Disclaimer: I do not own Bones or any of its characters; nor do I own Tonka, Velcro brand fasteners, Cheerios, SpongeBob, dinosaurs, Little League, or anything that could possibly make me any money, apart from my brain.
Author's Note: Credit for the "studmeister" comment goes to Kathy Reichs; Brennan says it in Grave Secrets and it cracked me up. The meanings of the colors of the FBI seal come from the FBI website. I don't hang out with a lot of four-year-olds, so be forewarned on that front. And finally, this is the story where I think I'll be taking reviews most personally.
Muchas gracias a kippling croft, silentsister, BaileyBos, wanderingsmith, AJeff, Revia, Erkith, and to bonesrulz13--this isn't really the sequel, but I think it continues a sort of theme that started in LtW and continued in Listen. At least, that's how I see it.
"Hey, buddy." Booth smiled at the little boy running toward him. Parker, a Tonka truck clenched in one hand, was dressed in jeans, Velcro'd sneakers, and a green t-shirt with some kind of dinosaur on it. His mom stood by her car, a miniature jacket in one hand and a tiny backpack in the other.
Booth crouched down and scooped up his son, twirling the boy around and drawing giggles. Parker smelled like Cheerios and baby shampoo as father kissed his son on the cheek. Booth closed his eyes for a second, squeezing Parker tight, already dreading the end of the weekend when he would have to give his son up again. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes to see Parker looking him with a gaze of four-year-old concentration. Booth smiled.
"I'm so glad to see you, Parker. I've missed you."
"Did you see my truck, Daddy?" He held up the bright plastic toy for Booth's inspection, then drove it through the air, making vrooming noises. His mother walked forward.
"Hi, Seeley." She was still beautiful, but now it was as though there was a veil over her beauty. He remembered the days when she was vibrant in his eyes, when even in his thoughts she was more than three-dimensional. When all he wanted--all he thought he wanted--was her and to be with her. In his mind's eye he saw her laughing, her hair incandescent, her voice drowning out every other sound. But now he rarely thought of her, would even be content never to see her again, if it weren't for the boy in his arms.
She smiled tightly, and he suddenly pitied her, the obsession with looking good that she could never escape. There was tiny wrinkles between her eyes; he knew she would agonize over them. Booth hoped they could manage a civil conversation. "Hey. How've you been?"
"Fine," she sighed. "You?"
"Still in one piece."
She shook her head grimly, looked about to reprimand him. It had been one of their "issues," as she called the things they fought about, things whose number had increased exponentially as their relationship neared its end. She couldn't understand why Booth did what he did, and he had never been able to make her see his job the way he saw it. He'd bought her books on living with cops, he'd tried to explain what he did all day, he'd pointed out the flaws in what the media portrayed. All she saw was what was on television: bullets, infidelity, blood, and death. When it came down to it, all she saw when she looked at his badge was the possibility of him dying and leaving her alone. She wouldn't let herself see anything else.
Booth believed in right and wrong. He believed in justice. He believed in the truth, and the worth of others' lives, and the ideals that America was founded on. And he believed that innocence was worth dying to protect. Right after Parker was born, he'd told her that he did his job so Parker and children like him could grow up in safety.
She'd nearly screamed, "You'd risk your son growing up without his father so some other kids can grow up with theirs?"
And he'd shot right back, "I'd rather Parker didn't have a father at all than one who couldn't do the right thing!"
But now she just shook her head, and held Parker's jacket and backpack out. Booth looked at the bag.
"SpongeBob. It's a cartoon."
"I know what SpongeBob is, Rebecca."
"Somehow I'm not surprised." She just couldn't resist, could she?
"Isn't he a little young to be hauling a backpack around?"
"He wanted it. Anyway, don't do anything stupid with him this weekend."
He narrowed his eyes. Just because he occasionally risked his own life didn't mean that he would ever think of putting Parker in any sort of danger, and he knew she knew that. She was just being difficult. "Guess that rules out the bungee-jumping."
She glared, then turned her attention to the boy. "All right, baby, I'll see you on Sunday, okay?"
Parker twisted in Booth's arms and wrapped pale arms around Rebecca's neck. Booth leaned back, trying to avoid coming in contact with his ex. He could smell her perfume and wondered distantly if it was some he'd bought for her. Parker nodded, and she kissed him. "Mommy loves you, baby."
Booth rolled his eyes. Parker was four, not a moron. "Love you, Mommy."
"Have a good time with your daddy."
He couldn't help it; a grin crossed his features at the word. Booth held Parker out at arm's length and spun around in circles until the boy shrieked with laughter. Rebecca watched from beside her car for a moment, then got in and drove away, leaving father and son together.
