Disclaimer: Bones isn't mine...why must you make me say that?
A/N: I love love love this show. Uber-much. AAAHHH. Also: SPOILERY concerning the Season 4 Finale. I...don't think that'll be too big of an issue, but that's what this centers around, so you have been warned, mkay? Mkay. This was just begging to be written, and not simply because I'm totally obsessed with this show and cannot wait until September 17th (so...far...!) for Season 5. It's just oozing metaphor, and sometimes I really ought to avoid that ohwelltoolatenow. It's even disjointed and potentially slightly confusing, like a certain someone's subconscious...ah ha ha. Ha. Eh...anyway. Now read, enjoy, and review!!
The question filtered into her mind, slowly. It trickled in like rain attempting to pierce a complicated screen, dodging all the obstacles until it finally found something to dampen. Whatever that something was, it must have been made of metal, because that solitary raindrop bit corrosively into the surface and destroyed the careful clockwork mechanisms and caused it all to grind to an absolute halt.
She stopped thinking, just for a second, but it was long enough.
Because she never stopped thinking.
I'm Dr. Temperance…I'm Dr. Temperance Brennan, and…and I work at the Jeffersonian…I'm…
I know who you are, Bones.
No, you don't, she wanted to say, once her mind survived that lifeless instant and kicked back into gear.
No you don't…!
Her breath escaped her in an incredulous rush, her lungs unable to hold onto their precious oxygen anymore. She knew she was staring at him because he was all she could see, but the image wavered in her mind's eye and translated unevenly before her until there were a dozen Booths composing the blurred edges of the one, real Booth slouched in the hospital bed.
He had saved her. He had taken bullets for her, shot bullets for her, and ultimately done things far more meaningful than simplistic physical rescue. He had annoyed her and she had annoyed him and somewhere along the line, they had connected, maybe as deeply as he professed was possible, maybe as deeply as she had just dared to start to hope to believe.
He was staring back at her, but she knew there weren't a dozen different Brennans vying for dominance in his head. There was just one beautiful, blank woman with tears in her eyes.
"Do you…think you can get a doctor?" Booth asked, his expression not changing from slight wariness.
She blinked. There was nothing in his voice, none of the inflection she was used to, and she felt her insides grow cold, the hollow of her heart filling up with ice until she didn't know how it managed to beat anymore. He didn't recognize her—how could he not recognize her?—and the weight of the world he held off her shoulders came crashing down with a vengeance.
That was the truth, wasn't it.
He wasn't Booth.
So she wasn't Brennan.
"I thought I'd find you here."
Brennan didn't glance up from her paperwork, didn't even flinch in acknowledgement of the voice that had suddenly broken the silence of her office. She simply inscribed another little detail onto the form, completing the final documents before she sent them off to the family of the no-longer-unknown deceased.
Angela curtailed a sigh and tucked her hands into the pockets of her lab coat. "It's late, sweetie," she said from the doorway.
"It's twelve forty-six," Brennan specified, still not looking at her best friend. "You should be home."
The artist arched a brow. "So should you," she said in gentle reprimand.
The anthropologist finally looked up, but it was brief, her eyes flickering away almost before Angela had time to see the blue irises and register the motion. She tapped the tip of her pen impatiently on her desktop. "I have thousands of unidentified remains to work on," she said crisply, gesturing curtly with the pen to the box of skeletal fragments that had been harboring in Limbo. "I'm sure that Robert Valencia's family will appreciate the effort, especially the part where he's no longer John Doe 427."
Angela frowned, more with her forehead than her mouth, and walked halfway to her friend's desk. "I'm sure they will. But you won't do much more good here, going blind in the dark. Everyone in Limbo has waited there for months, even years. I'm sure they can hold on for one more day."
"I don't like the term Limbo," Brennan corrected automatically, but there was more of an edge to her tone than mere scientific disapproval. "I don't like the implication that they're…waiting, purposeless, in some sort of stasis, until…" She cut herself off, her brow crumpling and her eyes focusing too sharply on the paper to really be seeing it.
She eased closer and carefully laid her hand on Brennan's, a little surprised but mostly relieved when she didn't pull away. "That's not the reason you usually give. But I get it, sweetie—you're in limbo, just as much as they are, until Booth—"
"This has nothing to do with Booth!" the brunette snapped, jerking her arm out of reach and snatching her coat off the back of her chair. "This has to do with my job, Angela, and fulfilling its objectives! Said fulfillment does not hinge even remotely on Booth's mental state, so this therefore does not concern him! I am completely capable of compartmentalizing, as is any rational person, and I am merely trying to do my job. I have a job, remember? I'm a forensic anthropologist. I'm Doctor—I'm—I'm—"
I'm Dr. Temperance Brennan…
Angela was around the desk in a heartbeat, placing a comforting arm around her shoulders and guiding the distraught woman to her couch. Brennan sank down heavily, an anchor without a chain, and buried her face in her hands; Angela simply rubbed her back in slow, soothing circles.
