The Clandestine Affair

Summary: Booth and Brennan work together again since the first time they became reluctant partners and made out in front of a bar. Now, with the 2 of them brimming with sexual tension for one another, both realize that they might just have something good going on. They embark on a clandestine love affair, secret to the rest of the world. An AU start to the series. BB, of course.

A/N: Brennan is different here than she is in the series. I won't be changing her completely, giving her personality too many changes until she's not Brennan anymore. In fact, I think I'm gonna be channeling 'season 1 Brennan' in terms of how kick ass she was (remember her eco warrior look? Because she was fearless and kick ass in season 1). She's less clueless about the world, however, and this is for exactly 4 reasons:

- Rosalie Sinéad Brennan, or most commonly called 'Rose', Brennan's first born child. 13 years old at the start of this fanfic. Brennan had her and Wyatt with her rich foster brother, Wes, when she was only 15 years old. Brennan's foster parents were mortified and wanted her to abort the child but she wouldn't. After she and Wes actually ran away together to protect their babies, Wes' family decide that the best option would be to marry. Brennan didn't want this but she saw no other option - she was 15, homeless, pregnant and in the foster system. She agreed to marry Wes, but said that she felt that they should have a long engagement until both were out of high school. Wes' parents accepted that and no one was aware that Brennan had no inclination to marry Wes. When Brennan was 18 and graduated from high school, she took Rosalie and Wyatt and ran, leaving behind the engagement ring and a letter of explanation. She left a number Wes could call if he wanted. Wes' parents wanted to sue her for custody but Wes disagreed. He loved Brennan and knew that she would work her hardest to be the best mother she could to the twins. He offered Brennan a free lease to ask for financial support from the family if she wanted. Wes went to Harvard and Brennan went to Northwestern, effectively breaking up. Rosalie plans to be an anthropologist, just like her mother whom she idolizes, and is nicknamed 'Mini' by Booth because of the way she was exactly like a younger version of Brennan. She loves school and takes on several different extracurricular activities to add to her transcript for college - e.g., she writes for the school paper, even becoming the student editor by the time she was a junior, a part of the student council, a member of the girls basketball team, etc. - and went on to Yale to study anthropology.

- Wyatt Ephraim Brennan, Rose's twin brother. Also 13 at the start of this fanfic. Same initial family background as Rose. Wyatt is a genius who has photographic memory and the ability to piece together evidence quickly - he was really into puzzles when he was younger. He had previously wanted to be a forensic artist, like Angela, because of his talent in art but when he met Booth and observed the way law enforcement and forensics can work together, he changed career course and wishes to be an FBI agent specializing in homicide. He went on to Yale to study law enforcement and forensic science.

- Alexander Nikolas Ares-Brennan, or most commonly called 'Zan'. 4 at the start of this fanfic. Brennan had him when she was 24 years old, at a dig she went to in Greece. There she met fellow Greek guide, Christian Ares. Christian was so enamored by Brennan that he came to the States with her. They dated each other for two more years after that before breaking up. Christian stayed in DC because he wanted to be a part of his kids' lives. Zan's the most action-addicted of the four Brennan kids, always clamoring to play this game or that. He has a sort of addiction to video games, however, and Brennan often has to forcibly take them away from him to get him to stop playing.

- Demetrius Gabriel Ares-Brennan, or most commonly referred to as either 'Tri' or 'Demetri'. He's 3 at the start of this fanfic. He's Brennan's and Christian's second and last child, born only a year after his brother. Tri is very interested in animals, and is always begging Brennan to get more pets - he already has a pet chameleon and a pet hamster. He wants three dogs, two cats and a rabbit for Christmas.

Appearances:

Rosalie - she is incredibly beautiful, with dark golden caramel hair which has natural loose barrel curls, dark cobalt blue eyes, porcelain skin and perfect angular features. She's quite tall, reaching 5'9 by the time she's 17, and is in good shape thanks to being quite athletic (basketball, yoga and martial arts).

Wyatt - a handsome boy who takes after both his parents, Wyatt has Brennan's dark auburn hair, dark emerald eyes and chiseled features even at a young age. He's, like his sister, tall, reaching 6'3 by the time he's 17 and is very athletic, playing on his school's basketball and baseball teams. He's also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and karate, having taken lessons with Rosalie since he was six.

Zan - a beautiful little boy with messy inky black hair and light brown eyes, both of which he'd inherited from his father. He bears not much physical resemblance to Brennan, except for the shape of her lips and nose, and her crooked smile.

Demetri - like his brother, Tri has an exotic look about him thanks to their Greek father. He has dark hair, the same as Zan's, and chocolate brown eyes but the rest of him was Brennan - the same strong jaw, the same curve of the lips, the same nose, the same everything. He has tanner skin, like Zan, than Brennan however.

P.S. I'm sorry about giving Brennan so many kids, especially since she's only 28 at the start of season 1 and at the start of this story. I don't know what it is about maternal Brennan that I just like so much. Besides, I think that if Brennan had kids and have experienced unconditional love like most parents do towards their children, then she would be more open to being in a relationship with Booth, especially right from the start.

Well, without any delay, here's 'The Clandestine Affair':

A quick note: None of what happens in Part 1 of 'The Man in the Fallout Shelter' happened in the real episode. I planned on adding in bits and pieces of family life but there was just so much to be written. Understandable, considering how many kids Brennan has and the complicated changes I'd made to her past. I hope you'll enjoy Part 1, and Part 2 which will include the lockdown at the Jeffersonian, coming up next.

December 13, 2005

"So she's just…Not going to give you even Christmas weekend?" Brennan asked, angry at Rebecca for Booth.

Booth, sitting on the couch with her, bowl of popcorn and cranberries between them as they each strung together separate garlands, shook his head, a sad frown on his face. "No, she's not," he exhaled loudly. "She said that I'm getting him Christmas morning on Sunday, for half the day, so that should be enough for me."

Brennan shook her head, giving Booth a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry, Booth," she murmured. "I know you were really looking forward to spending time with him on the weekend."

Booth gave her a weak smile in return, not saying anything.

Things have Rebecca had been strained lately, even more so than usual. He knew the reason perfectly well - he had told Rebecca about Brennan's family life, with Brennan's permission, of course, the day he had brought Parker back to her place after finding out about it himself. Rebecca hadn't been very happy about it, mostly because Parker had raved about how much fun he'd had playing with Zan and Tri, and the dogs. He'd even mentioned the twins and how cool 'Bones' was.

He hadn't said anything to Brennan, knowing that she would be overly concerned about this. He loved his son, he really did, and nothing would ever get in the way of him spending time with Parker. Not if he could help it.

But he loved spending time with Brennan. He was starting to love her. He didn't want to give her up, either.

Rebecca making a big deal about his relationship with a mother of four just because their son enjoyed being in the company of other kids his age…It was ridiculous. And her even asking him to either break up with Brennan or ensure that Brennan and her kids not be a part of Parker's life was even more preposterous.

He had no idea what she was making such a big fuss about. If it had been her who had started a relationship with a man with his own kid, Booth wouldn't have been able to say a word about it. And if she asked that man to move in with her, creating a 'pseudo family unit' with Parker and said fictional child, he still wouldn't be able to object.

As it was, she was already in a steady relationship with a man whom Booth only referred to as 'Captain Fantastic' these days.

Brennan nodded in the children's living room play corner, where Zan, Tri and Parker were playing together, Shark Bait (Zan and Tri's Bichon Frise puppy), currently sleeping on the ottoman. "At least you have him now," she pointed out.

"Yeah, for the night," he replied bitterly, almost stabbing himself with the needle in his hand as he remembered Rebecca calling him in the middle of his work day to inform him that he would be picking Parker up and keeping him for the night since she had a late meeting she couldn't get out of. "I send him off to school tomorrow, and that's it. I won't be seeing him again until Christmas morning."

Suddenly not in a very Christmassy-garland mood, Booth put his half-finished garland aside on the table. He hunched forward, arms on his thighs and hands clasping together.

Brennan watched him silently, her fingers continuing the routine of putting two popcorns and one cranberries without her looking, before following suit, placing the bowl and her unfinished garland on the coffee table. She scooted closer to Booth, placing a hand on his arm.

He looked up to see the concern swimming around in her blue eyes. He wasn't sure if she knew, but the look in her eyes, he was certain, mirrored his own whenever he looked at her - affection, care, maybe-love-but-not-in-love-yet. He was already ready to admit that the feelings he had for her were far stronger, far more than anything he'd felt for anyone in a long time. He wasn't quite at the point where he could acknowledge what it was - at least, not out loud, even if it was just to himself - so he knew she wasn't there yet, either.

Whatever it was, their relationship was complicated enough. He didn't need to be all girly, bring up the 'where do we stand' conversation and send her running in the opposite direction.

Especially not during Christmas, when he was trying to make the best out of everything despite the sadness he felt at not having proper time with his family and at the fact that his time with Parker was so limited.

"I'm really sorry, Booth," Brennan said again, scooting closer still to him. Her arms slipped through his, wrapping around his muscled bicep. She leaned her head close to him, burying her nose in the crook of his neck, inhaling his masculine scent, and comforting him without even being aware of it. "I wish there's something I could do."

A sudden inspiration striking her, she pulled back to look at him, giving him that wide-eyed, excited look that she sometimes got right before chasing down a dangerous suspect without a care in the world. "We could call up a friend of mine," she suggested. "He's a lawyer in family court…He could help you get at least partial custody of Parker if you wanted…"

Booth gave her a smile that was decidedly less sadder than before. "Thanks, Bones," he murmured, leaning into her to brush a kiss upon her lips. "That's sweet of you to offer."

Brennan frowned. "But…" she trailed off, sensing that he wasn't going to take her up on her 'sweet offer'.

He shrugged, "I don't want to involve lawyers and court and scary things like that. Not when Parker's only four…I mean, I'd love to have joint custody of him. Equal custody…But I want to at least try and settle this without having to involve legal action." He sucked in a deep breath, raising his hand to swipe it down his face. "I mean, I know we're so far past that now, but Rebecca and I loved each other once…I'm hoping that we can find some sort of solid ground, you know? We don't have to like each other, but at least tolerate each other for the sake of Parker."

Brennan smiled softly at him, resting her cheek against his shoulder as she gazed up at him.

It had struck her as unfair the moment he'd informed her of his situation with Parker and Rebecca Stinson, Parker's mother.

Booth was such a good man; better than Wes, and so much far better than Christian, Zan's and Tri's father. Wes, she couldn't begrudge him much - he, too, had only been a teenager when Rosalie and Wyatt had come into the picture. She had to admit, reluctantly, that she couldn't have made it through high school and college while taking care of the twins if it hadn't been for the help he'd provided her with, even if he wasn't there in person for most of the twins' lives.

Christian, on the other hand, had much more obvious flaws she had only begun to see when she discovered she was pregnant with Tri. He'd claimed that he wanted to be around for Zan and Tri but he was rarely there to just be with his sons. He was much more interested in the women he'd somehow managed to find - blonde, beautiful, completely without strings attached, unlike Brennan herself.

Booth, however, was a man so different than the ones she had known (save for her own father when he had been around - but that had been so long ago when she was much younger and she had mostly forgotten what it was like to have Matthew Brennan in her life, especially after having gone through so much in her life that it had felt like she'd gone through several lifetimes in the past thirteen years) that he had given her such a shock when he'd entered her life, and an even bigger shock when he'd revealed to her his relationship with Parker.

