Title: Older Chests (1/4)
Rating: light R
Summary: She tells herself that this time she'll be braver, understand his jokes, and be amenable to ice cream and hugs and his Bones-doesn't-get-a-gun policy. She wishes he knew her enough to say she doesn't need to be any of these things. More and more she just wants to be reassured. A post-finale fic.
A/N: I wrote this particular fic a few months ago, thought it was kind of lame and decided that ONE DAY, ONE DAY, I would fix it so it would be fabulous. Sadly that day never really came, but I do want to post it...because 30,000+ words is a lot to let go to waste. I'm not saying it sucks, just that I don't boast it to be something earth shattering or epic. If you do read, I hope that you find it enjoyable! Constructive criticism is always welcome and reviews in general are always wonderful.
This isn't a chaptered story, per se, so much as a very long one-shot. However, I still broke it up into four parts ('chapters') here, as I did on my livejournal. I think some of the formatting may be a little weird, but nothing to jarring, hopefully. It takes place after the season 4 finale, fyi. Credit for the title goes to Damien Rice.
"I think it is a matter of love: the more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is."
He wakes up, unable to remember the past six years.
She recalls six years ago. Late nights and early mornings; some things truly do not change. But time passes, somehow, and memory blurs to consist of cause of death: a ring fracture to the basicranium, perhaps the species as a whole would do well to refrain from BASE jumping, and here's coffee, here's a keyboard and the basics of human interaction have never seemed more simple than when she's writing them herself and god, yes, right there—next time, can you please refrain from pulling my hair as you reach orgasm?
At twenty-seven, Temperance spoke to make her thoughts and theories heard, at length and at times too much. In certain moments, silence was disturbing and she spoke then too. How could she not be happy? She was so pleased with herself. She remembers the slow smiles sometimes, drawn for her benefit alone, into mirrors as she passed, storefront windows and examination tables.
It's called self-satisfaction. Emotion slotted firmly under her control and that is the sort of fact she found herself able to accept, find liberating even; far more empty than she pretended and less fulfilling than she cared to admit. And when it pleased her, she made neat attempts at social niceties, indulged in monogamy at intervals and succeeded, as any good anthropologist should, in leaving no marks, no traces of herself at any site where she stepped. Maybe her words rang hollow to her ears, but the slivers of doubt went as they came and always the intention of feeling was there. More than once she tried, pushed a tentative hand against all the rationality and science, her mind still shying away from that cavity where one might find her heart: that strange quagmire of emotion shoved deep behind arterial wall. She stepped carefully, let her feet slip the surface of things and never did she sink. Yet, oh, there was an absence that tended to ache and oh, life isn't lived that way.
Or it shouldn't be lived that way. It's a tricky distinction, between what things should be and what they actually are.
Booth no longer remembers that sometimes her life is guesswork, that when it comes to what she thinks and how she feels, she likes to be reminded that her suppositions are, in fact, correct.
Booth doesn't remember.
But she does.
(Sometimes now his fingers prickle along her spine, down, down, to settle across the base of her back, and she wants to forget, only for the moment. To be in this place with him, here and now, and not feel that what made them BoothandBrennan already came and went with his memory.
He touches her differently than before, she thinks. She knows. But the thinking's a thing without control, it happens and she's aware she needs to stop. He skims her surface, fingers light, not in the way she's become accustomed and she swears his hands have grown too warm. Her pulse skips as his palm pushes in, curling round her hip and not deep the way it used to; so suddenly she's wistful, the touch tentative and arousing and her thoughts all the more chaotic for the way her limbs have gone hot, fluid with a kind of feeling that just doesn't go away. Not now. Sometimes she thinks not ever again.
She hasn't a clue of what to call this anymore.
It shouldn't feel this way.
She smiles faintly, pries his fingers from her back.
She isn't panicking.)
She can remember birch beer. The taste of too much butter and the way it cloyed, salty, to the popcorn and on her tongue.
Her father liked Gary Cooper and he liked the movie Wings, and her mother liked to joke that he loved the quarter-second flash of Clara's breasts in it a bit too much. And after this, Temperance's nose would wrinkle, because sometimes her parents were just so...odd.
The actress' lips were henna red, one slicked so soft against the other in a curve no leading man could ignore. Temperance knew this, could nearly see the cherry pigment in amongst the black and white. She remembers the turn of her head towards her lap, the clandestine purse of her own lips into a perfect Clara bow.
The quiet pop as they pulled apart.
She was the best, her father would say, you see that smile, those eyes, tempe? every emotion right there on her face. no words necessary. Now that's acting.
Brennan remembers Clara Bow as Mary Preston, wide-eyed, almost demure with a red cross on her nurse's cap. In the middle of Paris, in the middle of a war, she goes to see the man that she loves. He's tall, handsome in a sharp and classic way—maybe it's just the uniform. Does it matter? He doesn't recognize her. He cannot recognize her, and Jack, Jack, he reads blankly from her lips before they turn down into a silent pout, before her body seems to slump and tears latch to her blinking lashes, because she's so magnificent and tragic, a stranger to this man that she knows, and oh...
The look on her face.
So, if it started five years ago over a dead man's body, Booth taking a step toward Brennan and her not taking one back, then she doesn't know where any of it ends. Endings are superficial cutting points; she tells herself they're more than that. She and Booth. For the moment, she shies away from we and us. She hates the thought of not knowing where she begins and he ends.
Booth might say, every ending is a new beginning, because he enjoys pithy remarks like a door closes a window opens, like someone for everyone and, conversely, many fish in the sea. Things that sound logical but aren't. This isn't a criticism, it's an observation, one based on having known him very well.
