Let's Pretend We're Not Pretending
Her perfume was devilishly sweet. It seemed new. Over the years he had learned to recognize the different perfumes corresponding to different occasions. The numerous memories corresponding to these occasions made him cringe subconsciously. There was the 'date perfume', as he called it. It was as alluring as her choice of clothing, as inviting as her glowing lips. It was the perfume that had made him fear to lose her for years. Then there was the 'special event perfume'. It was stronger, more feminine but it created a distance. He could not explain how or why. He just knew she would wear it during the various social functions they had to attend together. He wondered if it was scientifically possible to select perfumes in relation with their effect on hormones. Or something. He drew closer to smell her hair; maybe it was her shampoo, after all. He would have noticed if she had changed her perfume...
Hell, he was losing it. She was like a drug to him, there was nothing more to it. No years of constant presence and yearning could be explained by hormonally attractive perfumes. He just effing loved her and there was no taking it back. There was no moving on either, no matter what he had said. No matter how badly he had meant it.
When she felt him draw closer she looked up at him, puzzled.
"What is it?" she said, trying her best not to draw away. They had an audience, she tried to remind herself.
He smiled, unable to conceal his discomfort.
"Nothing I just..." he had to find something clever to say. They were not alone, and he had a hard time focusing on that detail. "I just wondered if..." Way to go Seeley, stuttering your way out of that quagmire. "I felt like dancing." Shit.
Now she was taken aback, and unable to hide it.
"I... You want to?"
I have no effing idea.
She considered his idea an instant and realized that since both had avoided physical contact when unnecessary in the past week, it was probably case related. They had found no opportunity to discuss the evolution of their investigation so far, both of them forced to put on that marital sham for the benefit of former schoolmates she barely remembered. She hated pretense. It did not matter how he would tell her this was another undercover operation, to her it was not. They were just an intimately involved version of themselves, for professional purposes. Even she could sense the twisted irony in all that.
But they were stuck. She was Mrs. Seeley Booth, tonight. And dozens of people had told them that it seemed meant to be. How could they know? They did not even know them. They were only responding to basic criterion of physical adequacy. Booth knew. He had told her he knew... If only she could know too.
She took his hand.
"Then let's dance."
His squeezed her fingers slightly, enough for her to feel the disturbing presence of her wedding ring.
Not my wedding ring, the wedding ring.
They gave an awkward smile to the couple they had been chatting with -interrogating, rather- and made their way towards the dance floor. It felt like all eyes were on them. Most likely because it was true. This was precisely why they could not jeopardize their investigation for personal considerations. Bittersweet, fucked up, pathetic irony of their being partners in too many ways. Luckily, the song that played did not invite to further contacts. A slight booty shaking would be sufficient. No touching, no holding, no smelling; just the painful awareness of the other's presence, so close and yet so far away.
What, so? What does she want to hear? Is there something left for me to say anyway?
"Did you learn anything?"
Is this some kind of joke?
"The suspects," she whispered. "What do you think?"
"I can't say. It's too early."
And I didn't pay attention.
"You're usually keen to share your first impressions," she answered, conscious that her choice for the adverb 'usually' had a different connotation than what she had intended.
He smiled. It was a sardonic, disillusioned smile. Sharing my first impressions did not get me anywhere with you lately, right?
"I guess I was too busy trying to figure out why you were head over heels for that creep," he said while discreetly pointing towards Andy Pfleuger.
"I wasn't 'head over heels' for him!" When she realized she had been too loud, she pressed her lips together tightly, apologetically. This conversation was not going where she wanted to, yet she could not prevent herself from arguing. "I merely entertained the thought of a relationship before he publicly humiliated me," she exclaimed. God, why can't anything I say sound right?
An instant, she feared he would react to her comment, but he did not. He took it as another unintentional blow from her. It hurt, but he was used to that feeling. It did not help cure him from her anyway.
"Imagine your life if you had married Andy Pfleuger… Wow."
Now this is a joke, right?
"I was determined not to marry until I graduated from College. Meaning I would never have married him, since I last saw him when I left High School."
"Does it mean at some point you actually considered marriage?"
"Before I started studying cultural anthropology, I had no idea that marriage only represented a legally binding contract between distinct parties on an institutional level."
Luckily that would make him stop asking questions she was not any more ready to answer than a week before.
"Who did you dream of marrying?" he said, with the first genuinely mischievous smile she saw him put on in... way too long.
It did not occur to her that despite his smile, he felt like a masochistic loser.
I dreamed of marrying someone like you.
"I don't know."
"Come on! 1994, you must have been one of those teenage girls in love with Dylan McKay or Brandon Walsh or something..."
