A new sense
I was sitting at the bar, nursing my sixth beer in an hour, when she slid onto the stool next to me and sighed. I nodded at the bartender, and he slid a beer across to her, as well.
"Make any more headway?" I asked, before emptying number six and steeling myself not to ask for another, hands peeling the label from the one I'd just finished. Slowly. Don't peel too fast. Make it last long enough for her to get halfway through her first beer before you order another.
"No. The coroner's no help at all, I'd do better if you were in there helping me with particulates. You should come with me tomorrow, the rain's supposed to let up."
This case had been hell. We'd come back to Vegas-- their field office was swamped with a drug street war, and when ten mobbed-up bodies showed up in a ditch just outside of the strip, they'd called us back in, no lab techs or backup agents available to help us. After all, we'd done so well, the last time. Except all the informants had clammed up, it had started to rain, a never-before experienced four inches of rain a day rainstorm. I'd gotten a bug while we were out at the site so bad my head felt like it would explode, and I was making no headway at all on the footwork part of the case. She insisted I'd better stay at the hotel, that going outside, even to the coroner's, would make it worse, and I did feel horrible-- fever, headache, cough, a runny nose that just wouldn't stop. But that wasn't what hurt. It was the noise, the clicking of chips and thwack-flip-thwack of cards shuffling, the thump and muffled roll of dice on felt that hurt, that called to me from ten floors below. Though I'd managed to stay out of the casino, I lay awake half the night listening to machines I couldn't hear, and hearing dealers' voices calling '21' in the silence of my air-conditioned room. If I had work to do, was out on the street, or was able to exhaust myself enough to fall asleep before the sound of cards shuffling could start in my head again, I was fine. But sick as a dog, with nothing to do all day except sleep and feel miserable? I didn't know how long I could hold out. I hoped the rain would let up, so I could go stare at dead bodies and hold plastic bags and scrape bones where she told me to, rather than spend another day in my luxurious hotel room, only ten floors above hell.
She'd been great. Not a word of warning, or scolding, or caution, like Rebecca or my parents might do if they caught glimpse of a deck of cards within twenty feet of me. Instead, all week, she'd left the door between our rooms open a hair, at all times, so I could hear her humming tunelessly as she worked on her book, the clack of laptop keys a welcome reality against the imaginary noises of slot machines. She'd insisted the Jeffersonian pick up my room tab this time, on the pretense that the current congressional budget hearings at home would take up too much of the team's time to allow them to be of assistance, and that she needed me in an adjoining room, in order to make sure no time was lost working the case. "Agent Booth's familiarity with evidentiary techniques and his experience working with me at recovery sites will provide a needed level of technical assistance," she'd said, and Cam had merely raised an eyebrow and nodded.
Even now-- it was six o'clock at night, and I'd already finished a six-pack, but she said nothing as she worked on her beer. I'd had to get out of the room, and this bar was on the other side of the building, behind the pool, where the noise from the casino wasn't audible. But I could still hear it in my head.
She worked on her beer in silence, not prodding, not poking, not talking, just sitting, her knee touching mine as we both sat forward, elbows on the bar. My hand at her back, or her foot "accidentally" touching mine as we sat on the couch or across a table at the coffee shop across the street, working the file-- I sometimes thought it was the only thing that stopped the physical itch, the need for the dice in my hand, the cards under my fingers, before my long-gone luck drew me over to a table, sat my ass in the chair, and forced the words "hit me" from me. When she wasn't around, I needed something in my hands at all time, something to hold instead, to distract myself, physically. It isn't this bad, at home, away, but knowing it's just downstairs? It's all I can do to stay put. I tried praying about it, when we first got here, but even then the siren shuffle and clangour of cards and machines was too loud for me to form the thought.
"Come on," she said, putting her beer down, and pulling my hand away from the label I'd been so deliberately peeling from the bottle. "I ordered room service, we may just beat it back there."