The anthropologist shook her head wordlessly, over and over and over again, and at length she managed to choke down half-realized sobs and glance at her friend with bloodshot eyes.
"How…how can he not…I'm…I'm his partner, and his…his friend…and I almost…I almost…"
Angela pulled her into a hug and held her while she cried.
There was nothing else she could do.
Booth looked around, brow furrowed, and waved one hand. "What're we doing here, Dr. Sweets?"
The psychologist tried to be pleased that the agent had used his proper title, but the sound of it only managed to depress him. In response to the older man's question, he replied, "We're trying to jar your memory, Agent Booth. This is the forensics lab at the Jeffersonian."
Booth only appeared more confused. "But you said I work at the FBI. What could I possibly remember from some…museum lab?" He glanced around again, craning his neck in an attempt to see everything at once. "Did I take a tour recently here, or something? I can't imagine why, though," he added, mostly to himself. "This place is dull…"
Sweets winced, and he grabbed hold of the other's arm to guide him away from the lab platform. But he wasn't quick enough, and the two men had barely taken three steps towards the door when Brennan emerged from her office on an intercept route. She was deeply engrossed in whatever file she held, but she caught sight of them, and something like a smile began to curve her lips as she approached them. It was clear she believed this meant that her partner was actually her partner again, coming back to work.
"Hey, that lady was at the hospital," Booth told the psychologist brightly.
And Sweets watched the blood drain from Brennan's face.
"The mind is a delicate place…"
"Don't give me your psychology crap! I don't give a damn how you do it, I don't care if you do it blindfolded, just fix him!"
"You don't understand, Dr. Brennan. I mean what I say—this is very delicate business. Memories are fragile and none of them are truly permanent. What really last are impressions, and those can't really be dredged up so easily. It's not like I'm fishing for fish here, metaphorically speaking…it's more like I'm fishing for the mud on the bottom, and that can be awfully hard to hook."
"Why don't you ever make sense? Would it be so hard to explain something so that it actually makes more sense, as opposed to less, once you're through?"
"Look, I know you don't approve of psychology, and admittedly there isn't a lot of concrete evidence on what determines the retention of memories, but—"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry! But we know that there's a pretty strong correlation between memory and emotion, stronger even than between memory and the physical five senses. A-And so I think you're pretty safe, where that's concerned. Booth will most def remember you…sooner or, um, later. Eventually, certainly."
"I don't want to be safe. I want to not be forgotten."
In the office of one Special Agent Seeley Booth, a man sat behind the desk, rifling through case files. According to Dr. Sweets and a handful of others, and according to the little placard on the desk, and according, to a somewhat lesser extent, his own conviction, he was this Seeley Booth, but it wasn't sitting quite right with him. He apparently was with the FBI, and before that, he'd been in the army—the first part he didn't remember, but the second was familiar, albeit in a fuzzy sort of way. As if being a soldier were so deeply ingrained in his identity that he couldn't shake it.
He swiveled in his chair indecisively and eyed the photograph of a young blond boy—his son, Parker. He couldn't remember having a son, even though the concept of children seemed as muzzily familiar as the army, and so he hadn't seen the boy; no matter what, he wasn't going to subject the poor kid to an amnesiac father.
"Are you having any luck, Agent Booth?" Sweets prompted from his chair on the other side of the desk.
Booth turned around again and shrugged unhelpfully, setting the latest case file on top of the tottering stack; it had something to do with a man drowned in a wine cask, or something. He didn't really care about the details, even though he knew that was what he ought to be paying attention to. There was a bigger picture here, and that picture was made up in parts by the army and vague children and that pretty anthro…athro…anglo…scientist lady, Dr. Brennan. She was familiar by now, too, somewhat sharper than the other two bits, a touch clearer around the edges. He had seen her, off and on, but never too close, as his mere presence seemed to upset her. Whenever he saw her, though, he couldn't help but feel that there was something off about the entire situation.
…That situation, unfortunately, being the whole world.
Dr. Sweets sighed, a rather loud and melodramatic exhalation, and placed his hands on the arms of his chair with equal theatrics. "If basically reviewing your life, day by day with detailed accounts…if that doesn't bring anything back, I'm not really sure what can. Besides time, of course. Time is always the ticket."
