Disclaimer: The characters belong to Fox and the five stages belong to Diane Neumann. Her work can be found by searching for the five stages of divorce.
A/N: Bear with this, it's a little different, but I promise that by the end, things make sense and come back together and, I repeat, actually involves no mention of marriage or divorce at all.
Stage One: Blaming the Spouse.
The first time he notices, he grabs hold of Angela and points to Brennan's office. Doctor B sits behind her desk and five minutes later Booth walks through her door. They don't arrive together. Angela looks to him with a frown; it isn't good.
He's gotten used to Booth arriving and whisking Brennan off at lunch time, even when they don't have a case. A week goes by without a murder victim and no lunch invites. That's the second time he notices that something isn't right.
Angela's out of the lab when he notices for the third time. Brennan stands in her office her arms wrapped around the Agent's neck, her mouth against his. Only it's the wrong Agent. He tells Angela that Sully's back and apparently Booth messed it all up.
Brennan says they had an argument. She says that Booth won't accept her for who she is. She says he wants more from her than she ever agreed to give him.
She thinks that means he asked Brennan to marry him and ran when she said no. She doesn't ask Brennan, doesn't want her to relive the moment. She tells Hodgins, he says he isn't really that surprised.
When she sees Booth she doesn't talk to him. She wonders why he sticks around when it's obvious that Brennan doesn't want him near. When it's obvious none of them do. It's like he's disappeared back into the time before Booth and Brennan got together. He brings her coffee before a case and makes sure he's nearby when the victims get too close.
She worries that he's trying to win Brennan back, until Hodgins tells her about Sully, then she knows her friend's already moved on. She thinks Booth is an idiot for forcing Brennan away.
She watches her friend so much she doesn't see how Booth flinches whenever Brennan actually touches him. She doesn't notice how dark the rings are around his eyes. She doesn't realise that Cam looks ready to murder Brennan whenever they're in the same room.
She's so busy blaming him she doesn't realise that maybe it's not actually his fault.
She knows she shouldn't say anything. When he comes to her with hooded eyes and says "I left her" she knows she isn't supposed to ask him why. But she does.
She knows that as his ex, when she realises he's single again, she's supposed to be a little bit hopeful. She knows she's not supposed to wrap him in her arms and pray that it's all just a bad dream. She's not supposed to tell him that he's making the right choice and Brennan will come around. But she does.
She knows that as his friend she's supposed to keep his confidences. She knows she shouldn't let their stares and hurtful words get to her. She knows she should make sure he doesn't notice them, but shouldn't try to stop them herself. She knows she shouldn't walk up to Angela and Hodgins and say "he caught her in bed with Sully". But she does.
She knows he should blame her. But he won't.
Stage Two: Mourning the Loss.
The phone rings through to the answer phone twice before he pulls himself away from Angela's very talented tongue to answer it. He gasps out "Hodgins" as Angela slides down his body and puts her lips to his ribs.
"Doctor Hodgins, do you know a Mister Booth?" He almost misses the question because Angela's moving even further down on the bed and oh, she knows what he likes. Except something isn't right so he puts a stilling hand on her head and pushes himself up straighter.
"Booth? Sure, man. I know him." Angela sits up beside him and he sees the worried frown starting to stretch across her face. He sees the guilt in her eyes. They've both done some things in the past weeks they wish they hadn't. They've both thought the worst of a situation they really knew nothing about. "Look, what's this about?"
"I'm sorry to disturb you, but I've been told you're his friend and I think he could really do with one right now. I don't think it'd be safe for him to drive as he is." His eyes widen at what isn't being said. What the hell has Booth gotten himself into? Angela tugs at his hand and he switches the phone over so he can hold it between their heads.
"Is he okay? I mean, is he drunk?" It doesn't sound like Booth, but then he's almost been where the man is now and he knows that when the one gets away you tend to end up a little unlike yourself.
"No, I haven't served him more than a glass of water. Look, is your friend...I mean is he..." There's the sound of a throat clearing and he shares a look with Angela before the voice comes back on the line. "Is he an addict?"
It's a question so far from what he expects that he almost laughs. Booth, an addict? But then he see's the wheels turning in Angela's eyes and they kick start in his own and oh shit.
"Which casino are you?" Angela jumps up from the bed and starts throwing on her clothes. He presses the phone between his head and shoulder and wriggles back into his jeans.
He gets the address while he's struggling with the second sock and when the barman hangs up with "I don't think he's been gambling, but I don't know how he's managing to hold it off" he throws the phone across the bed and tugs on his trainers. He grabs the sweatshirt Angela holds out to him and makes sure she has his keys before they're running out of his room and down the stairs out of the house.
They don't take the mini, he knows that tonight it will be even less funny to watch Booth fold himself up into the car. He drives as fast as the Merc can go and figures that luck is on his side when he doesn't get stopped.
Then he remembers where they're going and decides that luck is probably not a good word to use.
