The Blame Game

Disclaimer: Don't own Bones except my own.

Author's note: A follow-up to "The White Tiger and the Scorpion." That piece explores how Booth and Brennan would deal with their time apart in the wilds of Asia. It's mostly angst and deals slightly with the dreaded third party that we're likely to get this fall. Brennan comes to her epiphany, but Booth has already made a move on another woman.

This is meant to be a breezier kind of story. More humor, less angst. In this story, they become a couple. But first, Booth has to divest himself of the significant other and Brennan has to step it up. Isn't as easy as you think.

Who's to blame for this dysfunctional couple? Ah, that's the name of the game. . . .

By all rights he could put the blame on Parker.

Well, Parker's question really. Out of the mouth of babes and all that.

There was something satisfying about the routine of picking up Parker from his school and driving him to the Jeffersonian for the after-school science class there. Routine in the real world was so different from the regimentation of the Army. He appreciated that. He appreciated being able to deviate from the plan when he felt like it. Go pick up humongous shakes before Max Keenan put his son through his paces. Go swing by the batting cages. Go take in a movie.

The tumblers had finally clicked on the cosmic slot machine and had come up all cherries. He was engaged to be married. He was finally through with the Army. He was back in D.C. solving murders. He had erased the awkwardness with Bones. He had his life and a rosy future.

And he had that question. That damned question.

They had just pulled out of the pick up lane at Parker's school when his son hit him with the question.

"Dad, can you be in love with two people at the same time?"

Five months back from Afghanistan and with Halloween around the corner, Parker's question hit him like a bad case of trick vs. treat.

On the surface he knew Parker could mean anything, but it still stung like a piece of shrapnel. "What?" He steadied his hands on the steering wheel and checked for traffic on the road ahead before twisting his head toward his son. "Where'd you get that question?"

"No where."

"You mean how I love you and I love Pops?"

"No." His son had developed a penchant for long pauses. Seeley Booth hated those long pauses. "I mean how you love Carrie and how you love Bones."

If the original question had been shrapnel, this twist might qualify as a roadside bomb.

He swallowed, studied his son out of the corner of his eye, and swallowed again.

Three months into a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan, he had met Carrie Ann Schneider in the mess hall on base when she was trolling for interview subjects for one of the wire services. Not quite love at first sight, but she had grown on him and he on her and one thing led to another. Bones had pissed him off only once when she referred to his description as a romantic cliché, but he had to admit that she had been supportive overall. Bones had made his transition back into civilian life fairly easy as well as his return to the FBI and save beyond the remark about romance and clichés, she had done and said nothing that had indicated her disapproval of Carrie.

She'd been easy.

But somehow the question Parker asked was hard. Very hard.

"Parker," he tried to muster up his best, 'I am your father, and I know stuff' voice to put the question to rest, "I am going to marry Carrie. That's how much I love her. She's going to be our family, Bub. Yours and mine."

Yet Parker just wouldn't let it go. "But you also love Bones, Dad. Don't you?"

"Well," he found himself sputtering, "I love Carrie and we're going to get married. I love your mother." He had just created a detour with a dip in the road. How did he say this? "I love Bones like a partner. A friend."

Times like this he wished that Rebecca approved of Gameboys and iPods and cell phones for 11-year-old boys because he wanted the distraction of an electronic babysitter from the conversation he was having with his son.

He shifted in the seat.

"Is Carrie your friend?"

"What?" The word erupted out of him. "Parker, why. . . where. . . yeah, Carrie is my friend."

"So, it's okay to like marry a friend?"

Booth looked around wondering if he could locate an Apple store along the route and distract Parker from this line of questions.

"Yeah. It's more than okay to marry a friend." They were friends. Yes, he and Carrie were friends. He hadn't given it much thought. "It's probably better to marry someone who is also your friend."

He congratulated himself on his answer.

"But aren't you like best friends with Bones? Why couldn't you marry her?"

Where was Gordon Gordon when you needed him? Booth looked up to heaven wondering who was the saint for impossible questions. He took a deep breath and dove back in.

"Dr. Brennan and I are friends. We're good friends, Bub."

Here came that long pause again. Booth tried to collect his thoughts. His relationship with Carrie had been easy. She was fun and sassy and had seemed to fit into his life easily. No complications.

Bones, on the other hand, was. . . hell, she was still an integral part of his life. She was his partner, for God's sake, and she was. . . . He buried that thought. He had buried almost all the thoughts of Brennan while he was in Afghanistan because to think of her there had been too difficult. He'd just had to let some things go here as well. Carrie had come along and had loved him and it had been easy to be in love. Easy to ask her to move in. Easy to ask her to marry him. No anthropological warnings about the antiquated nature of this, that or the other thing.