Booth nodded absently, more preoccupied with trying to chase down the elusive fantasies flitting about his head. When he had woken in the hospital, that woman had been there, and she had told him that none of it was real…but he couldn't reconcile with that fact. It had certainly felt real, and even though like a dream, the details slipped through his fingers all the more quickly when he tried to hang onto them…he had pieces of that, too.
Almost like memories, out of context.
He frowned, thoughtfully. "Dr. Sweets," he began slowly, "is it possible to…well, to remember everything, but that it's all…jumbled up and out of order? Like if I took the labels off all these files and messed them up," he continued, "and threw them on the floor…they'd still be there, right, but they wouldn't make any sense anymore."
The psychologist nodded, his eyes wide and intense with concentration. "The reason you underwent the surgery that resulted in your coma and subsequent memory loss…that was because you were having hallucinations. Well, you had a tumor that was making you—ah, you know what I mean. If your brain has a tendency to supply information via confusing images, it could be perhaps…" He trailed off, the fingers of one hand tapping against his clean-shaven chin.
"Are you remembering any such hallucinations?" Sweets prompted after a minute of silent thought.
Booth shrugged again, blurry afterimages of neon lights and Temperance Brennan and cobalt suit jackets flashing sporadically in his head.
Cam turned around when she was hailed. "Agent Perotta," she said, walking down the steps of the lab platform and obligingly swiping her ID card to allow the blond woman access. "You have a case for us?"
She nodded, glancing at Brennan, who was still hovering over a skeleton and determinedly oblivious of the new arrival. "I do. I was wondering if you'd like to accompany me to the crime scene, Dr. Brennan."
The anthropologist continued examining the minute fractures on a femur and replied slowly, not giving the words her full attention, "I believe that the photos and samples you provide of the crime scene will be sufficient, Agent Perotta."
The blond quietly asked the coroner, "Did she just dismiss me?"
Cam merely meaningfully lifted her eyebrows.
Perotta gathered herself and readdressed the brunette. "Dr. Brennan, I was led to believe that you preferred to examine the scene yourself. When I replaced Agent Booth before, you—"
"You're not replacing Booth," she replied sharply, her tone hard and controlled. "You're never replacing Booth. Please supply me with the file and the remains as soon as possible. Good day."
"That was a dismissal," Cam pointed out in a stage whisper.
But Perotta wasn't finished yet. "Dr. Brennan, there is no guarantee that Agent Booth will ever recover, and you should accept me as—"
"Good day, Agent Perotta."
"Quick," Hodgins advised. "Before you become a murder victim."
Booth opened a bottle of beer, cold from the fridge, and wandered from his kitchen to his couch. He slouched back and took a sip, hardly even tasting it. He had an unhelpful lack of photographs in his apartment, and the ones he had were either of hockey players or Parker. No one else, which he thought was odd. He'd had a few sessions with Dr. Sweets where they'd discussed the imagery of his coma-dream, or at least what little imagery he could recall, and he felt very strongly that he ought to have a picture of Brennan around here somewhere. The psychologist had told him early on that he was her partner, but he knew that their connection ran much deeper than that.
It was profound, and solid, and important.
So how could he have forgotten her?
There was a knock at the door, and he blinked, dragged from his pothole-studded memory lane. The knock came again, impatient, and he set the beer on the coffee table and shuffled over to the door. He was more than a little surprised to find the object of his current rumination standing on his doorstep. He was even more surprised when she brushed past him, carrying some sort of leafy green plant.
"Dr. Brennan, what're you doing here?" he asked, closing the door again and following her to the living room, where he saw her rigging the plant on the ceiling fan. "And what're you doing, period?"
She stepped off the coffee table, eyed the plant, and went up on tip-toe to adjust it slightly before she faced him. "Sweets told me over a month ago that your most vital and profound memories are linked to intense emotional experiences. While I don't give psychology much credence, I reasoned that by this point, it might as well be worth a try."
Booth tilted his head to the side. "Is that…mistletoe?"
Her gaze dropped from his, a faint flush dancing across her cheeks. "Er…yes. I am uncertain to what exact extent I affected you last time, but I am aware that I caused you a great deal of surprise and embarrassment, other emotions notwithstanding. So, I hypothesized that if I could recreate the setting, perhaps the emotions would follow, and perhaps your memory would…um…"
He stared at the symbolic plant hanging from his ceiling fan, still bewildered by this sudden chain of events, and wasn't aware that she had stepped closer. When she grabbed onto his collar, though, he looked down, and quite suddenly, she was kissing him. On the mouth. Hard.