Booth is a slumped figure at a corner table and Angela sees him first as she rushes through the doors. The rings and clicks and clangs from the gambling rooms next door can be heard through the quiet music of the bar. He manages to hold back a gasp at the hunched shoulders and shaking frame, Angela doesn't.
The barman hovers near the end of the bar and he nods to him to say they've got it covered. He pulls his wallet from his pocket and drops a few notes onto the tacky surface, he doesn't want to think about what would have happened if the man hadn't taken an interest when he did.
When he moves to Booth he's already thirty seconds and ten steps behind Angela, who crouches down beside their friend and wraps her arms around his waist. Booth jumps at the touch, like he hadn't noticed she was there until she was holding him tight. He slips into the seat opposite him and fights back the shock when he meets Booth's eyes.
He doesn't know what he expected but he isn't prepared for the terror that he finds. He realises that he has never seen this man scared before. He didn't think it was possible.
A shout rises up from the next room, followed by the sharp rush of metal against metal; the sounds of winning. Booth flinches, his eyes slam shut and suddenly he's hugging Angela to him just as hard as she's been clinging all this time.
He knows they need to get out of here. He's seeing now just how much every second is costing Booth. The music in the bar rises and he shoots a grateful look towards the man behind the counter.
He rests one hand on Angela's back as he stands and places the other on Booth's shoulder to get his attention. The brown eyes shoot open, panic licking at the edges.
"Come on, man, let's go." He reaches out himself to grab the man's jacket and tie. He can't see Booth's gun or badge and hopes to hell and back that Booth dropped them home before coming here. "Where's your car?" Booth stands with a stumble, gently pulling Angela up with him. She wraps an arm around his waist and tucks herself tight against Booth's side. He thinks it's a toss up as to who's comforting who most as they follow him towards the door.
"I got a cab." Booth's voice makes him jump slightly, it's rough and harsh in the night air. It sounds like it's being forced out through a throat that's been screaming for hours. He remembers the fear and thinks that's probably not far from the truth. He figures that a silent scream does just as much damage as a loud one.
Angela squeezes her arm, pulling Booth in impossibly closer and he drops his hand on the opposite shoulder; support and direction as he walks them to his car. Booth slides silently into the back seat and without hesitation Angela slips in beside him.
He was right, it wouldn't have been funny.
He drives them home no slower than before and doesn't know, this time, what to thank when they get there unstopped. He leaves Angela to drag Booth in past the hall and heads straight for the study, and the whiskey. He needs a drink and he thinks Booth could probably do with about ten.
He's still pouring them each a glass when he hears; "Don't be silly" and Angela pushes a calmer looking Booth into the room. The agent turns to him and he's more relieved than he wants to admit when he catches the ghost of a smile on Booth's lips. "Tell him Jack, he's staying here tonight." Of course.
"Look, I was just telling Angela, I- you..." Booth sighs at himself, scraping hands roughly through already well ruffled hair. "I know I'm not one of your favourite people right now, I mean, Bones is your friend." There's a catch in Booth's voice when he says Brennan's name. Angela's eyes begin to fill with tears. "There was just...Cam's on an administrative weekend and the lights and the sounds and...I didn't know who else to call." Brown eyes close and open again, determination settling on his large frame. "Thank you, I mean it. I don't know what I would have done if- "
He decides it's time to step in with the booze. Except when he holds out the glass Booth almost shies away from the amber liquid. Shaking head and arms as he backs away. "No, no. No alcohol. It won't help; genetics."
He knows what that means, he won't make the man say it. He leaves the full glasses on the side and moves closer to Angela and Booth. He looks into her wet eyes and decides that as much as they shouldn't know, they do and it's not worth pretending any longer that they don't know what's been really going on behind the scenes of their friends' split.
"Booth, we know."
"You know?" He realises it's probably the result of the few weeks of little sleep and the ordeal of the night that means he can see through the false mask of confusion Booth portrays.
Angela slides one hand into Booth's and the other clasps his tightly. She squeezes them both. "We know about Sully." He can feel the flinch travel through Booth's hand to Angela's to his.
"Cam." It's not a question, so he doesn't respond. Cam broke a promise to her friend, but it was one that should never have been made. This close he sees the black rings around blood shot eyes and without a jacket he knows that Booth's not filling out his shirts in quite the same way. He knows why Cam refused to stay silent.
"Look man, you're our friend too, okay? We're not gonna talk about what Doctor B's doing but you need to sleep and I have a lot of beds." That earns him a small smile. Angela squeezes his hand again.
"You need your friends too. And that's us, Booth, whether you want us or not. You don't get to do this alone now." Another smile that he realises almost reaches the man's eyes, then Angela's pulled into a tight hug and when he's pulled into one of his own, he thinks Booth probably whispered; "thank you" in her ear too.
They leave Booth in the guestroom closest to their bedroom, Booth leaves his phone by the front door to avoid further temptation and says "the centre must hold" instead of goodnight.
Laying in his bed, he pulls Angela across his chest and holds onto her while she cries, silently, against his skin.
"He's not going to let himself just walk away, is he?"