And yet, she desires to be more critical, because at least there is logic in that.
Brennan has come to understand that she is something linear and controlled, even when on the verge of recklessness, and maybe she's no longer prepared for him not to change this. Never was she a space someone wanted to inhabit and Booth feels unshakable and so close to something permanent in this way, maybe for the sole fact of his wanting to be around her. His thumbprints are all over her things. Maybe that stands for something. She knows enough to say that journeys and concepts, feelings and lives, don't end because they're difficult or painful or hard for her to grasp. There isn't an end, but sometimes she thinks this is where it begins—her hatred of hospitals, the short but certain feeling of helplessness—this is how it begins:
His blood is on her hands.
It blushes, she fears, like a second skin over the contours of her palms.
And in its own peculiar way, the sight and the feel of this is enough to make her stomach churn. The metallic smell assaults her nose, scraping at her insides as she draws breath, and in a way that feels like something is clawing its way out her. Maybe something is. The copper taste of iron is sitting in her mouth. It doesn't leave. Not now. Not for two weeks.
He will make her see red again, she will land her fist squarely in his face; and the brush of skin against skin will reassure her in a way it never has before. He had it coming, really, she will think. And then, how dare he, how dare you. She couldn't be more livid with him if she tried; her blood is boiling but there's no color in her cheeks. She wants to hurt him, really hurt him, maybe see how far he'll let her go before he's pulling her to his body, before he's breathing things in her ear. Nonsense like, shhhh, it's alright, and Bones, a hand skirting under her collar and her name soft and soothing. Bastard, you bastard, bastard, bastard, she might have whispered back, gripping his skin too tightly. His flesh would purple slightly where her fingers pressed, slowing circulation, something numbing just so he knew how it felt. There are so many variables. And her anger is mercurial, fickle where he is concerned, she knows. Maybe all she wanted was the hug. His heart beating against her very quickly.
alive, alive, alive
But for now, there's nothing to satisfy her. He's dead.
And Brennan wonders how she's supposed to do her job as contracted out to the FBI, wonders who she's meant to be a team with now. She must be ignoring an entirety of underlying meaning, a current of metaphor and guilt and all this blood that must be rife with something more than plasma and glucose and proteins.
She doesn't like psychology at all.
Blood is blood, that's all, and she wants to wipe her hands of this.
In a way, she thinks, she knew that Seeley Booth would be the sort of person who would take a bullet for her. Though heroism and a willingness to charge blindly, always, for her, was exactly what she never needed. And it's all bound up in something she will never comprehend. But he'd ask her to comprehend, as it's got to be a matter of the heart—gotta be, Bones—and hers has got to be bigger and far more full than she believes.
Her heart's eight to ten ounces and would always have been smaller than his; that's anatomical rule and they weren't an exception.
She almost hears the yeah, no more smartass remarks, Bones, sees it forming on his lips as if he were here, right here, and not actually dead. But he is. And her green blouse is soaked through and red, like some mockery of Christmas, which she had always found to be kind of a joke anyway. Though there was last Christmas, when he brought her a tree and she pressed her fingers to moist glass like a child who waits up for Santa, only hoping to see Booth more clearly, through the window, and through the snow.
In the hall, the gurney is empty and stripped. The EKG flatlined minutes ago. Before a bathroom mirror she stands and studies, everything and nothing at all; the chipped tiles, the blank look on her face. Brennan wishes there were a lock on the door.
As her eyes catch the light, she figures she's supposed to want to cry.
Three times she blinks, presses her eyes too tightly shut, and nothing. Nothing, but perhaps at a different time, she tells herself, under different circumstances, if she weren't Brennan only someone strikingly similar and slightly less at odds with emotion, tears would come. Fast and hard and human. Because it's human to feel loss, to find it necessary to grieve. But she can't say she wants to try.
She should want to try, she thinks.
Water drips from the faucet, pounds a dull pattern against the sink. Slow, it washes over her hands, and she scrubs until they're red again, raw and clean, until—
Hospitals are horrible places, she knows.
Booth is lying comatose but breathing.
Brennan wants to speak with him. Why does he find himself so attached to hospital pudding? She's tasted it now and can practically feel the preservatives still sitting on her tongue.
"Vanilla pudding has no flavor," she sighs, though she doesn't know what she's expecting in response. The confusion, the quiet, is palpable and almost foreign to her. She feels silly and a little hurt.
Beneath her thumb his pulse steadies, hair raising as the tips of her fingers trace the skin around his tattoo. Soul, she spells out, like a familiar Braille, from the Kanji at his wrist. She'd like to think that there's a story behind it, one that she'd have learned from a late night at his apartment where he came closing to spilling his soul. Whatever that entails. And soul, she might have murmured as he pressed a sweating beer bottle to her palms, if only because she's curious about him, enough to desire a personal knowledge all her own of the markings on his skin. It isn't the alcohol that makes them candid, she supposes, but there's a sort of irony in that it has become a precipitate to him opening up to her, about his past, mostly. It's called honesty, Bones, and he curves his lips around the beer bottle. He's thinking. She believes he does this more than he lets on. His hand is consistently hesitant, poised an inch from her hair or the hooks and eyes of her dress, as though touching her again might break her into molecules and atoms, her barest of parts. He does that with people, you know, waits and studies; she must do that with him, because sometimes he's torn. But he talks to her, tells her things, and maybe she's glad.
The tattoo's ink is still stark against the pale of her skin, and her hand seems terribly small. His own is the one with which he holds his gun, and this place between wrist and palm, lunate and scaphoid, is where she feels blood course through him, because he's breathing. He's alive, so the shattered pieces stitch themselves back together, yet again, and Brennan breathes more deeply too.
