Author's Note: My apologies for the long wait in between chapters here. This is one is extra long to hopefully make up for the wait. There are two more stories planned for this series (and maybe three), but it's probably going to be a month or two before I get the next one finished. Thank you to everyone for your patience. I hope it's worth the wait.
According to the first flashback in episode 100 (Parts in the Sum of the Whole), Booth wasn't a gambler, he was a pool shark...
The Catalyst in the Partnership
Hank Lutrell – On the Quest for Honesty
"Why don't you tell your girlfriend?"
That August morning in 2004 found Seeley Booth standing in a seedy pool hall tucked into Anacostia. He held a poor quality cue stick from the freebies stored along the back wall in an awkward stance, eyeing the table with nervous trepidation. Gnawing his lip, shifting his gaze from the cue ball to the striped 9 located at an impossible angle at the far end of the table, he considered the dare he'd just received. Finally, he admitted, "I don't know, man."
He clutched at the beer sitting a few feet away, lifted it and swigged back a gulp. Raising the glass to his companion, he explained. "Liquid courage."
"Yeah, like that's going to help."
Booth shrugged. "You're already into me $60 bucks. Now you want me to lay money on that shot. I don't wanna lose any more cash, you know? The girlfriend is gonna kill me as it is."
"Look, I'll tell you what. We'll go double or nothing."
"I don' have $60. All I got left ish a $20."
Booth shook his head. "But you're gonna win 'cause that shot ish freaking improssible."
Sizing up Booth's increasingly slurred words, and slight wavering, the shark started the foundation of a sweet proposal. "You know, you're a sorry-ass mess. Look at you. Your old lady really that scary?"
"You don't know the half of it." Booth gulped another slog of beer and belched.
"Look, I'm giving you a chance. You're already screwed 'cause I got ya for $60. So you know, what's another $20 if you lose?"
"My ass on the street. This is rent money."
What a loser, the shark thought. "Yeah but here's the thing. If you make that shot, I will double the whole deal. $160."
"No way." Booth wobbled and took in the table doubtfully. "No way you're paying me that much."
"Obviously you gotta make that shot, Tex."
Booth squinted at the distant 9. "So, let me get thish shtraight. I shink that ball, you're gonna pay me $160?"
"Yep. Isn't that what I just said?"
"But if I missh, all I gotta pay you ish $20?"
The sober man laughed, smelling the win off this drunken turkey. "You said it."
Booth looked the other direction, at the cue ball tucked behind the 8, snug up against the edge of the table. His eyes glittered. "Can't say no to that."
"Your girlfriend's going to chew you a new ass when you get home," the shark chortled.
Clutching the cue stick tightly, Booth shuffled into position at the right corner. He leaned over to examine the angles, losing his balance slightly and then correcting himself. Hesitantly, he lifted the stick and placed it over his left hand, fingers moving into position to notch and steady the stick.
The trembling stopped. His eye squinted into a wink, the stick sliding steadily back and forth for two momentum setting passes before he lifted the stick to a high pitch. Abruptly he struck a fast, sharp blow to the white ball. It leaped over the 8, spun off the opposite bank a moment later and hurtled down the table to smack the striped 9, which went careening into the far corner pocket.
Shark took it in with an open jaw. "What the ever-loving hell?"
Standing, Booth slid his cue stick to the floor and let a shit-eating grin briefly emerge while the shark was still floundering, as if he'd suddenly been yanked out of his comfortable tank and faced a hungry chef. But it had already been replaced with a befuddled disbelief when Shark turned back to growl a furious question.
"You screwing with me, Tex?"
"I made it?" Booth was nothing but amazed. "I made it!"
Shark's face darkened, furious but unable to deny Booth had made the impossible shot. Disgusted at the piss-blind dumb luck he'd just witnessed, he peeled off $160 cash and flipped it onto the table.
Booth pocketed the money with a delighted whoop, stumbling over to his O'Doul's non-alcoholic beer for a last swig. Watching the shark stomp off, Booth chuckled and dropped the drunk act. $160 was not a bad haul for two hours of working the table.
The problem with Shark over there was he'd never once caught on that he was actually the 'Mark.'
Deception was part of the hustle. Lie, cheat, manipulate, watch for tells, watch for weaknesses, move in and take the money (or the girl, or the confession). He read people like neon signs and that just made it so easy that Seeley Booth never imagined he might have a 'gambling problem.' He rarely lost anything worse than a few hours of sleep, so it wasn't much of a problem.
He might have gone on that way indefinitely, but his life was about to change. In a few days he would walk into a classroom at American University and his whole world would be knocked off its axis.
