Blink of an Eye
Disclaimer: Here the normal rigmarole is posited. No, unfortunately I don't own anything from Bones... or anything else. Yup, I'm back, baby…and I'm wreaking havoc in a sandbox I've been hanging out in off an on for almost a dozen years. However, since it's only for the purposes of creative enjoyment and amusing distraction, I think we're okay. Are there any other questions? No? ::blinks:: Good. Then, moving on―
Summary: In a split second, one simple choice can change everything. When Special Agent Seeley Booth dies taking a bullet meant for Dr. Temperance Brennan, the universe's grand plan somehow goes askew. If you believe in fate, with some hope and patience, can they get another chance? Very AU.
Logistical Notes: This story follows normal canon up until the Bones third season episode "The Wannabe in the Weeds" (3x14) and then veers off into extreme AUness after that point.
Chapter 1: Eyes Squeezed Shut
June 19, 2008
"I don't understand why I have to be here."
The words hung in the air, a plaintive tinge to the pained voice that had spoken, echoing as the winds of Quantico National Cemetery whistled softly on the early summer evening. Memorial Day had occurred only two weeks before, and many small American flags still adorned the rows upon rows of white tombstones as the white marble glistened in the fading light of the sun's deep umber rays. A lazy drone made the air seem heavy as bees buzzed, birds chirped as the day began to give way to evening. The twilight of early summer had been made unpleasant only by the heavy weight of the daily humidity that was beginning to weigh down the District of Columbia and its surrounding environs like Triangle, Virginia, home of the cemetery. The weather made it pleasant enough as long as people didn't stand outside too long as compared with the overwhelming heat that had scorched the millions of visitors who trekked to the nation's capital during family vacation's over summer break during the bright hours of the late morning and early afternoon. For now, at least for a short time, being outside was bearable from the perspective of the weather.
But for the trio of individuals who stood in the half-shadow of a large live oak tree whose leaves partially cloaked them in a breath of shade, said visitors found themselves alone in this part of the cemetery.
Somewhat surprisingly, it had been the younger male who had spoken the words among the trio of people waiting for a cemetery custodian to arrive with the reason that had drawn them all to this sad spot for very unpleasant business that had to be conducted nonetheless.
Of the three people, the younger male seemed to be in the most pain. He stood clad in a rumpled gray suit, his trousers wrinkled and the suit jacket clearly having been bunched and unbunched many times since last it had been to a dry cleaner. He wore a plain white Oxford dress shirt underneath it, also heavily creased with wrinkles, as a somber dark red tie that had a small dark stain of some sort maring its shiny sateen fabric sheen hung loosely around his neck with a crooked knot. The young man's hair was becoming too long, clearly not been cut or styled beyond, perhaps, having had his fingers run through it. Several weeks worth of growth stubbled his cheeks, jaw, and chin, testifying to how long it had been since he'd shaved. His soft brown eyes, normally keen and expressive with his intelligence and insight, had a dullness to him that betrayed how long it had been since he'd had a restful night's sleep even if the bloodshot redness of his irises hadn't outted him first. Finally, his black dress loafers were as dull and unpolished as he, a testament to how much he had stopped caring about his looks in the past month.
"I really don't see why I have to be here," he repeated again, shaking his left foot into a nervous tap against the grass on which they stood, even as he looked at the base of the tree but refused to look at a specific spot on the ground that had evidence of recent disturbance.
The second member of the unlikely trio spoke in a soft tone, insistent but comforting, as he leveled his dark blue eyes at the younger man.
"You missed the funeral," he said simply. "At the time, as you know, I didn't agree with your choice. Which is why, if you remember, I strongly counseled against following that particular course of action. But, you had the right to make the choice you felt was the best for you in that moment. And I didn't chose to fight you four weeks ago. But, now, seeing how you've fared over the last month, I can no longer give you the luxury of making such choices on your own given our professional responsibilities and obligations. I have my superiors to answer to just as you do. So, for your own well-being and peace of mind, even if you disagree with it, you needed to be here for this. It's required despite it's unpleasantness, for which I apologize, but it's necessary nonetheless."
A fresh wave of pain creased the younger man's face as he opened his mouth to contradict the older man's wise pronouncement. But no words escaped from his lips, just a hushed breath even as he found he could offer no retort that didn't sound like a childish or petty excuse. The pain on the younger man's face quickly washed away and was replaced by a small look of surprise when the trio's third member finally spoke.
"I disagree," came a bluntly sharp challenge to the older man's statements. The young woman, the only female in the group, shook her head as she glanced at both men and then looked sharply away at a seemingly random spot in the distance. "I was there. I went, even though I didn't want to. I went, suffered through the futility of the ritual, and I felt now as I did both then and before it happened. Contrary to what I was told by you both, the funeral offered me no opportunity to grieve or to even attempt to come to terms with his death. Thus, it served me no purpose. None whatsoever. Beyond reminding me how much I hate this place, how much I hate religion, and how much I the sound of rifles being fired now in tandem. Contrary to what the military thinks, a twenty-one gun salute offered no one any solace."
