Disclaimer: I claim no rights or ownership to Fox Network's "Bones", its plots or characters contained therein. All ownership and rights belong to the creators, writers and actors who portray the characters – so, Hart Hanson, please don't sue. I have no money, only a husband and a couple of cats. Not worth much, huh?

Lyrics are from "Breakable" – by Ingrid Michaelson (recently heard on Grey's Anatomy)

A/N: I started this a long time ago, and pushed it to the back-burner. It's been sitting there ever since, while new, wonderful things were happening to our dynamic duo in the series. Now with everything that has happened, I've totally redone this story – hoping to capture some of the effects that all the drama, comings and goings, and action have wrought on Booth and Brennan. I hope this chapter lives up to expectation – as it concerns Booth – and I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know how I'm doing! Reviews feed the soul! Thanks as always to betas Sean Montgomery and Htbthomas!

"Breakable"

"Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts.
So it's fairly simple to cut through the mess,
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess."
-Ingrid Michaelson

The evening sun cast long shadows over the streets of Washington, DC, as the traffic multiplied with fatigued commuters on their trek homeward. Even though he loathed traffic, he envied those who were able to tear themselves away from the office before midnight for cozy homes and cozy families.

Most nights, it usually was midnight by the time he left. Or well past it. A downside of the job, he guessed dully.

The light peeking through the blinds in Seeley Booth's office was turning orange, casting a warm glow throughout his space. Tugging loose his thin, artistic red tie, Booth leaned forward, snagging another manila folder with a case file to go over.

There are three constants: death, taxes… and paperwork, he thought.

The familiar script, flowing, sometimes scrawling, across the page brought a slight smile to his lips. Dr. Brennan, his partner, always had a way of using up every available space to describe, in detail, the aspects of the case. Occasionally, he had barely enough room to add his thoughts and observations – but for the most part, they always ended up at the same conclusion.

As he thought about it, Booth smiled again – sometimes they'd start a case on completely opposite sides of the river, so to speak, their views of the case and killer's motives so fundamentally different.

But somewhere along the line, they'd bridge the gap, come to a 'meeting of the minds'. As he skimmed the page, he saw his own notations written in among hers, the script seeming to flow together – to fit.

It warmed his heart to think of how far they had come in the past two years as partners – as friends – and the smile tugging at his lips grew into a full-out grin.

Someone walked past Booth's office just then, and he shook his head somewhat. Sitting back with a goof-ball grin on his face (when he was supposed to be going over reports) must have looked… well… goofy.

As he pulled another file from a more recent case forward, without checking the case number, Booth tried not to admit that the aptly named 'doofus grin' he'd just been sporting was cropping up more and more lately when he thought about his partner.

But the smile was sharply replaced by a thin line of cold recognition when he opened the file – photos of Howard Epps clipped beneath, and 'Deceased' stamped in huge red letters across the file number. Images and words, things that were said between himself and Brennan, things Epps said to him in his final moments flooded across his eyes and in his mind.

Booth prided himself on always being in control of his emotions. Letting your feelings affect your actions was a rookie mistake.

No one mourns that bastard Epps' loss, he thought vehemently. We're all better off with him six feet under. He could see Brennan's face, stark and pale yet fierce as they stood Epps down in her apartment. The serial killer had tormented her, attacked people she cared about to get to her, and yet she remained defiant in the face of evil.

And Booth had been so proud of her in those fleeting moments, as she glared down the barrel of that ridiculously huge gun at her stalker. Even as she had shown no fear in the face of her attacker, Booth had expertly maneuvered himself between her and Epps, catching his attention. He wanted that psycho's focus on him, not Bones. Not his Bones…

Everything else was a blur of emotion and action in his mind's eye, and Booth's jaw clenched – the muscles quivering in his cheek. The next sound he heard was the crunch of the folder and photos in his hand, his grip punishing the cardboard and paper.

He let go, staring down at the crumpled mass, somewhat numb. Epps' words resounded in his mind and heart, threatening and mocking in spite of his impending death. He'd ridiculed Booth for trying to save him, pushing him to admit that killing him was what he really wanted.