"Excuse me. Where can I find Dr. Temperance Brennan's class?" Still wearing his suit from the morning win, Special Agent Booth had snagged the arm of a young man rushing past. Bearing a backpack loaded with books and a scruffy appearance, the kid looked like he belonged in a Geology class.
The young man paused. "Uh, Brennan? What class is that?"
"Forensic Anthropology," Booth supplied.
"Oh. Oh yeah, she's the hot prof." The kid grinned. "Room 217."
Booth scowled. "'Hot prof?' Don't they teach you kids any respect these days?"
The student was already moving on, but tossed back over his shoulder. "Just wait. You'll see." Then he was lost around a corner.
Booth took the stairs and strode through mostly empty hallways. The clock was ticking close to the hour, a few students were dashing through doors to escape class early. When he found room 217, he was glad to see it was a fairly large lecture hall. He could sit in the back and size up this Dr. Brennan.
At the front of the hall, a glass case contained what appeared to be skeletal human remains. There was a white board and a computer projector, a combination of old and new lecture tools. To one side a table was set with a single, large jar of something resembling coffee beans that seemed to writhe and oscillate in a hypnotic pattern.
A hush held over the room, all of the students sitting perfectly still as a woman spoke from the dais, next to the glass case. She was tall. She was young, surprisingly so, and Booth shook his head in disbelief as he realized this expert was well under age thirty. Her sexy yet professional appearance made it hard for him to imagine her kneeling over muddy pits filled with dead bodies. Yet it was the quiet in the classroom that puzzled him the most: having been to college himself, Booth could only recall students being this quiet and attentive when the professor was strict, or entertaining. Wondering which condition applied here, he started to listen to her.
"Next we are going to discuss two ways of macerating flesh without damaging evidence on the bones." When her voice registered, Booth felt his jaw drop open a little bit further, now thoroughly captivated by the beautiful young woman his friend had referred him to. The siren call of her voice seemed fitting to her stature—a breathy alto, authoritative, yet richly feminine and sexy as hell. He was beginning to suspect that was why no one made a sound.
"For decades, boiling has been the preferred method," Dr. Brennan continued. "Boiling has the advantage of being both thorough and excellent for decontamination in cases where virulence may be of concern. However, the bone itself is cooked, transforming the marrow and making DNA retrieval and other tissue samplings impossible. Also, boiling leaves its own marks upon the bones. For the inexperienced, these marks can be confused with artifacts from the scene or events leading up to burial….."
A lack of scientific background left him with no idea what she was saying. Even if he could have followed the convoluted words, all the blood rushing out of his head into less intellectual territory left Booth at a disadvantage. Instead of trying to follow the lecture, his eyes followed her curvy figure as she wandered across the stage. Even from here, way in the back, he could see that she was going to be amazing up close.
Booth waited until the lecture had nearly finished before approaching her. The student's words out in the hallway came back to him, 'the hot prof.' Just as the young man had predicted, Booth now understood. Every student in the room was still riveted to her, the males especially.
Finally coming near enough to see her in complete detail, he saw that Dr. Temperance Brennan was more than beautiful—arresting was the only word that came to his mind. The sight of her brought him to a complete stop. Her square jaw and angled cheekbones were framed by silky chestnut hair loosely pushed back. She had a slender Byzantine nose and finely sculpted lips. But it was her eyes that would stop any man's heart. He had never seen eyes so alive with alert intelligence.
"Any questions," she finally asked her class, but her eyes were on the man walking towards her against the tide. The bell rang and the students finally shifted out of their trances, starting to gather up their belongings.
And that reminded Booth of the reason he was here. To test her, to harness her talent. He slipped into Hustler mode with practiced ease, playing dumb so she could have a chance to 'school' him. Let her be the smart one. "I have a question. If you remove the flesh, aren't you destroying the evidence?"
"On the contrary, I am revealing evidence."
Not only did his dumb question not impress her, it gave every sign of boring her.
Okay, she doesn't go for the dumb jock type. He quickly adjusted his approach, trying to demonstrate a higher level of competence with a more technically detailed question and waited for her to fall into his trap. But she didn't.
"All of the best evidence is written in the bones, if you know where to look." And, she informed him confidently, she did know because she was the best in the world.
"Oh." Booth waited a beat, but her smile never came. "Okay, you're serious."
Dr. Brennan straightened, finally noting the suit and nondescript necktie and realized he didn't quite belong in her classroom. "Are you a student here?"
