Disclaimer: Bones does not belong to me.
Author's Note Spoilers for The Parts in the Sum of the Whole.
The first time FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth heard that Senior Agent in Charge Scott Thomas from the Philadelphia office was considering retiring, he mentally gave the old friend a pat on the back for his service and sent him an e-mail to let him know Thomas' dedication and guidance would be missed. It was the least he could do for an old friend who had become more of an acquaintance after ten years.
The second time Booth heard the news that the SAC position in Philadelphia was going to be open, it was from Thomas himself, who called to say that he had been asked to recommend a replacement and the receipt of the e-mail had been a reminder of what a solid agent and stand-up guy Booth was. Thomas asked him if he'd be interested in a recommendation for the job, to which Booth had laughed good-naturedly and assured Thomas that he was quite happy in Washington, DC.
The third time Booth heard the position was open, Booth's response was not immediately negative nor was it filled with laughter. Deputy Director Cullen called him into his office and asked him to shut the door. Cullen wasn't the same man he was three years before, when his daughter was alive. He had barely returned to work, and even now his face was haunted. But Cullen recognized that same look in Booth's face now. It had been there for three months now, since a night that had changed his life and in a lot of ways, stolen the hope Booth felt for the future.
Seeley Booth's heart had been pulled out and stomped on, run over by Godzilla at a monster truck rally and stuffed back into his chest in a scene reminiscent of Indiana Jones. Every time he even looked in Bones' direction, that terrible pain blossomed again and spread out through his chest like a creeping vine, tendrils sinking into every muscle and bone. Even after three months. He didn't blame her. How could he be angry with her for telling him the truth, for not promising what she could not deliver? He couldn't hate her for the very thing he loved about her – her honesty. He turned the position down anyway – for Parker, for Bones, for himself.
He told himself that a man who really loved her would stick it out, would find the good in the situation and keep the friendship. There was so much good there. He couldn't be another in a long line of people who left. But the pain was worse than anything he had ever felt, worse than any torture he had experienced, than any emotional torment that followed taking a human life – it was a living creature gnawing at his insides like a carnivorous animal. When Booth looked in the mirror every morning, after three months of pretending and trying and pushing to move on like the man he wanted to be, he realized he didn't recognize the man he had become.
The fourth and final time he heard that the position was open, Booth accepted it.
He had enough leave saved that he could make arrangements to pick up Parker for a long weekend once a month, a plan he vowed he would stick to with regularity. Rebecca hadn't seemed surprised at his announcement when he came over late on a Monday night. Parker was already asleep, although she was gracious enough when he asked to look in on him and ended up spending ten minutes standing at the door watching his son sleep. Her lips had rubbed together as if she was contemplating saying something, but she didn't and for that he was grateful. When her hand rested on his shoulder in a comforting gesture, he felt the shudder of what might have been tears pas through him before he stood up and quietly walked out.
Through the entire three week period when he tried to get his career and personal life with his son in order, the pain didn't abate. He kept waiting for the moment when he would look at her and feel a quiet regret but happiness with his life, and it never happened. She didn't comment on the smiles that were more a grimace, or the end of their late night dinners and conversations at either apartment. He knew she understood what he meant when he said he had to move on.
Surprising even himself, he told Sweets first. The honorary and most recent addition to the "squints" had become his friend. But more than that, he was a confidant and the most likely of them to not breathe a word of the situation to Brennan until Booth could figure out what he was going to say – until Booth could puzzle out the words that would convince her he wasn't abandoning her, just moving on to a new part of his life. That's what people did, they moved on with their lives. He would never let someone else tell her – he owed her that much.
"Are you absolutely sure that this is what you want to do?" The young psychiatrist's expression wasn't clinical at all, but instead the mixture of curious and sympathetic Booth had expected.
"I have to do something." He looked at the calloused and aging hands that hung between his knees and tried to explain in words what his brain and his heart could not decipher. "I have to figure out how to be me again, without her."
"I feel like this is my fault."
"No." Booth sighed. "You pushed me to address what we had both been hiding from. I'm glad that it's out in the open now. We were just….we were in a holding pattern. That's no way to live."
Sweets eyed him with sadness. "Please stay in touch. I've really loved working with you."
One month before he was supposed to move to Philadelphia, Booth signed the paperwork giving up his apartment and arranged for the movers to pack everything. He realized the couldn't put it off any longer, and the right words were never going to just materialize on his tongue. He would have to use the wrong words and hope they sufficed.
When he arrived at the Jeffersonian that day, he wondered if they noticed the slow and heavy tread of his feet, as if he were walking through mud. Angela smiled and waved absently from the side of the room as she walked toward her office. He was glad Brennan had a friend like her.
