A/N: This is the labour of a number of weeks and while I really wanted to finish it, it never seemed to want to come out. I hope that you feel this is in character even if the idea (and admittedly, my writing style) is a little unusual. As always, I love to hear what you think, good or bad!
It begins with a falsely positive pregnancy test and a marriage proposal.
It also begins with an FBI agent and his heralded powers of observation (and his really big heart.)
It ends with a ride home. And possibly a stolen kiss on the neck of the woman he loved.
He towers over the station where Hodgins peers into a microscope writing notes blindly into a file at one side. His arms are crossed and his stance is solid as he exhibits the practised Special Agent Seeley Booth pose, a confident smirk fixed to his features.
"Come on, we're leaving."
Hodgins looks up, somewhat startled by Booth's sudden appearance. "What?"
His smirk widens to a smile. "That's what I said."
"And can I ask why?"
"We're going to a bar."
"You're taking me to a bar?"
"You know, this isn't going to work if you just keep repeating everything I say."
"I'm just having some trouble understanding what's going on here."
"Don't question it, come on, I promise you'll have a good time."
"You say that to Dr B when you're trying to drag her out somewhere, naturally, I'm suspicious as to what that might entail." Then he grins, "Just so you know, I don't plan to end the night making out with you on a couch somewhere."
Booth's eyes narrow and his eyebrows arch.
Still smiling, Hodgins holds his hands up. "I was kidding."
Despite his protests, it hadn't been hard to get Hodgins into what could only be described as a dive, and behind a bottle of (what was at best) medium quality scotch. The lighting was poor, the seats felt damp and the smell of wet carpet hung uneasily in the air. Booth ferried a slightly dubious Hodgins through the door and quickly found a seat at the bar.
"Sit. Talk." He waved his hand at the stool while examining the bottles in a row before him. Hodgins obeyed only the first command, slumping alongside Booth into a bar stool. As if he knew what he was looking for, Booth pointed to his choice and two glasses were placed in front of the men.
"Maybe it's old army habits, but your friend had women troubles? You take him out for a drink." Booth tipped his glass in Hodgins' direction.
"I wouldn't call them women troubles." Hodgins had taken the tumbler in his hands, pressing in on the edges and rolling it between his palms.
"Whatever you want to call them then, you need to talk about it."
"Do I?" Hodgins took a drink, ignoring the way it bit back, scalding his mouth and almost burning down his throat.
"Yeah, you do. I'm not gonna let you bottle it all up and snap away it away on your rubber band."
"Because I'm your friend. Because by some weird twist of fate, I get to be that guy. So cone of silence, zone of truth, whatever you want. You can talk it out and I promise not to tell anyone. Not Bones, not Angela or anyone."
"I don't know what I'm meant to say."
"Yeah you do."
"No, I really don't."
"You just tell me what you're thinking about it all. What happened, it's a big deal and it's gotta be on your mind a little bit."
"A little bit," he admits.
Booth seems pleased. "Look at that, see? You talked about it."
"I didn't make me feel any better."
"How do you know? It's not like you're the caring sharing type is it? You're hardly spilling your guts about your own barely functional love life."
"Maybe not. But maybe I have to suffer the consequences of that." Booth's words are measured and serious, he's not looking at Hodgins as he speaks, instead toying with his glass absently.
"So what, I just tell you what's on my mind?"
"That's the idea."
"Whatever I'm thinking about?"
After another sip (gulp) and the obligatory wince as it trickled into stomach, feeling the fire inside him, Hodgins sat his glass carefully on the bar. He aligned it perfectly with the ratty coaster, its edges all peeled and its design fading, that he didn't really need to use on the already pock-marked bar.
And then he turned to Booth and smiled an empty smile. "She thought she was having someone else's baby."
He had wondered, if just for a lone moment, why it was he had to be that guy.
So maybe it was because he was the only one who'd seen how deep it ran. Actually seen it in the way Hodgins went about his business, read it in his stance and in his actions. He usually reserved such close analysis for suspects (and for Bones, but that was a whole other screwed up story) but ever since Cam had come to him for advice on parenting and somehow managed to share the whole sordid story in the process, he'd focussed his attentions on the one person who stood to lose the most in the whole transaction.
