The idea for this fic has been nibbling at my brain ever since the sides for the season 5 finale came out, and since it still works in the context of everything that happened on the show up to now, I decided to get it written before the finale. This isn't really speculation because I don't think the finale will play out anything like my story, it's more of an attempt to put my own spin on the future of B/B.
La Paix des Dames ("Peace of the Ladies") originally referred to the Treaty of Cambrai that ended a war between King Francis I of France and Emperor Charles V in 1529. The peace treaty was negotiated between the King's mother, Louise of Savoy, and the Emperor's aunt, Margaret of Austria – hence the name.
"Dr. Brennan, nice to see you again."
"Temperance, please." Brennan gestures for the blonde woman to sit down at her table. It's the seat Booth usually occupies when he's at the diner with her, but she tries not to think about that now. "Thank you for coming, Rebecca."
She watches in silence as Rebecca signals the waitress and orders a cup of coffee. Parker's mother hasn't changed very much during the… two? three? years Brennan hasn't seen her; her hair is a darker shade of blond than the last time they met, and it looks like she's put on a few pounds, but it suits her well. She's still very pretty, but then, all of Booth's exes are as far as Brennan can tell.
Rebecca's polite smile disappears once the waitress has left. "It has to be important if you called me of all people. What's going on?"
Brennan appreciates that she's foregoing the social niceties; she's not sure she could have managed even five minutes of empty small talk right now. "It's about Booth."
Rebecca nods. "Yes, I figured it would be. Is anything wrong with him?" When Brennan doesn't reply immediately, she adds, "He's not sick again, is he?"
She sounds worried, and Brennan finds it strangely soothing. She noticed that these days, Booth and Rebecca get along a lot better than they used to, and it's comforting to know that he has people in his life who care about him. "No, he's physically fine. It's – he's been asked to go back into the army. They want him to train future snipers in Afghanistan."
Rebecca snorts. "Yeah, I bet they do." She pauses for a moment when the waitress sets a cup of coffee in front of her, but then adds, "I wish them good luck with that."
Brennan takes a deep breath, trying to ignore the hard, anxious knot in the pit of her stomach. "He's going to accept."
She wouldn't have expected that anything could aggravate the constant state of panic she's been in ever since Booth first told her that he was seriously considering the offer, but now she feels her insides turn to ice at the sudden change in Rebecca's expression. Brennan knows she's not very apt at interpreting displays of human emotion, but even she can't mistake the look on Rebecca's face for anything else but horror. "He's what?"
Brennan struggles for composure. "I wasn't present when the army representative talked to him, but from what Booth has told me, they're losing men because they don't have enough trained snipers, and they made Booth feel that it's his responsibility –"
Rebecca holds up a hand. "Yes, I know the whole 'guilt and duty' spiel, it's not like they haven't tried it before. I just can't believe that he would actually fall for it."
"I tried talking to him about it." Brennan does her best not to dwell on the details of that conversation. "I mean, I certainly understand the desire to save lives, and I know Booth's skills would make him very efficient in that regard. Still, I didn't expect that he'd seriously consider going back, given that he's still trying to cope with the things he had to do during his time as a sniper. However, when I pointed that out, he first got defensive, and then angry. It was extremely frustrating to reason with him – Booth isn't stupid, and he knows that he's being manipulated, but..." She focuses her attention on Rebecca, hoping she'll understand. "I suppose you know how Booth gets once he's made up his mind about something."
"You mean, how he digs his heels in when he knows he's messed up and doesn't want to admit it? Yeah, tell me about it." Rebecca has gone very pale. "He hasn't actually re-enlisted yet, has he? Because if he has, there's nothing anyone can still do about it."
Brennan shakes her head. "Cam made him promise he would take some time to think about it – at least until our current case is finished."
"And how far along is the case now?"