He gave her his most charming smile and held out his credentials. "Special Agent Seeley Booth, from the FBI." Ordinarily, showing the badge increased feminine interest exponentially. Ordinarily, that slow grin with a warm slide of chocolate eyes made women's hearts flutter, but not this time. Not this woman. She didn't melt so much as stand firm and put up a 'keep off the grass' sign.
Grey eyes flecked with green and gold watched his approach with frank curiosity. They slid up and down, assessing him in some undefinable way that looked like abstract calculation. Finally deciding to extend her hand, she introduced herself with a mere trace of a smile as her lively gaze lifted and danced over his face. He wouldn't know until years later that she was cataloging his bones. "I'm Dr. Temperance Brennan, of the Jeffersonian Institution."
Her proffered hand barely registered, because her slightly crooked smile had already lodged itself somewhere deep in his chest and set his pulse tripping. What would it take to make that smile bloom brighter? He took her hand, shook it, and watched for any flicker of interest in her. Another slow tease of a grin from him. "Hmmm. Do you believe in fate?"
"Absolutely not. Ludicrous."
Not once in his adult life had the charm smile failed to work. Not until now, when Dr. Temperance Brennan tossed her head and dismissed his charm and flirting as so much useless banter. She was impervious to both and he was astonished.
Finally, with a slight mental shake, he brought himself back to business. Another attempt at humor. "I'd like your help with a case I'm working on. I hear you're the best."
"Yes, I believe I just said that." Her furrowing brow told him he was losing her; she was starting to think he was an idiot.
What the hell was it going to take to get her interested? Usually he could size a mark up in less than a minute, could hone in on the vice that motivated them in a way that could almost be called psychic. Flirting failed, charm flopped. She wasn't vain despite her obvious confidence in her own abilities. This Dr. Brennan didn't present any obvious ways in, a fact that confounded Seeley the hustler and left just Booth the man to flounder helplessly on his own. He shifted his weight and shifted focus to work, the only legitimate thing remaining. "We found a girl, skeletonized, and we're unable to identify her. A colleague of mine suggested you might be able to help."
That was how he stumbled upon it, by accident: truth was what she looked for. Hearing this, she smiled back at him fully at last, her silvery eyes glinting with interest and curiosity. And she was absolutely stunning when she smiled. Oh, what will it take to make her mine...? While Temperance Brennan looked for mysteries, Seeley Booth looked for the chase. He was always up for a challenging mark and she was the most mysterious mark he'd ever met.
Booth had asked her about fate, but a more appropriate question might have been to ask if she believed in magic. Within a day of meeting her, Brennan revealed the extent of her magical capabilities by revealing his victim's age, race, hobbies, car accident history (before 1998), region of birth and a move north (at age 8!), plus a sketch that looked almost as real as a photograph.
"I'm sorry, but we've been unable to learn her name." And Brennan truly did seem sorrowful.
Needing to manually shut his own gaping jaw, Booth sat up straight and started hunting for her magic wand. Because it wasn't just evidence that she worked her magic upon, it was him. She mangled idioms, failed to understand most of his jokes, but smiled when he complimented her. Her enthusiasm bordered on the childlike side of charming. It had been a long time since he'd enjoyed talking to someone this much, since anyone had seemed so refreshingly unique and unpredictable.
The arguments began one minute later. Booth showed her a photo of his prime suspect and she asked with complete sincerity, "then why isn't he in jail?"
"Because I don't have any proof."
Her nose crinkled, her smooth brow formed a series of puckers, and Booth thought he'd never seen anything cuter than Temperance Brennan confused. "Then how do you know he did it?"
"I just do." Oh, God, those amazing eyes.
She cocked her head to the side, deciding solemnly, "It seems to me that someone like you could benefit hugely from an association with someone like me."
A short burst of laughter at her blunt assessment was followed a moment later by Booth trying to loosen her up. But what he had realized from their little exchange was that she didn't believe his gut could do anything other than digest food, and dismissed the idea of instinct or intuition as mere fantasy or beneficial coincidences. She didn't believe in him. It was that simple, and with a desperation that almost shocked him, he decided Brennan needed to be convinced of his gut prowess. So he invited her to watch an interview with the victim's boyfriend ("Can I watch you broil the suspect?") and the first genuine sense of victory came from the slow acceptance he won from her.
He'd never felt better, higher, more sure of himself, then he did the moment she leaned over and told him, "Anthropologically, men are programmed to be the protectors of their mates." Her squinty agreement that Jemma's boyfriend was innocent thrilled Booth more than any hustled win ever had. This was her skepticism overcome by honest admiration of his demonstrated abilities. He wanted to feel that pleasurable burst of confidence again. Immediately.
Next came the revelation.