As much as anyone could argue that right was reserved for Angela, Booth could find it in himself to disagree.
Yeah, maybe it was that.
Maybe it was because there really was no one else. Short of sending Sweets in, for what he was sure would be an unpleasant experience for psychologist and entomologist alike, with Zack long gone and Hodgins' bed empty of company since Angela had left, he was it. He was the representative for male bonding and thus human connection in the life of Jack Hodgins.
But that wasn't it either.
Maybe it was because he was just a good guy. They were his people and he liked to make sure they were okay.
Or maybe, just maybe, he was that guy because he knew a thing or two about pining.
It was Monday morning and there was a case, so it wasn't at all unusual that Booth were to come sliding through the big glass doors of the Jeffersonian Medico-Legal Lab. (Or more accurately, he slid through one big glass door and one temporary plastic screen after a curiously undocumented incident the previous weekend had seen extensive damage to the glass panelling of the entry.)
It also wasn't at all unusual that Booth head straight to the office of one Temperance Brennan, his path taking him along by a station where Jack Hodgins happened to be working that Monday morning.
It also wasn't unusual that the two would swap perfunctory good mornings, each acknowledging the other as Booth passed on his way to his usual destination.
So no one thought much of the small smile and nod between friends as Booth walked by.
No one thought much of it at all.
It was a Wednesday night. The Wednesday after the Monday where Booth walked through one glass door and one plastic one.
The whole team had been working late and Booth had stopped by to see if he could entice the Good Doctor (his Good Doctor) into leaving early but she'd made a perfectly reasonable argument as to why she wanted to stay later and promised him dinner (earlier than 7pm, no less) the following night. He knew when to pick his battles.
So they were both perfectly uncommitted and the appeal of sarcastic and kind of grungy catharsis was great enough to lure them out another night. They found themselves once again in a dingy bar (Hodgins choosing this time) where the seats were sticky and the carpet was damp but the atmosphere was the perfect melancholy for two men that just wanted to wallow in self pity.
Well, wallow and drink scotch.
Quite a significant amount of scotch.
"I told her I loved her. I just said it. Plain as day; I love you Angela, I can be your guy." He's not slurring just yet, but Booth can't help musing that the statement would have been all the more effective if he was.
But then again, Booth was probably even closer to losing the gift of proper enunciation. "Y'know, I told Bones I loved her once."
That abruptly puts an end to Hodgins' pity party. "What?"
"Should've seen the look on her face too." He gives Hodgins a grim smile.
"What'd it look like?"
Big drink. "I'm gonna go with horrified."
Hodgins shakes his head. "Nooooo way. No way was she horrified, freaking out maybe, but not horrified."
"Oh I don't know about that."
"Says the man who's drinking because his ex isn't pregnant."
"Doesn't matter. I know things man, I know that the idea doesn't horrify her."
"But it does other bad things?"
"Oh come on, Dr B's... complex."
"You're telling me." It's Booth's turn to feel the fire of the scotch dancing down his insides; he draws in a whole reckless mouthful, swallowing hard.
"So what happened after you told her you loved her? I mean, you guys are still... y'know, doing your thing and I can't remember you being in hospital with any broken ribs recently."
"I told her that I meant it in a totally professional way."
"How can you love someone in a totally professional way?"
"I don't know! I mean, I'd just had the surgery and everything was all... confusing! It was all confusing for a while and I wanted to say it, but Sweets said that it'd fade and then I was worried and she was horrified and I had to say something. So I said that."
"She said she loved me back."
"She said she loved me back in a totally professional way."
"I think you brought that one on yourself."
"Oh trust me, I know."
"At least she said it back."
"Dude, I told her it was okay if she wanted to get married to me."
"Definite no then."
"Is something wrong Booth?"
They're in a car and he's driving. He is also holding the steering wheel a little too tightly as he stares out at the road on the way to a suspect's home.
"No, nothing." Booth's speech is somewhat strained.
"It's just you've been incredibly irritable today and I believe you've been displaying symptoms of mild photosensitivity."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to be cranky. I guess I'm just tired."
"Because if you were to ask me, I'd say your symptoms resembled the side effects of excessive alcohol consumption."
