South of Santa Fe
I wrote this story for a challenge and I've been wanting to add more cause I really liked how it turned out. And there's been a romantic plot running around in my head for a few weeks and I finally realized I could use this story to write it!
This story includes the old Mexican folktale of La Llorona. I've heard several different versions, but consulted Joe Hayes 'La Llorona : the weeping woman'
"Cheers!" Brennan exclaimed as their glasses clinked merrily. Booth smiled back and took a long drink of beer. Feeling himself begin to relax, he looked around the bar, taking in the eclectic ambience. Dim lighting, candles on the tables, and brightly colored weavings on the wall. However, that charm didn't extend to the small and crowded corner of the bar where they were seated, where a dozen men had gathered around a small tv and were loudly cheering the grainy images on the screen.
But Booth didn't let it bother him. For once, the case had been easily and quickly solved. The body was identified as a local heroin dealer, and while he left family to mourn him, he was a victim of violence by choice. It made the case less emotionally draining. Tomorrow they would be on their way back home, not that the time hadn't been pleasant. They had stayed at La Posada de Santa Fe at Bones' insistence, though even with the government discount it was out of his price range. But he had to admit, maybe not to Bones, that the ambience of the old adobe hotel had been worth the money.
The heat he dreaded with every trip to the southwest had yet to materialize; so far each afternoon had brought a refreshing burst of rain showers. In fact, he reflected that the trip had almost felt like a vacation. He could tell Bones was more relaxed as well. Her company could be quite enjoyable when she wasn't quite so tense and driven. Booth turned to his partner to tell her as much, but her attention was glued to the television screen, where a young reporter was standing in a shallow canyon. While Booth couldn't quite make out what he was saying, the tag line across the bottom of the screen told him all he needed to know.
'Bones found in arroyo south of Santa Fe.'
Booth closed his eyes and took a deep breath, as the relaxing, vacation-esque feeling slowly fizzled. Brennan turned towards him, eyes bright. "Booth," she said, nodding towards the tv to make sure he was paying attention.
"Oh no, Bones." Booth held up his hand. "We solved our case. We are done," he said firmly, all too familiar with the glint in his partner's eyes.
"But … it's bones," she argued.
"You know, there is still a little thing called jurisdiction," Booth explained. "We can't just show up at any crime scene and demand to see bones."
"Yes, but these remains are on Bureau of Land Management land," she said smugly.
A sigh escaped Booth's lips. Before he could answer, the bartender reappeared and they ordered a second round of drinks. They watched the reporter wrap up his story. "Local authorities are not commenting on the possible identity yet, though one anonymous source said the remains could be ancient rather than recent."
"That's a good possibility you know," Bones chimed in, "the bones being ancient, especially in this part of the country. In college I spent a few weeks further south assisting on a dig that uncovered an entire pueblo. Construction workers found it when-"
"That's fascinating, Bones," Booth said, cutting her off before she could launch into a detailed archaeological history of the area. "We are supposed to fly out at eleven tomorrow morning."
"I know," Brennan said a bit hurt, "I just thought …"
"La Llorona," an old man sitting down the bar muttered, interrupting Brennan.
"I'm sorry," she said unsure if he was speaking to them.
"It's La Llorona," he repeated.
Booth peered past his partner at the elderly Hispanic man whose shock of white hair was in stark contrast to his brown and weathered skin. The man's hand shook as he raised the glass of dark alcohol to his lips. Booth gave him a placating look and leaned back on the stool. "Look, Bones, if they are probably historical then it isn't worth our time."
"A long time ago in old Mexico," the man began, undeterred by Booth's disregard, "there was a woman named Maria." They both turned to the man who gave them a grim smile before continuing his tale. "Maria was very beautiful and she didn't think that any of the men in her village were good enough for her to marry. One day a rich handsome stranger rode in and she knew that he was the one for her. They were married and had two beautiful ninos. After a while, the man grew tired of Maria; he loved his children, but not his wife." He chuckled as if it were a familiar situation and took another drink.
"One evening," he continued, "she was out walking with her children and her husband rode past with a fancy woman next to him. He spoke to the children, but not to Maria. She went loco, and ran to the river and threw her children in. Soon, she realized what she had done. She ran alongside the river crying for them, but she never found her children. The next day, they found her dead next to the river."
Booth smiled patiently at the old man. "So what does that have to do with the body?" he asked gesturing towards the tv.