The fact that he had a son wasn't as shocking to her as the fact that he wanted to have a strong, solid, 'forever' sort of bond with his son.

"You are such a good man, Booth," she sighed, untangling one of her arms from around his bicep and reaching up to gently brush her hand down the side of his weary-looking face. He gave a silent scoff, but she shook her head, insisting, "You are. It's not fair that you have to give up time with Parker…I hope Rebecca gets over whatever animosity she has with you and realizes what a good father you are to your son."

Booth took in a deep breath, slowly retracting his arm from her so that he could wrap his arms around her body. Pulling her near, he reclined back against the couch, Brennan snuggled into his side, her ear pressed to his heart and her arm loosely placed around his torso. Booth lowered his head, his nose buried between the silken strands of her hair. He breathed her in, amazed yet again at how her words, her presence, her touch were like a soothing balm to his soul, to his heart.

He sighed, closing his eyes as he felt her press kisses over his clothed chest, right where his heart was. He opened his mouth, about to tell her what a good thing it was that he had her with him right then, when he heard her calling out to Parker.

"Parker, the doors are locked, you can't open them," Brennan told the inquisitive young boy who was diligently trying to pry open the glass doors of the fireplace. She had made sure that the fireplace was child-proofed so that neither Zan nor Tri could accidentally get hurt if there was a fire roaring inside. Locked glass doors seemed like a good idea.

Parker huffed, obviously dissatisfied, and though he ceased trying to pull the doors open, he crouched down and peered through the slightly tinted glass to see into the fireplace.

Apparently finding what he was looking for, he st6od back up and ran towards the couch where Booth and Brennan were. "Azcuze me, daddy, Bones?" he said in this polite tone that made Brennan smile brightly - it was so obvious, at even such a young age, that Parker had inherited his father's charm. He exuded it without even realizing it, much like Booth did, though the older Booth did know how to wield his charm purposely if he wanted. "I fink we need ta clean out the fire-pace so Santa won't get his boots all dirty Christmas eve."

Booth felt a lurch in his heart when he realized that his little boy thought he would be spending Christmas morning at Brennan's apartment. Well, to be fair, he thought to himself. Since meeting Brennan and her family a few weeks back, whenever Parker spends nights with me, we're always over here…I can't even remember the last time we slept over at mine.

Booth pulled away from Brennan's hug, silently praying that she wouldn't be too freaked by his son's assumption, and leaned forward to explain to Parker that Christmas morning would be spent at his apartment, like they'd done for the past two years - that first year, he had only managed to visit his baby boy at Rebecca's since she was pissed off at him for everything and wouldn't let him have any time alone with Parker.

Before he could, however, Zan had ran over to the three of them. "Parker," Zan called out to his new, instant best friend. "What are you doing? Come play with us."

"I'm just askin' about Santa, Zan," Parker explained patiently.

And, in exactly three seconds, Zan had - in Booth's overly dramatic mind - 'ruined Parker's childhood'.

Scoffing, Zan shook his head. "Santa doesn't exist," he told Parker matter-of-factly. "Now come on!"

Parker, who looked absolutely stricken by what Zan had said, was jolted out of his shock when Shark Bait came running at him, nudging his leg with his snout. Scowling at Zan, Parker insisted, "Santa exists!"

"Does not!"

"Does, too!"

"Not!"

"Too!"

"Not!"

"T-"

"Whass goin' on?" Tri asked, ambling closer to peer interestedly at his older brother and their new friend.

Parker, crossing his arms across his chest, scowled unhappily at Zan as he said, "Zan thinks Santa's not real."

Tri blinked. "Oh," he muttered, disappointed that Parker had been making such a big fuss over nothing. "He's not weal."

Parker's jaw dropped in tandem with Booth's. "Is, too!" Parker spluttered.

Tri have Parker a look that suggested he was concerned for his friend's intelligence - a look that was, frankly, a little strange for a three year old to have - and turned to his mother. "Momma," he exhaled, as though he was exasperated. "Will you peas tell Pawkaw that Santa's not weal?"

Booth turned to Brennan, in shock at the non-Santa-believing children she'd raised. What three year old in the world didn't believe that Santa was real? It was just…Unnatural. What about the innocence of childhood? What about the magic they were supposed to believe in? They had to believe in it now, before they grew up and became too jaded to see it all.

Brennan didn't return his gaze despite feeling it burning into her. "Zan, Tri, why don't you go grab the book on St. Nicholas? The one we always read during Christmastime?"

Zan and Tri nodded, running off towards Brennan's home office slash study, where there was a tiny, mocha colored little cubby-styled bookshelf where they kept some of the books Brennan had bought for them and encouraged for them to read. Parker, still angry at Zan and Tri, was still standing with his arms crossed, a scowl on his lips.

Brennan reached out to grasp him by the shoulders gently. "Parker, buddy, why don't you go into the kitchen and ask Sylvia for a juice box for you, Zan and Tri?" she suggested gently. Parker blinked, momentarily distracted. "When you come back, we can have a story time."

Parker's anger completely abandoned, his entire little chubby face lit up. "Yes!" he cheered, pumping his fist in the air and running off in the direction of the kitchen.

Once Parker was gone, Brennan angled her body towards her partner. She shot Booth a repentant look. "I'm so sorry, Booth," she hastened to apologize.

"Your kids don't believe in Santa?" he hissed, his dark eyes clouding over as he realized that not only was a part of Parker's childhood innocence robbed - if he couldn't do some damage control, of course, which he was going to try his hardest to do - he was also going to have to explain to Rebecca why Parker didn't believe in Santa anymore if Brennan went ahead to tell him whatever she'd told her own sons.

Brennan shook her head. "Santa doesn't exist, Booth," she said, as though reminding him of a very important fact he'd let slip from his mind. "I didn't want to lie to them and say that he does."

Booth frowned at her. "Temperance, my son is four," he stressed in a hushed voice. "I can't have you going around telling him that Santa and magic isn't real, okay?"

She blinked innocently at him. "Why not?" she inquired naively.

Booth exhaled loudly, glaring at her even as he slumped against the backrest of the couch. "Good God, Bones…" he groaned. "He's a kid, okay? He's supposed to believe in the good things in life, even when the rest of us know that they're not real."

Brennan frowned as she considered his way of thinking. It didn't make sense to her at all that he would want Parker to believe in something that wasn't there, to give him hope, then tear it away from him when he was older and had cemented his belief in Santa Claus for years. Wouldn't it be better to let him believe in the 'magic' that exists than lie to him about the magic that didn't?

The adults didn't get a chance to say anything else to each other, the pitter patter of little feet interrupting them.

"Here, mommy!" Tri eagerly shoved a thin children's book with a colorful bind and illustrative cover in Brennan's direction.

Booth's eye caught something on the cover and he leaned forward to read the title of the book. "Saint Nicholas, the Real Santa Claus," he read out loud, raising an eyebrow at Brennan.

Brennan smiled softly at him. "While I'm not a religious person, I do believe in letting the kids enjoy Christmas," she started to explain. "Santa Claus may be just a fictional character but he was based on someone real. I tell them that story instead."

Booth felt a slow smile start to spread over his own lips as he gazed at her. "Really?" he asked, his tone reflecting how he was calming down. "You do? You're okay with them believing that Saint Nicholas was real?"

Brennan shook her head, flipping the book over to show one of the small illustrations at the back, on the top left corner. "Saint Nicholas did exist, Booth," she told him matter-of-factly. She pointed to the illustration of a red-colored tomb, with mourners surrounding it. "There are records, scientific research and even human remains that supports that statement. I wouldn't be lying to them if I told them this story."

Parker returned to the living room, three grape juice boxes in his small hands. He reluctantly handed two of the juice boxes to Zan and Tri, apparently not over his anger at them for saying that Santa didn't exist.

"Okay. Let's get started on the story," Brennan said, shifting on the couch. "Why don't you sit next to me, Parker?" she suggested, patting the empty spot between her and Booth. "So you can see the pictures?"

Parker beamed, throwing himself on the couch between the two of them. Zan wedged himself in between Parker and Booth, and Tri climbed onto Brennan's lap.

Brennan placed her chin on top of Tri's mop of inky black hair, opening the hard-cover book to the first page. "Alright…" Brennan turned her head, lowering her gaze to meet Parker's wide, inquisitive brown eyes, so much like his father's. "Parker, I'm sorry that you had to find out the way you did, but Zan and Tri were right - Santa Claus isn't real."

Parker, whose eyes had widen to an astronomical size, began to tear up. He knew, even without his daddy telling him, that 'Bones' knew everything in the whole wide world. If she thought that Santa didn't exist, then he probably didn't. "He isn't?" he whispered in dismay.

Brennan shook her head, frowning sadly as she hugged Parker to her side with one arm, her hand coming up to brush through his soft blonde hair. "No, Parker, he's not," she murmured softly. "He's just a story that mommies and daddies tell to little kids just like you, to make Christmas easier to understand…The thing is, while Santa isn't real, the man that I'm about to tell you about, the one that Santa was based off of, is real."

Parker, sadness temporarily forgotten, looked up at her in confusion. "Huh?"

Reminding herself that the little boy was only four, Brennan simplified her words. She pointed to the black and white illustration of a smiling man in centuries-old bishop robes and jeweled gloves. "You see this guy? His name was Saint Nicholas," she revealed to Parker in a hushed tone, merely for the sake of dramatics. "He was the real Santa Claus."

Parker's wide eyed gaze alternated between the open book to Brennan several times. "Whoa," he whispered in awe.

Brennan bit back a smile as she stopped on the very first page with nothing but the title of the story on it. "This is the story of Saint Nicholas, the real Santa Claus…" she read, then turned the page to read the first sentence of the story.

"Saint Nicholas was born thousands and thousands of years ago, in a city called Patara," she begun.

Parker interrupted with a giggle. "That's a funny name," he commented childishly.

Brennan merely smiled indulgently at him, and Booth looked on, daring to hope that this whole 'Saint Nicholas' thing might just work out in his favor.

"Where's Patara, Bones?" Parker inquired curiously.

Instead of Brennan, Zan answered for her, having heard this story every Christmas since he was a baby. "Pa-ta-ra is a city in Le-sheee-aaa," he told Parker, exaggerating the word 'Lycia' as he tried to pronounced it carefully. "That's in Asia."

"Asia Minor," Brennan corrected.

The four year old nodded as though he knew what that meant. "Now, mommy said that if you look at a map, it's called 'Turkey'," Zan continued.

Parker wrinkled his nose. "Like Thanksgiving?"

Tri grinned crookedly. "Yep!" he answered happily, laughing when Shark Bait jumped up on the couch next to Brennan, laying its head against Tri's small leg.

Brennan laughed at the three of them. "Okay, guys, let's get back to the story," she chided softly. When they grew silent and turned their attention back to the book, she began to read again.

"Nicholas' parents died when he was just a teenager. His parents left him a lot of money which made him a rich young man. He went to live with his uncle who was a priest. One day, Nicholas heard about a man who had lost all his money. He had three daughters who were old enough to get married. But in those days young women had to have money in order to get married. This money was called a "dowry", and it was used to help the new family get started. If you didn't have dowry money, you didn't get married," Brennan read.

"This family was so poor they had nothing left to eat. The daughters were going to be sold as slaves because they couldn't live at home any longer," the 'actual' story involved the three young women becoming prostitutes if they couldn't get married, but since this was a children's storybook, they'd altered it.

