A/N Set vaguely somewhere in Season Four/Five, this is a Secret Santa fic for casket4mytears. Hope this fulfills some of those wishes – I couldn't help myself and cannibalized a couple of scenarios your wanted.
It's Christmas Eve eve, and Brennan and Booth find themselves unable to get back to Washington. Where they end up, neither of them ever thought likely. In canon, gentle teasing, mini case fic.
A heartfelt 'thank you kindly ma'am' to my lovely Texas friend, FauxMaven, for beta duties.
Disclaimer: The only thing I own is my soul, and I even lend that out on occasion, but only if you ask nice. Anything that even looks familiar in this story probably belongs to someone else (except the actual story - that's all mine, Mine, MINE [*maniacal laughter*]!)
Christmas Eve Eve
Booth anxiously watched the trail of tiny bubbles break on the surface of the water. He ignored the discomfort of the gunwale digging into his side as he leaned as far as he could over the side of the boat, scanning the deep blue water for any sign of his partner. Relief surged through him as he spotted her dark form rising to the surface, the oval of her upturned face coming rapidly into focus as she completed her ascent. Brennan surfaced with a foaming rush of water, agitated words already spilling from her lips.
"Booth. You were right—they're not ancient remains, not even close. I estimate they are of a 30-35 year old male, Hispanic, approximately 165 cm tall. There are stress fractures on both tibiae but I do not believe they would have contributed significantly to his death." Brennan paused to push the black hood of the wet suit she was wearing back from her forehead, her body bobbing lightly in the water as she clung to the side of the boat to catch her breath. Water streamed over her face and she took Booth's hand blindly as he stepped nearer to the stern platform to haul her on deck.
Once on board, she slumped for a moment on the deck, a little winded, before squinting up at her partner. "I won't be able to tell you much more until I've had a chance to examine the remains further. I want to have a closer look at the notches I noticed at the external surface of the cranial base. We need to—"
Booth was there before her, a pained expression already in place at what he knew would come next. So much for that last minute Christmas shopping he needed to do. "Lemme guess, get it all back to the lab?"
She nodded in reply, kneading her shoulder. Booth caught the movement and looked at her narrowly, "You okay Bones?"
She dismissed his question with a wave of her hand, the black clouds massing on the horizon claiming her attention. There was a storm coming, a serious one by the looks of it. She continued speaking as she unbuckled her dive gear and let him pull her to her feet. "We have to get the victim up quickly, before any more incidental damage is done to the skeletal structure. I need to give specific instructions to the FBI divers; there's a section of the wreck that will be required to be cut away to avoid compromising the remains." She located her cell phone in the pile of personal items nearby, "And I want Mr. Fisher down here as soon as possible to assist."
"I'm on it, Bones." Booth headed forward to speak to his colleagues, smiling ruefully at her curt tone as she connected with the Jeffersonian. Of all her squinterns, he imagined the indolent Fisher would no doubt be managing to keep his excitement in check at the prospect of getting down here to Virginia Beach PDQ to assist Brennan.
The wind had whipped up into a gale as the Coast Guard cutter nudged into the dock at Cape Charles, a multitude of bags and metal boxes with the distinctive Jeffersonian logo stacked along the deck.
Brennan was unusually quiet as they disembarked, her face set as she watched Fisher and the FBI techs load their vans and set off on the long drive back to Washington DC. Booth jogged over to the SUV, keys out in readiness, before realizing that his partner still stood at the jetty. He doubled back, impatience etched on his face.
"C'mon Bones, we've got to hit the road. It's a long drive back." He glanced up at the sky and pulled the collar of his suit jacket up against his neck to try and ward off the sharp wind. Brennan didn't seem to hear him and his anxiety spiked. "Bones?"
Brennan finally glanced his way and seemed to shake herself out of her inertia. "Sorry. I—I'm just tired." She knew Booth was especially eager to get back; Parker was staying with him tonight before Rebecca took him to Chicago to visit her mom over Christmas. Brennan turned and walked determinedly towards the vehicle, pulling herself up into the passenger seat without another word. Booth took his seat behind the steering wheel, happy to be heading home. It had been an early start and, if they didn't get a move on, another late night. He revved the SUV and did a sharp u-turn in the parking lot, the sound of gravel thrown up by the maneuver accompanying them onto the road. Neither spoke for several minutes, the miles spinning by in silence.
Booth gave his partner a sidelong look. She was massaging her shoulder again and holding her arm in a weird position. His brow furrowed with concern, "Everything okay there, Bones?"
Brennan frowned, "I don't know."
Booth was rattled. What did she mean she didn't know? "What do you mean you don't know?" He pulled the truck over to the side, ignoring the effeminate blast of car horn from the hatchback behind them. He turned in his seat and peered at her closely. She was scratching her legs now. "What's up?"
He chuckled, "What?"
"The sensation that insects are crawling over my skin." She looked back at him squarely. "I think I need to get to a hospital."
"Because you're itchy?"
"Not just that. There are other symptoms."
"What?" Booth was slack-jawed with shock. "Are you serious?" His hands fluttered over her, not touching down anywhere, as if trying to divine where the problem was. "What - where - what ...?"
Brennan stilled his nearest hand between both of hers, "Calm down, Booth. I think I may be experiencing symptoms of decompression illness. On top of the formication, I have acute pain in my shoulder, localised upper body muscle fatigue and paresthesia of my left forearm and hand."
