AN: Hands up if you've seen the brilliance that is the movie Shuffle, starring TJ Thyne.
In watching the film recently, I suddenly had an idea for... well, I wouldn't call it a crossover or spoof. An homage, perhaps?
This story is partially AU - I've taken some liberties, both by introducing plot concepts from Shuffle and also by altering certain aspects of Booth and Brennan's past. Although we won't go there often, consider this potentially able to spoiler you up to and including The Shot In The Dark. For those who've seen Shuffle, I've changed a great deal of the specific plot points, so it will still be a fresh read.
That said, I don't own Bones or Shuffle. Consider me disclaimed.
"Stop the clock and lock the door...
Sometimes, I feel like I don't know my life
Like you live mine, and I watch yours..."
A Short Time On Earth – Matthew Good
He stands outside of the door for a solid five minutes, gulping his coffee as he paces. He ignores the scalding of the roof of his mouth, isn't bothered by the tastelessness of the brew. After draining three large coffees in quick succession, his tongue no longer registers taste, only pain.
The taste of pain is a flavour he's come to know well in recent days. Days? Years? He's not sure. Time is relative, non-linear and despite the range of years he's experienced, there is never enough of it in any given day.
Tomorrow, he will be somewhere else, but more critical, he will be sometime else and everything he's gained today will be useless.
So he drinks the coffee, contemplating the nameplate on the door. Dr. Lance Sweets, it reads. What kind of last name is Sweets? Is he the heir to a candy fortune? Is he saccharine in his approach, or so angry as to render his moniker ironic? And if he does enter, if he keeps the appointment he's stayed awake 49 hours for, will it ripple throughout his life, changing future years irrevocably?
All he has left now is the FBI. It's the one thing that remains consistent, aside from her. Yet even she is not a constant; she is missing when the wrinkles burrow into his flesh and his grey hair wafts in the breeze of some porch he calls home without understanding how he knows it to be true.
Exhaustion knocks on his door, softly. In his head, he hears his friend laugh as she strikes twenty-three year-old him across the back of the head.
Pay attention, dummy!
"No time," he mumbles, reaching for the knob and turning it quickly.
The new staff psychologist looks about eighteen, and he wonders if maybe the doctor's also traveling along through time, living each day as its own unique world. Does he look the wrong age to others as he shifts? What would she say about the notion of time travel?
"Agent Booth?" the shrink guesses.
He eyes the chair warily. It's comfortable. Comfort induces sleep and he has no time for that. Sleep is momentary at best, but when it ends, he's thrust head-first into another puzzle that doesn't match the picture on any box he's ever seen. He elects to stand, leaning against the chair.
"Would you like to sit down?" the doctor asks.
"Can't. I'll fall asleep."
"Are you having difficulty sleeping, Agent Booth?"
"Yeah, I'd say I have a pretty big damn difficulty with sleeping," he retorts, rolling his eyes. "But it's nothing like you think."
"So tell me what it is then," Sweets counters, leaning forward slightly in his chair.
"Look, I need to know that what we say stays... here. I mean, I can't risk my job. I need my job." He chugs more coffee, grimacing as traces of grinds slide down his throat and line his stomach in gritty sediment. "Because it's a mess. I don't even believe it. You know, never mind. This is pointless!"
The doctor rises to his feet, moving to cut off his path of escape. "Agent Booth, please sit down. Our sessions are confidential. The only limits to that are concerns that you will harm or have harmed yourself or another person, and the welfare of a minor being endangered. Does your problem with sleep having anything to do with those concerns?"
He shrugs. "No. No, I guess not."
"Then let's talk about it. Maybe I can help you restore your sleeping patterns – "
"No! No, I can't sleep!" he snaps. Waving his coffee, he growls, "I've been drinking this crap like water for almost two days for a reason."
The kid looks confused. Good. Maybe he's finally getting the point. Of course, maybe he's also gearing up to revoke his field status, but at this point, the shrink's listening. If it goes to hell, he can just let his eyes flutter shut and move on, right?
Oh, hell. He's crazy. He's nucking futs.
"Are you afraid to sleep, then?"
"Look, Doogie Howser, you're going to think I'm a nutbar."
"Most people whom society refers to colloquially as 'nuts' – what we would deem psychosis – are by definition out of touch with reality. Thus, they don't know they're crazy. You believing you're crazy actually suggests a level of mental health."
He glares at the shrink. "God, you're so fresh out of school, it hurts. Reminds me of the blather my friend used to spout about anatomy when we graduated."
Sweets sighs. "Either you want my help or not, Agent Booth. Your being combative isn't going to solve your problem."
