Nearly two months until the Season 9 premiere. If you're the kind of person who cares about that stuff.
(That was sarcasm. You read fanfic.)
Thanks to some1tookmyname for the beta. :) This story is post-S8's finale and it's a one-shot. That's what I do.
It was a paradigm he couldn't wrap his mind around. Mostly he was just happy to take what he could get.
Sometime after taking back his "yes" to her "will you marry me," he began to notice when the camera appeared.
Because, when the camera appeared, the palpable tension that hovered around them like a grey fog the rest of the time lessened just a bit. Whether at home…
She entered with her arms full of groceries, a bag teetering on one of her sides toward the floor. But his reflexive movement toward her to catch it was met with a look that screamed "back-off" so loudly that he snapped his hand back like he had been burned.
She righted the bags on her own, and set them on the counter to unload. He stood there, awkwardly watching her until he thought simply thought 'to hell with it' and stepped to her side.
In his first bag, there was the sugary cereal he loved and she hated, plus the cheese puffs that turned his fingers orange while he snacked on them, but that contained no nutritional value whatsoever and sent a horrible message to the companies that produce the non-food that such non-food was in demand.
As best he could recall the debate.
On one hand, he wanted to smile because, as she had stated previously with a bag of jerky clutched in her hands, if he likes it, he should have it. Whatever makes him happy.
The other hand didn't want to consider that she just wasn't up for the fight, the banter, or that worse yet, she'd stopped caring about the crap he consumed and his overall lifespan.
He was mostly sure she still cared.
He hazard a glance at her, wondering whether to thank her or stay silent on the subject, when he saw her withdraw four bottles of wine from one bag.
"Whoa, when's the party?" he said suddenly, immediately regretting it given the look on her face. Daring. That was the best word he could assign it. He dared to question her?
"There's no party, Booth. I saw wine I wanted to try. I purchased it to do so."
Booth rocked back and forth on his feet, weighing the correct way to respond.
"Well, just so long as you don't plan to drink it all at once," he said, sliding up to hug her from behind. "Unless, of course, you don't want to watch how much you drink. And in that case, maybe we should drop Christine off with Hodgins and Angela one night this week, and…"
His spontaneous, yet failing theory was that if he could hug the stuffing out of her and act like nothing at all had changed, then maybe, just maybe she'd relax and remember that he loved her and that was more important than any ceremony they were or were not going to take part in, just like she had always believed until…
But she stayed tense as he squeezed, and muttered, "I'm quite capable of moderating my alcohol consumption around my daughter," before bristly wrenching herself from his grip.
He sighed, debating whether she purposely misconstrued his 'drunken, sexy times' suggestion or only misconstrued that he thought she drank too much and that made her a bad mother.
And fixing the construed or misconstrued of the day was nearly impossible, since she avoided speaking to him for the rest of the day.
… or at work.
"Alright Bones, tell me what we've got," Booth said boisterously, announcing his presence as he walked down the hill to stand by her side.
"Male, 50-55. Trauma to his bones is isolated to his arms—the ulna, radius, and humerus, both left and right have been damaged, as well as left and right carpals and tarsals. If he had been dropped from a height high enough to kill him, there would be far more damage than just to his hands, elbows and feet."
"There are bones inside your hand, in your feet to help you stand, in your elbow and your heel, lots of lovely bones to feel…" Booth sang softly, but loud enough for her to hear.
She stared at him blankly, and he shifted his feet under her gaze.
"Sorry… I was watching Sesame Street with Christine last night… you know, the one with the bones song. It's one of her favorites, obviously," he said with a chuckle.
She continued to stare at him, but he couldn't make heads or tails of what she was thinking.
"We're at a crime scene, Booth," was the only terse response he got before she walked away to talk with a nearby technician, and gave out her orders for evidence collection without going through Booth the rest of the day.
Yes. Cracking a smile out of the woman he loved was a near impossibility since he'd broken her heart but continued pretending like absolutely nothing had changed.
