The pain comes in waves- heavy, undulating; a gasp for breath but it's nothing like drowning, certainly nothing juxtaposed to being underwater, spheres of air escaping flailing lips. Under the water there is a visible border where the surface meets air; there is hope, however fragile. Here- barely time to take a breath; it engulfs.
Half-awake under the blinding fluorescent light; she's slipping, a piece of driftwood with mooring (but of course metaphors never made sense to her either way): blink, breathe.
"Bones." A face from the smog. "Temperance."
Hands curl into bloodied fists, clutching the sterile white sheets; fingers dug into palms to avoid needing his.
"You were afraid of this," he says, and it's not a question, just a statement. "That's why you-" Voice cracks: "I'm sorry, Bones-"
"-Temperance," he amends. "It'll be all right."
Warm hands close around hers, reach for her. The fingers stubbornly refuse to loosen.
No one should die without a name, she insists. I'll find hers.
Seven hours later ragged, labored breaths still echo through the hallway. They've told him to wait outside now and when he looked over at her her eyes were shut, chest rising and falling shakily. The doorknob leaks cold against his palm as he stalks out, still glancing back at the room.
The sheet is drawn up over her thighs, wet and wrinkled as the tendrils of hair clinging to her damp forehead.
He paces in the corridor.
She hears them through her tapered groans. Feels another peculiar lurch in her abdomen; the top of a tiny head (she imagines) protruding,finally. They're lost in a muddle of instruction: breathe, slowly, now.
She moves her heavy skull in a brief left-to-right motion.
Sure you can. Look at me.
The doors open again.
"Don't tell me things are going to be all right," she snaps, then in a almost-whisper: "It's what they said the night they left; Christmas Eve."
His hands cup her face slick with perspiration. Bones, in an urgent whisper. You're nearly there.
She thinks she knows what it's like to be in the throes of agonizing, never-ending death (ignoring all irony). The pain contracts, squeezes, progresses down her body in growing succession as she cradles the gentle swell inhibiting her midsection, biting the lower lip in a (futile?) attempt to curb all cries. Hands flutter, feeble, in the folds of the sheets.
Exhale with the contraction- she counts to three(hundred) and the searing, no, dulling now easing down her side.
"Booth," she whispers once more, and he is by her side.
The bearing of a child required more willpower than she ever though possible- not even in the darkest hour of a buried, wronged, early grave- but now. Now-
a warm sensation slithers from between her thighs, tumbling in a mass of blood and fluid. The delicate bundle uncurls, bloom-tunneling from the borrowed throbbing heat of her body. Gloved hands grasp the slippery child, bracing the cord drooping across its foot.
Birth- captured then, mother and child painting a mural of supposed beauty and miracles. Except she never wanted to be a mother and she wasn't sure if this changed her mind.
The child- a girl, she is told, but she doesn't get to touch (or glimpse, for that matter) her.
These medical scans, for once, are not of bones or skeletons devoid of life. That aura of death doesn't linger sickly-sweet in the stale air. It's alive, she thinks, and at the same instant admonishes herself for depersonifying it, as if it were an object. Arbitral. Still, her fingers tremble tracing the curvature of a perfect cranium etched in ghastly blue-white.
He watches it through the glass, tangled in wires and sensors; the almost-steady beep of a machine counting the seconds until it breathed again. Saltwater stings his eyelids as he turns away: no one should have to live like this, he thinks. Certainly not- tearing his eyes from the incubator- her.
(If she is to live, this is necessary. Necessity overrides dignity.)
He wonders what her anthropology would have to say about this.
Awakening bestows her a throbbing skull and a numb lower section of body; lifting her heavy eyelids brings the world into focus. When the morning amnesia hits she's halfway out of the bed, unwilling to stay caged in sheets once again. As her bare feet hit the floor her side erupts in dulled, suppressed animal fury.
She finds him deep in slumber on the chairs outside. His eyes jolt open as she lowers herself onto the seat beside him.
"Bones." He smiles, bleary expression and all. A moment later his brows shoot up in alarm. "You shouldn't be walking around after-"
"I'm fine, Booth. Just-" she winces then; a bitter smile at the irony.
"Have you seen her?" The sudden absolute clarity of his words startles her.
She twists the hem of the rough fabric round her fingers. "No, I-"
"They say the odds of survival are thirty-seventy against."
Her eyes meet his. "Don't. That word… the possibility of life isn't a statistic." He blinks in surprise at the unsure, wavering quality of her voice.
(She swallows hard then, realizing the muddling of lines; she would have murmured figures that didn't matter and he would have done the sentimental thing.)
"It's not your fault." He glances over at her.
The green swing doors batter the air as she disappears back into the safety of the ward.
Two days later they find the ritualistic white cloth veiling death comes in different sizes.
The smallest has the dimensions of a regular tea towel, but it still crinkles surplus at the edges.
He lets them tell her after they've told him, and he half expects her to comfort herself with I never wanted it anyway, but her wounded gaze mirrors morbid confusion she doesn't bother to hide.
And he knows. She never did want a child, but anyone could've seen the apprehension (fear, almost) that came with proximity to one. Guilt overrode relief; she wouldn't have admitted in anyway.
So he sinks into the chair by her bed and waits, but there are no words to say all these.
Blue eyes meet brown, and both know the way she is proficient with bones and he with people.
The congratulatory flowers and balloons are all gone by the time she reenters the room, save for a single bloom he must have missed (she thinks he's the only possible candidate to have carried out this mass cleaning).
She has never been sentimental or one for symbolic gesture, but she can't help picking up the baby's breath, crushing the fragile petals battered by the wind, for what it represents and what needs to be forgotten.