In hope of recapturing that thrill of her approval, he took her with him to confront Judge Hasty. Brennan's remarkable ability to confound Booth extended to just about anyone she spoke with. Without intention, she unbalanced the slimy judge, knocking the man so far out of alignment that he slipped and revealed his true nature. Hasty snarled insults at Brennan, stepping into her space, even going so far as to grab her arm.
See, baby, I'm right. I'm always right. He'd read Hasty like a Broadway marquee the moment he'd met the man. Brennan's blunt statements had drawn out a side of the Judge that Booth had intuitively known was there all along and just as she'd insisted was necessary, here was the proof! Booth suspected it was because Brennan didn't pay heed to social cues and kept pushing where others would hold back, or possibly Judge Hasty was unhinged by her lack of deference. Whatever it was, Booth didn't have to do much more than watch her bludgeon the Judge with her unconventional communication. She was carrying it on her own, provoking madness and giving him the cash that would seal the deal. Operation Hustle the Judge into Jail was playing out perfectly and she wasn't even fully in collusion with him!
Imagine what they could do if she actually did work with him. Booth watched it all in fascination, visions of Brennan becoming his stalkinghorse dancing in his head. Instead of fronting the money she would front him the evidence. She was the perfect foil, his opposite, his straightwoman. She would shake the suspects and he would watch them, wait for the crack and then pounce! What a team they would make. They would be unstoppable.
But Hasty was grabbing her arm so he really ought to—snap!—Booth blinked, his jaw falling open again. Out of nowhere, Temperance Brennan had let fly a solid right jab at the judge's nose, knocking the man backwards. She stalked forward, eyes fierce and predatory and another blow knocked the man completely down. What the hell...? Booth gaped again, utterly gobsmacked by the unexpected.
"Is this very bad?" She sounded very young, yet another surprise.
Holy mother of mercy and man, no one had seen that coming! Being that shocked was such a rarity that Booth laughed and regarded her with undisguised delight. "You are so hot!"
He wanted her. He wanted more, more magic, more unexpected curve balls, more curves in the road, more of her curves he could see hidden under her jacket, more flashing changeable eyes, more of her quirky idiom errors. Just … more.
They met in his favorite pool bar down in Anacostia, and for the first time ever, Seeley Booth walked past the tables and sat at the bar next to Temperance Brennan.
"Hey, Seeley! You're not playing tonight?" Ed at the bar raised an impressed set of eyebrows when he spotted the reason Booth had foregone the pleasures of pool.
"Got other plans tonight," Booth answered. "Ed, this is Temperance Brennan."
"Doctor Brennan," she corrected crisply.
Ed chuckled. Oh boy, she was a live one. Hot, haughty, high class. "You're out of your league with this one, Seeley."
"Shut up, Ed. We work together." But not for long... That pipedream had already come to an untimely end thanks to paranoid prosecutor Caroline Julian. Now Seeley was reevaluating his options because he still hadn't given up his primary objective. He still wanted Temperance Brennan in whatever capacity he could manage to acquire her.
"In any group," Brennan had said, "No matter how restrictive, the freethinkers—the mavericks, the rebels with leadership quality—find ways to declare their distinctiveness."
Booth had wondered what it would take to loosen her up, maybe even get her to pay a little more of her highly focused attention to him instead of searching for the source of a sliver of wood. He'd leered at her a little. "You know, I'm a freethinking, rogue rebel." And she didn't respond, just flicked her eyes coolly over his bland, black necktie.
By now he was starting to understand that words weren't going to be enough. Dr. Temperance Brennan demanded proof. Evidence. He found a kitschy (triple X, pinup girl) necktie someone had given him as a prank and wore it when he met her for drinks. "I am going rogue," he told her and waggled the tie. Her amazing eyes lit with approval and Booth almost glowed in the dark.
The FBI wouldn't let him date her while they were working together, but thanks to Brennan's impulsive assault on the Judge, that line was about to be unequivocally erased. (Had she done that on purpose? At this point he wouldn't put anything past her.) Now he had to fire her, and that was too bad but on the bright side there would be nothing stopping him from asking her out. So ... Tequila to soften the blow, then ... he'd reel her in.
They tipped back five shots apiece before he sighed dreamily and fired her.
Her dismay lasted all of five seconds before she leaned over and reeled him in. "If we're not working together, we can have sex."
This curve ball hit him harder than a hardball at 90 miles per hour. His brain splattered, his body erupted, everything pounded and throbbed. He'd never been so turned on in his LIFE. "I'll call a cab."
