Author's Thanks: To all the readers, thank you so much for sharing this story with us. It was wonderful having you along on the ride.
Dear Excellent Driver,
Thank you for giving me such wonderful prompts to work with. We've reached the end of the journey, we're just turning into the driveway of our destination, but there may be a final surprise waiting. You never know how things are going to turn out until you get there.
It was an honor writing for you and I wish you all the best throughout the rest of 2014.
Your Secret Santa,
Author's Note: Don't let the title scare you, but do consider tracking down the song that gives this chapter its title. It's beautiful, full of the hope that comes when love conquers fear, and you didn't know the entire story was really written around this song starting in chapter one, but it was.
Verb tense. That's still the key. I'll explain why when you get to the end.
This story owes its existence to Excellent Driver and the song Nothing is Real by the Goo Goo Dolls.
Nothing is Real
He left in a hurried fury but Booth's return to the Diner might best be described as a frenzied dash. The time it takes him to get back is longer than he can stand despite it only being three blocks away from the Hoover. Working against him are two stop lights turning a blind red eye to his plight and a third that tries to ward him off with a jaundiced yellow blink. At this provocation Booth lifts his badge and darts across the cars preparing to obey their green signal. He barely makes it across ahead of the horns and ten more steps and then he's at the door.
She probably isn't here.
He tells himself she wouldn't have stayed here.
The breakfast crowd has turned over once in the time since they first came in there this morning. He left about twenty minutes ago, which is long enough that she probably has left as well and gone back to the Jeffersonian, or back to the mass grave she was working. Possibly she went home to sleep. He knows this is the last place to start looking for her but it's the last place he saw her, that stricken look of loss in her eyes as he turned away.
So he's come back to the scene of the crime like many a guilty suspect.
The bell over the door jangles when he bursts back in, a sound that no one else notices in the din of a weekday morning. His eyes sweep the busy interior and then he sees her sitting in her seat, right there where he left her, and a woman is with her sitting where he is supposed to be.
"You never lost anything in that coma, Agent Booth. You gained something."
That's what she'd said, showing him a card that meant nothing to him at the time when he was still pondering dreams and stories that he thought weren't real. But if they were essentially true, he knows why his science-minded partner wrote him a story about a married couple having a baby together. He knows that what he'd gained was her consent.
Avalon looks up as he approaches them, looks directly at him, and a smile tells him she's expecting this. "Agent Booth, we've been waiting for you to return."
There is a hint of mystery wrapped up in her words, the way she tilts her head that makes him wonder how long they've waited. Minutes? Days? Weeks?
Brennan turns her head slowly, so slowly, and when she finally meets his eyes he feels the connection sizzle between them. The way it always has; the way it always will.
He gets there almost before she can stand, and he doesn't wait because something tells him she has been waiting weeks for this moment. It's time to get to the truth, to lay all their cards out on the table and read their story out loud.
She is standing beside her chair when he asks. Brennan starts to say something about skipping over the obvious but then an odd expression passes over her as her gaze shifts briefly to Avalon. When he asks her, she is supposed to say yes. The psychic merely nods assent and gathers up her cards, stowing them in her handbag. When Brennan's gaze comes back to Booth he notes that his partner looks calmer. Her spine straightens, he thinks, and her shoulders lift. She only says one word. "Yes."
Her hand reflexively finds its place over their baby, as if protecting it. It's a simple gesture, an unconscious reveal of her love for the unborn, and it makes him love her even more. "It's my baby?"
"Yes." She waits.
Time seems to slow as the pieces of his dreams sort themselves into a story. Their story, that he now knows she read to him while he slept.
"It happened before my coma?"
Even slower now, the crowd around them dissolving, as he recalls searing moments of passion between them. The clatter and hum of the Diner dims while Avalon smiles and carefully centers the plate of apple pie.
"We made love?"
The storms shifting in her eyes begin to subside. "Yes."
"Do you love me?"
Hearing the sigh, the seachange as winds shift and carry her love back towards him, the feeling of warmth surrounds them. He steps closer, knows now why the tide rushed out with his memories and left her stranded. "But we argued."
