Hello, dear readers! I must beg your forgiveness if you are a reader of 'Death, Plus One.' I know you've been waiting months and months for the next chapter… I cannot control what my inner-muse writes; JazzyMuse is quite uncontrollable and has been entirely uncooperative about what *I* want to write.
This story came to me recently while I was on a camping trip and I sat beside the campfire when I wrote it. Not sure how many chapters it will be, I'm still editing and finding the best places to break for chapters. I hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: I still don't own anything… If I did, we wouldn't have been waiting almost 4 friggin' months for the end of this damn hiatus….
"I really think you guys are going to enjoy this," Sweets smiled enthusiastically as he handed the brochure to his favorite patients. "I was really disappointed a couple years ago that you weren't able to attend… and I could tell then, that you both regretted missing it, as well…" He grinned, his plump, unnaturally red lips were frozen in place as he waited for the partners to confirm his declaration, his wide eyes darting between the two.
"Uhh," Booth looked at the unconvincing photo pamphlet. "I don't remember being sorry…" His brow wrinkled as he cocked an eyebrow and eyed his partner. "You remember being sorry?"
Brennan refused to even read the literature. She sat on her seat, facing Sweets with a look of disdain while she crossed her arms across her chest, silently communicating her disapproval. "I have work... A lot of work."
Very obviously deflated at the extreme reluctance and negative vibes he was receiving from his long-time patients, Sweets huffed. "Guys," he whined, "c'mon…" He dropped his hands to the sides of his chair. "I mean, seriously, Dr. Brennan? I haven't even told you when it is! You haven't looked at the paperwork," his head dropped against the chairback where he sat.
"Sweets," Booth tossed the flier onto the coffee table and picked up the little stress ball that rested there. "We don't need that," he pointed to the discarded advertisement with one finger while the rest of his hand fisted the little exercise ball. "We're fine," he looked at his partner and received the confirmation nod he was seeking. "Me an' Bones, we're"
"Bones and I, Booth," she interrupted to correct his grammar.
"Yeah," he acknowledged her correction absently. "Bones and I, we're solid. We don't need to attend one of these…" he pointed again at the discarded information with a scowl, "conventions." He spat out the word as if he'd swallowed a mouthful of sour milk. "Those things are," he shrugged, not able to find the description.
Brennan interrupted, her impatience at the whole situation wearing thin. "Those retreats are nothing more than an aggregation of maladjusted and dysfunctional companions in desperate need for amelioration of their inabilities to engage in mutual intercommunications and daily verbal intercourse."
"Uh, yeah," Booth looked confused, but continued to stare at Sweets as he nodded and jabbed his thumb in Brennan's general direction. "What she said…"
Sweets stared at the anthropologist, dumbfounded and silent.
Booth pondered Brennan's rant and grunted. "Umm," he leaned towards his partner, whispering out the side of his mouth in a loud, stage whisper. "Intercourse, Bones? Really?"
"Verbal intercourse, Booth. It is nothing more than another way to say communication." She rolled her eyes. "Don't be such a prude."
"What?" His voice cracked a little, his masculinity taking another Brennan-hit. "I am not a prude, Bones…" His harsh whisper eked out from behind clenched teeth. "You shouldn't make assumptions about things when you have no evidence."
Sweets suddenly forgotten, Brennan turned her cerulean blues towards her partner. "Booth, I see the evidence every single time I make mention regarding the human body, human sexuality, biological urges, or anything of the sort!" Her exasperation at Sweets was manifesting itself in aggression towards her partner. "I cannot recall a single instance during the course of our career when I said the word intercourse or breasts or sex or anything remotely related to said topic when you didn't start lecturing me about altering my language and choice of wording." She eyed him in disbelief, unable to comprehend his inability to see his own discomfort with perfectly healthy topics of discussion.
"Bones," Booth groaned and turned slightly sideways, fanning his hands out in frustration and facing her, also ignoring the shrink in the room. "You burst out with this kinda shit at the most inopportune times. I swear, half the time I think you say stuff just to get to me! I think you enjoy making me sweat!" He swiped a hand across his face. "There are certain... things that you just shouldn't talk about in public, or with your partner."