And Booth had felt his hand slip…

…Epps said they were alike – alluding that the killer in Booth, which might be dormant under the surface, could come roaring to life and it was the same as whatever was in Epps. Epps had told him to admit that they were more alike than he realized.

And his hand slipped a little more…

Booth rose from his desk and shoved the rumpled papers aside, swinging his coat over one shoulder in a fluid movement, and headed for the door. He knew that they had covered this ground in his sessions with the good, but exasperating, Dr. Wyatt.

Wyatt had brought his kill record out into the light of day, from its dark hiding place in the recesses of Booth's psyche. He'd shown Booth that always having control of a situation wasn't possible, and that maybe (even if he didn't fully believe it yet) Epps' death wasn't another notch on his kill card.

As Booth pulled out into the evening traffic, whizzing by slow cars and weaving in and out of lanes, his brow came together in grim resolution. He hadn't told Dr. Wyatt the exact play-by-play of Epps' death.

His hands gripped the wheel, knuckles turning white. As he thought back to his office, he suddenly, painfully realized – as Epps words flowed over him with poisonous tones – he threatened to kill Brennan. If he lived, he'd find a way to take her away from him…permanently.

His hand had slipped for the last time then…

…And it had been at that moment when Booth had crushed Epps' crime scene photos and file work under his vengeful grip.

Something had broken in him. The mere words, the thought of losing her…forever…and being able to do absolutely nothing about it…he could feel his heart pounding harder. His blood went cold in his veins. If he had, in fact, let go of the killer's hand on that balcony…that would have been the reason. Those words.

A horn screamed, causing Booth to jerk the wheel of his SUV.

"Shit!" He'd listed to one side as his mind clouded over, and now he was swerving back into his own lane. He muttered, while steadying the wheel, "Yeah, yeah, right back at ya buddy," and returned the aggravated commuter's 'one fingered salute'.

Dammit. He thought he'd gotten all of this out of his system at the shrink's. Yes, he was a killer. He'd killed to protect people, his country…his loved ones. A fleeting image of Brennan, her face buried in his neck and her warm body pressed into his – looking for shelter and understanding – flashed across his mind. It slowed his heart's pace somewhat.

And he'd kill again if it meant keeping the ones closest to him safe.

Gordon, Gordon, his psychiatrist – who insisted upon introducing himself with his first name twice (backward James Bonds-style, which Booth often used as a subtle jibe against the doctor) – had called him "controlling". It was his job, and dammit he was good at it! Why shouldn't he be the one to always make sure she was safe?

She? Booth sighed when he realized where his mind had taken him. "Jesus, if the shrink knew about this…" he grumbled, steering his car to the traditional diner.

Booth was hoping to meet Brennan there, even though they hadn't worked a case together in a week, they had a tradition of sorts. Sharing a quiet dinner after closing a case. And lately, quite a few of their traditions – things Booth considered strictly 'Me and Bones' material – were getting screwed six ways to Sunday.

The shit-storm after Epps, his being forced into psych-leave, and Tim Sullivan moving in on his turf (and his Bones) – Booth felt like he'd been drifting alone in a still lake. Watching things he cared about change in front of his eyes. He'd been fairly sure Bones would run Sully off within a few hours. He just doesn't get her like I do…

But, much to his chagrin, Sully persevered. She'd nearly stopped calling him to update him on the case they were working together, and the sense of panic set in on his heart was unbearable. Booth felt his grip slipping again – this time on the tether of his relationship with Brennan.

The night had settled in around him, cool and crisp as he walked toward the diner – his white shirt-sleeves rolled up over his forearms and tie hanging loosely around his neck. He glanced down at the tie – it was the same one he'd chosen to wear when he came back to her office that day. He'd been relieved to get back to his ostentatious ties and his belt buckles (though now, he couldn't pick out a buckle without feeling a little naughty…)

Brennan had informed him of her newly christened sexual relationship with Sully. There was no hint of bragging, not the slightest bit of manipulative intent in her honest face – she was informing her friend of something personal in her life, attempting to hold what she thought would be casual conversation (didn't he always tell her to open up more often?)

