You're a good man... and I want that for her.

Shit.
After Max left I let the air whoosh out of me like a cheap tire and waited for my blood pressure to descend Everest as I re-processed his words, tying them to the inflections and inferences that had underlined his statement like a cracks in a sidewalk. I had intended to parry back with something suitably irreverent and nonchalant but the bastard was gone by then, exiting stage left while I bled out with the rapier of his parting shot bobbing out of my chest. He had come at me from the one direction I never expected, and the poisonous tentacles of his implications were alarming enough that I instinctively drew away, no longer willing to engage him for curiosity or politeness' sake--not that it mattered. Now that he had voiced it, Max was as methodical as a telemarketer and three times as annoying. His sales pitch still rung in my ears. Maybe the fact that he had fathered my partner meant my inability to write him off was genetic.

When he had first approached me, I thought I understood where he was coming from. Max, blessed with the naiveté of the morally bankrupt, believed his new commitment to presence in his daughter's life would help erase his past absence. His appearance at the Jeffersonian was everything she hated: sudden, ambiguous, protective. Bones reeked of agitation, her reptilian gaze tight and crinkly with frustration similar to when she was trying to figure out a what kind of orange a Clockwork Orange was. It wasn't just the abandonment thing, or the murder thing, or the orphan thing. She just couldn't figure Max out through any of her go-to methodology, and for all her talk of adaptation as an anthropologic necessity, Bones clung to science with the fanaticism of a nuclear scientist in the height of the Cold War. If her precious forensic process didn't require a dead body, she'd have a squint boil his head for the sheer gratification of poking around his cranium to see what she could come up with. I get that. Mired in the muddy depths of the differences between she and I there bobs one shiny buoy of similarity: we are investigators. We measure our place in the world by searching out truth, and even if she was faltering, the magic in our partnership was that at least I could see Max for what he was and use my charm and skill to smooth over the tension until her processing improved. I'd promise the old man I'd talk to her. Keep things civil. Even if he was a cop-murdering psycho, Max was a parent, and I could always charm the parents.

I'd never had one openly question the reason why I may have neglected to boink his darling.

Max was no moron. The rapid-fire questions and comment about Bones' looks were calculated to get under my skin, and I fell for it with the grace of an Olympic diver. If only I had said she was hot at least I could boast that my rep was intact, but as the image of her face flashed in front of me like a mirage I indicted myself with all the earnest zeal of someone whose testicles had yet to drop.

Bones is beautiful.

The moment the words left my mouth I wanted to cuff them, read them their rights and cram them back in. Father or not, no way I was giving Max an engraved invite into the champagne room of my psyche. While we both paused to let that comment sink in, my hand spasmed on my coffee cup while I concentrated on keeping it away from my gun and keeping my gun away from my piehole. It wasn't shame, but it damn well felt like it. True to form, Max pushed forward with the only comment that would have stood a chance in hell of pissing me off more than what he had already said. It was easy to see where Bones had gotten her intelligence, not to mention her inability to read boundaries.

Is it because of me? Because I killed one man, and we both know he deserved it?

My mind was a white emptiness as I floundered. I couldn't let him go on. More than the statement itself, the obliqueness with which he delivered it, coupled with the concerned perplexity of his expression reminded me so much of his daughter that it bypassed the chain link fence around my heart with the finesse of a steamroller. I didn't need my gut to tell me he was looking for my empathy, my intercession, so I said what was necessary to get him to shut up while I hit my mental reset button. I surrendered quicker than France, promising to talk to her in an effort to end the conversation before he progressed to enumerating the terms of her dowry. The sudden softening of his eyes made the sirens in my head peal out in warning, but by then it was too late.

You're a good man...and I want that for her.

Dear God, the implications were earth-shattering. Beyond anything I had ever allowed myself to seriously consider. It wasn't so much Max's seeming indifference to the fact that my companionship came with an engraved invitation to slip his precious little genius the tickle pickle. Let's face it: even on the days when I waffle between striped versus polka dot socks, my self esteem is pretty healthy. Any scientist, especially one bred as dispassionately as a Brennan, would consider my genetic lottery ticket a biological winner. Of course Max would seek the best possible mate for his daughter, a compliment to her intellect and one best capable to care for her with the violence he felt she was due. I had proven myself not only willing and able, but I came conveniently equipped with a badge. Said implications would also inevitably lead to very real consequences upon which Max could work his mojo with possibly better results than his previous attempts. Bones and Russ might have experienced enough of Dear Old Dad to hold fast to each other, but grandchildren were a clean slate. In Max's line of thought, I was a winning combo of get out of jail free card for future progeny, and a second chance to do things right.