It was raining, the world was spinning, she was tossing on her jacket and the cab was waiting. "Listen, I have something to confess."
I think this is going somewhere. That's what he had intended to say, a line to put her at ease, to ease her into the cab and into his bed. It wasn't a line now. He wanted more than a night. God. He wanted everything. She looked up, those eyes, that incredible intelligence, her oddball humor, the way she got so excited over ordinary things. What Ed had said in there slammed home. She was out of his league. She was out of his universe. She was smiling, asking him if it was the fact that he was a descendent of John Wilkes Booth? because she already knew that.
Totally thrown, he sputtered, "Wait a second! How do you know that?!"
"From your bone structure."
Right. Obvious. He marveled at her curves and turns: like being on a roller coaster, every moment with her was an unexpected thrill. "What I wanted to confess was, that I have a gambling problem..." And her eyes softened, as if she understood what this meant. Because she was a genius, and magic. "...But I'm dealing with it."
Right now. He wanted to, right now. For Temperance Brennan he would do anything to be worthy of her approval.
"Why did you feel you had to tell me that?"
"I don't know. I just feel like, um, this is going somewhere." The line, but it wasn't a lie. Oh yes, let's go somewhere. Baby, please take me with you. I like who I am when I'm with you.
"Why did you feel like this is going somewhere?" She stepped closer, eyes dancing, lips curving, so beautiful and lively and perfect.
"I just ... I feel like I'm going to kiss you," he sighed.
The shock of her lips on his was literal. An electric jolt zapped him, the current running through every nerve in his body. She slid her lips over his and withdrew, dancing, teasing, using friction and anticipation with complete mastery. She was as much a genius at kissing as she was at blindsiding him. It hit him everywhere at once: his head, his heart, his groin, his entire being falling under her spell. Magic. Fate. More, more, give me more. He reached for her, pulling her closer, felt her mouth opening, tasted her sweet teasing tongue, wanted it to never end.
Paradise, right there in his mouth, in his hands, burning his body, saving his soul, filling him with the scent of summer rain and the taste of Tequila and the sensual bite of Temperance Brennan. Then she was pulling away. Paradise Lost.
She was laughing, dancing back out of reach, into the rain, her eyes sparkling like raindrops under the streetlights. "We are not spending the night together!"
"Of course we are... Why not?" It took him a second to catch up. From this point on, he would fall further and further behind because his world was being knocked off its axis. He just didn't know it yet.
"Tequila." She was already in the cab, she was leaving. She teased he'd never regret a night with her.
The cab left one dazed Seeley Booth standing in the rain, the Hustler in him wondering if this was what it felt like when he took money out of the hands of a mark. She'd set him up and stolen his heart and he wasn't sure if she'd marked him intentionally. He turned and went back into the pool hall.
"Shoulda taken that girl somewhere respectable," Ed advised. It was obvious to him that a classy dame like the beautiful doctor wasn't going to spend much time in a joint like this. "Why'd you bring her here?"
The man in him sighed, "I wanted her to know who I am."
Laughing sympathetically, the wiser man shook his head. "You want to be with a girl like her, you can't let a place like this be any part of you."
The world stopped spinning. It wobbled and fell.
The phone rang three times before Hank Lutrell picked it up. "Hello?"
A high pitched caterwauling in the background made Booth wince. "Hey, Hank, sorry to bother you. Wow, is that Ella?"
Hank chuckled. "Sorry, Ella and Emily are going rounds over the remote." The sounds faded, Hank's voice jittering a bit as he rolled into another room so he could hear over the squabbling kids. "Sounds like some kind of chaos is going on where you are also...?"
The bells and rustle of the casino were pretty loud. Booth gripped his phone tightly. "I'm in Vegas."
A long pause. "I see. Well, um, I'm really glad you called."
"No, it's ... it's not that bad. Not yet. I'm here on a case."
"Seeley, you might want to take this call outside. You sound like you're losing it."
He was. Maybe. Turning, Booth looked for his partner at the 21 table where he'd left her. "I can't leave Bones. I can't lose her." He shook his head, wondering if that was a Freudian slip. Because if he lost sight of her, he'd lose himself in here. And if he lost himself in the gambling, he'd lose her forever.
"Why didn't you tell Bureau you can't work in Vegas? I mean, that's why you transferred out in the first place."
"A missing Federal Prosecutor turned up as a skeleton so, you know, they sent for Bones. Dr. Brennan. Only the best." He gave a short laugh. Where Bones went he would follow. "So we're here. The thing is, I don't know how I'm going get through this."
"Well, keep her with you. She's the reason you went into the program to begin with, right?"
