Written for Live Journal Secret Cupid Challenge and dedicated to nelliesbones. Her wish list was: old canon, beautiful dress, trust, can have a little bit angst, should end on a good note :-). Computer issues meant I totally missed the deadline so, by the power vested in me as a fanatical B&B shipper, I'm hereby officially declaring every day is Valentine's Day when it comes to Brennan and Booth! Happy Valentine's Day, lovely – hope this is what you wished for!
Apologies to anyone mentioned as being associated with the Mafia – please don't put a contract out on me! Blame Wikipedia.
With thanks to my friend FauxMaven for steering me in the right direction - hope you're feeling better soon! And to the lovely TemperTemper, who stepped into the breach and helped me out at the last minute as my beta buddy.
Disclaimer: The only thing I own is my soul, and I even lend that out on occasion, but only if you ask nice. Anything that even looks familiar in this story probably belongs to someone else (except the actual story - that's all mine, Mine, MINE [*maniacal laughter*]!)
The Answer in the Question.
Booth stood just outside the door of Brennan's office, watching her work, her profile quarter-turned towards him. The sounds of industry coming from the forensic platform faded to nothing. Her expression shifted infinitesimally and he stilled, waiting. He gently exhaled the breath he was unaware he was holding. It was okay, she didn't even know he was there, she was so deep in whatever squinty thing she was doing. He leaned lightly against the door jamb and gave himself up to the luxury of just watching her: the way the sinews in her hands flexed as she typed, a subtle reminder of the surprising strength they held. There - that little flick of her chin that sent her hair swinging in an exaggerated arc, the ends just curling. He lost himself for a second … until her voice cut through his reverie and he jumped guiltily.
"Did you want me, Booth?" Her eyes remained on the screen in front of her but she tilted her chin ever so slightly in his direction. Her expression was preoccupied and her tone matched her expression.
Her unconscious choice of words jogged him into flurried movement, his hand running down his tie in an automatic reflex, his breath leaving his chest in a whoosh. He grinned to cover the awkwardness he was feeling and Brennan's smile widened to match, even though she was yet to turn properly in his direction.
"Hey, Bones, yeah – yeah. We're supposed to be meeting with Caroline this afternoon about Mazursky's testimony." He rubbed his hands together briskly, bringing his mind back to business. "C'mon, c'mon – we've got to move." He took a step over the threshold and grabbed her coat, placing a hand lightly under her elbow.
Brennan responded automatically to his lead, standing to go with him even though her eyes still lingered on the computer screen, her face lit by its glow for a moment as she leaned close. She shrugged her arm out of his hold and tapped a few keys before saving her work, her eyes narrowing as they slowly focused on his. Booth felt color suffuse his face. He turned on his heel abruptly, heading towards the exit. Brennan grabbed her bag from under her desk and skipped to catch up, making it to his side before he'd passed the forensic platform.
"Wait up, Booth. We've got plenty of time." She glanced at her watch. "Ms Julian's not expecting us for another … thirty minutes." Her words edged on a question and Booth rubbed the back of his neck as if he could feel her touch. His footsteps slowed abruptly and she almost ploughed into him.
He shot her a sideways glance, reluctant to reveal the real reason for chivvying her along. He cleared his throat and gave a passable impression of a casual, off-the-cuff invitation, "I thought maybe we could stop at the diner and – I dunno – have some pie or something."
"What? Booth, you know I don't like pie." Brennan's mouth turned up at one side and the look she gave him was thoughtful.
"Well," he went on reasonably, "I'll have some pie and you can have some of that fruit stuff you like. My treat. I want to run something by you."
Brennan considered his suggestion and Booth could have sworn he could hear the wheels turning as she mentally examined all possibilities. "All right."
"What, no argument?" Booth's smile was teasing.
"I'm not generally argumentative." Brennan spun on her heel and took the lead, ignoring Booth's irreverent snort. This time it was Booth who had to hurry to catch up with his partner.
The waitress placed a slab of pie and black coffee in front of Booth, and a non dairy fruit frappé in front of Brennan. Conversation was limited to generalities and Booth realized with a jolt that he was nervous; nervous about asking her this particular favor. He took a gulp of the coffee, scalding his mouth in the process, and fiddled with the flatware. Brennan was noisily slurping the froth from the bottom of the glass through her straw before Booth had even taken a bite.
She wiped her mouth on a paper napkin and looked at him serenely. "Aren't you going to eat that?"