It is reassuring to know that the Inca sometimes drilled holes into the craniums of their living to much success, with tumis and glass scrapers and no legitimate anesthesia, because it is the anesthesia, in the end, that has done this to Booth. So there go her reassurances to him about science and progress, she thinks, up in smoke like a roman candle in her face.
Before even the Inca, certain Bronze Age peoples wore pieces of their own skull on twine around their neck following rudimentary brain surgery, trepanation, and they'd allow the bone to dangle protective, like an amulet, against their chest. She doesn't know the way Booth looked when he was younger, but imagines him for a moment, hair cropped quite short like now, tall and incredibly smart looking in uniform. His St. Christopher medal strung along gold cord and pressed safely to his chest, as though it alone were protection enough from bullets and bombs. Did he truly believe having a saint on his side was enough to keep him alive? Brennan has looked around for the medallion, but can't be sure where it lays now. It isn't with his things.
She watches his mouth part a fraction as she settles back into her seat, his lips a little puckered and dry, like plaster, like orange peel, but it's movement and it reassures her. In winter, he refuses to slather balm on his lips and sometimes they are dry then, too. He's still breathing and her hope isn't false.
What she feels isn't false. Because she feels, she feels...wildly speculative. Her fingers tap keys of their own volition, a flurry of words and a story that doesn't try for subtle. And Brennan writes herself into corners.
A corner of an armchair where his body is able to tuck, and her own body able to tuck into his; a snug fit, like femoral head to ilium, like two long-lost puzzle pieces she's always failed to happen upon. They snap into place with the flex of his muscle at her back, and a possessive, clutching hand at her waist, which makes her smile so stupidly because she's brimming with happiness, and Booth leaves her that way, inevitably. Happy.
Her imagination mocks her softly. A baby, her partner, the gorgeous earrings she once saw in the window display at Tous, and a quiet hug at the end of the day, Bren.
From where she sits, the view unsettles her. It's too familiar, too prescribed…what Western culture has conditioned women to believe they should want: a family and romance to mask biological imperative.
She wants nothing from Booth she suddenly decides. Nothing at all. She doesn't even want his sperm anymore, so look, she wants to say to him. Look how considerate I can be. I can be good. I can do something bad. I can be an island unto myself. Iceland. Melting in all the wrong places and swimming in sulfur.
Maybe Booth dreams with his palms pressed to the sheets, but her mind fashions want and need on the white screen of a word processor, finger at shift and a minor climb from backspace. There comes the clanking noise of keys as a sentence comes to a full stop. It's so telling to her ears and you love someone you open yourself up to suffering swells inside her. She'd like so very much to see him open his eyes. Sometimes it's foolish, the way that she feels, and he'll look at her like she's innocent or naïve, far too endearing for all her science and logic, which grates at her nerves, and yet, for one rare moment she's no idea of what to do or what to say. What it would be like to love him?
Because it happens, she thinks. To people, to humans.
There isn't the proverbial sickening lurch. It needed to go.
And, "Who are you?" he asks a moment later. "You're…where am I?"
His palm opens, curls closed as if to test the air, and for a moment she imagines her hand there in his, trembling a little bit less.
She imagines a lot.
Her tongue slides over her lip, she steps away. "I'm Bones. You're Booth and I'm…"
Booth's eyes widen in his confusion and he shifts under the sheets, enough to make her nearly touch his shoulder with some clamoring need for him to recognize her. "I'm Bones," she says, louder. But this, like the words she's written and erased, is an exercise in futility. And still she tries. She tries, and damns reason just for this moment.
Because I'm Bones, you're Booth, and together we…we're supposed to be together.
Which sounds ridiculous, really. It is ridiculous. Really.
"I'm sorry, I…I don't…" he whispers, his eyes wide now.
The nurse walks in and brings with her the smell of coffee and something sterile like alcohol. Brennan takes a sharp inhale, feels a sting against her tonsils as her throat begins to burn.
Why doesn't he recognize her?
Before she can make anything of what her senses tell her, she tells herself to stop, just stop with the word associations and the memories, every synapse and neuron still permitting her to think this much. She wants to not think so much. Only, it's impossible for her to shut off like that. Coffee is such a laden word and it swills in her head, mixes among therapy, ice skates, and gum and Buck and Wanda, Roxie and Tony, and always Booth and Brennan and this is what comes of asking to leave her lab, to believe in things transcendent and eternal. Booth's a romantic in the way that she should never hope to be, with his promises and promises and a handkerchief in his pocket.
And what if she cries now, this stranger in his room whose eyes can only seem to scratch, dry, like sand against her lids? Who carries handkerchiefs nowadays anyway? Modernity, progress, is single use, things easily disposed of, like men or like memories, because nothing's permanent, nothing stays. The sudden cynicism is irrational too, like her desire to touch him, to feel him still here—alive and next to her. Her hand falls forward with the way she'd like to press his chest, feel the course of blood and never again the steady gush of it through her fingers. There still has to be the vaguely familiar pound of his heart against her palm, because some things can't possibly be cut away during surgery.
She wants to tell herself not to jump to conclusions, too. Maybe he's simply disoriented, but the logical conclusion is right there in the way that he stares: as though he'd like to know her if he could.
"I told you he'd wake up, Dr. Brennan. I've kept him in my prayers," the nurse says with a smile.
Booth looks idly back at Brennan, confused, as she pulls her fingers away. And it hurts to see that the life behind his eyes isn't quite the same.
