Author's Note: Thank you to those who are reading, following, marking as favorites, and especially for waiting so long for an update.
A few stories back, I wrote an angry, angsty story called "Moving On," where Brennan reaches her limit. Booth did not come out smelling like a rose in that story and I promised a prequel that might explain his side of things. Actually, there will be two prequels: this is the first.
This ended up taking much longer to write than I had hoped because one little span of transitional paragraphs drove me outright insane with their utter refusal to cooperate. I scrapped the whole section four times to start over and over and ... Grrr! Impossible. You'll know them when you see them because they're still crap but I've given up, LOL.
The Premise: One night after Sweets dared a recovering gambler to gamble, Seeley Booth went for broke, seeming to bet it all on the biggest gamble of his life. We all know what happened: he lost. Then, most bewildering of all, the man who swore he was "that guy" who would spend 30 years and more at Temperance Brennan's side, inexplicably vowed to move on only a few minutes later.
The current chapter is T.
Episode tag to The Parts in the Sum of the Whole
The Catch in the Contradiction
Tenth Catch: Letting Go
It was not an inborn skill, knowing how to treat a lady.
He learned what he knew the hard way, the same way as everyone else, and found (like everyone else) that forging a long-term relationship with the opposite sex looked easier on paper than it was in practice. Having spent quite a number of years perfecting his approach, fine-tuning it to fit the individual and discovering it assured him of nothing at all beyond a shot at a first date, Seeley Booth turned his skills at wooing women onto the whole of humanity, with decidedly better results. For it turned out that 'young ladies' as a group were little different from people in general, that there was a greater variation between any two individual women than between all men and women in general.
On the surface, he could woo anyone, at least for a while.
Thus his efforts to learn how to sway the ladies rendered him rather remarkably adept at swaying just about everyone he met, with precious few exceptions. It was a well known fact at the FBI that Special Agent Booth had a way with people, even his temperamental, unapproachable partner. (In fact, it was that remarkable partnership forged out of the still smoldering ashes of their initial, spontaneous combustion that fueled FBI scuttlebutt for years afterwards. How he'd managed to sway Dr. Brennan into a partnership after she'd hauled off and hit him in the bullpen was the stuff of legend.) It was proof that Seeley Booth had a way with people, especially difficult people, and most especially he had a way with women.
Since Dr. Brennan was a woman and arguably the most difficult person that any of his fellow FBI agents had ever encountered, they reasoned that Booth was simply born with a knack. An interpersonal genius, even.
They couldn't have been more wrong.
The real relationship genius was Hank Booth. If Seeley Booth had perfected his partnership with Temperance Brennan, it was because he'd followed his grandfather's advice.
Advice from Hank Booth might come at any time, often when it was least desired or expected. His wisdom came in layers, the surface obvious but as time went by and Seeley Booth encountered occasions that reminded him, he would find new meaning in the old words. A perfect example was the night he first received advice about kissing girls.
He was sprawled on the old Goldenrod couch watching Cheers and laughing at something the Coach had said when Pops came in through the front door and after giving it a careless slam his grandfather came striding straight towards his lounging grandson. "What's this I hear about you and Susie Martin under the bleachers?"
Seeley Booth froze like a raccoon in the road, eyes startled and heart pounding as Pops gruffly approached. "Uh..."
What did he hear? And how...?
With a demand like that, young Seeley knew better than to sprawl and he immediately bolted upwards into a more respectful posture like his Pops taught him: spine straight, shoulders back, but his grandfather's discovery was mortifying so he kept his eyes down. "Well, we were, uh, well, you know ... and, uh."
"Spit it out!" Hank Booth bellowed.
"I wanted to kiss her," Seeley stammered. "She didn't want to."
And so he'd pulled her against him, stealing her lips in a blazing caress that fired his blood and made her melt moments before she shoved him back and tried to dart away.
He'd never seen his grandfather looking so angry, the older man standing impossibly tall despite his advancing years, with shoulders still broad enough to intimidate much younger men and his arms crossed into a disapproving barrier. "You let her go, right?"
"Well, I really liked kissing her."