She took my hand, laid enough money down on the bar for all of the beers and a tip, and tugged me out of the bar. When we reached the lobby, she held my hand tighter as we waited for the elevator, the bells and chimes and dealer's calls drifting in behind us, the smell of beer, and whiskey, and cigarette smoke, and the intangibles, the smells of luck, and despair, filling my nose, even through my stuffed-up head.
When the elevator opened, I managed not to hesitate as I stepped into it and hit the button for our floor. She'd laced her fingers through mine, and was running her thumb across mine with firm repetitive motions, soothing, distracting.
As we got off, sure enough, the waiter was coming off another elevator with a cart, and smiled as he recognized us. The problem with this town is that all the good restaurants are attached to casinos, and food doesn't taste right when you want cards, not utensils, in hand. Another thing I hadn't told her that she seemed to know. So we'd been eating room service like there was no tomorrow, except sometimes breakfast at seemingly the only freestanding coffee shop on the strip, just across the street. I smiled back, and said "We'll take it from here," then signed the tab and pulled out my wallet to give him a tip. There were only two trays, so we each took one and headed back to her room. Mine was a mess-- tissues and cough drops and clothes strewn all over, but hers was immacculate, and in the four days we'd been here, now smelled like her-- lemons, caramel, cinnamon. A better smell than despair.
As we ate, she told me about her day, the minutiae of the marks she'd found on the fifth body, the possible significance, and I listened, but it's too much to listen to her, tell the damned bells in the back of my head to shut up, and talk, so I just nodded. She'd put up with that, too, my conversation practically limited to one or two words at a time while we were here. When we'd finished, I put the trays outside her room, and came back to see her cracking open a bottle of whiskey from the bar, pouring it into some glasses.
"Bones, those bottles cost a hundred dollars, you know."
She gave me a look. "I know. I don't really care. You need a drink, and so do I."
Well, I certainly did, so I took the glass she offered and picked it and the bottle, then brought them over to the sofa under the windows, slinging my feet up on the coffee table. She sat next to me, scooting close so her hip was touching mine. The noise in my head receded a little, again. How insane. The only thing I was addicted to more than gambling was her, and she was the only thing that made the itch stop. But I couldn't tell her that, I'd drawn that damned line, and her calm acceptance of me, her kind actions and unquestioning ways were not the same as what I wanted-- I wanted her, needed her, had to have her, mind, body and soul, but I couldn't spoil it, spoil us, because I was weak, because I couldn't just slay my own demons, and had to keep replacing one with another.
I'd finished my first glass and bent forward to pour myself a second-- she held hers out for a refill. When I sat back, she'd turned somewhat, tucking her foot under her, her knee touching mine as she looked at me, one elbow crooked on the back of the couch, her hand in her hair as she looked at me, eyes deep blue and serious, unflinching as she stared at me.
"It's getting worse," she said, without preamble. One more reason I was addicted to her. She never told anything less than the truth, didn't dance around uncomfortable things, didn't tell polite lies that helped no one.
"Tell me. Tell me how it feels. Tell me how it all started." The hand she'd had in her hair came forward, and she laid her palm on the back of my neck, her fingers scratching in my hair, gently, repeatedly, the warmth of her hand soothing the skin that had been crawling on the back of my neck since we'd walked back through the lobby.
I looked back at her. She wanted to know. And I can never say no to her. So I told her, her hand warm on my neck and fingers scratching through my hair as I did.
- - -
"When you're a sniper, you're constantly using your hands. Setting up your rifle, cleaning it, preparing your rounds, checking sights, holding down maps and building plans, tracing entry and exit routes, pointing the rest of the team the way to go. The movement never stops. And when you're done, you've eliminated your target, there's the takedown, the packing away, the escape, sometimes slow and deliberate, sometimes a mad scramble over fences or up hillsides if they figure out where the shot came from. You ... get used to always having your finger on the trigger. Your hands itch when you're not doing something with them. All that ... vigilance, attention, waiting? The way that every sound except the voice of the target recedes, as you wait, and wait, and wait, until it's time, and the own discharge of your rifle is the next thing you hear? It has to go somewhere. It doesn't stop when you're done. So... you have to find something else to do with your hands. Something else to hold, to pay attention to, to focus on at the end of your stare, like the targets you don't have to shoot at anymore, but they're still there. Your brain still demands a target, still demands that you take something out. It's a habit, engraved in your brain.