The older man turned to gaze at the young woman and studied her as he had so often in the many days he'd been in her presence over the last month. He looked at her person and bearing and noticed that she had changed her hair since the last time they'd stood on this same spot a month before. At that time, she'd been dressed in a black pants suit, white blouse, and black heels. Her hair was a dull ash gray and had a slight curl of wild waviness to it. Now, a month later, she stood with a burnished auburn red shining in the sunlight as the day's twilight fell upon her. It had been straightened as bangs framed her pale, oval face. Clad in a cap sleeve dark red blouse, khaki trousers, and wearing black boots with a small kitten heel, eclectic tribal jewelry completed her ensemble as silver and turquoise earrings hung from her ears, a silver, turquoise, and coral chunky necklace rested around her neck, and a silver dolphin ring adorned the ring finger of her left hand. In truth, the only thing out of place seemed to be a small sapphire ring that adorned the middle finger of her right hand. The older man had noticed it at the funeral, but hadn't said anything. A month later, the fact that she still wore it on the same finger seemed to mildly surprise him, and he made a note to bring it up at a later date.
Tilting his head softly, Dr. Gordon Gordon Wyatt of the FBI, a talented if laid back forensic psychologist, studied Dr. Temperance Brennan for a moment more before addressing her challenge of his prior words.
"Yes," he agreed. "You were at the funeral. But I dare say that it did serve some purpose for you, Dr. Brennan. It forced you to take up a duty we both know you never otherwise would have undertaken. You had to compensate for the fact that no biological family member attended. In their place, you stood as family and received the flag that had covered the casket during the requiem mass and the subsequent church service."
Shaking her head, Brennan replied softly, "I didn't have a choice."
The words of the chief of the military detail that had served as escort echoed in her mind as he'd knelt in front of her and handed her the folded flag that had adorned the coffin during the funeral.
'As a representative of the United States Army, it is my high privilege to present to you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the appreciation this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country, and to our flag by your loved one.'
The memory of the words made her feel another flash of anger, one of the few things she'd allow herself to feel over the prior month of wanting to embrace only emotional numbness. Her jaw shifted as she gritted her teeth and continued, "Even if I had to do it with the entire DC Field Office watching me, gawking at me like I was a sideshow oddity, I had to do it because he wouldn't have wanted his son there. He was too young." She paused as a tiny red-rimmed set of eyes that so eerily matched his father's flashed in her memory on the night she'd had to explain to a seven-year old what had happened to his father as the child's mother looked on in pained silence. Shaking her head, the woman then retreated to the safe space of anger and indignation that fed her over the past month and allowed her to function as she then added. "As for his younger brother, he was too drunk to make it to the service. Their grandfather had to go to one of the precincts of the Capitol Police to help post bail since he'd been arrested the night before for a DUI."
Gordon Gordon Wyatt tilted his head and then continued to look at Brennan even if she didn't want to meet his gaze. "And so you accepted the burden. You took the flag. Accepted on behalf of his family. For them. For him."
"Yes," Brennan sighed as she spun her head to meet Wyatt's eyes as she'd felt the weight of his gaze on her. Her pale blue eyes clouded a bit, this time, Wyatt knew betraying her. While the young man wore his pain and grief more openly on his sleeve, it didn't mean that Brennan had escaped the trauma unscathed. Indeed, far from it, Wyatt knew. In some ways, she had been more badly hurt than anyone else excepting, perhaps, the dead man's young son. "I did it for him. I did it for them. I did it for us. Because there's nothing I wouldn't do for him. Including the fact that one day, I will be able to tell Parker that I was there at his father's funeral, and I accepted the flag on his behalf." She hesitated before she scowled even as she muttered, "It's a completely useless mourning ritual if you ask me. Long, needlessly drawn out and complex. Completely pompous and bombastic."
"And yet it was exactly how Parker's father would have wanted it," Wyatt said softly. "He believed in all what all those things stood for, valued them so much they defined the core of his persona. Duty. Honor. Valor. They shaped the core of who he was, what he felt, what he stood for, and how he acted."
For the first time, a sharp flash flared in Brennan's pale blue eyes. Had she looked down at her hands, which had hung loosely at her sides, resting on each respective hip, she would have seen they had balled into tight fists of rage as Wyatt talked. Only when Brennan felt a flash of pain did she look down and see that she'd pressed her finely manicured nails into the fleshy palms of her hands hard enough to drop blood. Immediately unclenching them, she looked back at Wyatt and had a painful look as a tone of derision colored her voice when she spoke.
"If there were a merciful God, why wouldn't he have saved Booth?" she suddenly asked as she looked at the FBI psychologist. "He didn't deserve to die. He was foolish and stupid and-"
"He saved your life," Wyatt said, interrupting Brennan's tirade as gently as he could with a slight nod. "Of his own free will and choice, Dr. Brennan."
