Jared opened the door, surprised to see his brother. "Thought you were spending Christmas in New York this year, Seel."
The two brothers easily stepped into a 'manly' hug. Seeley laughingly patted the back of Jared's head. "What? I'm not welcome at home anymore?"
As he crossed the threshold, the warmth and familiarity of his old home accosted his senses. The raucous laughter of his aunts echoing through the halls and the spicy scent of his mom's pumpkin cake wafting in from the kitchen---these were the things that made him feel instantly like he had transcended time and space to return to purer and simpler times.
His heart had directed him home, just as it had taken him to the VA earlier that day. Booth knew that this was what the holiday was truly about: family and goodwill---not Rockefeller Center or gourmet meals.
After making the requisite rounds and greeting all the members of his extended family, Booth settled down at his grandmother's side on the couch. His eyes watched her time-worn hands clutch the paring knife and glide smoothly over the potatoes as she peeled them. With a wistful sigh he moved in to kiss her on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Grandma."
Elizabeth Booth momentarily averted her gaze from the task at hand, and she smiled at her favorite grandson. "Where's my little Parker?"
"He's with his mom. I had him last night and this morning." The pain of being a part-time father was apparent in his expression.
She nodded knowingly and continued to make quick work of the vegetables in her lap. "You should be married, Seeley."
"Grandma, you know that things didn't work out with Parker's mother."
Her blue eyes challenged him with a piercing glance. "I'm not senile yet. I know that. But it doesn't mean I can't keep praying for your happiness."
"Thank you, grandma. I need all the prayers I can get." He spoke with an honest heart. It was no use trying to hide anything from his grandmother. Her prayers and words of support were what got him through his years as a sniper. And it was she that had helped him get on the path toward recovery from his gambling addiction. She understood his heart like no one else in his family.
"Why are you so sad?" Her gaze refocused on her task.
"I just broke up with the woman I was seeing."
She paused to take an appraising look at him. "No, that's not it. It's something else…..Someone else."
Seeley laughed a little to himself, marveling at her intuitiveness. "I have a friend. But she's definitely not the marrying kind, so don't get your hopes up."
Elizabeth grinned to herself, knowing she'd once again hit the nail on the head. "Your grandfather and I were friends for two years before we started dating. That's what got us through the hard times in our marriage, that foundation of friendship. Fifty-three years we were married." She raised her hand and gestured with the knife to emphasize her point.
He raised a hand to his grandmother's shoulder. "I miss him too."
"I see so much of him in you. Maybe it's because you were named after him." Her eyes were smiling as she studied her grandson's features. "But it hurts a little less knowing that he lives on through you and your son. Sitting here with you, it's almost like he never left."
Tears glistened in each of their eyes as the tenderness of the moment awoke their hearts. "I'm glad I came home for Christmas."
"Next year bring your wife." She teased him with a knowing smile. "I don't have too many years left and I want to see you settled and happy. And you need to give that little boy some brothers and sisters."
"That's a tall order, Grandma. You just might have to put in some extra prayers for that one." He was blushing and grinning just like he had as an embarrassed teenager.
"It's not that hard, Seeley. Just choose a woman who you respect as a friend, someone you trust. And let Parker help. Children are an excellent judge of character."
"You've got that right." He thought back ruefully to the way his son had been less than enthused to meet Cam that morning.
"And if you have any doubts, bring her up here to meet me. I've got good instincts about people."
"That must be where I get it from."
She winked at him and smiled to herself. Grandmothers were always full of magic and secrets it seemed.
Whatever the case, Seeley was happy that he had come home to be with his family. He only wished Parker could have come with him. And Bones, … she had sounded so sad on the phone that morning. He closed his eyes and sent up a prayer for his friend on the other side of the world.
Tempe stood up and stretched her sore back and walked away from the rows of dead and rotting bodies. She headed back toward the tent for some cool water and something to eat.
