Yet another follow-up to "The Doctor in the Photo." I've already written one, but I wondered what would happen if things had gone a little differently than I wrote in "The Regret in the Reporter." :- ) I didn't plan to start/write another story so soon after "Marriage" ended, but this one wouldn't let me go tonight.

Please, read and review! Thanks….

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The Prize in the Consolation

As he pulled out from in front of her building, the rain started coming down again. It was a heavy rainfall for this time of year, and it seemed as if it was coming down in sheets against his windshield.

He weaved his way across town over the nearly deserted streets. It was good that there was little traffic, because the weather and his thoughts were distracting enough.

He glanced over at her seat. Funny that he still always thought of it as hers, no matter how many times Hannah had joined him in the vehicle. He pictured her face, the pain in her eyes and the tears streaming down her cheeks. He refused to allow himself the recollection of the sound of her sobs. That was too much to bear.

The sound he was having trouble getting out of his own head was his own words, "She's not a consolation prize. I love her."

I love her.

Looking back over the past few months, he realized how often he said those words out loud. Not in the Tom-Cruise-jumping-on-the-sofa way, but in the way that was meant to convince everyone around him that it was true. Some may think the agent doth protest too much.

Who was he really trying to convince… everyone else or just himself?

She's not a consolation prize.

By the time he reached the liquor store that sat beneath his apartment, he'd had an all too rare and much needed moment of clarity when he realized that she was exactly that.

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She dialed the phone and hung up for the third time. She really needed to talk to someone, but every time she realized her friend was about to pick up, she panicked and realized she couldn't talk about it. Not yet.

Of course she realized too late that those missed phone calls had already set that ball in motion and she probably no longer had a choice in the matter.

Predictably, her phone began to ring. She considered not answering, but she realized that was unfair. Her friend, her best friend, was probably as panicked as she had been.

"Brennan," she answered softly, trying to hold back her tears.

"Sweetie, are you okay?" Angela asked, frantic as Brennan knew she would be. "What is going on?"

Brennan was unaware of how worried Angela had been throughout the course of the case. She realized that Micah had recognized her uncharacteristic behavior, and after tonight she knew that Booth had as well. She should have assumed the others had noticed, but truthfully she was so wrapped up in understanding Lauren Eames that she had paid attention to little else.

"I'm fine, Angela," she answered in a toned that said she was anything but.

"No. You're not, Brennan," Angela replied, her heart breaking as she could hear her best friend crying on the other side of the line. "And you haven't been for a really long time. I'm worried about you," she said softly. "Hold on, I'll be there as soon as I can."

"No!" Brennan said. "The storm is getting worse. You shouldn't be out. Please, just stay there. We can talk on the phone."

"Okay, then," Angela agreed. "Talk to me."

"I don't know what to say."

Angela's heart constricted at her words, she'd never heard her friend sound so defeated.

"How about we start at the beginning," she prodded gently.

"But that's just it, Ang. I don't know when that is. Is it seven years ago when we all got together for that first case? Is it six years ago when he had me detained at the airport? Is it four years ago when he told me there are different kinds of families?"

So, this isn't about the doctor in the tree at all, she thought as her friend went on. It's about Booth… and it's about time.

"Or three, when he told me he loved me but then qualified it with an "atta-girl"? Or maybe it was last year when he told me he wanted to give us a chance, that we could be together for thirty, or forty, or fifty years right before saying he had to move on. Maybe it was months ago in Indonesia when I realized that I loved him, too… or months later when he came home in love with someone else… Or maybe it was tonight, when I asked him for another chance…"

Wait, what?

"Bren, sweetie, slow down," Angela said. "You lost me a little over a year ago. Booth asked you to take a chance on a romantic relationship?"

"Yes," Brennan answered, nodding though Angela couldn't see her. She sniffed back her tears. "He said he was a gambler, and he asked me to gamble with him…"

"What did you say?"

Angela was shocked. She was having a hard time concentrating on what Brennan was saying as she put the pieces together. This explained so much.

"I turned him down."

"What? Why?"

"Because I didn't want to be a gamble," Brennan answered. "But I was. I am. There is always a potential risk when getting involved with me. I don't do relationships, Ang. I never believed in monogamy or intimacy… whenever I've tried to have a relationship, it's ended badly. I had to protect him from that… from me."

"Wait, you said you never believed in monogamy… as in past tense. Has that changed?"

"Maybe," Brennan admitted. "When I was away, I realized how much I missed Booth. And not just working with him, but all the other things he brings to my life. I realized that Sweets was right and we have been engaging in a surrogate relationship for years. I didn't want to be a surrogate anymore, Angela. I thought I was ready to make it real."

