Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside of us while we live.
The room was exactly the way he'd left it. Books arranged on the shelf by size, the left chest drawer slightly open. The Foreigner CD near the stereo- he doesn't remember if he'd left it there or she'd never moved it since the fridge incident. Exactly the way it had been three years ago- three years, twenty-three weeks and twelve days ago, when this particular nightmare began and time froze. (He's stopped the clocks, actually, because he wanted to remember. Because he needed to bridge the gap, to try and find a way to understandbefore and after her.)
He stays for a while- being among what she was helped. It felt like he was closer to her, wherever she was. Scientifically (it was what she would have said), it didn't make much sense, but the working of the human mind was something he decided not to challenge. It was unpredictable and subject to change, but it protected itself in the queerest, unexplainable ways, and he respected that. She never liked psychology.
He doesn't rifle through the photo albums, not any more. He just sits, and sometimes reaches for the old snow globe, because he likes watching the glitter inside flake over that little house, trapped in its very own world. Constantly in a blizzard; but he imagines being there- being cut off from the rest of the world- and decides he likes it.
He keeps the other things- Jasper the pig, her Brainy Smurf, the rust-devoured belt buckle with a dolphin carved into it, a piece of her lab coat(he'd taken a small rectangle of it, with the embroidery. He thinks he got part of her name)- in a box, tucked somewhere in a drawer. He didn't need those memories, not now.
He closes his eyes and attempts to grasp the other fragmented, fondly remembered moments. Each like a leaf in autumn, twisting, falling to the ground and escaping attempts to be captured and taken.
"Do you believe in the afterlife?"
"You know I believe in Heaven, Bones."
"The idea of a paradise- a utopia where everything, presumably, is perfect- is often just one of the myths sustained- "
"Bones, please. Maybe people would just like to believe they get to go somewhere better, somewhere less screwed-up, and Heaven embodies that. It's like… it's something to look forward to. As if death's not the end."
"So you admit that the existence of Heaven is questionable."
"I didn't say that."
"But you concede that there is a possibility that Heaven is simply a creation of religious leaders- like Hell, because extremes force comparisons and ultimately skew decisions."
"Can we talk about something else that doesn't involve you analyzing and disproving what I believe?"
"So you concede."
She gives that sideways smirk, and he rolls his eyes, just a little, a small smile tugging at his lips despite himself.
Driving- being in the car alone- was harder than he thought. The silence is unbearable, but he decides the mindless chatter of the radio wouldn't improve it any. It definitely wouldn't- couldn't- compare to real, unscripted conversation.
Still, he toys with the radio dial until all he hears is the chaos and disorganization of sound- white noise, because he finds solace in the absence of what should be.
His eyes still flicker reflexively to the passenger seat. He usually watches her, head slightly turned; enough to appreciate the expression on her face every time she argues(she'd claimed she didn't bicker, but then neither of them ever admitted it), but just out of her line of vision. He doesn't- didn't want her to know (she'd probably have said it was his need to keep watch over the people near him; she would probably have used the phrase "alpha male". He grimaces every time she does).
He watches an empty seat now, stares into his own irises in the mirror. Hers were blue (or were they green?- he realizes he's never looked into them long enough to find out); and every time he squares that tortured gaze in the mirror he sees all that he has lost.
Today he has to face that demon. The denial had to stop. They said it was time to move on.
The courtroom is anything but silent when the judge finally calls him to the stand. They're whispering, and he hates it.
"Please state your name." He gives it, gaze never wavering.
"Thank you, Agent Booth. Now, on the night of July fifth, you entered the Fletcher home at 21 Sutland Parkland with a warrant issued by Judge Corbus?"
"Yes, that's correct."
"What happened that night?"
The gun feels cold against his palm as he clutches it, rounding the corner. She's behind him, as always, and he wonders if she's brought her 'big gun' this time. Maybe he'll laugh about it later, at the diner(they always make it there, somehow, after a case). Maybe she'll shoot someone again and they'll spend the next week doing a psychological evaluation.
When he sees the dark form at the end of the corridor, the finger on the trigger twitches almost reflexively, and he barely stops it. It's shaking- his whole arm is; he can't explain exactly why- and he grips his wrist with his free hand.
The flash from the gun barrel of his .38- it's the last thing he wants to remember.
There was another thing- he heard her call out to him, once.
The patrol cars on the lawn are the first indication that something is wrong. They're always the beginning of each each nightmare that haunts his tortured sleep.
When he sees the Medical Examiner's van parked down the road, the conclusion he draws isn't too far from the truth. The blood tracked out over the front steps only serves to reinforce it, and he staggers out to find her.
He knows that much. He doesn't remember the chill of sub-zero temperatures down in the basement, the stainless steel drawers and the sterile white cloth. He remembers what he needs to, just enough to know and acknowledge that she was gone, but not too much, because he wants to remember her the way she was before, and not as a cold corpse on an equally freezing slab of metal. He's entitled to that, he tells himself.
The rest of the proceedings are just a blur, the ballistics report, the Medical Examiner's- he doesn't bother to look up. He doesn't need more evidence of what he did.
"-conclude that the actions of Special Agent Booth were consistent with behaviour exhibited under these circumstances, and are corroborated by the findings of the experts. We recommend a psychological evaluation-"
He isn't surprised to find himself in Sweets' waiting room. He's been there many times, but the couch seems a little longer now, and less inviting.
"I'm sorry." Sweets loses his boyish grin for the first time, and reaches over to him before remembering and retracting the hand.
He stays silent. He doesn't need this.
"Denial. You'll get past it, get past this. I'm here-" he looks sheepish "-to help."
"She was the fifty-first. Epps made fifty, I told Gordon Gor- Dr. Wyatt."
He bites back the perfect retort (he's always had the inclination towards fight) and stands, stalking out of the door in one motion.
The diner is empty when he walks in- it's nearly two in the morning, but the waitress seems to understand as she watches him stumble over to their regular spot.
"Bones." She's not there, she will never be, not after what happened, but he still tries.
"It's difficult, you know. It's hard- it's hard arguing with myself, and Parker- he doesn't understand. He keeps asking; I think he likes what you did with the bones the other time and I- the squints, they look at me with those incriminating eyes and Zack- he, uh, he talked to me the other day-"
He keeps going on, rambling but always conscious, knowing what needs to be said, but never articulate enough. When he stumbles over words he almost expects her to correct him, then he remembers and forgets in cycles that he's too tired to count.
He drowns himself in words until the world dissolves in a gossamer mist of grey and he chokes on the salty tang of tears.
The snow flakes down to the little house encased in glass and water, and everything inside is still.