Booth looked at the pie, suddenly not the least bit hungry. His appetite had waned in direct proportion to his increasing apprehension. He'd faced snipers and terrorists and walked away with his dignity intact, but the thought of Brennan turning down his request had him shaking in his boots. He decided to withdraw honorably, before she had a chance to reject him. "You know, Bones, maybe we should get going. Caroline -"
"But didn't you have something you wanted to ask me?"
Brennan's innocently put question brought a faint line of perspiration to his upper lip. He ran a finger nervously inside his collar; why was this so damn hard? "Ah, yeah. About that."
Brennan continued to look at him expectantly.
He cleared his throat and went on. "There's this thing."
"A thing?" Her eyebrows shot upwards and a smile played around her mouth.
Booth took a sudden interest in the bottom of his coffee cup, staring intently into the dark brew. The chink of cutlery and murmured conversation filled the silence as he summoned his courage. "Yeah, you know – a dinner. A college buddy of mine is getting an award and there's this dinner and it's at this pretty fancy place and I sorta told him that I knew you and that you and I – I mean -" He stumbled to a stop. This was a lot harder than he thought it would be.
A chance meeting with his biggest rival from college, in Washington for the day and killing time in a strange city, a few – quite a few - too many scotches … the 'war' stories had grown bigger and better as the night had worn on and the two old friends had tried to one-up each other. By the end of the night Booth was bragging that - oh god, he was too embarrassed even to admit to himself the degree that he'd exaggerated his relationship with Brennan. Now he looked imploringly at his partner. "Would you come with me?"
"You want me to go on a date with you?" It would never have occurred to Brennan to keep the skepticism out of her voice. Or off her face.
"No!" Booth's cup clunked back on the saucer, black liquid sloshing over its edge.
Brennan's looked mystified. "You don't want me to go on a date with you?"
"No. Yes. I mean, it's not a date." Ah, jeez, Seeley, way to go. "It's a- a- thing."
"Yes, so you said. A 'dinner thing'." She looked confused, but not for the reason Booth assumed.
"Uh, yeah." He looked away, pushing more words out past the dryness in his throat. "It would really help me out, Bones. My buddy's a big fan of yours and he said, he wants -"
Brennan held up her hand, palm outwards, and Booth fell silent. "When is it?" she asked quietly.
Now Booth had the grace to look embarrassed. "Tonight." He tried very hard to sound casually confident but knew he fell well short of it. She's going to think I'm a total asshat. He sighed. I am a total asshat. He braced himself for one of her squintified comments about social mores and alpha male behavior.
Brennan remained silent, observing the various emotions play across the planes of his face. She sat back, her decision made. "Okay."
Booth stared at her, a look of disbelief hung crookedly on his face.
Brennan looked pointedly at her watch then up at him. "Hadn't we better go see Caroline Julian now?"
Brennan stood and unceremoniously headed for the door. Booth fumbled with his wallet and tossed a bill on the table, catching the attention of a passing waitress who responded to the supernova twinkle in his eye with a broad smile. "Can you put that pie in a take out container for me please?" Suddenly he had his appetite back and the waitress had a very respectable tip.
"Booth asked you out on a date?" Angela paused in the middle of putting on her jacket, one arm frozen skyward like a lopsided, albeit very attractive and well dressed, scarecrow.
"No." Brennan's brows furrowed as she explained further. "He explained to me that it was not a date. He was quite explicit. He merely asked me to attend a dinner which is important to him. I wanted your opinion on what I should wear." She chewed on the inside of her lip, uncertainty seeping into her subconscious.
Angela tried to keep the grin off her face as she slipped her arm into the vacant sleeve of her jacket and flipped her hair free of the collar. "Yeah right." She gave her friend a wry look from under her brows. "It's a date, Brennan, whether or not Booth wants to pretend otherwise."
"I'm sure you're wrong -" Brennan's protest was firm.
"Sweetie, he wants to have sex with you -"
"Ange! I don't know what you mean -"
"- do the wild thing -"
"No, no … I know what you mean. What I don't understand is why you're saying it. You know that Booth and I are just partners. "
Angela rested her hand on her hip and grinned wickedly, warming to her theme, "- bump uglies -"
"I can assure you it's just a dinner, Angela."
"- make the beast with two backs -"
"Stop it, Ange." Brennan started to chuckle which just served to spur her friend on.