It... lets you keep your hands occupied, and it seems ... harmless at first. If you slap down a losing hand, well, it's only money, there's no body on the ground five hundred feet away and all his bodyguards looking for you, as you get the hell out of there and hope, this time, you won't get caught. And if you slap down a winning hand? Well, there is no charge of satisfaction when you eliminate the target-- not if you're sane-- there's no reward, just relief that you got through this one, followed by dread knowing your success will bring you another ... target to eliminate. But soon, when it all catches up with you, and you can still hear the report, remember the looks on the faces of the people around him, feel your heart pounding as hard as it did when you ran across rooftops, ducking their return fire and hoping you'd make it out alive? It's the only thing that makes it possible not to remember.
And then, at some point, you don't remember it any more, but only because what your hands feel when they're empty is the cards and the chips, what your ears hear is the shuffling or the roll of the dice, what your nose smells is alcohol and warm green felt, and possibility, the maybe I'll win it all back tonight, and all you see is your hand, which suddenly never deals your way. And you can't stop, can't let go, because you know if you do, you'll go back to hearing shells firing, and smelling your own sweat and fear as you crouch in a hole, hoping they'll pass you, miss you, let you turn and walk the other way as if you were out on a routine patrol. Until... whatever it is that's left in you that doesn't revolve around killing, or cards, or forgetting, makes you pick yourself up off the floor, or out of the jail cell, or just pushes you back from the table when your last chips are gone makes you stop, and walk away.
The noise is still there. The feel is still there. The smell, and the sight, is still there. But the longer you're away from the table, the fainter those senses are, the more you can concentrate on what's around you, and eventually, it recedes to a barely-audible sense at the back of your head that you can ignore, almost all the time. Until something happens to remind you, and then unless you find something to hold, to smell, to hear instead, it will have you, and it will be like you never pushed away from that table to begin with."
Her fingers continued their firm circles on the back of my neck as she nodded. "Senses are evocative, you're right, they do imprint on our memory, affect our habits, and sometimes only a new sense memory can erase an old one." Her voice was low, and calm, like she was talking to me after I'd woken up from a bad dream. I know, it's the voice I use for Parker when he has a nightmare. "Did you know that right before my parents went out Christmas shopping, we had lunch at the kitchen table? My mother made chile con carne, served it with fritos and orange soda. There was Christmas music on in the background. Every single time I see a red-checked oilcloth on a table, smell chili or corn chips, taste anything orange-flavored, hear holiday muzak on the radio, all I feel is the ache that hit me, the next morning, when I realized they weren't coming back? I have to swallow back the bile that rises in my throat, clench my teeth against the urge to vomit. It's like I'm there, all over again. It's not the same, at all, I know, but I do understand, a little."
She stopped then, and continued to regard me, quietly, evenly, as I stared back at her. She did understand. She knew. And she was still here. She hadn't gotten up and walked away. Her fingers were still pressing on my scalp, her palm warm and dry against my neck.
"Thanks, Bones," I managed. She nodded, then sat forward, and refilled the glass I'd emptied as I'd spoken, then refilled her own. Raising her glass, she said, "to senselessness." I snorted. It was the perfect toast, true, and ironic, and painful. "To senselessness," I repeated, knocking back my drink in one gulp as she did the same.
My head was starting to be fuzzy enough that the imaginary casino in my head was a bit quieter, so the itch in my hand was a bit less, but even as I thought it, my fingers twitched, caressing non-existent chips. She saw it, and pulled my hand into hers. I clenched my jaw. I had to stop this. It would be another week before we were done, and there was no way I would make it at this rate.
