This is a very last-minute response to the second Cullen Bullpen Challenge. It came to me while I was watching While You Were Sleeping and Just Like Heaven—not at the same time, mind you. So here it is: three days of contemplation and writing. And just so you know: it's my first ever one-shot story. Yeah.
Chapter Rating: K+ for very mild language.
Summary: Temperance Brennan doesn't believe in ghosts, no matter how much she would like to.
Shout-outs: My shower. Truthfully, that is the only thing that kept me going in this one. Oh. And Bath-and-Body Works' aromatherapy bubble bath.
On with the show.
I Don't Believe In Ghosts
I don't believe in ghosts. I may have for a fleeting few years when Russ told me that ghosts lived under the bed with the boogeyman. But I was a mere five years old. I've always prided myself in the fact that I've always been grounded in fact for nearly my entire life. I never believed in vampires—at least not in the traditional sense. I prefer to believe that they were merely diabetics in a time where the condition was not understood. An untreated diabetic shows the same symptoms as the conventional vampire legend. I never believed in zombies—how can they function when all of their internal organs are decayed and mixed with the soil six feet underground?
Every legend is rooted in fact, however. I guess even ghosts. I'm sure that some nighttime mist mixed with unstable nerves could cause one to believe that they see a specter wandering across the hallway. An overactive imagination can make person see two girls standing at the end of the hall, bidding them to come and play. And grief. Grief can make even the greatest skeptic want to believe.
I don't believe in ghosts.
But I wish I did.
I wish that what I was seeing here in this dark room was real. I wish that he was really sitting across from me at my kitchen table, reading the pages of my newest novel, lying open on the table. I wish that he was seeing what was happening between Kathy and Ryan and I wish that he was really looking up at me with that cocky smile crossing his face as their platonic relationship ended. I can hear his words now as he comments again on how that is highly suggestive of what I want to happen in real life.
If ghosts were real I would tell him what I only realized was true after he was gone. I would move over to the other side of the table and rest my hand on his face, even if it only passed through into silver transparency. If ghosts were real I would sit back with him and talk for hours about every little detail that I once thought trivial.
But ghosts aren't real. And as I tip back the glass and swallow the last of the wine. Placing it down on the table I try feebly to remember what number that was. 3? 5? 9? Silently I decide it doesn't matter and I pour another one. As I sip another sip of wine I look across the table at the ghost that I know doesn't exist. He is staring at me. Or…my imagination is staring at me. Or maybe it's the wine. It doesn't matter. He's not real.
But I want him to be. So maybe I can pretend for one night. For one night I can allow the wine take its toll and I can play along with the hallucinations. Just this one night I will do what I've wanted to do since he died. I will talk to the ghost at my table. I will forget that Seeley Booth is gone.
"I miss you." My voice is slurred by the wine.
"You're finally going to talk to me?" The ghost—Booth's ghost—smiles.
"It's a little weird talking to something that doesn't exist, Booth." My heart rate has sped up at the sound of his voice. I have to remind myself he isn't real.
"If I don't exist then why are you talking to me?" Booth has a laugh in his voice. How is it that wine can recreate something so simple and make it still so appealing?
"It's the wine." I lift the bottle and show him. "Too much can do this to you."
"You're drinking too much, Bones."
I bite back the sob that rises to my throat at the simple term of endearment. "It's hard not to, you know? So much has gotten hard in the past two months."
"I've been here all along."
"No. You're not real, Booth. Ghosts don't exist."
"Is that what I am? A ghost?" he moves around the table and kneels down next to me. Reaching out as if to touch me, he looks up at me. I recoil in shock but he continues and his fingertips brush against my bare arm. A thrill of hot ice runs its way under my skin. Air escapes my mouth and my eyes close involuntarily.
"Then what are you?" My mind is reeling as I try to think of a logical explination. Booth is gone. Tomorrow he will be dead. I'd held him in my arms two months ago and had felt his life slipping through my fingers, usually so talented but unable to prevent this one thing.
