This is my first story…it's what I'd like to happen the night of Doctor in the Photo, when Brennan's at home being, you know, perfectly fine all alone. (Sigh.) Title from "I Call Your Bluff" by Lauren Zettler.
You said forever had nothing on us - Thinking about what might have gone wrong, could I have avoided this mess all along? I'd never make the same mistakes...but you gave me up.
I call your bluff.
It's four a.m. when she hears the soft rapping of knuckles on the door. It's four a.m. so of course she's still awake. She knows who she hopes is behind that door, but she's trying to adjust, so she pushes it aside and paints on her confused face before turning the knob.
She blinks tiredly at him, her brow furrowed in faux-surprise, and he's leaning against the wall, shoulders slumped, like his arms just couldn't hold his weight up. He's got his head leaned awkwardly to the side, supported by the wall, staring up at the ceiling. He obviously hasn't slept either. But she's adjusting, and he's moved on, so she waits for him to speak because she has no idea why, why, why he is at her door at four a.m.. It would have made sense before - before everything - but not now.
Her expression softens as the time drags on and she waits patiently for him to explain why he looks just as miserable as she did just a few hours ago, soaked with rain and sobbing in the front seat of his car. Her hand slides softly down the smooth wood of the door and it's his queue to suck in a sharp breath and let it out shakily before whispering,
"She's….she could tell I was upset. I tried. I tried not to tell her about…about us. She kept asking. She kept…she could tell. And I couldn't…she kept asking, and I told her, not everything, but enough, and… she told me to leave. That she'd be gone by tomorrow."
He paused to stop his jaw from shaking, and she might have missed his speaking if everything in the world hadn't come to a halt when she opened that door.
"She called me a liar, Bones."
Her face fell as she watched him hold his breath, hold himself together. For as much as she knew she loved him this night, she knew that more than anything he was her best friend. She wanted him the way that Hannah had him, but she didn't want her best friend to be hurt.
Suddenly his head turned, his eyes snapping to her and darting wildly across her face. She panicked for a moment, completely unsure of what would come next, but he seemed to exhaust himself as quickly as it had started. And so he stared, eyes big and soft, one hand now holding himself up against the doorframe. He brought his eyes to the floor before inhaling deeply yet again - oh god, what was she supposed to do with Seeley Booth choking up right here in her doorway? - and before she formed a response he let out a slow, thick whisper…
"I tried…not to hurt her… not to hurt you. I just… I hurt."
Neither of them was sure whether his last statement was about her or himself, and the prospect of the latter scared her more than anything. She bowed her head, the same as that night - the same as "I know" - and she stepped forward, reaching a hand out towards him. She kept her eyes concentrated on that hand even as he lifted his head to watch her, but in an instant they both seemed to realize what would happen if she were to touch him.
That would make this - this, them, this, us - real. There was nothing standing between them anymore… no cards, no bets, no chances, no moving on or consolation prizes. All that separated them in this moment was the heavy oxygen that seemed to gather around them like a humid fog.
So she stopped. She held her hand out, studied that hand, and felt every molecule in her body as her palm radiated a mere centimeter above the side of his ribcage. He watched her with an almost fascination, because god knows he felt the shift - the humidity - too. Her opposite hand moved to mirror his on the doorjamb, bringing them that much closer as his breath bounced off her hair and back at his face.
She froze in place, opened her mouth as if to speak, but it wavered multiple times before she gave up altogether and focused again on that hand. Her fingers swayed against the pressure of the molecules between her skin and his - sternum, costal cartilages, thoracic vertebrae, ribs - counting all twenty-four in her head because she knew this, but him, here, in her doorway, practically in tears? And, now that she's thinking about it, her in the same condition as a result?
"I don't know what to say, Booth." It was small, scared, quiet. More than anything, though, it was sincere.
He let out a hopeless, defeated little sigh and raised his hand from his waist to ghost above her shoulder. He moved it, followed the curve of her shoulder down to her elbow and back up, always a centimeter away from any real contact. Did they need it, though? After seven years…they can feel each other. And this centimeter was the only thing keeping their lives from taking a turn that no three-day period could ever, ever take back.
He stilled his rhythmic movements all of a sudden and dipped his head down right next to her ear. She could feel his breath shaking and was sure he could feel her every muscle violently doing the same. And then, she supposed, she felt how he must have in that very first fraction of a second that she'd started crying in the car - completely confused and caught off-guard - when he told her,
A pause, a gasp, and then a choked, "Me too."
All his strength returned in that instant, all the strength she knew his hands to have, when he took his hand from over her arm and cradled her head into the crook of his shoulder. His thumb moved slowly up and down, up and down on the back of her neck. It pushed her hand into him, giving her the courage to wrap herself around him completely. Her arms came around his back and suddenly it was all she could do…she clawed the fabric of his t-shirt into fists and gasped ragged breaths into his neck - this is it, this is them, this is us. He kissed the top of her head once, twice, kissed her temple, breathed in the scent that hides right at the crown of her forehead. He brought his other arm to wrap around and land in, of course, his place at the small of her back. Fate says it was made for him, after all.
She shook and he rocked her, but her comfort came more from knowing that he would be shaking just the same if he didn't have her warmth to hold on to. They stood until their sleepless legs couldn't hold them anymore, and he guided them to the couch still cradling her by small of her back. Still they didn't look at each other. Not yet, it's too much, there is too much to read in their eyes right now.
He sits her down on the couch and runs his hands slowly down her arms before finally breaking the contact that had been held for what they realize now was forty-seven minutes.
He takes her hands in his seconds after dropping them and finally looks her in the eyes. He smiles. Slow, and soft, but sure…he smiles. She smiles back, darting her eyes away for a moment because she's still her and this is still so much…but she smiles.
"Bones, there's so much…so much we have say. We have to talk. We can't keep missing…"
She knows this, even nods to agree, but her face falls. She almost looks as if she'll cry again when he interrupts her panic with a quiet, "Hey…hey…" and she calms enough to tell him in her sad and almost broken voice, "I can't, Booth. Not tonight. I'm so tired…I haven't…I can't…."
His hand on the small of her back, his thumb moving up and down, up and down on the nape of her neck. He leans back, she lands on his chest, and they sleep. Finally, together, they sleep.