Tears are falling and her eyes fall away in the flood. She nods, barely manages to say it. "Yes."
They argued about marriage, her fear, his frustration.
"You wrote that story for me?" He remembers it, the beautiful dream that came from the story she'd created for him, all of the happiness she envisioned as the loving couple faced the storms in their life together. "It was your apology?"
"Because you want to marry me?" Somehow those words have a musical pitch that catches the attention of people sitting nearby. Unbeknownst to the pair, they are gaining an audience.
Brennan fails to notice the psychic has slipped away from the table and taken her cards with her. The only proof of her visit is a slice of apple pie and the untouched fritter, the two cooling cups of coffee. The scent of apple swirls around them and the entirety of the Diner's population breathes it in unison, taking in the impending magic with apple-tinged anticipation.
"Yes. Yes, yes, yes..."
She's begun chanting now, as if one word can save a life. Theirs. A single life shared.
"Bones, will you marry me?"
"Yes, yes yes!" she sobs and she's in his arms a moment later, their mouths fused, their tender, loving cries shared between breaths and kisses and a teary embrace that feels like forever. Around them, the Diner erupts into impromptu applause that neither one of them hears, only the cadence of their hearts finally beating in unison after such a prolonged and painful separation. They are an isle unto themselves, existing in their own private Avalon once again.
As the morning patrons of DC's Royal Diner watch two lives reunite, Avalon Harmonia sweeps down the narrow aisle, pausing at the cash register to tender cash to their slack-jawed waitress who has witnessed many a miracle in her time ... but nothing quite like this one. She'd watched Agent Booth storm out not half an hour ago. "I knew it was only a matter of time," Vera mutters, shaking her head but wearing a winner's grin. "Nothing keeps those two apart for long."
Plucking a blushing yellow apple out of the fruit basket beside the register, Avalon gazes into it as if seeing into a universe of possibilities. There are many ways she can work her magic on two people who are meant to be together and as she polishes the glowing fruit into a mirror, she nods agreement. "Things have a way of working out when Fate wants her way."
This is how their story might have ended if Fate had her way:
He takes her hand and they leave the Diner together. He doesn't get her an engagement ring because she's not traditional and would refuse it on principle anyway. A love like theirs doesn't depend on outward symbols, only an inner faith in each other.
He goes with her to the obstetrician the following week, where her pregnancy is confirmed at 12 weeks and together they hear the fetal heart for the first time. He smiles through tears of joy, hearing this proof of the life they've created together. His hand is never far from that growing proof of love that swells her belly and expands two hearts. The partners (in work, in life, in love, in parenthood), marry in secret but bring forth the fruit of their love openly.
Temperance Brennan announces her pregnancy by her partner publicly two weeks after returning from Guatemala and Seeley Booth proudly claims the baby as his own a heartbeat later. Aside from a few raised eyebrows, no one questions it. The FBI allows them to remain partners until her advancing pregnancy forces Brennan to the sidelines four months after her announcement. She insists the conception took place the day before his coma, making her eight weeks pregnant at the time of her announcement and projecting a due date for the end of January. Those closest to the couple suspect a hidden truth, however, because the timing at both ends is more than a little off. (Isn't the timing always a little off, though, when it comes to Brennan and Booth?)
They roll their eyes, however, and let the story stand uncontested.
Unending arguments over hospital vs. home birth are resolved in typical chaotic Booth & Brennan fashion when she gives birth unexpectedly on New Year's Eve, a month before she's 'due.' Seeley Booth is forced to midwife the home birth before the medics arrive, which gives Brennan a de facto victory. For Booth, the victory comes from his total involvement on a scale that no one anticipated. Though he is terrified, the best night of his life is the one he spent helping his beloved bring forth their baby, a full term infant weighing eight pounds, five ounces (or as a scientist would insist, 3770.49 grams). It is a girl because Fate will have her way when something is meant to be. And this little soul was meant to be. They name her Avalon.
The psychic and the psychologist keep their secret, being the only two other mortals who ever uncovered enough pieces of their story to know what really happened. The psychic has no one to tell, having departed back to the misty isle where she belongs. And the psychologist smiles on their secret union benevolently, agreeing that some stories should never be published because the point was only to write.
