Rebecca doesn't look all that surprised when she opens the door. "Temperance, hi. Want to come in?"
Brennan steps over the threshold, but doesn't move further down the hallway when Rebecca closes the door behind her. "I'll only be a minute. I just – just wanted to thank you."
"Please don't." Rebecca's tone is measured, but there's a small crease between her eyebrows that, under different circumstances, would cause Brennan to conclude that she was in physical pain. "Look, I'm going to be very clear on this – I care about Seeley, but I wouldn't part with my baby for anyone's sake, not even his. I'm glad you came to me with this, but not for any reason you need to thank me for."
Brennan bites back the reflex to tell her that she doesn't know what that means. Booth would know, of course, but this is something he can't help her with because he must never hear about it, so she has to muddle through on her own. "You wouldn't have gone to New York if I hadn't told you?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm damn sure that I would never have gone without Parker." The pained expression on Rebecca's face is growing more intense, and it's only now that Brennan starts wondering how much her decision to leave her son with Booth for ten months is affecting her.
Like so often in emotionally charged situations, Brennan finds herself at a loss for words. At long last, she settles for an "I'm sorry" because she can't think of anything else to say.
Rebecca shakes her head. "Don't be; we should both thank our lucky stars that this came up at the right time. I'll manage, and when I come back, my little boy will still have a father who's neither half a world away, nor dead, nor damaged so badly that he can't be there for him any more. Seeley and I have had our differences, but he's a wonderful father, and I'm not going to let Parker lose his beloved dad if I can help it."
"That's a big sacrifice to make." It sounds clinical to Brennan's own ears, but Rebecca takes it in stride.
"When you love someone, you put their needs before your own. That's how it works, isn't it?"
Brennan pauses, trying to make sense of her conflicting emotions. "I suppose so."
"Temperance." Rebecca sounds grave, as if she were about to tell her something extremely important. "I know it's technically none of my business, and I told you before that I don't understand at all what's going on between Seeley and you, but even I can see what it's doing to him. I think you really, really need to work some things out, because next time I probably won't be available to clean up your mess."
Brennan appreciates her bluntness; she has always found it refreshing when someone has no qualms about saying what they really mean. "Yes, I know." Trying to reach safer ground again, she hastily continues, "And I'll be happy to help him with Parker if it should become necessary. If that's alright with you." The last part is added as an afterthought because it only now occurs to her how Booth used to react to the men Rebecca let get close to his son. He seems to have made peace with her long-time boyfriend (what was his name, again? Brennan can only remember "Captain Fantastic"), but she can see how Rebecca would be wary of her ex's work partner spending too much time with her son.
Rebecca doesn't seem bothered, though. "I'm sure Seeley would appreciate that; I don't think he really knows yet what he's getting himself into. And Parker thinks you're cool."
Brennan is strangely pleased by this admission, but she still wants to make sure this won't create a new problem. "You don't mind?"
Rebecca smiles ruefully. "Hey, I can hardly ask Seeley to keep you away from Parker after I gave him hell for trying the same with my boyfriends, can I? There's no way I could explain it to Parker, either."
"Booth and I are not together." The correction comes automatically, even though Brennan knows it's unnecessary with Rebecca.
"To Parker, that doesn't really make a difference," Rebecca replies with a shrug. "You're the woman he sees together with his dad all the time, so you're a part of his father's life as far as he is concerned."
Will you be my village? The memory comes unbidden, but Brennan pushes it aside; she isn't sure how everything that has happened between them will affect the way Booth wants her to interact with his son. It's his call to make, so she decides it's no use to dwell on it now.
There's something else she wanted to tell Rebecca, although she doubts it will come as a surprise to her. "It means the world to Booth that you promised not to take Parker away from him, you know. I don't think I've ever seen him so happy."
"I can imagine." Rebecca's tone is tinged with something Brennan can't identify. "In hindsight, I know I should have told him a lot sooner, but for a long time Parker was the only way I could get through to him. You know how goddamn stubborn he can be."