Taking his time, the old man raised his eyes from his glass and stared at the two of them. "La Llorona is still out there," he said, his gravely voice dropping even lower, "looking for her children along the arroyos each time the darkness falls. They must be careful, or she will take them. And it is not always children." He paused and looked up from his glass taking a moment to meet each of their eyes. "Sometimes she is there, following the arroyos, a sad and desperate woman dressed all in white. But the worst is too hear her weeping, crying "Aaaaiii … mis hijos! Donde estan mis hijos?"
A shiver ran up Booth's spine at the old man's Spanish words. He knew enough Spanish to know she was calling for her children. Somewhat embarrassed he cleared his throat and looked at Brennan. She rolled her eyes.
"You do not believe," the old man said sadly.
"I respect that it is an old legend, passed down among families," Brennan said, "but no, I don't believe that it is literally true."
The old man laughed, a peculiar and haunting sound. Shadows from the candlelight danced across his face, revealing many years in the deep creases. "Here in Santa Fe there are many spirits. So many centuries, so much blood spilled. It is wise to not forget that."
"Um, right. Thank you." Booth stood up and pulled several bills out of his wallet, laying them on the bar. "That's interesting." He put a hand on Brennan's back and led her towards the exit.
"I wasn't done with my drink yet," she complained once they were outside. The noise from the bar faded into the night as they crossed the grounds back towards the main building. The hotel bar was in a separate house; one that Brennan remembered reading was supposedly haunted by the woman who had lived, and died, there.
"I'm sorry, Bones," Booth said. He removed his arm from her back and stretched his arms high above his head; finally letting out a yawn he had been stifling. "But I think I've heard enough bedtime stories for tonight."
Brennan shivered as the cool night air replaced the warmth from his arm. His yawn was contagious and she found herself yawning along with him; the straight forward case and laid back atmosphere of the city were starting to take their toll. "I suppose you are right. It is getting late." They walked in comfortable silence until they reached their rooms, Booth's directly across the hall from hers.
"So tomorrow," he began, wanting to remind her about their flight. At the disappointed look on her face he stopped. Running his hands through his hair, he studied Brennan's face and saw the unspoken plea in her sharp blue eyes. He knew she wanted to examine the bones. He also knew if their presence was requested his phone would have already rang.
"Flight at eleven," she supplied dully when he didn't finish.
"Well," Booth said slowly, "I could probably get us on the site, if it is BLM land."
"Really?" she asked. "Because I would love a chance to examine the find." Booth couldn't help but smile, only Brennan looked like a kid on Christmas morning when told she could visit a pile of old bones.
"We can go out there and look. Briefly," he added pointedly, not relishing the prospect of hours spent trying to amuse himself in the desert while Brennan crawled around happily with her bones.
"Thanks, Booth." Excited by the prospect of once again uncovering ancient remains, she reached out and squeezed his arm. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Not too early," he admonished. He watched her open her door and enter her room. "And, Bones," he called before she it closed, "this is not a case. It's more like a field trip."
Noon the next day found Booth sitting on the tailgate of his rented Chevy Tahoe watching Bones and several of her colleagues play in the dirt. The remains weren't modern. Brennan pulled him to the sandy bottom and pointed out the obvious indicators of ancient bones. "The teeth are a major indicator. Modern dentistry, as you know, leaves a mark on teeth that time cannot erase. This man never saw a dentist or had a filling."
A BLM archaeologist approached the two holding a small metatarsal bone. "And you can see the extra deterioration on the bones from being buried for so long," he added. Booth watched as the two walked back towards the remains, the shorter man gesturing animatedly as went. Booth returned to the shade tent the Santa Fe County sheriff's deputy had erected. The officer had not left the shade, nor his lawn chair, for several hours. Booth didn't blame him; at nearly 7,000 feet the sun could be brutal. Brennan didn't seem to be effected by the intense rays, but Booth forced her to put on suntan lotion, knowing how easily her fair skin burned.
"Sorry," Brennan said, plopping down in the dirt at his feet several hours later. "I didn't realize it had gotten so late. You should have told me."
Booth passed her a bottle of cold water from the cooler. "I was going to, at six," he said holding up his watch. This was why he had booked their flight for early the next morning instead of today. Well, maybe like ninety percent of the reason. The remaining percentage could be possibly be related to extending his faux vacation with his partner.
The ride back to the hotel passed quickly, but it was still almost seven when Booth pulled into the parking garage. Brennan had offered to pay the extra ten dollars for valet parking, but Booth refused insisting he wouldn't pay when he could park himself.
"My shovel!" Brennan called, her voice muffled by the bag her head was currently buried in.
"What?" Booth asked, coming around to the back.