She saw it, again, as she always did, always does, and spoke. "There aren't any tonight, I checked, but... there's a meeting at the synagogue about a mile from here in the morning, at seven, if you want to go, if you want me to go with you."
"You'd do that?"
"Of course. You've done the same for me. Can you make it until tomorrow morning?"
I nodded. I can, I know it. If she'll go with me, hold my hand, I can go, and maybe sitting in a room full of other first-name-only losers will help. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't. But if she went with me, it might.
- - -
We finished the bottle, slowly, watching the congressional budget hearings on C-Span, until the clock hit eleven. "I'd better go to bed," I said, standing and gathering the litter of tissues and cough drop wrappers I'd left on the floor as we sat there, her hand in mine the whole evening, as we drank to senselessness with our other hands. She got up and helped me, deposited the waste in the trashcan, then pulled me to her for a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. "Sleep well, let me know if you need anything."
"Thanks again," I replied, leaning in to place a kiss on her forehead, my fingers twitching against her back with a need to bury myself in her-- better I just go downstairs than take that gamble, though. Lives and money were one thing-- losing her was another.
- - -
I woke in a cold sweat, gasping as I sat up-- I was back in that room, watching that birthday party through my scope, watching that little boy kneel down next to his father to pick up his bloody head and cradle it to him, as I watched, my finger still depressed on the trigger, my ears on alert to see if I'd been detected.
She pushed the door open, and came in. She was wearing a short white cotton nightgown, simple and perfect like she is, the light from the room behind her silhouetting her form against the fabric as she walked over to me.
"Bad dream?" she asked, as she sat on the edge of the bed and then scooted over to sit down next to me.
"Yeah. The birthday party." Her face softened, and she turned, pulling me toward her, tugging my head to her chest and oh God, the impossibly soft, fragrant skin of her breasts as her other arm skimmed along my bare back, pulling me in for a hug, the scent and heat of her taunting me with what I can't have. But I was too weak to pull away, so I let her hold me, even as I could feel my dick hardening under the covers still shielding my waist from her view. Why I thought it was a good idea to sleep naked with her in the next room, the door open between us, I don't know-- must have been the fever and the alcohol.
Her next words undid me. "Booth. You're not a bad anything." How did she know what I was thinking, feeling, as I sat here berating myself for lusting after someone who was just trying to be a friend?
"You're wrong," I managed, before my throat closed. I am not going to cry, I am not going to cry, I am not going to cry.
She pulled my face up, looking at me seriously, curiously, and something else. Decision? Determination? Something more than all of those things. "You're not. Don't argue with me."
"But you don't know what I ..." Her eyes darkened, and before I knew it, she'd pulled me up for a kiss, so hot, so tender, so passionate that I couldn't breathe, even as every nerve in my body screamed "nownownownownownownow before she changes her mind." Thankfully, I seemed to be paralyzed-- at least until her hand at my back gripped me harder, and my own hands came up to hold her mouth to me, to taste her, to drink from her breath until I could breathe again.
Her tongue tangled with mine, her hand in my hair again, this time almost painfully scratching her nails against me as she kissed me back. I couldn't believe this, but I was too weak to ask her if she was sure, if she knew what this meant, if she understood there would be no going back. All I could do was touch her, inhale her, taste her, look at her. I couldn't listen to her say no, but wasn't she telling me yes with her hands and her mouth, as she'd told me she was here with every hand touch, every knee knock, all week? God, I hoped so. I pushed her back on the bed as she pulled me down with her, pulling the covers away from my waist and wrapping her hand around me, hot soft skin firmly stroking my length as my hand pushed up her nightgown, let my hand feel her sleek thigh and stomach under my hand. Pulling myself from her mouth with a groan and a gasp for air, I looked down at her, still disbelieving, as she looked up at me, as much want in her eyes, more, than I'd ever seen on any woman I'd made love to before. She lifted her hips and then half sat, to pull off her nightgown, revealing perfect breasts that begged to be touched, to be tasted, to be worshipped, and which would give something back, not leave me with nothing but an empty bank account at the end of the night.