Carrie believed in God, love and apple pie.

And him.

Three, no, four cherries in a row. One quarter would earn him ten.

Why the hell was he thinking about a slot machine?

He'd resumed his partnership with Bones with almost none of the awkwardness they had had before their little detours. A year apart had done the trick.

He pulled the SUV into the parking garage and showed the attendant his pass. Parker had been quiet for several blocks and he glanced at him. His son's face was a study in, well, study. Since he'd been back from Afghanistan, Booth had noticed that Parker tended to get that very serious look on his face when he was deep in thought.

He was almost afraid to ask what he was thinking about.

"Dad," Parker had also adopted a certain tone that told Booth he wouldn't like the next thing out of his son's mouth, "you never really answered my question."

He groaned. "You've asked a lot of questions, Parker. What question didn't I answer?"

Dr. Sweets had advised him to be upfront and honest with Parker, so he was preparing himself. Of course, Sweets had told him to do that regarding his time in Afghanistan. He'd been as upfront and honest with his son as he could be given that he'd woken up both of them one Sunday morning with one of his nightmares. Carrie had been on assignment in New York covering a conference, but she wasn't very good with such things anyway. Mostly she turned over and went back to sleep. Booth had been frightened and frightening and totally unable to comfort his own son much less himself.

Bones had saved him. He'd taken Parker to Bones' office later that morning after church and tried to park him there while his partner updated him about the Shepherd case. He saw that his "upfront and honest" had been as effective as carrying water in a sieve. So she saved him. Saved them both. She told Parker about her own nightmares. It had surprised him really. He knew she had had nightmares during the Gravedigger case, but their relationship had been so tenuous at that time he hadn't bothered to ask her about them once the trial was over.

She hadn't said much, just that she sometimes had nightmares about her time in foster care, about her parents taking off, about losing Russ. Parker had peppered her with questions then and she'd been upfront and honest. It's how she was.

And she said something, something that had dispelled some of his own night terrors. She said it with that same directness that made her feared by each new crop of grad students. "I believe people make their own history, but they do no make it as they please, Parker. We don't make it under circumstances we chose, but under circumstances that we directly encounter."

"I believe we can accept or reject some of those circumstances and chose which ones control us."

It had helped. Oh, he still figured he'd wake up in a cold sweat some nights, but she let Parker know that nightmares did little else then ruin a good night's rest. Other people got them. They survived.

He'd been grateful; Booth knew Bones didn't easily talk of the ghosts of her past.

So if the subject wasn't Bones, he might have wished for her presence then. If nothing else, she might have been able to draw on something to change the subject. She could talk to Parker although she tended to talk to him with the same intensity and vocabulary she used for everyone. Parker liked how Bones talked to him. Carrie was still having some trouble in that department.

"What's the question, Parker?" He braced himself.

"Can you be in love with two people at the same time?"

"You mean how I love your mother and how I love Carrie?" He was a trained investigator, damn it, and he could take control of an interview.

Parker had no intention of letting go. "No. I know you love Mom but you don't want to marry her. I just mean like you love Bones and you love Carrie." The sputtering was back. Full force. He felt his brain freeze. "Like I love Bones and I kind of like Carrie."

"You kind of like Carrie?"

Ignoring the other part didn't make it go away. It hung in the air between them.

"Yeah. She's okay. But Bones is cool. She knows everything and she listens to me. She really listens. Carrie kind of listens to me."

He did know a patron saint of patience and he sent a prayer heavenward. "You don't know Carrie as well as you know Bones. When she's home more and you get to know her, then you'll love Carrie just as much, no, more than Bones."

"Maybe," he said, shrugging. Parker was on a roll. He seemed to have perfected that deep-in-thought thing he had going. "But I don't understand why you couldn't just marry Bones."

oOo

Yes, he wanted to blame Parker for the question. The question seemed to cling to him like cheap cologne.

"What's with you, Big Guy?"

Cam seemed to smell it on him.

He'd parked himself outside Angela's office not sure he wanted to interrupt the conversation inside between Angela and Hodgins. Something had shifted since his tour in Afghanistan and sometimes Booth felt decidedly out of the sync with Angela since his return. Maybe all pregnant women had a thing about rejecting Booth men.

"Why the face?"

Dr. Camille Saroyan had been his friend for close to twenty years and they'd been through too much together for him to hide.

"Parker."