"It's all but done." Brennan hates the tone of desperation that has crept into her voice. "He said he was going to finish the paperwork tonight." She takes a deep breath, doing her best to regain her equilibrium. "Look, Rebecca, I'm really sorry that I'm dragging you into this, but I didn't know who else to turn to. Booth won't listen to me, or Cam. You're the person who knows him best –"
"I really doubt that." Rebecca smiles for a moment, although there's no humor in it. "Look, I won't even pretend to understand what's going on between the two of you, but what the hell did you do to push him this far?" The smile has evaporated completely, and from the edge that has slipped into her tone, Brennan deduces that she's getting angry.
Her first instinct is to deny that she might be responsible for Booth's decision, but she can't bring herself to utter the words because she knows she'd be lying. She remembers all too clearly how he first told her he wouldn't go, no matter how hard the army tried to lure him back – but that was before she informed him that she was planning to leave for Indonesia for a year.
She still isn't sure he understood what made her decide to leave. Nothing has been like it used to be between Booth and her since that cursed day in Sweet's office. At first she thought that they would be able to handle it, that they'd eventually find their balance again, but ever since the Gravedigger trial, she feels like her world has tumbled off its axis, leaving her dizzy and disoriented, unable to find her bearings. With any hope for normalcy gone, she can't keep clinging to him because she knows what it's doing to him, but she has failed to make him see that – to him, it must look like she's throwing all his care and friendship back into his face.
Yet Rebecca has no way of knowing any of this, and she seems to regret her harsh words. "Okay, sorry, that was uncalled for. But you didn't see how he was back then, right after he came back from the army…"
"He said that he had a gambling problem." Brennan does her best to sound clinical; this isn't the time to let her emotions cloud her judgment. She has done that far too often lately, and she can see where it has gotten her.
Rebecca lets out a short, sharp laugh. "That's one way to put it. But that wasn't the worst of it." She hesitates for a moment. "Temperance, I'm only telling you this because I want you to understand, okay? I'm pretty sure Seeley would never talk to me again if he found out I told you."
Brennan nods; she knows how fiercely Booth guards his privacy as far as the darker parts of his past are concerned. It took him four years to admit to her that his father drank, after all. "I won't mention it to him, or anyone else. I promise."
"Right." Rebecca seems to weigh her words very carefully. "You know how he is, and he was even more uptight then. But when you're living with someone, it's hard to miss what's going on, even if he's putting up a tough front. He kept having nightmares – I mean, not like in the movies when people wake up screaming, but sometimes he would just sit up in bed in the middle of the night and not fall asleep again until morning. I tried to get him to talk to me about it, but he said it was no big deal. I figured he'd start talking when he was ready, but –"
"He told me a few things, over time," Brennan interrupts, remembering the day at the cemetery when Booth told her about shooting a Serbian general at his son's birthday party.
Rebecca's expression softens. "He's lucky to have you."
"I'm not so sure about that." Brennan regrets the remark the moment the words are out, but thankfully Rebecca doesn't ask what she meant.
"It wasn't just about the nightmares, though. It was like – like there was a part of him he never let me see, as if he was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it. Sometimes, when we were fighting, he would just stop talking in the middle of a sentence and go stare out of the window for a while. Like he wasn't sure what he would do if he got too angry."
Brennan takes a moment to ponder this. She has seen Booth angry plenty of times, but she's never been under the impression that he was in danger of losing control. Except, maybe, that one time he shot a clown. "Are you saying that you were afraid of him?"
"No, but I was often afraid for him." Rebecca shakes her head. "I just can't believe he'd seriously consider going back. He's got Parker to think of now, and –"
"He said he wouldn't be putting himself in danger, since he'd just be training others behind the lines," Brennan interrupts again.
Rebecca sighs. "That's not how it works, and he knows it damn well. But even if it were true –"
"He'd be sending young men into the same kind of horror he has been through, fully knowing what they were about to face. And given his tendency to feel responsible for the people around him – " Brennan doesn't finish, because there's no need to; she can tell that Rebecca understands. Given her history with Booth, she probably understands better than Brennan herself does.
"Yeah." Rebecca is quiet for a moment. "When he picked up Parker last week, he mentioned that you were leaving for a year."