"- hizzit the skizzins, get some stankie on the hang down -"
"Are you even still speaking English?" They both collapsed into laughter until eventually Brennan sobered. Angela caught the look that crossed her face; fear. She felt a little remorse - Brennan was obviously conflicted.
"What you need, Temperance Brennan," she caught hold of her friend's hand and pulled her towards the door of her office, "is a dress so drop dead gorgeous that it will fry Booth's brain. He'll be too gobsmacked to do anything but drool incoherently all night." A devilish glint entered Angela's eyes. "Maybe you should even come onto him - he won't have a clue how to handle it. Keep him on his toes and off center."
"I don't know, Angela, the dress I agree to, but anything else sounds -" She paused, uncertainty clouding her face, "- atypical of my relationship with Booth. I don't think that would be such a good idea."
Angela turned to face her, amusement curling her lips. "Trust me, Brennan, you two have been dancing around each other for so long if you even put your hand on his thigh, his brain would explode and he wouldn't be capable of making a move. He'd be rooted to the spot, so to speak. Attack is the best form of defense, after all." She shrugged and left the idea to foster in Brennan's brain. "C'mon. I know just the place to shop."
Brennan opened the door of her apartment at Booth's soft knock, standing back to let him in. She turned away almost immediately to grab her clutch from the hall table and didn't notice his stunned reaction to her appearance.
"I'm almost ready Booth, give me a moment to put some earrings on and I'll be ready to go."
"Jeez, Bones. You look -" he swallowed convulsively, trying to get his breath back and in the process losing his vocabulary, "… hot."
Brennan hid her smile; she wasn't immune to a man's appreciation of her looks, even Booth's. She knew she looked good. The dress Angela had chosen for her was simple in concept; a classic black sheath that clung to her curves, exposing the rounded tops of her breasts, the skirt tight and short. Over the top a stylized trench coat made of sheer sparkling organza, colored a deep magenta. Brennan had rolled back the long sleeves and pushed them to just below her elbows, cinching the belt tight at the waist. The coat fell to just below her knees. The perfect cover up that didn't cover up a thing.
Brennan patted her hair, automatically checking that the upswept style was still in place and grabbed her clutch. She turned to Booth who still stood in the doorway, stunned. "Shall we go?"
There was little conversation in the car; it took Booth all his time to concentrate on the traffic, with constant little sideways glances at his partner. Finally he summoned his senses enough to make small talk.
"I like that pink color." He indicated her dress with a long sweep of his eyes that lingered on her legs.
Brennan smoothed the fabric over her knees hesitantly. "Thank you. It's called magenta - named after the Battle of Magenta fought at Magenta, Lombardy-"
"Lombard, Illinois?" He cut in, eager to thaw the slight chill between them. "Where that Mafia guy was from?"
Brennan gave him a blank look. "Lombardy-Venetia, Northern Italy."
"What Mafia guy?"
"Jimmy 'the Man' Marcello." Booth grinned. "Interesting guy - everyone thought he was the top dog for the Chicago outfit, but 'No Nose' DiFronzo, 'Joey the Clown' Lombardo and 'Joe the Builder' Andriacchi, they were the real operators."
They fell back into a vaguely uncomfortable silence, each a little wary of the other. This so-called "not a date" was feeling like new ground, new ground filled with lots of rocks.
The waiter ushered them to a table in the centre of the dining room, where several suntanned and uniformly attractive guests were already seated. Conversation buzzed loudly across the entire room, laughter punctuating the cacophony at regular intervals.
Brennan glanced around curiously. "What sort of award is your friend receiving, Booth?"
Before he could answer, an impossibly handsome man with improbably sun streaked hair and an incredibly square jaw sat down uninvited and turned towards Brennan.
"You must be Temperance Brennan. It is an honor and a pleasure to meet you." His hand engulfed hers and he squeezed gently, holding on for a few seconds longer than was necessary, letting his fingers trail lightly against the flesh of her palm. He continued to stare into her eyes, even while addressing his next remark to Booth. "You really didn't do her justice, Seel. She is truly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."
"Okay, Brad that's enough. Bones, this is my friend, Brad Fitch. Brad, this is Dr Temperance Brennan." Without realizing it, Booth stressed the formality of her title, hoping to intimidate his friend enough to into backing off with the piled on charm. He should have realized Brennan was perfectly capable of doing that on her own.