It's not like he had any other option. He couldn't fix it. And he certainly wasn't going to walk away or stop trying. He was in the middle of the most miserable, prolonged Waiting Place he could imagine.
She still smiled when she was with Christine, and he'd catch a glimpse of it from time to time. It was sincere until she knew he was watching or sensed him nearby. When he was near, her happiness was simply forced.
There was a time he thought she was a terrible actress. But their daughter never seemed the wiser. And if she was good enough to fool Christine, he figured he could be good enough to fool them both and seem happy as often as possible, even though his heart was breaking. Her pain was his pain, and he couldn't put either of them out of their misery. So he plastered on a smile and forced a glee he didn't feel and pretended to be just as happy as she pretended to be.
He could act too.
But every now and then, the camera would appear and it was like a switch had flipped.
When the camera appeared, the happiness was always sincere, natural and so very welcomed. The camera materialized when Christine was doing something funny. Or messy. Or entertaining. Or nothing significant at all.
Often, it would be pictures with Christine and Booth, and Brennan telling them to "Look at the camera!" Or she'd turn the camera over to Booth for photos of her and Christine and a countdown of "1-2-3-Cheeeeese!" which always made him laugh, because he would think back to the time they debated why "cheese" was the word people used when taking photographs. ("Shouldn't it be please?" "Please, while polite, isn't funny." "What about sneeze?" "That would make for an unattractive picture.")
Sometimes, it was all three of them.
Booth was making the usual airplane noises as he brought a spoonful of applesauce on a journey toward Christine's waiting mouth. He could tell that Brennan was finding the feeding process somewhat annoying today, because while Christine was excited to play her Dad's game, she was also slamming her fists against the highchair's tray, impatiently awaiting the spoon's landing, and sending Cheerios in all directions.
But she had yet to muster up a desire to tell him to knock it off. Because usually she found it adorable (even though she disproved of playing with one's food and constantly reminded him that she wouldn't be allowed to do this at preschool or in any future social situation and be invited back). But as was always the case, a happy Christine was the exception to every rule.
Still, he didn't know how much he would miss the exact same lecture he always got until he didn't hear it anymore.
With a stifled sigh, he made his "nomnomnomnom" sounds as the spoon landed in Christine's mouth, and he held it steady as she excitedly jumped around while swallowing.
It was on the fourth or fifth spoonful, when Booth's plane was on autopilot while he watched Brennan out of the corner of his eye, when it happened.
In Christine's excited, flailing state, the plane had been diverted off course by a small, clenched fist, sending its passenger— the applesauce— flying on to Booth's face.
And while it took Booth a moment to realize what had happened, register the feeling of applesauce roll down his face, the other occupants of the room were laughing in harmony.
"Don't move," came the instruction from a laughing Brennan, as some of the sauce slipped onto his eyelids, which was inconvenient since he desperately wanted to see her laughing.
"Can I move now?" Booth asked, a solitary moment before Christine's hand collided with the applesauce on his face.
More laughter rang out from both his girls as the Cheerios she added to her father's face began to travel downwards with the river of applesauce on his forehead and nose.
Followed by more laughter.
And as Brennan laughed, Christine laughed, and it was light and playful and whole again. Which is why he scooped up a handful of cheerios from the tray and launched them at Brennan.
"You think it's funny now, Bones?" he said, the Cheerios mostly missing her, but causing Christine to laugh again. And it was as infectious as ever and kept both of them laughing as Booth begun his next wave of retaliation. A swipe of applesauce on the tip of his daughter's nose and hysterical laughter as he "nomnomnomnomnom" the sauce away.
As soon as the photo was taken, Brennan walked to her daughter to start the clean-up, setting her camera down on the tray on the cleanest part of her tray.
And as the opportunity presented itself, Booth wasted no time in swiping her camera with one hand and using the other to slather one side of Brennan's face in applesauce.
