Chapter Two

Brennan was pretty damn excited.

Booth had returned from his vacation five days ago, and she had still yet to hear from her partner. Instead, she sat in the empty, rather drab office of his boss, FBI Deputy Director Cullen, waiting for the upper Agent to meet with her. Add those two things together, and she came up with a solution that basically guaranteed her a gun.

Despite Booth's warnings that Cullen didn't like her and wouldn't approve her concealed weapon petition, she had submitted the paperwork anyway. After all, Booth's decision was based solely on his emotions, not fact… just like her partner did everything else. Yes, she had shot someone in the leg, but there were extenuating circumstances, and she felt as though her actions during their first official case together as partners had been justified if not even honorable. Booth just possessed an ingrained, inherent chauvinistic gene… which led to his alpha male behavior towards her and all other women. Despite the fact that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, he felt the need to protect her anyway. Though she found the urge annoying, she also understood its origins and just how deeply it was rooted into her partner's psyche.

However, Deputy Director Cullen was a different matter. He had absolutely no emotional investment in her or her safety. To him, she was a tool - a pawn, so to speak - in the war he waged against crime, and she knew that he would do everything within his power to make sure that she was as capable as she could possibly be when it came to doing her job. If that meant granting her permission to carry a gun, despite Booth's biased protests, then that's exactly what the older man would do, and Booth knew it, too.

That's why he had yet to get in contact with her since returning to D.C.. He was aware of his boss' impending decision, disagreed with it, and was off, pouting somewhere, no doubt brainstorming up ways to keep her from actually using her weapon once she was indeed allowed to carry it. He'd probably attempt to keep her securely tucked away in the lab more, he'd try – and fail miserably – to go back on his word and refuse her access to the actual crime scenes and his duties in the field, and he might even go so far as to talk to Angela behind her back, intent upon using her best friend's concern for her safety and well-being against her.

Well, she was ready for him and anything that he had to offer as an offensive. While she wouldn't purposely evoke him, she would have her defenses set, and Brennan knew that, if nothing else, she could be even more stubborn and willful than Booth when she put her mind to it. Besides, after not seeing him for fifteen days – half a month – she was almost looking forward to their first argument. There was something so very stimulating about one of their 'you're just a squint, and I'm an uncompromising federal agent' disputes. Granted, her superior intellect made it so that she always won, but that didn't mean she didn't enjoy the battle just the same.

The only thing that was slightly alarming was the fact that she had referred to herself as a squint. Even if it was only said silently in a derisive manner inside of her own mind, Brennan could see little difference at the moment. However, if nothing else could showcase just how effective her partnership was with Booth, her little subconscious slip up could, for she was beginning to emulate his habits. Their vocabularies were blending, their ideals twisting together, their thought processes becoming one. Soon, if she wasn't careful, she'd be wearing garish accessories, constantly squeezing a stress ball, and eating pie.

She hated pie.

"Doctor Brennan," Deputy Director Cullen greeted her as he stepped into his office and immediately sank down into his leather desk chair. They didn't shake hands, he never offered her anything to drink, and he certainly didn't open up their discussion with small talk. She appreciated such gestures of professionalism on his behalf. Obviously, he understood her time was extremely valuable. So, she smiled slightly in return, saying nothing, thankful that his abrupt entrance provided the perfect distraction from her former, digressing, most perplexing of thoughts.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I asked you to meet with me today."

"Actually, no," Brennan interjected, feeling and knowing that she sounded slightly smug. Reclining back further into her own chair, she crossed her legs before continuing. "I think your reasons were quite apparent."

He nodded, leaning back and sighing. "Well, they don't call you a genius for nothing."

"No, sir."

"I'm going to have to do some reshuffling, but, before the week's out, I should be able to tell you who your new partner is. Ideally, you would have continued to work with Agent Booth. The two of you seemed to have been building a fairly decent partnership, your arrest rate was superb, and, somehow, don't ask me, he seemed capable of keeping you and your fellow squints under control."

"Hey," Brennan protested, her crossed leg slamming to the floor to rest beside her fixed foot. This was not how their conversation was supposed to be progressing. He wasn't supposed to be talking down to her, Booth wasn't supposed to stop being her partner, and why the hell hadn't he mentioned her concealed weapon application yet?

However, Cullen simply ignored her loud protest and carried on. "Frankly, at this point, your work, along with the work of your colleagues at the Jeffersonian, is simply too valuable to this agency for us to terminate your contract. The same allowances will be made, of course. You'll be permitted access to the crime scene, and you'll attend any and every questioning you wish to be a part of."

Weakly, she protested, "but what about my gun?"

"Excuse me?"

"I thought you asked to meet with me to discuss my application to carry a concealed weapon."

"Oh, I thought Booth already told you that was denied," the deputy director remarked offhandedly, waving away her concerns, dismissing them. "I can't have you carrying around a gun. You shot a man in the leg."

"A man who was a murderer," Brennan objected. Frankly, she felt as though she had taken part in the same argument a dozen times already. When was somebody actually going to listen to her?

"Even murders have rights, Doctor."

She knew it was undignified, she knew it was childish, but she did it anyway; she snorted in contempt. "Says the man who employees me to put them away."

"Yes, exactly," Cullen responded calmly. "Not kill them."

She rolled her eyes. "He wasn't going to die. I had that crazy stalker staunch the blood flow. Besides," she added in one last, desperate effort, "if I wouldn't have shot him, he would have killed me… not to mentioned destroyed the evidence you and the District Attorney's office needed to get a conviction."

"I'm sorry," the senior agent replied, standing up, "but my answer is still no."

Brennan stood as well, glaring at the man who was, technically, her boss. "So, let me get this straight? Not only are you refusing to allow me to carry a gun… for my own safety, but you're also, for no reason might I add, making me work with somebody new, somebody other than Booth?"