Angela's obviously heard, too, and the phone rings soon after, oozing sympathy she doesn't need.
Later, in the bathroom alone, the tears finally come; undoing the impractical ribbon fastenings down her back she falters, but is careful to stifle all sound to avoid alerting him a door away.
A week later she is back at the Jeffersonian, standing long hours, carelessly inhaling experimental vapors, trying to forget that her job was exactly what caused the contractions in April, two months early- no, her indifference to this life depending on her.
Everyone else exudes understanding, too much understanding, and she feels like an alien in her own land. Booth stops by occasionally, but for weeks there is no case (she was supposed to be gone a month) and he's too careful around her and she loathes it.
"Stop that." It just comes, one night with him in her office. "Stop treating me like everything's changed."
He stays silent this time, until she stalks out of the door; then speaks in a hoarse whisper: "You would have made a good mother, you know. I still believe that."
"You believe in God," she says, and her tone is flat but the implications clear.
It creeps up on her in quiet ways sometimes- the smaller-than-usual jumper hanging on a clothesline; garish gift-wrap discarded in the trash she's neglected to empty; the fragmented fetal bones brought in on a steel tray.
The last one they try to keep from her; Angela switches the holographic projections the moment she enters, Zack stammers a little more than usual and Hodgins doesn't have to pretend. Booth… his gaze lingers over her longer than usual, and he doesn't mention the stuffed skeleton he gave her what seems like a century ago.
They first stumble upon what can be done for her two months to the day. This particular case details another senseless tragedy: this time a missing child and a broken skull. Where the almost- infallible DNA fails the facial reconstruction reestablishing identity prevails; the artist watches as the almost-child takes shape: blonde, wavy hair, the photograph dictates; blue eyes, and the soft, wide-eyed stare isn't too far from the gaze she levels in concern every day.
The dark blue of Zack's lab coat materializes behind her, fingers bracing an examining tray supporting several off-white fragments. His brain- Britannica function is off and on the loose before Angela can curb the fact-spouting.
"Ghost children," he says, and when she looks quizzically up at him he doesn't seem to notice. "What if you had the chance to flip through a book depicting all the different children you could have had based on the infinite combinations possible with you and your mate's genes?"
He goes on about possible repercussions and other things, but Angela's heard enough.
"Would it be possible," she suppresses her excitement, "to construct a face using those genes, and then run it through-" she gestures "-my ageing matrix?"
"In theory, yes," he murmurs. "But this procedure is barely experimental…"
"But you can do it?"
"Well, there is this open source software with such claims." He pauses. "For what purpose?"
"It's for Brennan."
"I- I could try."
She notices it the day his quirkily- colored socks mellow into shades of dark blue and black; his ties and belt buckles remain, though, a painful reminder of what he had been- what they had been. Only occasionally now did she allow the drifting into the tortured state of wondering what could have been. The memory stung, picking at old wounds, forcing unbearable lucidity; migraine of the conscious mind.
Parker runs circles on the lawn, blonde-golden hair tangled over his forehead as Booth watches, suddenly somber and she knows he remembers that tiny, delicate wisp of hair barely visible in the tangle of wires. It was a deep russet brown, she remembers, and in that realizes the almost- portrait of a happy family this is, with Booth and his son and the white picket fence, but this pretence is anything but a delusion. The sun-shielded, pale strip of skin on her fourth finger trembles against the soft grass as she pictures that sailboat gliding off into the blood-red sunset, ripples of water trailing in its wake.
The placenta worms its way out barely hours after the birth, staining crimson the white parabola, swirling in the water spiraling down the drain.
The missing pieces begin to fall into place four months after, when the painful reminder of a protruding abdomen subsides and he finally regards her in normal, almost jovial banter, but she knows neither of them forget.
Sully-Captain Sully, now, Booth had laughed- returns in one of the County Coroner's body bags; the zip teeth jerked from the fabric in obvious haste. The report provides a cryptic CAUSE OF DEATH UNKNOWN.
Brennan finds a dented, tarnished lump of lead, sifting through the river debris in the body bag.
The day she sees Angela in her doorway with a different smile flickering across her haggard, weary face- for once it is unsure, seeking reassurance, and she ignores a twinge of uneasiness at this reversal of roles.
"Bren," she says (without the routine 'sweetie') "I have something… can you take a look at it?"
"Of course," she says, but it is more obligation than real curiosity.
The color printout depicts a brunette, brown-eyed child about six years of age. There's no name at the bottom of the page; she looks up at Angela.
"You never gave her a name," she whispers almost sheepishly. "I didn't know…"
Molten fury rises in her eyes, the familiar sting of liquid trembling behind eyelid- dykes. They feel a lot like tears then, and she tastes pure sorrow, smearing saltwater down her cheeks. It isn't anger; it isn't grief, then, and a strange ambivalence settles over the fallen photograph.
"She would have looked a lot like this, you know." Her friend's fingers find hers. "Nothing certain, though. But…" Angela's voice trails away before rising again: "I thought you would like to know. To see."
"I do." She takes a breath. "Just not…this way."
It's the moment Angela realizes she's crossed the line drawn as grotesquely evident as the pale white-red of the umbilical cord severed an age ago, crudely etched in the rapidly desertifying middle ground.
As she turns to leave the unexpected words of passing finally emanate from her motionless friend:
"When I find her name," she says, carefully hanging to every word, "You'll know."
(No one should die without a name, she insists. I'll find hers.)
A/N: The technology mentioned in this piece is purely imaginative.