He immediately got the sympathetic look from a fellow parent. "Is he at that age?"

There were so many ages of children that he had no idea to what age she could be referring. "He just asked me if he could come here and hang out with Max rather than go to the wedding."

In general, he rather liked it when Cam laughed. Right now, not so much.

"Cam, this is serious."

He dropped his voice down low as to not further alert Angela and Hodgins who seemed to have caught Cam's merriment.

"It's that or he'd like to go to Kenny Whiffle's house."

Too late. Cam's laughter was quickly dissolving into tears and he had no advantage over Angela and Hodgins who had broken up their conference to see what had their boss in hysterics.

"This has got to be good," Angela said.

"What gives?" Hodgins added.

Angela rested her hand on her stomach. Hodgins, ever-dutiful, rested his hand on the small of her back.

Booth rather liked seeing Angela pregnant. She seemed content and beautiful and sexy. And pregnant. Very pregnant.

"Parker's considering not attending his father's wedding."

"Is he doing that in protest?"

Well, he rather liked Angela pregnant except when she added in a touch of the snide. He wondered if anything that woman said or did these days wiped the smile off her husband's face.

"It's nothing." Booth craned his neck thinking he might retreat into Bones' office. Or the Autopsy lab. A rotting corpse might have more sympathy.

"I'm sorry, Seeley," Cam offered wiping an eye. "It just struck me as something funny. I thought Parker liked Carrie."

"Yeah, well, he does like her." Parker's question still rattled in his brain. He turned toward Angela. "You had an ID for me?"

The official FBI tone did nothing to quell Angela's hormone-induced disdain for him. "I sent it to your email."

"But I am here. Now. Here." He pointed toward the floor for emphasis.

With a quirk of her head, Angela swept back into her office.

"It's just, well, you know, man. The pregnancy's got Angela's hormones all out of whack."

Hodgins had not stopped grinning since they'd returned from Paris.

"Out of whack?" Booth wondered if the moon was full although he knew that someone, probably Bones, would point out that there wasn't any scientific connection between madness and the moon. "Out of whack?"

"Dude, don't take it personally. Just ride out the moods like you're surfing the Big Sur."

"What? Big Sur? Hang ten? Far out? Dude?" Booth felt transported back to a rerun of "Beach Blanket Bingo." "You want me to bring the suntan lotion, Frankie?"

Even his sarcasm couldn't wipe away the grins on the faces of Cam or Hodgins. Shaking his head, Booth strode into the artist's office. He sent up another prayer for patience. "So who's our guy?"

The big screen came to life and Angela's reconstruction was accompanied by a Department of Motor Vehicles photo as well as other critical information.

"Your wish and all." Angela pressed something on her controller and even more information leaped onto the screen. "You want the whole Gutenberg Bible on this guy or just the Cliff Notes?"

He sighed. "Everything you've got."

"I sent it to your email."

"And I am here. Now. Like now now."

He heard the faint purr of the printer. Good.

"So, did you ever wonder why Parker doesn't want to go to your wedding?"

Booth hated that tone. Angela had been using it since he'd returned. "Oh, I don't know, since he's 11 and he thinks slime and digging in the dirt is cooler than wearing a monkey suit." He returned her tone in spades and turned toward her. "I just need an ID. That's all. I don't need your insights on my son."

He'd crossed the line. Hell, they both had.

Angela's hand was on one hip while she controlled his investigation with the other hand. Suddenly the screens went blank. He couldn't hear the printer. Thank God for email.

"Maybe little Booth might know something that big Booth doesn't."

"What? Who are you? The Dalai Lama in drag?"

Okay, now he really had crossed a line. He'd never really seen Angela angry before, but he suddenly felt sorry for Hodgins. Very sorry.

"You should know something but you're so busy thinking you know something that you really don't realize that you don't know something."

He really was going to have to check for a full moon. His head hurt. Angela looked through him and he almost shuddered. "What the. . . . No. Never mind. Never mind." He held up his hands in surrender.

Striding toward the printer, he scooped up the papers there and made a fast retreat from her office.

oOo

After dropping off Parker with Rebecca, he pointed the SUV toward Pops' nursing home and dialed Carrie's number. He'd had enough of the lunacy at the Jeffersonian and he wanted to ditch Parker's nagging question; he simply wanted a friendly voice.

He got her voice mail instead.

Before he could chuck his phone on the passenger seat, it buzzed with Bones' ring tone. He sighed and hoped that Brennan hadn't crossed paths with Angela. He already was pushing almost ten past the speed limit. He had little desire to wrap the SUV around a utility pole.