Parker clambered into his car seat as Booth threw the boy's jacket and bag on the seat. He smiled wryly, thinking of having a car seat in the back of his g-ride. Not that Parker would mind riding along on some of the pursuits Booth had taken part in; the kid was already showing the same need for speed that his old man had. Booth buckled Parker in, tugged on the straps, and asked, "Ready, partner?"
He ruffled the boy's light brown hair and closed the door. He sat in the driver's seat and turned around with a puzzled look on his face. "What do I do now, Parker?"
"Close the door, Daddy," Parker commanded solemnly. Booth did.
"Okay, now what?"
Booth clicked the seatbelt into place. "Seatbelt, check."
"Now put the key in the 'gnition, and make the car go on."
"Are you sure?"
"You sure you're sure?"
Parker shook his head. "Silly Daddy. Go!"
Booth gunned the engine, and Parker squealed in delight. If his dad had anything to do with it, Parker would grow up even better than his dad.
Booth's cell phone rang, and he cast a glare at it. He considered not answering; he was off-duty for the weekend, and everyone at the office should have known that. On the other hand, whoever it was wouldn't have been calling if it weren't necessary. He flipped open the phone and with his best this-better-be-important voice said, "Booth."
"Hey there, studmeister."
He chuckled and glanced at Parker in the mirror. "Hello, beautiful."
"So I know you're supposed to be off this weekend, but we're all going to dinner and you should come. Chinese. You know you want to."
"Come on, join the dork side, Booth," Angela laughed. In the background he heard Bones say, "If he doesn't want to come, don't force him."
"Is it okay if I bring a guest?"
Angela paused, and Booth knew the question had caught her off-guard. "Sure."
"Hold on a sec." Resting the cell phone against his chest, Booth said, "Hey Parker, how'd you like to get Chinese food for dinner and meet some of my friends?"
"What's Chinese food?"
Booth considered for a moment, and Parker went back to driving his truck along the edge of the car seat. He was an easy-going kid, and the squints would like to meet him--well, Angela would, at least. Booth put the phone back to his ear. "Ang?"
"Booth! Is that who I think it is?" She sounded excited, and he smiled.
"If you think it's my son, then yeah. But don't tell anyone he's coming, okay? I want it to be a surprise," Booth added, curious to find out whether or not Angela would be able to keep the secret. He could picture her jumping up and down in Brennan's office, leaving the doctor to wonder once again what was going on.
"My lips are sealed."
"I'll believe that when I see it."
"Oh, I'm so excited!" she squealed.
"Keep your pants on, Montenegro."
She giggled. "Only until you get here. See you at 6:30?"
"We'll be there." Booth pushed the end button, then scrolled through his phone list and hit a number.
"Sid? It's Seeley. Hey, you got anything a four-year-old will eat?"
Bones' car and one that looked like it might be Hodgins' were already in the parking lot when Booth pulled in. Turning off the engine, he turned and looked at his son, sleeping in his car seat. The truck had fallen out of Parker's hand, and his head lolled to one side. Booth didn't want to wake him up, and thought about calling Angela and telling her that they couldn't make it that night. She'd be crushed, but he couldn't bear to wake his son when he looked so cute.
He'd picked up his cell and was again scrolling through his contacts when Parker yawned. "Daddy? I'm hungry," he complained sleepily.
"How can you be hungry? You just woke up," Booth teased.
"I am, I'm hungry." Any parent could recognize that tone of voice, the one that signaled that any further annoyances would lead to a meltdown. Easy-going as Parker normally was, Booth didn't want to risk him throwing a tantrum. He hurried to unbuckle the boy from his seat.
"You're in luck, kid, because we're at the restaurant now."
They walked across the parking lot with hands joined, and Booth pushed the door open. Parker stepped inside and immediately decided that he loved the place. Sid came out and Booth introduced the two, after which the man disappeared into the kitchen to check on Parker's special meal.
The sound of arguing led the way to where the squints were sitting. Hodgins and Zach had their backs to the door and were bickering; Angela, in the middle of the booth's rounded seat, was watching the door expectantly and smiled when she noticed the Booth boys; Bones, not noticing the toddler, turned to her friend and Booth said, "I thought he was bringing a guest."
Booth found himself nervous as they stopped in front of the table and hoped that no one would say anything that would traumatize Parker. The scientists ended their conversations as they saw who Booth's mysterious guest really was. Angela was bouncing in her seat, Zach smiled wider than Booth had ever seen, and Bones and Hodgins both looked surprised.
"Hi, guys. This is my son, Parker." Booth crouched next to Parker and put his arm around him. "Parker, these are some of the people I work with. That's Zach, and Jack, and Angela--" who waved like she, too, was four "--and… Temperance." He put his head close to Parker's ear and with a grin said, loud enough for Brennan to hear, "But you can call her Bones."