So, he was sure he hid the effects of his chest seizing within – and played it off like he always did when she gave him 'too much info'. She'd been with him for over two years, and within the space of a couple of weeks, she was steaming up the sheets with Sully!

Booth kicked a can on the sidewalk a little harder than needed, sending it careening down the street.

So, why should I care? Sully's a good guy…not like some of those guys Bones has been with before. It's not like she's replacing me, or anything. We're still partners. He grinned when he thought of Sully's assertion recently of what a great team he and Brennan made.

Flipping his lucky poker chip in one hand, Booth chuckled to himself, thinking of Sully's face whenever Brennan chose his point of view over the new agent's, and when she nearly chewed Sully's ass off right in front of him. He felt like an agitating kid, enjoying the show – shit-eating grin and all…Sully was about to 'handle' her right into a busted nose! And that just gave him all the more room to swoop in and be her knight in shining– Oh geez, I gotta quit listening to Angela!

The diner's picture windows came into sight, and Booth could practically taste the apple pie melting in his mouth. He wondered if Brennan would already be there, waiting for him. He found his steps quickening at the thought of seeing her, spending some time with her alone.

They hadn't seen much of each other in the past week. The last time had been–

Booth's stomach suddenly lurched uncomfortably as he remembered his last sight of Brennan a week ago. He was enjoying some well-earned down-time with Brennan, a commodity which was becoming more and more scarce of late, when the other agent casually intruded.

Even with Sully confirming what he already knew – that no one else could compare to the connection he shared with Bones – he'd felt like the fifth wheel. And it had stung a little when Brennan didn't say goodbye to him.

But the sight of them locking in a passionate embrace – her arms weaving around Sully's neck, caressing his skin, and his hands roving over her back and shoulders…

Booth slowed on the sidewalk, as the same feeling of hollowness filled his insides again.

For that moment, back in the lab that day, his breathing became labored, his heart thudded against his chest painfully, his brain couldn't make heads or tails of anything – and for the life of him he couldn't put his finger on why. And he'd turned, with an aimless gesture of tapping the folder he was holding on a near-by desk, before slowly, numbly, walking out of the lab.

He stopped and stared at the diner for a moment. Christ, Booth…get a grip! You're letting all this crap that has happened in the last few weeks turn you into an emotional wreck! Next thing you know, you'll be going to Dr. Wyatt's to curl up in the fetal position and cry about your mommy! He rubbed his neck with one hand, leaned his head back and sighed fitfully. He didn't let things bother him like this, he was stronger than that. There was no reason for him to be fretting over the romantic life of his partner…a romantic life which, after all, didn't include him.

He made a sour face at that thought, and scrubbed both hands over his cheeks.

"This is getting freakin' ridiculous," he said under his breath, "It's just been a rough few weeks, that's all. You're going to the stupid shrink, you're back working with Brennan –all should be right with the world."

Somewhat bolstered, Booth made for the diner again. He chuffed, "And you've started talking to yourself. Gordon's gonna love that." He shook his head with a smirk.

But the sight that greeted him as he crossed the street to the diner wiped the smirk off his face.

--------------------------------

The lighting of the diner illuminated the scene as though someone were shining a spotlight on the one window of the one booth where his partner, his Bones, was sitting – smiling coyly at the man across from her. Her hair tumbled in an auburn mass over to one side as she angled her face and closed her eyes, almost blissfully. Sully was in the process of leaning across the table, his lips descending on hers in what seemed like agonizing slow motion.

Booth blinked, wondering for a minute if the Fates were holding a new holiday he didn't know about called "Have You Emotionally Ass-kicked an FBI Agent Today?". Surely he hadn't offended God recently, had he? At least, no more than usual?

His chest constricted again, this time so suddenly and ferociously he literally couldn't swallow the new lump that had lodged itself in his throat. The one thing he'd been looking forward to all week, the time when he knew he would feel like all the wrongs had been righted and the world was spinning in the right direction, if only for a short time – was snatched away from him.