"You're a perfectly healthy alpha-male, Booth. I would assume that you are familiar with all aspects of the human body and it's innate desires for, and hopefully the enjoyment of, sexual congress."
"Um, guys?" Sweets tried to interject. Unsuccessfully.
Booth leaned towards his obstinate partner, gritting his molars in anger at her apathetic attitude towards what he considered to be a sacred union, a personal and special act between two people who care deeply for one another. "I do just fine," he grunted, his tone primal and his harsh glare unyielding.
"Hey, 'scuse me…" Sweets tried again, in vain.
"You know what, Booth? I've heard you make that claim plenty of times in the past," she challenged, "but aside from Hannah, I certainly haven't met many of these supposed women with whom you 'do just fine'… What do you do, keep them hidden away in your hall closet?" Their noses were nearly touching as she met his intensity directly.
At the mention of Hannah, Booth's nostrils flared and his eyes darkened in anger.
"Ahem!" Sweets had to practically yell his interruption to gain their attention. When two sets of equally passionate eyes turned his way, he swallowed visibly. "This kind of, um, arguing is not healthy for either of you and it can certainly be detrimental to your partnership... This is why I want you to attend the conference. There will be workshops designed to help you both deal with, and extinguish, the urges to fight and argue with each other."
"What?!" Brennan squeaked out in an uncharacteristically high pitch.
"We're not arguing," Booth countered, sitting up straighter as the familiar, albeit long-dormant overprotective alpha came to the defense of his partner and their working relationship. "We don't argue, Sweets," he growled. "We bicker... There's a difference."
"Exactly," Brennan found her strong, alto voice once again and she sat forward in her chair. "You, of all people, should recognize the fact that Booth and I never argue. And we certainly never fight. That is a preposterous accusation, and I find that I am insulted at your insinuation, Doctor Sweets!"
Looking at the younger man in appalled ire, Booth leveled his dark eyes. "You see that, Sweets? You've insulted Bones." He leaned forward slightly. "Apologize to her. Now."
Sweets stared at Booth in shock and, if he was honest with himself, slight horror. The Special Agent could be downright terrifying when he wanted to be; especially when his partner was involved. The young psychologist rolled his lips between his teeth and licked them quickly.
"Well, uh, listen guys... I didn't mean to upset you," he started to direct his statement towards Brennan, but instantly swiveled his eyes back to Booth. "Neither one of you..." Determined to not give in to the intimidating demand, the much younger man straightened his back and pushed out his chest. "But you need to realize that as your therapist, it is my duty to ensure your mental well-being both on and off the job. The FBI is depending on my certification that the two of you are still capable of working together after your respective sabbaticals...and the subsequent personal conflicts that occurred as the aftermath of your months apart."
Booth's glare darkened as he leveled his eyes at the man who was often more of a thorn in his side than a friend. "I wasn't on a fuckin' sabbatical, Sweets. I was in the goddamn desert teaching kids that are way too young to be doing that kinda shit how to do my job. And you know it." The angry Special Agent pushed to his feet. "And as far as any 'personal conflicts' that happened between Bones and me, that's none of your damn business."
"Referring to our time apart as sabbaticals, Dr. Sweets, indicates that we were vacationing apart." Brennan felt her own jaw clench at the mention of 'personal conflicts.' Brennan was no idiot, she knew the comment was an indirect reference to Booth's short-lived whirlwind romance that followed him from Afghanistan to DC, ultimately leaving her partner angry and bitter at the world. But the Anthropologist knew they would talk when he was ready, and that if Sweets pushed the metaphorical envelope, it would definitely not end well. "The mere notion that you seem to think that I was having a vacation deep in the jungles of Maluku is proof that you have lost touch with reality. We worked from sun up to sun down, digging and sifting relentlessly while being threatened on a near daily basis by armed locals, We were never permitted to go anywhere on our own... Not even to use the latrine. We had zero time to ourselves. If that is your idea of a vacation, Dr. Sweets, then I feel sorry for you..."