She counts her breath more slowly. All of this new to her, too. The way his words roll off his tongue with no conviction at all and the slip in her mindset that allowed her to presume life would show some particular kindness—even for a moment. It's him who's lost something, really, and as if the mechanics of his brain, the intuitive leaps that he makes, weren't perplexing enough in their own right, there's more tucked away. Temporarily or indefinitely or forever, there isn't a distinction here to lessen the blow.
She thinks she's often wanted to be able to see herself the way that he sees her. To somehow understand herself through understanding him. Because his perception may be clouded where she is concerned, but if he can't be objective he's at the very least honest.
But today Brennan is as lost as she looks. And so is he.
"I believe he's suffered some form of retrograde memory loss," she speaks into the empty space before her, the nurse's jaw falling slack at the edge of the room. Brennan gropes for her phone in her pocket, the movement fluid, slow. She thinks the worst thing she could do right now is overreact.
She tells herself not to overreact.
Her hand is unsteady, unsure as she motions to the door, the edges of her mouth wrinkling her lips into a fine line as the EKG pounds out peak after peak.
alive, alive, alive
The sound of it somehow more than words could possibly say. And she has no words. Not for this.
His face grows stranger, creasing with some awe and concern for this stranger pressed to the corner of his room. Precise to a fault, she interprets the emotion there. Could trace, her fingers shaky, over the strong angles of his skull, every jutting line corresponding to each ripple of skin, as if to form a lexicon whose contents she may finally comprehend.
He's never been an open book to her. But maybe she knows Booth that well; well enough, at least, to read him.
She tries to put her finger on what she's feeling and fails.
Maybe she's close to compartmentalizing, there's something knee-jerk and soothing about that entire process. It would be so incredibly easy. And she thinks there must be something wrong with her, to lock emotion away on instinct; she isn't furniture, there's no drawer or secret floorboard where she's meant to shove things she'd prefer not to feel.
Heat replaces feeling. It sears her through her shirt, hot and licking, as she pulls her overheated laptop closer to her body. Two and a half years and eighty gigabytes worth of memory used. She hasn't even got pictures.
And photographs would have been nice, so useful for the recovery of his memory.
Her stomach twists itself into knots, and she works not to think about it as she talks with doctors, and Rebecca, and anyone she can find to speak to who isn't Booth. Only, Booth is the person she speaks to in situations such as this. Booth is her person, as Angela would say.
But then, who needs a person when you have yourself? Brennan thinks it's a little pathetic that she no longer knows how to quell her own nerves.
Everyone is nice to her, pitying. Brennan's not even sure how little time it takes before she begins to catalogue their good intentions, finding something bitter in the way that she does.
She's ineffectual. At the moment, obsolete. At least in Booth's book, and maybe that's the one that has come to matter most.
The doctor's lips twist in confusion as he refers to Booth as her partner. He offers condolences, reasons to remain optimistic and reasons not to set her hopes too high. Before this, he gives a textbook definition of retrograde amnesia that she really doesn't need. "I am also a doctor," she says huffily. And were the circumstances different Dr. Jursic would simply roll his eyes.
There's a message she's yet to listen to. One her father left before Booth woke. She guesses Max mentioned snickerdoodles (an IOU that's a long time coming) and the importance of talking to a loved one while he is in a coma, not to presume, Tempe, but, you know, if you've been there with him four days, he's gotta be something to you. And your old man can't help but make assumptions. A good guy, Booth's a good guy.
Sweets brings pie, as if she'd eat it, as if Booth would be allowed so much as a sniff. If she remembers correctly she kind of laughs in his face when he proffers a mini-therapy session to help her cope. He is the one who is shaky and in need of a hug, but Brennan is not the type of person who can give this to him.
(And maybe she wouldn't have been so great of a mother after all.)
In some ways, all of this is too reminiscent of high school and the way classmates and teachers alike seemed to walk on eggshells, never rude or knowingly cruel, but regarding her with the sympathy and distance given a girl who's wound up living in the homes of strangers.
Angela is the only one who understands that none of this is about Brennan, says sorry and little more. And that's enough…more than enough. Brennan wants to hug her. She wishes there weren't always so many people pressing into their tiny space in the corridor.
On the drive to Booth's place, Angela's face turns gently in Brennan's direction, eyes shining. "For once, please don't be that person, Bren. The rational thing to do here would be to cry."
"Crying is an outlet for environmental stressors that necessitate hormone release as a form of catharsis. Booth woke from his coma, which is cause for neither stress nor tears."
Angela pulls over, almost half a block from Booth's apartment, and Brennan grips the door handle—wanting just to leave.
"Please, sweetie, can you grieve just a little for his sake? He loved you, and you have to have known that. He does love you."
"I'm not sure how to respond…that's so…paradoxical." She turns, bites her lip upon seeing the tears that have dropped onto her friend's cheek. Her fingers tug absently on the hem of her shirt, and she can't quite meet Angela's eyes. "Ange, please. Unlock the door."
And she does, asking once more if Brennan would like her help in getting Booth's clothes. Really it's a one-person job, Brennan tells her again, before she steps out of the car and climbs the stairs to his apartment in twos, thankful for the silence.
In the dark, she knows which key works for which lock, and feels for the light switch as the door pushes open. The heat outside has settled thickly in his apartment, the onset of summer having already bypassed her notice. She pockets a photo of the both of them that's hanging on his fridge, thinking it might help in the recollection of his memories. Only, there's something gaping with it gone, an empty 3x5 space—as though she were never actually here.
And if you ask Booth he'd say that she wasn't.
The knowledge nags at her the way the heat does, stifling and not going away. Not yet.
It hits her at once that this is where he lived, where she sometimes lived too. Living isn't just existing, isn't just doing; this sounds like something Booth would say. Maybe he has said it. Her memory feels fainter too.