Her moan as I took her breast into my mouth filled my ears, a sweet noise like nothing I'd heard before, and her skin was perfect beneath my tongue. As I laid a trail of kisses across her chest, I looked up to see her, her head thrown back on the pillow, her eyes closed, and a pink flush of desire on her cheeks. Her firm flesh in my mouth, the pebbled nipple beneath my tongue giving way to smooth perfect roundness that tasted like she smelled, plus a slight tang of salt, both satisified me and left me starving for more, as her hands on my back pulled me to her, her hips squirming beneath me as I kissed, and sucked, and kneaded every inch of her from neck to waist, until there were no more senses but her filling me. She was panting, gasping "Booth," as I laved her breasts again with my tongue, her hands grasping me to her even as her hips bucked again, the scent of her arousal, a musky note interwoven with her citrus, and spice, and sweet notes causing my balls to tighten harder than they'd ever been, an ache behind them like I'd never felt before. I had to be in her, but that would end it too soon-- I had to taste and feel and kiss the rest of her, first, until I filled myself with all of her, every last inch of her skin, every pulse beat pounding through her, every gasped breath and moaned "Booth," and "Seeley," and "please," and "I need you" erasing every sick needful thing, every soul-crushing memory that ever came before her.
She whimpered and thrashed as I let myself taste my way down her legs, licking each inch of skin that I didn't suck, or bite, or kiss, her moans turning wordless as I held her in place with one hand on her stomach as I indulged myself with kissing every toe, the arch of both feet, before making my way slowly back up her other leg. "Please!" she cried, moaning again, a wash of scent emanating from her even as I let my hand creep to her core, brushed my fingers across her sleek wet folds, her hips thrusting against me as I fingered the outside of her, and my thumb found her clit, rubbed against her. I pushed her legs apart as I knelt to suck at the hollow of her knee, thrusting two fingers inside her as her walls parted, then tightened around me, another aching cry of need from her throat making my dick twitch even as I curled my fingers inside her. I wouldn't ever feel the cards under my fingertips again, if I could just stay here, doing this, forever, listening to her need me, want me, as much as I needed her. There was no sense but Temperance, here. She shrieked as I stroked her spot with my fingers, my thumb passing over her clit at the same time, then moaned again as I withdrew my hand and knelt forward. I looked up at her as I let one hand trail over the white pillow of her thigh, and she moaned "Seeley" again in a way that made my first name meaningless from any one else's lips ever again. And then I let myself taste her heat, my nose nudging her clit as I pushed her legs further apart, spreading her so I could look at her before I indulged myself, all other food forgotten as I let my tongue enter her, feel her contract as I scooped my tongue against her. She flooded around me, screaming, the taste of her fluid filling my mouth like the sweetest nectar, her head thrashing on the pillow as one hand gripped at my hair, the other wadding the bedsheets in her fist. I greedily sucked at her, drew her folds into my mouth as I nipped at her clit with my teeth, and she whimpered and bucked again, responding to me as if I was made for her. I licked at her repeatedly, as she came again as I worked her, filling my nose and my tongue with Temperance, all sensations of gunsmoke or plastic-coated cards evaporating from memory.
"Oh, Seeley, I need you," she whimpered, her voice a hoarse whisper from all of the screams of pleasure I'd drawn from her, and I couldn't resist any longer. Shifting, I knelt up, and crawled forward to bracket her between my elbows, as I bent close enough to feel her breasts brush against my chest. But responsibility loomed in my mind, and I jerked as I realized I didn't have any condoms. Her eyes opened, black with need, as she looked at me, waiting for an explanation.
"I don't... have..." I began.
"I don't care," she whispered, "I trust you, and I need you now."
That was all that it took, so I slid a hand beneath her hips as I raised her to meet my thrust, her arms wrapping themselves around my neck, the hot globes of her breasts pressing against me as she raised her knees, meeting me.