That was fine for the day, Booth thought, but what the hell was he going to do at night? "I can't stay with her every minute."
Then Hank reminded him who they were talking about. "You told her, right? She knows. The first time you admitted you had a problem, it was to her."
Closing his eyes, he could see again the beautiful woman he'd wanted that night in the rain, could remember exactly how his words had tumbled out unplanned, and untrue. "I have a gambling problem, but I'm working on it." Then she'd left and the cynical part of him recognized a sting operation. The stung part of him wondered if it was that confession that had changed her mind. And the desperate part of him found a Gambler's Anonymous meeting because he didn't think they had a program for liars.
By the time he finally managed to see her again, his untrue confession had become the truth. She'd made him honest. Just as he'd hoped in the opera house, Bones was the perfect foil, backing him, highlighting the best of him, making him shine.
"Yeah, she knows."
"Booth, you can't be in here. You're a degenerate gambler!" That blunt honesty that never failed to knock him off balance had this time knocked the bells and lights out of his vision. Her crystalline, concerned eyes replaced the lure of winning cash, not judging but worried all the same and reminding him of what he stood to lose if he lost it in here. Her. And by extension, the best parts of himself. He found her again sitting a few tables away, needing the visual anchor of her stabilizing influence.
"So, just be honest with her. Tell her you need to share a room. "
Share a room, how the hell was he going to convince Bones of that? He glanced around the casino, considering all the players, all the options and the thought of simply asking her for help was the one thing he'd not considered. Just be honest. Just tell her and he could trust that she would save him from himself. Relief loosened the knots in his shoulders and arms; knowing she was keeping an eye on him would be enough. "Yeah, you might be right, Hank. Yeah, I think that will work."
"Hey, you stay in touch. Call if you need me, don't worry about the time."
Relieved, Booth agreed and hung up. He walked back towards Bones, watching her sense him and turn towards him. Her eyes danced like they did in the rain, like they always did when she was experiencing something new. In the twenty minutes he'd left her alone, his genius partner had mastered 21. Figures.
Roxie walked out of their shared bathroom wearing a dress that sent her Tony right back to a steamy summer night in a pool hall. Her eyes flashed, her hips swayed; she wasn't the Temperance Brennan he knew at all, and yet ... she was the woman he could remember laughing over Tequila shots, kissing him in the rain, playfully leaving him with the promise of paradise once he sobered up.
"What got into you?" he'd exclaimed, thrilled to see what she was capable of, and she'd given credit to Clara Bow and a clandestine excursion to the craps tables last night. Now, hours later in their shared room, Booth sat in a chair and replayed her sultry walk, her laughter, her playful wit, the way she'd drawn men in with her eyes. Not just him, all of them. He was thinking he might have asked the wrong question. What he should have asked was, 'what went out of you?' This Roxie side of her wasn't an imitation of a 1920s film star, it was her. The teasing Tempe he'd fallen so hard for was still there, deeply buried under disciplined logic and reason.
In a way, he'd finally gotten his wish: they were finally spending the night together, but he was too busy comparing nights to relax and enjoy the situation.
As if she sensed his regard Brennan stirred and shifted, coming awake to notice he was not in the bed beside her but at the window instead, watching her. She sat up slowly and met his solemn gaze with one of her own. "Why are you sitting over there?"
Switching on a lamp she started to move, intending to get up and fetch him another ice pack. "Is your zygomatic bone aching still?"
Where Agent Sugarman's flying fist had taken him down? Booth chuckled. Nothing hurt there but his pride. "Nah. I was thinking."
Subsiding, tugging the blanket closer around her waist, Brennan remained where she was. A small, impish grin danced around her suggestion. "You could think in bed."
Next to her? Booth raised a brow, felt his pulse rising also, as well as certain other parts of his anatomy. "There are other activities I prefer to do in bed."
"Sleep." He forced himself to stop at the obvious, terrified of what might happen if he ventured any farther into what he would love to be doing with her in a bed.
"You're not sleeping," she pointed out agreeably. "Is something bothering you?"
Being so close and unable to touch her was bothering him. Hearing her breathe and sigh in her sleep was bothering him. Knowing that he wanted to be honest with her and yet he was hiding his 'friends with benefits' arrangement with Cam from her bothered him. "Bones..."
Another teasing dart as she corrected him. "Roxie."
"There's no one here but us. You can drop the act."
Brennan leaned forward and grinned, ridiculously frisky considering how early it was. "Who says I'm acting."