Despite her indignation on Booth's behalf, Brennan has to laugh. "Yes, I know."
Rebecca sighs. "I felt bad about using his son to blackmail him, but I couldn't think of any other way to make him get his act together. I still don't think he'd really have managed to turn his life around like he did if it hadn't been for Parker. Ironic, when you consider that I broke up with him before Parker was born." Brennan's astonishment must have shown on her face, because Rebecca raises her eyebrows. "You didn't know?"
Brennan shakes her head. "He didn't talk about it much. From what he said, I supposed you left him because of the gambling."
"It was a factor, yes, but we'd have gotten past that if it had been our only problem. But – things were never quite the same after I said no when he proposed. Somehow, it must have convinced him that I thought he wasn't good enough for me."
Brennan inhales sharply, forcing her racing thoughts to remain focused on the present. It won't help anyone to dwell on the memory of that moment on the stairs when she was the one to tell Booth no. Rebecca doesn't notice anything; she seems to be getting drawn into her own memories.
"I packed my bags when I was six months along with Parker – I knew it was shitty timing, but I'd just had enough. Figures that he'd really get his feet on the ground once I was out of the picture, but perhaps it was the kind of wake-up call he needed. I still think it was Parker who really set him right, though – that's when he started to get a grip on his temper, when he got the gambling under control – "
"Booth was still gambling when I first met him six years ago," Brennan points out, careful not to think of what happened right after Booth confessed his addiction to her.
Rebecca snorts. "By that time he lost a few bucks over a game of pool here and there, he was no longer blowing all his money playing poker with a bunch of card sharks in Vegas. I don't know about you, but I'd call that an improvement."
Brennan is about to agree with that assessment when Rebecca turns away from her. "Parker, you're supposed to be in bed!"
Parker is standing at the end of the hallway in his pajamas, his feet bare and his hair in wild disarray. Yet, he doesn't look sleepy at all when he darts towards Brennan with every sign of enthusiasm. "Hi, Bones, what are you doing here?"
"It's 'Dr. Brennan', Parker!" Rebecca admonishes, but Brennan shakes her head.
"It's alright, Rebecca; let's consider it a patrilineal privilege."
The corners of Rebecca's mouth quirk up at this, but Parker ignores the remark. "Is Dad here too?" He's looking around as if he expected Booth to hide in a corner of the hallway, and Brennan is strangely touched by the boy's assumption that his father has to be near because Brennan is.
"I'm sorry, but he said he had to go home to finish the paperwork from our last case."
"Oh." Parker's face falls, but then brightens again. "That's okay; he was here yesterday, and I'll see him again Saturday. Did you know that I'll move into his apartment in two weeks? Dad says he's getting me a new bed because I grew out of mine, and a new closet too because I'll need more of my stuff there now!"
"Yes, I heard," she replies seriously; she has never seen the point in talking to children as if they were stupid. "You sound very excited about it."
"It's totally cool!" Parker has sidled up to his mother and grabs her hand. "I'll stay with Dad for almost a year, and we'll do all kinds of stuff together that we didn't have enough time for until now, and Mom will call me every day and come home every weekend to see me, right, Mom?"
Rebecca smiles at him, although even Brennan can see that it costs her some effort. "I told you, sweetheart, I can't promise for sure that I'll make it every weekend, but I'll come see you as often as I can. New York isn't that far away, and I don't mind a few hours on a plane to spend time with my boy."
"And I'll come to New York with you to visit, too!" It's half a statement and half a question, and it seems to Brennan that although Parker is very much looking forward to spending more time with his father, he's still seeking reassurance about the fact that he'll be separated from his mother for the first time in his life. She understands that he's anxious, but she's confident that he'll be able to cope. He'll always know that his mother will come back to him eventually, after all.
"Yes, you will, and we'll do lots of fun stuff together, too." Rebecca bends down to hug him, and Brennan suddenly feels uncomfortably like an intruder. This is a very private moment, and she has no business witnessing it.
