Spoilers for season 4 and (preliminary) season 5.
A/N: This scene occurs after the closing of Critic in the Cabernet. (Thought I'd better get it in before the premiere!) I'm taking a short break from my Suspects in the Suite saga, to explore this question that won't leave me alone: what would that have been like for Brennan, going with Booth into surgery?
He did not realize what he was asking. But she could forgive him for not thinking it through.
He had asked out of sentiment, even fear. Her fearless Booth, sounding so vulnerable. "Come in there with me?" he had pleaded, his forehead furrowed, eyebrows raised endearingly. But even then, he'd turned to teasing: "What, are you gonna sit in the waiting room, reading old magazines for hours?"
No, she was not. So she had bullied, flattered and argued her way in. Had carefully suited up in head-to-toe hospital garb.
But she had not thought this through, either: what accompanying him through surgery would mean.
She stood to one side of the bright-lit operating room, trying to see over the heads and shoulders of the medical team. Booth was lying on the table, swathed entirely in blue surgical sheeting, except for one side of his head.
Throughout that long afternoon--the whirlwind of suspicion and scans, tests and diagnoses--she had kept her mind strictly logical, proceeding from one step to the next. But now, logic was leaving her.
She did not know what to do with her hands, to begin with--now that she could no longer hold on to Booth. They had let her stand next to him, grasping his hand, until the anesthesia kicked in. She'd been tempted to stay a moment longer, in case he was still aware of her. The last thing she wanted was for him to feel her let go just as the drug took him under.
But that was not being rational. She clenched her hands in front of her,
listening to the surgeon murmur orders.
She watched the vital signs on the monitor. Pulse, respiration, blood pressure. Graph lines spiking with each heartbeat, lighted bars lifting and lowering with each breath. Numbers. Yes, numbers she could deal with.
From time to time, a nurse would glance her way, and she tried to match their expressions of impersonal concern.
She shuffled her feet, encased in pouch-like shoe covers. The edges of the surgical cap poked her ears.
The other monitor should have been more compelling, but it was harder to look at for long. It showed a close-up of the incision on Booth's head.
His shaved scalp. His blood. Soon, white cranial bone.
As the surgeon made the cut and asked for retractors, Brennan caught her breath. This was not how she usually saw bodies.
Not dead and desiccated, nor mushy from decomposition. Not aged bones knocking around the drawers of Limbo.
This was pristine, moist and fresh.
Booth's flesh. It was terrifying and beautiful. She unclenched her hands, then crossed her arms over her chest.
The craniotomy came next.
There was a reason loved ones didn't come into the operating room. And this was it.
The drilling was the worst part.
The sound of drilling into bone: Like a dentist's drill but louder. A sort of grinding whir that made her teeth ache and her neck tingle with goosebumps.
She focused back on the vitals. Inhale, exhale. Breathing slowly, in unison with him.
Booth, you're going to be fine.
Yeah, but if I'm not…
If he was not, she would be seeing this for the rest of her life. Smelling the hospital antiseptic. Hearing the ratcheting of the drill, the sucking of the aspirator as it cleared his blood.
Even if he came through perfectly fine--which he would--she would still be seeing this scene, for days, for weeks afterward.
In a moment, the surgeon would have access to the brain. This should be fascinating, if not for the cold sweat prickling under her arms, and the quivering in her leg muscles.
What a scientist I am, she thought. How very rational. How expert at compartmentalizing.
She felt as green and philosophical as Sweets, seeing his first brain in Cam's autopsy room. "Can I touch it?" he had asked, curious and squeamish. "Ooh. Squishy."
And Sweets would be right, how amazing it was: that all the thoughts and hopes, the personality and memories of a person… of her Booth… were embodied in those three pounds of brain matter.
There, on the screen, pinkish-gray and wet. A portion of his brain, revealed from its bony shelter. Naked and glistening, under the pulled-back skin and little squirts of blood.
She thought of their conversation about how people leave marks on each other. Was there, metaphorically speaking, some part of Booth's brain imprinted with her mark?
She realized that a moment ago, she had counted herself among his loved ones. Her arms were still hugging herself, and her fingers dug into the triceps muscle above her elbow.
Yes, she thought fiercely. Love.