"I might have, um, grabbed her and kissed her again."
Hank's outraged roar made him shudder in terror. "You forced yourself on her?"
"NO!" He didn't hurt her. She'd seemed to like it even: he'd tasted her tongue teasing against his just before pushing back and hopping nimbly over the criss-crossing brackets of the bleachers as she finally succeeded in making her escape.
"You grab a girl and kiss her when she doesn't want you to...? That's forcing yourself."
But she'd tasted so good, so soft and sweet and he didn't think he'd hurt her or anything. Susie was pretty and smart and he liked her soo much.
Seeing the recollection of desire in his grandson, Hank instructed, "You respect when a lady says no. You hear me?"
"I don't care where you are, who she is, what you want. When a lady tells you no, no matter what, you listen and you back off."
"Okay," Seeley agreed nervously.
Hank moved closer to his grandson, placing a heavy hand on his shoulder. "They are delicate and beautiful. You're going to be tempted, sometimes. You'll fall in love with a pretty girl and want her desperately but if she's not willing to give herself freely, you have no right to take anything. You hear me? No means no. Always."
"I understand," he squirmed, desperately hoping his own escape was approaching.
"This is important, Seeley. A gentleman never forces himself where he isn't wanted. If she says no, that's the end of discussion. Respect her and let her go."
Simple advice from a simple man, and it was easy for a young teen still learning his way in the world to keep such a simple set of rules in mind. Don't force yourself, respect the word 'no.' Let her go. The last component, the most brilliant stroke of genius, seemed self-explanatory in the context of not forcing himself: 'You have no right to take anything.'
He wouldn't understand what it really meant until twenty five years later on a cool night in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
His partner of five years walked beside him, grousing over the conclusions reached by one very young and very inexperienced Dr. Lance Sweets, who'd written a book about their partnership and concluded Seeley Booth and Temperance Brennan were in love with each other. Brennan was grumbling that he'd been off base to suggest her lack of faith in long-term romantic relationships had anything to do with her repeated experiences of abandonment (she had science and plenty of cross-cultural studies to back her up), whereas Booth muttered his agreement that he did not go around saving everyone because of his own history of physical abuse.
Yet, "the two of you are in love" kept bouncing around inside his skull. Booth knew he was desperately in love with her, that much was most certainly true. Bones was his best friend, his one true partner who would do anything for him, all he need do is ask; and in return he would do anything for her. Stealing a glance at her, the golden brown hair falling over her shoulders, her misty grey eyes troubled, her long legs carrying her gracefully down the steps beside him, he couldn't help but to think she was perfect. An impossible expansion filled his chest when he looked at her, warmth and contentment just from being beside the person who knew him so well and comforted him merely by existing. Adding to the appeal was the fact that she was also beautiful and temptingly near, the sweet scent of citrus drifting to him as she brushed a little close at that bottom step: he was exquisitely aware of her on every level of consciousness, not only love but an acknowledgement to himself at last that he wanted her so badly.
Did she want him, too? Sometimes, the way she would look at him, he thought it must be so.
"One of you has to have the courage to break this stalemate," Sweets had argued not twenty minutes ago, glancing back and forth between complacent partners with all the frustration of knowing the right answer but watching helplessly while the idiots on screen bungle it and lose the final jeopardy round.
"You." He'd pointed to Booth and threw out the challenge. "It's gotta be you because you're the gambler."
In the office, he'd grabbed for a fast exit rather than listen to Sweets trying to tempt him. Gamblers take risks and he would never risk his partner. Never risk hurting her or scaring her, never risk losing her. Why would the kid try to get him to gamble?
Yet the idea that Sweets would deliberately induce him to gamble — knowing his past — didn't fully mesh either. Sweets thought she was in love too, and for all his inexperience the kid actually did have a good handle on reading people. So it had to be true. Right? Booth reviewed the last year, her constant support and encouragement, the soft glow of love that he sometimes saw in her eyes. And yes, at times, he'd almost detected longing.