Brad was determined to make an impression and he jumped on the evidence of the closeness between them. "Bones? I didn't realize you had a nickname." He took her hand again, confident in his ability to charm her. "May I call you Bones? And you can call me 'Mac'." He finished on a cheeky grin which was in fact quite charming, flashing perfect white teeth and a dimple. Brennan withdrew her hand from his grasp.
"No thank you. Why would I want to do that?" Brennan's expression was deadpan. "Booth tells me you're receiving an award this evening. What field is your speciality?"
Brad's smile slipped and he frowned in confusion, not sure whether to treat her question seriously. As he opened his mouth to reply, a man in a dinner suit approached and whispered in his ear. Nodding, he turned his attention back the couple before him, a rueful smile curving his mouth.
"My apologies, they need me to be in back in my seat when they read out the nominations." He dropped his voice so that Booth had to lean forward to hear what he said. "Listen, Temperance, I'd really like to spend some quality time with you. I've read all of your books – they are amazing! No wonder the movie rights have been snapped up. I'd love to talk to you about them, and especially about Detective Andy Ryan. His character fascinates me; the subtleties and nuances of his psyche. I've been told that I resemble him physically." He paused for a compliment that didn't materialize. "Can I call you tomorrow?"
Brennan was frowning, a line forming between her brows. "Why do you want to call me to talk about my books?"
Booth leaned close to her ear and whispered, "Bones, haven't you seen all the TV cameras around?" He sounded exasperated and not a little amused. "Brad's up for some critics' award called a WAFCA or something, for the part he played in that mini series that was just on TV." Brennan looked blank. "The one about the rogue CIA agent. He played a character called Mac McNabb." Brennan was still clueless. "You know … You don't mess with McNabb?" he explained, quoting from the promos. Booth shook his head. "I know you've got a TV – you really ought to watch it occasionally." He sighed, and reluctantly filled in the gaps for his partner. "Fitch is an actor, Bones. He wants to be considered for the lead in the movie they're making of your book."
Brennan sat back, instantly dismissive. "I have no interest or influence over who will be chosen to play any part in a movie. The decision is immaterial to me." The actor's smile froze on his face. "Mr Fitch, I'm flattered that you've read my books but the idea of discussing whether you resemble a fictional character or not would be a waste of time. And for your information, you do not have any physical characteristics in common with those I've designated to that character in my books, apart from your height. Your mental foramen is slightly descended, no doubt due to partial edentulism. Has your mandible been altered cosmetically?" Brennan's tone made the question accusatory. At Fitch's indrawn breath she continued. "I suspect further cosmetic modification of your features: your zygomatic arch and temporal bones do not look consistent." Her glance swiveled between the actor and her partner. "Besides, your eyes are too far apart to be aesthetically pleasing to me."
Fitch bristled at her clinical dissection of his looks, his façade of charm slipping badly. "Hey lady, I have no idea what you just said but I'd lay a bet you didn't get that perfect without a lot of help. You authors are all alike – you think you've got the right to play with people's feelings just because you penned a few words that someone read. I don't know why I even bothered. Why don't you just go back to playing with dead people."
He stood, but Booth was on his feet in a second, placing himself between the actor and Brennan.
"Back off, Fitch." His voice was low and dangerous. "No-one speaks to Bones like that."
"Yeah?" The two eyed each other off, their pugilistic stances clearly indicating that the already ugly scene could devolve into violence at any moment. The muscles in Booth's jaw worked and fury lit his eyes, his lips pressed together in a thin line. Suddenly it occurred to Fitch that although he might act the tough guy on screen, Booth lived that way every day. Without another word he turned on his heel and left.
Booth couldn't meet Brennan's eyes, instead muttering, "Let's get out of here." He waited for Brennan to stand and, placing his hand under her elbow, ushered her carefully through the crowd. They gained the exit just as the master of ceremonies took up the microphone and the evening's formalities commenced but the sound of applause had faded to nothing as they reached the elevators. Booth stood staring blankly out of the fourth floor window, not in the mood to appreciate the scene spread before him; Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument resplendently backlit, the lights from dozens of boats bobbing in the Marina.
Once outside the night air seemed to calm him, but he paced impatiently as they waited for the valet to show up. Booth felt the fury still bubbling through him, directed at his old friend and then, more honestly, at himself and he couldn't stand still, fidgeting with irritation as the minutes ticked by. A light touch on his arm stilled his nervous movement.
"Want to go for a walk?" Brennan asked softly.