Brennan continued to read, shooting Booth a smile over Parker's and Zan's heads when she realized that Parker was completely engrossed in the story now, "They were very sad. They wouldn't be able to have families of their own. And they would have to be slaves—no longer able to decide where they would live or what they would do."

Parker frowned sadly at the book. "This isn't a very happy story," he informed Brennan in a wry tone.

She laughed. "It gets better," she promised him. At his reluctant nod, she continued.

"The night before the oldest daughter was to be sold as a slave, she washed her stockings and put them in front of the fire to dry. Then all of them went to sleep—the father and the three daughters. In the morning the daughter saw a lump in her stocking. Reaching in, she found a small, heavy bag. It had gold inside! Enough to provide food for the family and money for her dowry. Oh, how happy they were!" she adopted an animated tone as she read the story, grinning as Parker grew excited. Even Zan and Tri, who had heard the story countless times since they tended to choose this as a bed time story all through Christmas season, joined in his excitement.

"Did Santa do that!" Parker asked eagerly, dark brown eyes sparkling happily.

Tri shook his head from his perch on Brennan's lap. "No, siwwy!" he laughed. "Saint Nico-whass did dat!"

Brennan nodded in agreement with Tri. "Demetri's right," she confirmed before continuing on with the story. "The next morning, another bag with gold was found. Imagine! Two of the daughters would now be saved. Such joy! And the next night, the father planned to stay awake to find out who was helping his daughters. He dozed off, but heard a small "clink" as another bag landed in the room. Quickly he jumped up and ran out the door. Who did he catch ducking around the corner? Nicholas, the young man who lived with his uncle. "Nicholas, it is you! Thank you for helping us — I hardly know what to say!" the father cried. Nicholas shook his head and said, "Please, do not thank me — I do not want gratitude, nor do I want others to know of my deeds. We only give help to those who need it, the way we wish others to help us if we need it. Please, do not tell others about me"."

"Nicholas continued helping people. He always tried to help secretly. He didn't want any attention or thanks. Years passed and he was chosen to be a bishop. Bishops look after their people as shepherds look after their sheep. And that is what Nicholas did. When there wasn't any food, he found wheat; so no one went hungry. He always helped people in trouble. All his life Nicholas showed people how to love and care for each other. Everyone loved Nicholas. After he died, they told stories of the good and kind things Nicholas had done. The father of the three young women finally came forth and told others of the way that Nicholas had helped him. Sailors took these stories about Nicholas everywhere they went. Some of the stories were about his special care for children — helping and protecting them when danger threatened. And so more and more people learned about good, kind Nicholas. They wanted to be like him. He is an example of how we should live. And that is why he was given the title of a saint."

Parker pursed his lips. "Because he was a really good person who always helped other people?"

Booth nodded, lifting Zan and Parker and placing each little boy on his knees. "That's right," he answered Parker's question, deciding to be a part of the story-telling now.

Brennan smiled, ducking her head to press a kiss to the top of Tri's head before she continued reading, "Saint Nicholas' gifts were always given late at night when he was alive, mostly because he wanted his identity to be a secret…Since he was such a rich man, he would travel the world, helping everyone who needed it, giving not only presents but money and any other help that he could. He didn't want attention for the presents he gave, nor did he want to embarrass the poor by telling everyone that they needed help, so the story started about a man named Santa Claus who would come to houses in the middle of the night, and give exactly what everyone needed. But Santa, Nicholas would say, wouldn't come until all the children were asleep."

"When he died," Brennan finished. "And everyone knew how much good he had done, they named Nicholas a saint. Because he had helped so many people, especially children, adults made up a story to cheer up children every time Christmas came around. They named Saint Nicholas 'Santa Claus', calling him the special friend of children, and told the story of Santa coming down the chimney with presents for everyone."

Brennan closed the book, smiling. "And that is the story of the real Santa Claus," she ended.

Booth and Brennan were both silent as they looked down at Parker. He looked to be deep in thought, his dark brown eyes as contemplative as Brennan's when she was analyzing a set of remains. "Parks?" Booth prompted after a few moments of silence. "Do you have any questions?"

Parker pursed his lips. "How come people don't just tell the Nicholas story?" he asked finally. "How come they talk about Santa?"

Booth shrugged. "Because, bub…Sometimes parents make stuff up, like the flying reindeer, to make things a little more cheerful and magical," he tried to explain delicately. "The Santa story is a pretty old one, bub, and I guess it just became a tradition."

"So none of it is real?" Parker asked, dismayed. "The chimney and the reindeer and Santa knowing where everybody is?"

Brennan scooted closer to Booth, closing the distance between them now that Zan and Parker were both sitting on Booth's knees. "You know what, Parker? I always tell Zan and Tri, and Rose and Wyatt that even though that made up story isn't real, the magic always is," she informed him gently.

Parker looked up at her with wide eyes. "Really?" he sounded disbelieving now.

Brennan nodded. "When I found out about Santa not being real, my dad told me that the magic lies in people doing good things, and carrying on what Saint Nicholas started," she smiled as she remembered the long discussion that had followed Russ informing her that Santa wasn't real so she didn't have to worry about 'the chimney size being too small for him to climb through'. Her father had lied to her, of course, in a wayward attempt much like Booth's to 'preserve her innocence', but Brennan had been smart even as a child - she had dusted her father's winter boots with talcum powder so that it would leave footprints as evidence. When she had confronted him on Christmas morning about 'Santa's footprints', he had been forced to reveal to her the truth.

"The magic exists when we do something good, not for ourselves, but for other people," she said what Matthew had told her, almost word for word.

"And," Booth added in, smiling now that he was certain this was turning out to be not such a bad thing. "Magic is always there when we remember how lucky we are."

"We are?"

Booth nodded. "Yeah. You've got a lot of things a lot of kids in the world don't. You've got parents, you've got a home, you've got friends, you've got…"

"School!" Tri chimed in helpfully.

Parker wrinkled his nose. "That's not always a good thing, Tri," he said condescendingly, patting Tri on the shoulder.

Booth hid a grin and Brennan rolled her eyes.

"We've got Shark Bait!" Zan added after some thought, watching as the tiny, energetic puppy hopped down from the couch, bored with the story-telling, and scampered off to chase after Baby, Rose's Spitz.

This turned out to be the trigger for a game of 'we've got', where the three of them ran around the living room, play wrestling and yelling out random thoughts on what they felt they were lucky to have.

"We've got Spongebob!"

"We've got pants!"

"We've got Sylvia!"

Booth reclined backwards, slouching against the couch's backrest, exhaling in relief. Brennan watched him with an amused look. "Are you still angry and anxious over Parker learning that Santa isn't real?" she questioned him curiously.

Booth bit his lip, pondering her question. "You know what? I think this turned out well," he admitted. "I mean, if I had to choose, I wouldn't wish that he'd learn about it so early. He's only four. But…I think maybe you're right."

"I'm always right," this was punctuated with a smug expression. Her smile faltered slightly. "What am I right about, exactly?"

He chuckled, rolling his eyes. "You were right in saying that it's a good thing to tell Parker the story of Saint Nicholas," he elaborated. "At least, you know, it's a more believable Santa."

Brennan scoffed, placing the book aside on the coffee table. "Oh, don't get carried away - I still don't tell them all that ridiculous hooey about Nicholas bringing three individuals back to life after they've been murdered and chopped up, or about the so-called miracles he supposedly performed."

Booth threw a look over his shoulder at where his son was playing with Zan and Tri, blissfully unaware of this conversation. "Bones!" he hissed. "Lower your voice, would ya? Parker's gonna start Sunday school soon enough and I don't want him to hear that religious miracles are a bunch of nonsense."

Brennan rolled her eyes. "Well, he'll grow up and realize it someday," she insisted.

Booth huffed, rubbing his eyes tiredly with his fist. "Can we just…Not talk about this?" he growled. "I'm in an almost good mood about Parker and Santa. Let's not ruin it."

Brennan sighed. "Your mood swings are giving me metaphorical whiplash, Booth," she grumbled. "If I wasn't so used to teenagers…"

He shot her an offended look. "I don't have mood swings," he defended. "And I have an emotional maturity far beyond the level of an adolescent, thank you."

"Right."

Before he could retort, Rosalie came into the living room, lugging bags in her arms that she had brought all the way down from her room. She placed them near the entrance of the living room, knowing that Brennan didn't want all their luggage crowding up the foyer or the narrow hallway entry.

Booth, distracted, raised his eyebrows at the sight of all the luggage. Standing up, he stretched his legs and made his way to where Rose was. She was placing her bags - two white and black travel suitcases, a matching black and white square vanity case, a bubblegum pink rectangular vanity case with the trademark Chanel logo on it - next to Brennan's bags, the Ed Hardy trolley suitcase for Wyatt, and the matching, smaller one for Zan and Tri to share.

"Whoa," Booth commented as he approached Rose. "How much stuff do you need? You're only going on vacation for two weeks."

Rosalie straightened up, leveling Booth with a glare - her trademark expression, he'd deduced since their first meeting. "Booth, I don't know what you need when you're on vacation, but us beautiful girls need a lot of things to stay beautiful," she informed him huffily.

Yep, he thought. Definitely inherited the attitude from Bones.

"You're bringing two make-up cases?" Brennan asked, frowning as she nodded at the luggage.

Rosalie nodded. "You remember last summer? We went to France, and they lost my make-up bag?" she prompted.

Brennan nodded, remembering Rosalie's freak-out quite clearly. Rosalie had only been twelve when that had happened, and her make-up case was significantly smaller and less varied than it was this year, but it had been her first year being allowed to wear any sort of make-up at all. She'd gone to great lengths to pick only the best types that wouldn't 'clot her skin' or 'make it all oily'. Losing all of that 'great, hard work' had been a hyperventilation-inducing four hours for her.

"Well, I'm not taking any chances this year," Rosalie explained. "This," she placed a hand on the black and white vanity case - which, Booth noted, had a Prada logo on it - "Is going to be in cargo, with all our other luggage. This." She pointed to the pink Chanel case. "Is going to be carry-on. All the good stuff's in there."

Booth shook his head. "Okay, you're thirteen," he pointed out unnecessarily. "Where are you getting all the money for this?"

Brennan scowled at him, taking offense to his words for reasons he didn't understand. "I certainly didn't just hand over the money to her," she said defensively, crossing her arms across her chest. "Rose and Wyatt earn the money they receive, and when Zan and Tri are old enough, they will, too."

Rosalie nodded, backing her mother up. "Extra chores around the house, outstanding grades, volunteer work, babysitting," she listed off. "And Wyatt and I started working part-time whenever we can this year."

Booth held up his hands, in a show of surrender. "Whoa, hey, didn't mean to upset anyone," he soothed. "I just meant…You know, at thirteen, I couldn't afford any of this. I was just surprised, is all."

Brennan nodded, her lips pursed in contemplation. "Well, I suppose that their allowance is larger than that of normal thirteen year olds," she conceded. "And the bonus money they get for the good things they do is also more than just ten or twenty dollars…But I feel they deserve it. Besides, there's no reason for me to be stingy about the money I earn to my own children."

Rosalie, bored with this conversation, raised her arms, holding out the two bags she held, one in each hand. "I need your help," she told Brennan. "Which should I bring on the trip? My Donna Karan? Or my Balenciaga?" she asked, holding up the two tote bags for her mother to see clearly.

