A/N: I thought I was done with this story after posting what I thought would be a one shot. However, a discussion with Rankor01 had me wanting to climb back into Booth's head again. I must have watched the final eight minutes of Daredevil a thousand times in order to write these two chapters. And I enjoyed it immensely.
My heartfelt thanks go to Rankor01 and Mali Bear's Buddy.
Disillusionment. That's what Booth felt as he slowly made his way down the sidewalk.
To have so clear a vision of someone and then have faith instantaneously ripped away was painful. It tore at him. Made him question everything. Everything he thought he knew. Everything about himself.
He'd been blind. Out of choice. Out of love. It didn't matter. The result was the same.
He was alone.
He rubbed his thumb over the poker chip in his pocket. It was a reminder of just how easy it would be to lose himself in the gamut of emotions running through his mind. Each rapid fire transition left his head spinning in a slow boil of anger.
He flipped the poker chip over, feeling it knock against his lighter. It gave him strength. He knew he wouldn't become that man again...the one who'd given control of his life to gambling. But acknowledging the possibility wasn't about stop him from trying to erase some of the pain for a while.
He crossed his arms defensively as soon as he stepped through the door of Founding Fathers. He waited for the patrons in front of him to walk by, using the opportunity to scan the establishment. He wanted to make sure he didn't have an audience. The last thing he wanted was one of his well meaning friends trying to make it all better for him.
He needed one night to wallow. To get it out of his system. To accept it, deal with it and move on.
He tossed his poker chip and lighter on the bar. A silent pact with himself. One night to sink. Tomorrow...game face.
He'd thought about going somewhere that allowed him complete anonymity, but when his usual drink appeared with nothing more than a flick of his finger, he knew he'd made the right decision. Here, he could get through the night without having to say another word.
He raised his first drink of scotch, bracing for the burn, and swallowed. The trail of pain signaled the advance of relief. It took the focus off the ache in his heart. He knew how to deal with physical pain. He welcomed it. One more stinging mouthful and the first drink was gone.
The speed with which he emptied his first glass was all the indicator the bartender needed and he walked over to pour another. Booth sat staring at the liquid for a few seconds, drowning in the events of the night. Allowing himself to feel all the emotions on replay.
Excitement. Confusion. Realization. Pain. Anger.
He focused on the last of those and tipped his glass again. The numbing affect he was searching for began its journey up the back of his neck. Soon he'd be as cold and unfeeling as the marble bust of Washington sitting in front of him.
Without a signal, the next drink arrived. The guy just knew. How pathetic did he look?
His nightmare kept repeating on a never ending loop, the inescapable questions churning. Why? Why?
The pain he'd felt when she said she'd thought they'd have more time ripped through his chest again. More time? More time before he figured out he wasn't good enough? That he was great as a fuck buddy, but nothing more?
Not satisfied with limiting himself to his latest failed proposal, he began thinking of all the women he'd loved. The ones he'd lost. The ones he'd pushed away. The one he'd never had.
The bartender poured a shot for a customer at the end of the bar then looked over at him. A simple nod and he was getting one of those as well. It was stupid to get pissed when two shot glasses were placed in front of him, but Booth was in the mood to be angry and any target would do. So what if the guy could tell he was going to get shit faced? He didn't have to make it so damned obvious.
Just to spite the man, Booth downed both shots in quick succession. In what was quickly becoming a haze, he gave the bartender credit for not batting an eye as he refilled all three of the glasses. No words. No judgment. Just more drinks.
Booth ran through his laundry list as his head started buzzing. Rebecca. Tessa. Cam. Bones. Catherine. Hannah.
He was a good guy. An attentive lover. A thoughtful partner to every one of them. He didn't back away or close himself off. He focused on the woman he was with. He paid attention to her needs and strove to meet them. Why the hell wasn't that enough? What more did they want from him? What more could he give?
Why was he sitting alone in a bar after yet another train wreck? How had his life turned out this way? He'd done everything right. He hadn't given in to his traumatic childhood. He'd fought his way to the top. He'd done the best he could at everything he'd set his mind to. His education. His service for his country. His career. Hell, that alone should make him a great catch. But it didn't. Obviously.
Several drinks in, he let go of the anger directed at the bartender and started nodding his thanks each time the amber salve was poured into his glass. He was going to have to leave a serious tip. It'd been earned.
Booth heard someone walk up behind him and prepared to glare until the seat next to him was vacant again. The wave of familiar perfume through the air set his nerves on fire. Bones.
How the hell had she known?
Then he heard the question. The question he'd asked his own father so many times.
Was he drunk? Relatively. More than she'd seen before, but not as much as he would be by the end of the night. Was he a drunk? No. He would never be a drunk. Ever. He was stronger than that.
He sounded...something? Yeah, he sounded drunk. He held his head up, gathering what little strength he had left, wondering why in the hell he never got what he wanted. A miserable night alone? No go. Not for him. He wasn't good enough.
Why? Why did she have to show up? Why did she have to see him this way? His thoughts triggered the onslaught of pain again and thanks to his state of inebriation, he knew he was doomed. His chest hitched and his throat clenched against the rush of emotion. He hung his head, battling for control.
