some people aren't surprised. Some people think she's a sociopath; some people ask her what she'll do to Special Agent Andy Lister in her next book, and she thinks they might be sociopaths. Everybody thinks there's something wrong with her, even her friends.
Brennan thinks they just don't understand. Booth's dead. She knows that, she saw it happen. She misses him sometimes like she'd miss her own right hand if it were lying on her desk in pieces; but he's not coming back and he died the way he'd have wanted to and he went into danger with his eyes wide open (and his hand reaching back for her). Booth is dead, but his bones are right here, and his last moment is burned into her memory.
She knows. Booth is dead, but he's not lost. Brennan has found she can live with that.