Booth rolled his eyes, watching the exchange.

Even though he knew Brennan stressed to her kids the value of money - he had caught an argument between Brennan and Wyatt barely a week ago regarding Wyatt wanting to buy a new phone when he had just bought his latest one two months ago; Brennan had clearly put her foot down and flat out refused Wyatt's request, which her son hadn't been too happy about - he also knew that for Brennan, being frugal wasn't the same to her as it was to him.

She had more money than he would ever see in his entire lifetime, and she spent it on things she deemed necessary - like groceries at that ridiculously expensive organic store - without much thought.

He wasn't sure if he was altogether okay with that, but there was nothing he could really do about that. He wasn't a petty man, he was happy for her and that she was so successful. She deserved it, after everything she'd told him about her past. He supposed his ego was just bruised a little.

Booth sighed. Dating a rich woman isn't all that easy, he concluded.

He was jolted out of his thoughts when Parker crashed into Brennan's legs, hugging the slim curve of her hips with thin, small arms. He watched with a smile as Brennan bent down and scooped Parker into her arms, pretending he was getting much too big, much too heavy, too quickly, joking that by the time she returned from her trip, she wouldn't be able to carry him anymore.

But I wouldn't give it up for the world, he decided, his insecurities washing away as he watched two of the most important people in his world interact.

"Where are you goin', Bones?" Parker asked curiously, back arched as he gazed at her, small hands on each of her shoulders.

Brennan smiled, shifting him on her hips when he started to slip. "I'm going to go to Mont-Tremblant," she told him. "It's a tiny little village in Quebec."

"Kay-bedeck?" Parker tried to emulate.

"Quebec," Brennan corrected, sounding out the word properly until he got it. "That's in Canada."

Parker frowned. "You're not gonna be here on Christmas?"

Brennan gave him an apologetic look. "No. I'm so sorry, Parker, but I already made plans with Rosalie, Wyatt, Zan and Tri…"

Parker's eyes widened further and he gasped in outrage. "Zan and Tri are gonna not be here on Kissmas!" he cried in dismay, his distress causing him to revert back to his old pronunciation of the word. His head whipped around to Booth, brown eyes filling up with tears. "Daddy!" he said, as though he expected Booth to turn things around and fix this less-than-pleasant situation.

Booth reached out, taking Parker from Brennan's arms. "I know, buddy," he sympathized. He wanted Brennan to stay in DC for the holidays, too, but taking vacations with her family was a tradition in the Brennan household. He knew how busy she was the rest of the year, and how torn up she was every time they had to work late or go out of town for a case…If this was one of the rare times that she got to spend time with them without being interrupted or pulled away rudely, then he wasn't going to be an jerk about it.

"But, you know what? We'll still have our Christmas morning together, huh? And you, mommy and Captain Fantastic are going to see grandma and grandpa, right?"

Parker nodded, still looking forlorn. "But I wanna play with Zan and Tri and the doggies," he pouted.

Rosalie, watching the interaction with interest, was instantly hit with a sudden strike of inspiration. "Hey, you and Boo…Uh, I mean, your daddy," she corrected herself with a roll of the eyes. "You're going to spend this weekend together, right?"

Booth and Parker both nodded. "Where are you going with this, Mini?" Booth asked curiously.

Rosalie halted, glared at him then turned her piercing eyes to Brennan. "Will you get him to stop calling me that?" she complained.

Booth, the first morning he had woken up at Brennan's apartment - right after the night when Brennan had finally revealed to him about her home life - had seen the uncanny similarities between Brennan and Rosalie, not just in terms of physical appearances, but personality-wise, too. He had dubbed her 'Mini' before his first cup of coffee was even finished.

Brennan shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, but I'm still trying to get him to stop calling me 'Bones'," she reminded Rose.

Rosalie sighed long-sufferingly, crossing her arms petulantly.

Booth merely grinned at the both of them. "Aw, you'd both hate it if I stopped," he teased. "It's a term of endearment now, babes."

"Don't call me 'babe'," Brennan and Rosalie snapped at the same time.

Parker giggled and Booth simply gaped with wide eyes, "Whoa."

"Mommy! Mommy!" they heard, and saw Tri rushing towards them, face covered in what looked to be frosting. "Come look! The cu-cakes are finished!"

Brennan scooped Tri off the floor, laughing as she gently wiped some of the frosting off his nose. Booth, still carrying Parker, and Rosalie followed her, walking together towards the kitchen.

"As I was saying," Rosalie huffed. What's with the interruptions? It's rude, she thought to herself. I could be done by now. My nails aren't a winter color yet and I can't go on vacation with non-winter nails. "Maybe you and Parker could come spend time with us - since we're always stuck at our sperm donor's parents' house Christmas eve and Christmas day, and that always sucks, we make it a tradition to have an Early Christmas Day."

Parker lit up at Rose's words. "Early Christmas Day?" he asked, intrigued.

Rose nodded. "We do Christmas things," she explained. "You know, wake up to a Christmas breakfast, sit around the tree drinking hot chocolate-"

"Yes!" Parker cheered on an excited hiss.

"-Build snowmen, maybe go ice-skating, open presents…"

"Yeah!" Tri cheered, perking up at the mention of 'presents'. Parker echoed his sentiment.

Rosalie did that 'quirk-in-the-corner-of-her-lip' thing that would've qualified for a full blown smile on anyone else, sharing a look with Booth. "If you want," she added. "You can join us."

Booth tore his gaze away from 'Mini' to look down at his son's excited little face. "Whaddaya say, bub?" he asked, pretending not to be too thrilled with the idea. "Do you think we should do that?"

"Yes!" came Parker's enthusiastic response. "Please, daddy? Please? It's gonna be so much fun. Please!"

Booth chuckled, pressing a kiss on Parker's head. "Sure, bub," he agreed in a warm voice. "We'll do an early Christmas here - if Bones doesn't mind, of course," his head lifted, eyes seeking out his partner. He winced internally as he remembered that they hadn't asked her permission to do something in her house, taking up her time.

To her relief, however, Brennan was smiling as she watched them, leaning against the kitchen island, a tray of cupcakes with blue frosting on them cooling off on the counter top. "I don't mind," she reassured him. "Early Christmas Day is always fun. You should come, too."

Parker and Tri cheered, both boys squirming in their respective parents' arms and taking off to find Zan and Wyatt the moment their feet touched the ground.

Rosalie, realizing she was still holding the bags she was considering earlier, sighed. "I'm gonna put in the last of my things in here," she held up the bag she'd chosen with Brennan's help. Hearing the sound of guitar drifting down from the second floor, which would be inexplicably louder once she was up in her room right next door to Wyatt's, she sighed. "Can you tell Wyatt to not play his music so loudly? It's annoying me."

And with that, she spun on her heel and sashayed her way out of the kitchen.

Booth chuckled, shaking his head. His eyes turned to Brennan, who was chatting with Sylvia about their complicated Christmas plans. Booth wasn't entirely sure if he understood it all, but he didn't need to pry into their vacation plans.

A loud guitar riff broke through the sound of Brennan's voice, the three little boys' laughter and the soft background noise of the TV in the living room turned on to an animated Christmas movie for children.

Brennan exhaled loudly, glaring up at the ceiling when the sound of Rosalie yelling angrily immediately followed the loud noise. "Could you help me put the chicken in the oven, Sylvia?" she asked, keeping a polite tone despite the headache throbbing in her head. "I need to stop my kids from killing each other."

Sylvia laughed. "Sure, no problem," she assured Brennan. "I'm almost done here, so after I put this in and clear up the dishes I'm going to head home…Unless you need me to stay for anything else…?"

Brennan shook her head, offering the woman a smile. "No, that's fine, Sylvia. Thank you," she nodded once and walked past the island. Booth followed her, waving goodbye at Sylvia. "You're still okay with dating a mother of two teenagers?" she teased him, looking at him sideways.

Booth grinned, slinging an arm around her waist. "Hey, if anything, it makes for amusing arguments," he pointed out, causing her to roll her eyes.

They entered the living room, where the sound of the music was stronger, louder. "Wyatt!" Brennan called out, irritated, stalking over to the foot of the stairs so he could hear her better. "Would you tone it down up there!"

"Ugh, thank you!" Rosalie screamed from her room, glad that her mother was at least on her side.

Wyatt, who was in his room, on the electric guitar he'd gotten for his birthday last year (a gift from Angela, who was pretty cool in his opinion), sighed, annoyed by both his mother and his sister. "Mom!" he whined. "Hold on! Can't you tell I'm rocking out here!"

He was finally able to play the entire song 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' on his guitar, and he was proud of it. He was even thinking of starting his own band, but the only people he knew who were interested in his kind of music was Chad, his friend from soccer, but Chad couldn't play a musical instrument to save his life. Tough, Wyatt sighed.

Rosalie stormed out of her room, going over to the stairs to look over the railing at her mother. "Mom, make him stop," she growled out, frustrated beyond belief. "I'm thirteen and I have a migraine - it's not normal."

Brennan scowled at nothing in particular, the throbbing in her head increasing exponentially. "Wyatt Ephraim Brennan, if you don't stop that right now, I'm gonna smash that guitar to pieces!" she yelled up.

In two seconds flat, the music stopped.

Rosalie grinned, relieved. "Thank you," she said to Brennan graciously, before turning to head back into her room.

She passed a disgruntled Wyatt along the way, who scowled at her as she slammed the door in his face.

Wyatt hurried down the stairs to confront his mother. "Mom, it's not fair," he complained. "Oh, hey, Booth," he greeted Brennan's partner slash secret boyfriend in a surprised tone. "When did you get here?"

"Oh, just…A few hours ago," Booth replied, an amused smile playing on his lips as he clapped the oldest of Brennan's sons on the back.

Brennan glared at Wyatt, "And you'd know that if you bothered coming out of your room every once in a while."

Wyatt rolled his eyes. "I can't do anything out here," he pointed out.

"You can use the computer," Brennan pointed out. As a general rule, none of her kids had a computer in their own rooms. Rosalie and Wyatt both had received individual laptops from her for their thirteenth birthday, but those had come with a strict order that the laptops stayed either in the study or in the living room.

Wyatt scoffed, "I can't get any work done out here. If I wanted to use the computer, I'd go to the study room."

Brennan sighed. "Whatever," she shook her head. "Just…No more loud rock music, okay? Your sister's giving me grief and Shark Bait still hasn't stopped shaking from the last time you 'rocked out' in your room."

Wyatt couldn't help but crack a small smile at that. His mother didn't normally make jokes but when she did, it normally caught others off guard. "I need to practice," he insisted, smile slipping off his face. "How am I going to get any better at my music if I don't practice. You said it so yourself - practice makes perfect."

Brennan nodded, "That's true…" She bit her lip, considering. Eyeing her oldest son, she could see the determination written across his face. "And you still want to create a band?"

"You're going to be in a band?" Booth asked, perking up.

Wyatt nodded. "Yeah, that's the plan," he answered. "If I can find others, I mean. Uh, there's a guy I know who's good on the keyboard, but other than that…"

Booth nodded, giving Wyatt a sympathetic look. "Keep looking, you've got time," he teased. Wyatt chuckled along with him.

Brennan sighed, crossing her arms across her chest. "Tell you what - if you can form a band, and you're really invested in this…Then I will rent you space to practice."