The platform was occupied, but not by Bones or her regular band of merry men, so he bypassed it completely and headed to Cam's office. He needed to talk to a friend before he tackled the subject he came for. And, if he were being honest with himself, it gave him the opportunity to stall for a moment longer.
When he walked in the door, she looked up from her desk with a smile that faded almost immediately. He shut the door behind him and sat heavily in the chair in front of her, his body feeling as if it would collapse under the strain of everything he had been carrying the last four months. Her arms crossed into a defensive position before she sighed and stood up to sit in the chair across from him.
"I'm leaving D.C." He blurted it out and was shocked at the words and the expression on her face, his mind frozen at the horrible idea of saying it like that to the woman he loved. He was thankful he'd grasped the idea of doing a test run on Camille first.
She leaned back slightly, as if the force of his words had physically slammed into her. Brown eyes widened momentarily and eyebrows lifted, but she sighed and her face took on that sympathetic cast he had begun to look forward to no longer seeing on the faces that looked at him. It was like they all knew – he figured they probably did. It wasn't like it hadn't been brutally obvious that the interaction between he and Bones for the last few months had been strained to the breaking point.
"I'll miss you, Seeley. More than you know." The sympathy was gone and she smiled at him, widely. Camille Saroyan was nothing if she was not a good friend. He made another promise to not lose touch with her, even though deep down he knew it wouldn't last. That's what happened when people moved away. He had lost touch eventually when she moved to New York, and he would lose touch eventually when he moved to Philadelphia. It was the way of things.
"I've really enjoyed working with you again, Cam." He smiled a true smile then, one of the few he had in longer than he could remember. "We had some really good times."
"Yeah, we did." She cleared her throat. "So, when do you go? Where? Give me the details." The excitement he should have been feeling at such a positive career move seeped out of her and into him, relieving some of the god-awful tension he'd been carrying for three weeks as he tried to figure out what to do with his life.
"I'm taking over the Special agent in Charge position in Philadelphia in two weeks." Another smile and the frost around his heart thawed a little. "It's a huge promotion for me."
"Damn right it is. I'm glad the Feds finally realized how talented you were and are doing something about it." She punched him in the arm playfully. "No way you're as successful there as you are here with us, though."
"True. I'll actually have to start doing real police work again and relying on the FBI crime scene people. Maybe I can teach them a thing or two I learned here."
Her laugh was genuine. "Good luck with that. I'm going to be interested to see how the next FBI agent they ask us to work with handles the personalities in this building." At the reminder that the others who had tried to replace him had not really worked out, he sobered up a bit and looked down. His hands had become so interesting in the last few weeks.
Her voice was a whisper when she breathed again. "Have you told her yet?"
"No." The breath he was holding whooshed out of him at the release of the word. "No, that's what I'm here for today – to take her to lunch."
He heard her sigh next to him, and when she spoke her voice was soft but firm. "Listen to me, Seeley. You love her and you told her and you've done everything you can. You were willing to put yourself out there and be there for her, and she couldn't do it for you. You deserve to find someone that loves you back just that much, Seeley, the way you deserve to be loved. Nobody deserves that more than you."
When he looked up at her finally, her gaze was firm and all traces of sadness were gone. "She's a grown woman, and yes, she will have a hard time when she realizes her friend is moving away. But she's got Hodgins and Angela and even me. She made her choice and now you've got an amazing opportunity – the two shouldn't be related. If you turn it down, I'd smack you."
Involuntarily, he laughed and stood up to hug her. Her arms curled around him firmly, her hands planted on his shoulder blades. "Thank you, Cam."
"Don't be a stranger, Seeley." Her grip grew firmer, as if to emphasize her point. "I don't want to lose contact like we did before."
"We won't." He meant it. She let go and stepped back to her desk to resume work and he stepped out of the office, pausing at the door. "I'll be back before I leave."
"You owe me a beer from the last case, anyway." Her eyes were on the computer but her mouth was turned up in a half-smile.
"You got it." Booth turned away from her office and forced himself toward Bones' shiny glass walls. Her brown hair was tipped over the paperwork in front of her and he couldn't help but admire her one last time. He would always admire her. The shine of her hair and the delicate bones of her neck and hands were beautiful to him. He knocked. Her eyes and the smile on her face when she saw him was even more beautiful.
"Hey, Bones." He cleared his throat and tried again. "You interested in lunch?"
Her lips stretched widely and he knew it was because they hadn't eaten together in quite some time. She had been giving him space but clearly missed their previously close relationship. "The diner?"
"Pie sounds good to me."
The seats at their usual table felt smaller somehow, and the lights were too bright. He tried to focus on her face as she spoke excitedly about the recent skeleton she had been examining from a cave in Africa. He wondered if the strange sense of detachment he felt was present on his face and realized it must have been when she stopped speaking and looked at him oddly.