He nuzzles into her hair and presses a kiss to the top of her head. He thinks about the strongest man he knows breaking apart in the next room. "No, Ange, I don't think he will."
Stage Three: Anger.
They start like this:
She walks into the lab and sees Doctor Brennan in her office with Agent Sullivan. She watches the Forensic Anthropologist hand over a file to Booth without disconnecting her mouth from the other's. She hides from Booth as he leaves the lab; back stiff with tension, eyes dark with pain.
She waits until 'Sully' leaves as well and then, she yells.
They find them like this:
Voices rise louder and louder with each accusation and dismissal. People find things to do outside instead of crowding around as usual. He watches the battle and she grips his hand hard to stop herself joining in. He thinks even Zach would have been scared of this.
"I don't care what you do in your own time, but when you're in this lab you will work. Agent Sullivan is not connected with any current cases and this lab cannot afford for you to be so obviously distracted."
Is followed by: "Who I do and do not have sex with has no bearing on how I do my job. This has nothing to do with my work, this is all about Booth."
Is overthrown by: "So you had nothing extra to add to the file you shoved at Booth earlier? All the information you usually tell him, that was all in there too? You know what, maybe you're right. Maybe Booth's the better person because he can somehow manage not to hate you right now, but this is my lab, Doctor Brennan and while Agent Booth has a right to be here, your boyfriend does not."
Is contested with: "Are you threatening me, Doctor Saroyan? Because I don't need to work here and I can leave anytime. But I don't think you can afford to lose me and my team."
They hold tight to each other's hands to stop themselves from saying that this time, they would probably stay.
He stops them like this:
"What is going on in here?"
"Booth this isn't.."
"Dammit Camille, I told you to leave it alone!"
"I'm your friend Seeley, and what she's doing...I can't just let that go."
"Booth, if you can't control-"
"Shut up Bones."
"Did you just...you can't just-"
"Shut. Up. Cam, would you please leave now."
"Booth, you obviously have problems working with me now, so maybe you should find another partner."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you."
"You'd like it if I went to the Bureau and asked for a different partner. Because then I'd be leaving you wouldn't I? Perfectly proving all your little theories and rational conclusions. Well, I won't do it Temperance. I promised you when I kissed you that I'd be your partner, your friend, no matter what. Well, guess what Bones? It's 'no matter what' now and I'm still here."
Stage Four: Being Single.
When a month passes, they have a new ritual. Booth brings around a case file and coffee for the team. He picks up Brennan from her office(never her home)and drops her off there when they go their separate ways.
He suggests lunch to whoever will be able to get away in time and always shouts out an invitation to Brennan as well.
He gets to know the new interns when Brennan suggests he take them out into the field sometimes, instead of her. They learn something different from him than kerf marks and breaks.
He waits in pathology when he's early for results and Cam tries to make him smile when she tells him what Michelle told her last.
Jack takes him out twice a week when they can tell he hasn't been sleeping again and lets him crash in the guestroom they joke-name the 'Booth suite'.
She makes sure to comment on his new ties and socks, which isn't hard because she likes them and when she finds him up late one night, he teaches her how to make birds from white paper.
They don't talk about how Sully's been gone for over a week. Or how Brennan's been avoiding them all and hiding red-rimmed eyes.
Booth makes sure to drag Brennan out to the Diner in the middle of a tough case and sometimes he tries to get her to eat his pie.
The interns pretend they don't notice the tension and when she points out a hidden flaw in the fibula of the man from Limbo, they forget that it was ever an act.
Cam stays away as much as she can and when she can't she doesn't repeat her threats and she tries to see things the way Booth tells her it is.
Jack calls her Doctor B again and shows her anything he finds before he shows Cam. He says the word 'faith' a lot and hides his smile when she watches him stroll away.
She takes her shopping and to a spa and she tries really really hard not to mention Booth and patience and the one. She tries not to smile too brightly when Brennan mentions him more often each trip.
They don't see Sweets and figure he was warned away at gun point (but she knows better; it only took a painted nail and a pointed finger to keep him at bay). They record the times when he catches her eye and smiles, and she catches his hand and sighs.
They never suggest clubbing and they block all chat sites inside the lab.
Stage Five: Re-entry.
In the end it's pretty simple.
She doesn't apologise, yet, for testing him and trying to push him away. She doesn't apologise for being scared.
He doesn't tell her, yet, that he sat for hours inside a casino bar and almost broke. He doesn't tell her that for one moment he had some doubt.
But she does cling to him when the suspect is caught and the little boy is saved and there's really not anything left for her to worry about.
And he does hold her tight and tell her it's time and repeats again that they'll always have this.
So she tells him, at last, that she loves him and knows now she always will.
He tells her he knows, has always known and is glad she finally caught up.
She laughs through her tears when he says he loves her too.
He makes her promise not to push like that again because it won't work and all it does is hurt them both and he seals the deal with a kiss.
Their friends watch them share the only vow they ever plan to take; the centre must hold.
They know that it will.