"And he came home with Commando Barbie," Angela said with a sigh.

"Don't do that," Brennan said.

"What?"

"Make fun of Hannah," she said. "She's a lovely person, and she's good for Booth. She makes him happy. It's not her fault. I did this. I made my bed and now I'll have to lie in it… alone."

"Okay, that gets up to months ago… but what happened tonight, Bren?"

"This case hit me really hard, Ang," Brennan said, wiping tears from her cheeks. "I saw so much of myself in Lauren Eames. I began to wonder if I could disappear and no one would even notice… and then I talked to the helicopter pilot who was in love with her," she said, smiling through her tears. "You would have liked him, Ang. And I think he would have been good for her, but she never gave him a chance. I believe that was her biggest regret. I thought of Booth, and me, and all the years we've missed out on… I told him that I didn't want to have those kinds of regrets… the regret of never having given him… us… a chance…"

"Oh god, Bren. What did he say?"

"He said, 'Bones… I'm with someone. Hannah's not a consolation prize. I love her.'"

"Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry. Are you okay, really?"

"No," Brennan answered with rueful laugh, again pushing away her tears. "But I will be."

"He says that a lot," Angela said, thinking out loud.

"What?" Brennan asked.

"That he loves her," her friend answered. "Much more than is actually necessary. I wonder if he's trying to convince us, or himself?"

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He tried to gather his thoughts as he made his way slowly up the stairs. He stopped outside his front door. Their front door. How had he so cavalierly, and in front of Bones no less, invited Hannah to move in with him?

He'd been so desperate for everything with Hannah to be perfect… to be right… that he'd made a royal mess of everything. It was time to man-up and fix it. Slowly, he reached out to slide his key into the lock.

She was on her feet as soon as he crossed the threshold.

"Baby, there you are!" she said, the relief obvious in her voice as she walked toward him. "It's pouring buckets out there. I was starting to get worried."

She reached up to wrap her arms around his neck, and he closed his eyes as he gently peeled her off of him.

"You're right," she said, her voice dropping an octave. "You're soaking wet. We need to get you out of those clothes."

She went to work on his jacket, and again he stopped her, taking her hands in his.

"We need to talk," he said. "But first, I want to take a shower and put on some dry clothes. I'll be out in a little while."

With that, he let go of her hands and left her staring after him as he made his way down the hall.

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The steaming hot water pelted his tight muscles, doing nothing to relieve the tension. Seeley Booth had been in tight spots before, and he'd always been able to think on his feet. He couldn't remember a time when he'd felt so lost… when he'd screwed up so royally.

He loved two women, but he was only in love with one of them.

He would only ever be in love with one of them.

And there was a good chance that he'd ruined things with her for good. There was only so much anyone could take, and he knew for certain that she was stretched to her limit.

He rested his forehead against the usually cool tile, now warmed by the heat of the shower. Steeling his resolve, he pulled himself together. He knew what he had to do.

He turned off the water and climbed out of the shower stall, running a towel quickly over his hair and then his dripping torso before wrapping it around his waist. He walked across the hall into his bedroom without glancing toward the living room.

He pulled on a clean pair of jeans and a vintage The Clash t-shirt, and sat down on the bed to pull on the purple striped Paul Smith socks that Bones gave him for his birthday last year. He felt slightly guilty for needing to have something of her with him when he did what he was about to do.

He stood up and looked at his reflection in the mirror. He felt like he'd aged ten years in the last two hours.

This time, she didn't stand to greet him as he entered the living room.

"Going somewhere?" she asked.

"What? No…"

"You usually just put on a pair of sweats to hang around the house in the evening," she noted.

He nodded in acknowledgement of her statement and rubbed his hand over his face and over his hair as he sat down in the armchair facing where she sat on the couch.

Her journalist's instincts were on high alert. She didn't know what was going on, but she had a feeling it was going to be big… and judging by her boyfriend's demeanor, she was pretty sure she wasn't going to like it.

"Where were you, Seeley?" she asked.

He wasn't sure if it was his guilt causing him to hear it or if there was actually accusation in her voice.

"I went to get Bones," he said, truthfully. "She was working on the case."

"In the lab?"

"No," he answered. "She went back down to the scene of the crime."

"That's a dangerous part of town to be alone in at night," she replied. "Is Temperance all right?"

"She will be," he answered. God, this was going to be harder than he imagined.

All the scenarios he'd gone through in his head, and he had no clue how to begin this conversation.

"Hannah, something happened tonight," he said. Okay, that was lame.

"Oh god, you slept with her, didn't you?"

"What? NO! Why would you say that?"

"I'm a journalist, Seeley," she reminded him. "And a damned good one. You don't get to cove the stories I've covered without being really observant. I've seen the way she looks at you," she said.