So, if he knew he loved her and now it seemed certain that she loved him too, there was no risk. If they were both in love with each other then why were they stuck in a stalemate? You know the answer, bet it all for the Final Jeopardy round, a crafty little whisper prodded. Bones was cautious, but Booth knew a safe bet when he saw one and the kid had urged him to go ahead and make the play. Just be a little bit more bold when the answer was a sure thing. It didn't make sense to keep stalling.
So he drew a breath and took the plunge. "I'm the gambler."
But it wasn't much of a risk. Right? This wasn't falling off the wagon when it was a sure thing. It was more like betting the sun was going to rise in twelve hours after counting sunrises together for five years. They'd gone through so much already, formed the perfect partnership and beat the odds again and again to the point where the odds were in their favor. So it was only a very small risk and the odds were stacked so high in their favor ... because he knew she loved him too. He knew it. "I believe in giving this a chance."
Bones halted at the bottom step, turning to him with confusion. He moved closer to her, his beautiful partner for whom 'want' took on it's most archaic definition: something desperately needed rather than simply desired. He needed her but he also adored her and every moment he spent with her left him wanting (needing) more. If they were together, he'd have even more time and they could get even closer and that was what he wanted (needed) the most. To be as close as possible, as close as she'd let him be.
"Look, I wanna give this a shot."
Trying to read the caution in her eyes, he wasn't sure why she was hesitating. A sense of dread erupted in him when she asked softly, "You mean, us?" And he could only nod while a gush of fear made his stomach swim. Suddenly, the risks loomed higher than a high-wire without a net. What if the unthinkable happened? What if she said no...?
And then she did.
Ever the opposite, to his nod she countered with a shake. "The FBI won't let us work together as a couple—"
An aging excuse, but they didn't need the crutch of a shared job any longer. They were coffee, they were more than murders and had been for years. "Don't do that. That is no reason why we can't..." In an instant he realized this was Bones, she would need proof: actions, not words, because actions always carried greater weight. So he ended his own argument to pull her closer and prove they were more with a kiss.
The last time he'd grabbed a girl and kissed her it might actually have been Susie Martin: as badly as that turned out, and especially after Pops was through with him, he'd never tried to steal a kiss again. Not until now, and only now because there was love and trust instead of just lust. You know the answer, that voice whispered again. He knew she loved him. He knew it and all he had to do was show her that it was mutual and it wasn't a risk for two people who loved and trusted each other so deeply to act on those feelings.
As expected, she came near smelling of sweet citrus with a hint of cinnamon and something uniquely her but what surprised him the most was unexpected softness that was nothing like either of the times he'd kissed her before. Neither the steamy leadership of her first kiss, nor the hard determination of her second one met him this time; only soft, smooth satin and warm silk and every dream he'd ever had pressed up against him.
She tasted like home, like comfort: familiar and perfect.
For a moment, it seemed like she wanted it too, wanted him. For a moment (just like Susie Martin so long ago), Brennan's mouth softened even further and she moved against him, felt him, followed him. For one blissful moment, she was his and her hands coming up to palm his shoulders seemed a prelude to passion.
But the moment passed too fast and instead of drawing him closer, she pushed him away.
His eyes burst open at the broken contact, opening wide to see her eyes equally wide and panicked. Her hands slapped against him, pushing him further back. "No."
"Why?!" This was not the answer he had expected, so far off he suddenly realized he might have gotten the whole question wrong. "Why?"
"You ... you thought you were protecting me, but you're the one who needs protecting."
There were tears. She was crying? He was bewildered by the push, by her sorrow, by what she said. "Protecting from what?"
"From me! I..." And to Booth's astonishment, his partner was trembling, hating herself for hurting him, for leading him on and saying no. That's what she thought she'd done (was doing) but he didn't think so. "I don't have your kind of open heart."
No, she was wrong. How could he make her see, open her eyes to the love he knew was in that beautiful, generous heart of hers. How could she think herself incapable? He could prove it to her if she would just trust him in this. "Just give it a chance, that's all I'm asking."
They always came at the same evidence from different perspectives and he supposed he shouldn't be surprised by this. Brennan shook her head, seeing things he couldn't and (in contradiction of what she'd just said regarding her not-quite-open heart) she was trying to protect them. "No, you said it yourself: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome."