The coffee isn't working: his brain begins to fog over and every sound seems murky, drowning beneath the surface of reality. If he's going to do this, it's got to be now. He's got maybe ten minutes, twenty if the kid produces more caffeine or shoots him up with something speedy.
His legs wobble and he reluctantly sinks into the chair, leaning forward to resist the soft backing cushions and their invitation to rest. The doctor matches his movement, returning to his own chair with a curious expression.
"I'm thirty-six. You know that from my file. Yesterday, I was twenty-three. The day before that, I was forty. The day before that, I was twelve. One day recently, I was past seventy. Every day, I wake up and I'm a different age, in a different year and living a different day of my life and it's scaring the hell out of me." His hand presses to his forehead, willing away the throbbing in his temples. "I want it to stop. I need help. I've spent the last forty-nine hours awake, trying to find the courage to come see someone like you, who'll listen to me talk about all of this, because once I fall asleep, I don't know where or when I'm going to be and praying isn't helping and coffee's not working and sleeping isn't even sleeping. I'm never rested and I'm never in the same time or place when I open my eyes."
He glances up, staring down the psychologist, who is clearly overwhelmed. He was probably expecting insomnia, maybe bipolar disorder or PTSD from his military years. But not this.
No one expects this, he reminds himself.
"Can you help me?' he asks quietly.
"Let me just check that I heard you correctly," Sweets says calmly. "You're reliving days from your past, but also have been experiencing days from the future?"
He snorts. "You're assuming this is the the present, but for all I know, I'm really seventy and losing my goddamn mind to Alzheimer's. Do you have any coffee? I'm fading fast."
"I-I have a can of Coke – "
Sweets passes him the can from a desk drawer reluctantly, and he can smell the "only child" on him. The reluctance to share is a dead giveaway. He cracks it open, scarcely hearing the familiar fizzing noise from the carbonation before draining the can in two gulps.
"Do you use any substances? Other than caffeine, of course."
He shakes his head furiously. "I have the odd drink, but no, nothing. Not that I know of. God, nothing makes sense. I remember the people in my life. I know my job. But the days I'm living – even the ones in the past – they're all foreign to me. I don't know what's real anymore. Doesn't that make me crazy? Isn't that what you said?"
The doctor ignores his question, instead prodding with his own. "How long has this been happening, Agent Booth?"
"I don't know. I mean, time isn't exactly clear for me right now. I only remember the days."
"What's the first of these days that you remember? How old were you then?"
In his mind, he is back there, standing in a cemetery. His eyes are weakened, his vision blurry even with the uncomfortable glasses he wears. It's sometime in the spring and he's seventy-three. How he knows this to be true is unclear. The grave he's standing over is blurred out. Distantly, he hears a voice, but he is tired, so tired, and his head nods down to his chest –
"You weren't awake long, then."
"Jesus, Sweets, I was in my seventies!"
The doctor looks flustered. "And... And the next day?"
The psychic smirks at him. "Let the neurosurgeons have your brain. They know about your brain. They don't know Jack about your heart!" He doesn't have time for this. Something's wrong with Bones. He feels it before the cards supposedly do.
"Dr. Brennan was there? So it was recent?"
"Actually, it happens two years from now," he corrects him.
"How do you know that?"
"I just do."
He thinks of her burrowing her face into his shirt, feels the warm stickiness of blood seeping between his fingers as he applies pressure to the wound. He understands that in two years, he's hopelessly in love with her – his partner, his best friend. How is that even possible? Partners can't be involved. They just can't. And Bones... she doesn't even believe in love! Yet he knows it's true.
He doesn't tell the doctor this. He doesn't tell him anything. His eyelids begin to droop and it is all he can do to will them back open.
"Doc, I'm fading... Can't you inject me... with... something?" He shakes his head, the nausea setting in. "Gotta... make this stop..."
"Agent Booth?" The psychologist shakes his arm roughly. "Stay with me, Agent Booth."
"Can't... I can't keep doing... this..."
He feels the coolness of metal graze his lips, but it's too late: he's fallen down the rabbit hole again. One blink and he is standing in an airport, dressed in military fatigues. She stands before him, tears shimmering in her eyes.
No, not again! She can't be leaving me again!
But she is. And this time, he senses she's never coming back to him.
I'd love to know what you think of this one... This is a taste of the sort of AU blended with canon that you can expect from this story. Until I get a grip on several things in my life, including a massive story load, this one may only update every other week. I'll do my best to be faster!
Sit back, set your alerts and review. Also, wanna win free CDs and goodies? Come find my music blog Twitter ( OTMidnight), where I'm giving stuff away for March 2013. TONS of stuff. Presents!