Interrupting her tirade, Booth sat back down carefully. "Bones, what do you mean you were threatened daily? Threatened for what? I thought that site was secure! You promised me before you went that you would be safe..."
She turned her cool eyes back to her partner, fighting back unshed tears. "And you promised me that you wouldn't be a hero...But some of the stories that Hannah told me... Some of them haunted me...caused me to regurgitate my meals after imagining them over and over... I couldn't get them out of my head."
"Bones, I was never in any real danger..." He placed a gentle hand on her forearm, the most physical contact he'd initiated in weeks.
Long forgetting that they were sitting in front of their nosy shrink, Brennan turned her body towards Booth. "You were in a war-zone, Booth! You were in danger the moment your plane flew into foreign skies... Hell, you were even in danger I our own friendly skies..." Brennan fisted her hands where they rested on her lap. "Being threatened is one thing... Being under fire is an entirely different matter."
"No, Booth!" She pushed herself hastily to her feet, pulling her arm free from his gentle hold. "I'm sick of your double standards. You can be such a hypocrite, you know that? But somewhere, in your twisted, alpha-brain, you have rationalized it, so it feels right... You've convinced yourself that you are correct and everyone else around you is wrong."
Booth stood and faced her, his confusion quickly turning to anger. Before he could interrupt, she plowed on.
"Well, Mr-Gut-Feeling, this time you are the one who was wrong. You thought you were doing some macho-mucky-muck by telling everyone that you were not in harm's way, while your girlfriend was telling us the truth of what you were doing on over there." She stopped trying to fight the tears, finally letting them fall freely down her pale cheeks.
Booth reached out and palmed her biceps tenderly, "Bones..."
Feeling a wave of defeat wash over her, Brennan pulled away slowly, bending over to grab her messenger bag. "You don't get to lecture me, Booth... Not any more. Not after you told me blatant lies... And certainly not after you moved on so quickly and completely..." She turned away from her partner without another word and slipped from the office.
After a moment of stunned silence, Booth turned his blackened eyes at Sweets. "This is your fault, Sweets," he growled and pointed a long, thick, accusatory index finger at the man. "You did this..." He spun on his heels to leave, but before he stormed out the door, he turned and pinned Sweets with a threatening glare. "Why couldn't you just leave well enough alone? Huh? Why couldn't you just let us work through it in our own time? It wasn't enough that you poked your nosy ass into our personal lives before I sent her running scared into a jungle where she coulda been killed, but now you wanna fuck up what little's left? What the hell did we ever do to you to make you want to put us through hell like this?"
Feeling both hurt and enraged that the Agent had so little respect for his position in their lives, Sweets hopped to his feet immediately. "Leave 'well enough alone'? Are you…" The psychologist couldn't believe his ears, he shook his head in disbelief. "Are you kidding me? I mean," he threw his hands up in disgust. "You...you cannot be serious, Agent Booth! If you and Dr. Brennan don't start working through your issues, you're both going to fall apart." When he saw Booth start to straighten in defense, he thrust his finger in the air, stopping him from interrupting again. "Look, your partnership is in shreds, in case you haven't noticed! You and Dr. Brennan hardly communicate anymore unless it is strictly about a case, and even then your conversations are terse and strained. The whole team is constantly walking on eggshells in fear of pissing one or the other of you off. Your solve rate has dropped by nearly fifteen percent and even though you are still successful on a respectable level, I can guarantee you that with the exception of Cullen, The Suits upstairs are gunning to split you two up." That little morsel of information certainly grabbed Booth's attention and it gave Sweets a split second to breathe. Straightening up, he smoothed down his tie. "Yeah, Cullen is the only bigwig up there on your side, Booth. He believes that you and Dr. Brennan will work through your differences, but I need to convince more than just Cullen… And I can't convince them if I myself, have doubts that the two of you will be able to fix this without a little bit of intervention."