Wyatt's eyes grew wide. "No way!" he breathed. "You're gonna help me out? What, like a garage or something?"

Brennan frowned. "What? Why would you want to play in a garage?" she asked, eyebrows drawing together in confusion as images of dirty, grease-covered floors and small spaces with cars parked in them came to mind. "I was thinking of a studio, of course."

Wyatt's eyes grew even larger, an a small squeak escaped his lips. Clearing his throat, he warned both adults, "That didn't happen." Getting back to his mother's offer, he quickly threw his arms around Brennan. "That'd be so cool!" he admitted. "You're really going to do that for me?"

Brennan looked distinctly upset as she pulled away from Wyatt's embrace enough to look him in the eyes. "Of course I would," she said earnestly. "Wyatt…You know I'd support you and your interests. If you're serious about this, I'd be there for you. You know that, right?"

Wyatt nodded, a huge smile on his face. "Yeah, sure," he replied. Seeing that his answer didn't reassure her, he shrugged, "I mean, I know that, mom. It's just, you know, I didn't think you'd really care about all this stuff."

Brennan frowned at him. "If I didn't care, I wouldn't have paid for your music lessons," she pointed out.

He gave her a small smile, a faint replica of the huge, goofy ones he used to wear when he was younger. "I guess. It's just, you know, when I was a kid, you didn't really support my goals," he reminded her. "Remember? I was six, and I had a life plan all figured out."

Brennan's confused expression smoothed out to an amused one, and she wrapped her arms around Wyatt's shoulders, chuckling warmly. "Ah, I was just being realistic, Wyatt," she soothed. "You wanted to build a volcano big enough to melt down the entire United States of America, then fly to the moon to build Wyattsville…I just didn't want you to get your hopes up."

Wyatt rolled his eyes, then gave Brennan the first real smile she'd seen in a long time - not a smirk, or a half-smile or one of those 'I'm a teenager now and far too cool for anything other than music and Abby' not-really-there grins, but a real, genuine smile.

" Well, I appreciate it. The Wyattsville thing, and the studio thing," he nodded. "Really. Thanks." He kissed her once on the cheek and left to run up the stairs to his room.

"Okay, but don't forget your homework!" Brennan called out to him as he left.

"It's Christmas!"

"Not yet, it's not," she corrected him. "And you still have school tomorrow. Homework!"

Booth immediately pulled Brennan in for a kiss, fingers splayed on her hips. "Cool mom," he complimented her once their lips parted from each other.

She smiled shyly up at him, "Really?"

He nodded, "Mm-hmm. That was nice of you - to offer to rent him studio space."

Brennan shrugged. "He has to keep up good grades and not slip up on his extra-curricular activities," she said to downplay her gesture. "But I meant what I said to him."

He chuckled, brushing a kiss to her forehead. "Yeah, like I said, cool mom," he reiterated. "Most parents just kinda tolerate it. I know my mom wouldn't have rented me any kind of space for music when I was younger." The fact that they couldn't afford it, even if it was a dingy little garage in the middle of nowhere, or the fact that his dad would've thrown a fit even if they did managed to scrounge up enough cash for it had nothing to do with it whatsoever.

With his words, a sudden sadness had crossed his features, his smile slipping into a frown.

Brennan gazed at him, wonderingly. He had never talked about his family, not really. He talked fondly of his grandfather, and of an aunt he used to spend time with some summers when he was a child. He'd recount various adventures he'd have with his younger brother Jared when they were kids, but there was rarely anything substantial. Just funny little stories of happy memories.

She'd sensed the darkness in him, the darkness in his past, the way only someone who had a matching darkness in them could. But with that darkness, came understanding - she knew that if he didn't talk about it, it meant that he wasn't ready to.

Brennan could empathize, so she didn't ask. She pretended she didn't know.

Now, as he stared at an invisible spot on her shoulder, his eyebrows scrunched together and a sad expression on his face as he swayed their bodies slowly together from side to side, Brennan raised one hand, cupping his cheek gently.

That seemed to break him out of his spell.

Booth raised his gaze, eyes meeting hers. A forced smile flickered across his lips. "I'm fine," he answered her unasked question.

Brennan clearly didn't believe that, but like countless times before, she didn't ask. She simply leaned in closer to him and pressed her lips against his, their kiss searing, filled with sadness and reminiscence and the understanding of the gravity of 'right now'.

"Tell me about your Christmas plans," Booth urged in a soft voice as they finally pulled away, lured by the children's laughter.

They walked, both of them with an arm around the other's waist, back towards the living room to join the little ones.

"Well, we're going to leave on December twenty-third," Brennan informed him. "We're going back to Chicago first."

Booth looked at her in confusion. "Chicago? Why?"

Brennan gave him a wry grin. "Wesley," she said simply. "Every year, Wes' parents insist that Rosalie and Wyatt go to their house for Christmas. We arrive a few days beforehand, we have dinner prepared by their in-house chef, then we attend their Christmas party with all their rich friends and distant relatives."

Booth made a face at the sound of their plans. "Sounds…" he trailed off, unable to find the right word.

"Horrific?" Brennan supplied. "Yes, it is. But it's not something we can ever get out of."

Booth frowned at her. "Why not? It's not like they have any rights over Rose and Wyatt, right? You have full custody?"

She nodded. "Yes, I do," she answered firmly. "But, to them, my debt isn't paid."

"Debt?"

"When I got pregnant with the twins, you know that I stayed with Wes and his family at their estate until I graduated high school, right?" she reminded him. Booth nodded, remembering the things she had told him when she'd explained to him about her past. He scowled at the memory of her telling him she'd been 'engaged' to Wes, even if it was only for show for his strict parents. "Well, to them, not only had I sullied their name by getting pregnant with their son's children, but I'd also brought shame somehow by running away after everything they'd done for me."

Booth scoffed. "That's ridiculous!" he said immediately, taking Brennan's side.

Brennan laughed, the two of them sinking down on the couch, keeping a watchful eye on the three boys sitting on the floor a few feet away from the TV, watching an animated Christmas film.

"Thank you for saying that, Booth, but it's true," she sighed. "They paid for everything - the rest of my high school education, everything I needed during my pregnancy, the labor, whatever the twins needed while we were living there. I managed to attend Northwestern with a scholarship and a financial aid for mothers, but I didn't have much money for myself or the twins. Wes stepped in, telling his parents that if I needed help, I was going to get it."

"Did you? Ask for help?"

Brennan nodded, looking ashamed. "Yes," she admitted quietly. "Look, I'm not proud of it, but I was young, I had two small children and I was in college…It just wasn't a very feasible thing for me to have done that all on my own."

"Hey," he said gently, taking her hand and squeezing her hand reassuringly. "There's no shame in asking for help when you need it, Bones."

She sighed. "I guess," she said glumly. "I just wish I didn't have to depend on anyone else to care for my own children, you know? If it wasn't for Wes and his help…" she shook her head.

Wes had really stepped up, at least financially, for her and the twins. She wasn't eligible to stay in a college dorm because of Rosalie and Wyatt, so she had to get her own place to stay. Wes had given her full use of one of the apartments his father owned in Chicago, close to Northwestern campus.

He had paid child support every month, giving her way too much to not only support the twins but herself as well. He'd hired a full-time, live-in nanny/housekeeper, a stern-looking woman by the name of 'Greta', whom she'd had with her for years. With Greta's help, Brennan was able to go to classes without having to worry about childcare, and later on, when she had to go on digs for several weeks or even months, she didn't have to worry about the children because Greta was there and Brennan was always able to communicate long-distance with the kids.

The child support and help hadn't stopped when she'd started to date Christian and it hadn't stopped when she'd given birth to Zan and Tri. Wes hadn't been particularly upset by their presence, and had even been supportive of her long-distance. When she had been overwhelmed by financial issues, Wes had loaned her money so she could support Zan and Tri through a couple of years.

When Brennan had taken her position at the Jeffersonian, having finally made a name for herself in her field, she'd been offered a hefty salary.

The first thing she did was take the time to pay off all her student loans.

Then, come next paycheck, she'd paid off every cent Wes and his parents had ever given to her for the twins, for the two little boys and for herself - Wes refused to take anything back for child support for the twins, but she'd paid back everything else, including the money they'd had to have paid Greta.

Once she'd had a balanced financial situation, recently thanks in partial to the book she'd published, Greta had been dismissed, Sylvia had been hired of Brennan's own accord (she would've just kept Greta but the woman was far too strict and would criticize everything and everyone, including Brennan - it had been like living with Wes' parents all over again…Besides, keeping Greta would've been like admitting to Wes' parents that they had made a better choice than her, and it was something that Brennan knew they would forever hang over her head; after all, they still hadn't forgiven her for 'scamming' them out of a place to stay while she was pregnant and throughout the remainder of her high school days, then running out on them and taking the twins with her. The Davenports apparently held grudges for very long periods of time), and all the money she'd borrowed from Wes and his family was paid back in full, with interest.

Wes still sent child support though she didn't need it, but they'd both agreed to put the money aside in Rosalie's and Wyatt's trust funds for when they were older.

"I've paid back everything," she continued telling Booth the story of her past with the Davenports. "But they insisted that if it hadn't been for them taking me in, helping me get emancipated from the state and letting me stay under their roof, my whole life would be in ruins."

Booth scowled darkly at that. "That's out of line," he defended her. "They shouldn't have said that. See, there's a reason why I hate all those snooty, hoity-toity rich people. And what they're doing is blackmailing you!"

Brennan shook her head, bringing their entwined fingers up to press a kiss to the back of her hand. "Thank you for being so defensive of me, Booth," she chuckled. "But, really, they're right. My life wouldn't have turned out the way it had if it hadn't been for their help. Besides…They see Rose and Wyatt, their only grandchildren so far, once every year. Even if it's not a very pleasant experience, it's the least I can do for them."

Booth sighed, conceding. "I guess that's fair," he reluctantly agreed. He wasn't a big fan of unpaid debts, either. Besides, even if he didn't agree, he had no say in Brennan's family life. It was far too early on in their relationship for him to have an active part in decision making and stuff like that. "So, after the Christmas party, you guys head out to Mount Trembling?"

Brennan shot him a look. "Mont-Tremblant," she corrected him, causing him to bite back a grin. "And, yes. We'll be leaving for the ski resort right after the party."

Booth reclined back against the couch, his back against the soft, cushioned arm rest, half lying down. He pulled Brennan against him, letting her sit up in between his legs, his arms around her and her back pressed to his chest. "I'm gonna miss you this Christmas," he murmured softly, his chin dropping to her shoulder.

"It's only two weeks," she replied, her voice equally soft, her hands rubbing up and down his arms wrapped around her.

Booth hummed, turning his head slightly so that his nose was buried in between silky locks of dark brown curls. "I'm still going to miss you," he insisted stubbornly.

A soft sigh escaped Brennan's lips and she fell silent, just enjoying the warmth of having Booth hugging her like that. Her gaze riveted on the three little boys watching Rudolph on screen, occasionally whispering to one another and giggling the way little boys do.

Finally, after a few minutes of silence, she said, loud enough for only Booth to hear, "I'm going to miss you, too."

Booth smiled. He didn't move his face, nose and lips still pressed to her sweet smelling hair, and he didn't speak to acknowledge her words. The only sign that he had heard was the tightening of his arms around her waist, drawing her closer to him.

BBBBBBB

December 17, 2005 (Early Christmas Eve).

