Let it not be said that sometimes the muse just needs a few "More, please" requests to get the juices flowing again. I couldn't get past the bathroom scene when I first wrote this, but after all your lovely comments and requests, chapter two came not long after. Hope you enjoy.
Many thanks to susanatc and Mickey Boggs for their encouragement and thoughts, and Mickey Boggs for her editing skills.
That was not the brightest idea or the best grand exit, I say to myself when I find myself just outside the doors of the bathroom. I didn't take my keys or purse into the bathroom, and I'm going to have to go back to my office to get them-- which means either going back and facing Parker and his even-puppier-than-Booth-puppy-dog-eyes when I tell him I can't have chicken fingers with him and his father or going to hide someplace in Limbo or one of the storage areas I don't need my keys for until I'm certain they're gone, so I can suffer the embarrassment of ditching them both so dramatically later. Maybe I'll feel better after I drown myself in my tub with a stiff drink and an issue of National Geographic or Scientific American or something else light and fluffy to read.
Gee, Parker, I'd love to have chicken fingers with you and your Dad, except, see, I'm pretty sure I'm in love with your Dad and not just subject to some chemical and hormonal imbalance and I think you're a lovely little boy and I am beginning to think I would very much like to give you a sibling, but there's just one pesky problem. Your father thinks non-awkward blondes with people skills are pretty and fun to be with-- he's just my friend like you and Annie from Science Club, except with guns and serial killers instead of juice boxes and cookies.
Limbo it is.
Crap. Little Booth, not big Booth. I was so close, I was already halfway down the stairs to the back, almost secret entrance to Limbo when I hear him start to come after me. Fake smile, Temperance. Do not burst into tears in front of the boy three times in a night. "Yes, Parker?" I say, turning to look up at him.
"Aren't you going to come have chicken fingers with us?" Damnit. He's giving me those puppier-than-thou eyes already.
"I don't think so, Parker," I say, my fake smile painful to maintain. "I told your Dad that I had some other things to do once you guys went off to the diner." More like I all as much told your father I was feeling weepy and melodramatic, and flounced out of the bathroom like an angsty heroine in a bad short story.
"But Bones! You have to come!" he says, following me down the stairs and using the banister just like I showed him. He's giving me this wounded look like I've just sliced open Bert, the stuffed triceratops toy from the museum he keeps in my office when he's tired and wants a nap. Another thing he does just like his father. Except Booth drools on my throw, not on a stuffed dinosaur.
"I appreciate the invitation, Parker, I really do, but I don't want to interrupt your time with your Dad. He really misses you during the week, and you guys should get to spend as much time as possible together over the weekends."
He screws up his face as he thinks about it, then looks at me seriously as he says "You're being dumb, Bones."
Great. And yes, it's true. I am rather dumb about many things. But I don't know that I've ever been told that by a seven-year- old before.
"Parker ..." I say. I don't want to lie to him, but a long explanation of all the reasons why eating chicken fingers and french fries and other unhealthy foods with him and his father would just be the only nice thing in an otherwise empty weekend alone and therefore is just the thing I don't need-- well, it's more than I want to explain to him.
"It's totally dumb. You said you didn't see your family this weekend because they didn't invite you and you thought they didn't like you enough, but I'm inviting you Bones, 'cuz Dad and I do like you a lot and we both know you like kids and you love Dad and you love me and we have fun together and if you stay here you'll just work, which I know is like, important and stuff, but you looked really sad the last time you said you had to work all weekend and I already said you should be happy, not sad."
This verbal barrage makes my head spin more than a bit between the multiple truths and misconceptions forming a Parker-sized Gordian knot, as well as the slight inner ear imbalance I feel from having so much mucus in my sinus cavities from crying so much, so I sit down on the stairs with a thump, emotionally and physically dizzy.
He stands looking down at me for a second before sitting down next to me on the stairs. "Didn't Dad invite you to the diner?" His voice is uncertain. "I told him to, I told him I wanted you to come with us to the diner to get chicken fingers and he said he was going to talk to you..."
"Oh, Parker, he did," I say.
"Then don't you want to come?" he asks, even more uncertain-seeming. "I thought you liked doing things with Dad and me."
I can't do anything right. I just want to put them out of my misery and instead I just infect them.
"Parks," I say, putting my arm around his shoulder. "I like doing things with you and your Dad very much but ... it's complicated sometimes. And ... sometimes when you're grown up, when you're feeling really tired, you just want to be alone for a bit so you can get things straight in your head, even when there are people you really care about who want to do things with you. It doesn't mean I don't want to do things with you at all ... it just means sometimes I need to be by myself."
