Spoilers: Through Santa in the Slush.
A/N: Thanks to alderaan_ for the prompt. :)
Click here for fic index.
Click for other parts.
Sometimes I see myself fine, sometimes I need a witness - Dar Williams
On Fridays after 5:00 PM, the Jeffersonian tends to empty, the majority of its denizens fleeing its polished hallways and gleaming equipment in search of home and family or the “Glug, glug, woohoo” Angela often insists she needs to partake of more often. But Brennan prefers to remain at the lab long after her colleagues depart. She likes the ensuing calm; it allows her to deal with some of the minutia of her job that builds up during the week.
This Friday evening she sits at her desk deleting emails from her inbox. With a sigh, she raises to her lips a mug of Lady Grey she just brewed in the break room, and savors the slight tang of citrus and the soothing warmth of the two teaspoons of cream she’d permitted herself. Even she requires the occasional indulgence, she reasons.
Her Blackberry rings, cutting through the fragile quiet. Frowning, she gently sets the mug back down. The number flashing on the screen is all too familiar, and despite her displeasure at the interruption she cannot repress the smile that touches her mouth. “Hello, Booth,” she says.
“Hey, Bones,” Booth responds, his voice cheerful. “What are you doing?”
“Working,” she replies, leaning back in her chair and closing her eyes so she can better absorb the familiar cadences of his voice.
“Come on,” he says, groaning, and she pictures him rolling his eyes at her matter-of-fact response. “Have you looked at a clock?”
“Yes, I have”--she glances at the corner of her computer monitor--“it’s 5:45.”
“Exactly. And that means it’s 45 minutes past quitting time, Bones. It’s Friday; live a little. Meet us at the diner. Now.”
The “us” snares her interest. “Who is ‘us,’ Booth?”
“Me and Parker. Rebecca just dropped him off. She and Capt--I mean she and Brent--are going to Virginia. It’s just a Booth men’s weekend--after you come have dinner with us.”
The awareness surfaces that Booth didn’t invite her to join them--he demanded that she do so. But she finds herself incapable of summoning up even the tiniest bit of righteous indignation, so rather than putting up token resistance, Brennan relents. “Fine. I’ll leave in a few minutes.”
“Good. See you soon, Bones.”
After the call ends, Brennan puts down her Blackberry and reaches for her tea. She curves both hands around the FBI mug Booth left in her office one day (she never returned it), letting the warmth seep into her palms. She sits without taking another sip and thinks about fathers and their children--until a look at her watch confirms that twenty minutes have passed.
A fusion of food aromas washes over Brennan as she steps into the diner. Despite not eating beef anymore, she recognizes the smell of a burger fresh from the grill. Overlaying that is a tangy, lemony note--a vinaigrette on someone’s salad, perhaps, and the smell makes her mouth water. Utensils clink against plates and bowls, the sounds melding with voices raised in laughter and conversation. The symphony of smells and sounds should bother her after the comparative quiet of her office; it doesn’t.
Not more than a minute passes before she spots Booth and Parker. She makes her way toward their table, unbuttoning her coat as she carefully steps past other families and other couples having dinner.
Booth and Parker look up as she stops at their table, and she notices, not for the first time, how similar their brown eyes are.
Booth smiles. “Hey.”
The simple, informal greeting warms her as well as her tea did a short while ago.
“Hi, Bones,” Parker says, and she knows that asking him not to call her that will prove as futile an exercise as asking the same of his father turned out to be. Parker has called her that since Christmas; the damage is likely irreversible.
“Hello,” she replies, removing her scarf and coat before settling into the seat across from her companions.
A remnant of what looks like a chicken nugget litters Parker’s small plate. On a separate dish sit several fries.
Parker pushes the plate in her direction. “These are for you.”
“Thank you,” she says, flashing a quick glance in Booth’s direction, “but don’t you want them?”
“Nope. I already had some. And Daddy said you like to steal his fries. He said sharing is good.”
“Oh, he did, did he?” she asks, raising an eyebrow at her partner.
Booth merely shrugs, his face smoothed into innocent lines that fool her not at all.
“Uh huh,” says Parker, an orange crayon clutched in his right hand.
“All right then. Thanks, Parker,” she replies, grasping one fry. The crisp texture makes her smile as she slowly chews it. She licks the salt from her lips and catches Booth watching her, his eyes warm with what she knows is affection. “You’ve eaten already, too?” she asks, gesturing at Booth’s clean plate with another fry.