"What do you mean for no reason? Booth quit. This wasn't my doing, Doctor Brennan. I never wanted to change anything. As far as I was concerned, your involvement with this agency was going as smoothly as possible, all things considered. No, your reassignment to a different agent rests on the shoulders of one person and one person only: your former partner, so, if you insist upon being mad at someone, take it up with Booth... if you can actually manage to get in touch with him. Now, if you'll excuse me," he offered, once more starting to move towards his office door, "I have an agency to run."

"No," she declared vehemently, crossing her arms stubbornly over her chest. "I won't do it."

"You won't do what – yell at Booth, or you won't…?"

"I won't work with anyone else," Brennan stated.

"If that is what you want, we'll release you from your contract and hire another forensic anthropologist, Doctor Brennan."

"But I'm the best."

"I'm well aware of that, but, again, I'm not firing the best forensic anthropologist in the country; you're quitting."

"I won't quit if you get Booth to come back," she bargained, hoping Cullen would be swayed by her threat to leave the Bureau to try harder to keep her partner from retiring, from resigning, from running away.

"I've done everything within my power to change his mind. He's not budging," the Deputy Director told her simply. "You're welcome to try, but all I have to say is good luck." Opening his office door, he paused to look back upon her. "If you change your mind, I'll have your new partner ready for you by Friday; if not, it was… productive working with you, Doctor Brennan."

With that, the senior agent left her alone, and Brennan collapsed back into the chair she had been sitting confidently in just minutes before. Half an hour earlier, she had entered the Hoover building, believing she would be leaving with a license to carry a concealed weapon, but, now, not only was she a gun permit short, but she was also an agent shy of a complete partnership.

Harrumphing noisily, Brennan pouted. So much for her excitement! Now, she was just pissed.

^ ! ^

Never before had he ever been so relaxed and casual during a job interview. Not even in high school had Booth shown such little regard for proper etiquette when it came to applying for work. At a young age, he had been taught to respect authority, not flaunt it, so, when he went to meet with future employers, he always wore his best. His shirts would be buttoned to the very top, his shoes polished, and his hair combed back and arranged so specifically, it wouldn't move for days afterward. But now? Now, he sat leaned back in a comfortable wicker chair, his loose, light-weight cotton button up shirt partially open to revealed his tanned chest, one sandaled foot propped up on the opposite knee.

"So, Agent Booth…"

"Please," he interrupted the older man sitting across from him, flashing what he knew to be a warm, convincing grin. "It's just Booth… or even Seeley. I'm not an agent anymore."

"Indeed, and may I be so candid as to ask why you quit your job with the United States government? From your credentials here, you had quite the impressive record. You were on your way to one day running the FBI."

Shrugging his shoulders in what was supposed to be a carefree, unconcerned gesture, he replied, "I needed a change in pace, in scenery. Flew down here a couple of weeks ago for vacation and woke up on my last day, realizing I didn't want to go back."

The older man smiled sympathetically. "No one wants to return home from paradise, Mr. Booth, but they do anyway."

"But why," he found himself questioning, leaning forward in his conviction. "If you're unhappy, if you needed a vacation so badly that, when it came time to leave, you just couldn't bring yourself to do so, then why not change your life, make it better?" Relaxing somewhat, he simply stated, "that's all I want to do."

"And you think hiding here from your old life will make you happy?"

"I'm not hiding," Booth argued. "Trust me, there's no hiding from the things I've seen – and done – over the years. It'll haunt me for the rest of my life, but that doesn't mean that I have to see – or do – anything else that will cause me nightmares." Realizing that he needed to switch tactics, that his case still wasn't registering for his interviewer, he confessed, "I'm a father, you know. I have a little boy - Parker. He's four. I live in the same town that he does, mere miles away, and do you know that weeks go by sometimes when I don't see him. Whether it's because my case load is too heavy or because his mom and I are scared that my work is going to someday touch him, put him at risk, it doesn't matter. Neither is a good enough reason to be an absentee father."

"So, your solution is to move thousands of miles away from your son?"

"No, my solution is make a life somewhere where it's safe for Parker, where it's safe for me, where we won't have to fear that I'll get killed out in the field or he'll be kidnapped by some psychotic mass murderer." Sighing, he admitted, "it's not perfect, I realize that, but this – me quitting the FBI, moving down here permanently, and getting this job - it's a start. It's a damn good start, and what an amazing experience it'll be for my little boy. To live in his country's capital part time, and then spend the rest of his days experiencing a whole different lifestyle, a whole different culture here with me - summers and holidays in paradise? Personally, I think I would be remiss as a father to turn such an opportunity… for the both of us… down."

"Are you sure you're a cop, Mr. Booth, and not a lawyer," the man across from him asked rhetorically, the corners of his mouth quirking up in amusement. "Fine, fine," he agreed, waving off any response Booth might have been forming. "You got the job, not that there was any doubt in either of our minds that I would eventually hire you. When I put that notice out, I thought it'd take me a year to find a suitable replacement, and I never dreamed I'd land myself a former Army Ranger turned Special Agent for the FBI. I would imagine our crime rate will practically disappear overnight when word spreads about you, and, given the speed of gossip in Alligator Pond, that means you'll no doubt be able to take a long lunch every day."

Booth grinned widely. "That'll work for me. My mouth's been watering to try some of your famous curried goat and red stripe beer since I set foot in town an hour ago."

"Come on," his predecessor invited, already moving towards the door himself. "I'll buy the first round, but, remember, after today, you're the law around here – police, judge, and jury, so let's get you soused while we still can."

They were both still chuckling when they left the tiny, little whitewashed office.