"My shovel," she repeated. She looked frantically around the back of the Tahoe. "It's not here."
"Yeah, that sucks, Bones, but I'm sure the Jeffersonian can afford a new one." Booth was tired, hungry and in no mood to take inventory of their tools.
"No," Brennan shook her head. "This is my shovel."
"Don't tell me it's your lucky shovel," Booth taunted.
Brennan shook her head and reflected on where she and the shovel had been. "Not lucky," she said quietly, "but I've taken it with me everywhere. Columbia, el Salvador, Iraq, Uganda."
"Alright," Booth said. "If you think you left it, we'll go back." He could tell that the shovel really meant a lot to her, and for Bones that was saying something. "But can we eat dinner first?"
The site was even harder to find at night. Brennan read the directions to him. "It says 'first right after the arroyo with the big boulder,' did we pass that?" Booth looked out, but the headlights revealed nothing but miles of silvery sagebrush and the occasional juniper.
Grabbing the paper out of her hands, Booth held it up towards the cab light. "I know where I am going," he said stubbornly. Brennan wasn't quite so sure, but ten minutes later they arrived at the site.
"Here." Booth said, offering her a flashlight. She took it, but didn't turn it on. The moon was nearly full and it reflected brightly off the light colored rock and sand, giving the area a surreal and almost dreamlike quality. "I'll look over here," he gestured to his right.
"And I'll look over here," Brennan said, walking off in the exact direction to which he had just pointed. Shrugging, Booth went left instead.
Brennan was angry with herself for misplacing the shovel. She had carried it with her through some very harrowing situations and if she lost it here, abandoned among the juniper and sage… A glint on the ground caught her eye and she smiled with relief. Booth must have been watching her as he was sitting on a large rock jutting out of the side of the arroyo when she returned.
"Found it," she said triumphantly holding up the small folding shovel.
"I'm glad," Booth replied patting the rock beside him. Brennan climbed out of the canyon and joined him, stabbing the shovel into the earth beside her so it stuck straight up. As she sat, she misjudged the angle of the rock and fell towards Booth. He caught her easily; his hands steady on her waist.
"Thanks," she mumbled, reddening at the close contact. Settling down carefully on the rock, she moved away from Booth, but they were still close enough that their arms touched. "We should be careful. La Llorona might get us," Brennan teased.
"Yeah," Booth agreed, "that one was new to me. Who tells that kind of stuff to kids?"
"Like a witch who lures children to her house with candy and eats them? Or a Canis lupus who consumes and then regurgitates a girl's grandmother right before her eyes? It might be different than our traditional western European fairy tales, but it is just as much a product of the culture, and no less important," Brennan argued.
"But the witch doesn't eat Hansel and Gretel," Booth pointed out, "and at least grandma was, you know, spit back out."
"Well," Brennan paused as she thought, "sometimes folklore has a practical basis. Arroyos can be dangerous. This area is prone to monsoon-like rains in the summer and these arroyos quickly fill with rushing water. Teaching kids to be wary of them makes sense."
"Boy, you know how to suck the magic out everything, don't you?" Booth teased, nudging Brennan in the ribs with his elbow.
She shifted uncomfortably on the rock and looked out across the strangely lit landscape. "That wasn't my intent, but you can't possibly believe this story," she rallied.
He ignored her question and said, "I forget that it's so hard for you to believe in something you can't see."
"That isn't true," she retorted indignantly, returning the jab to his midsection. "There are many things in science that cannot be seen with the human eye, but I believe in their existence. Like a cell or a nucleus."
"You believe because you can prove it in your lab. Look at it under magnification."
For the next few minutes, neither of them spoke. Brennan breathed in deeply, enjoying the sweet scent of the late spring blossoms. Without warning, from somewhere up the canyon, she heard a faint sound. A quick glance at Booth told her he had heard the same thing. They listened for several long minutes, but hearing nothing, they relaxed once again.
Brennan started as the wail echoed across the night. Next to her, Booth tensed. The wail was longer this time, but after it stopped, all was quiet. Booth was on his feet quickly, not yet drawing his weapon, but his hand twitched.
"Must be the wind," Brennan said dubiously as she stood up next to him.
They both looked at the weeds at their feet, which sat maddeningly still. There wasn't a whisper of wind to be found. "Yeah," Booth agreed, taking a half-step closer to his partner as his eyes scanned the uneven landscape. "Wind."
Pulling her shovel out of the ground, Brennan said, "We have what we came for."