He leans away from me enough to look in my face, then repeats his earlier observation. "That's dumb, Bones. You're sad when you're by yourself, and Dad's sad when he's by himself and you guys should totally be boyfriend and girlfriend and then? You can sleep over at Dad's house and we can all have pancakes for breakfast."
A small hysterical part of my mind says he's a Booth, alright, all his arguments involve feeding me at the end. "Parker ... remember how I said that there are lots of things that go into whether or not grown ups like each other enough to be boyfriend and girlfriend?"
He nods, listening seriously, then says "Yeah. You said they have to think the other one's pretty like grown ups do and think the other one's funny and smart and likes some of the same stuff and help the other one out, but ... don't you like my Dad that way? Because I know he thinks you're really pretty and smart and the two of you help each other out all the time he said Bones keeps my ass out of the sling to Mom once, I heard it, and he likes it when you yell at him and he thinks you're funny, too-- and you both like me. Right?"
Again with the childish misconceptions and the most lovely, wonderful intentions. I ignore the tears that have started to run down my cheeks again and say "Parker. I love you a lot. And your Dad is a very, very good friend, maybe even my best friend, more than Angela, but ... well ... there are lots of ladies who have a lot more in common with your father than me, ladies who would be very good girlfriends for your Dad. I'm very, very, lucky to know you and your father, Parker, but it's just, well ... you and Annie from Science Club are friends, right?"
He nods, still completely confused why I'm crying. "Yeah. She gives me her extra cookies, although how you can have extra cookies I'll never know."
"Right. So, you and Annie share cookies and have fun doing projects with my Dad and talk about what happened at your two different schools when you see each other, but you guys don't see each other outside of Science Club or go out on sleepovers, right? That's the way your Dad and I are friends."
He looks at me like I've grown two extra heads. "That's dumb. I don't want to kiss Annie. You and Dad totally want to kiss each other."
A small, hysterical laugh escapes me, broken-sounding and nothing I'm quite sure I've ever allowed myself to make aloud before-- but then again, Parker's not going to mock me or think ill of me because I'm a mess. He's just not going to understand why spending an evening with him and his father and then going home to a dark apartment and a still-empty bed is more torture than staying here by myself. Emotionally fraught contrasts are a bit more than even he's ready to try to understand, as bright as he is.
"Bones?" he says, when I don't say anything, which I can't anyway because I've got a huge lump in my throat. "You do know Dad thinks you're really, really pretty and that he thinks you're really, really smart, and that he loves you the way Dan's mom Lisa loves his other mom Andi, don't you?"
I'm interested to meet this lesbian couple who've made such an impact on him. Shut up, Temperance. You're avoiding the question.
"Parker," I say, trying to ease into it.
He rolls his eyes in exasperation-- wait, that's my eyeroll-- and says "I told him he loves you and he said he did and then he didn't tell you when I made him go to the bathroom to find you? I thought grown ups were supposed to be smart."
He looks at me a moment further as I reactively wipe my nose with my other sleeve-- I've got to stop crying, I'm running out of sleeves-- then says "I told him that you loved him too 'cuz you smile and laugh more and look more happy when you're with him and you get mad when Max bugs you about Dad like I get mad when Mom tells me to stop playing Transformers so I can come eat dinner with broccoli, and what do you mean he didn't say that he loves you?"
Now is not the time to tell him you have no idea what Transformers are.
"Parker..." I try again.
"No," he says obstinately, crossing his arms. "You want to kiss my Dad. Right?" I can't lie to the child, I would never do that, especially him.
"I've thought about it, yes." Every day and practically every night for longer than I like to contemplate. Damnable alpha-male.
"So why don't you just kiss him?"
My laugh wasn't even a half-hearted attempt this time. "Parker. Your Dad does not want to kiss me. He's a grown man who has a lot of responsibilities and things he wants to do for you to help make sure you have all the things that you need and one of them is probably finding a nice lady who will marry him and help take care of you when you spend time with him."
"Of course he wants to kiss you, Bones," he says, focusing on just the wrong part of the explanation. I'm going to snap if I don't get off this merry-go-round.