He was on his cell phone to Cam before Brennan had finished the sentence, stumbling over the symptoms she'd described, "... and parentheses in her hand." He paused to listen to Cam at the other end of the line, sending his partner a worried look, his eyes darting around the cab a little desperately. "Hodgins says where?" He glanced at his watch. "No problem."
Brennan laid a hand on his arm to get his attention, "Tell Cam that Mr. Fisher will be returning soon with the remains and that I have instructed him to—"
"Forget the case. Cam agrees—she thinks you might have the bends." Booth rammed the SUV into gear and pulled straight into the line of traffic, his features taut and set. "We're heading to Norfolk Navy base, pronto. The Navy's SIMA unit is located there and they've got decompression chambers and specialists; the whole nine yards. They're expecting us." Within moments they were on the approach for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Booth screwed up his mouth, anger at her putting herself in danger warring with bona fide concern for her safety. He chose his next words carefully. "Cam says this bends stuff is pretty dangerous." He paused, swallowing hard. What Cam had said was that it could be lethal, and that thought caused him to break out in a cold sweat. His frown deepened as he wrestled with the question that was uppermost in his mind, "Did you do something wrong on the dive, Bones?"
"What? No!" Brennan paused the flexing of her aching hand, and gave her partner a look of disdain, "No, of course not. I am a very experienced diver." She chewed the inside of her bottom lip, uncertainty hovering over her face, "At least, I don't think so."
Booth immediately picked up on her hesitancy, flicking his partner a sharp look. "What? What happened down there?"
Brennan shook her head, her tone decisive. "Nothing. It was a text book dive." She looked down at her hands and noticed the faint tremor in her left hand with a pulse beat of alarm. "I don't understand. I checked the gear myself, I had no mishaps, not even alternobaric vertigo. . . ." Her voice trailed off and she blinked as they came out of the second tunnel, pupils contracting at the onslaught of the eerie light that signaled the storm's approach.
Booth scanned the road signs suspended overhead, looking for the exit for Sewell's Point where Norfolk Navy Base was located. He glanced in the rear view mirror, changing lanes smoothly. Thankfully the traffic was light; the monster black clouds had sent commuters scurrying, anxious to be home before the sky split open. Already the nor'easter was whipping the water into a frenzy and everything was tinged a luminescent green.
Brennan turned to him, confusion clouding her eyes, "Why are we going to the Navy base again?"
Panic surged through Booth at his partner's uncharacteristic slip, but he schooled his face to be calm and instead of answering her, hit the truck's emergency strobes and put his foot on the gas. The flashing red and blue cleaved a path through last of the traffic. Where the hell was that main gate for Norfolk?
Booth paced the floor of the SIMA waiting room impatiently, hands bunched in his pockets, coins jingling discordantly. His face reflected his frustration. He was used to doing, not waiting. He jumped when his cell phone rang and hastily stabbed at the call button, leaning wearily against the nearest door frame.
Angela skipped a greeting, her concern for her friend pushing the niceties from her conversation, "How's Brennan?"
"Still being assessed." Booth ran his hand across his eyes, "She's going to be fine, Angela." He wasn't sure he believed that, but reassuring Angela was automatic. There was a moment of silence at the other end of the line before Angela spoke, "Look after her, big guy, I'm counting on you. Give her a hug from me. Oh, and Merry Christmas." This last was delivered with heavy sarcasm.
"Yeah, right. Ho ho ho." He fingered a tinsel garland framing the doorway, the full extent of seasonal decorations that had been put up in the clinic waiting room. Depression settled over him at the thought that he probably wouldn't see his son at all today and Rebecca was due to take him to visit her mom in Chicago tomorrow. The double doors at the end of the hall swung open and a man in scrubs headed in his direction. "Gotta go, Ange. I'll call you when I know more."
He shoved the phone back in his pocket, firing questions as he walked the short distance to meet him halfway. "How is she? Is it the bends? Is she going to be okay?"
"Agent Booth?" At Booth's nod, the doctor continued, "I'm Captain Garry Orbitz, ranking SIMA medical officer." The men shook hands before the Captain continued. "We've done a chest x-ray, her oxygen sats are low, blood counts are coming back any minute, her hydration levels are down and we've done a CAT scan to check for the risk of heart attack and stroke—"
"Stroke?" Booth almost choked on the word.
"Dr Brennan's undergoing a full neuro exam now, but I don't expect my diagnosis to be any different."
"And? That is?"
"Definitely presenting with decompression illness - the bends. I've already put the land chamber team on scramble and we've started her on oxygen." Booth's brows came together in concern, and the doctor hurriedly added his reassurance, "But you got her here quickly so everything should be okay with treatment."
"How could something like this happen? Brennan said she did everything right."
Captain Orbitz looked sympathetic, "She probably did do everything correctly. Sometimes DCI just happens. The fact that she recognized the symptoms and took them seriously may well have saved her from serious complications. It's rare to present with caisson disease immediately after a dive; it can take up to seventy two hours to manifest. Denial is the biggest problem." He gave Booth a kind smile. "She's going to be okay; you've come to the right place."
Relief rushed through Booth's body, leaving him limp. "Can I see her?"
Orbitz gave him a wry look, "Ah, that would probably be a good thing. Dr Brennan is—" There was that look again, "asking for you."