"Might as well head back to the hotel." Booth agreed, trying to keep his tone casual. They walked the thirty feet back to the rental car quickly, simultaneously climbing into their respective seats. Booth shot Brennan a sheepish look. She answered with a blush and pulled her door shut.
Before he could shut his, the eerie keening again split the night, louder this time. He instinctively slammed the door shut; his finger halfway to the lock when it slid closed. This time it was Brennan who looked abashed. Clearing his throat, Booth started the car and drove away, keeping a watchful eye on the rear view mirror.
This time, the drive back from the site seemed to take forever. More accurately, it was the dirt road and sagebrush part that felt the longest. They spoke occasionally, but didn't engage in any prolonged discussions. Booth turned on the radio, which blared an upbeat Mexican song. He fiddled with the dials until the soft strains of a Pink Floyd song filled the air.
"So where did you get this mythical shovel?" Booth asked, concentrating as he navigated the large SUV through the narrow streets around the historic plaza.
"From a professor," Brennan answered. At his look she added, "Not that one."
He was tempted to give her a hard time about being attached to an inanimate object, but when she turned back towards the window, he sensed it wasn't the time. Booth parked the car in the garage once again. He moved to open the tailgate, but Brennan stopped him. "No need to carry it all back tomorrow morning," she said. He happily agreed to any plan that didn't involve him schlepping her heavy field equipment.
As they waited for a car to pass, Brennan leaned back against a short adobe wall and stared out at the moon hanging brightly over the dark silhouette of the mountains. Just thirty minutes removed from their isolated arroyo and it felt like a different world.
"Sangre de Cristo," Booth whispered in a low voice, his head bent next to hers.
"Blood of Christ," She translated the name of the mountain range automatically. Yesterday, they had seen the mountains turn a deep red at sunset and she understood the name.
"Come on, Bones," Booth said finally, breaking the spell. They started across the drive and towards the main lobby. Another couple fell into step beside them.
"Good evening," The man said in a German accent. Booth and Brennan greeted the couple, who were both dressed immaculately in evening wear. The coupled moved ahead of them, arm in arm, laughing and talking quietly as they disappeared in to the dark brown adobe of the La Posada hotel.
Brennan felt the sudden, and rather bewildering, urge to take hold of Booth's hand. She countered this by stuffing her hands into her pockets. The feeling passed as quickly as it came. When Booth stopped to wait for her, holding the heavy wooden door open, he gave her a strange look at her slowed pace.
The German couple was just stepping into the elevator as they approached. Instinctively, Brennan and Booth slowed, allowing the doors to close before they pushed the button. "I hate feeling underdressed," Booth said as they stepped into an empty elevator.
"I told you we should have gone to the opera," Brennan said.
"Yeah, but you were kidding about that. Weren't you?" he asked, suddenly worried.
She laughed and stepped off the elevator. "Yes. I promise I will never make you go to the opera." Booth exaggerated his relief. She continued thoughtfully, "Unless it is for a case, or if Angela takes up opera."
"Can she sing?" Booth asked apprehensively.
"She's not bad at karaoke," Brennan admitted. Her expression turned serious as they approached their rooms. Something had been on her mind since their conversation on the rock.
"Booth," She said, leaning back against her door, and speaking to her hands instead of to him. "There are some things I believe in that can't be proven."
"Such as …" Booth prompted when she didn't continue.
Brennan swallowed and looked up at him. "I believe in us." She cleared her throat and clarified, "In our friendship and partnership. That's something that isn't visible or able to be proven scientifically. Does that count?"
"Yes, that counts, Bones," Booth answered, his voice suddenly husky. He reached out and traced her cheekbone with his finger. She closed her eyes, allowing his caress, before taking a step back and placing some much needed space between them.
"You should watch out tonight," she said, her voice not yet steady. "I've read that this place is haunted. Something about sacred Native American land and a dead housewife."
Booth leaned against the wall, still facing her, and said with a smirk, "I don't know, Bones, I'm pretty sure you were the one who locked the doors earlier." He shook his head and mocked, "Scared by the wind."
"Very funny, but I only locked the doors first because I beat you to it," Brennan defended herself.
Booth just grinned at her. "Goodnight, Bones," he said tenderly.
Despite their goodbye's being said, neither one moved. Finally, Brennan pulled her gaze from his, feeling she had stayed too long, and unlocked her door. She could feel his eyes on her back as he waited in the hall. Waiting for her to lock her door and be safely inside her room. It amazed her that she could feel both touched and annoyed by the same gesture. Nevertheless, after the lock clicked shut, she waited, a smile crossing her face when she heard Booth's door close several seconds later.
Thanks for reading and please review!