Title: Settling
Rating:
T or PG-13 for language
Characters: Brennan, Angela
Timeline:
Set after Harbingers in the Fountain
Summary: Sometimes you just have to settle for the second-best situation.

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***

Settling

Brennan tucked her legs beneath her and let her head fall heavily against the back of the sofa. Autumn wore a multi-hued coat of ocher and rust that attracted every onlooker's gaze, but she brought with her shorter, cooler days; Brennan watched the gathering darkness through her living room window and drew a worn throw over herself. It did little to dispel the chill that had settled over her.

Tom Fargood would pay for at least some of his crimes and deceptions, and in no small part because of her and her colleagues' efforts. Surely that counted for something, didn't it? As Avalon, that strange woman who believed she was psychic had said, "Sometimes you just have to settle for the second-best situation."

Sighing, Brennan dragged her hand through her hair, wincing as her injured arm twinged in response, and waited for the sense of satisfaction that usually filled her at the successful conclusion of another case. Against her will, her body echoed with the remembered sensation of being held by Booth after Leacock had attacked her. Despite the fact that she'd been stabbed, Brennan had felt paradoxically safe in the warm shelter of her partner's arms. Safe. Comforted. Something more, as well. Something that not even six weeks in Guatemala had been able to erase. Indeed, it had only served to heighten it.

With a shiver, she resolutely shoved away the memory: there was nothing to be gained by dwelling on a moment that would never lead to what she had finally admitted to herself she wanted it to lead to. Though Booth had assured her before that there was someone for everyone, he had never once said he would be that for her. Coma dreams and story drafts aside, she and Booth were partners and friends; he had made that unmistakeably clear. That would have to suffice.

She would make it suffice. Wanting something, even desperately, didn't necessarily lead to its possession. A valuable lesson, and one she vowed not to forget.

However, she did possess valuable skills, skills that allowed her to have a tangible impact on the world -- to help enact justice. She didn't have to question her place in the world; she knew precisely where she belonged and what work she had to do there.

But the satisfaction she expected didn't come. Instead, she felt curiously...empty. Melancholy stole over her, left her body weighted and tired; she struggled to shrug it off. A silent hope she had secretly tended, allowing it to grow like the first green shoots of spring bursting through moist earth, was dying. She found herself helpless to do anything but mourn its loss.

When a knock sounded at her front door, she ruthlessly extinguished the hope that it was Booth. She slowly rose from the sofa and forced herself to unlock and open the door. Angela stood on the other side, holding a large paper bag and wearing an easy smile.

"Hi, Bren," she said, kissing Brennan on the cheek before breezing past her into the apartment. "I thought you could use some food and some company. You know, after getting stabbed in the arm. And you've been in Guatemala so long... I thought we could catch up," she called over her shoulder, setting the bag down on the living room coffee table.

Brennan shut the door and followed the cheerful click-click of Angela's heels into the kitchen. Her friend was pulling bowls and plates out of a cabinet. "Thank you," Brennan said, and opened her cutlery drawer. "I haven't restocked my refrigerator yet, and none of my delivery options seem particularly appealing tonight."

"No problem, honey," Angela replied. "That's what friends are for." With a wink, she patted her gently on the shoulder before heading back into the living room.

They settled on the couch together, each filling their plates in turn, as the aroma of hot Chinese food wafted around them. Brennan had just bitten into her spring roll when Angela raised an eyebrow in her direction. "So, now do you believe what Avalon said about your life being at a turning point?"

She finished chewing, then shook her head. "No. As I told you before, I don't believe in psychic phenomena. She simply made a series of vague comments that could be interpreted in multiple ways."

"Sweetie, come on! How else can you interpret twelve bodies buried under a fountain?" Brennan nearly laughed at her incredulous expression.

"While I admit I don't have a concrete explanation for how she knew about those remains, that certainly doesn't mean that I should conclude that she is psychic."

"All right. Fine, Ms. I-Refuse-To-See-What-Is-Staring-Me-In-The-Face." Angela set her fork down with a clink. "Even if you don't believe Avalon's psychic, honey, you have to see that your life is at a turning point."

"How so?"

"Well, for starters, you could have lost Booth."

"Booth is fine, Ange. The operation was successful, and he's made a steady recovery."

"Sure. But he might not have. You've got to see this as a second chance."

"I don't understand. A second chance for what?"

"A second chance for you two to get your heads out of your asses and admit that you belong together. Why go on pretending that you're just friends?"

Sighing, Brennan put aside her plate. She rubbed her eyes and turned to face Angela more fully, steeling herself for battle. "Nobody is pretending: we are just friends."

Angela rolled her eyes. "Sweetie, you wanted that man to be your baby daddy. And"--here she raised her index finger--"he agreed to do it. Doesn't that tell you something?"

"Yes, it does. It tells me that Booth is a good man who wanted to help a friend."

