Arabian Nights

Chapter 7: A Soldier's Tale: Part 2

Booth walked faster, hoping Sweets would take the hint. He should have known better.

"Booth! Booth! Agent Booth! Wait up!" Finally, seeing that people were noticing them Booth slowed, and tried a new tactic. He swung around and stepped into Sweets, causing the younger man to have to stop suddenly and sway awkwardly in place.

Sweets seemed not to notice the aggressive move but leaned in a little, speaking in a low voice.

"Booth, I would like to talk to you about what happened on Friday."

"No". Fuck gossip. Booth swung around and stalked off again.

"Boo-"

"No."

"But-"

"No."

"But you-"

Booth shot back over his shoulder. "I'm not talking about this. Not now, not ever." They were at Booth's office door. Again, Booth swung around and again, Sweets only just managed to stop without crashing into him.

Booth put a hand on Sweets' chest. "You can't come in. I'm busy. And," he let his face show the anger he was feeling but none of the fear as he said, one more time, slower, "I am not talking about this Sweets."

Sweets, for his part, didn't seem surprised, but from the look on his face, he was determined. Booth knew it was a good heart driving the other man so he didn't turn away yet, just stood there, immovable. Sweets reached out and put his hand on Booth's shoulder. To his credit, he removed it right away, but still, he touched him.

Hands on hips, pushing back his suit coat, Sweets insisted. "You need to talk about this. You have to." Booth opened his mouth. "To someone, at least, it doesn't have to be me," Sweets added quickly.

Booth thought about this and finally, giving up more on the subject than he had in a long time, said, "I talk to Bones."

Sweets seemed surprised and repeated, "You talk to Dr. Brennan about this? About your...experiences...in the army? The bad ones?"

Booth nodded once, but Sweets waited. Booth took a deep breath and felt his shoulders relax. He let Sweets see that he saw the irony in this. "How do you think she knew what to do?"

Sweets thought about that a minute, pursing his lips and nodding. "Okay." And again. Okay."

Things only started going right when Teddy Parker joined his squad. Looking back on it now, Booth was just as much of a kid then as he believed Parker to be. That said, he was never like Parker, never that innocent or good or some shit like that. He had seen too much, been through too much. Booth wasn't stupid, unkind, or unselfaware—Sweet's opinion to the contrary—and he knew that he was not responsible for the beatings his father gave his mother, or him, or Jared. He was a kid. It wasn't, ultimately, his job to save Jared. But he knew that with his head, not his heart.

More to the point, Booth also knew that the times when he got some licks in on his old man, once he started fighting back, he had enjoyed the anger, revelled in it. A truly good person wouldn't. He didn't mind, really. He got to be a person who would do the things that others wouldn't; he got to protect people who needed it. Probably truly good people wouldn't want to do what he did as a sniper, as a soldier, even as an F.B.I. agent sometimes.

Booth was a sergeant long enough to learn how groups worked. Other than being captain of the football time, his time in the army was really his first experience leading. It was one he never forgot, one that he based everything that came later on. Until Bones. She was a game changer, or at least a Booth changer. But that wasn't this story. This story was about how he learned how groups work. How some islands had a professor and a rich guy, a captain and a joker, a beauty and a farmer and a wife. Some islands didn't have a professor, but had a hero instead, or a warrior, or a truthteller.

There were a lot of roles to be played in a group. But one thing that almost always happened is that there was one person who made the group better and there was always one person who made it worse. One person whose absence, when they were sick, meant that the group couldn't get as much done and didn't do it as efficiently. And, one person who, when absent, meant that everyone was more successful at accomplishing the day's goals. It was pretty easy to pick out these people. They were usually leaders, even if they used their ability to motivate people differently.

What no one told Booth before he started teaching groups of young men, leading groups, was that often there was a second set of these people, and they were harder to pick out. A person whose absence you never would have suspected would make such a difference, positively or negatively. Probably because they weren't really leaders, they were...influencers, often without conscious thought or planning. Teddy Parker was like that. He just...got along.

Booth had been around guys his whole life. Knew how to be part of an all male team, had been raised by his grandfather, his Dad, and had in turn, helped to raise Jared. When to joke around, when to stand up for himself or someone else, how to size up and then cut an enemy off at the knees either verbally or physically. These were all routine in the world of the locker room, the barracks, the squad room, probably even many boardrooms still. People like Parker, though, they just existed outside of that structure.

Parker had a picture of Claire pinned to the wall by his bunk. He wasn't gay, so didn't piss off any of the homophobic pricks that are in every unit. He wasn't big, but he was wiry and strong, skilled with his hands and funny, not too smart and not too dumb. He got along. Liked Burger nights. With a smile, shared in the mockery of all the rest of the food the army served. Hated the weather, the officers, the duties. But with a smile on his face. He'd shrug and make a joke. Pitch in. Play whatever position was needed in the pick-up ball game at the end of the day. Parker was easy to like, and he seemed to like everyone.

But he loved Seeley Booth. Called him Sarge, as they all did. Followed him around, wanted to go everywhere with him, but wasn't...clingy. And Booth, Booth, didn't know what to make of it. Hero worship? Was it a older brother/younger brother thing? Didn't feel like the same relationship he had with Jared. Booth had done things that he would be ashamed to tell Parker even as he knew that it wouldn't make any difference. Parker would understand.

The kid was going to get himself fucking killed the first week out in the field, Booth thought. But instead, he was like a lucky charm. In the nine months before Parker died, the unit was successful in almost every mission, everything they attempted together. From reconnaissance to the interunit softball league.