The way she looks at me? Why haven't I seen it?

"And the way you look at her. I know you," she went on. "You're not the kind of guy who cheats, so I've never been worried about that. But I know there is something you're not telling me."

"Seven years ago, I was working on a cold case about a girl from New York who had been killed here in the park. Cam suggested I consult with a forensic anthropologist she'd heard of who was lecturing at American University. I balked. I was a lone wolf, no way was I gonna partner up, especially not with some squint scientist. But eventually, I put Gemma ahead of my ego. Finding her killer was all that mattered. So, I went to see her. I walked in to that lecture hall and it was like I was hit by a bolt of lightning. I knew. Everything I'd ever know about love and soul mates came together in that moment. It was love at first sight…" he smiled, lost in his memories, he'd basically forgotten that he was talking to his current girlfriend. "She hated me on sight, but she eventually agreed to help. We fought and flirted and solved the mystery. When it was over, we had the first of what would become our legendary screaming fights. She said she never wanted to see me again. She instructed her assistant never to take my calls… and I let it go. About a year later, another case came up that I knew I couldn't solve without her help. She still wouldn't talk to me, so I had to do something to get her attention. She was coming back from an excavation of a mass grave in Guatemala, and I had her detained at the airport by Homeland Security …"

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"I'm serious, Sweetie. Methinks the agent doth protest too much," Angela said into the phone. "He's not as in love with her as he wants to believe."

"I don't know, Ang," Brennan replied. "You didn't hear him when he turned me down. He seemed pretty serious about her."

"He's serious about you, Brennan," was her friend's reply. "And he's scared. He was really hurt… you guys have really done a number on each other and it's going to take time, patience and a lot of honest hashing it out to regain that trust."

Brennan shook her head, not caring that Angela couldn't see it.

"I'm not so sure about that. Someone once told me that life comes to us in moments. And if we miss our moment, we don't get it back. Booth and I missed our moment, and we can't get it back. I proved that tonight when I tried."

"No way, Bren. No way have you and Booth missed your moment. Look at me and Hodgins. How many times did we screw up before we finally got it right?"

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"…and that's when she said she didn't want to have any regrets," he said, coming to the end of their story, but hoping that it was only the beginning.

"What did you say?" she asked.

"That I was with you," he said. "I told her that I love you. I couldn't leave you just because she changed her mind."

"You couldn't?" she asked, "Or you wouldn't want to?"

She took his silence for her answer.

"Seeley, you're in love with her."

"I am."

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The ringing of his BlackBerry pulled him from his reverie. He got up and walked over to the table by the door to pick up the phone and answer it.

"Booth," he said wearily.

"Seeley Booth, you're an idiot."

"I know, Ang."

"No, seriously. You have lost your ever-loving mind! What were you thinking, turning her away when she came to you at her most vulnerable?"

She told Angela?

"I wasn't thinking, Angela," he said. "And I haven't been for a very long time."

"So, what are you going to do to fix it?"

"I don't know, Ang," he said, with a longsuffering sigh.

"Well, you can start by getting your head out of your ass and kicking Blondie to the curb…"

"She's gone," he said.

"What?"

"I told her, Angela. I told her everything about me and Bones and she's gone. She left. She said that she deserves to be better than second best." With a wry smile, he added, "She said she's nobody's consolation prize."

"Well, I'm glad to know that at least one person in this triangle has some sense."

"Ang?"

"Yeah, Booth?"

"Can you stop yelling at me now?" he asked. "It's been a really long day. Bones almost got killed and then told me she wants to be with me. I realized I'm still in love with her and I told my girlfriend. I no longer have a girlfriend, and now I'd like to get shitfaced and pass out in peace, if you don't mind."

"I do mind," Angela said, sternly. "Put the bottle down. Call a cab, get your coat and hightail it over to Brennan's place. Tell her that you love her and see what happens. It's time, Booth. Don't put it off until morning. Don't put it off until you're thinking clearly. Do it. Now. Get over there and claim the woman you love."

"Isn't that a little creepy, Ang? I just broke up with Hannah two hours ago. Now I'm supposed to rush over and ask Bones to take me back?"

"Yes!" Angela exclaimed. "Okay, yes, there is a little bit of an ick factor involved. Don't sleep with her… just make sure she knows that she has you. The rest will progress over time."

"I don't know…"

"I do. Booth, when has waiting ever solved anything? You know Brennan… she needs to know NOW. Tonight. That you chose her. You need to tell her before she throws those walls up again. You've done the consolation, Booth- now go claim your prize."

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AN2- Part two should be up by tomorrow afternoon. :-) Thanks for reading!