She had suspected it of herself ever since the shooting at the Checkerbox, when Booth had 'died.'
She had seen his blood then. Felt it, hot and sticky, welling through her fingers. His chest, under her hand, heaved with traumatized breathing. His dark eyes locked on her, stunned.
She still didn't know how she had let the doctors convince her of his death, without proof. Without hearing a flat line on the monitor. Without seeing his body, or touching the pulse point at his neck.
His blood had stained her hands and clothing. She had not even thought--or wanted--to wash it off. Not until Angela, looking haunted, had led her to a bathroom.
Now the surgeon was inserting a needle into the cerebellum, preparing to remove the tumor.
You'll know, Booth had said, if they're screwing up.
Brennan clenched her teeth. Yes, she would know. She would know the details far too intimately. And there would not be one single thing she could do about it.
If the worst happened--if the surgeon's hand faltered, if alarms beeped frantically, and nurses began grabbing instruments and barking orders--she would have to watch Booth die on this table. His lifeblood trickling out the hole in his skull. His heart beating erratically in his chest, its electrical impulses disrupted beyond retrieval. That ineffable thing that was Booth, slipping and disappearing, with those numbers on the screen the only outward sign.
That would be unbearable, watching.
It would not, could not happen. Not while she was here, following every step of the procedure. Supporting him even though he was unconscious.
Hadn't she just said that seeing was believing? This was what she needed: to be sure he was all right. Being here, not dumbly waiting in the visitors' lounge.
Here, observing every blip on the screen, every breath and heartbeat. And praying. Not to any god, but rather a wordless hoping, a holding fast to what she believed in: the surgeon's skill, and Booth's strength, and her own stubborn endurance.
When they'd spoken in the hallway, she had tried to stop him from the speech beginning, "If I die…"
Booth, you're going to be fine.
But if I'm not… He had offered her his DNA, to have a child. I want you to. He had seen the tears in her eyes, the wordless acceptance.
You're going to be fine, she'd said again, her voice breaking. Then she'd steadied it. I'll be right here.
And that was what he'd needed. I'm ready, he'd told the doctors. And he reached for her hand.
To have a child, their child… She felt tears press again behind her eyes. And deep down, a curious ache, like arousal, but more tender.
Raising his child, by herself, in a world without him in it. How incredibly hard that would be. How emotionally demanding. Despite her brave words, her assertive feminist claims about women rearing successful offspring on their own…
I couldn't do it. Not alone.
If she got up the courage to procreate, she would have to ask for help. From Angela, from Cam. Her father, Russ and Amy. They would be part of the child's life, part of her life. And--
She caught herself. Had Booth known that? Had he known she would need the assistance of others, to raise a child?
"Nearly there," the surgeon said, and Brennan zeroed in on him. What little she could see of his face, between cap and mask, was calmly focused. His gloved hands manipulated Booth's neural tissue, his life. The needle was withdrawing, with the final clump of cells. The cerebellar pilocytic astrocytoma. The reason Booth had hallucinated about hockey and heroes and babies.
Offering her his DNA…it was not simple generosity. Yes, he was giving her a piece of himself--and the opportunity to have a family, however small, of her own.
You're gonna be a really good mom.
But… had he known it would force her to appeal to others? To keep active in a caring social network? To do what was so hard for her: to reach out?
She did not know. It was too much to consider.
And all of this could wait; she could analyze it later. Soon they would close the incision, and take Booth to recovery.
Once he had woken up, then she could ponder his intentions, and her responses.
Once he'd woken up…
She didn't know what she would do. Laugh. Sob. Throw her arms around him, mindful of the bandages.
Or else pack her bags and get on a plane, to avoid kissing him with all the repressed ferocity coursing through her bloodstream.
End note: Thanks to hpaich's "Legacy" for related ideas about Booth's generous intentions, and for the spelling of astrocytoma (might have taken me a while to figure it out on my own).
I found this one-shot fast and fun, compared to writing my endless epic. And rather exhausting: I stayed up past midnight with the first draft. I'd taken notes on the ideas, but once I sat down to write it for real, it sort of tore itself out of me.
Please let me know what you thought!
Sources: UCLA's neurosurgery website, and Answers dot com.