Booth shrugs his shoulders. I am staring at his face but at the same time I can see the vague outline of my counter. "Isn't it best not to question these things, Bones? You can see me. And I can talk to you. What more can we ask?"
Before I can think it through I say what has been on my mind for months. "More time, Booth. We need more time."
"Whatever powers that may be—my God or whatever it is that you think dictates this sort of thing—has given us that."
"No." I shake my head angrily and set the wine down on the table with a loud 'thunk'. "We need real time. We need to be able to ride together in the car with you babbling on about some princess. You need to tease me because I don't know pop culture. And I need to be able to talk to you about things on the days that I just want to crawl under my covers and never come out again. I need you back, Booth. And God-dammit I don't care if you're not real right now!" I can feel my face warm with anger and my fingers are trembling against the glass of the wine bottle.
"Temperance," his voice is soft and I have to close my eyes again to block the memories of his arms around me from overwhelming my body. "Temperance, it's too late. We can't go back and we can't fix things. I don't know how I am able to be sitting here at your kitchen table—real or not—but believe me: I would give anything to be back with you again." His fingers are hovering a breath away from my flesh. Every nerve in my body hums for him to move and touch me again. But there is also a fear that creeps into my stomach. What if this is real? Or worse yet…what if it isn't?
"Why did you leave me?" My voice is soft again and I stare down at the table. I am losing my battle with the tears and two drops slide down my face. He doesn't move his hand…to touch me or to pull away.
"I didn't have a choice, Temperance."
I nod furiously. "Yes. Yes, you did. You could have tried a little harder for me. I feel so alone now without you here. Angela tries to help but I…it's just too hard. There's always this sense of pity in her tone, no matter what we're talking about and I just can't deal with it. Work is so much more difficult but I can't bear to leave. It is the only thing that keeps me going—that and the wine. You gave up on me."
"Yes." I am angry again and I feel the effects of the wine even more than I did a moment before. "You didn't hold on. You let go. Why did you do it, Booth, instead of fight for me…for us? God, Booth. Were you as dense as I was? It took until I lost you for me to realize it but surely you, the romantic, would have seen it. I love you, Booth. And not one of those coworker, fond sibling, or best friend kind of love. It's the irrational, too far-fetched to exist, till-the-stars-jump-out-of-the-sky, Jane Austin kind of love that kept me up at night. I didn't realize it when I had the chance. It took me until you were out of my grasp to recognize that the reason I couldn't sleep at night when I thought of you; the reason that my heart inexplicably beat faster when you entered the room wasn't just hormones. It's love."
Have I ever expressed my feelings out loud like this before? I do not believe so. It is gut-wrenchingly terrifying. I watch his eyes—those eyes that remain brown even as a specter—and I see that affection that I'd grown so familiar with. Every word is true. I've had two months to sort out what I would say if given the impossible chance.
"And did you ever see that I was undyingly, head-over-heels in love with you?" Booth's tone is gentle. Raising his hand from where it had remained suspended above my arm, he moves to stroke my hair. His fingertips did not touch my bare skin but it still feels amazingly good to have him touching me once again. Even if he isn't real.
My eyes are suddenly heavy with fatigue and I leaned my head against his hand, my hair a shield between our skin. I inhale deeply and look up at him through my drooping eyelids. "Will you wait for me, Booth? I mean, if it's true that you can?"
Booth smiles at me tenderly as he moves his head in to rest against mine, my hair once again blocking the true feel of his skin against my own. "Of course, Bones. I'll wait."
"Good." His thumb is now massaging my temple. My eyes close and I sag against him, careful not to let my skin touch his. I can feel myself drifting off. Damn the wine. If I hadn't drunk so much…maybe I would be able to stay awake. "Will you be here tomorrow night?"
"Aren't I always?" He's right. I smile and nod wearily. I feel the last tendrils of my consciousness slipping away and I fight desperately to stay afloat.