On the kitchen counter there's a plate still covered with bread crumbs. Brennan dumps them in the trash, mind nearly dulled around the edges, but each nerve in her fingers prickling around the plate. She measures the weight of it in her hand, pinches near the center—holding it in place. It's cold to the touch; a modern, porcelain square that she's always believed to be incongruous with the rest of his apartment. But she fits. She has to fit here.
And it's not that she wants to be bad, it's not that she wants to be clumsy, but she wants to break it. The plate.
Maybe she's lost some modicum of control over herself, but she does exactly that. Lets if slip—drop—from her fingers, without even a nice healthy throw. Maybe she didn't even mean for it to break.
But it does.
There's a loud crack against the silence as it splinters upon impact, pounding the tile of his kitchen floor and landing in a few unsatisfying shards. Quickly, she steps away, the pieces littered at her feet, as her eyes go round, wide. There are tears leaking out, she tries to blink them back. She stops trying. Brennan wipes them on her sleeve, startled.
The kitchen is quiet. She isn't making sound.
She feels unsteady, but very alive, the half understanding of what she's done ringing so temptingly in her ear that all she wants is to break another, though it's absolutely one of the stupidest desires she's ever had. Perhaps a part of her, right now, needs the reassurance that she's not going to be grabbed by her ponytail, strands of her hair breaking off into Mr. Adler's fist as he pulls her from the kitchen to his car trunk. But that notion smacks strongly of psychology and new fears just festering, waiting to replace old ones; it was nonsense like this that she and Booth loathed together. Together. The word's texture, the sound, feels almost chemical; it makes her think of half lives and decay.
In her head she hears Booth saying something like all things happen for a reason, Bones and she thinks she may hate him a little for that.
There's her mouth in her hand and the streaks still on her burning face as she surveys the room, the shadows cast upon this mess she's made. And there isn't a play of light, no poetic way to say she broke something that is his. Something of Booth's, who smiles every time she offers to wash while he dries, as though she achieves some great feat every time she runs her hands under hot water. That first night this happened, their therapists had left, and her hands were warm and wet when he pulled her to his chest, droplets pooling inside her sleeve. How solid and real he had seemed to her then. How odd. Booth only did this once, and maybe he would have remembered the moment more accurately than her. She'd been slightly dizzy on wine at that point, every ounce of the Cabernet having gone to her head. But she recalls having laughed at the reality of Booth being forward, recalls turning into his body before pushing him away, murmuring a lazy stop against the smoothness of his shirt, five fingers curled deep into the hot skin at his back, as if to further her point.
Stop when don't stop, Booth is what she often means to say.
She thinks there was never a logical reason for them to be so close. And logic should trump love.
Though he said that wasn't always or ever the case.
She wasn't always right, and if anyone were capable of proving her wrong it would be...well, maybe he'd have proven her wrong simply because she would have allowed him when it came to that. For him to show her, make her see, that dammit this is your heart, Temperance, and it's never as rational as you want it to be.
She wants to see. Every so often that curiosity bubbles up within her.
The prospect of the maybes he spoke of seems like something distant and crude and demanding of a refute from her, or an acceptance or a sigh. Some excitement in her bones that proves she won't recoil from feeling.
Even if feelings, like opportunities, are ephemeral. Passing.
Brennan's eyes move to his bedroom, take in the closet full of his neatly pressed shirts, the suit jackets he complains are monotonous but really, she thinks, are just as much him as the ties and colored socks. Her head feels decidedly light and, swift, she crouches to pick up the shattered china, letting out a soft oww as a sharp edge scrapes at her skin. It hurts and there's no one there to hear.
Her shoes squeak their way across tile as she comes to a halt outside his hospital door.
First, she decides, she should tell him about the extent of the amnesia, ask about the dream he mentioned. The mind is complex enough for some of his lost memories to have manifested themselves in the form of a dream.
Second, she should introduce herself. Dr. Temperance Brennan. Just like the first time, only without the frown on her face and the smugness behind his eyes.
Maybe she's meant to introduce herself before mentioning his memory. Most cultures dictate formalities should precede matters of business.
Just…this isn't formality or business, it's them.
She sighs, chews her lip with her teeth.
She wants him to like her.
She wants him to remember her. But first, she really wants him to like her.
When Brennan considers the history of the universe, the stars that have aligned and pulled apart time and time again, six years is not nearly so much as the day to day permits her to think.
Booth remembers nothing of the past six years. But retrograde amnesia, in most cases, is temporary. So there's that.
There are good odds that he'll remember.
She tells him this as she drops his duffel bag onto the chair in his room. Booth in particular might appreciate probabilities and near certain odds. Long after he stopped being a gambler, he still liked a good gamble.
His poker chip is lying with his things on the bedside table. He smiles when she attempts to flip it in the way he sometimes does. It's cool and reassuring to her, though intrinsically valueless, and she pushes the tiny disc deep into her palm.
"I'm Temperance Brennan. Your partner, within the context of our jobs," she says finally, averting her eyes to her hands when he says nothing in response. "I'm a forensic anthropologist at the Jeffersonian and four years ago I blackmailed you into letting me do field work. We're friends, which is the reason why I'm here."
He introduces himself, too, on a confused sort of laugh; only, she doesn't think the situation is funny at all. Her eyes narrow and he grabs for the poker chip from between her steady fingers. "Look, Temperance, I want to remember my life—seeing my son grow up, and knowing you. I want to remember you." She shifts, knowing she's done this all wrong. "So, I wasn't literally laughing, you know."
She's a stranger to him. She's Temperance. She wants to go.