Now he's making fun of me, right?
"Who are they?"
He chuckled, wondering why he was torturing himself that way.
"90210? Beverly Hills?"
"Thank you, I know the zip code of Beverly Hills," she answered, slightly offended.
"It's a TV show, Bones! You never watched it? It was like, the biggest deal back in those days. Brenda and Brandon Walsh from Minnesota, they moved to Beverly Hills and went to High School with all these rich kids with convertibles and pool houses!"
"Introducing new elements in a secluded environment is one of the most contrived narrative techniques employed in the entertainment industry," she remarked, quite earnestly.
Her seriousness made him laugh, for real this time.
I love her, dammit. Why can't she be dull and stupid and... ugly? And smell bad too?
"You got that one right, Bones."
She welcomed his laugh with relief. It felt good not to fear his reactions for a second. If only things could get back to normal. Normal how anyway?
She inadvertently bumped into him as she danced and threatened to fall backwards. He caught her in-extremis. When had she become so clumsy?
"What, no more 'Let me fall, Booth'?"
"Since we are supposed to convince everyone that we are married, it would be counterproductive of me to refuse your support," she whispered as she tried to recompose herself.
Sweets is right, I'm messed up.
"As a husband your role is to support me metaphorically and financially. Those are the terms of the institutional contract representing marriage. It derives from a very ancient rite linked to the primitive instinct of survival of tr..."
He cut her off with a kiss. It came out of nowhere but she did not fight it any more than she had fought their kiss outside the Hoover building, a week before. She had tried to ignore, forget this lingering memory. But his touch, his smell, his voice kept haunting her since that night. For the first time in five years he had looked fragile, helpless. For the first time she should have been the one protecting him from harm and she had not.
No, I have. I protected him from me, from my messed up self.
What got into me? He would have broken the kiss apologetically if she had not responded to it. Given some lousy excuse like 'people are watching' or 'I was just trying to shut you up'. But she did respond. She was now. Was her tongue in his mouth or was he simply hallucinating again? Kissing her felt like home, like it was meant to be, like... like she had been molded specifically for his arms and lips. That was the unfairness of fate.
He broke it off slowly, gently. Almost afraid to open his eyes and see that same expression he had faced the last time he had dared to cross that line. But she just smiled, her eyes tightly shut. Unafraid, it seemed.
She licked her lips, attempting to catalog all those sensations. Maybe because she knew it would be her only chance. After all, he had told her: he had to move on. And he would. He had probably kissed her because people were watching, or to shut her up anyway. But she did not mind. It made her forget that it was going to be awkward and tensed again, maybe forever. Until he leaves me for good.
"I'm sorry." Well, not really.
"It's alright. People are watching us. You did what you had to do." she answered, suddenly bitter.
"Maybe we should get back to work." He had no other answer. No more argument. He could only accept the inevitability of their mutual discomfort, of their irreconcilable differences.
She nodded, immediately drawing away. She could not cry just now.
She desperately tried to remember the name of the woman she was talking to, while observing Booth from afar. He was 'befriending' with one of the potential suspects –yet another name she could not associate with yet another face. Plain Caucasian traits, average height and weight. Dull man talking to her man. My man? Oh please. I only had two glasses of punch.
"Seriously back then I would never have thought that you, out of anyone, would become like... wow! It's real great!"
"I have a very high I.Q, coupled with an exceptional learning curve. It is really no surprise as to the extent of my professional success."
She barely looked at the woman while talking, entirely focused on her 'husband'. Whether it appeared like disdain or disinterest, she had no idea. Not that she cared. She had better things to do than to preserve the sensitivity of someone who had probably made her life miserable 16 years before.
"Uh, sure," the woman grimaced, desperate to find another subject of conversation. You did not get the chance to socialize with a best-selling author every day, no matter how that author used to be dorky back in High School. "And how about your husband, how did you guys meet?"
Bones eyed her 'husband' once more. This time he looked back, enveloping her with this smile she knew so well. That made her shiver. Was that pretense? Of course it is. All of this is nothing but pretense. I chose this. I asked for it.
"We met six years ago, for work."
"Oh really, what does he do?"
They had decided upon his alleged career, but she could not remember it just then. His gaze was too overwhelming. All this was too irrational for her to think properly. She could not work efficiently when in constant introspection. She gave him a desperate look.
He literally ran towards her.
White knight syndrome, uh?
As he put his hand over her shoulder, she let herself fall onto his side, relieved. He welcomed this gesture by caressing her arm. It felt so natural to her, frighteningly natural. It felt like he had been molded to shelter her, to embrace her body with his own.