It was Saturday morning, and Booth and Parker were on their way to Brennan's apartment for their 'early Christmas day'.

Booth had picked Parker up after school the day before, and they'd had some quality father-son bonding time, just the two of them. Not that he didn't love spending time with Brennan and her mini-Brennans, because he did, but he missed spending time with Parker alone.

They'd gone to Sid's, built snowmen and had a fun game of laser tag in Booth's living room before settling in with pizza and hot chocolate for dinner (they weren't going to tell Rebecca this, of course. She was still incredibly upset about Parker knowing Santa wasn't real, and she was definitely upset that Parker was so excited about this 'early Christmas day' thing).

Booth pulled up in front of the two-story house that Rebecca lived in, internally chanting small pep talks to himself. He knew that she would have something new to blame him for - she always had something to blame him for.

It had been four years since Parker's birth, even longer since his conception, and she still hadn't forgiven him for whatever sin he'd committed. It wasn't like she'd ever seen the demons in him, not really. His gambling addiction was pretty much over when they'd met - he'd gone to meetings, carried his poker chip around and had religiously started avoiding anything to do with betting - and he had been well on his way up to being Special Agent.

Still, their relationship had been rocky when the honeymoon phase had passed and by the time it ended, she was full on resenting him for 'forcing' her to be a mother since she was so career-driven to have ever made that decision of her own will.

It was silly, but a part of him had hoped that as time passed, she'd let go of all that animosity, especially considering how beautifully wonderful Parker was. He had no idea why she was so irritated with him all the time, but his recent relationship with Brennan, and the subsequent entanglements he had with her home life didn't sit right with Rebecca.

Bracing himself for an argument much like the one they'd had the last time he'd seen her, he rang the doorbell.

He waited well over two minutes before she answered the door, the cream-painted wood swinging open almost violently. Rebecca stood on the other side of the threshold, glaring angrily at him. "What!" she snapped.

Booth sighed silently while leveling her with a firm look of his own. "What do you mean 'what'? Rebecca, it's my time with Parker, remember?"

Rebecca rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I remembered," she sneered, reluctantly stepping aside to let him into the house. She didn't close the door and didn't move from where she stood, so he assumed they'd be continuing their 'nice discussion' right there in front of the door. "Then my son started talking my ear off about some Christmas thing your girlfriend's planning."

Booth exhaled loudly. "Are we seriously getting into this?" he asked incredulously. "Becca, why does it bother you so much that my girlfriend and my son don't hate each other?"

She crossed her arms over her chest. "It's not that I don't like that she's nice to him - that part I'm grateful for," she admitted grudgingly. "But I just don't like that they're spending so much time together."

"Well, she's an important part of my life - professionally and personally," he pointed out. "They would've met eventually."

Rebecca shook her head. "It doesn't mean that they have to be so close, Seeley!" she insisted, her voice rising a pitch. "Look, I'm glad that things are working out so well for you."

Yeah, you sure sound like you're glad for me, Booth commented sarcastically in his mind.

"But you have to think of Parker here!"

Anger rose in his chest at her accusation. "So, what, you think that just because I chose to introduce my girlfriend to my son - something you've done with countless boyfriends, by the way - that I'm somehow neglecting my son?" he demanded, seething. "How the hell is that fair, Rebecca?"

"You didn't even ask him if he wanted to meet her!"

"I told him about her weeks before they met!" he countered unnecessarily. Despite not having to do such a thing, he'd discussed his complicated relationship with Brennan with Rebecca before he'd ever told Parker anything about her. "He told me he wanted to meet her."

"And then all this secrecy…It's just confusing for a little boy like him," Rebecca carried on as though she hadn't heard him speak. "Not to mention the fact that she has so much baggage attached."

Booth glared at her, hands on his hips. "Look, Parker doesn't have a problem with Bones or her kids, okay!" he stated firmly. "If he did, he'd tell me. I assure him every time that if he feels uncomfortable about anything, he can tell me and I won't get mad. He understands me, so it baffles me a little that a woman thirty years his senior can't!"

Rebecca practically rose three inches taller in anger, steam coming out of her ears. "Excuse me!" she thundered.

Like she did to him before, he ignored her. "And, by the way, he enjoys spending time with Bones and her kids. I'm there with him when he's playing with the boys - he likes it there, okay? If he doesn't, I'll be the first to take him away from there. He's my first priority, I'd think you'd know that by now," he growled out.

Something flashed in her eyes, a look crossing across her face, that he caught with sniper reflexes. "Oh, are you kidding me?" he shook his head, bemused, incredulous and annoyed all at the same time. "You're jealous? That's it?"

"No, that's not it!" Rebecca snapped at him viciously. "I already told you my concerns-"

"-And they're bull," he interrupted her. "Look, Becca, I can't deal with your mood swings, okay? If the situation was reversed, you'd have chewed me out for even trying to interfere with your personal life and Parker being happy. I don't know why it's different when it's with me."

"Daddy!"

Both Rebecca and Booth turned to see Parker bounding down the steps as fast as he could, a huge grin on his face.

"Hey, bub, you ready to go?" Booth asked Parker, his tone changing into one of faked cheeriness, barely concealed anger boiling underneath the surface.

Parker nodded his head enthusiastically. "Yep! I gots all my stuff all packed up," he told his father proudly, pointing at the living room where his backpack and overnight bag lay side by side, his jacket slung over the Spiderman backpack.

"Okay, good, buddy," Booth praised. "Why don't you put on your jacket and go get your stuff, huh? Then we can go."

Parker bounced on the balls of his feet. "Are we gonna see Zan and Tri today?" he asked his father eagerly. He didn't go to the same school as the two boys, and he only got to see them once every two weeks or so - it had only been a few meetings so far though the boys did send short letters and exchange phone calls every so often - so whenever he could see them, he would get really excited.

A dark look crossed Rebecca's features and Booth shot her a warning glare. "Not today, bub," he said apologetically to his son, whose face immediately fell. "But, hey, I thought we could have a guy's night tonight, huh? Tomorrow we'll go over to Bones' house for our Early Christmas Day."

Parker beamed happily back at his father, eager now for both the guys' night (because his daddy always had the best guys' nights ever) and the Early Christmas thing. He wasn't sure what it was exactly, but anything to do with Christmas had to be good, even if Santa wasn't real.

Just remember Saint Nicholas, he reminded himself.

"Okay, daddy," he agreed. "Be right back, okay? Don't move!"

He turned and ran straight for the living room, prompting his mother to call out, "Don't run in the house, Parker!"

Parker slowed to a walk, sulking with his back to his parents. Bones never yells when we run in her house, he pouted internally.

Once Parker was out of earshot, Booth swiveled back to face Rebecca. She, apparently, wasn't done with their 'discussion', either, because she immediately spoke, not giving Booth a chance. "Do you know what your precious girlfriend told my son, Seeley Booth?" she hissed. "She told him there's no Santa."

"I know," he nodded, his temper dialing down a notch. He was still fifty-fifty on what had went down regarding the whole Santa/Saint Nicholas deal, but he didn't think there was any lasting damage. Parker was mostly curious about Saint Nicholas, and curious about the reasons why parents told kids about Santa, and the real story that happened after the kids went to bed and 'Santa' came to the house. "But he's fine, isn't he?"

Rebecca hesitated for one moment. "That's not the point."

"Yes, it is," Booth argued in a low hiss. "He's fine, and he knows about Saint Nicholas - the Santa thing was something that he'd have to learn about sooner or later…Becks, I won't say that I wasn't shocked when it happened, but he just learned about something all kids would sooner than we expected. Some kids do, even without Temperance Brennan's help."

Rebecca scowled at him, "I don't like it, okay? What next? She's going to be giving him the birds and the bees talk?"

Booth pulled a face at her. "What? Jeez, no, okay? Look, it's Santa. It's not that big of a deal. She didn't commit a crime. She just told the truth," he defended Brennan. "And it didn't turn out to be a bad thing, either, since he's pretty psyched about the whole Saint Nicholas thing."

It was true, too. He'd learned from Brennan that Saint Nicholas' tomb was still around - she'd gone on an excited rant about the bones being preserved so well that they were intact even after all this time - and he, too, had grew more and more curious about it.

"She didn't have the right to tell him," Rebecca insisted. "He could've been seriously upset."

"It's Santa," he pointed out again. "Not the end of the world, Becks."

"Still."

She stood there, glaring at him with all the anger of an adolescent thirteen year old girl, stubbornly defying a parent's order.

Booth sighed, shaking his head and running a hand through his spiked hair. He jumped, startled, when he felt a pair of arms wrap around his legs. Looking down, he saw the matching charm smile that his son had inherited from him.

Just one look at that adorable face of his, and Booth's frustration and tension started to dissipate. "Hey, bub, good to go?" he asked, eyeing the coat Parker had put on and the sneakers on his feet.

Parker nodded, backpack slung over his shoulders. Booth reached down, grabbing the overnight bag in one hand and enveloping Parker's small hand in his much larger one. "Okay, then, let's go. Say bye to your mommy," he instructed.

Parker looked to Rebecca and waved. "Bye, mommy," he grinned cutely. "See you Monday."

Rebecca chuckled slightly, her voice as strained as her smile when she spoke next. "Okay, honey," she bent down to press a kiss to Parker's forehead. "Have fun with your dad."

As Booth and Parker were leaving, Rebecca hissed warningly to Booth, "Just one thing that goes wrong, Seeley…"

Booth, in turn, glared right back at her. "You know what? We'll talk when you're ready to behave like an adult," he'd replied in a voice much too low for Parker to catch.

He had managed to put aside all thoughts on Rebecca's unfair attitude towards Brennan while Parker had been awake, focusing instead on keeping his son entertained and continuing his pursuit to build a strong father-son relationship between the two of them.

When Parker had fallen asleep, though…Booth had been so worked up over the arguments he'd been having with Rebecca lately that he hadn't gotten much sleep at all.

It wasn't even just Brennan and her kids, either. If that was the sole problem, Booth would sit down with Rebecca and really work things out, even if all of her anger was based on jealousy and unfair rules that she insisted on. Their discord, however, had started far before he'd even met Brennan, and it was escalating more and more until it was starting to get stifling for him.

Despite having so much to deal with regarding Rebecca, Booth decided that this weekend, he wasn't going to get distracted with his problems. Parker had been really upset about not getting to spend Christmas in DC. He had always been upset about spending so little time with Booth on Christmas day, and now he was doubly upset that he couldn't get to spend it with his new friends and daddy's partner.

They were making it up to him, crashing on Brennan's 'mock Christmas' with her family. He wasn't going to screw up this Early Christmas Eve/Day being moody and sulking over his problems. He was going to enjoy the time he had with his son this weekend, and enjoy the time he had with his gorgeous girlfriend and her beautiful family.

Now, as Booth drove to Brennan's apartment, Parker spoke up from the backseat. Booth was surprised to hear him when he called out, "Daddy?" He had been quiet the whole ride over, and they were just now pulling into Brennan's apartment parking space.

"Yeah, bub?"

"Is it okay if we put cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas eve? Even if he's not real?" Parker asked tentatively.

Booth smiled fondly as he parked the car and turned off the engine, turning around in his seat to look at his son. They would usually spend Christmas eve and the beginning of Christmas day together, and putting out cookies and milk for 'Santa' had always been a tradition.

"Sure, buddy," he assured Parker. Just because he now knew that Santa wasn't real didn't mean that childhood traditions like these should stop. "I think that's a great idea."

