A/N: I've been away fron this particular fandom for a whilst… the muse was taking a holiday over at NYC… but I'm back, and in the nick of time, for my December entry for CBP's challenge. Enjoy!

Xxx XXX xxX

Seeley Booth stepped into the Jeffersonian Banquet Hall and was soon greeted by Christmasy music soflty playing in the background, a group of waiters gingerly going about their business and a bunch of self-concious scientists whose people skills left plenty to be desired.

His trained gaze bumped into Zach first. Or rather, on Dr. Zachary Udiah Addy. Booth still hadn't gotten used to the changes in the young man, from the in-your-face ones, like the haircut and the new clothes, to the more sublte ones, like the more self-assured demeanor that seemed to be emanating from the young genius. Even the female coworkers seemed to be noticing it, if the couple of blond cheery girls hanging to his every word were any indication of it. Zach noticed the FBI agent looking at him and raised his champagne flute in salutation.

Booth acknowledge the gesture with a brief nod and kept perusing the crowd. He couldn't say he was really surprised to see Cam comfortably nested in between the high-powered honchos on the Institute. She gave him a slight smile and then proceeded to ignore him as she kept power-netting. The rejection stung his ego in the basest of levels, as no man likes to be rejected, but he was also grateful to be out of that relationship in a seemingly simple manner. There had been no scenes, no high drama, no explanations demanded and then misunderstood. They were both better off that way.

He felt movement behind him and quickly swirled around, self-defensive mode now an ingrained habit. But his tense jaw soon softened in a big smile, once recognition reached his brain. "Dr. Goodman!", he exclaimed, whilst grasping the other man's hand. "So good to see you!" And he was truthful. The severe archeologist was sorely missed around Medico Legal. Cam wasn't a bad administrator, she was just too blunt to adequately deal with a bunch of squints. Goodman, on the other hand, being a squint of sorts himself, knew how to deal with them AND the real world in an efficient manner. Perhaps, too efficient, as had been proved by his promotion to a higher level, even if it was just on a temporary basis. Both men spent several minutes exchanging latest work news and social pleseantries before the scientist was called away by others. Booth came out of the encounter with a lighter mood and a better view of life. Not everything about his work was bad.

Perhaps it was the state of mind he had after such warm encounter. Perhaps it was that they really looked kinda cute together. Either way, Booth couldn't help but smile at the sight of Angela and Hodgkins snuggling on the sofa. The entomologist was wearing once again the reindeer antlers he had worn that fateful night 364 days ago. The artist was back to her elfish ways, from the tip of her pointy hat to the tip of her pointy slippers/boots. But unlike last year, instead of holding eggnogg cups, they were holding each other. Maybe even, cupping, each other, when they thought no one paid attention to them.

The former sniper felt a warm tug in his heart. He was happy for the squints. Really. He knew how hard it was to find love out there in the world today. Specially in the workplace. Booth knew that Angela had tried to downplay her feelings for her coworker, not thinking they had a chance, but almost loosing Jack had made her change her mind, fast.

The memory was bittersweet to him. As much as he felt happy for Jack and Angela, he, too, had been close to loosing Brennan. But unlike Jack and Angela, his unresolved issues with Temperance Brennan had not had an automatic happy ending. It had seem to ease a bit the tension that had been building around them since his liason with Cam had become public knowledge. Booth was certain that their little undercover foray in Vegas was a good starting point to get things back to what was "normal" between them, but Brennan had gone full strictly-professional mode once they got back.

To make matters worse, she had been kidnapped mere days afterward. Booth had hoped she'd have a change of heart, or mind, like Angela's, but if Brennan had reconsidered their "situation", she was yet to act on it. It hadn't help any that she had somehow gotten involved with a regual Cain-like killer, or that her own family issues were completely screwed with Russ running away with their father and leaving her behind, once again. This should have been the first happy Christmas Bones would have since her parents went missing... and here she was at square one all over again.

Booth hated the fact that she was alone at this time of the year. But she was such a stubborn woman! He had driven by her place earlier that day in hopes of talking her into coming to the party with him, but she wasn't there. Therefore, he had assumed that she was hidden in her office working once again. He had come up to the party just to make a perfunctory appearance and was heading down to lok for her as soon as he had made sure enough people would remember having seen him at the party... the morning after.

He began making his way towards the doors when he noticed the lonely shy figure trying to come in unnoticed. There might be a chance that he didn't recognize the person from this distance, and a slight chance at that, but the dress? He had bought that dress hoping that one day he'd have the chance to take it off her, or, at the very least, get the chance to bunch it up around her waist whilst they...

He shook off his teen fantasies to refocus on the really important issue there: Bones, HIS Bones had come to the party, and she'd come wearing HIS dress. That had to mean something. Or at least he hoped it meant something. Hoping for the best, he quickly approached her. As soon as he was close to her, he extended his hand as an invitation.

Brennan looked from his face to the offered hand and back to his face before accepting it. Then she gave him a small wavering smile. "It felt too quiet down there without all of you around". Booth could find a gazillion weak points in her statement, he could poke it for fun or shred it to pieces with logic, but he decided to keep quiet. This was a first for her, and damn him if he was going to make it harder than it already was.

Taking her gently by the elbow, and placing a hand on her lower back, Booth gently guided her towards the small buffet table. First he'll get her something to eat and drink. Then they'll socialize a bit and he'll drive her home afterwards. He didn't dare think beyond that. She had taken a small wobbly first step and he was willing to give her whatever it was she needed in order to give the second one.

Last year, their Christmas had been almost ruined by the remains in a fallout shelter. This year, he was more than willing to become her shelter. Because Seeley Booth knew that in saving her, he'd be saving himself. Even if it was just a step at a time.

Xxx XXX xxX