Only to understand.
And now that he's solved the puzzle there's no reason to publish his book about them. It's not his story to tell.
It is theirs, the one she was writing for them and that was never meant to be published. The one that would have ended this way ... if it were real.
Some stories come in pieces after the dreams end, or even while the dreams are dying. That's how this story was born.
It was birthed at 4:47 in the morning, that moment when Temperance Brennan stirred in her seat, called away from her nightmare of forgotten love and tears in the Diner, rescued from the pain of losing him while he was still alive. Her salvation came by the scent of apples and her awakening into a darkened room where she was still waiting for the sun to return.
Serena the night nurse was there, her name and presence a balm to Brennan's battered heart because all of it was proof that her nightmare wasn't real. None of it was real. He didn't forget her, she didn't go to Guatemala to bury her pain alone. They were still in the hospital surrounded by life support machines and though she'd nearly lost him to death, she hadn't lost him yet. There was still a chance to reach him.
Brennan was grateful for Serena's movements at Booth's bed, guessing they and the apple fritter she brought must be what brought her back from that terrible nightmare. She dreamed that his coma made Booth forget everything and the only consolation she'd found in all the heartache was the paradoxical presence of a psychic promising a return to paradise so long as the wrong story did not take hold.
"When he asks you, say yes."
Brennan didn't know what it meant, she didn't believe in fate or the prophetic power of dreams. Yet this particular dream had been so real that she almost believed she had lived another life while sleeping in this one. Every detail was etched in her mind, as real as a memory, and somehow she understood it as a warning of what could happen if she didn't keep their story alive.
As she began writing that morning, with tears and fears so fresh in her mind, Brennan understood at last the meaning of a quote she'd encountered with Booth many times. Over the past two years of partnership they often wandered over to the National Mall, to a coffee cart that Booth preferred at the Lincoln Memorial end of the Reflecting Pool. There was a slab of concrete wedged into the ground bearing brass letters forming the quote: "Nothing happens unless first a dream..." *
It was a snippet from a Carl Sandburg poem, aptly named The Washington Monument by Night, and aptly placed where one need only to look up and take in the namesake raising a slender white point heavenwards above the glimmering pool designed for thought and reflection. People built monuments to remember the past. The poem spoke of the future United States beginning from a dream and of the long campaign to make that dream real, then it ended in a trail of ellipses ... the last verse devoid of the stories of the past because without monuments a time would come when there was no one left to remember them. She interpreted it as a sign, of a sort, though she didn't believe in signs and portents.
Their stories must be remembered, Brennan decided. Sandwiched in between read-aloud sessions of the Noir detective story she'd written for Booth, Brennan began writing their own stories down out of sequence, with a plan to collate them later into a narrative that she could give to him when he woke. Just in case. So he won't forget like he did in her nightmare. (Which she acknowledged was a foolish and superstitious fear rooted in a dream, and yet the compulsion to prevent that alternate life she'd dreamed of was irresistible. In addition, she had little else to do and her restless heart ached to tether Booth in any way that might preserve him.)
By mid-afternoon she had finished reading him the Noir detective story, giving him the ending he'd always wanted: a happy union between a loving husband and wife, who joyfully anticipated the birth of their baby. Her belief in him and in the permanence of his love, she hoped, would be transmitted through the words of the story and give him a reason to return. She hoped he would hear her asking him for forever.
But he didn't wake. And it was nearing the end of the third day.
So she began to write again, weaving together a larger story, one that she hoped would keep their story alive in his heart while he wandered. It was their story, his and hers, one that would never be published.
This was how that story began:
"There is a dreamlike rhythm to life in a hospital.
It starts with the quiet pings and blips of life support machinery, the soft and steady sounds that quickly become a lifeline to those who sit and wait..."
She had been writing it all day while he slept on. It was the fourth day and with nothing but hope to guide her, Brennan assembled the scattered pieces of her nightmare, splicing them into the tale of their past that she has been weaving together from memory. Over the hours she recounted their precious past to him out of sequence, painting pictures with words, recalling iconic symbols that she knew meant something to Booth.