"Oh, my God! Temperance!" I groaned, as she took me all the way in to the hilt, in a way no woman ever had before. Guys always say they envy my size, but it's no blessing when you can never be fully taken in, never fully lose yourself in your lovemaking. There's always some part unmet, not just the physical one. As I felt her walls accomodate me, tightening even as they stretched around me, hot, and wet, and home, I knew she was made for me-- she filled me, and I filled her.
Her eyes were open with surprise, an "Oh! Seeley!" erupting from her as I finished entering her, her legs wrapping around me as I filled her. "Oh! God! Yes!" she called, as I withdrew and returned, her own hips meeting mine even as one hand at my neck pulled me down for a breathstealing kiss. Gasping for air, I groaned her first name again, bucking back into her as her heels pulled me toward her, pulling, tearing at me as she gave herself to me and demanded I do the same. I sheathed myself again and again in her, filling her and her taking me in, fully, with her heat, then sped the rhythm and lifted her hips toward me so I'd stroke her G-spot at the new angle. She screamed "Yes! Yes!" and clenched around me, arching backwards into the bed, eyes closed in ecstasy as her hips ground against mine, her orgasm shuddering through her whole body. I've never seen anything more beautiful in all my life, her visible pleasure erasing every ugly thing I'd ever seen from where I thought they'd been permanently etched on the insides of my eyelids. I stroked into her again, dangerously close myself, but I needed to see that look on her face again as I held her, before I lost myself in her, withdrawing and returning again and again, the ridges of her spot hard against the head of my dick as I pushed at her, until she clamped her legs around me, flooding and clenching around me, as she called out, "Oh, Seeley! I love you!" as I withdrew and began to return to her again.
That did it. Her confession pulled me into her like a magnet, my balls so hard it was like they were pushing me into her, and I lost control, pounding into her once, calling "Oh God, Temperance!" twice, grunting "Bones!" and a last time as I yelled out "I love you!" as the most painful, most incredible orgasm of my life took control of me, the force of it shaking me and making my knees and elbows collapse as I pulsed what felt like my whole life force into her, my weight falling fully onto her and our sweat sealing us together. Her legs fell open as I collapsed onto her, but she was still clinging to my neck, her breath shuddering and sweat plastering locks of hair to her forehead as she whispered "I love you, Booth" into my ear. I never thought I'd hear her say it, never thought I'd be here, though I'd thought about it a thousand times and more-- but this was infinitely better than anything my mind could ever have dreamed of.
"Bones," I groaned. "Oh my God, I love you, I love you," I babbled, my heart hammering in my chest as I felt hers hammering in her ribcage under me. I panted, and shifted my weight back up onto my arms-- she was strong, but I do outweigh her by at least seventy-five pounds, maybe more.
I looked down at her, and saw it was true-- she'd never lied to me with her eyes, and she wasn't now, as she looked back at me, her eyes lightening back to their normal perfect sky blue. I groaned as I withdrew from her, and she let out a moan as I left her, and fell to the side of her. She turned to her side, one hand reaching up to thread her fingers in my hair, as we lay there, staring at each other, chests heaving. I reached across to pull her over to me, hooking a leg over hers as our knees touched and she panted in my face, our foreheads sweat-sealed together. Her eyes were heavy-lidded and fluttering, small aftershocks passing through her as I trailed my hand on her back.
"I love you," I repeated, and all my empty places inside filled as she smiled back, and softly repeated, "I love you."
There have always been five senses-- sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. Now, there's a sixth, the best one of all. Temperance.
- - -
I woke slowly, to find I was flat on my back, with her head curled onto my chest, a small, happy smile on her face as her warm breath whispered across my chin. Her small hand was resting against my stomach, a leg hooked over mine. The sun had come out for the first time in days, and was angling in under the shades I'd left drawn since I first became sick.
There was no noise in my ears or my head but her breathing, and my fingers and palms didn't itch for anything but her skin. I was satisfied. She was right-- a new and better sense memory had come along, to erase all the bad ones. A sense of Temperance.