"Parker, sweetheart, listen to me," I say, getting up and moving down two steps to squat to his level and make him look at me, hoping I could make him understand so we don't have to revisit this conversation again. "Your Dad and I are just good friends. He does not want to kiss me or make me his girlfriend. We talked about it a while ago when a bad man ... well, there was a bad man and we were worried that he might try to hurt ... the people we care for, and your Dad made sure I knew that people who work together can only be friends. So ... I know you really think it would be nice if your Dad and I were boyfriend and girlfriend, but he doesn't think about me that way, and right now, Parker, it kind of hurts my heart to be a surrogate for him. So as much as I'd love to go get chicken fingers with you two at the diner, I just can't tonight."
"What's a surrogate?" he asks, an intent look on his face.
"It's like a substitute. It means ... when there's something standing in for the real thing you want or you're looking for."
The expression on his face shifts as I explain, and he says in a small voice, "So ... when I said I'd be your boyfriend I was being a substitute?"
Ah. "Well, you're too young to be my boyfriend no matter what, so you were kind of offering to be a substitute, but in terms of being my little boy, well, I'm not your Mom or your father or related to you but I think you're very special and very much the real thing. There's no substitute for you, Parker, not that way. No matter what happens with your Mom and Dad or who their boyfriends and girlfriends are, you make me wish I was lucky enough to be your Mom. But sometimes, it hurts to be a substitute. Sometimes, you just want to be the real thing to someone. And when you're not, well, it hurts to be reminded you aren't. So tonight, Parker, I just want to go home and take a hot bath and try to think about all the things that I am to people rather than all the things that I'm not. Can you let me do that, pal?"
He nods understanding, looking sad. "But what are you going to do all weekend, Bones?"
"I'm going to do some work, because one of the things I am is really good at helping figure out what happened to people so I can let their families know and they don't have to wonder anymore."
"But that's not happy," he insists. "You look sad when you work sometimes, Bones."
I reach forward and take his hands. "Sweetheart. Not everyone's happy all the time, as nice as that would be. But if you can do good work and know that it's important, and know that what happens around you is real and not made-up, well, it's still better than pretending that something better or happier is going to come along. I like the fact that I can help people, and that I get to help more people because I work with your Dad, and I'm lucky because I get to work with everyone here and know you, too. So it's okay to be sad-- it's still better than not being something real to someone and having to give up pretending later on. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?" I've got tears streaming down my face but I've managed to keep myself from sobbing so far, so I stand and pick him up for a hug before he can say yes or no.
Setting him down, I turn him to head back up the stairs and lean over to say quietly next to his ear, "I'm a really, really lucky woman to know you, and I'm really, really lucky that I get the chance to love you. Now, you'd better go back to my office and wait for your Dad, okay? I'm sure he's wondering where you are, and I don't want him worried about you."
"Bones," he says, starting to protest with those puppy-dog-eyes.
"Parker, please. Please, just go back and find your Dad and go get your chicken fingers, okay? Please?"
Something in my face must convince him I'm serious, because he finally says "Okay, Bones," and walks up the stairs, then turns to give me a small wave before heading back off in the direction of my office.
"Goodnight, Parker," I say, and give him my own wave before wiping my face off again with my lab coat and heading back downstairs.
I figured she'd go down to Limbo, so I crossed the lab and headed down there, only to find only the ground-level lights along the storage boxes lit, not any of the overheads. I was sure she'd be down here, so I work my way from the front areas she usually frequents down to the back. I'm just about to give up and turn back when I hear a distorted pair of voices from somewhere ahead of me. As I walk forward quietly, I can hear it's Bones and Parker, and from the echoed sound of it, they're sitting in some back stairwell I've never been down before. As I draw nearer, I hear him say, "You do know Dad thinks you're really, really pretty and that he thinks you're really, really smart, and that he loves you the way Dan's mom Lisa loves his other mom Andi, don't you?"
Again with the lesbian couple. I need to meet them someday.
"Parker," Bones says, sounding tired and sad and like she's at the end of her rope, but my son interrupts to say "I told him he loves you and he said he did and then he didn't tell you when I made him go to the bathroom to find you? I thought grown ups were supposed to be smart."
I can hardly argue with that, but the kid has no idea how complicated it is, as he proves it with his next statement-- "I told him that you loved him too 'cuz you smile and laugh more and look more happy when you're with him and you get mad when Max bugs you about Dad like I get mad when Mom tells me to stop playing Transformers so I can come eat dinner with broccoli, and what do you mean he didn't say that he loves you?" He sounds totally pissed, and he should be. I'm not smart at all to have missed that this was the thing that was bothering Bones, not just the stuff with her family.