"Why would I be hung over on a Thursday Bones?" His voice is gravelly and hoarse and for this reason, his statement comes out almost at a growl.
Unfortunately, she misinterprets the cause of the growling Seeley Booth. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. It's just I've generally found a high correlation between-"
He instantly feels bad at the flash of worry in her eyes and the edge in her voice; just the same as the time he stormed into her office with an egg or stormed out of her office with a famous (infamous) ancestor. Almost painfully, he pieces together a brilliant smile and cuts her off mid-sentence. "It's ok Bones, I know you didn't. I'm just tired, didn't sleep so great last night."
He hates lying.
"Oh, oh, oh, oh. I forgot. I can't believe I forgot." Hodgins is practically jumping up and down in his seat as liquid sloshes around in the glass he still holds in his hand.
"Angela told me something."
"That's she's changed her mind and wants to marry you after all?"
"I thought so."
"Three glasses of scotch thought so."
Booth can only nod along and admit defeat. "We really need to get a new drink."
"Oh come on, it's our thing. We come out, we drink, we bitch about women. It wouldn't be the same without the scotch."
"I do not bitch." Booth looks indignant.
"I thought you had something you needed to tell me?" Booth shifts forward in their bench seat, straightening his back before leaning into the table, all the while peering at Hodgins sitting alongside him with an eyebrow raised.
"Yeah sure, avoid the question."
"You didn't ask me a question."
He seems very surprised by this. "Didn't I?"
"Then I've had too much to drink." His glass collides with the table and it is pushed an inch across its surface.
"Waiting in suspense here Hodgins."
"Oh, right. Right." He takes a breath and swivels in his seat to face Booth. "So Angela came to talk to me in the lab today, turns out Cam told her something kind of interesting and she wanted to know what I thought it meant."
"About the two of you?"
"No, about Dr Brennan."
"What did they say about Bones?"
"So Angela is practically jumping out of her skin, she thought it was some kind of huge deal."
"What is it?" His tone increases in urgency and his glass is also discarded to the table.
"Apparently Dr B hasn't had sex in 'quite some time'. Angela thinks it means something."
Booth doesn't say anything.
"I just though you... might quite like to know that." Hodgins throws him a smile.
He acts as though he is surprised Hodgins would feel the need to share this information.
He is, after all, quite a good actor these days.
He's sitting at workspace and he can see into her office as she works meticulously on a reconstruction. He loves to watch her. He doesn't think there's anything wrong with that.
Sometimes though, he misses the days when she was an artist, when she drew pictures and moulded sculptures and really used her hands for her work, instead of her computers.
Sure, technology was moving on and sure, it was probably more reliable, but there was something so... graceful about her artist persona, something so pure and delicate and fascinating that he sometimes missed.
He's sure it's just misplaced nostalgia.
But he's watching her and he's thinking about just how much he wants to be able to make her happy.
And it is then that something occurs to him.
He remembers the way she was practically levitating four feet off the ground when she told him about Brennan and the fact she was no longer actively pursuing the satisfaction of biological urges.
That maybe she was waiting for something, something big and pretty and suspiciously shaped like Seeley Booth.
And she'd just been so happy.
He knew stuff, stuff like that that would make her happy. Stuff Booth had told him that would make her squeal for a week.
He could tell her.
About the way Booth never said that he loved Dr Brennan out loud. The way he just smiled and tipped his head and kept the conversation moving along. Like he wanted to keep that first (or, as it were, second) declaration just for her.
About the fact those three little words had already been exchanged. In a back to front, only Booth and Brennan could screw it up so bad kind of way, but still, they were out there and he was sure she'd want to know.
Yeah, it would be easy.
But he thinks about scotch and laughing and late nights stumbling in from a cab.
He's not going to say anything.
Seeley Booth knew that any night that started with Hodgins flashing a shiny black credit card and a smile, dropping the suggestion that the barman should start a tab, was bound to be a good one. The bar was airy, the seats had all their original stitching and his feet didn't stick to the floor as he walked.
The room is also spinning, but Booth is sure this was not the case when he arrived. He is also sure he arrived with only one Jack Hodgins and not the two (or three, sometimes) he sits with now.