Booth didn't even look at the honking vehicle that halted beside him. He hadn't registered that he'd come to a stop in the middle of an intersection. Almost robotically, he moved to the sidewalk, back across the street from the diner, shoved his hands into his pockets and watched.

In another time, he might have shrugged off the feeling of defeat, and waltzed into the diner to sit next to Bones and remind Sully that they still had some traditions that didn't include him. He knew he had no right to feel this way – to feel so utterly cheated.

He watched as Sully pulled away from Brennan, saying something that made her face light up in that rare, beautiful way when she actually 'got' a joke. Booth had always secretly loved causing that same reaction, and they would share the smile… the moment…

Booth realized, with gut-dropping finality, that things might never be the same again between him and Brennan. And that thought actually made him feel like sinking even lower into the sidewalk. She had someone to share her life with now – someone to come home to, to laugh with and tell her heartaches to, someone who'd she go to for comfort or confirmation.

Someone who wasn't him. A tiny voice inside chided him relentlessly that if he cared about Brennan – and honestly, he was losing the battle inside trying to deny just how much he really cared – then he would be happy for her.

But he couldn't. Booth's eyes slide from the couple in the booth to the concrete, his head pounding with a renewed vengeance and a bone-deep weariness setting in. He felt tired. Useless.

Replaced.

He watched for a few more minutes, and actually thought he saw Brennan looking towards the restaurant doors – as if she were looking for someone. It was too much to hope for that she was looking for, or perhaps even waiting for him. And though he knew he'd be welcomed at their table – another wheel tacked onto the cart –a damn pathetic wheel at that!– he couldn't bring himself to go in.

He could stand Sully, actually liked seeing him from time to time. But when the three of them ended up together, Booth had the irrational urge to bum-rush Sully out of the room and lock the door! As he turned and ambled back up the street, Booth toyed with the idea of faking a case, something, to get Brennan away from Sully right then. And he knew she would come…she always came through for him when he needed her.

A tiny spark of warmth ignited in his chest at that thought. He glanced back, letting a rueful smile lift one side of his mouth. He could do it, and Sully would just have to deal…but he shouldn't. Breaking them up, even if it was just to ruin their dinner, so he could have her to himself would be petty.

She looked… happy. Content. And Booth knew he couldn't burst that bubble. Let her enjoy it, she'd earned some normalcy in her relationships.

Booth could carry on as just her partner – he turned away from the diner as he continued on toward his car – and something twitched painfully in his chest, as though a small crack had started its line down a piece of china. It seemed to inch its way through his insides.

He would just be her friend. He would just be the one to whom she would tell too much information about her sex life, the one who would ferry her to and from crime scenes…solve perplexing cases with. He'd be the one who'd have to keep his distance… not let himself worry weather or not she had a shoulder to cry on after hard cases – to make sure she didn't close herself away from the world, and remind her that there are some people who can be trusted not to leave you.

And with each step on the pavement, the crack inside his soul lengthened – and Booth knew that simply being her partner might not be enough anymore. Perhaps the stress had finally gotten to him, because all he wanted now was a case of Scotch, his dark apartment, and maybe a punching bag – though he didn't know in what order.

"You are one pathetic son-of-a-bitch, man," he muttered as he saw his bedraggled reflection in a puddle he passed by.

He didn't miss the next puddle, however, stepping right in the middle of it, as the fog in his head robbed him of coherence.

"Oh, fu–," he let the curse die on his lips, people were beginning to stare. "Punching bag! Definitely, punching bag first!"

No wonder I shoot stupid clowns! Dealing with her… with all of this… a man's got his limits, for the love of Christ!

Booth glared at a gawking shopper – what the hell're you looking at?! – before grumbling on to the SUV. It was going to be a long night.

As he gunned the SUV into drive, squealing away into the night, he missed the way Brennan seemed to fade away from the conversation with Sully, and scanned the streets outside the window.

As if she were looking for someone…

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"And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys." –I. Michaleson

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END


Like? Too dark? Too twisty? Dark and twisty? Let me know! Press that review button!

I was going to have a Part II, but after the loss of my muse for this story, and some advise from fellow authors, I think I'll leave this fic as-is. Just a little Booth angst after a long day...