Characters: Temperance Brennan, Seeley Booth
Rating: PG-13 or T
Spoilers: Through 6x09.
Prompt: Brennan, drowning. Written for amilyn, for an old Bones comment fic meme located here.
Summary: Set post-6x09. Sometimes the burdens merely crush us with their weight.
Disclaimer: Bones and its characters belong to FOX, not me. This story is purely meant to entertain. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: To lurkers and commenters alike, thank you.
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"When you love someone, you open yourself up 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. 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 which allow us to fly." -- Jack Hodgins
Temperance Brennan does not want to be the type of person who has regrets -- who passes days couched in the hazy, illusory warmth of nostalgia and what-might-have-beens. Time, after all, cannot move backward. This is a scientific impossibility. She wants to live decisively, shouldering the burden of her choices with stoicism and practicality. What has been done cannot be undone; what has never been cannot be, she knows too well, remembering her father’s eyes; her mother’s smile; her apprentice's trusting face.
Sometimes a weathered trash bag and fading bruises are the only constants one is permitted to carry from moment to moment; house to house; transient life to transient life.
It isn’t her to deal in signals and missed opportunities, those mysterious, amorphous things that cannot be held in one's hands or viewed under a lens. (Those have always been the province of the man whose face has alternately held kindness, near-comical frustration and--and something else she only now understands, now when it is too late--when he looks at her.)
But if it isn’t, who is the pale woman with sad eyes she avoids in the silvered surface of her bathroom mirror as she girds herself for battle against the world each morning?
Sometimes she is still that girl: with the too-small or too-large clothes and the trash bag and the flowering bruises and the clumsy, shaking hands and the mouth that can never, ever speak the right words.
“Everything happens eventually.”
“Making love: that’s when two people become one.”
“I’m that guy.”
Pretty, pretty words...
But why would anyone wait, steadfast, for that pathetic girl?
She doesn’t sleep well most nights.
Dawn’s weak, gray fingers reach out to pull her from dreams she can’t recall, the sound of rain on a car roof receding from her ears and taking something with it -- something essential. Leaving her feeling oddly bereft.
Roll over. Stare at the ceiling. Fold back the blanket. One foot on the floor, then the other. Move, Brennan, move.
The silent directives run on a loop in her mind, sometimes for ten minutes or more, as she wills herself to do, even if she doesn’t care.
Dirty snow the color of ash crunches beneath the soles of Brennan’s winter boots with each step she takes. Chill January air kicks up strands of her hair and lashes her cheeks until her face goes numb. Booth moves ahead of her, tall and broad-shouldered in his long, black coat, shouldering open the door to the Royal Diner and gesturing for her to go first.
“After you,” he says, with a gallant flourish and an irrepressible grin. His face, his expression, the lights dancing in his dark eyes, are achingly familiar. This is the happiest he’s been with her, the easiest it’s been between them in so long. Too long.
A bell hanging from the door tinkles cheerfully, heralding their arrival, and this sound coupled with the sight of Booth’s cheeks, ruddy from the cold, lifts her mood. She sends him a tentative answering smile. For a moment, for this one shining moment, missteps and missed chances are swept away: anything is possible once again.
“Coffee?” he asks, tossing his black leather gloves onto the tabletop as he slides into the booth across from her.
“I could eat a horse,” he exclaims, exhaling gustily as he flags down a passing waitress.
Brennan wrinkles her nose in distaste. “I should hope not.”
“Why not?” he replies with a wink. “Tastes like chicken.” He wags his eyebrows at her over the worn edge of a menu she is certain he has memorized as thoroughly as she has memorized his dear features.
Though Brennan rolls her eyes, her mouth nearly turns up at the corners before she catches herself.
Later, back at the lab, they sit side-by-side on the couch in her office, encompassed by a warm halo of lamplight, completing the paperwork that never seems to be complete. Booth’s suit jacket lies carelessly slung over the back of the couch, and his slim tie hangs loose around his neck. The top button of his snowy white dress shirt is unbuttoned, and his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows. Brennan swallows, mouth dry, trying not to gaze at the bare skin revealed at his throat.
Lost in her forbidden thoughts, she blinks, startled, when Booth’s knee bumps hers.
“Earth to Bones.” Body angled toward hers, Booth waves his hand in front of her face, and she shoves it away with a half-hearted frown. “Have you heard anything I’ve said in the last five minutes?”
“Yes, of course. You said... You posited that...”
Watching her fumble for the correct response, Booth’s lips twitch into an infuriating smile.
Mustering her most severe look, she narrows her eyes. “Oh, all right,” she concedes at last. I can’t recall what you were saying because I wasn’t listening.”
“I’m not,” he replies, gazing at her with eyes that have gone slightly soft. The way he’s looking at her, it’s touched with a hint of... fondness, maybe. Or indulgence. It’s difficult for her to identify it with precision; she simply knows she hasn’t witnessed that expression on his face since she left for the Maluku Islands.
Something inside her catches; begins to hope.
He reaches for her hands, clasps them lightly in his. “Listen, I need to tell you something.” There is a slight tremor in his hands where they hold hers. “I know it’s been... tough between us lately, but you’re my partner -- and one of my closest friends.” He dips his head to look at her more closely. “I want you to be happy for me.” He clears his throat and releases her hands, his gaze shifting from her to the floor.
She should know better than to hope. Her stomach turns over, the hope inside her flickering and dying as swiftly as it rose. Whatever he is trying so hard to say, she knows instinctively it is not something she wants to hear. Trying to keep her expression neutral, she folds her hands together tightly in her lap. “I want you to be happy, Booth. Always.” Her voice sounds thin and pitiful to her ears -- not at all strong and certain.
“Good,” he says, on a sigh, “because I asked Hannah to marry me, and she said yes.” Their eyes finally meet and hold, and even she can see how badly he wants this. I had my chance. I had my chance. I had my chance. “And I want you to be happy for me,” he repeats, his voice much stronger than hers had been. I had my chance.
And now it is gone.
Brennan looks away first, picking at a tiny thread on her pant leg. “I... Congratulations, Booth. I hope... I hope you will both find great satisfaction in your married life.” It is irrational and stupid, but somehow she cannot bring herself to say the other woman’s name. The other woman who will soon officially be the only woman for Booth. As if she were not already so.
“Thanks, Bones. That means a lot to me.” The words are overlaid with such sincerity that it makes her stomach twist and roil even more violently. She cannot risk looking at him. If she does, she doesn’t know what she’ll do or what he’ll see in her face. His well-trained eyes have always seen far too much, ferreting out all her secrets.
“Excuse me, Booth,” she says, rising stiffly, carefully. She wants to be capable of more than this. She wants to pull her dignity around her and shut out Booth’s happiness and his need for her approval. She wants--
“I need to use the restroom.” A weak excuse, but it is nearly more than is capable of. She feels brittle, unsteady. As if she could stumble or turn into a pillar of salt if she looked at him. Without looking back, she leaves her office, feeling Booth’s eyes on her as she walks away.
One foot on the floor, then the other. Move, Brennan, move.
Sometimes she is still that girl.