"You can't split us up, Sweets. Me and Bones, we're still solid. We'll get over this... This slump." Booth knew he sounded desperate, but inwardly he figured the hell with his pride at that point, he was desperate. The mere idea of losing his partnership with Brennan made his stomach wretch. "We have our differences, sure, but we always work through them. Always!"
"Agent Booth," Sweets felt sorry for the man that he'd considered a friend for the past several years. "She's hurting. She's hurting bad, and you can't see it." His shoulders slumped a little, suddenly feeling drained from their confrontation. "Either you can't see it, or you simply won't see it… I don't know which it is…" Turning his back to Booth, he walked back and resettled onto his chair, picking up the notepad he'd discarded to the floor when he stood up to defend his position. Ripping off the top sheet and crumpling it into a tight ball, he tossed it into the trash can in frustration. Not meeting Booth's harsh but equally frustrated gaze, Sweets continued. "Regardless of what you might think, Agent Booth, I do believe in you and Dr. Brennan… However, I don't believe that you will overcome this ever-widening gap on your own, without some sort of facilitation… I want to see you both succeed; I want to see you performing back at the top, where you were before. I just think you both need a little help, that's all. And that is all I was trying to offer." He tossed the yellow legal pad onto the coffee table and finally let his eyes meet Booth's across the now-silent distance. "But if you think you can do it alone," he waved his hand towards the door, "be my guest. Just make sure you don't scare her off for good." As an afterthought, he shrugged. "Unless, of course, your intention is to chase her off; in that case, in my opinion, you're on the right track."
"Go to hell, Sweets," Booth was determined he wasn't going to stand in that little pissant's office and listen to him spew off a bunch of psycho-babble-bullshit. He fixed his jaw in a firm set and turned, whipping open the door hard enough that it crashed into the wall behind it. He fished his phone out of his pocket and tried to dial Brennan, only to find himself shunted to her voicemail on the third ring, evidence that she had consciously diverted his call. "Hey, gimme a call. I need to know that you're OK, Bones." Disconnecting, he then shot her a text. Bones, are you OK? Want me to bring over Thai? I think we should talk.
By the time he reached his SUV down in the parking garage, he still hadn't had a response from her yet. Aiming for their favorite take-out restaurant, he fought the Friday night traffic for twenty minutes before reaching his destination. When he tried to call her back again, he was sent to voicemail on the second ring. Before he could text her another message, he had a reply. Go home, Booth. I'm not in the mood to talk.
Feeling defeated by his own stupid and hasty actions, Booth decided to forgo his own dinner and turned back around, making his way to the FBI gym, where he tucked into a workout routine so intense that his knuckles were raw and bloody by the time he was through with the punching bag.
By Monday morning, Booth hadn't heard from Brennan, even though he'd tried repeatedly to call her over the weekend, and his frustration had mounted exponentially, festering itself into an angry fireball that sat squarely in the middle of his gut. He grumbled as he read the latest report Charlie had left on his desk for approval and when a knock at the door interrupted the unfocused attention he was paying to the document, he growled at the intrusion.
"I assumed that non-human sound wasn't really directed towards me, Booth," Cullen's voice filled the room.
Booth's eyes darted up from his paper and his shoulders instantly squared. "Sir, no sir." He tried to mentally shake the fog that was clouding his judgment. "Sorry, sir."
"Yeah, yeah," Cullen sat down opposite his top agent and, with one sweeping glance at the man behind the desk, accurately evaluated the temperament of one of his favorite employees. From his uncharacteristically smooth hair to his boring black tie, to his battered and bruised hands, Cullen could see his young colleague was in a world of hurt. "How ya doin', Booth?"
