A/N: Fiction is, in many ways, an expression of the extraordinary beauty and unbelievable pain of our own lives. Life is so beautiful, and so sad, that it is too much to bear, and it bubbles over onto paper and that's how we survive. That's how I make it by, anyway. So this is, in a way, a homage to both the overwhelming joy and sorrow of being human.
The poem featured here is "Do not stand at my grave and weep" by Mary Elizabeth Frye, a copy of which is tucked away at my friend's grave site. Enjoy the fic, and let me know what you think.
Brennan fidgeted with the material of her dress, scrunching it up in her hands and then abruptly releasing it. Her palms were hot and she felt awkward, which was not an uncommon feeling for her but particularly salient while sitting in a chapel. The priest at the front of the large, vaulted room wore a white collar and read out of a small leather-bound Bible, a cherry wood coffin adorned with white lilies to his left.
They had been at the diner when Booth got the call. His phone vibrated on the Formica tabletop, which surprised him a little since he had been with Brennan at the time and she was usually the only person who ever called him, particularly at that hour of the night. Parker was with Rebecca and Jared had his new girlfriend to keep him in line, which drastically narrowed down the pool of potential callers.
"Who is it?" she mouthed as he picked up the phone with a wary greeting. His face fell and for a moment in front of her, she saw Booth turn into a little boy. His stunned, hurt expression quickly turned to granite as he nodded and hung up the phone.
"Pops died," he said quietly. "Heart attack, in his sleep. He didn't feel a thing."
Now, three days later, they were at Saint Michael's chapel, dressed in doleful shades and filling up rows and rows of somber pews. Pops didn't know many people in D.C., but everyone he knew was there—all of the retirees at the home, the nurses, even the half-deaf woman with bright blue hair who ran the Canasta tournaments every other weekend. Brennan could tell by the blank expression on her face, disturbed by the occasional sniffle, that she had no idea whatsoever what the priest was saying, but she was there nonetheless. Pops was indeed a lovable man, as was apparent by the showing.
"You know, a lot more people came to his funeral than to yours," she muttered about half-way through the ceremony. Booth made a face caught between a smirk and a grimace.
"Thanks for pointing that out," he said through gritted teeth. She pressed her lips together and began wadding up the dark blue material in her hands again. Perhaps not the right time or choice of words.
She never knew what to say to people who were grieving, particularly not at funerals—she had very little experience with them, and they varied so widely cross-culturally that there was little common universal reference for her. Everything always felt so awkward and processional, like she was taking part in a slow dance that she did not know the steps to. The only funerals she had ever been to were either for victims who she had not known in life, or were not 'real' funerals, or they were real but didn't feel so. Either way, she was clearly doing something wrong, and now was not the time to ask Booth what that something was or how to fix it.
They did a considerable amount of sitting, standing, kneeling, and sitting again, in what Booth had quipped was typical Catholic "lather, rinse, repeat" fashion, and then filed past the casket in the front of the chapel. Brennan walked past but did not look in at the man's calm, pale face. It was different looking at the dead body of someone you had known while they were still alive. These were not, in her eyes, mere human remains. They were Pops remains, and they were different. She could not justify exactly how, but she knew somewhere in the Heart part of her that they were.
In the cemetery, where the breeze was warm and Brennan had to squint against the unrelenting summer sun, they put Pops in the ground and threw dirt and said their last parting words. Then Booth did a lot of nodding and hand-shaking and smiling as people expressed their condolences. The nodding and hand-shaking he was good at—it was the smiling that appeared to be the challenge. Instead of giving each sympathetic funeral attendee a genuine smile, he just kept the same expression plastered on his face from person to person. Brennan stood back a bit and watched him curiously, in a role that was entirely abnormal for him. He was the empathetic one, the feeler, the Heart Man. This façade of humble, cheerful gratitude in the face of grief was not him—it was decidedly fake, which he was not, and something about that disturbed her.
It wasn't until most of the gravel parking lot had emptied that his expression began to fade, like a sand castle slowly worn away by the incoming tide. The corners of his lips fell and then jerked back up with each passing face, until it was just the two of them left. Angela gave both of them a long, knowing embrace before she left, and then there was only a silent buzz. Birds and the sound of cars on the main road filled in the empty spaces between them as they sat on a memorial bench near the base of the expansive green slope that was the Saint Michael's Cemetery.
"That was…" Brennan began, not knowing what to say. The late afternoon sun burned the back of her neck as she twisted her hair to the side, grasping for the right thing to say. It had never been her strong suit anyway, and with Pops reduced to a temporary plastic marker in a fresh pile of dirt, words were hard to come by.
"Long," Booth filled in for her. She couldn't help it—she laughed.
"Yes," she said, relief washing over her as he cracked a smile. "Long. But it was nice."
"Yeah, it was," Booth said, pulling a few tender blades of grass out by their roots and rolling them between his fingers. "I was surprised that so many people came, we almost needed a bigger church."
"I wasn't," she said. "Your grandfather was well-loved; it's not surprising that so many people would come to mourn his death." Booth smiled and nodded, looking down at his thumb and index finger working the grass blades.
"Yeah, you're right," he said. "That's just like Pops, to throw a big going away party. For himself." She smirked.
"Better than yours?" she asked. Booth laughed, and it was an exhausted, hoarse sound.