"Are you feeling alright? You've barely eaten anything."
It came rushing out of him in an expelled breath, the same as it had with Cam. The urge to speak but the fear and tightness in his throat thrust out the words with force and pain. "I'm transferring to Philadelphia."
Unlike Cam's moment of shock that was quickly over, Bones' entire body shook for a moment as if the words were passing right through her. The delicate pale skin of her face grew suddenly even more translucent and he sucked in a deep breath to keep going, to try and end it as quickly as possible. To tell her why he was leaving, to reassure her that it didn't mean he wouldn't be there for her whenever she would need him.
"The Special Agent in Charge position has opened up and I accepted it. It's a huge career move for me and I couldn't turn it down."
Her throat worked, but no sounds came out and she set her spoon down carefully. He could almost see the wheels in her mind turning as she tried to decide what to say next.
"What about Parker? I thought you said staying in Washington for him was more important than your career." She wasn't looking at him and he prayed to God that he said the right things, that he didn't hurt her.
"I'll get him for one long weekend a month. I have enough leave saved up that I can travel to pick him up on Friday afternoons and come back on Sundays. The train is fast and cheap. He and I have talked about it and he's pretty excited." He tried for a humorous smile, but it felt awkward and wrong on his face so he stopped. "He wants to see the Liberty Bell."
She wouldn't meet his eyes, so he set his hand on hers on the table, trying to memorize the feel of the delicate bones, the cool skin, the long fingers. Her eyes shifted to settle on his hand. "When?"
Her eyes flew up to his, for the first time with anger. "Two weeks? You waited this long to tell me?"
"I'm sorry, Bones. I just accepted the position a few weeks ago and I had to get my personal life in order before I could share it with other people." He pulled his hand back and frowned when he felt his own anger rising at her outburst. "I have asked Deputy Director Cullen to sensitize anyone that they assign to work with you to respect the Jeffersonian and everyone who works there, especially you. I don't want anyone else making the mistakes I did and assuming you aren't a genius."
Sadness and anger and confusion were warring on her face and she had begun to shred a napkin into thin strips with trembling fingers. "Is this because of what happened?"
He winced and closed his eyes for a moment, willing his face to be calm and his voice to be even. Guilt wasn't what he was looking for. "Bones, I—"
"I'm sorry that I couldn't tell you what you wanted to hear, Booth." Her voice was agitated now but dropping in volume as the impending loss registered and the feeling of rejection that he knew she would associate with his departure began to manifest. "But please don't leave because of that. You said we could work together. You said we could be friends."
"We will be friends." He took her hand again and tilted her chin up with his other finger to meet his eyes, the sadness and hurt in her eyes a physical blow. "We ARE friends. I will ALWAYS be your friend - don't ever forget that and don't ever think it isn't the truth."
"Then why are you leaving? We're partners."
"I have to learn how to be me without you around, Bones. I have to figure out who I am again. For a long time now it's been Booth and Bones. I have to learn how to be just Booth. This job is a good way for me to do it." He smiled at her, this time forcing himself to project a positive outlook. "Besides, you will catch criminals with another partner just as well as me. You're the genius here."
She didn't reply and he looked down at the new decimated napkin that lay on top of her salad.
"Bones, this isn't about me leaving you. I'm not leaving you. You are important to me and I will never leave you. But life goes on and people move, jobs changes. This is a great opportunity for me." He took a deep breath. "I hope you'll be happy for me."
"Nobody deserves a promotion more than you, Booth." She reached into the purse on the seat next to her and pulled out a twenty, lying it on the table. "I should be getting back to work."
His heart seized as he realized she was shutting down again, shutting him out, taking this exactly the wrong way. "Bones, no. Please stay here and talk to me about this." He looked around him as if to find something with which to physically restrain her in the diner. "We haven't even had pie yet."
"Thank you for telling me in person. Please tell Cullen to contact Cam when they have identified a replacement for you." Her face was shuttered and her eyes would not meet his. He reached out his hand to touch her arm, to stop her from leaving, and she flinched. It burned and his eyes pricked with tears. Never in the five years they had worked together had she ever shied from his touch. "Please don't."
He swallowed down his frustration and regret. This was the very scene he had anticipated and yet hoped would not happen. "Bones, I'd like to see you again before I leave."
"Life goes on, Booth." When she looked at him, her eyes were dead. "Good luck in Philadelphia."
The door was swinging shut behind her before he could recover. His eyes closed in pain and his adam's apple moved up and down as he swallowed everything and packed it into a tight box inside where all his other painful feelings were stored. Saying goodbye to her and moving to Philadelphia was supposed to be hard, but afterward he was supposed to feel refreshed, reborn – ready to begin again. Why did he feel as if he was leaving a part of himself behind?