Booth watched the slight tightening of Brennan's jaw when she caught sight of the crutch tucked under his armpit, the sling cradling one of his arms securely.
'You should have waited for me,' she told him evenly, her voice betraying nothing. Booth looked at her, flinched inside when her eyes remained shuttered. At night when he closed his own he would hear her sobbing beside him, those cerulean orbs squeezed tightly shut as tears streaked down her cheeks.
'I don't want to have any regrets Booth.'
'I'm with Hannah Bones. And…you're with Tony,' he choked out, the last word bitter on his tongue. She broke, he cried, and he told himself to watch her. His hands gripped the steering wheel so he wouldn't reach out and wipe the agony from her face. Agony he had caused.
'I want to go home,' she had whispered harshly and Booth had nodded, unable to say a word. He didn't say anything either when she repeated Tony's address from memory, bit his cheek when he saw the Italian waiting for her at the bottom of his walk-up.
You love Hannah Seeley Booth.
Even if the words sounded hollow, it was all he had to cling onto. Because he had told her to he had to move on and Hannah wasn't a consolation prize. She was smart, ambitious and Parker liked her. At night she would laugh and tease, cook dinner and share some beer with him while grumbling about the corrupt corridors of Washington. It made him forget the demons churning around inside him, demons he still wasn't sure he wanted to share with Hannah.
Booth wasn't sure she would understand as much as Temperance Brennan ever could.
'Well Booth, I'm just glad you're alright,' Max said and patted Booth solidly on his injured shoulder. Booth didn't wince, thought he knew why the older man had been less than friendly with him since arriving back in DC.
'I did think this could have been you,' Caroline looked at Max, grabbing her briefcase as she got to her feet. Max shrugged carelessly.
'Well, it's nice to know I'm still suspected. I appreciate that. Thank you.'
'Uh huh,' Caroline replied, sounding unconvinced. 'Take care of yourself cherie. All of you,' Caroline added meaningfully with a sharp glance at Brennan.
'Of course Caroline,' Brennan answered with a tight smile. Max looked like he wanted to say something but decided to hold his tongue instead.
'Are you sure you're alright?' Brennan asked him once again and Booth felt something warm spread through his chest at her concern.
'Don't worry Bones. I'm good.' He returned her gaze, searching for something that he felt hadn't been there since he returned.
'Sweetheart, I think there's someone here for you,' Max said, sounding positively delighted. Booth flicked his eyes over Brennan's shoulder to see Tony unwrapping his scarf from around his neck, smiling when he spotted his partner at the table.
'I'll be just a minute,' Brennan murmured, her lips stretched widely across her face. Booth felt his heart lurch when she clasped his hand, dragged him outside the diner.
'So my daughter tells me you have a new girlfriend?' Max's voice was deceptively casual but Booth felt his hackles rise defensively at the censure in the older man's tone.
'Yeah. Met her over in Afghanistan.'
'That's wonderful,' Max flashed him a thin-lipped smile. 'I'm glad for you.'
'Yeah, Bones seems to like her too,' Booth said and Max raised an eyebrow, humming an agreement. Through the blinds Booth watched as Tony pressed something into Brennan's hand. It looked like a large shell, thin spikes protruding from the top in a line. Brennan looked in awe at the gift, cast that feeling up towards Tony through her lashes. He recalled seeing that same wonder in her face when he had presented her with Jasper.
'Well I'm glad my Tempe has found some happiness of her own,' Max observed with a soft smile, following Booth's line of sight. 'Tony makes her happy. Also makes a good lagsagna.'
'Oh…you had dinner with them?' Booth asked, feeling his gut clench at the thought of Brennan and Tony feeding each other in the kitchen. It was a domestic scene that had been played out throughout the years of their partnership; something Booth had thought would always remain between them.
Yeah. Because you don't do the same thing with Hannah?
'Sure. Any man who can make my daughter smile like that deserves some time with her father. After all, it was her idea.' Booth thought the words seemed pointed.
'That's…good,' Booth managed, seeing Tony press a kiss to Brennan's lips. He saw Brennan's free hand curl around Tony's neck and tore himself away from the sight.
'Nice boy that Tony. Knows what he wants and doesn't settle.'
'There something you want to say to me Max?' Booth questioned. Max fixed a hard, steely glare upon Booth's face.
'Temperance has been through enough all these years, and most of it has been my fault. But…I never thought I'd have to say that I hope all the hurt you've put my daughter through is worth what you have now Booth. I trusted you to keep my baby girl safe. Now I want you to make sure she's safe from you.'
Booth's mouth felt dry at Max's words.
'I would never intentionally hurt Bones,' Booth rasped, the pain in his shoulder throbbing viciously in response.
'Sometimes it's the things we don't intend to do that hurt the ones we love the most,' Max advised, hoisting the duffle beside him onto his shoulder.
'You've done a lot for this family Booth, and for that I'll always be grateful for. You have given me back my son, my daughter. But don't think for a second that I won't knock you flat on your ass if I ever see my daughter cry again.'
Booth's breath caught in his throat and he could only nod mutely in response. The tinkling of the bell brought their attention to a glowing Brennan, who held the shell Tony had given her gently between her regal hands.
'Look, Dad. Tony got this for me,' she breathed out, thumb caressing the smooth curve of the shell reverently. The name Temperance was painted in blue, scrawled messily but indelibly into the marbled surface like some kind of mark. 'Though I believe he was rather offended when I mentioned this would make a great paperweight…'
Max chuckled and Booth barely let his lips curve.
'Hey Max,' Tony greeted the older man with the kind of familiarity that an old friend would, shaking the hand offered briskly. 'You ready to go?'
Brennan cut her gaze back and forth between Booth and her father, brow furrowing.
'Thanks again for the lift son,' the endearment rolled off Max's tongue and Booth realized he hadn't been gifted that same term, one that Max had used often in his presence before. That feeling in his gut intensified.
'Tempe told me what happened. Good to see your still here,' Tony told Booth stiffly, as if he wasn't quite sure how to act around the FBI agent. Booth recalled the easy way Tony had tucked Brennan under his arm, how his voice had been husky and intimate after the Science Dude taping.
'Thanks,' Booth retorted, a bit shortly.
'Are you sure-'
'You guys go on,' Booth waved Brennan's words off, 'Hannah will be here soon.' The lie came through his lips effortlessly and while before Brennan would have been able to pick up on it, now she looked half-relieved at his statement.
'I'll see you tomorrow then,' she said before giving him an awkward wave. No guy hug, not even a clasp of the hand.
'Nice seeing you,' Tony mumbled half-heartedly and Max gave him another hard pat on the back. Booth watched them go, all three side by side, the way Brennan laughed easily and the way she let Tony place his palm against the small of her back.
That could have been you.
Booth took a long sip of the straight black he had ordered, the acrid aftertaste biting inside.
That could have been you.
He placed the cup down, heard the cheap china rattle against the saucer.
But it isn't because you made sure it wouldn't be.