"Way better," he said. He pressed the blades of grass between the outsides of his thumbs, splaying his fingers out and pressing his lips against his hands. He blew and it made a peculiar squealing sound, almost like a dolphin. "You know, he taught me how to do that, when I was a kid."
"The grass thing?" she asked, and he nodded.
"Yep." He dropped the worn out blades onto the ground, resting his elbows on his knees. They sat quietly and listened for a while, to the soft hum of the highway, and the birds. Booth made a bizarre face when a mockingbird mimicked a car alarm in a nearby tree.
"Somehow I don't think that's what Mary Elizabeth Frye meant," he muttered.
"What?" Brennan asked. Booth made an almost sheepish face.
"You know, that poem," he said. "I am in the birds that sing, I am in each lovely thing. When she said 'birds that sing', I don't think she meant that bird, singing that song."
"I didn't know you knew any poetry," Brennan said. Booth made an almost insulted facial expression.
"What, only intellectual squinty types are allowed to read?" he asked. "I may not be a New York Times best seller, but I've read a few poems in my day, alright?"
"Okay, sorry," she said. He sighed.
"It's fine," he said, ripping out another few pieces of grass, this time taking a small clump of dirt with them. "It was one of Pops' favorites, Do not stand…"
"…at my grave and weep," she finished. "I know, it's fairly popular. Credited to Mary Elizabeth Frye, although the origins have been disputed. Some think it may have Native American roots."
"Well, whoever wrote it, Pops loved it," Booth said. "They read it aloud at my Gram's funeral. He kept a print-out of it in his bedside dresser ever since." Brennan leaned back on the bench, crossing her ankles and looking down at her upturned palms in her lap.
"Do not stand at my grave and weep," she recited. "I am not there, I do not sleep. I am in a thousand winds that blow, I am the softly falling snow."
"I am the gentle showers of rain, I am the fields of ripening grain," he picked up, the depth of his voice a rich foil to her throaty, feminine rasp.
"I am in the morning hush, I am in the graceful rush, of beautiful birds in circling flight, I am the starshine of the night."
"I am in the flowers that bloom, I am in a quiet room."
"I am in the birds that sing," she said, both of them grinning as they heard the mockingbird continue to alert whoever might be listening to false intruders. "I am in each lovely thing."
"Do not stand at my grave and cry," Booth said, looking out at the plot of fresh, damp earth that lay several yards in front of them.
"I am not there," she said firmly. "I do not die."
They fell quiet, each of them sharing the moment while still absorbed in their own thoughts.
"I know he's still out there," Booth said. "I know you don't believe that, but…"
"Who says I don't believe that?" she asked. He turned and raised his eyebrows at her.
"Uh, you did," he said. "You don't believe in God, or Heaven, or souls."
"That doesn't mean I don't believe your grandfather is still, in a way, in this world," she said. He scoffed.
"How do you figure?" he asked. She made a plain face at him.
"Science," she stated, as if it were that obvious. He gave her a blank look, and she released a long-suffering sigh before expanding on her explanation. "The law of conservation of energy, the first law of thermodynamics."
"Energy cannot be created or destroyed, Booth," she said. "In a closed system, our universe, energy can only be transferred from one state to another. It doesn't cease to exist, it simply changes forms into something else. The amount of energy in the universe is at a fixed state, it doesn't vary. Nothing enters, nothing leaves. I don't believe in souls, but I do believe in thermodynamics. The laws of the universe that made your grandfather's body work in life are still at work after death. When his body decomposes…"
"Bones…" Booth said in a mild warning tone, although he was admittedly absorbed by her explanation.
"… then it will release energy in the form of heat, which will leak from his casket over time," she continued, completely irreverent to his mild warning. "Heat facilitates evaporation, taking water into the upper limits of the atmosphere. It cools, and rain falls. Rain is absorbed by plants, and the water reacts with sunlight in photosynthesis. By means of photosynthesis, plants grow, and animals eat them. Prey animals are killed and eaten by predators, traveling up the food chain until the top of the food chain dies, and their body decomposes, returning biochemically into the earth. The constant feedback loop starts over again and again, eternally. Your grandfather could, in a manner of speaking, really be in the rain, and the wheat, and the birds. And it has nothing to do with religious superstition—it's science."
"Is that so?" Booth asked, somewhat taken aback by her explanation.
"Yes," she said, after a brief moment of pause. He stared at her, as if trying to read something in the soft squint of her eyes, the line of her brow, the curve of her lips. It was a long, searching look, and she couldn't help but feel like she was being measured in some way. Then he reached out and took her hand in his, running his thumb along the top of her palm. She looked down, surprised by his abrupt gesture.
"Thank you, Temperance," he said. She swallowed and nodded.
"I'm just… that's how the universe works," she said with a shrug. "Don't thank me, thank your God. You do believe He was responsible for it, after all."
"I do," he said, letting her go and leaning back into the bench, shutting his eyes for a moment. He chuckled. "Believe me, I do." He opened his eyes and turned to her, and smiled. She returned his grin, puzzled by the sudden sense of peace he exuded.
"What?" she asked, not knowing what to make of his expression. He shook his head.
"Nothing," he said. "Here, let me show you how to do the grass thing." He bent down and snatched up some grass, handing her a few pieces. She took them, and he held her hands in his, showing her exactly how to press the pieces of grass between her thumbs. The breeze swept up her hair, and the mockingbird finally picked a different tune, and they laughed, and everything was, in its own way, right.