"That woman was aiming at me," Brennan threw back at Wyatt. "I would have happily taken that bullet."
Wyatt's voice remained calm and measured, even as Brennan's voice had grown hard and crisp, each syllable tumbling from her mouth as if it was a curse she was throwing out into the world. "That wasn't your choice to make in that moment, Dr. Brennan. It was your partner's. He made it. And-"
"-he died," the third member of the trio finally chimed in, his young brown eyes moving from Wyatt back to Brennan and to Wyatt once more. "He died, because of me... Because of the choice I made."
Spinning around on Sweets, she lifted her right hand in the air, the one on which she wore the sapphire ring. Jabbing the finger in the air at Sweets, Brennan said, "No." Shaking her head furiously, she countered Sweets' claim. "No," she repeated. "You do not get to do that, Sweets. Don't. Just don't. Don't even try. You do not get to take this away from me, too."
"Dr. Brennan," Sweets began. "I-I…"
"My partner, Sweets," Brennan snapped at him, her tone making it clear that she was beginning to lose some of the tightly controlled emotions she'd been trying to keep in check for four weeks. "I lost a partner. You didn't. I did. I lost him…God, I lost him, just when we…we…we'd finally…" Her words trailed off as she shut her mouth abruptly. She quickly looked away as her eyes darted from Sweets to the ground in front of her where she saw the slightly raised mound of dirt they all stood around, and then her head swiveled again to turn away from the two men and the raised mound as she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to will some of the pain she felt threatening to overwhelm, to go away.
Sweets' pained eyes strained as they looked at Brennan, turned away from him, cold and cut off, the hurt obvious in his bearing. He looked like she'd kicked him as hard as she could in that moment, and perhaps, in a way, with her words, she'd done exactly that. He swallowed once, trying to get rid of the ball of emotion that threatened to choke his throat when she refused to meet his eyes once more. Finally, when Sweets spoke, his voice was soft as he told her, "He was my friend, too, Dr. Brennan."
Pursing her lips, Brennan opened her pale blue eyes, and her head finally snapped around to look in Sweets' direction. Her blue eyes shone brightly, even as she shook her head again in protest, about to seemingly say something. But then, just as quickly, there was nothing. She remained silent, but for shaking her head in protest at Sweets' claim or maybe something more. Crossing her arms in a defensive gesture, she took a step back from the two and leaned her back against the base of the oak tree as they resumed waiting.
After a couple of agonizingly silent minutes had passed, Gordon Gordon spoke, breaking the standoff that the trio had seemingly fallen into. "Well," he said. "I think, after all that, we can all agree that there is enough blame to go around for anyone who wants to be named a martyr today, hmmm?"
The words were sharp, perhaps a sting that Wyatt normally would not have used when selecting which psychological arrow to take out of his well-stocked quiver. But, given the personalities of the two people before him, knowing how stubborn and how deeply in depth both Sweets and Brennan were drowning in grief, he knew he had little other choice.
Reaching into his jacket pocket, Wyatt withdrew a silver pocket watch, flipped open the cover, and looked at the time. Closing it with a click as he pocketed the item once more, he said, "My, they are running a bit late, it seems. Any moment now, though, my dears. The staff will be here, Dr. Brennan can sign the delivery form, Sweets can check the wording, and then we can all go on our merry ways for the day."
Almost as if he was a prognosticator of substantial skill, not three minutes later, the tree heard a creaky set of wheels and the soft rumble of a battery powered engine as s small golf cart came into view. Six minutes after that, one of the cemetery's caretakers pulled to a stop a few feet away from where they all stood. He greeted the three waiting individuals with a polite nod and word of introduction before taking out a clipboard, giving it to Brennan, and then accepting the signed paperwork that the forensic anthropologist gave back to him after she'd completed the 'Next of Kin' portion of the delivery receipt. Using a dolly, the caretaker then proceeded to haul a white marble slab of stone off the back of the flatbed of the golf cart, waving off Sweets' offer of assistance when he saw how heavy the item was. Nine more minutes after that, the slab had been unwrapped from the quilted blankets that had cushioned it during the journey to the gravesite and set in the place where Sweets indicated it should be placed. The caretaker nodded, told them that the slab would be set after they left, and quickly said his goodbyes so that the deceased's loved ones could return to their morning in private.
It was only once he'd disappeared that the trio moved around to the front of the slab, a gravemarker and looked on its words with varying levels and types of grief. But all three read the exact words at the same time, feeling as if a lance had been taken to their metaphorical hearts as each realized that their colleague, partner, friend, and family member was well and truly gone as evidenced by the inscription on the headstone that now marked the man's final resting place.
IN LOVING MEMORY
SEELEY JOSEPH BOOTH
USA M SGT, FATHER, BROTHER, FRIEND, PARTNER
Sancta Mater Deum Benedic
A/N: We're off and running. I hope it piqued your curiosity. Stay tuned because it's going to be a bumpy ride. Thanks for reading.