A/N: Odd though it may seem, I think one of the best Booth and Brennan moments was the agrument they had in Con Man in the Meth Lab. To be able to hurt and be hurt like that--well, it is just as telling (if not more) as the fluffiest of those silent, meaningful stares. Put that together with the end of this last season and voila--story idea. This picks up a little while after the finale--and while it may not quite strike the same note as Con Man, I do hope you find it interesting! - Ana
Booth woke up that morning feeling like someone handed him a get-of-jail-free card. His medical leave was over. At least for awhile, there were no more doctors, physicals, scans or ass-bearing hospital gowns to deal with. Finally, thank god, things were back to normal.
'Normal' lasted less than six hours..
His scar itched. It was too hot for the damn suit. He couldn't get the damn scent of charred corpse out of his nose. But it was Brennan that was going to send him over the edge.
"It's down this corridor, on the right...," she said, her words too slow as she did the flight attendant pantomime directing him down a hallway that he'd walked at least a thousand times before.
He clamped down on his irritation, doing his level best to understand what she was going through with this. But when she took his hand to lead him around like a three-year-old, he just plain lost it.
"Enough," he said, jerking his hand from hers. "Enough of the 'Booth needs to ride the short bus' treatment."
Her mouth moved and somewhere in the back of his mind he knew she was saying that she didn't understand. But at this point, he was too far gone to hear her, much less care.
"I don't need to rest. I don't need a glass of water, or reminders to take my meds, or you leading me around like I don't know up from down. They took out a tumor, Brennan, not half my brain. So just stop, okay? Stop, treating me like a goddamn half-wit."
The tirade stopped as quickly as it began, awareness not just creeping in, but crashing through his frustration. The weird silence from the lab behind him. The stricken look on her face. He didn't have a chance to get past the oh-shit moment before she turned and walked away, the rapid clack of her heels against the tile the only sound in the room.
He just couldn't win. Throwing up his arms in defeat, he turned his back on her retreating form only to find half a dozen wide-eyed squints staring at him like he was some kind of freaking specimen.
"What?" he asked them, his tone daring them to respond. He stood there, waiting as one by one they dropped their eyes or scurried back to whatever in the hell they'd been doing before. Which should have pleased him to no end–except he had no idea what to do next.
He didn't want to apologize. The anger had come from nowhere, but it felt...right. He owned that anger and he didn't want to give it up. But that look on her face, he knew he couldn't live with that either. He looked down at his watch.
Five hours and thirty-seven minutes.
"One day. Just one normal day."
He sighed and then went to find Brennan.
When he entered her office, she was standing at the shelves, flipping through the book in hand, with her back turned to him. It didn't take an expert in body language to decipher the rigid lines of her stance. Closing the door behind him, he eased into the room, leaving an extra few feet between them.
"Listen, Bones, about what happened out there..." He paused, giving her an opening to start the conversation in hopes of guaging exactly where her head was at. All he got was silence.
"I get it. You're pissed. Fine. But could you at least turn around and look at me?" he said, irritation returning to the edge of his words. She froze, standing there so long that he was on the verge of walking out. If she wanted to pout then he would just leave her to it. He wasn't in the mood for this, for any of it. But then she shelved the book and turned to face him. Arms crossed, eyes narrowed. Chin jutting out with plenty of attitude.
"I apologize, Booth. I overstepped. Is that what you wanted to hear?"
It was exactly what he wanted to hear. Except, well, it wasn't. The righteous anger was gone, but he still felt unsettled. He didn't have a chance to figure out what that meant because she continued to talk.
"Apparently my efforts to be helpful undermined your need to re-establish your need for alpha-male superiority in your working relationships." It was same clinical clap-trap he'd heard a hundred times before, but the words snapped at him. Briefly, he wondered when she'd found time to work on her sarcasm skills. A few weeks ago, he would have a smart-ass response, but now he could only stare as she turned away from him yet again.
Once again unsure of what he wanted to say or do, he took the path of least resistance and sank onto the far edge of the couch, releasing a heavy sigh as he propped his arms against his knees.
"Are you still here, Booth?" she asked without looking an inch in his direction.
Not ignoring her, but still trying to find his bearings, he rubbed his hand over the back of his neck, his fingers sliding a few inches upward, unconsciously seeking the raised scar of the surgical incision. His breath caught in his throat, the sensation from the small area of deadened skin was like a bolt running through him.
"I almost--I could have died." His voice broke over the words. It was the first time he'd allowed himself to say them out loud.
"I know," she said, suddenly closer than he remembered. He looked up to find her sitting next to him, her eyes softening as they met his.
"But I didn't, and now that I'm back--I need to be back. To know, I don't know...to know I can still be the man I was before. Understand?"
"I think I do," she said, reaching for his hand. "But, Booth--are you? The same, I mean."
He stared at her hand on his, wanting to deny what she said. He couldn't.
"No. I'm not."
The admission startled him, but it felt as right as the anger had earlier. But if he wasn't the same person....His fingers tightened against hers.
"I know that you want to fix everything, to make everything right, but it's your first day back. Be patient with yourself, Booth. With all of us."
He looked at her, the first almost-easy silence since his diagnosis settling between them.
"When did you get so smart?" he asked, knowingly giving her an opening to preen, the least he could do after his tantrum. But she surprised him once again.
"My partner taught me that," she said, patting his hand before releasing it to stand next to him.
"Alright, alright.." He smiled, looking up at her. "But no more asking if I need to rest every five seconds, trying to take my temperature at a crime scene--and I remember where the bathroom is, 'kay? No need to..."
"I was only trying to..."
"Help. I know. ...but, Temperance, I'm okay. More than okay."
She nodded her head in agreement, but he noticed her teeth pressing into her lip, the shine in her eyes. Rising, he drew her close, felt the tremor run through her as his arms tightened around her.
"Ah, Bones. When did it all get so complicated?"
He didn't realize he'd said the words allowed until he heard her response. Leaning back, he looked at her as the list of complicatons scrolled through his mind. Brain tumors. Cartoon babies. Real babies. Fathers. Brothers. Cannibals. Therapy. Stalkers. Zack. More therapy. Dreaming that your partner was your wife. Wanting your partner so badly it made your teeth ache.
Startled by the interruption, they turned in unison to find Clark standing in the doorway.
"Sorry to interrupt, but Dr. Saroyan needs to know if you're ready to examine the remains."
"I.....," she paused, torn as she looked from the intern to Booth.
"Go," he replied to her unasked question.
"Not a one," he said, continuing before she could question him again. "Now, go, before Cam starts examining those bones before you get there."
The perfect distraction. He added a wink and a smile, and she was hurrying away with promises that she would be right back. And just like that, he had the office to himself. Pure silence and blessed peace. Settling back onto the couch, he propped his feet on the nearby table and withdrew the poker chip from his pocket.
"Five hours and thirty-seven minutes," he said, running his thumb over the worn surface of the plastic disk.
He sighed and then went to find Brennan.
A/N: So....I'm pondering whether to continue this to at least another chapter, and would honestly like to know if you, dearly adored readers, think there's something to the direction this one is taking? Or should I just leave well enough alone? Musie, as chatty as she has been lately, is decidedly on the fence about the matter..... - Ana