When Teddy Parker died, having taken a bullet that would never have fucking hit him if he had stayed the fuck down like Booth had ordered him, Booth felt that he should have seen it coming, that life wasn't meant to hold so much good. He never again had a streak of good luck that he didn't anticipate the end of. He never again lived entirely free of the conviction that if he was too happy, he would pay.

Booth figured that Bones would have stayed with him tonight even without a story which perversely, made him determined to tell it. He didn't want her pity. He had talked to her, over the years, about his experiences in the army-some good, some bad. He had even told her, a long time ago, in a bar not far from the cemetery where he gave Claire Teddy's last message, about the mission that ended Parker's life. But he had never told her much about Teddy Parker himself.

They hadn't gone out tonight after all. Bones left him sleeping in their bed while she drove back to the lab to pick up Christine and gather the rest of her things. He woke up from the kind of dreamless, heavy sleep that rolled over him after any kind of emotional storm; the flashbacks were the worst. As always though, after the storm, things seemed better, and Booth got dressed again, pulled some lasagne out of the freezer. Made a salad. Had a game on TV playing in the background. He could almost believe that the past week and a half had not happened and that he was making dinner for his girls, waiting for them to come home from the park or the grocery store or Aunt Angela and Uncle Jack's house.

That feeling only grew when Brennan and Christine did get home. Christine was finally feeling better and she gave him a big grin and lunged into his arms. He hugged her gratefully and swung her around. They had dinner together and afterwards, Booth stretched out on the area rug in the living room with Christine and a pile of books and blocks. Bones read on the couch. She had changed her clothes too and had curled up under a throw with a glass of wine, looking up and talking to Christine and him occasionally. The domesticity of it all, the conversation that wasn't a conversation, was soothing. Booth felt his throat get tight and his eyes pricked. He swallowed hard, looking up at Brennan, her hair falling over her beautiful face where she read.

Christine shrieked to get his attention. When he pulled her over onto his chest, kissing her neck to make her laugh, her good humor returned but she nuzzled into his neck and started rubbing her eyes. Booth felt the same way, actually, dog tired, as if he had never napped at all. When he looked over, Bones was standing and reaching for her daughter.

"You'll close up?" She asked him, part of the routine, even though he closed up every night. Even if she turned off all the lights and locked the doors and windows, joining him upstairs on a night when he put Christine to bed, he still went back down to double check. Couldn't sleep without checking.

"Yeah. You want more wine? I'm having a glass of scotch." She paused on the stairs, Christine on her hip.

"Yes, that would be good."

He closed up, poured their drinks, shut off all the lights except the one over the stove. He couldn't imagine that she wouldn't stay with him tonight, but if she decided to come back down, he didn't want it to be totally dark.

They sat in the comfortable chairs by their big bedroom window while they drank. Bones told him a little about the project that she and Arastoo had set up and were bringing Wendell in on. When she fell silent, Booth didn't rush to fill it. He could feel the booze starting to dull the edges a little. Not enough, yet, but a start.

He was leaning forward, glass dangling and rocking lightly from where he held it along its upper circumference, and said, smiling slightly. "I thought of a story for you, Bones."

"Oh? Tell me." She demanded, an answering smile playing on her own lips.

"My unit was sent to South Korea for joint exercises with a brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division and a South Korean army unit. A bunch of us got two-day passes after the exercises were over before we had to go back. We took a train from Seoul to the port city of Incheon." Even though this wasn't the story he was getting ready to tell-or maybe because it wasn't-he drew his narrative out with detail.

"We went drinking, of course. Everyone got pretty wasted." He flicked a glance at her from under her brows, a little uncomfortable with the memory of a bunch of drunk, horny soldiers on leave. "Some of the guys, uh, went looking for...female company. I wasn't in charge, who the hell was I to stop them, but I didn't go with them. The kind of company you buy never had a lot of appeal for me." Another glance at her, but Bones was calm, interested and non-judgmental as usual. "I ordered another beer and was watching the crowd. A lot of soldiers, but not all American. I was just thinking of finding a place to crash when a couple of big guys joined me. Flanked me, really, pulled up stools on either side, sat real close. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was a set up, that I was going to have to fight my way out of there. But they turned out to be Russians-didn't require a lot of personal space. They were sailors, basically merchant marines on two days of shore leave before their ship sailed again for Sakhalin.

"I'm not sure why they approached me but they seemed interested in Americans. Asked me if I was a soldier, about the different kinds of soldiers in the U.S. army. When they found out I was a sharpshooter, they took me back to their table—they had three buddies—and started buying me drinks." He paused and grinned at her. "Damn, could they drink. I was so drunk I couldn't see straight. And they never seemed all that drunk but musta had a bottle of vodka each. They didn't speak much English and I didn't speak any Russian, but we managed to talk about hockey and women. We taught each other some profanity. I ended up crashing at their hotel." Now he smiled at her fully, enjoying the memory. "There were some good times, meeting new people, seeing new places. It wasn't all bad."

"Why do I think that isn't the story you wanted to tell me, Booth?"

Booth downed the last of his scotch in one swallow, rose and took her hand to pull her up. "Because you're a genius, Bones. C'mon, let's get ready for bed."

And it was then, in the dark, cocooned safe in their shared space, with her pulled right up against him, as close as he could get to her, her legs tangled with his but her head pulled back enough that she could see his bare outlines, if not the details of his face, that he told her about Teddy Parker, about what he had meant to the unit, to him. Her hand, warm and reassuring, slipped up his chest to rest against his jaw, to stroke the back of his head gently as he spoke.

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