He reciprocated automatically, reacting on pure instinct. And this was familiar—not just in this context, but in that muzzy sort of way, and he was overcome by the conviction that he had done this before, kissed her more than once, even often, and that it wasn't strange to do so because…because…
Before he could catch that runaway-kite of a thought, though, she pulled back and looked him directly in the eyes.
"Well?" she prompted, searching his face.
He opened his mouth to reply, but words were currently failing him, along with most of his higher-level functions.
She was still holding onto his shirt, and she gave him a little shake. "C'mon, Booth!"
Come on, Booth! You're gonna be fine! C'mon, Booth!
And vaguely, distantly, he felt a sharp, penetrating pain in his chest, felt his lungs heaving for air, felt the warmth of his spilled blood…and…and there were sounds…like…singing…
"I…you…ah…" Booth said indistinctly, raising one hand without thinking and rubbing the spot on his chest that remembered the ache better than his head.
"Are—are you alright?" she asked, her fingers slipping free of their white-knuckle grip and sliding to cover the same place as his. "Is…does…you look—I mean, this is where you were shot…"
"Shot?" he wondered. He didn't remember a gunshot, just the deeply embedded pain. And her, and her face, and the pressure of her hand—just like it was now, except harder, more desperate. Her voice, those words, were echoing in his head, as errant and uncatchable as lasers in a room of mirrors.
But why did he remember singing?
That night, Booth dreamt.
Dreams have a way of twisting reality, but his reality was already twisted. And so, in a swirl of subconscious color and sound, his memories untangled themselves, falling back into their rightful places with quiet sighs of contentment. Bartenders became psychologists, and nightclubs became labs, and hostesses became artists, and his wife became…
And his wife became…
He woke with a start, drenched in cold sweat with the sheets wrapped tightly around his legs. He kicked at them frantically and lurched to his feet, fumbling in the dark for the light switch. Hands running over the walls blindly, he managed to locate it, and the luminescence seared his eyes. He squinted protectively and stumbled to the bathroom, turning that light on as well and letting the faucet gush to life a moment later. Gathering icy water in his cupped hands, he splashed his face.
"Oh—! Damn, that's cold!" he complained to nobody, drying his face hurriedly and racing back into his bedroom, locating a pair of jeans and nearly tripping in his haste to get his legs into them. He scooped up his keys and fled his apartment, barely retaining the presence of mind to shut the door behind him.
He remembered. All those seemingly meaningless pieces had finally matched their edges and created an intricate, vibrant tapestry.
When he got into his car, he turned on the siren.
And minutes later—moments later—he was pounding on a familiar—yes, it was familiar!—door and yelling himself hoarse, not caring in the slightest if he woke any of the other tenants.
"Bones! Bones! Open up! Bones!"
The door opened and revealed a disheveled, robe-clad, and bleary-eyed Brennan. "Booth, I know that I just showed up out of nowhere at your apartment, but it's three in the morning and—and—wait." She blinked, her gaze sharpening as wakefulness was thrust upon her. "Did…did you just call me…?"
He didn't think he'd ever been happier to see her, even counting all those near-death saves.
And he didn't think he'd ever found her more beautiful.
"Bones!" he exclaimed again, the slightest catch in his voice now, and before she could react, he had engulfed her in a bear hug, crushing her slender frame to his and probably inflicting damage that some anthropologist would be able to read on her bones a hundred years from now. But if it hurt, she didn't protest, and he felt her fingers digging into his back and straining the cotton of his t-shirt across his shoulders. The muscles in his arms ached and burned, but he only hugged her tighter, determined to memorize this moment beyond a shadow of a doubt so that he would never, ever be able to forget how holding her felt.
He didn't know how he ever could have forgotten in the first place.
When they finally eased away from each other, he kept his hands on her shoulders, and her fingers remained fisted in his shirt. There were tears in her eyes, but she was smiling wider than he'd ever seen, and his own giddy, goofy grin faded into something softer.
"Booth, you…" she said softly, thickly, incompletely.
"At least I came around eventually, eh?" he remarked lightly.
She exhaled a laugh. "Yeah," she agreed, and she released him briefly to wipe tears hastily away, but then her hand gathered a fistful of his shirt again, as if she were afraid he would vanish back into that murky half-world.
"Well, it's way past midnight," he announced, settling into his usual nonchalance. "D'ya think that Chinese restaurant is still open?"
Brennan rolled her eyes. "Booth…"
Half an hour later, they were munching on fried rice and orange chicken, the coffee table bristling with take-out containers. She hid a smile as she watched him slurp up noodles most inelegantly and made a mental note to redouble her efforts at work tomorrow.
No one deserved to be in limbo.