There it was again, the contradiction of Bones and Roxie. She was Bones, who still hadn't caught on to his dark mood, and this Roxie was also Tempe, the playful flirt who kissed him and ran, hoping he'd follow. This was the one woman he couldn't read well because she was so far outside of the ordinary and he'd guessed wrong, played it cool when she'd looked for warm. Everything went wrong because he wasn't honest with her. And as a result, everything else in his life was finally going right.
Conflict must have showed on his face because the imp slipped away, leaving his concerned partner to finally notice his preoccupation. "What are you worried about?"
Suddenly making a decision, he got up and sat next to her on the bed. "Being here, seeing you as Roxie today, it made me remember some things. It helped me remember some priorities. There's something..." and here he paused, searching for the right phrase to finish. Something you don't know about me... Something I need to thank you for... Something I still have to do... All of the above.
So he backed up a step. "You know I went through the program, Gambler's Anonymous."
"Yes. You told me you were working on it when we met." Their eyes held with all the force of electromagnets, remembering kisses and confessions. There was no condemnation, only the acceptance of this aspect of him, just as much a part as height or eye color. Booth was a gambler, Brennan accepted it. She didn't fear it; she trusted him and that he had it under control (with a bit of help from her in this city of temptations). But it was a misplaced trust and that was what had kept him awake all night.
"Bones, part of the program is to become honest, to face ourselves and acknowledge who we are, the things we've done, the people we've hurt. It's one of the most difficult steps. The ugliest things we've ever done, we have to confess it to another human being. It's step five."
"Okay," she said, and waited with that watchful patience that was just as much a part of her as she thought gambling was part of him.
"I took that step with you."
Now he had surprised her. "You did?"
"In the graveyard."
Memory hit. He could see it, her eyes widening in the lamplight, tears starting, amazement and a touch of fear. "Oh..." And she didn't say anything more, just pulled herself over to embrace him. "Thank you," she finally whispered, "for trusting me."
Holding her, he felt the guilt squeezing him because he hadn't trusted her with everything and that meant her faith in him rested on a false understanding of who he was. So he drew a fortifying breath and added, "But I didn't finish it."
Their embrace held even though he could feel her waiting for more.
"I mean, it's an ongoing process because it's an ongoing disease. I need to tell you everything. I need to finish step five so I can get on to step nine." He could almost hear her thoughts stumble over the skipped numbers, he could feel her puzzled tension as she pulled back and sure enough, that confused little wrinkle was there.
"What about steps six through eight?"
Temperance Brennan was still adorable when she was confused. Laughing fondly, he brushed a wisp of hair aside and let her settle back. "I finished them. It's just five and nine that I still have to work on."
"Because they're the hardest?"
"Yeah." Because they were about her. Because it's hard to look someone in the eyes and admit you've wronged them. It's hard to ask for undeserved forgiveness. He looked into her eyes and revealed the darkest part of himself, the part she still didn't know. "I was a hustler."
Her confusion intensified, as well as a tiny squeak of amazement. "You posed nude for an erotic magazine?"
"What?! Why would you...?" Then his furious blush dissipated into another laugh and he shook his head. "No, not that kind of Hustler, Bones. I was a pool shark."
The innocent part of her clearly did not know what that was so he swallowed his shame and spelled it out for her. "Con artist. Swindler. Cheater. Liar." He stopped there, at the truth. "I was a liar."
Silence so thick there was nothing but breathing and her guarded gaze.
"I lied to you."
He watched her face going blank as her emotions went into hiding. "When?"
"That night when I told you I had a gambling problem. I lied to you when I said the problem was gambling, and that I was working on it."
Brennan had pulled all the way back until they no longer touched each other and leaned up against the headboard. "I see."
"I wanted it to be true, both being a gambler, and working on it." Because being a gambler meant it wasn't his fault, but being a liar was a character flaw. He'd hoped saying it would make it true. But wanting it wasn't enough, he had to reach for it. Fight himself for it. Fight for a chance with her.
"So, you're not a gambler...?"
Oh, he had gambled, at first. Right out of the army in Vegas, again in New York and DC, but all those times he'd stopped the losing streaks by changing focus. Instead of betting on other people or on games of chance, he began to bet on himself because the odds were so much better. Forcing himself to look at her, to be honest, he explained it so she would understand. One thing hadn't changed: he still wanted her to know who he was.
"I've always been able to read people. I used that ability to manipulate people into placing bets against me at pool. I'd pretend I couldn't play well, then I would beat them and take their money. I wasn't gambling, Bones, I was swindling. In high school, I used my ability to win over girls. For the FBI, I use my ability to manipulate in the interrogation room. I've always lied for a living. I lied to suspects, to families, to girlfriends, to everyone. But it wasn't until I lied to you, that I realized ... I didn't want to do that anymore. "
She had been looking down into her lap, tears discreetly brushed aside, but at this she looked up and let him see the impact, let him see he was hurting her all over again. Always rational, she went straight for the disconnected logic of his confession. "If you lied to everyone, then why would it matter that you lied to me?"