An exaggerated "nomnomnomnomnom" against Brennan's cheek almost drowned out Brennan's weak protest, with Christine's laughter still abound, and…
And the result was a string memorable family photos. Including one of the three of them.
It was in those moments that Booth could almost forget the fork in the road, overlooking a cliff that they were standing at, together yet so far apart, every day windier than the one before, threatening to blow them away.
But with the click of the camera, they would snap photos and snap out of the pain, if just for a moment. There would be food to pick up and a child to clean just before the dull, throbbing heartache that constantly reminded them of the precipice they were standing on drowned out the laughter and settled back into place.
Parker was home for the summer and bit by bit, eased the most blatant tension in the house. Booth soon realized that fooling his son was much easier after weeks of fooling their daughter. An 18-month-old is far more likely to pick up on tension because they are so in tune to their parents. A 12-year-old is far more in tune to themselves.
Even so, Brennan smiled sincerely and laughed more. It wasn't like she was putting on a show, or always smiling for a captured memory. She truly enjoyed Parker's company. Booth knew this to be the case.
So Booth found himself with this crazy twinge of jealousy when it came to his son. Because his son could make her smile and his son could make her laugh and she loved Parker and Parker loved her and neither of them questioned that which was a simple truth.
It was times like these when he came close to telling her his secret. Just for a chance at a sincere smile and an easy laugh and the knowledge that she knew just how much he loved her.
"Go, Parker… RUUUUUUNNNNN!"
Brennan gasped belatedly as her reaction stirred a sleepy Christine in her arms, and she looked down apologetically at her daughter.
"I know you're quite tired, Christine, but your brother just got a third-baser which helped some of his teammates score and it was very exciting. It'll be his turn next to score a point for his team," Brennan explained calmly, just hovering off the edge of her seat as her eyes stayed glued to the field, watching Parker lead off base for every pitch thrown, waiting for the moment she needed to stand and cheer.
While Brennan explained the game to Christine, Booth stood a few feet away, hanging off the rail, shouting his form of fatherly coaching from the sidelines. He could hear Christine mimic the adults with her own form of baby-babble-cheering and he grinned ear-to-ear at the sounds.
Brennan was truly happy cheering Parker on. If you didn't know Parker and his family's set-up, it would have been hard for any onlooker to guess which woman was his mother— the loudly cheering brunette or the equally loudly cheering blonde. As nervous as their time alone could make him, there the two women sat, side-by-side in harmony, leaping to their feet and shouting as soon as they heard the crack of the bat. Nanoseconds before anyone could even register which direction the ball had traveled in.
In addition to the brunette and blonde, there was a great summoning of the lungs to shout "Paaaaaaarrrrre" from his littlest lady in the stands.
Then Parker scored the final run— his team winning by two, thanks to his hit—and the teams congratulated one another as the stands quickly began to empty, parents leaving to seek out their children.
Rebecca took hold of Christine so Brennan could pack up all of her daughter's things, and Booth rallied Parker from his team to bring him to the stands. After hugs with all of the adults, Parker took Christine into his own arms and started to brag, Booth-style.
"Did you see that last hit, Christine? … I wasn't sure I was even going to make it all the way to third… Someday, I'll teach you how to hit like that too… We can't have you playing like a girl… And I'll teach you how to slide too. The trick is you can't be afraid of getting dirty or bleeding...Sometimes, I get really cool scars… "
As Brennan searched her bag for her car keys, her hands stumbled across her camera, and she was dumbfounded that she had forgotten it was there up to this point.
Catching sight of Parker explaining the game of baseball to his sister— noting that, apparently, what he did in the final inning is called a "triple"—
She snapped of photo of them, with their backs to the stands, arms outstretched to the field.
After seeing the flash, Parker turned around and told Christine to wave—
Another moment captured.
Brennan's face lit up as she had an idea.
"Parker, how about a photo with your parents?"