Uncertain why his boss was checking in on him, Booth was immediately wary of the visit. "I was just going over these reports that Charlie left for me, Sir…"
"I said how are you doing, not what are you doing…" Seeing that Booth was, understandably, hesitant to open up, Cullen did what he set out to do. "It's ok. Never mind... Listen," he sat forward, "Dr. Sweets tells me that Dr. Brennan is reluctant to attend the 'Communications and Teamwork for Success Convention.' He also said that while you, too, balked at it, that you would likely be more receptive to going if given a reason to go…"
Booth's forehead wrinkled in concern, but he didn't interrupt and refused to give any credence to Sweets' claims.
"Well, here's your motivation, Booth. It would be in your best interest to convince your partner that the two of you should attend the week-long conference. I don't know exactly what happened to bring you two down, I don't want to know what happened… But I'm telling you right now, if this trend continues, if your success rate continues to drop, you're gonna be forced to actually perform the job we pay you to do, which takes place right here, behind this desk," he tilted his head. "And Dr. Brennan will once again be relegated to the lab, where Squints belong." The Deputy Director knew he was hitting below the belt, but he wanted his team back on top, and if idle threats were the way to get the job done, he was not above a little bit of white-lie blackmail. After all, Booth and Brennan's entire partnership started out with a touch of blackmail; jump starting it again with a bit of the same medicine couldn't harm anything, as far as Cullen was concerned. Deciding to sweeten the little blackmail pot, he raised an eyebrow. "Sweets also said you threatened him," he began, but was instantly cut off.
"What?! I did no such thing, the little fink," Booth argued back, not even believing what he was hearing.
"Well," Cullen could barely hold back the smirk. "He said he felt threatened..." When his nonchalant shrug really started to get a rise out of Booth, he raised a hand. "Semantics, Booth. You're fighting something that you can't win..." He pinned his lead investigator with a firm glare. "You two will attend that meeting, Booth. Unless you don't want to continue to work together... So, if you want your partnership to remain in tact, I suggest you start talking to your partner today... You two'll have to leave next Friday..."
"Sir," Booth shifted in his seat. "That isn't much notice. I mean, Bones is really busy, she has several pending cases that she's working, and…"
Cullen shook his head as he rose from the chair. "Can it, Booth. If this was some major dig that would offer advancement in her career, she'd jump at the chance, wouldn't think twice about those Civil War remains waiting to be identified." He cocked an eyebrow at the younger man, waiting for a rebuttal, but none seemed forthcoming.
Knowing that his boss was telling the truth, Booth nodded and swallowed thickly. "Yes, sir. I'll talk to her."
"Keep me posted, Booth," Cullen turned to leave, but paused to glance back over his shoulder, his eyes softening ever so slightly at the obvious pain that Booth was feeling. "You know," he began thoughtfully, "if I didn't think you and your partner could recover, I wouldn't be pushing you so hard." He met Booth's eyes with honesty. "I want my top team back. I don't want to relegate you to a desk job, and I'm sure you don't want to tell Dr. Brennan that she can't go back out into the field."
Booth realized exactly how true Cullen's statement was when he imagined Brennan's response if he was forced to tell her she'd have to stay in the lab. Looking down at his hands where they were folded atop the small pile of folders, Booth sighed. "No sir, I don't think Bones would appreciate being forced to remain in the lab…And," he let a small chuckle escape, "I can't think of another agent on staff who'll put up with her shit."
Cullen let a smile crack his stoic expression. "I'd have to agree." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "You're the only one crazy enough to keep working with her after she shot you…"
Booth smiled at the memory. "Ahh, it wasn't so bad." He pushed up from his seat and grew serious. "I'll talk to Bones today, Director."
"I know." Cullen replied with the wisdom and understanding of a fatherly figure as he turned to exit the office, leaving Booth to figure out the strategy of repairing the complex fracture that had broken the best partnership in FBI history.
So, anybody interested in following our favorite partners on a team building adventure? I've had to go on team-building retreats and conventions with my employer. Some have been great, offering invaluable tips and skills applicable to all aspects of life. Others...well, not so much. At any rate, I've pulled from my experiences for this little tale and added my own flair of B&B fun in the mix. I hope you enjoy it.
Looking forward to hearing from you all.
peace & love, my friends,