"We know how Zeck died. Do you want cause of death now?"

The explanation was concise. He whistled. "Hey, I almost understood that, Bones." He actually had. "Jibber jabber and all."

"You've had years of experience and I imagine you've picked up some of the jargon over time."

"Let me get this straight," he said, "the guys' organs were on the wrong side of his body. . . ."

"Situs inversus."

"Yeah, sithlord invertino."

"Situs inversus. In-ver-sus."

He smiled to himself. Now it was her turn to be exasperated. "Sit-with-us reverse order."

Her sigh came in loud and clear over the phone. "The complete name is situs inversus viscerum. It occurs in less than one in every 10,000 births."

"Yeah, inverted position of the internal organs." He could almost imagine her face as she caught that he had been pulling her leg. Good Catholic boys sometimes could impress brainiac scientists. He liked when she made that face. "So it's possible that someone wasn't trying to kill him, but because his organs were inverted. . . . Mmmm. How'd you figure that out?"

"A simple autopsy."

He could have teased her about Cam having found cause of death, but he actually found talking to her to be somewhat soothing. They had slipped back into a comfortable give and take in their conversations since they'd been back. "So do you have time to talk to the brother tomorrow?"

The Gravedigger trial had wrung her out emotionally and now, more than a year later, he tried to frame parts of their investigation as questions, invitations really. While she rarely backed out of any part of their cases these days, he knew that it gave her an out if she needed it. A year apart had taught him he didn't want another year apart.

They negotiated a time and he ventured into personal territory. "Your dad said that you're up for an award? Another trophy for the mantel?"

She sighed. "The International Society for Anthropological Research is presenting me with an award for my part in the Malukan find. It's not a trophy, it's a medal, actually. And my name engraved on a plaque."

Her voice betrayed an emotion he couldn't quite place. "So it's a pretty big deal, eh?"

"Yes, it's a pretty big deal." He still couldn't get a read on her tone. Usually when these things came her way she had the 'I'm-the-best-forensic-scientist-in-the-world' tone, but tonight something was off.

He chose to switch topics.

"Angela's looking like she's ready to pop."

"Pop would not be terribly accurate. . . ."

"I meant she's big. She looks big."

"She's well within the normal. . . ."

He listened to her explanation, the school marm tone classic Brennan. She knew as much as Cam or Angela did about pregnancy, especially this pregnancy, probably read everything available and she'd been designated Hodgins' backup in the birthing classes. Angela might have had a pregnancy glow about her, but it was Brennan who actually beamed with pure happiness for her friend.

He grunted at her last scrap of information and just barely caught the turn-off for the nursing home.

Talk about Angela's pregnancy then turned into a pregnant pause. With Parker, pauses meant trouble as evidenced by this afternoon. With Brennan, he never knew what to expect, especially lately.

"Cam said that Parker isn't going to your wedding."

Not this again. He sighed. "He's 11. He'd rather be watching 'The Family Guy' than getting all dressed up."

"He understands this is more than just a family obligation."

He recognized that tone. She sounded worried.

"He's going, Bones." This was not the right person to have this conversation with. "He's going. That's all. Case closed."

There was that pause. He was beginning to hate the silences almost as much as the conversations he was having. "Sweets might say that Parker's reluctance to go might be keyed into his ambivalence about his father getting married." For a woman who hated psychology, she knew too damned much psychology.

"So, we're not going to tell Sweets about this." He trusted her to keep quiet on this one. "Bones, he's 11. He's just getting to know Carrie." The afternoon's conversation replayed in his head. "He likes her." He likes Carrie. Loves Bones. Damn.

"Booth, I just mean that," she paused and sighed and started over. "When Russ married Amy, Russ told me that he had to be sure that the girls totally accepted him. If they didn't love him or want him in their lives, he said that there would have been no marriage. He wouldn't have even moved in with Amy."

This was not where he wanted to go with this conversation. "So, you're saying that unless Parker is 100 percent behind this marriage I should say screw it?"

His anger filled in the silence. She might have been organizing her thoughts, finding anthropological analogs to support her position, but all he wanted to do was smash his phone against the dash.

"Yes, I do think Parker's feeling are important here, but please, Booth, hear me out." She was pleading with him. She rarely did that. "Parker has had some major changes in his life in the last year or so. You were gone for a year. He had to adjust to that. You come home and you have a woman, a fiancé, who he has to adjust to."

"You're not telling me anything I don't already know, Bones," he practically barked at her. "He is my son."