"I'm not," Brennan clarifies hastily. "I got an offer for an extremely interesting project in Indonesia, and I considered going, but I've decided to send my most promising intern instead. It's a great opportunity for her, an opportunity I don't need any more given that I'm already one of the leading forensic anthropologists around the globe."
"Right." Rebecca gives her a strange look. "Did you tell him that?"
"Yes, of course." Brennan realizes belatedly that she's tapping her spoon against the tabletop and carefully puts it back on the saucer. She remembers all to well how eager she was at first to get away from it all for a while – from the painful awkwardness that gapes between them like a rift she can't bridge no matter how hard she tries, the fear of destroying the precarious balance between them for good if she pushes too hard, and the gut-wrenching panic that something might happen to him that takes him away from her forever. She no longer knew whether she was protecting him, or herself, or both of them – all she knew was that she needed to put some distance between herself and the convoluted mess her life has become because she couldn't take it anymore.
And yet she never expected that he would reach that point too, that things could eventually get too much for him as well. She's gotten so used to him being her rock in every storm that she's almost forgotten that he, too, is made of flesh and bones like everyone else.
Of course, there was no more question of leaving once she heard that he was considering going back into the army. She doesn't have Rebecca's insights, but she knows Booth well enough to understand what it would do to him to return to a part of his life he has so desperately tried to leave behind. What she didn't anticipate, though, was that he would still be willing to go through with his plan even after she'd told him she had cancelled hers.
She has been forced to realize that it's much more painful to have something precious wrenched from her grasp than to throw it away herself. She's aware that Booth's decision has nothing to do with pride – he's given up every pretense of that when it comes to her, but she doesn't blame him that he's finally given up on her after she kept rejecting his pleas. She knows that she has pushed him past the breaking point, that she's going to lose him no matter what she does, but right now she doesn't allow herself to dwell on what it will mean for her – all she's focused on is that whatever happens, she can't let him pay the price for the mistakes she made.
Rebecca doesn't interrupt Brennan's thoughts; she has put her elbows on the table and is absentmindedly gnawing on the knuckles of her left hand. At long last, she lowers her arm and pushes her untouched cup away. "So what do you expect me to do?"
"I don't know." It's an admission that doesn't come easily to Brennan, but this is no time for pretenses. "I was hoping that you would have an idea."
Rebecca exhales sharply. "I do, but I can't say I like it very much." When Brennan opens her mouth to ask the obvious question, she raises a hand, cutting her off. "I'd appreciate it if – if you didn't talk to me right now, Temperance."
Bewildered, Brennan falls silent and watches Rebecca dig her cell phone out of her purse. She looks as if something is upsetting her badly, but her voice is calm and composed when she starts speaking into her phone.
"Hi, it's Rebecca. Do you have a minute? – Yes, I know you're busy, but this is important." She listens for a moment, a frown creasing her forehead. "Seeley, I have no idea what you're talking about. Who's Colonel Pelant?"
Brennan opens her mouth to point out that Colonel Pelant is the army representative who's been talking to Booth, but Rebecca shushes her with a furious glare and a slicing motion with her thumb across her throat.
"Look, I don't care, okay? I need to talk to you about something that concerns Parker. It's – Jesus Christ, Seeley, calm down! No, he's not, and he's not in trouble either, it's just – look, I don't really want to discuss this on the phone. Can you come by my place around seven tonight? I don't have a sitter for Parker, so I can't leave."
She listens for a second, grimacing at something Booth is saying on the other end of the line. "No, he's working late, you won't run into him. – Okay, I'll see you then!"
There's a strange expression on her face when she snaps the phone shut, and Brennan finds herself squirming in her seat. "You thought of something?" She supposes Rebecca will to try to make Booth stay by pointing out his responsibility towards Parker, and she hopes she's more successful with that than Cam was, because according to Cam, Booth almost bit her head off when she mentioned it.
"Maybe." Rebecca reaches for her purse and pushes back her chair, brusquely cutting off the next question Brennan wanted to ask. "No offense, Temperance, but this is between Seeley and me. If it works, I'm sure you'll be the first to know."
Brennan stares after her as she walks out of the diner, hoping for all their sakes that Rebecca knows what she's doing.