There's that photo, still in her pocket, and it feels almost unnecessary now if someone's already painted a fairly accurate picture of their partnership to him. Really, she's the only person able to do that, the only one to have experienced it, so she pulls the photo out and places it before him. He whispers, very near to her face, something about pudding. And oh, Booth, she wants to breathe back to him. Booth and then, maybe to touch him or to reach for his face. Something standard and quick. "This is us, four months ago. We were friends," she says instead, stilted, then turns red at having repeated herself. "And we had just solved a case."
He nods in understanding and looks from the photograph to her, a bit of a smirk on his face. "You're beautiful. I'm thinking that's why I let you blackmail me."
"I'm quite intelligent. I really don't think I gave you any other option but to do as I asked."
He gives a gentle smile and strokes his thumb over the top of her hand, painfully quiet, not asking any of the questions she feels so prepared to answer. She wasn't sure Booth was capable of surprising her anymore, but he's doing exactly that: somehow making this both awkward and not. "I think that I'm lucky to have you," he whispers.
"I feel that interaction of this sort…flirting…"
"Flirting?" he asks, and her mouth pulls into a sour little frown.
"Yes, flirting could be bad. We didn't do that and it could hinder the retrieval of your memories."
He stares at her a moment and she clears her throat before changing the subject. Booth does a sort of half-way roll of his eyes, and secretly she relishes it: the first truly familiar thing he's done today.
Booth remembers Parker as a baby, his days in the army, and cases he'd worked long before meeting her. He remembers his thirty-first birthday and his back not hurting like hell, like it does now. He's general with his answers, maybe beginning to grow tired. Maybe unsure of exactly how much she knows about him. A part of her wonders, too, if this Booth is still a little bit in love with Rebecca. Though she doesn't ask. What matter is it to her?
And is it bad, he asks (because questions are safer than statements, than declarations, for now) that he doesn't know what the last thing he remembers is. That there's no landmark, no Capitals game or moment of holding his son that he can pinpoint as his most recent memory.
He looks up at her, tilts his head with the question. She almost follows suit on impulse, the movement, she's certain, almost muscle memory for the both of them. The idea of this is a small comfort to Brennan, and she feels a smile begin to creep across her face.
This is Booth.
"That isn't bad at all," she says quietly.
"What you said earlier today…that's what I call you, isn't it? Bones?"
He shakes his head. "I don't like it."
"I'm fairly certain I wasn't supposed to either." Her eyes move to meet his. "Brennan is fine."
"No. No, not if I used to call you Bones."
"It would be like me calling you…Seeley. Somehow not fitting at this point. Just call me Brennan."
"Okay, Bones," he says, very serious, and they both laugh a little at that. Nervously. She, at least, still feels uncertain.
"Okay, Seeley," she says slowly. He smiles as the foreign word falls from her lips, too strange for her to possibly say again. "Booth," she whispers, face in his face. "There's a high likelihood that this is going to work, that you are going to regain your memory, because I don't fail at anything. We don't fail at anything. You should remember that as you attempt to remember your life."
He nods and she squeezes his hand, quickly, and not too hard. She smiles almost sweetly for him.
"You'll be here tomorrow?" he asks.
She nods. "And today. I-I'll be here today, if that's alright." She gestures vaguely to the chair at her back.
"Yeah. Yeah, of course."
"The key," Sweets tells her, "is not to inundate him with facts. A man like Agent Booth is more likely to recall the emotions of an event before the details. Be honest with him and the rest may start to fall into place."
Sweets leaves in the Agent Booth. It's kind, the way the smallest of gestures sometimes manage to be. Everything he's said sounds too profound and far too full of sense to be coming from their therapist. And in some ways it sounds difficult, too. Honesty is easy, but to consistently replace facts with words that are supposed to make Booth feel is something she's not certain she's equipped for.
"That is useful information," she says all the same, a curt nod of her head and a frown in Sweets' direction as he walks away.
She's better with words when she's writing them down and creates for herself the painstaking task of outlining what to say and how to say it. Worries that with Booth she will invariably stray from script; Angela tells her that would be a good thing.
"Bren, you're not being honest with the man if you've already planned the entire conversation. Everything about you two is organic, surprising, you know? Just…you shouldn't let that change."
Brennan is well aware that there exists more than just facts, more than who said what, when and where and why. Though, without these things, she worries that someday she too will forget.
This is the way I knew you, she tells him when she sees him next, nervous as she slips into the chair beside his bed, because maybe it's only facts, but I'm not sure how else to convey the course of our partnership to you.
He's made a deal with a pretty nurse where he can leave in three days, so long as his vitals remain stable until that time. After that it will be nothing but mind exercises, neurologists and psychotherapists. Brennan knows that he hates those things, doesn't want to turn their time together into glorified therapy, though already she feels that stern professor-like set of her lips, and already he's learned that his smile may melt nurses, but absolutely not her. She isn't hopeless, it's true, even if she feels her will begin to slip, quick and easy, at the barest hint of a grin from him. Her unflinching nos begin to wear away into yes, okay, you're really very nice at the upward pull of his lips. Because many people may smile at her over the course of her lifetime, but not like Booth. Never like Booth.