Just as Booth was unbuckling Parker from his child safety seat, Parker tilted his head and gave Booth an inquisitive look. "Daddy, if there's no Santa…Who eats da cookies?"

Booth flashed a sheepish grin Parker's way. "Sorry, bub," he shrugged. "Usually daddy eats them."

Parker gasped in outrage. "Daddy!" he complained.

Booth chuckled, holding his hands up in surrender. "Sorry," he apologized. "How about this year, I'll wait until the morning and we'll split the cookies?"

Parker considered for a moment before nodding. "Okay, daddy, we'll do that," he agreed.

Booth grinned, helping Parker out of the SUV and grabbing both their overnight bags before shutting the door behind him.

Wyatt answered the door, earphones stuck in each year. "Hey, man," Wyatt greeted Booth easily, holding out a fist for his trademark greeting.

Booth grinned and bumped fists with him, Parker eagerly following suit. "Hey, little man," Wyatt flashed a crooked smile Parker's way. "Come on, Zan and Tri are waiting for you."

When Wyatt led them past the foyer, Booth was surprised, not just at the amount of activity that seemed to be going on in the house but by how much things had changed.

In less than a week since he'd last stepped foot into the house, things had definitely taken a Christmassy turn.

There were now lights strung everywhere, from the foyer to the staircase, to the arched entrance leading to the living room to the mantel. There was a huge, green Christmas tree next to the fireplace, which was roaring with a nice fire. There were little trinkets here and there - a clay Santa figurine stood on the table in the entryway, smiling and holding a bag of goodies, cute little wooden reindeers were placed sporadically in several different locations in the living room, and God knew what else.

"Whoa, Bones, you went all out," Booth complimented.

Brennan grinned from her perch on one of the two armchairs next to the fireplace. "Yeah, it's a tradition to decorate the living room," she murmured, a soft smile on her face as she looked around her. "My parents loved it so I thought, 'why not'."

"We do it every year," Rosalie informed the two Booth boys, from where she sat at the couch, flicking through channels to find something non-Christmas related to watch. Parker had ran straight for Zan and Tri, who were on the floor, rifling through boxes of Christmas ornaments.

"I hope you don't mind, Booth," Brennan said, nodding towards the ornaments. "Zan and Tri wanted to wait until Parker was here to decorate the tree."

Booth, sitting at the ottoman barely a foot away from the armchair Brennan was sitting on, shook his head. "I don't mind," he assured her. "Now gimme a kiss."

Brennan laughed, leaning forward in her seat to give him a proper kiss hello. She laughed against his lips when his hands went to her waist and jerked her playfully forward, her arms wrapping loosely around his neck as they exchanged short, tender caresses on the mouth.

"Guys," Wyatt's voice called out, his disgusted tone prompting them to break their kiss. Booth still kept his hands on her waist, and Brennan's arms were still around his neck, their cheeks pressed together as they smiled over at Wyatt. "I'm happy you're happy, but for us all to be happy, you need to stop doing that."

Brennan stared at her son, confused. "I didn't understand any of that, and I'm a genius," she said blankly.

Booth, rolling his eyes despite the huge smile spread across his lips, pulled away reluctantly from Brennan. "I think he means he doesn't want to see his mother necking in the living room, Bones," he explained, pressing a quick kiss to the side of her head and standing up. "C'mon, let's get started on that tree of yours," he held out his hands, which she took without hesitation, and pulled her up to her feet.

BBBBBBB

"So what's next?" Booth asked, clapping his hands together.

The Christmas tree had been decorated, with ornaments that ranged as far back as Rosalie's and Wyatt's first homemade ornaments way back when, and newly bought ones that had been bought with Booth and Parker in mind - Brennan had been a little apprehensive about that, since it felt far too intimate, far too 'welcome with arms wide open' to her, but Zan had insisted quite stubbornly and when Rosalie had seen a red Corvette ornament, she'd insisted they get that for Booth…It had just escalated from there. Wyatt had even found two socks matching the ones they already had on their fireplace, monogramming them quickly with 'Booth' and 'Parker'.

It wasn't that she didn't enjoy having Booth and Parker around. She trusted Booth immensely, and he was beginning to be very important to her. And Parker was such a delightful, lovely child. She'd taken to him instantly. But it felt like, at least to her, things were moving too fast. She wasn't sure if it was because Booth was so charming or because he had a kid around her little ones' age himself, but she had never seen all four of her children get attached to any of the rare boyfriends she'd introduced to them. With Booth, it just seemed effortless the way he fit into their lives, into her life.

She wasn't sure how she felt about that, exactly.

Rosalie, Wyatt, Zan and Tri, on the other hand, seemed like they already considered Booth family. It unnerved her to no end, yet she felt a certain sense of joy whenever she witnessed one of their 'family moments'.

For right now, things were just too confusing for her to really delve into. She decided to push it all aside and just enjoy the weekend the way it was meant to, especially since Parker had seemed inexplicably upset that he was to miss out on Christmas eve and morning with the Brennan family unit.

"Presents?" Parker asked in an adorable hopeful tone, a bright smile on his face.

Wyatt laughed, shaking his head. "Sorry, little man," he said with a smile. "Not until Early Christmas morning."

Parker's shoulders drooped a little. "Oh," he said disappointedly. The fun he'd been having, however, cheered him up - surely, since it was early Christmas eve, there was some special thing they could do. Daddy said we can build snowmen again today, he remembered happily. "So what now?"

"Well," Brennan tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "We normally make chocolate crinkles and red velvet cake on Early Christmas Eve."

"Then, later, we have a huge slumber party at the end of the day," Rosalie filled in for Brennan. "We just stay up as long as we can in the living room, watching Christmas movies and eating the cookies and the cake, and whatever snacks…We try to stay up until Early Christmas Day rolls around."

Booth nodded, smiling. "That sounds fun," he complimented. Normally, he just ended up playing lots of games during the short time he had with Parker Christmas eve and morning. They didn't have time to do elaborate things, but they did make use of the time they had to the full potential.

"What happens Early Christmas mornin'?" Parker asked, snuggled in Brennan's lap, clutching a surprisingly mellow Baby on his lap.

Wyatt, from his spot on the floor, slightly exhausted from having play wrestled all three little boys for a full thirty minutes earlier, spoke up. "We wake up, eat cereal with green and red M&Ms in them," he grinned. It was the only time of year Brennan allowed them to eat unhealthy cereal, but only because Brennan's parents had done the same thing with her and Russ when they were around.

Booth did little to conceal his surprise at that. "Really?"

Brennan made a face at him. "Yes," she said defensively, then childishly stuck her tongue out at him. "I can be fun."

Booth chuckled, petting Sammy the golden retriever affectionately as he laid his head on Booth's lap. "Okay, Bones," he said teasingly.

"After that we hurry down to Isolde's, the bakery a few blocks away," Rosalie interrupted their bantering, continuing where Wyatt left off. "They have the most awesome candy cane coffee there…Me and mom get those."

Wyatt scrunched up his nose at that. "I don't like it," he announced. "So me and the boys," he ruffled Zan's and Tri's hair in a brotherly gesture from where they slumped on each side of him. This caused another round of giggles and playful shoving. Parker climbed off Brennan's lap to join them, Wyatt pretending to grunt in pain at the force of Parker's weight thrown at him.

Laughing, he continued, "We get hot cocoa - peppermint for me, candy cane for them."

"Then we come back here, bake grandma's cinnamon buns," Rosalie said, bringing a nostalgic smile to Brennan's lips as she remembered baking with her mother on Christmas day year after year when she was younger. "And we make a creative gingerbread house."

"Creative?" Booth repeated, eyebrows scrunching together.

Wyatt nodded. "Last year it was a mountain lodge," he gave an example.

Booth's eyebrows shot up. "Huh."

And so they started on their Early Christmas Eve.

They had some fun in the kitchen, pretty much messing up the place with flour and sticky eggs mixed together as they got started on making some of the snacks they'd consume later during their Early Christmas Eve slumber party - the red velvet cake and the chocolate crinkles. Baking with two competitive thirteen year olds and three playful little boys all under the age of five, however, was not a simple task. Most of the time, Booth and Brennan either ran interference when things nearly got out of hand, or they joined in on the messy fun.

They managed to finally - finally - put in the cookies and the cake in the oven nearly two hours later, all of them wearing flour and eggshells and sugar.

Booth sagged against the fridge. "Am I the only one who's exhausted here?" he asked aloud to no one in particular.

"No!" Tri answered him loudly, sitting his little bottom on Brennan's foot and clinging onto her leg, cranky because he was tired after all that fun he'd just had.

Brennan scooped him up into her arms. "Alright, what do you say we wash up," she rubbed off some of the flour that was on his cheek, kissing his forehead. "Then we rest for a while in the living room?"

"'kay, mommy," Tri agreed with a sigh, resting his head in the crook of her neck, neck tightening around her neck as he hung onto her.

While Rosalie and Wyatt wrangled the three little boys - freshly showered and changed, since Tri had managed to get egg yolk into his hair and Parker and Zan thought it'd be funny to stuff flour down each other's clothes - into the living room for some down time and snacks before they headed out to the ice rink, Booth stayed with Brennan in the kitchen as she pulled out the freshly baked cookies.

Booth reached for one immediately, the delicious aroma of the Chocolate Crinkles even stronger than before since they were out in the open. Brennan saw, frowned and smacked his hand sharply. "Ow!" Booth complained, snatching his hand back and giving her a hurt look.

Brennan rolled her eyes, knowing he was just joking - her partner was made of things far too strong for him to seriously complain about one tiny smack on the hand. "No touching, Booth," she scolded. "These are still hot."

"I can handle it," he said, his tone defensive and boasting all at the same time.

Brennan cocked her hips to the side and placed one hand on her waist. "If you try and sneak one now, Zan and Tri might want one, and I'm pretty sure Parker will, too," she pointed out rationally.

Sighing, defeated, Booth let it go. "Fine," he eyed the yummy looking cookies in barely concealed hungry. "Is there anything that I can eat?"

"There's some leftover lasagna from last night," Brennan offered.

Booth perked up slightly. "Did you make it?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at her.

Brennan nodded, frowning. "Yes," though it would be much easier to just order in takeout, she very rarely let her children eat outside food. There were the occasional trips to McDonalds or IHOP, and they would order pizza or Chinese or go out for sushi some nights just for fun. Mostly, though, either she or Sylvia would make the meals, using ingredients solely from the organic food store, and using healthy variations of recipes. She didn't want any of them to get addicted to junk food.

However, she didn't understand why Booth would ask her if she'd cooked. Narrowing her eyes suspiciously at him, she asked, "Why?"

Booth clapped his hands together, grinning happily. "Then I want some," he stated. At Brennan's raised eyebrow, he shrugged, "What? I like your cooking."

"Oh, you do, huh?" she teased, tamping down the warning bells at the back of her mind, telling her this was far too domesticated - she'd never invited any of her boyfriends to stay for a home cooked meal before. When Pete stayed over, it was just pizza takeout.

Booth, aching to hold her in his arms since the past few days had been mostly family-oriented, didn't miss the opportunity: he was immediately at her side, one arm slipping around her petite frame and pulling her body flushed against his, his other hand flying up to her head, fingers raking gently through her hair, causing little jolts of electricity to travel from Brennan's scalp all the way down her spine.