Hannah. One name was all she had to say to bring his rage and despair flaming back into life. Why the hell had Hannah called the one woman he couldn't keep his defenses up with? God, he was so tired. All he wanted was escape. It was a damn good thing he wasn't gambling tonight because this was a losing streak he couldn't get away from.
There was no way in hell he could talk about this with Bones. If he talked...he'd fall apart...and he was not going to fall apart. Not here. Not in front of these people. Not in front of her. And he couldn't handle any of her lectures. Or facts. Or observations. Not tonight.
It was time to be selfish again. Screw being kind and considerate. This was his night. His pain to hold. His misery to cling to.
He loved Hannah and she'd left him. Without a fight. She'd known.
God, it hurt. More than he thought it would. More than he'd expected. He fought the tears, but he could feel them welling. His body was betraying him and he despised that loss of power.
It suddenly hit him with the force of the 70 ton Abrams tanks he'd often seen on patrol in Afghanistan. They were over. She was gone.
He refused to share it. With anyone. He was done. With Hannah. With Bones. With all of them. All he wanted was to drink himself into a stupor and suffer in his own way. He wouldn't think about it for another second.
Then she knocked his legs right out from under him. The same question? Really? What happened next? What the hell was wrong with the women in his life?
What happened next? After everything she'd witnessed, she could ask that question? She knew him for God's sake. Better than anyone. His anger flared. What did she expect would happen next?
The rhetorical question he'd thrown right back at Hannah wouldn't work with this woman. She needed answers. She needed flowcharts. She needed all the evidence lined up in perfect little rows. Fine. He could do that. He didn't even have to bring up the inconsequential women in his life.
He only needed three. To prove to her that he wasn't worthy of having his dreams of a family fulfilled. To prove there was something wrong with him. Or that there was something wrong with them. It didn't matter, because either way, he was still alone.
Rebecca? He'd loved her. Given himself to her. Had a son with her. Offered to marry her. Had wanted to marry her. Had he been good enough? No. Of course not.
Next up. Her. A rush of memories flew through his mind. How the hell did he define just how much she'd hurt him? That her moment of protecting him had caused more pain than he'd ever felt before. That he'd snapped that night and let go of any hope he had with her. That her request to work together...to forget he'd asked her for a relationship exactly like Hannah had just done...had been one of the hardest decisions of his life. He'd chosen to live with his pain on a daily basis. But he'd done it. For her. Because he loved her.
As if that hadn't been enough, she'd had a night of revelations. And in an ironic twist of cruel fate, she'd told him she'd made a mistake. The one thing he'd wanted for years, and she'd dangled it in front of him when his hands had been tied behind his back. He hadn't wanted to hurt her like she'd hurt him, but he'd done just what he'd told her he would do. To save them. To save their partnership. He'd moved on. He'd fallen in love with another woman.
He wasn't forced to say her name out loud, though. She was a genius. She figured it out and said it for him.
Third up. Hannah. The woman who'd obviously called Bones and told her everything that had happened. Because they were friends. Because they cared. About him. What a colossal joke at his expense that had turned out to be.
More than enough evidence. He'd proven his point. Why didn't any of them want to be with him? He'd loved them. He'd been devoted. He'd respected every one of the strong, independent women he'd been with. He knew he wasn't perfect. Nobody was. But he'd offered his heart. Why didn't any of them want it? What was wrong with him?
He cut her off before she could say anything and slammed another shot down. He didn't want to hear what she had to say. He was mad. At all of them. And in a move that surprised even him, he included her in his list.
He'd given everything he had to give, damn it. If it wasn't enough, it was on them. All of them. He hadn't left them. They'd left him. And two of them had wanted to go on as if nothing had ever happened. As if he hadn't offered them his life. What the hell?
He was done. She wanted to know what happened next? What happened next was business as usual. That's what they had asked for. Had wanted. He could do that too. He'd been a soldier. He knew all about moving on after tragedy.
So he explained exactly what they'd do. He re-drew the line they'd both crossed at different times. Because that's what lines were for...keeping things where they belonged. He reminded her of everything they'd accomplished as partners before all of this crap had started. Because that was where he was going. Back to square one. And he planned on staying there. He'd learned his lesson. And if she didn't want him...on his terms...well, he could handle that too.
He could tell he'd shocked her. That she was hurting. Just like he'd known Hannah had been. And just like he had earlier, he decided to put his own needs first. He stared at his poker chip and fell victim to his addiction. It was time for a gamble. All in. Take it or leave it. Did she accept the terms he'd laid out and stay to drink with him? Or did he start looking for another partner for her after she walked out the door? Because those were her choices. He'd hit break point and that was all he had left to give of himself.
The realization that he'd pushed her harder than he ever had before brought home the real possibility that she might actually leave him. There was no adrenaline rush with this bet, only a new hole in his heart. The wait for her answer seemed like an eternity and he started running through the short list of guys who'd be able to tolerate the squints.
When she confidently picked up the shot and downed it, he saw his first glimmer of hope since she'd walked in the door. Maybe his luck was changing. Maybe he'd be allowed to do what he wanted. Maybe he'd save the one partnership that had meant more to him than any other. Maybe he'd be able to get up the next day and do exactly as Hannah had requested...forget he'd ever asked.
But tonight...tonight was for memories.