There are a multitude of reasons for someone to smile. I just couldn't always grasp what yours were. People smile when they catch the meaning of a joke, you would smile when I didn't understand one. You were overprotective and used to put your hand on my back or my shoulder, as though touching me would somehow affect…something. I don't know. I'm not saying I didn't care for it, I just didn't know what it meant. Maybe it meant nothing at all. I once said that we hardly touch each other, but there came a time when that assessment was incorrect. Over time people change, it's inevitable, though you once said that we wouldn't. That was also incorrect. Sometimes you would bring me coffee far too early in the morning, especially when I'd declined to go to breakfast with you. I like my coffee two sugars, no cream, and back when you didn't like me, you would put in Splenda instead then tell me it was an accident. You knew I hated the taste of it, and you haven't accidentally done that in a very long time. You had an alcoholic and abusive father, you had to finish college while you were overseas and you named your son after your spotter in the Rangers. I was buried alive, along with a colleague of mine, and when you found us you dug me out of the dirt with your hands, and I-I've never known anyone like…in some ways you're rather extraordinary. I never lost faith in you, not after that moment, not now. And I don't believe in a great many things: self-determination and justice and myself mostly, but not God, and maybe that was something you never understood, but I believed that you would find me.
I can't speak for you in any of these situations, but these are things I know. I know you, Booth.
He's silent and it would seem she doesn't know how to be. There's a flush rising in her face, five of her fingers have bunched around his bedsheet. She loosens her pull.
"I didn't intend to sound quite so…impassioned. I just want to do this correctly."
"You are doing this right. It's me with the problem," he says, and gives a low laugh that's forced. She hates the sound of it, hates the thought of Booth being insincere with her. "You never wondered what all of that meant?" he asks.
"I did." Her eyes fall closed for a moment, almost shyly, but she's resolved. "I'm here to help you recover your memories. We should get started."
"The whole faith thing, it goes both ways, Bones."
"That's premature, considering your condition…but thank you."
It's strange knowing more about you than you know about me. It's always…not like this, Booth. You knew my passwords, I couldn't even begin to guess at yours. Do you think that means something? Because some people did.
He's restless, and he watches the news constantly, reads newspapers and magazines and is voracious in his attempt to know everything about this world that he cannot remember. She is almost tempted to bring his Southpark DVDs, with the obese kid who spews expletives, if only because the headlines look so incredibly bleak on his bedside table.
His brow creases in concentration upon hearing her question. "I think that everything means something," he tells her. "But I also think I probably just create better passwords than you. Let me guess, were they anything like…skeleton, skull, scapula? Seeley?"
"You've got a lot to learn," she says, her lips pulled tight as she tries not to smirk.
"Ah…but if you didn't know mine, Bones, then so do you."
It's true. She wants to know him better than she did before. What is his opinion of hybrid fruits? Of drilling in Alaska? Of swine flu, secret societies, and tantric sex? Did he ever see that she dedicated a book to him? What five books would he take with him to a desert island? Does he even like to read? Democrat or Republican? Boxers or briefs? (She knows, but enjoys the stammering a little too much.) Does he really pretend to be less intelligent for her sake? What's the worst thing he's ever done? How many times has he been in love? With whom?
Whom. The m is pretentious he's told her, especially coming from her mouth. She tastes the word on her tongue, wanting a chance to annoy.
"Temperance…" he draws out apologetically. He grasps for her arm as she draws back.
'Bones', she mouths wordlessly to him, and straightens in her chair. "You're right. I don't pretend I don't still have a lot to learn. But I-I always thought it would be better if we were more balanced in that respect, when it came to knowing, or rather, not knowing things of that nature. Passwords. And other details deemed socially significant."
"And it's not?"
"Better, you mean?" He nods and she licks her lip, choosing just to be honest. "I suppose not."
We had this strange interaction where we were dancing and singing and laughing all at the same time. It was…fun. You went to grab something from the fridge and got blown up while Foreigner was still playing. You had two broken ribs, a greenstick fracture of your… she stops herself before she starts to ramble and you still turn that song up when we're driving in your car. I've never understood why you do that Booth, I can still listen to 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' but it doesn't make me happy.
He asks why she doesn't like that song in particular as they sit beside each other in the hospital cafeteria. The food's tasteless, they buy coffee instead. "Your blood was running over my hands, I was applying pressure and you went into shock before the paramedics arrived." Experimentally, her hand presses to the place on his chest where she knows his wound was. It's unnecessary, he's likely already noticed the scar tissue.
"Death is inevitable, but I'm not sure that if you had actually died it would have been easy for me in the long run. I can't imagine working with anyone else. Humans, myself included, have complex grieving processes," she whispers, her fingers pulling from the fabric of his shirt as she remembers they're in public.
"I can't remember any of this. In some ways, for you, isn't that nearly as difficult as if I had...you know..."
"Died?" Her brow lifts in disbelief.
There, already lost in the tangle of thoughts at the back of her mind, she wonders how he can draw a comparison like this. She'd never dropped a dish on purpose before, never found the smell of his blood, or anyone else's, enough to be sickening. Now she's done both, felt both, and doesn't know that one is necessarily better than the other.
There's a simple, anthropologically acceptable, ethnographically-explored answer, so she doesn't know what makes this hard. She comes back to if a tree falls in the woods, and there's no one there to hear, does it make a sound?, and thinks that maybe she's the tree Booth doesn't remember being there to hear. Metaphorically speaking. And that notion is hard to swallow, like death: something she has no control over. She doesn't want to hate philosophy, too.
"I'm trying not to be selfish, though you're right. It isn't easy."
"I think you're doing an excellent job," he says, pouring sugar into her cooling coffee. The sight makes her happy, unbelievably so. Over the table, she slides the cup toward her body, smiling as she imagines the sucrose dissolving right there before the both of them.
"People are worried I'm pushing you too much with all of this." There are worry lines, a crease the pillow case has left on his face. She'd like to break the silence with a note on how he'll be happy to sleep in his actual bed. "You should tell me when you're tired," she murmurs instead.
He shrugs, pointing a stirrer from beside her face. He's so earnest it gives her a small thrill. "You should tell me if I'm keeping you from your work," he breathes, serious and almost in her ear.