There was a moment, a flicker of something too quick for Booth to identify between them, before Parker was nodding vehemently, and putting his sister on her feet. "Stay right here, Christine," he said, and she listened for almost five whole seconds before tottering after him. Booth scooped her up and sat her on a bench to buy them a little extra time.
"Alright— everyone smile…"
"Thanks, Bones!" Parker said, walking back to pick up his sister. "Mom, can you take one of me and Dad and Bones and Christine?"
"Sure…" Rebecca said, trading places with Brennan.
Just as Booth thought they were done, Brennan commandeered a stranger to take her camera, so all three adults and the two children could appear together in a photo.
The whole event, at some level, struck Booth as strange, but he couldn't pinpoint the "why." His partner and his ex got along swimmingly. His nearly teenage son not only was willing to be seen with him, but was eagerly posing for photographs with him. And his daughter had yet to throw a tantrum that lasted longer than 30 seconds this evening.
All in all, at this moment, he had nothing to complain about.
They said their goodbyes to Rebecca—with Parker spending the majority of the last two years in London with her, he got to spend his summer living with Booth and Brennan full-time, even when Rebecca was in town. They stopped for celebratory ice cream on the way home, and by the time they were walking through their front door, there was a little girl tucked into her father's arms, and a sleepy boy barely able to stay upright.
And the whole night was a dream— a joy— something he'd felt very little of in recent times.
Booth readied Christine for bed first, and said goodnight to his son just as he was fading out.
Happier than he'd been in a long time, and praying beyond hope that it could last just a little while longer, he skipped the shower he wanted in favor of seeking out Brennan.
He found her in her office— truth be told, it was the first place he looked these days, because after the kids were in bed, she liked her fortress of solitude— from him.
He could see she was downloading photos they had taken tonight from her camera to the computer—Rebecca wanted copies as well. But he heard her printer going and stretched on his toes to see the result from his spot. Probably the one of Parker and Christine. Possibly the one of the four of them.
But instead, it was the photo with only Parker, Rebecca and Booth that made its way out.
She stood and walked to a cabinet, removing what he eventually identified as a small photo frame, and unwrapped it from the packaging.
He could tell she knew he was standing at the doorway, watching, as she took apart the frame and began cutting the photo down to size.
She managed to bite back the abrupt "What?" and even overcame the annoyed "Did you need something?" before settling on "Are the children asleep?" without looking up to acknowledge him.
The little sliver of hope Booth had been holding on to in terms of extending their happy evening as a seemingly regular family that did regular family things, like little league games and ice cream and family photos and were never bothered by serial killers and the burden of others' lives in their hands and the weight of the world on their shoulders every day, faded.
"Yep. Out like a light," Booth said as casually as he could manage. "Whatcha working on?"
She paused, and he could tell she was weighing how she wanted to respond to him. And he hated, almost as much as every other part of their messed up situation, that her desire to always speak the truth to him, no matter how blunt or inappropriate it might be, was now hindered to careful words and checked expressions.
"I wanted to frame this picture and give it to Parker."
It was the truth and simple and still, that nagging feeling that had been with him all night made him ask another question.
"That's nice of you, Bones. Why not the one with all of us in it, though?" he asked, before he remembered that the more he spoke, the more irritated she got. He just couldn't leave some things alone.
But Brennan looked downright uncomfortable and was looking around for her phone or the window or maybe an escape hatch of some kind and now he knew, no matter how uncomfortable she was, no matter how many additional bricks he was laying on the wall between them again, he was going to have to know her answer.
"Parker… he told me awhile ago that he doesn't have many photos of him with you and Rebecca together. That, because you guys have never lived together, even when he was a baby, that he's… well…he's noticed the lack of photos. Anyway, I thought, with both of you at the game tonight, this would be an excellent opportunity to help combat the lack of photos he feels he has. And I have some extra frames, so I thought I'd put this in his room."
Booth stood their silently, both marveling at how well Brennan and Parker have gotten to know each other through the years while processing the fact that he and Rebecca never getting their shit together when Parker was a baby still actively haunts their son now, all muddled with just how much he loved Brennan and loved the way she loved his children.