"I should really be going –" she begins, but Parker interrupts without even looking at her.
"Mom, why did Dad kiss your hands yesterday when you were talking?"
"Parker!" Rebecca straightens, a faint blush coloring her cheeks. "What did I tell you about listening in on other people's conversations?"
"I wasn't listening!" the boy defends himself. "You told me to go play in my room, and I did, but the door was open, and I saw you sitting on the couch with Dad, but I didn't hear what you said! You were talking all serious, and Dad looked kinda nervous, and you took his hands and said something, and then Dad just stared at you for a really long time, and then he took your hands and kissed them. Like this." He clutches his mother's hands in his and presses them to his lips, then quickly lets go. "I thought people only did that in old movies."
Brennan tries to swallow around the lump forming in her throat. This is such a Booth gesture to make – she can easily picture him there, having one of his deepest fears taken away by a simple promise, and trying to show the woman he used to love just how much of a gift she's given him. She blinks a few times, willing her eyes to remain dry.
Judging by the choked sound of her voice, Rebecca has similar problems. "I guess – I guess he did it because he was very happy at the time."
Parker frowns, an expression that makes him look so much like his father for a moment that Brennan feels her breath catching in her throat. "Dad doesn't go around kissing people's hands every time he's happy."
"Only when something is really important." Rebecca crouches down so that her eyes are level with her son's. "When you were born, I had to go to the hospital real quick, so your dad couldn't make it in time. I went to sleep afterwards because I was very tired, and when I woke up, your Dad was sitting next to my bed with you in his arms, and when he saw that I was awake, he took my hand and kissed it."
"Because of me?" Parker asks with a grin, and Rebecca leans forward and presses a kiss on his forehead. "Yes, because of you, buddy. And now say goodnight to Dr. Brennan, you're going back to bed!"
Parker obediently turns towards Brennan, but instead of saying goodnight, he asks innocently, "Does Dad kiss your hands?"
"Parker!" Rebecca yelps, and Brennan struggles to keep her face neutral. "No, he doesn't."
"Why?" Parker's dark brown eyes – his father's eyes, Brennan can't help thinking – are wide and utterly guileless, but Brennan feels nevertheless like he's lured her into a minefield.
"I guess I don't make him happy all that often, Parker."
Parker frowns again. "He usually looks happy when he's talking about you."
"Parker, that's enough, you're going back to bed now." Rebecca's tone is sharp, and Brennan is grateful that she's coming to her rescue. Parker seems to understand that his mother is serious this time, because he beats a hasty retreat with a quick "Night, Mom, night, Bones!" thrown over his shoulder.
"I really should be going," Brennan says as soon as Parker is out of earshot. "Good-bye, Rebecca, and sorry for bothering you."
"It's fine." Rebecca opens the door, but then speaks up once more when Brennan is about to walk out the door. "Temperance?"
Brennan turns around again, frowning. "Yes?"
Rebecca's expression has changed; it's softer, more open than before, and it makes her look younger somehow. "You'll take good care of my boys, yes?"
Brennan's frown deepens. The request seems illogical, given that Booth is most definitely not a boy, and he hasn't been Rebecca's… anything for a long time. She opens her mouth to point out that Booth is a grown man and doesn't need anyone to take care of him, but she stops herself. She's suddenly thinking of long evenings spent over paperwork, of car rides spent bickering over religion, of shared fries at the diner, of dark moments filled with holding on to each other and dark days spent in a silent hospital room, and of the way his arms came up to hug her back just this morning. It defies logic, and probability, but in spite of everything the center still holds, and right now Booth is at home with their paperwork after a very tiring day and probably didn't even take the time to grab dinner somewhere in between.
Ignoring the nervous knot in her stomach, Brennan quickly calculates the distance to their favorite Thai restaurant. She isn't really sure whether this is a good idea, but she trusts that Booth will tell her once she shows up at his doorstep.
Her mind made up, Brennan gives Rebecca a nod, although she can't quite manage a smile. "I will."