A/N: This serves as an in lieu thereof for Little Pieces, whose next chapter I will have ready by June 2nd. I only have a little left to add to the piece, but I fainted from a combination of flu-heatstroke-exhaustion today at graduation and don't have the energy to finish in time for the usual Thursday posting. It has been a very long year and, it feels like, the longest week of my life. So the final installment will be either June 2nd or a few days after.
Thanks to EternalDestiny304 for her wonderful betas and encouragement as I struggle through this last week of the school year. Your friendship is a true blessing. And thanks so much to those who reviewed Little Pieces last chapter. You don't know how much your kind words mean, especially when I'm feeling flat out lousy.
Brennan woke slowly Wednesday morning, her alarm deliberately not set. Her first thoughts were that the sheets felt pleasant. Freshly laundered, they were still tightly tucked into the mattress, not yet disrupted by restless dreams that frequently dragged her bedclothes from their moorings no matter how carefully they were anchored. She shifted onto her side, enjoying the heavy pull of the comforter as it resisted her movement before relenting.
She pointed her toes backwards and forwards, coaxing a lazy stretch from her calf muscles as she watched the sunlight unfurling through her window blinds. The gauzy, golden light drifted across the wooden floor and came to rest at the foot of the bed like an additional blanket on her feet.
Brennan rearranged her cheek so that it rested on a cool spot on the satin pillow and closed her eyes again. Her mind was far from sleepy as she lay quietly, thinking about her plans for the day. She didn't usually traffic in what-ifs—they were unscientific and impractical—but she couldn't help wondering what, if anything, might be different when she woke up on Thursday.
Booth was awake long before the sun decided to finally rise and shine. Tentative fingers of light poked their way beneath his curtains and stopped just short of the carpet. It took a while before the fingers seemed to elongate, developing an ironically bone-like structure as they ventured in his overall direction. He watched moodily, tracking each champagne-hued fingerprint as it came closer and closer to his bed's headrest.
There was no avoiding the direction his thoughts insisted on taking, in their own way every bit as inexorable as the sunlight. Curtains and blinds couldn't stop him from revisiting old decisions and their repercussions, anymore than the pillow over his eyes could stop him from seeing her face. He groaned into the worn cotton pillowcase and wondered if today the impossible might happen. Maybe. Just maybe. Could the rules of math and science finally be broken just enough to allow parallel paths to intersect?
The sun still hadn't quite reached its target when the alarm went off at 5:00 am. Booth knocked it into the wastebasket in irritation before reaching out from under the covers and yanking the plug. He flopped onto his back, kicking a pillow onto the floor in the process. Muttering a curse, he grabbed the remaining pillow and clamped it over his face. Not that it made any difference—he'd slept a grand total of three hours, maybe, and there was no chance of squeezing in a little extra shut eye even if he could convince his brain to stop hashing and rehashing all the possibilities.
After giving up on further sleep, she followed her regular morning routine. Got out of bed. Feet straight into slippers. Threw back the comforter and pillows, smoothed out wrinkles in the sheets, pulled them taut again, drew the comforter up once more, laid neatly folded clothes in the spot where she usually rested her head, replaced pillows, replaced comforter. Poured water—already boiled in a pot with a preset timer—into a cup with a teabag selected the night before. While the tea steeped in its usual spot in the corner of her sink, she showered. Ten minutes from the time in—lather, rinse, no repeat on most days—and out. Removed teabag, took a long sip. Dried hair. Another sip. Back into the bedroom, carrying the tea. Toweled off briskly, got dressed, more tea. She had chosen her outfit the night before, but changed her mind several times before finally settling on jeans and a simple coral-hued blouse. A change in outfit meant a change in necklace. It took her a while to settle on a jade pendant with gold accents.
Preliminary ablutions complete, Brennan stepped back and eyed herself in the mirror critically. She liked what she saw but, in the end, would the outfit really matter? Vanity dictated an overwhelming yes, even when she knew better. She scowled with embarrassment at her irrationality but still did her hair and makeup with more care than usual before checking her phone for emails and messages.
Cam knew she wouldn't be in today. Angela didn't, and had left multiple messages wondering where she was when 8:00 a.m. came and went, and whether she was okay.
Smiling in spite of herself, Brennan texted a brief reply.
I'm fine. If all goes well, I might be better this evening. ~Brennan
She turned off her phone at that point, perceptive enough to at least realize that her best friend would demand more details before she was ready to share them.
He stubbed his toe getting out of bed. There was no hint of hope in the phone messages he checked automatically, and his boss was PO-d that he was taking a personal day without warning. The light bulb went out in the bathroom, and he didn't have a replacement. He couldn't get the water temperature right. He was almost out of shampoo and didn't realize it until his head was already soaking wet. He forgot a towel and had to run out of the bathroom butt-naked, dripping every which way, only to find he really needed to do laundry.
He cut himself shaving in the semi-darkness.
Booth swallowed a snarl, for fear of slicing even deeper into his skin, and grabbed for a piece of toilet paper to stick on the little nick before blood could ooze down his Adam's apple and onto the collar of his shirt. His violent grab knocked the roll straight into the toilet, where it bobbed sadly.