Space was cleared for Parker between Angela and Brennan, and Booth grabbed a chair and sat at the end of the table. Zach started a conversation with Parker about the dinosaur on his shirt, and Hodgins told him about bugs. Angela repeated that he was the most adorable thing she'd ever seen, and Bones watched the boy with a bemused expression. Sid brought out a plate of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese and set it in front of Parker, and Angela first cut up the hot dogs, then showed Parker how to use chopsticks. Brennan turned to Booth as Zach threatened to pinch Parker's nose off with his chopsticks.
"You're not afraid that we're going to turn him into a squint?"
Booth tore his eyes away from his son and looked at the woman beside him, then smiled. "There are worse things that could happen."
They spent Saturday watching cartoons, playing at the park, and then watching a Little League game. At dinner Parker told Booth about how he wanted to be a professional alligator wrestler and weatherman when he grew up, and Booth told Parker about how he'd wanted to be a mailman, which made the boy laugh. Making Parker laugh or smile was one of Booth's favorite hobbies. If, when Booth was younger, anyone had told him that one day he'd have a child who he'd move heaven and earth for, Booth would have laughed; but it was true.
"Daddy, what's your job?" Parker asked as he sat at the kitchen table, coloring some animated character or other.
"I'm your dad. That's my job."
Parker looked up, clearly not pleased with the sentimental answer. "What's your real job?"
Booth sighed. It wasn't easy to explain the Bureau to little kids. "You know what I do. I catch bad guys."
"Like on TV?"
"No, not like on TV," Booth snapped. Rebecca let Parker watch way too much TV. Parker looked up, startled by his dad's response, and Booth sighed again. "Sorry, bud, I didn't mean it like that. It's just… Stuff on TV isn't real, most of the time."
"Do you have a gun?"
"Yes. But it's only to keep me and my friends safe from the bad guys." Hoping to forestall any more questions, Booth went to the closet and pulled out a field jacket with an FBI emblem sewn on the sleeve. He laid the jacket on the table in front of Parker and sat down next to him.
"That's the symbol for the FBI, where I work. We look for people who have done bad things, and catch them so they can't do anything else bad." He pointed to the emblem. "What color is that?"
"Red. Red light means stop!"
"Yes. But red also means being strong and brave. Not being scared. How about this one?"
"White stands for truth--not telling stories, saying what really happened--and light, and peace. Not fighting."
"But what if someone else is fighting?"
"We try to get them to stop fighting, and if you see someone fighting, you should tell a grown-up."
Parker frowned. "Do you have to fight bad guys?"
Booth took a deep breath. "Sometimes the bad guys don't want to be caught. Do you want to get caught when you're eating cookies before dinner?" Parker shook his head emphatically. "Well, sometimes the bad guys try to run away, or sometimes they try to fight. But us good guys are really careful, and we try our hardest to make sure everyone stays safe." He paused, then asked, "Okay, what's this color?"
"Blue," Parker answered. He shook his head and looked disapprovingly at Booth. "Daddy, you should know your colors by now."
"I do, smartypants, I'm just trying to make sure you know them. Blue is to remind us that we're trying to get justice. We're trying to do the right thing. No matter what happens, Parker, we have to do the right thing, and we have to be brave, and we have to look for the truth." Maybe he was being too serious, but Booth got the feeling that Rebecca hadn't told Parker what he really did. When he looked down, Booth saw that his son's eyes were rapidly filling with tears.
"Are you going to die, Daddy?"
Booth swallowed hard. He couldn't lie to his son, but he couldn't just sit there and admit that one day something might go wrong, and he might not be there to see Parker grow up. He knelt next to Parker's chair and wrapped his arms around the boy, holding him tight for a moment.
After moment he pulled back and put his hands on Parker's shoulders. "My job is dangerous, but I try to be careful, and everyone I work with tries to be careful, and we watch out for each other. But if anything…" he swallowed again, hardly believing that he was having this conversation with his four-year-old son. "If anything ever happens to me, Parker, all you have to know is that I'm trying to do the right thing, and I love you, very, very much.
"You can't be scared for me. I'm not scared for myself, because I'm doing something that's more important than my life alone." Booth wasn't sure if he was explaining it to Parker or to himself, but either way, it had to be said.
"Daddy," Parker said in a small voice. Booth looked at his son and was surprised to find that although Parker tears had dried, his own were falling freely. Parker reached out a small hand and wiped Booth's face. "Daddy, be brave."
There were times when Booth seriously doubted that what he did had any impact on society. Some days seemed to last forever, without any hope of ending. Some cases never got solved, no matter how much effort they put into it; some criminals got away with their evil deeds. Everywhere he looked there was bad news, disappointment, heartbreak, and broken dreams. Some days he didn't want to get out of bed and go to work, and some days he wondered why he even bothered.
And then he'd think of Parker, and remember why.