I'm being ridiculous.
"Hey!" she answered with exaggerated enthusiasm. What sort of pet name does he expect me to use? She had never been comfortable with monikers until... Until him. Always him. "We were talking about you, baby." Baby? Oh God.
"Me? I guess that's what happens when you have found the perfect man, right?"
He seemed to enjoy it. Was he rubbing her face in the insanity of her sacrifice or was he simply being polite? Pretense. It was pretense.
I hate it. All of it. I want to leave.
"Actually we were talking about your job."
"Oh, yeah," he said, checking rapidly the expression of his beloved 'wife' to see if she had let something slip."I'm a journalist. Temperance and I met for an interview, after she published her first book. Or was that before, honey? I don't remember. All I know is that I fell in love the moment I saw her. Just like that."
She jumped up as he snapped his fingers together. Luckily, the woman was absorbed by Booth's usual ability at mesmerizing a chosen prey.
"Love at first sight, uh?" the woman cooed.
"Exactly. I remember the day, the hour, the place... What she was wearing," he added, with a suggestive smile. "I knew that would happen." He took Bones' hand to show off her diamond.
Fake diamond. Fake marriage. Real love.
Why is he doing this to me? To himself?
"How long have you been married?"
"Almost five years." He did not hesitate. That was the time they had spent as partners.
"Wow, you guys did not wait long! Temperance just told me you met 6 years ago!"
That poor woman had no idea that her words felt like daggers in the hearts of both. They felt like they had spent their lives waiting for something that never happened. That could never happen. That should never happen, Bones thought.
Booth put on his best charm smile, anxious to palliate to the silent discomfort of his 'wife'.
"You can't wait when you meet someone like Temperance. She's too precious to lose."
She is gonna kill me.
He tried to pretend he was doing this for pretense. For the sake of all this investigative sham. The truth is that he wanted to feel what it was like to have her.
I am losing it, completely losing it. You know what? Shit.
"I actually proposed twice before she accepted."
She tensed immediately. He could feel her against him.
"Wh... Why are you saying that?" she whispered.
It did not matter how it would be interpreted. She was too confused to care.
"Because it's a nice story, honey!" he answered, pressing her against him to obtain her cooperation. Then he turned his attention towards the woman. "She's a free spirit, very self-sufficient, modern woman, you know? So marriage was out of the question for her. I had to be persuasive."
Bones frowned. Is he drawing upon Angela and Hodgins' experience?
"Gosh, I'm too curious for my own good, but how did it work out?"
Seeing the woman's interest, Bones remembered her role and decided that for the sake of the investigation she ought to support her pretend-husband in his enterprise. She mirrored his smile, and kissed him on the cheek.
"It worked out very well," she stated. "I could never have refused such a proposal. You should tell her, Seeley."
Trapped in my own mess. Of course.
"Sure," he let out a nervous chuckle, gathering his thoughts. "I... I had tried all the regular stuff. Dinner and candles, down on one knee, but she kept telling me that this was 'unnecessary paraphernalia' and that having each other was enough. So, I decided to focus on the essential. I asked her if she felt that she could love me fifty years from now, because... I could. I said this was all I wanted. And she said yes."
I'm a loser.
"Gosh, this is so romantic!" the woman exclaimed.
She did not notice that Bones' eyes were filling with tears.
I said no to this. I said no...
When he realized what he had done, he suppressed his own emotions.
"Yeah, look at that. Temperance, each time you want me to tell that story and each time you end up in tears!"
Or I will end up in tears, again. So virile.
"I can't help it, I love that story. It's like it happened last week."
Did she just do sarcasm? Well, sort of.
Booth swallowed instead of responding. Hard. His gaze was more intense than he had intended. He felt it was scaring her. Maybe he was going too far with this whole… Yes. Definitely. He had scared her once. Enough. He had to react, fast.
"You wanna dance, honey?" he tried. Just to get away from this whole fairytale improv.
She took a breath.
The security of his embrace, as he rocked her to some 1990s tune, felt like another stab to her heart. She had chosen not to talk just yet, not to question his motives. Like their kiss, it felt like an instant isolated from time and space, where they were together without all the weight of this word... Together. She felt loved and protected in his arms, but it was not right. It was not true. Her inner contradictions forced her to fight again, always.
"Why did you do that?" she exclaimed suddenly, as she pushed her way out of his grasp.
He had awaited that question with anguish. Tried to find an answer. There was none.
"I don't know, Bones. I just... I just don't know."
"You said you were the one who knew!"
"Bones, people watching," he whispered as he grabbed her to resume dancing.