As I stood at the rail with her later that evening, I replayed the interaction in my head. Her husky milk-and-cookie monotone washed over me as I watched Parker's little head next to Max's, oddly similar curls like sunlight and honey, and felt permeated by warmth without and within. It was easy to picture us together in moments like these. The case was solved, paperwork filed, and the lab was like home, if you discounted the fact that the proverbial skeletons in the closet were enough to populate Gitmo. Still, Bones was oddly perceptive, her usually laser-bright gaze glowing with empathy, and reckless Max was all grandfatherly patience. Affectionate, wise. I took in every detail, my Special Agent's mind working overtime as I cataloged every word and image so I could hoard this moment like a miser, taking it out in the dark alone times to bask in the light projected from everyone essential to my happiness within easy reach. I looked past the topaz sweep of Bones' hair to Max as he helped Parker with his lab coat, imagining a prim little girl with serious blue eyes. The fact that Brennan never meant to procreate was probably for the best, because as stoic as I tried to be, you'd have to be a cyborg to resist that, and I was only human.

A good man.

I had been chanting the words to myself for the last few minutes as I stood with her overlooking our makeshift family, running through my standard playbook of quips with the zeal and hopelessness of a Redskins head coach. I had been called a good man before, of course. Rebecca called me a good man after she rejected me as a husband, then a lover. My brother called me a good man whenever I bailed him out. Only the Brennans had ever done so when nothing rode on the statement. Had Max been able to tell? Had I ever betrayed myself in some way? Did he know how badly I needed to hear it, how much I dreaded doing so? Could she? Belt buckle notwithstanding, it was what I prayed for every night, even as the faces of those I personally dispatched into the afterlife teased my memory. God, let me be a good man, a good father. Maybe then someday he would never have cause to be ashamed of me. Someday he would see how much I loved him, how I tried. I would never be an intellectual, the kind of guy that could discuss things ending in -ology in Latin at the ballet, but I said a quick prayer that if I couldn't be all that my son needed, that at least I could try to provide it in whatever way was available. Max was one of those ways.

I can't ... overlook the sanctity of the forensic lab, Booth.

Logically, she had no reason to humor me, which meant my request may as well been in Klingon for all the water it held. Her lucid reasoning didn't help me deflect the knowledge that, hard as I tried, someday my son may find me as lacking as she found Max. Granted, Max was a con man whose guns were currently firing at maximum capacity in hopes of reaching her. He acted out with children in hopes of amusing the child she had once been and never would be again. He made allusions to her childhood, her mother. He brought her dead FBI Directors like a tomcat offering up mice. All the while, he analyzed her like a microscope and looked for subtext where there was none while she approached him directly, dealt with him earnestly, and still managed to maintain herself separate, mistrusting. Unforgiving. His initial irritation, subsequent exasperation and finally pitiful sensitivity to the steel wall of her character would have been funny if I didn't empathize with the tragic hopelessness of it. A face like Helen of Troy's hid a mind like a scud missile. Even so, I had stood witness to the lengths she would go to for him and the power of her heart when it came to those she cared for. I knew she cared for me.

-Maybe you can overlook it for me.
-For you?
-Yeah. Personal favor.

Max glanced up at us from over Parker's head, searching out her pale face for approval like a satellite bouncing a signal. Despite the fact that she was a success under every societal measure, it didn't matter. His was an uphill climb. Whatever effort he had undertaken in her behalf laid buried under the rubble of his failures. Just so, Parker's good opinion was more precarious with every year that brought him closer to adulthood, his development and even his very future dependent not only on what I could provide but on his opinion of Rebecca and I, his upbringing reacting with his environment to make up a person completely and wholly separate. The thought terrified me. Someday, he would judge me on the strength of things I couldn't control or couldn't do. Someday she would do the same, or simply grow tired of murder and move on to feed that mammoth intellect of hers on greener pastures. Someday, this anchor I was dependent on would cease to exist, and I would drift. I would lose myself, lose them. I was as rattled as if I had screamed these things aloud. I felt as transparent as Angela's bra under those tank tops she liked so much.

I know you, Booth. You're trying to do me a favor by telling me it's a favor for you.

Trust her intuition to assign me noble intentions the one time I didn't harbor them. I was wholly selfish. I wanted to keep this. I needed this. Parker would see that I did the best I could by him. If Max could tutor my son, I didn't have to worry about not being able to afford private school, even if I was loading the dice as far as raising a murderer. Somewhere buried in my personal bank vault was the knowledge that if Max were there for Parker, she would never be far. I could have her, her diamond-sharp mind, her awkward silences, those sudden grins that hit me like a kick in the stomach. The fact that the arrangement would benefit her relationship with Max was a happy coincidence. I would reach out to her for Parker's sake, and Max would reach out to my child for hers. I could keep this going. We would hold each other up like popsicle sticks in the absence of a true framework, and maybe over time I could will the actual thing into existence, or at least threaten to shoot someone if things got wobbly. Bones was a hard woman to get close to, and Max had come back to be close to Bones. I understood that in a way she couldn't with that big brain of hers. Whatever else he was, he was a father, and no father ever tries to fail his child. No good man ever tries to fail.