"You are but…maybe it's worth it. Maybe I think this is worth it."
"I'm glad you believe that."
"And perhaps…soon you'll remember why I believe that." She peers down into her cup, the steam stinging her face. Always, for her, it will be him that said this was worth it first.
"Or you could, uh...you know you could always tell me now," he reasons with a nonchalant shrug, a glance thrown across the room.
And she could. She could tell him she thinks that she probably loves him and that she has no clue what to do with that. Especially now. Because really, what does that even mean? She feels herself moving forward without love, suddenly more fearful of a life devoid of it than almost anything else. She wants to be braver about this. To tell him it's the little things like a packet of sugar and a pig figurine that have always meant a great deal to her.
She should find words, meaningful words. Learn to be honest with both herself and with him.
"I don't know how," she says, her voice thick and defensive now. "It's like the coffee. You didn't just wake up knowing how I like it, you needed me to tell you. Sometimes I need to be told something before I can fully understand it myself. Before I can tell someone else. At least, I think that's how it works."
He nods, slowly, mouth fitting over the rim of his cup. For the first time she is afraid the liquid might be too hot, that he may burn himself. Her hand lifts in warning but he doesn't seem to notice. He's careful anyway, with or without her. He's painstaking and careful, no one gets burned.
"Well, at least the second time around we've skipped the Splenda and gotten straight to the real thing," he says lightly, his voice almost nervous but warm.
Brennan doesn't know whether to laugh, because it sounds like a joke and maybe she should have learned by now to tell whether or not something is. His fingers are drumming the edge of the table, each tap tap heightening her anxiety as he studies her. She feels dense, as if this would typically be a moment where he might pull out her name in fondness and surprise. You've gotta be kidding me, Bones, you've never heard of such and such person/place/thing?
She finds herself clinging to the possibility of a moment that's familiar.
"I don't know if that was supposed to be a metaphor. You knew I had trouble understanding them at times. But we were never-"
"Artificial? I get it. Really, I do," he cuts in. His fingers are moving still and her own move to stop them, striking dryly against his knuckles. She smiles slowly, in spite of herself, as his gaze falls on her overlapping hand. "It was real," he says, and she believes she understands now, too, what they had, what the both of them have lost. The empty chatter, the scrape of chairs on linoleum, no longer cuts in between their conversation. It's become almost background to his words, and there's a somber turn to his smile as he stares over at her.
"You know, it was the real thing. This is something real. I get that, Bones, just…stop speaking in the past tense, okay? I'm right here."
Her first day back at the lab, her hands itch for anything to take her mind off of him. She works tirelessly, thinks that maybe, maybe this is what it's like to feel shaken to her very core and in such a way as to leave her desperate to be of use to someone, to these nameless skeletons even, because the reassurances and slivers of optimism she's found herself able to verbalize before cut sharp, shard-like and chunking in her throat. She hopes that there isn't a case from the FBI waiting in the queue. Somehow, she can't bear the thought of working with anyone else. At least, not yet.
It's when she is paused outside of Angela's office, though, that her heart drops toward her stomach like a stone.
"It's sad, yes, but in a way it's kind of romantic," she hears her friend say. "Heartening almost. He's discovering her for a second time. All the quirks, all the things he must have found endearing before, he's finding endearing again. It makes me believe that there is one person out there for each of us, that one day even I will wake up knowing exactly who I'm meant to love. Even if I know nothing else."
There's a soft rustling of pages, the gentle susurrus of someone else speaking that leaves the moment up to Brennan's imagination. Her teeth pull tightly at her lip as Angela's lilting voice reaches her ears once more.
"Really," Angela murmurs, sincere in a way only she knows how to be, "how many of us get second chances? They were stagnating, maybe this time he won't be so afraid, you know. And Brennan too."
She wants to laugh, very loudly so someone will hear. So Angela will know that she thinks stagnation is sleeping with your ex-fiancee on the Cleopatra bed for a reason called just because. It's unnerving, stinging almost, to hear oneself be talked about.
Brennan shifts in the corner, envious of Angela's rose-colored outlook, her lack of moderation and realism. People think a lot of things about her and Booth, most of them untrue.
The thing is, there's nothing romantic about this at all.
For the record, she isn't upset with Angela. Angela has always been the first to pry, to ask questions and to find something acceptably sweet in almost everything. Even her. Brennan never knew she had quirks, but she supposes all humans must. It's the people who notice them that must know her very well.
"You know," Ange says, standing beside her in the bone room, "it's true, Bren. Nothing happens just once. You were the one who told me that. Remember?"
A confused expression. Angela is talking in circles again. "What has this got to do with anything?"
"I feel sad for you, sweetie. Watching you act like all of this means nothing makes me sad. Because it does mean something. It absolutely does. Right now, it means everything to you and no one will think less of you for admitting that." Angela sighs, blowing a bit of hair out of her face. "If it were me who couldn't remember, I would hope that somewhere inside you there would be at least a twinge of sadness," she says.
Brennan turns to her friend, curling an ilium under her hands. Bones are not always brittle, not at all dry. Not fresh ones, not ones that are living. You break them and they're porous with marrow, you bend them and most days they give. She is only flesh and bone, and people find it healthy for her to break when things should be too much. But Brennan feels this word give, she wants it, wants to bend the way grass does, through weather and circumstance, and not lose her shape. She desires a restoration to what she knows as normal, wants to smile or to cry. She wants it to be acceptable for her to do neither.
"I am sad, Ange," she says simply, and turns back to her work.
And maybe the sad part is this: admitting this weakness in herself changes nothing at all.