"I'm sorry I couldn't save you, Booth." He nods. He is humming something soft; a song that sounds very vaguely familiar. When I realize what it is I whisper the words of the song that we danced to in my apartment so long ago. He chuckles and just as the darkness closes in on me he whispers a few last words to me.
"I'll try harder, Bones. I promise."
Maybe I do believe in ghosts…
My head pounds and when I try to open my eyes a sharp pain assaults every one of my senses at once.
"Tempe. Wake up." I open my eyes open to twin slits. I'm still sitting at my table with the empty wine bottle lying next to me. Angela is sitting where my Ghost-Dream had been the night before. Odd. I remember every detail of what transpired lat night and I never remember my dreams when I'm drunk…
"What do you want?" My voice is still slurred.
"We have to go to the hospital right now." There's something in Angela's voice that strikes even my hung-over mind odd.
"Hodgins called me this morning. Babe, he's waking up."
I don't care what the doctors are saying. I don't care that the incessant beeping in the background is pounding a jackhammer into my skull. I need to get to that room. I have to. Nothing else matters right now. Oh, God. What if it's true? What if it isn't just another blip on the screen? What if…What if last night really happened? What if ghosts are real? I don't know but if it's true I swear I will meditate on each and every question that should matter right now. I just have to answer this last one.
Hodgins and Zack are in the waiting room when Angela and I get there. She is out of breath. I've run the whole way. But I don't care. I demand to be let into the room. The nurse tells me the same thing they said at the desk: I can't go in now. He needs rest. No. I refuse to be swayed. I suddenly wish that I had a gun permit. I bet I could get in there a lot sooner if I had one. But for now…I must wait. At least until someone comes in here with a gun that I can use.
Hmm…why is Hodgins carrying seven cups of pudding?
"Angela, I had a dream last night." My voice is hoarse from yelling at the nurses to let me in.
Angela looks over at me with tired eyes. She is visibly relieved that I have stopped threatening to get a gun in here. "What about?"
"I dreamt that Booth was in my kitchen talking to me."
There it is again: that pity. I hate that look. "Hun, we don't even know if he is really awake. It could have just been a blip."
"But what if he is awake? Did his ghost come to me?"
"I thought you didn't believe in ghosts."
"I didn't…don't. But what if, Angela? What if he's been trying to talk to me and finally got contact…"
"Bren, you need to stop talking like that. You're going to get yourself worked up again." Angela's voice is obviously meant to soothe. It doesn't work.
But I comply anyway. The doctor is walking out of the room. He looks warily over at me for any signs of a gun. Seeing none, he nods. "You can go in now."
The roaring in my ears returns. My fingers are tingly and my head feels like it is floating. As I stand slowly I remember vividly the day two months ago that they brought him in, bleeding from a wound on the back of the head put there by a man with a wrench. He wasn't supposed to live. They said that if he lived through surgery he would probably have a mere day or two to say goodbye. But when he didn't wake up they decided that it would be a miracle if he lasted through the night. In the morning, when the monitor was still beeping with the tell-tale sound of the heart beat, they did tests. They said that he was in a coma.
They lead me into the hospital room now. I look around, barely taking in the bright colors of the flowers that coat the room like wallpaper. How long was it that I sat in this chair right next to his bed? Two days? Three? Four? I don't remember but I do remember each moment as if it had been chiseled into my very bones. Each agonizing moment that I watched his motionless face. Each and every minute that I noted the pallor of his cheeks. Each hour that the doctors insisted that there was nothing they could do. They insisted that he wouldn't wake up. They encouraged us to pull the plug. But we refused. Rebecca and I refused to pull the plug on this man. Give him a few weeks, we insisted together, rejecting everyone's insistence that we get it over with. There was little to no brain activity, they said. Even Angela whispered it to me in my ear. "There's nothing we can do, Sweetie. He's not waking up."