This whole situation was a living hell. He took a deep breath.
"I couldn't help it. It's just.. I'm..." I'm in effing love with you and it's killing me. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
She felt he was trying to hold her at a distance from him, his hands barely touching her back. She had done it again. She had hurt him again. I just wanna protect him. Why doesn't he want to understand that? Who am I kidding, I'm trying to protect myself. She drew closer, resting her cheek against his.
"I'm sorry, Booth." For right now. For earlier. For…
He chuckled, this bittersweet chuckle again.
After a few seconds, both relaxed against each other, returning to that place without time or space. He tightened his grip, breathing her in without shame. I gotta get over her. She responded to his gesture by settling her head against his shoulder, the tip of her fingers digging onto the fabric of his suit. Clinging to him. I can't lose him.
He had not realized to what tune they were dancing until he heard the chorus. Isn't it… Is that the Batman score? The crappy one with Robin and his iron tits? Soon the words became too tragically ironic for him. You've gotta be fucking kidding me... He listened despite himself. 'You remain, my power, my pleasure, my pain. To me you're like a growing addiction I can't deny. Won't you tell me is that healthy, baby?'Once more, he could not suppress a disbelieving chuckle to escape his lips.
"What?" she whispered as she looked up at him.
He could see she was panicking. This was going to be uncomfortable again. Painful. That possibility frightened her.
He gave her a reassuring smile.
"It's just... that song. I got a bad flashback of Robin with his iron tits, trying to gay up Batman."
She frowned, "What does that mean?"
"Don't tell me you never watched the Batman movies?! I admit that Batman Forever is an insult to the rest of the series, but still. Even I managed to see it when it came out, and I had spent most of the year in Bosnia!!"
"Bosnia? You never told me about that."
"You never asked," he said, cutting her off. He had not meant to sound harsh. Really. But that song would not stop hammering the pathetic tragedy of his life and he did not know if he could stand it much longer. Great, now she's hurt. "I never really told anyone, anyway."
I'm not anyone.
"You don't want to tell me?"
"You want to know?" he asked, unsure.
She nodded silently.
"There's not really much to say. It was my first deployment, we were working with international forces. There was a great deal of confusion. Our primary task was to protect the Air Force during their operations. Rescuing pilots, stuff like that."
"You were 22, right?"
"Yeah." And I killed for the first time, but you don't want to know that.
She knew it was painful for him to remember these years, but she was desperate to remain as far as possible from their initial, perpetual source of discomfort. The present, it seemed, was even more painful than the past right now. She had no idea that to him, it was one and only. His past led him to her, indubitably, mercilessly, as the song kept reminding him that she was the one who had shed a light on his life, six years before. A kiss from a rose... A blessing, tearing him apart with deadly thorns.
She kept staring out of the window on their way back to the hotel. The end of the evening had been like the beginning, incomprehensible. They had danced for what had seemed to be a long time. Enough time for them to be among the last persons on the dance floor. He had lapsed into silence soon after the evocation of his past, resuming his slow, soothing rocking movements with her. He had tried not to look at her, preferring to bury his nose in her hair. She had not forced her gaze on him, too scared that it would put an end to this fleeting sensation of peace. Now she could not help but wonder. They would not survive this. It was impossible. It was too heavy, too oppressing... Dolorous.
She knew she had broken them. Her undeniable responsibility in this destructive enterprise made her miserable. She could not even accuse him to have participated in this; she had made that choice, she had changed them because she was incapable of changing herself.
"We're changing," she said without looking at him. "Why can't I?"
It came out of nowhere. Well, no, it came out of her teeming brain. He had not found the courage to interrupt her train of thoughts since they had stepped into the car. Silence seemed easier, for the first time in his existence. Now he had to talk, and he had no idea of what to say.
"Changing is not easy." Yeah, shut up Seeley.
"It seems easy for us, right now."
Easy? Like the Way of Sorrows?
"We're not changing, Bones."
She looked at him finally, disbelieving.
"We are. You won't look at me, you won't talk to me. You alternate disinterest and inexplicable tenderness."
She realized suddenly that her definition of 'we' was summarized in him alone. Maybe he had not noticed. You wish.
They could not have that conversation in a car. Well, they could not have this conversation anywhere. He sighed, weary.
"You need to understand that I can't pretend nothing happened. It happened and... I need to adjust. I try. It's not the easiest thing I've ever done, to be honest."
"How can I make it easier?" she asked, desperate. And quietly, too. So he wouldn't change his mind on still being willing to be her partner.
He smiled sympathetically.
"Just give me some time."
"I don't want to lose you," she whispered.