He nodded, and she left her hand in the crook of his arm as they headed west along
L'Enfant Promenade, walking until there was nowhere else to walk, and then sat in Banneker Overlook, letting the quiet soothe them. No-one else was around and it was a little eerie, being essentially alone in the middle of what was a busy shopping precinct by day. Brennan slipped off her high heels, wiggling her toes once they were free.
"Did you know," she asked conversationally, "this high ground serves as a monument to Benjamin Banneker, a free African American who charted the stars for the first survey of Washington, DC?"
Booth continued to stare into the middle distance, replying absently. "I think I've heard of him."
"Banneker taught himself mathematics and astronomy and observed the movements of the stars each night and he published a series of almanacs predicting the movements of the sun, moon, and stars to guide farmers in the best timing for planting and harvesting."
Booth sighed deeply, appreciating the mental space that Brenan had given him. "I'm sorry, Bones. I don't know what got into me. I've never done anything like that before."
"Like what?" Brennan quirked an eyebrow. "Almost engaged in a physical altercation? I've seen you do it several times."
He laughed, its self-deprecating edge roughening the sound. "No, not that. That I've done more times that I can remember. No, I mean using you like that. Using our friendship to impress someone." He pronounced the word 'impress' with distaste.
Brennan reluctantly let the silence stretch between them while she tried to assimilate what had happened. "Were you and Mr Fitch close as adolescents?"
"Yeah, kind of. Friendly rivals. He was the golden boy who was good at everything, who got away with murder."
"I'm assuming you don't mean in a literal sense."
That made him smile. "No. Not literally." Booth leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest, watching the headlights of the cars zooming along 14th Street with narrowed eyes. "When everything was crap at home, I got more and more into competitive sport. I used to pit myself against Fitch, try and outdo everything he did. In a weird kind of way going up against him all the time saved my sanity." Booth chuckled, remembering. "We used to compete at everything. I even tried water polo because Brad was captain of the team. Just about drowned that first time out." He sighed and leaned forward, elbows on knees, head bent. "I've been a complete idiot, haven't I?"
"Not a complete one." Brennan responded briskly, but there was just enough humor in her voice to let Booth relax slightly into a smile. Her hand snaked out and rested lightly on his thigh, seeking to comfort him. She felt the muscles under her fingers tense and then relax until after a moment his larger hand covered hers.
"Thanks, Bones." There was silence between them again for a few moments, but this time it was comfortable and familiar. "I don't know why I even said I'd go to that dinner, let alone ask you to come with me so Brad could meet you. It seemed a perfectly reasonable idea at 3am in morning after a night a hard drinking."
"I imagine the mimetic rivalry that channeled your interpersonal aggression and drove you to succeed as an adolescent was revived when you were briefly reunited with your friend."
Booth was baffled. "Magnetic rivalry? What's that?"
"Mimetic rivalry. In this sense it means that you consciously or unconsciously were imitating each other to gain a position of power within the dynamics of your social group. Rene Girard developed a theory in the late 1950s that the concept of mimetic rivalry is one of the bases of anthropological philosophy. He states that even your Bible supports the theory of mimetic rivalry, mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism."
"Yeah? The Bible?" He didn't sound convinced.
"Of course, today there is independent support for this theory coming from empirical research in neuroscience." She sniffed, her tone now colored with disdain. "And psychology, if such a thing as empirical research can be said to exist in that field."
"Did I tell you that you look amazing tonight, Bones?"
A small smile played around Brennan's lips as she remembered his expression when he first walked into her apartment. "Although the evening is not going to end as you might have hoped, I believe that you have been very appreciative of the efforts I made to look nice."
"Well, you do. Look nice I mean." His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "That dress makes you look all sweet and innocent but at the same time makes me want to -" He pulled himself up abruptly, suddenly realizing where he was going with that, and simultaneously registering what she had said. "Wait - why did you think I asked you to come with me tonight?"
"I – I wasn't sure. Angela said you wanted to have intercourse with me. She said -"
"What?" Booth shot her a startled look before his expression became guarded once again. "Forget what Angela said. What did you think?"
Brennan just shrugged. "You wanted me to come. It was important to you. It didn't really matter why."
"So you said yes, just like that?"
"Of course. You're my partner, Booth. I trust you."
Booth leaned in close, his forehead brushing hers, his breath fanning her face.
"Oh Bones, that dress isn't half as amazing as you are."
"It's what partners do." Brennan said simply.
"Yes, Bones, it's what partners do."