Rebecca is standing behind me. Her hand seeks mine and together we stand, staring at the man we have come to know in these past few weeks. The ghost of a man that we thought we once knew as well as we knew ourselves. We've clung to him together for these past two months and this fact has bond us together in a way that I never even dreamed of.
His eyes are moving between his lids. My heart races and I squeeze Rebecca's hand. Angela has covered her mouth in shock and she is standing mere inches from me. Slowly, agonizingly so, Booth's eyes open and he is staring at the ceiling above him. The beeping on the machine speeds up as his brow furrows and he raises his head an inch from the pillow. "What am I doing here?"
His voice is soft. He sounds so tired. Rebecca's hold on my hand is like an iron vice now and Angela puts her arms around my waist, burying her face in my neck. The doctor moves forward and sooths him into lowering his head, all the while trying to explain to him. His heart rate is up. Booth. "Booth." My voice sounds strangely strangled. Does it really sound that way to everybody else?
The doctor is done speaking to Booth. He turns and puts down his clipboard. "You may talk to him now," he says, nodding at us. "But remember that his state of mind may be fragile. We are still not sure how much damage was done to his brain."
He walks out of the room, smiling reassuringly at us. We are alone in the room with him. Angela moves her arms away from my waist and presses a hand to my back. "Go on," she whispers, nudging me forward. Rebecca mirrors her actions by slipping her hand from mine. I am scared. I don't think I've really been scared like this in my entire life. I keep seeing Booth sitting across from me at my table. It suddenly occurs to me to wonder about what that would mean.
The novelist in me insists that if Booth's ghost was in my living room then that would mean he had left his body for a long enough time to be separated. And that would mean that something was wrong. Really, truly wrong. But the scientist in me insists that there is no such thing as ghosts. So doesn't that mean that it was just the alcohol and he is really okay?
"Booth?" Good. My voice is a little stronger now. I feel as if I am about to fall over. My whole body shakes and I have to dig my fingers into the bed sheets to stop Booth from seeing them shake. I don't think I could bare it if he saw me this weak.
That's it. I feel my knees shake beneath me and I crumble to the floor, my head resting on the bed. "Booth." Something vague in the back of my mind finds it the right moment to comment on my newly acquired lack of vocabulary.
"Shh, Bones." His voice is still weak and I can hear the strain in his tone. "It's okay, Bones. I'm here."
"Booth, we thought you were gone. We were going to…" my breath hitches as I remember our decision the day before. "We were going to pull the plug, Booth. Today. If you hadn't woken then Rebecca and I would have let them turn off the machines." I can't help it. Tears are streaming and I am sobbing now. My head is growing light as my hyperventilation begins to deprive my brain of oxygen. The horror of what we would have done hits me like a train going full speed and I can't stop myself. And, if I am not mistaken, I hear Rebecca crying as well.
"That doesn't matter now, Temperance." His fingers have found my head and he is stroking my hair. "I'm back. And you were right. I did have a choice. And I choose this. Neither of us has to wait anymore."
What? Did he just say what I think he said? In confusion I look up at him and frown. His eyes are closed again but there is a tiny smile tugging at his lips. The doctor is behind me again, telling me that Booth needs his rest. Rebecca puts her hand on my shoulder and smiles down at me through the tears that are flowing as freely as my own. Angela joins her on my other side and looks down at Booth. I'm too happy to tell her that I told her so. She didn't think that Booth would ever wake up. But he did.
I think I'm even happy enough to not obsess over why his words have parallels to my conversation with the wine last night. But I guess, if I think about it and let the novelist in me be dominant for just a moment, I can accept some of the facts.
I don't believe in ghosts. At least, I didn't twelve hours ago. But maybe, just maybe they are real. Because last night, wine or no, was Halloween. And Booth came to visit me. Right now, though, I'm too happy lying here with my head next to Booth's body and feeling his fingers in my hair to question anything with scientific facts.
Maybe tomorrow, though.
There we go. It is over. HOPE YOU LIKED IT!
(Banana-Cream Pie and Chocolate-Chip Cookies for every review!)