"I know how important, despite being vastly sentimental, photographs can be. I don't think I realized until my parents left how few photos I actually had of them, of Russ… of the four of us together. When things get bad or when you're sad—I think it's probably helpful to have as many visual reminders of the good times, the times that made you happy, for however long they might have lasted. A day, a year… maybe even just a moment…" she said, trailing off, looking anywhere but at Booth.
"You and Rebecca, despite your romantic relationship ending badly years ago, with you two living separately, because she… turned down your marriage proposal. Even though you're past all that now, Parker, I think, on some level, realizes that these things were the case. But you've both gotten to a place where you can stand in a photo and be friends and happy and those moments—it's not that you and Rebecca haven't done right by Parker, that's not what I'm—he's a lucky and well-adjusted boy who has two wonderful parents. But sometimes, the photos are important. And Parker should have some of those good moments, like tonight, preserved for the bad days."
He barely heard her excuse herself from the room, saying she was going to place the photo and frame on Parker's nightstand, then head to bed.
He could barely breathe.
Because the last *click* he heard sounded nothing like a camera shutter and everything like a gunshot to his heart.
Weeks and weeks of moments where she was happy and taking photos and making them both pose— oh god, the posing she had to be doing, putting on a brave face, a happy face, to be recorded by the camera.
All to give their daughter happy memories of her parents in case, someday, she ever had reason to think those moments never existed. It was the opposite of Parker's case and yet, in her mind, they were exactly the same.
"Despite your romantic relationship ending badly, you two living separately, because she turned down your marriage proposal…"
It was all the same to Brennan. And through all the smiling for the camera, she's merely been preparing herself— to eventually prepare Christine— for what she thinks may come next.
A lot of unhappiness. And separation. All stemmed from a rejected marriage proposal.
And not for the first time (and certainly not for the last), he wanted to tell her everything.
And not for the first time, he bit back a wave of anger at the fact that she should simply know, after everything they've been through, that he wants to marry her more than anything and why can't she just sense how strange it is for him to suddenly say the opposite?
And not for the first time, his anger is overrun by nausea as he considers how long Brennan's known him, and how much she knows about him and how he's proposed not once, but twice to other women and that she's born witness to his crashing and burning after both failed proposals in remarkably similar ways. That he's always given her reason to question the validity of his feelings and she's always been predisposed to assume love is ephemeral.
And not for the first time, he's overwhelmed by her strength to stay, when running's been so much easier for both of them in the past; and be there, instead of, like times before when he's picked up a bottle or a pool stick or escaped to a war zone or any number of other self-destructive habits within his reach, crumbled to the bottom of the barrel.
"…be sure about your feelings. Because if you crack that shell, and you change your mind, she'll die of loneliness before she'll ever trust anyone again."
"You know the difference between strength and imperviousness, right? … A substance that is impervious to damage doesn't need to be strong… When you and I met— I was an impervious substance. Now I am strong."
At least, those times when he's fallen apart, she was there to pick him up, and make him want more. Who does she have now to do the same, if it can't be him?
And so, so far from the first time, and god, can't it be the last time already, he thinks about her self-sacrificing ways whenever it comes to their relationship.
"I don't have your kind of open heart."
"Those are my only choices? … Then I'll have a drink."
He's broken the woman he loves into little bits of who she was before and he is JUST comprehending how weeks of little moments and the click of camera shutters haven't been capturing good moments at all. How it's all been an act, all this time, while she's preparing for what she thinks is an inevitable end.
And not for the first time, and he hates to think it, but probably not the last, he recalls all the times he's underestimated her before, and wonders why he's surprised he's done it yet again.
Because she really is a better actress than he's ever given her credit for.
P.S. I hope you weren't expecting to feel uplifted and cheery after reading this. I only do that sometimes.
Your thoughts are always appreciated. ;)