She was calling him back, luring him back, singing him back through lyrical songs.
the love that he gave,
the applesauce she made,
making love all night long,
the dance to Avalon (their song),
the little black dress he bought,
their passion on the night they forgot
they created life
they parted in strife
and she calls him back with a story
This one. The one that you're reading right now.
Do you remember how it began? This is how her story ends:
This day she reads everything out loud, sharing her deepest thoughts with the man in the bed and this is how another cycle passes. Before she knows it, she is nearing the evening shift change on the fourth day.
"You love someone, you open yourself to suffering. That's the sad truth. Maybe they'll break your heart. Maybe you'll break their heart and never be able to look at yourself in the same way. Those are the risks."
She blinks back another wave of tears, part of her marveling that her eyes can produce such a prodigious amount of lachrymal fluid. All this tearing up is giving her a headache. She closes her eyes for a moment to gather her thoughts.
"… You see two people, and you think they belong together, but nothing happens. …"
There has always been some convenient excuse or interruption to hold them back. But really, at its root, what has stalled them has been fear. She vows she will no longer let fear have a voice. She has faith enough in him to know he will ask her again and when he does, she will say yes.
"The thought of losing so much control over personal happiness is unbearable. That's the burden. Like wings, they have weight. We feel that weight on our backs, but they are a burden that lifts us. Burdens that allow us to fly."
After all the use it has been getting, her voice is rough and scrapes out the last phrase.
Sensing movement, she stills and stares, hardly daring to hope.
His eyelids flutter.
Even from over here by the glass wall, she can see the flickering movement. Her finger jabs downward on the delete button, erasing her last maudlin musings because what he has to say is so much more important.
"Such a strange dream," he murmurs.
Setting the computer roughly aside, she is at his side instantly. "Booth! You're awake." A breathy laugh mixes with a sob as she sees the acorn brown of his irises for the first time in days. He blinks in confusion, his head turning slowly towards her.
"Your surgery was a success, but you reacted badly to the anesthesia. You've been in a coma for four days." He meets her gaze with befuddlement.
"What took you so long to wake up," she pleads, as if hoping he will have the answer.
All he says is a dazed-sounding, "Felt so real."
"People say you only live once, but people are as wrong about that as they are about everything."
In her dream, she lived another life, the one that fear created. The one she might make real if she stops believing in his love. She has been waiting for days to say the words that will bring him all the way back to her.
"It was real," she assures him. "Every word of it."
"Who are you?" Fear whispers weakly from the corners, banished by the strength of her faith.
"He knows the truth of you, and he is dazzled by that truth."
She catches her breath, mysteries spinning through her stormy eyes but without hesitation she tells him what he already knows. "I'm Bones."
"You're my wife?"
Brushing tender fingertips against his cheek, she smiles and gives him the answer that changes everything. "Yes. I'm going to be your wife."
*Author's Poetic License Defended: To my knowledge there is no quote of Carl Sandburg located anywhere on the National Mall, and the real one we've seen on screen apparently exists somewhere in southern California. I exercised 'poetic license' to place the quote on the Mall, because it comes from an actual poem that ends with the tragedy of forgotten history.
Author's Note: There were two stories unfolding here and now that we're at the end you see the second story, which was hidden inside the first. Reading forward you got Booth's POV, but now at the end you see it was Brennan's all along. The key was verb tense. Past tense is what was actually "real," while present tense was Brennan's experience in the hospital when Booth was still in his coma, including a nightmare she had about him waking up and forgetting what happened. That nightmare inspired her to write him a story explaining what happened, which was this entire 'story' you read here...
But the happy ending is still in place. She is six weeks pregnant with a very wanted baby when her story begins, and affirming her engagement to Booth when her story ends with him waking up and remembering her.
If I've ended this right, you didn't need the note explaining what was going on. Hopefully you're smiling.
If I ended this story wrong, yell at me on Twitter, in PMs or via reviews. I can take it.
Either way, my humble thanks to all of you reading, following and reviewing.