"It's awesome that you're rich." Booth throws his arm around Hodgins' shoulder recklessly, staggering a little when the movement threw him off balance.
He grins and draws out his statement. "Yeah."
"We drink better when you're rich."
He giggles. Honest to god, giggles. "So are you."
"Drunk is good."
"With you Hodgins, it can be good." He draws out the last word before taking another long sip.
Before he can swallow, Hodgins starts poking him enthusiastically. Still holding his tumbler, Booth turned to swat him. "Knock it off, stop poking me!"
He keeps going, laughing at Booth's attempts to hit him as each successive shot collided pathetically with his arms and upper body, doing little damage and little to deter him from his course of action.
"Wait! No. Stop hitting me! Your phone's ringing."
"No it's not."
"Shh, listen." Hodgins over exaggerated his statement, putting a finger to his lips almost comically. Booth stops his assault for a moment and quietens. A few seconds later he practically shoots out of his seat, hurrying all the while to fish his phone from a pocket on a jacket that hangs over the back of his chair.
"That's Bones' ringtone," he mutters as he rifles through several pockets before finding the correct one.
"Hey! No women!" Hodgins protests, grabbing onto an arm, trying to hinder the search. But he does not succeed with his mission as Booth pulls the phone from its hiding place, shakes Hodgins off easily and darts away to a quieter place to talk.
She shows up twenty minutes later, placing her hands on the back of his stool, smiling amusedly at their inebriated greetings. Hodgins hadn't missed the way his eyes had flickered passed the door every few minutes after he returned from the call, or the way Booth's face had lit up when she'd primly pushed through the door fifteen minutes later with a small smile and searching eyes of her own.
He could never be quite sure what had been said in the seven minutes Booth had been on the phone, but all he knew was Booth had returned with a grin and informed him it was time to call it a night.
"Would you like a ride also, Hodgins?" she asks, if not a little awkwardly but he has to give her points for trying. The Temperance Brennan he knew even three years ago wouldn't have bothered to ask.
"Nah, it's fine, I'll call a cab." He's not exactly sure at that moment why he declines her offer. It would be easier than waiting for a cab and he was on her way – but all the same, he's saying no.
"Ok, if you're sure. Come on Booth," she smiles and attempts to manoeuvre Booth out of his chair a third time. With a quick tug he stumbles from the stool and onto his feet, Brennan's arm shoots out to steady him and remains in its position as he regains a measure of equilibrium.
"Hey, thanks Hodgins. I had a good time," Booth smiles over a shoulder as they begin to move off, "I'll see you Monday?"
"Yeah, yeah. See you Monday."
And with a final smile, they left.
Hodgins could only watch as Booth weaved a little and was slightly less steady than normal on his feet. Brennan's arm snaked further around his waist, pulling him in closer to right him – and whether for ease or just because he could, Booth then looped his own arm around Brennan as his head tossed backward in laughter at something Hodgins couldn't hear.
He watched as, emboldened by alcohol no doubt, Booth swayed inward, burying his face in her neck while they were still talking. Brennan didn't flinch or even swat him away, instead laughing more at Booth's seeming inability to hold his drink.
He doesn't know if his eyes (or his booze-addled brain) were playing tricks on him, but he's sure through the glass window as they disappear down the street, he sees Booth place a tiny kiss right there on her neck before pulling his head away and continuing their chatter.
Hodgins had never felt more lonely in his life.
Because sure, he and Booth could go out and brood and bitch about women, but it was a fact so very clear now that Booth was hardly lonely. He wasn't alone and he was far from wanting exactly what he couldn't have.
Right there he realised that the man he'd seen as a fellow lonely heart, his drinking buddy and his comrade-in-arms was, for all means and purposes, still the main man in the life of the object of his affection. He was still the man she ate most of her meals with, the man she went to with all of her problems, spent the most time with, hell – he was the man she picked up from bars after he went drinking with his buddies for hours. Their relationship didn't fit into a neat box, but it was a real relationship. It was more than enough to sustain them both until they were finally able to deal with their own realities and it was a hell of a lot more than Hodgins had in his own life then and there.
Now he knew why he'd turned down that ride.
Safe to say, that night was the last ever meeting of the Jeffersonian Lonely Men Support Group.