What did she see, her own failed relationships, or his? Her faults, or his? Did she not understand how they were different together, each of them filling the gaps in each other's empty spaces? They couldn't possibly fail, their whole partnership being so much greater than the sum of both of them apart.
"Well, then let's go for a different outcome here, all right? Let's just—" Booth could see her drawing a breath, preparing another argument, so he cut her off with a plea. "Hear me out, all right? You know when you talk to older couples who, you know, have been in love for 30 or 40 or 50 years? It's always the guy who says 'I knew.' I knew."
He did. That first moment, walking down the aisle towards her. God, the moment her eyes met his he'd felt bright white light flaring into his darkest crevices. She was so beautiful and brilliant; bold and yet shy; arrogant sometimes but strikingly humble in so many ways as well; fierce and yet fragile. All of the many contradictions about her had enthralled him for years and made him willing to do anything to be worthy of her. He'd faced himself and stopped gambling that very day and that was how he knew he would always want (need) Temperance Brennan. He knew. "Right from the beginning..."
"Your evidence is anecdotal."
A rebuttal that didn't even make sense, really. She knew him, knew his gut was never wrong. She was reaching now, right? He was wearing her down, just keep trying. "I'm that guy. Bones, I'm that guy. I know."
In his mind he was begging her to trust him, begging her to see how good they were together. Unstoppable. So right for each other. And that very deep connection was what enabled him to see a tidal rush of terror filling her.
"I..." She saw disaster. A broken ending, two halves shattered when they failed to make a whole. "I am not a gambler; I'm a scientist. I can't change, I don't know how."
He could see her panic. He could see her total lack of faith in herself, the crushing self-doubts that she couldn't save herself from as she saw herself wrecking them and began to cry. And the fear, that she was losing him because of it. Her eyes were wide, her voice shaking as it overwhelmed her - he was overwhelming her. "I don't know how."
All of this was his fault: he was scaring her, pushing, breaking her. Doing exactly the thing his grandfather had warned him never to do, never to force himself, always let it be the girl who freely gives herself. She wasn't able to give what (she only thought) she didn't have, the ironic proof of it coming in the way she knew she'd hurt him.
In the tears that were running.
In her broken plea. "Please don't look so sad."
Her voice broke, proving it wasn't because she didn't love him; it was because she did.
And she was terrified of losing him.
"All right," he agreed, staggering back a step, still trying to comprehend how two rights could be so wrong. He never wanted to see this fear and pain in her eyes, knowing he was the one to put it there. He could not bear to be the one who would take something else away from her when she had lost so much already, so he leaned back. Took the pressure off. "Okay."
Falling against the low wall, his head dropped because it hurt. God, it hurt. This was the proof of love, the replay of what she'd just said, the comprehension that finally came. She loved him too much to risk more than friendship. He loved her too much to take that away from her.
God, it hurt.
"You're right," he assured her. That was all he could do, reassure her that he would give her what she needed. "You're right."
No more pushing.
The pain was in her, too, because she knew. Knew how hard it would be and knew she could not assume continued friendship without asking first. "Can we still work together?"
And he heard her bracing herself for his no, for the loss she feared had become inevitable the moment he spoke.
"If she's not willing to give herself freely, you have no right to take anything." He could not take himself away from her, not when it was his fault for pushing before she was ready. Tears in his eyes now, it was love that gave him the strength to give himself in the way that she needed him. "Yeah."
"Thank you," she whispered.
She needed friendship and security, to be assured of his constant presence in her life, and there was only one way to assure her of that. He could not push. He could not pressure her. He could not let her dangle with apprehension, wondering when he would try again...
So he would take the pressure away. He would reassure her and never ask again.
"But I gotta move on." God, this hurt. Giving up this hope hurt, giving up his dreams of a domestic life with her hurt. There would never be anyone that he would love more and even saying it left ashes in his mouth, the burnt black charring of self sacrifice. Speaking the falsehood that anyone would ever love him more than Bones herself did, it caused him to stumble. "I gotta find someone who's ... who's gonna to love me in 30 years, or 40 or 50..."