Angela made an inarticulate sound. "He's a good man, all right. A good man who wanted to help the woman he loves." She reached out and rested a hand on Brennan's wrist. "Hey, I get that this is scary for you," she said, voice noticeably softer. "But we have to seize happiness whenever and wherever we can. You and Booth got lucky this time. Doesn't mean you'll get lucky again."

Squaring her shoulders, Brennan met her friend's concerned gaze. "Angela, I realize that everything you're saying, everything you've done, such as taking me to see Avalon, is meant for my happiness. But there is no point in telling me I should be with Booth romantically. It's simply impossible."

"Not from where I'm sitting."

"Trust me," Brennan replied, unable to keep a note of bitterness from her voice. "Booth has made it abundantly clear that he does not view me that way."

"Brennan--"

"Angela," she said, interrupting her, "I need you to stop. Please," she added. "He told me he loved me--"

"He what? I told you--"

"Let me finish," she said, raising a hand to stem the torrent of words from Angela's lips. "He said he loved me -- in a professional, 'atta girl' kind of way." Now that she had actually related her moment of humiliation to her best friend, she found herself unable to meet her eyes. She didn't want to see the sympathy she knew she'd find there.

"I call bullshit."

"What?"

"No matter what that man said to you, I know he loves you -- as more than a partner and more than a friend."

"But he said--"

"Sweetie, I don't care what he said. He's lying," she said, drawing out the last word.

"Why would he do that? Booth has always been honest with me." Avalon had been wrong, and Brennan despised the part of herself that had been seduced by her meaningless words. Booth wasn't "dazzled" by her. He merely liked her, in a platonic, professional way.

"I don't know. He just had brain surgery. Maybe he--"

"His surgery was completed six weeks ago. I fail to see how that is relevant now."

"Sure, his surgery was six weeks ago. But then you ran off to Guatemala after he woke up. That's the kind of thing that might make a guy think twice about baring his soul."

"That's unfair. I was occupied with a very important dig."

"When you should have been here, occupied by a very important person in your life instead." One look in Angela's dark eyes told Brennan that the statement was made without any censure. Still, she felt ashamed. Angela was right: she should have been here during her partner's recovery. Booth had remained by her side whenever life had dealt her a difficult hand -- even when she had tried to push him away, insisting she didn't need him. In return, she had failed him when he needed her. It was no wonder he didn't return her feelings. She didn't deserve to have him do so.

"You're right," she admitted. "I should have been here." She stared down at the carpet without seeing it. "Had our positions been reversed, Booth would never have left me."

"Why did you go?"

"I...I realized something while he was comatose. Then he awoke confused about my identity... And all that time, he was unwell, and I pushed him to be a sperm donor. To father my child without being a father in the way I knew he would want to be. I was selfish, and it was all just too much." Shaking her head, she looked down at her hands. "I needed to retreat for a little while." Her confession, though halting and inelegant, carried with it a certain relief.

"Well, you're back now. You and Lionheart have another chance to get things right this time."

"You don't understand. If I can't be here when Booth needs me, I have no business asking him to consider a change in the status of our relationship. It would be a disservice to him and might damage our professional partnership. I can't take that risk." She sat up straighter. "I won't." They had too much to lose, after all, something that Booth himself had tried to impress upon her in the past. She had permitted herself to be weak, to long for things that were out of her reach; she would rectify her mistake.

"Bren, you need to talk him. Tell him what you told me. Ask him why he lied to you about his feelings. I'm sure he's got some idiotic, noble reason that makes sense in his head and nowhere else."

"I can't do that. I have to take his words at face value. This is for the best."

"You've got to fight for him. What about your happiness -- and his?"

"I am happy," she insisted. Her voice sounded thin and lacked conviction. "I have a career that gives me enormous satisfaction. I have numerous interests. I have friends," she said, the words more firm this time. "As for Booth, I already told you that he isn't interested in me in that way."

"Keep telling yourself that," Angela shot back. "What about love?"

Brennan's mouth twisted. With great effort, she forced it to relax. "It's time I began dating again. There are other men in the world."

"But not in your heart."

Though she wanted to argue, she couldn't muster the energy. What was the point, when Angela was perceptive enough to see through any denial she might offer? She cleared her throat. "You are my friend, and I appreciate everything you do in that capacity. Please, be my friend now, and let this go."

Angela shook her head, a pained expression painting her face. "I hate to see you do this to yourself, Bren. I don't want you to look back and regret not taking a chance on Booth. You could both be so happy -- together. Are you sure this is really what you want?"

No. "Yes, it is."

"Then you know I'll do my best to support you."

"I know, and I am grateful for that. This is for the best," she said, pushing back the sick feeling that crept over her. Perhaps if she repeated it a thousand more times, she would believe it.

Sometimes you just have to settle for the second-best situation.