Amid the despair of a dying and suffering people, she spied a group of small children running and playing together. They were most likely orphans, and from the looks of it they were severely malnourished. But the smiles on their faces caused her to marvel at their resilience. Despite the horrifying experience of this place, they still had moments of joy and fun.
She thought of the children back home in America who were probably playing with their new Christmas toys. She thought of Parker.
Booth was right. The purity and innocence of these children filled her heart with a strange sense of optimism and hope. Seeing their excited smiles as they chased each other across the barren landscape made her forget about the dead bodies she'd been surrounded by moments before.
She pulled a meal bar out of her bag and opened a bottle of water. She sat down on a crate next to the tent and watched the children play.
A little girl, maybe four years old, quietly sat at her feet and looked up at her with big curious eyes. Her belly was distended and flies buzzed around her face, but her gaze did not waver from the anthropologist's.
Temperance pulled off her colorful beaded necklace and gently placed it around the little girl's neck. Her tiny fingers moved over the bright colors. Tempe smiled at the little girl.
Her Arabic was very limited, but she managed to ask the little girl's name. "Ma esmok?"
"Raja," came her shy response.
Tears immediately sprung in Tempe's eyes. "Raja" meant "hope."
After spending Christmas day in Darfur identifying bodies, Brennan returned to the tent exhausted both physically and emotionally. The staff of volunteers at the UN relief camp had prepared a special dinner of familiar holiday foods, but she was too spent to engage in the social gathering in the dining tent. Brennan decided to forgo nourishment and head directly to the communal sleeping quarters instead.
She did not bother to light the lamp. Nor did she have the energy to wash up at the hygiene station. Temperance Brennan collapsed on the stiff cot and thanked the solitude of the empty tent as she allowed tears to escape her eyes for the first time since arriving.
Temperance reached into her pocket and palmed the smooth black onyx stone. After giving the little girl her necklace, Raja had reached for Tempe's hand and placed in it this small gift. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever received.
All her preconceptions of gift-giving were thrown out the window. This gift was so pure, given out of love and the spirit of sharing one's heart. She felt like the little girl had given her part of herself.
Her mind floated to thoughts of another child across the ocean. She thought about why she had decided to give Parker a gift. She wasn't trying to exert dominance over him or relay a specific message to him or his father. It was a simple act of kindness. She just wanted to make him happy. It wasn't about her or how it made her feel. She just wanted him to feel loved.
And she really did love him. Children were remarkably easy to love.
And the truth was that she liked children. She really did. She just didn't want to have any of her own. She didn't want to be responsible for potentially hurting a child the way she had been hurt. Life could be so uncertain. There were so many variables, so much that was out of her control, she couldn't guarantee that her child would not suffer.
But now she sat here each day eating lunch, watching these orphaned starving children. And she realized that their lives should be miserable. They've lost everything. They have nothing. Yet they smile. They play. Their hearts are still filled with hope and love despite everything.
If these children could persevere and get past the pain of their pasts to enjoy their lives, then so could she. She could be as brave as little Raja. She could let her heart out of its box.
As she fell asleep, she knew that Raja had given her so much more than a simple stone. She had given her hope. Hope that she could be happy in a world filled with so much pain and uncertainty.
Two weeks later, Booth and Parker picked her up from the airport.
She was tanned and wearing her eco-warrior outfit of khakis and natural fibers. Parker thought she just returned from an exciting safari. He ran to her and wrapped his arms around her hips.
She squatted down to his level and hugged him tightly, closing her eyes and enjoying the feel of his small frame in her arms. He felt like family to her.
"I missed you."
She looked up at her partner with glassy-eyes, and responded to them both. "I missed you too."
She didn't need a book on body language to know that when someone hugs you like that it conveys affection. More than that, it conveys attachment and love.
And love is good.
This was started last holiday season, and I figured it deserved an ending before this Christmas rolled around again. Thanks for reading!