"In certain societies, in South Africa, for example, a tribe, the Alegarians, when a single parent decides to remarry, the children of that parent are allowed to participate in the wedding plans. In fact, they are encouraged to organize the ceremony even run it. It's the way in which the children become connected, married as it were, to the new spouse."

She had a point. In fact, she had several points that all added up to one thing.

"You are amazing, Bones." She knew him well. Too well. With a few well-aimed arguments, she could make him see something with new eyes, even when he was stubbornly resisting. "What would I do without you?"

She plowed in. "Haley and Emma wrote something that they read at the ceremony." She paused. "It was very nice. Sweet really."

Booth didn't think that Parker would want to write anything, but suggested he might want to do more than carry a ring. "Parker might want to be my best man." He rather liked the idea.

"He might. He might need to get to know Carrie better, too." Booth released the stranglehold he had on the steering wheel and made the final turn into the parking lot of the nursing home. "Parker's a smart, personable young boy, Booth. Sweets might say he needs time to adjust and to feel he's part of your marriage to Carrie."

"You're actually listening to Sweets?"

Teasing her helped ease him away from saying something that might embarrass her. Or him. He'd been trying to keep to safe ground between them.

He hung up with a promise to bring her breakfast before their morning meeting with their victim's brother. And not for the last time he wondered what he would do without her.

oOo

Seeley Joseph Booth was a trained Army Ranger, a sniper with a deadly shot.

His grandfather, Hank Booth, was deadlier.

"I've got the dog," Hank Booth announced as he laid down the six-six domino. The tile snapped into place against the table with a sickening click completing the loop. "And I win." He clapped his hands then looked up.

"I told you you weren't so big I couldn't still whip your ass!"

Booth sat back and shook his head.

The old man was still deadly in a game of dominoes. A few wizened heads looked up at Pops' announcement and at least one woman blew him a kiss.

Booth grinned and leaned in. "Delores? Or is it someone new this week?"

Hank gave him a decisive shake of his head. "I am a one-woman man, Seeley. All Booth men are one-woman men."

Booth sat back and took a swig of milk. He finally felt appreciated. It had been a long day.

"I can't understand why you didn't bring Temperance."

It just got longer.

He'd been explaining to Pops since he got back from Afghanistan that he was with Carrie. Even brought Carrie by after she accepted his marriage proposal, but Hank just wasn't listening.

"Pops. . . ." He didn't know what words to use to persuade Hank. He was stubborn, opinionated and, well, cantankerous. Booth loved the man dearly, but he was wondering if he shouldn't just elope. He didn't want Hank to raise an objection at the wedding.

"She's not right for you, Seeley."

"Bones?" Now they were making some progress.

"No. That other gal. What was her name?"

"Carrie." He sighed. His headache was returning. "Carrie Schneider."

"I told you about Rebecca, didn't I?" Hank grasped his arm and held it in a grip that still felt like iron. "I'm telling you about this Carrie. There's something that's not quite right about her."

"Pops. . . ." Booth wondered if his son and his grandfather were in cahoots. "I'm going to marry Carrie. She loves me. I love her."

"Temperance loves you."

There it was. If he had believed it, had thought it possible, he might not have gone to Afghanistan, might not have let Bones go to Indonesia. . . .

"No. No she doesn't."

"The hell you say."

A room filled with people probably used to Hank Booth's booming voice still turned at his pronouncement.

"I told you to follow this." Hank reached across the table and pointed a gnarled finger at his heart. No situs inversus. Hank got it right.

"Pops. I know Bones. I asked her. She doesn't love me. Not like that."

"Oh hell." Hank sat back and grimaced. "She's just scared. She's tough as they come but she's scared. Something frightened her but good, but she'll come around. You'll see. Just got to give her some time."

Hope and patience. Booth swept those words from his mind. They had no place there.

Booth leaned in and caught his grandfather's hand in his own. "Carrie and I are going to be married, Pops. I want you there at the wedding. I really do." He saw more than a glimmer of stubbornness in the old man's eyes. "But hear me. Bones doesn't love me. Carrie does. Carrie loves me. And I love her. She wants to make a life with me. And I want that. I want the happily ever after. I want the golden wedding anniversary. I want that Pops."

For more than a moment, the silence hung between them like a challenge. Pops narrowed his eyes, but Booth didn't flinch. He was trained not to flinch.

"You know, Seeley. You deserve that."

Finally. Something had gone right. Booth began to relax. Someone was finally listening to him. To what he had to say.

His grandfather eased back in his chair and gave him one of his long, appraising looks.

"But you could have all that with Temperance."