Bones makes this horribly sad choked off noise-- it's not a laugh, unless a creaking rusty hinge on a broken door is the same sound as a door to a welcoming home-- before she tells him that yes, she's thought about kissing me, but that no, we're not going to be boyfriend and girlfriend because I drew that line after Epps. And then she just slays me, because she's telling him that she knows I don't want to kiss her or make her my girlfriend, and that it "kind of hurts her heart" to be around me right now-- to be a surrogate to whomever these imagined women are who I want for my girlfriend.
"Do the two of you think that you have a surrogate relationship that makes it hard for you to form bonds to other people?" Sweets' voice says in my memory.
"I can't handle substitutes and surrogates tonight," Bones said, just minutes ago.
Goddamnit. She's maybe even in love with you and she thinks you're just using her until the real thing comes along. As that realization continues to hammer me -- and you're surprised, why? You knew you were in love with her, no matter how long you've tried to talk yourself out of it, and you know she won't assume anything about anything, much less how people feel about things. Aren't you the one who's constantly telling her she sucks at people-reading skills?
She explains to my boy what a surrogate is, so clearly and yet not too technically so that he'll get it, and when she says it means you're waiting for the "real thing" again, it practically rips the heart right out of my chest. Then she does it all over again when he's confused and thinks he's done something wrong when he offered to be her boyfriend-- she tells him there's no substitute for him because he's special and the real thing in his own way.
She's so careful and honest with him, and I'm trying hard not to bawl because she's telling him it's better to be sad and not try to fool yourself into wishing things were different than they are, and how work's at least something she can feel real about, and then she tells my kid that she loves him with what's got to be a billion tears in her voice, and sends him back up the stairs with as parental an admonition as I've ever heard. "Now, you'd better go back to my office and wait for your Dad, okay? I'm sure he's wondering where you are, and I don't want him worried about you."
He tries to argue, she basically begs him to go away with this tone in her voice I know not even Parker's going to be able to say no to, and sure enough he says okay and she bids him goodnight. And then there's a pause and she lets out the longest, saddest sigh and sniffle I've ever heard from anyone, not just her. Parker's exasperation with me for not telling her that I love her was clear, and I think again. I'm not smart at all.
There's the noise of her coming down the stairs, so I come around the side so I can meet her at the end of the stairs, because God knows where she'll go once she gets down here. This place is like King Minos' maze with all its twists and turns and no signs or indicators where the hell you are in relation to the rest of the lab.
"Bones," I say hesitantly-- she's been looking at her feet and looking like a dejected little girl as she's coming down the rest of the stairs, and she looks at me with this completely bleak, lost expression when she looks up after I speak.
"I suppose you heard that," she says.
"Some of it, yeah," I respond, not quite sure what to say next.
"Well, I apologize, but your son's quite persistent. He'll make a good FBI Agent someday."
She gives me the most wan, worst smile I've ever seen, and passes me to head into Limbo, as if there's nothing more to talk about and she's going to let it rest right there, because what she's said is God's honest truth.
"Bones," I say, walking after her and taking her arm. She turns to look at me, her chin quavering and eyes welling, and says "Go home, Booth. Take your sweet little boy to the diner and I'll see you on Monday, and we'll pretend like this didn't happen."
Still holding on to her arm, I say "I thought you just said that not pretending is important, and that it's more important to know what the real things are than to try to fool yourself about things that just aren't real at all."
She looks wounded that I'd throw her words back at her this way and starts to tug herself away from my grasp, but my brain's saying Quit talking, Seeley, man up and kiss her or she's not going to believe you. So I reach out, take her other arm, and step in close enough to kiss her even as she says "Booth," warningly and raises a hand to push me away, probably thinking I'm going to give her a guy hug. It's anything but as I hold her tight enough to kiss her, and if I thought-- as I too frequently did-- that out last kiss was head-whirling, stomach-churning, earth-drop-out-under-your-feet incredible, this one's way better, because her squeak of surprise quickly shifts to her grabbing my arms, and she's kissing me back like she's drowning as much as I am.
I'm gasping when I come up for air, and somehow we've moved so I've got her pinned against one of the ends of the modular bone storage bins, and she's gasping too, and looking about as stunned as I feel. I clear my throat, manage a shaky "That real enough for you?" and practically squeak my own self when she grabs the back of my neck and pulls my head down to kiss her again.