"Because you are honest. You thought I was honest, and I liked being the man you thought I was. I wanted to be with you but I thought there was no way someone as amazing as you would be with a guy like me, unless I changed. So I told you what I wanted to be true. When it didn't work out between us, when you saw through me and left ... that's when I decided I had to make it true. I went to the first GA meeting two days after you hit me."
She blushed and averted her eyes again. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have assaulted you."
A soft laugh forgave her. "I'm glad you did. You knocked some sense into me. Being here in Vegas has reminded me what it was like before I met you, what I was like before I met you." Nodding slowly, she kept her gaze averted and picked an imaginary piece of lint off the surface of the bed. "Seeing Roxie reminded me what you were like before... Bones, I always told myself you pulled the rug out from under me to prove a point."
"Pulled a rug...?"
"I told myself you knew what was going on and you tricked me. Conned me into wanting you and then you left me high and ... wet ... in the rain." His self-mocking smile softened the assessment because now he knew that wasn't what had happened, not at all. "Now I'm thinking there's a reason I've never seen that side of you again, until now. You let the fun side of yourself out to play with me and I hurt you, so you locked her back up again."
He knew he was right. With the firing, he'd gotten her hopes up only to dash them again when he hired her back the next day. He'd hurt that teasing, playful girl so much that she was too scared to come out and play with anyone. It was his fault Roxie was gone and he didn't know when he'd ever get to see her again.
"I'm sorry, Temperance." He'd never been more sorry in his life. Breaking her fragile heart was the worst thing he'd ever done. Step five was admitting it out loud. Step nine was to apologize knowing nothing he could say would ever repair what he'd broken.
"It's fine. Don't worry about it." Cool professional Bones, guarded and detached.
"I do worry about it," he insisted softly, feeling a rather unusual need to blink his burning eyes but that would mean taking them off of her for too long. He never wanted to take his eyes off her again. "I'm pretty sure you saved my job, my relationship with Parker, maybe my life. Hurting you is something I'm always going to regret, but I can't completely because it was the wake-up call that I needed."
"To stop lying to everyone?"
God, when she put it that way... He sighed, knowing he deserved far worse. "Because of you I realized I need to strive for honesty."
He could hear the doubt and hesitation in Brennan, his ability to correctly read her having vastly improved via the 18 months he'd worked so closely at her side. "Booth, are you always honest with me now?"
His heart stumbled, his fingers tingled like the hustler feeling the felt. He knew what she needed to hear. "Yeah. I always tell you the truth." (Except for the part about Cam, which wasn't exactly a lie since she'd never directly asked him, 'Are you having sex with my boss...?') Since that night he'd never deliberately told her something false but his conscience was kicking him in the back of the head, prodding him to admit, "But it's something I'm always going to struggle with."
"Thank you for being honest." So formal.
Booth leaned forward and took her hands in his, replacing felt with the soft skin of the person he admired most. "You're my partner, Bones, but more importantly, you know me."
His hopeful eyes clung to hers, guarded but not turning away. You know me, all the ugly parts of me. And she was still there, still his partner, still the woman he would do anything for. "Having your trust is the most precious gift I've ever been given. I never want to ruin that."
"I trust you, Booth."
And he could see that she still did, even now. All he could do was keep striving to be worthy of it.
Author's Note: In Parts of the Sum of the Whole, Booth began his story by saying he was at an early morning Gambler's Anonymous meeting the day he met Brennan. Meanwhile, the flashback shows him winning $40 running the table. He was a pool shark, which means he deceived other people into betting against him and then he took their money. That's why his line to Sweets, "It wasn't a problem because I mostly won," is huge. He wasn't the one gambling, he lied about his abilities to get others to gamble against him so he could fleece them. And I think maybe he viewed Brennan's behavior through that prism. He thought she'd set him up, which is why he was angry with her.
To be fair to Booth, I think by this point (Woman in the Sand) he'd changed so much (for the better) from the man he was in 2004 that he might be able to appreciate his own transformation. He might also realize that he'd wronged Brennan and part of the GA program is to admit harm and ask for forgiveness. I've always had the feeling from the way Booth and Brennan tell the story to Sweets, so in harmony with each other, that they must have resolved their initial fight at some point and forgiven each other.
Thank you for reading. :)