Yet again, he glared at himself in the mirror and wondered what he was supposed to wear. And what if he was a total moron for even thinking …. He silenced that little voice and retreated back into the bedroom where he swapped his usual work clothes for jeans and an FBI Tee. Indecision almost made him change again, but he managed to get out of the room before, as Jared would undoubtedly comment if he could see him, Booth turned into a girl completely.
Usually, he'd have breakfast. He was all about his Wheaties. Today, along with every other morning habit he'd dispensed with, he walked out the door without even chugging his customary glass of O.J. It was only after he locked the door behind him that he realized: he wasn't wearing his usual suit jacket. His wallet was in its pocket. And his keys.
She didn't go there directly. Sitting around doing nothing for hours was far from her style.
Brennan chose instead to run small errands that had been piling up for several weeks, in the wake of a particularly time-consuming murder investigation. Picking up dry cleaning, grocery shopping—eventually she exhausted her stock of tasks that could be completed in the allotted time, and all that was left to do was one of three options:
Go in to work and face intense curiosity which would only increase when she left early
Work on the next chapter of her novel, and risk having to stop at a point when the plot was developing nicely
Do some kind of physical activity to release tension
In the end, she went for option 3, but combined it with a fourth choice. Dropping her car off for its much-delayed annual inspection, Brennan changed into a pair of running shoes she always kept in the trunk and began the long walk toward what Angela might call destiny, and what she more prosaically would call 'remote possibility.'
He couldn't call anybody. He'd left his cellphone inside, along with everything else, dammit. Of course, his extra key was at Rebecca's place. Parker had borrowed it to retrieve his backpack while Booth was at work one day, and forgot to return it to the usual spot underneath the potted plant.
Booth rattled the knob futilely and debated kicking the door in, but decided it wasn't worth the cost of replacing. He could always borrow Brennan's spare key. If she showed up, that is. If not, he could catch a cab to the Jeffersonian and borrow cash.
Luckily, he was wearing comfortable shoes and had several hours to kill. What the hell. A long walk might help him burn off some of his nerves. Or, it might make them worse, if he couldn't stop thinking. That seemed likely as he started down the stairs, avoiding the elevator for fear of running into a neighbor and having to make small talk when all he really felt like doing was heading out to the shooting range and gunning down a couple hundred targets.
His footsteps were magnified by the concrete walls, reverberating around him in the enclosed space and in his ears. Unsettled by the acoustic parallel to his heart's loud thudding, Booth took the stairs two at a time. The fire door loomed in front of him and he lunged at it with the full weight of his body. It gave more easily than expected and he went face forward towards the sidewalk. He caught himself just in time and straightened sheepishly, only to almost be knocked almost off his feet again by a gust of wind that shoved halfway him back into the building with the force of its sneak attack.
Booth planted his feet more firmly and started off, his shoulders hunched in silent protest at the weather's untoward cooperation with his mental state. Not like he believed in omens or anything, but shouldn't today be sunny if things were finally going to go their way? Around him, trees swayed wildly. A garbage can in line with others not yet retrieved from yesterday broke ranks and came straight at Booth, forcing him into the middle of the street to avoid it. A black Jetta swerved and honked furiously before speeding off into the distance.
Jaw set, Booth stepped back onto the pavement. Automatically, he went into workout mode, his stride lengthening as if he was warming up for something. Randomly, he thought of Brennan running after him in the Jeffersonian gardens shortly after they first met. For the first time all morning he grinned, seeing her gamely skipping sideways, still arguing case minutiae. Even back at the very beginning, he'd liked having her be the one to chase him. She was far out in front of him in so many ways, but he was faster. Yeah. Definitely faster, at least when it came to power walking. His smile faded. Others ways too, actually.
Faster to break the rules and want more than a partnership.
Faster to realize he wanted a lifetime of mornings waking up with her body tangled around his.
Faster to spill the beans and scare her halfway across the planet.
Faster to move on, just when she was finally starting to keep pace.
His mind flashed back to times when he almost hadn't been fast enough.
Not fast enough at figuring out that Kenton was gunning for Brennan or that Pam was so completely unhinged.
Not fast enough to realize what an idiot he had been by giving up so completely, when he knew full well that she was always slower to arrive at emotional finish lines.
Not nearly fast enough at figuring out where she and Hodgins were buried.
It was a memory he'd tried to bury as deeply as the car she'd been in, with only moderate success. With no warning, the fear wrapped around him noose-like all over again.
He squinted across the quarry, pleading for some kind of sign before finally spotting the sand flurry.
His walk turned into a jog.
Once again, he staggered down that long incline, the sands shifting ominously beneath his feet but not quite managing to trip him.
The jog became a run.
Somehow the sand dune was behind him and he was racing toward the grave, coat flapping in the wind, her name an endless loop inside his head.
Startled passersby jumped out of the way as Booth bolted by, intent on outpacing the grit that flew between his teeth and the terror that accompanied it, seemingly carried on the wind.
Past and present collided inside his head and now Booth sprinted. Down on his knees in that sand all over again, clawing at the layers separating her from him, he prayed now as he had prayed then.
Dear God, please don't let me be too late. Please don't let me have lost her forever because I took too long to get to this place.