It's incredible all over again. She tastes so good, her body's so soft and strong and warm and I just want to ... well ... and she smells like Heaven and Bones all wrapped together and her hands on me are hot and firm and she knows what she wants-- and it's me. She wants me. Which is good, because she's all I want.
Finally, we stop again and I'm so lightheaded I rest my forehead on the cold metal of the bone storage unit while she pants into my shoulder. "I'd say it was," she mumbles, and I can't help but laugh. She starts laughing too, and then we're giggling hysterically, whooping with laughter as tears run down both our faces. Finally, we both calm down and she chortles a bit and I snort, but we manage to just have one more grind-her-into-the-wall and oh-my-God-her-tongue's-so-goddamned-incredible kiss before she smiles, says "We should go upstairs," and gently shoves me away.
I follow her up the stairs, looking around to take in the entrance, just off one of the back corridors I hardly ever use. How Parker knew it was here, I'll never know, but I guess he follows Bones around the lab even more than I do. We go back to her office, and Parker's talking to Bert the Triceratops, and saying "I just don't know what's with grown-ups sometimes, Bert. They're really dumb."
My kid, the matchmaker.
"Alright, pal," I say. "Enough of the talking to your stuffed animals, not that there's anything wrong with that, but we've got chicken fingers to eat."
He gives me the stinkeye, since he clearly remembers that last he knew, I'd chickened out of telling Bones how I really felt. He then says oh-so-suspiciously, "Did you guys kiss?"
Bones nods. "We did."
"Prove it," he says, just like Max does when he's challenging the kids to show him how they did an experiment. Note to self-- pay more attention to what he's picking up around here, next thing I know he'll be a conspiracy theorist just like Hodgins.
Bones looks at me for a second, then shrugs her shoulders. "Okay," she says, then comes over and gives me a quick kiss.
"That's terrible," says Parker, the newest expert on kissing. "That's not a real kiss. That's like one I'd give Annie, not that I want to kiss her, I mean, eeewww, but if I did, that's the kind of kiss I'd give Annie. There's lots of hugging and smoochy noises and closed eyes when it's a real grown-up kiss."
"Smoochy noises it is," I say then, and grab Bones and kiss the daylights out of both of us.
She's looking as flummoxed as I feel when we stop, and Parker says with satisfaction, "That's better. Now can we go get chicken fingers? Because I'm starving, and Dad, you said we could watch Ice Age again and I bet Bones hasn't seen it. Bones, you're going to sleep over and watch Ice Age and have pancakes for breakfast, right?"
By the time he's done planning our weekend for us, including Bones "sleeping over," he's already standing on her couch and wrestling Bones out of her lab coat. That's my boy. Completely bemused, she lets him and picks up her bag while Parker hops down off the couch, puts Bert firmly in the middle of Bones' coffee table as a centerpiece, and grabs us both by the hand and drags us out of the lab.
Bones is asleep on Dad's shoulder, and Dad's smiling even better than when I hit three home runs at baseball, and I got my chicken fingers, finally. Bones was funny, she kept talking about how woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers shouldn't be anthropomorph-something or other. Dad was just laughing at her and reminding her that Diego and Manny and Soto are just fictional characters and Bones said she made the science right in her books, so she didn't understand why the movie writers couldn't, but then she said she'd take me to the Museum later to make sure I really understood about mammoths and tigers. That's cool. Bones is good at explaining things.
I wonder if Bones makes good pancakes, and if she knows how to make them shaped like dinosaurs and tigers and mammoths, and not just like cars and dogs like Dad does. Because Dad tries, and his pancakes are okay, but he says Bones makes really good Mac & Cheese so she's got to know how to make really good pancakes too. Maybe she makes pancakes shaped like bones? That would be cool, too. Can she make one that looks like a femur? Or maybe a funny bone. Would a funny bone have a smiley face on it? Or would Bones just roll her eyes if I asked?
When I come out in the middle of the night to get water, Dad and Bones are both asleep on the couch and neither one of them looks sad, and they look really happy, all smiley and stuff-- which is good, even better than chicken fingers and pancakes. It's not quite as good as all the extra cookies Annie always gives me, but it's pretty close.
Why does Annie always give me her extra cookies anyway? I shake my head, climb up to the sink to get some water, finish it and go back to my room. I can't really ask Annie why she gives me all her extra cookies-- she might think I'm a dork and stop talking to me, and that would stink, so I'd better not ask her. Annie's totally cool. She smells nice, too. Why do girls always smell so nice? And why does Annie smell nicest of all? Maybe I'd better ask Dad in the morning.