She nodded, breathing in. Desperately wanting to believe him. Desperately needing to trust every word he ever said. That was the heart of the matter. How could she ever stop doubting? She had learned to rely on hard evidence and nothing else. It had been a comfort in difficult times and ironically now it was the source of her misery. Before she realized it, she was wiping tears she did not know had formed. He caught her gesture instantly and stopped the car.
"Bones, you won't lose me. I'm here, I'm not going anywhere," he whispered in a soothing voice. A sweet comforting loving tone she did not deserve.
This was too much. The whole evening had been too much. This whole week, really. She burst into tears. He reacted instinctively, like he always had in the past. He took her in his arms, whispering unintelligible terms of endearment as she clung to him with the strength of despair.
"We're gonna be okay. I promise," he added, his lips pressed against her hair. He had no idea how he would keep that promise.
The remainder of their ride to the hotel was somehow more comfortable. Some of the pressure accumulated had waned after the incident. But she was still in desperate need to ask him more. More than not abandoning her. She did not want him to move on. But there was no wording it, no expressing it. She did not know how. She did not know if she deserved it. She knew she didn't.
As he made his way around the car to open her door, she observed him intently. He was trying harder than ever not to unsettle her with a new mood shift. He smiled, joked even. Did he love her that much? Right from the beginning. Her chest tightened when she remembered his words. He never loses. He always knows. Why can't I trust him? It's me I don't trust. It's the ineffable injustice of life."Come on, Bones." he interjected, inviting her to step out of the vehicle. Thoughtful as ever.
She fought a surge of tenderness -he was not the only one acting inexplicably, it appeared.
When they stepped in, they saw familiar faces discussing with the clerk at the counter. It was one of the couples they had interrogated at the reunion. Booth and Bones stopped abruptly to exchange alarmed looks.
"What do we do?" she whispered.
"Follow me, alright?" he answered, as he grabbed her by the shoulders.
"Hey! That's the lovebirds!"
Bones frowned. She knew there was probably no real birds around. When she saw Booth force out a laugh, she imitated him. They made their way to the counter, subconsciously holding onto each other for moral support. Leaving the reunion, they had thought the sham would cease. Of course not...
"So you're staying here too?" Booth asked, faking interest in the former High School jock and his aging cheerleader.
"Yeah, it's a nice hotel. Lots of memories. We had our wedding reception here, before we moved to Chicago. Speaking of which... For how long you guys said you've been married?"
"Uh, five years."
"How do you do it?" the man exclaimed.
Bones realized he had probably enjoyed one or two too many drinks during the reunion. That did not diminish her discomfort.
"Do what?" she let out, before turning to her 'husband' for an explanation. Were they seriously asking them how they did it? Probably not, otherwise Booth would have squirmed already.
Before he could give her an answer, the man intervened.
"How you keep the magic alive like that after 5 years. I mean there were bets tonight on how long you would stay glued to each other on the dance floor..."
When Booth looked at his partner's expression, he was not surprised to see her half incredulous, half indignant. She was probably blocked on the "glued" part and was fighting her usual need to correct people with a tendency to use metaphors escaping her grasp. He smiled and said with a shrug,
"Well, we were not literally glued to each other, it would have necessitated the use of an adhesive mixture and..." she stopped, seeing Booth laughing. "What?"
"Nothing, honey." I love you, that's all. "Let's get to bed." With that he moved forward, addressing the clerk who was getting impatient. "We got a room under the name Booth."
The woman quickly checked her computer. "I have… two rooms under that name."
He let out a nervous chuckle.
"Well, maybe there are other Booths. Try Seeley Booth."
"Yes, that's it. Seeley Booth, two single rooms."
"That must be a mistake."
He rapidly checked on Bones to make sure she would not blow their cover in front of her former schoolmates. She was watching him, and, he noticed, she had grabbed his arm. He would think about that later. Returning his attention to the clerk, who was checking his reservation on her computer a second time, he feigned annoyance.
After a few seconds, the woman declared, "I'm sorry, Mr. Booth. The reservation was made on April 7th 2010, with a specific request for two single roo..."
He cut her off.
"Look! I made that reservation myself. I would remember if I had booked two rooms. I'm here with my wife, we don't need two rooms. I certainly won't pay the same room twice because of some reservation system failure."
The spectators of the scene all agreed on the legitimacy of his outburst, while Bones observed him with wonderment. She knew it was just pretense –again- but she could not help asking herself why he was so adamant to share her bedroom. No, stupid. It's not about us. It's about them.
After the clerk was forced to modify that 'mistake', the partners inherited of a key to one single room with a king sized bed. Both prepared for a restless night.