“Yup. You took so long to get here.”
She ignores his jibe. “Let me hazard a guess--a burger?”
“Wrong,” he says, grinning. “Try chocolate chip waffles.”
“Branching out?” she says, smiling back.
“It’s Friday,” he says, shrugging, “gotta live a little, Bones.”
The waitress materializes at their table then, a large plate in her hands. “Here you go, hon,” she says, and places the plate in front of Brennan.
Taken aback by the appearance of what seem to be Belgian waffles with ice cream, Brennan frowns and looks at the waitress’ nametag. “Excuse me, Lacey. I didn’t order this.”
“I ordered it for you,” Booth says. “Just try a piece. If you don’t like it, order something else.”
She glances across the table to see that Parker has looked up from his coloring and is staring wide-eyed at the waffles. “Wow,” he says.
Without knowing why, Brennan decides to keep the waffles. “All right. Leave it.”
“You won’t be sorry,” Lacey says, flashing her a dazzling smile. To Brennan’s relief, she doesn’t address her as “hon” this time. That level of familiarity from strangers still disturbs her.
“I hope not,” Brennan replies, glancing at Booth, who looks back at her with a twinkle in his brown eyes.
Lacey departs, leaving her with the waffles. Parker is still staring at them. “Would you like some?”
“Can I, Dad?” Parker asks.
“If it’s ok with Bones.”
“As your father said, sharing is good,” she says, directing her response to Parker. Without looking at Booth, she knows he is smiling. That knowledge settles comfortably within her as she cuts into the waffles and transfers a piece of them, along with a healthy helping of ice cream, onto Parker’s plate.
“Cool!” Parker says as she slides the plate back toward him.
Despite the distinct rumbling of her stomach, Brennan props her hand on her chin and watches as Parker lifts his fork.
“What do you say, Parker?” Booth says, his voice firm but kind.
The paternal admonishment amuses Brennan, but she attempts to keep it from showing on her face.
Parker looks up from his plate. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now”--she picks up her own fork--”let’s eat.”
The waffle is warm and crunchy, and the vanilla ice cream serves as a cool, sweet counterpoint. Though she would never admit it, the dish is precisely what she hadn’t realized she wanted.
“Pretty good, huh?” Booth asks. He raises his eyebrows in challenge.
“It’s all right,” she replies, cutting off another piece of waffle.
Booth silently watches her and Parker eat, a small smile playing about his mouth.
“What?” she finally asks.
“Nothing, Bones,” he says, ruffling Parker’s hair.
Once they’ve finished eating, Brennan pushes her plate away and wipes her mouth with her napkin. Parker returns to his coloring, his bottom lip caught between his teeth.
“What are you coloring?” she asks, intrigued by his apparent concentration. He looks up from his task, an intent expression on his face, and she is reminded of his father.
“A cow.” He slides the paper toward her.
She looks at the page and notices that Parker has filled in some of the cow’s spots with green crayon. “That’s very... interesting,” she says, nodding thoughtfully. In the interests of accuracy, part of her wants to inform him that a cow’s spots are more black than green, but she has been partners with Booth long enough to know that he wants to encourage Parker’s creativity.
“Do you wanna do the other spots?”
The question takes Brennan by surprise, but she doesn’t hesitate for more than a second. “Sure.”
“What color do you want?” Parker asks.
Glancing at the rainbow of crayons spread across the diner table, she takes her time making a decision. She can feel Booth’s gaze on her, but she doesn’t look up. “I want... purple,” she finally says. This tiny act of rebellion gives her an inexplicable thrill.
Parker hands her the purple crayon. She takes it from him and bends to fill in one of the blank spots on the cow. The crayon feels waxy and strange in her hand--but not wholly unfamiliar. Holding it, she doesn’t have a sudden flash of memory of being a child herself. But she does feel something that catches her off-guard--a lingering sense of nostalgia and contentment.
“Purple, Bones?” Booth asks.
She shifts her attention from the page to Booth. “I have to live a little, right?”
The expression that moves over Booth’s face is completely out of proportion to her answer, but she smiles back anyway. His gaze is warm with approval and friendship, as is his son’s.
Though nothing has changed--she still has no desire to reproduce--somehow everything has. Because as Brennan looks back at the two Booth men sitting across from her, she realizes she is glad she abandoned her office for their company. Just this once.
To be continued...