the reasons I won't be coming
(five things that never happened to temperance brennan)
They come for her the week after Christmas, footsteps fresh in the fallen snow. The tree lies on the carpet, overturned, when the door shuts behind her with a quiet click. Russ, fake snow in his hair, is next to the couch, a bright red blossom on the front of his sweater. Her first reaction is to hope he hasn't done anything more than spill some leftover punch and trip over the Christmas lights, until the lamp does a wild loop in the air, meeting the back of her head.
The hand grasping it lowers, slowly, and watches.
The dry earth crumbles under her feet; she can feel the ground—fossilized crust and dead plant; every element and mineral. Strata in suspension: dirt, water, mud. She breathes. Her fingers sift the earth, a history of bloodshed and genocide stained into it forever. She wonders how long that would be, an unknown not yet quantified.
brine, salt of the Atlantic, whips her face, stinging—sand and skyliquid mixing. Rain, she curses under her breath, glancing at the outline of a skeleton in the sand, barely visible in the shifting layers.
flashfloods are exactly what they are said to be; the sound of a dam giving way, in an instant, water and whiplash and the rush of current. It will be years before the tangibility of almost-drowning, liquid as air and lifeblood leaves the world beneath her tortured, twitching lids.
She can imagine those last, short bursts of breath he takes, the claustrophobic panic, the earth trickling in to fill the wreck; a future exhibit of natural history. The wrath of dirt, six feet below ground.
Zack, she had said, and given him instructions to finding the research journal on her backseat. It's fifteen minutes before she goes to check on him, and another five before she's paced the entire parking lot. The car's gone.
The phone call comes an hour later.
(his bones take a while longer, dug from the dirt after three memorial services she's neglected to attend.)
The chair's more uncomfortable than it should be, and she shifts in it, eyes darting around the room to avoid his gaze. This must be harder for him than it is for her; he smiles and waves as well as he can through the restraints.
Her anger comes swiftly, and in waves: what was so goddamn hard about pretending to be a high school science teacher? why had he left? why had he come back?, and she pauses, taking short, shallow breaths. His attempts at normality will ruin her, will ruin them both.
Like a lifeline, her phone goes off. It's a skeleton off the coast of Cuba, and the decision is suddenly made for her. She chooses to face death long past and forgotten, chooses not to watch death in its liquid state, up veins, through blood and things that make it real.
Halfway out of the door, Booth takes her wrist. temperance, in an urgent whisper: where are you going?
Work, she says, I got a call.
Not now, he hisses through gritted teeth, eyes flickering over to the man on the table. He's watching this.
I have to. It's important. She takes a step backward, and the convict's—when did she start thinking of him as that?—gaze meet hers, eyes sad and focused and familiar.
She runs, keys clutched in her palm. He calls her name.
In the car, the road stretches for miles outside her windshield. When he calls, she picks up on the third ring. I'm sorry, he's saying, and she can hear someone—the executioner's?— intonation in the background, crisp and clear sound in the silence: time of death, three forty-two p.m.
She hangs up, and drives until the tank is near empty before she feels warm tears nestle in her open palm.
(Russ refuses to speak a single word to her for months after, he swears forever, but he was drunk at the time.
she finds she's the one placing calls only to hear it ringing on the other side, this time, every year on his birthday.
on hers, she works until three in the morning.)
She fidgets throughout the service, folding and unfolding the invitation, creasing his photograph till the edges feel familiar. She looks carefully over the priest, the soldiers, the eulogists—his distinctive features of the jaw and the slope of his forehead should be easy enough to spot, she thinks, if he is masquerading as one of them.
The second time is like re-watching a film: you always think you know what's going to happen in the end, even if you are wrong.
Mourners drift slowly out of the church. It isn't happening the way it's supposed to.
The hall is empty. She strides up to the mahogany coffin, polished wood smooth under her fingers. The lid is lighter than it looks, and her arm trembles; back arching slightly as the wind pushes her hair from her forehead.
His eyes are closed.
A warm hand on her back stops her momentarily, and her friend's voice stings her inner ear; impales the cochlea. Angela's been crying; she can tell that much. Her voice has a raw, frightening quality to it.
I'm sorry, Angela whispers.
I don't know what that means, she laughs bitterly. Not any more.
(the candle flames flicker. quieter than the shifting of soles.)