It would always be Brennan who loved him most, walking beside him in her own steadfast, devoted way.
"I know." So very softly, she revealed what she had been doing all along. She knew.
She knew what this pain felt like.
Wiping tears away, Brennan began to walk alone.
He loved her all the more for it, that she was letting him choose when she left him at the wall of dreams. The choice to stay with her was his. Booth pushed off the wall and caught up to her, a silent promise that he would never leave her side.
Two steps in stride together, then she swayed into him, testing the waters. Partners?
He swayed back. Friends.
She broke, her arm sliding into his, her head on his shoulder. Thank you.
He broke, his head resting on hers. I love you.
She knew. She loved him, too.
It should have been easy to date other people. Instead, he laughed hollow and felt dull when Catherine Bryar should have enchanted him. He watched his partner stumble awkwardly in her own effort to keep a suitor just close enough to buffer but no closer, and to keep Booth apprised of her intentions.
He understood what she meant when Brennan sat so close beside him and spoke in her uniquely earnest way. "Our partnership is very important to me. You know that, right?"
"Right. You die for your partner. That's the way I look at it." Booth thought he could date someone else, marry them even, and reassure Brennan their friendship and partnership would go on unchanged.
It turned out, he was wrong. It had changed, was changing. She felt it, the growing strain as each tried to adjust, to hide jealousy that betrayed their friendship for what it really was (love), to stop all those little non-platonic touches that had crept in between them over the years only to discover that they couldn't stop those without altering the landscape of their partnership. That to revert to mere friendship was to lose the greatest essence of their partnership anyway.
Neither realized how non-platonic their relationship had been for so long until they were forced to confront the fact that they weren't. Not quite. Not really.
She felt the strain and began to panic that they had fallen prey to inevitable entropy. The more he tried to reassure her, the more his own feelings tangled and threatened to make him stumble over the very purpose that drove him to stay beside her. In trying to preserve a friendship as an act of love, the constant push/pull of irreconcilable impulses threatened to tear them asunder.
He watched her fall apart further as fear of loss overwhelmed her and threatened to bring about the very end that they were trying to avoid. This wasn't what he intended when he promised her unfailing friendship, yet somehow the friendship was failing and she was floundering and while trying to hold steady he knew one thing only: he was both too close and too distant to see a way through.
Caught in a quandary, staying together was pulling them apart; separating for a period of time might pull them back together.
That was the only reason he agreed when she haltingly confessed to considering the project in Indonesia. Booth allowed her to go, having finally begun to apprehend that their problem was rooted in pretending their friendship could go on unchanged. Something had to change, maybe time apart would help him figure out what.
And since she was leaving he might as well go, too. Afghanistan wouldn't be very restful but he couldn't stand the thought of a year alone without her. That should have been the eye-opener right there, but true understanding of his grandfather's advice didn't arrive until the day they left each other.
Understanding began in the haunting moonlit glow in her eyes when she begged him not to be himself (so he would therefore stay safe and return to her), and why else would she care so much if not because of love? Understanding grew when his own heart thrashed painfully at the fear in her eyes, at his worry over what might happen to his trouble-prone partner if she was herself in a place too far for him to reach her.
They'd said their goodbyes the night before, arranging a year apart and promising no contact, but a definite time and place to reunite. It was too painful to imagine that year apart, the only thing he could cling to was the reward at the end: "One year from today, we meet at the reflecting pool on the Mall. Right by the—"
"—Coffee cart. I know."
Their hands clasped, their eyes held, and that was the gesture that called their bluff. We're not friends, Booth admitted and felt relieved to finally understand the paradox. As long as he was in love with her, they could never be friends; because he loved her, he'd vowed they would always be friends. To keep his promise, he would have to let go of love.
"One year from today," she promised.
His hand loosened and tugged free, a painful rip of separation as he stepped back. Let her go, wisdom whispered. It's the only way.
It was the most painful thing he'd ever done, watching her walk away through a blinding wash of tears.
Author's Note: Moving On will hurt even worse after you've read this, because now you will see two radically different interpretations of the exact same conversation. It reminds me of the old proverb: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.