"Yeah, I do," he replied, his playful tone matching hers, low and warm and caressing her skin without touching. "What're you gonna do about it?"

She chuckled, shaking her head, saying over his laughter, "Booth, that doesn't even make any…"

But his lips were on hers, soft and warm and demanding but yielding all at the same time, and her words died in her throat, her fingers clutching at the material of his Offspring t-shirt.

It had been days since they'd kissed properly, just little sneaks here and there - they hadn't had a case in over a week, they'd both been busy with Christmas details and paperwork and their respective jobs at their respective workplaces. With everything going on, he hadn't spent the night since Tuesday night when Rebecca had 'played the babysitter card' with him, as he'd put it.

She had missed kissing him and now he was making it so hard to pull away - slow and languid kisses that made her want to get as close to him as possible - so she parted her lips, tongue darting out to sweep across his bottom lip, slipping past the moment his mouth parted against hers. Their tongues tangled sweetly, the kiss intensifying to an almost dizzying height.

"Bones, what's dis?" they heard, which immediately caused them to spring apart, chests heaving, faces flushed, hearts pounding with the adrenaline shooting through their systems.

Booth, swiveling to face the direction of the little voice, placed a hand over his racing heart. "Parker!" he gasped. "Jeez! How long have you been sitting there!"

Parker shrugged, sitting on his knees on the cushioned booth of the lounge area where they usually ate, his arms placed on the square table in front of him, his chocolate brown eyes fixed on the two adults. "I dunno," he replied, impassive. "Since you were kissin'."

Brennan rolled her eyes, an indulgent smile on her face. "What're you doing in here?" she asked him, moving towards where he was sitting and gently grasping his chin in her hand, playfully shaking his head from side to side.

Parker laughed at her actions. "I got bored," he told her. "Wyatt went up ta his room, and I think Tri's falling asleep on da couch…"

Brennan grinned. That didn't surprise her at all - Tri had been up most of last night, and stubbornly wouldn't fall asleep until very late (or extremely early, depending on how you looked at it). He'd spent the night with her in her room, overly excited about Early Christmas Day and their upcoming vacation just a week away - Christmas was a very excitable time for a child, apparently.

"What about Zan and Rose, buddy?"

"They're watchin' TV," he reported dutifully. "But then I gots hungry…"

"Me, too!" Booth added, turning to look at Brennan with the same pleading eyes as Parker, suddenly remembering his hunger from before that oh-so-delicious kiss of theirs had distracted him.

Brennan sighed. "Like father, like son," she teased. Walking back over to the fridge, she pulled out the leftovers of last night's lasagna.

Parker wrinkled his nose. "What's that?" he asked, not particularly excited to see the pasta dish.

"Lasagna."

"Oh."

Brennan laughed. Neither Zan nor Tri were fond of lasagna, either. She'd made them a small side of chicken fingers and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner last night.

"Do I have ta eat it?" Parker asked, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice in case he hurt Brennan's feelings. His dad had told him many, many times before that it wasn't nice to hurt other people's feelings. Besides, Brennan was nice and he didn't want her to cry. He just wasn't sure he wanted to eat lasagna - she normally cooked really good food, but he just wasn't sure.

Parker was placed out of his worries when Brennan reassured him, "No, you don't have to…How about I make some grilled sandwiches? Peanut butter and banana?" That was something her little boys loved to eat, and a favorite of Rose and Wyatt's since they were young, too.

Parker perked up immediately. Pops - his daddy's daddy's daddy had made it once when he visited, saying that it was Elvis' favorite sandwich. Parker had loved it even better than grilled cheese sandwich, which was also something 'Pops' had made a lot. "Elvis' sammich?"

Brennan frowned. "I…don't know what that means," she informed the four year old.

Booth stepped in before the sweet interaction turned into Parker trying to educate Brennan on Elvis and start dancing and singing - Pops had been a big fan of 'the King' and had played it non-stopped during the visit that had introduced Parker to peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

"Parker loves peanut butter and banana sandwiches, Bones," he assured her, cutting up a piece of lasagna for himself - a big piece - and placing it in the microwave to heat. "Don't cha, bub?"

Parker nodded his head enthusiastically. "It's yummy," he beamed sweetly at her. Once she had gotten out the ingredients for the simple sandwiches, Parker asked her his question once more. "What's all dis, Bones?" he turned his head to look at the cardboard box on the cushioned booth next to where he sat. Sticking a hand into the box, he picked up one of the many letters inside.

"Parks," Booth warned, moving forward to take the envelope from him in case it was something personal.

But Parker had already read the address on the red, slightly crumpled envelope before his dad had taken it from him. A bewildered expression on his face, he looked wide-eyed at Brennan. "Why do you haff Santa's mail?"

Booth did a double take, his own gaze dropping to the letter in his hands. True enough, there on the envelope, was a child's scribble.

Santa Claus

Santa's Workshopp

The Norf Pole

Brennan had to stifle her laughter at the looks on Booth's and Parker's faces. "Those are letters from some less fortunate children," she replied as she cut up some banana slices. She could see the understanding flash across Booth's face at her answer. "They wrote it to Santa."

Parker raised an eyebrow. "Da one that's not real?" he didn't sound particularly upset, since he knew that Santa was really his parents and he'd be getting presents every year anyway.

Brennan nodded, "Yes."

"Why?"

Brennan exhaled, stopping her work on the sandwiches as she contemplated her next words. Booth, who had slid into the booth opposite Parker, had placed the cardboard box on the table so that he could rifle through some of the letters.

"Well…" she said slowly, carefully. "For lucky little kids like you and Zan and Tri…Your parents are Santa. They know if you've been good or bad," Parker giggled a little at that, making both adults smile. "They know what you want or need for Christmas, and they buy you presents if they can, just because they love you."

Parker beamed - all of that sounded pretty cool, and he grew more excited at the prospect of opening up presents a week early. His dad had already told him he could open up some presents on Early Christmas morning with the others. "Right!" he cheered.

"Right," Brennan nodded. "But for those kids," she pointed at the box. "They don't have anyone to do that for them."

Parker's good mood deflated a little. "That's sad," he commented, frowning as he gazed at the box, and the few letters in his dad's hands.

"Yes, it is," Brennan agreed.

"Parker! Parker, you in here?" Rosalie's voice called out, the girl in question appearing in the kitchen just moments later. A flash of relief flashed across her pretty features as she saw the little boy. "Whoa, little dude. I turn my back for one second and you disappeared," she said, her tone gently chiding.

Parker gave her an apologetic charm smile. "I'm sorry, Rosie," he said sincerely.

Rosalie made a face at the nickname - 'Rose' she could handle. 'Mini' was even starting to grow on her, though she'd be damned before she ever let that one slip. 'Rosie', on the other hand…She chose not to say anything since Parker Booth was too cute for words, but this was a one-time deal, she promised herself. No way in hell was the boy going to grow up thinking of her as 'Rosie', she decided.

"Right," she said. Noticing the cardboard box and the letters in front of Booth, her eyes sparkled slightly. "Hey…Are those the Santa letters?"

Booth, who had been reading a few of the letters, nodded before turning his head to smile at Brennan. "I didn't know you did the Dear Santa thing," he said. "I mean, you don't even believe in Santa."

Brennan rolled her eyes. "I have to believe in Santa to do this?" she asked incredulously. "Besides, these are from needy children from less fortunate families." Her voice growing softer, she added, "My mother did this. She would take a few letters from the post office and she'd try and help out one or two of the kids who wrote to Santa. She made it a priority every Christmas."

Brennan could remember very clearly how determined Christine had been every year to make sure that she helped at least one family have a better Christmas than they anticipated having. She'd always stressed to Brennan and Russ how very lucky they were to have a stable home life, a stable financial situation, a roof over their heads and a loving family. Some years, she and Matthew would even take Brennan and Russ to volunteer if they could - she remembered going to children's wards and donating some of her old toys and clothes to charity foundations.

Christmas growing up had never been about presents - it had always been about giving and sharing, about being better people and helping others.

Brennan had been more than terrified of being a parent when she'd learned she was pregnant that first time, and the fear hadn't dissipated at all the second and third times, but the one thing that she'd always held on to was the lessons her parents had taught her. She tried to utilize those lessons into being a better mother, and being a giving person was part of that.

The first few years, of course, she hadn't had a lot to give. Still, she made it a habit to pick out just one letter that sang to her the most. She, Rosalie and Wyatt would sit around together, Greta bustling about in the background screaming something in German she couldn't quite catch, and they'd read the few letters Brennan had brought home from the post office. They'd pick the one that seemed as though it had come from the child needing the most help, and they'd try and help out as much as they could.

When the twins were eight, and Brennan had graduated college and was even on her way to getting her first PhD, they had started volunteering. It wasn't much, since Brennan was still incredibly busy and couldn't spare much time, but they'd pick one organization per year: be it the hospital, or an orphanage or even a homeless shelter.

Last year, they had gotten extremely lucky, metaphorically speaking, of course: Brennan had paid off all of her debts and loans, she wasn't as busy as she had been when she had been in college or when she was a grad student, she had a very high salary at the Jeffersonian and they had more money than they would ever need thanks to the successful book sales of her novel.

So, they had kicked it up a notch.

Why should they not donate more to charity when they clearly had the means to?

It was something that had grated on her nerves terribly while she had lived with Wes' parents: they had treated their staff horribly and had only been 'gracious' to the poor when it would benefit their name in their society's eyes. They hadn't been very good people with good hearts, and she didn't want any of her children to grow up with attitudes like theirs just because they were fortunate enough to have access to money.

So, in an attempt to make it a fun experience, she, Rosalie and Wyatt had sat down together and made up new traditions that they would later divulge to Zan and Tri in animated voices to psych them up as well.

Starting November, Brennan and the kids would pick one day of the week, usually the weekend, to volunteer at a certain organization. Most of the time, they picked a children's hospital or ward, an orphanage or a group home. Brennan would write checks to donate money for foster children, knowing how little they had during the year and even worse during Christmas. And, of course, they picked up more Dear Santa letters - some from the post office, some from a few orphanages and group homes that Brennan was a donor to - to try and help more needy children.

She wanted the four of them to understand that Christmas might not have a very significant meaning to them - Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Christ, even though the date was all wrong, and none of them were religious - but it didn't mean that it was meaningless to others in the world.

"And you decided to carry on the tradition?" Booth guessed, his gentle tone jolting her out of her reverie.

She nodded, shrugging. "Something like that," she smiled. "Every year, I take a few of these letters, the kids and I read them and we try and help as much as we can."

"'cuz we have to help udders?" Parker questioned her in a knowing tone.

Brennan nodded. "Yes, we do," she agreed. "Because we're more fortunate than them."

"What's dat?"

"Fortunate? It means lucky."

"Oh."

Booth waved the few letters he had in his hand. "This is more than just 'a few'," he repeated her earlier words.

Brennan shrugged, placing a plate of 'Elvis sandwiches' in front of Parker. He smiled eagerly and took one, biting into it hungrily. "I've been successful these past few years, and I now have a much higher salary, a much higher amount of money I can spare to help," she said as though this was no big deal. "My parents always said that we should give to charity at least half of what we spend, especially if we can afford it."

Booth nodded, pursing his lips. "That's a good thing to do," he said, placing the letters back in the box. "When do you usually go through these?"

Rosalie answered for Brennan, "Early Christmas Eve." She reached out, grabbing a tangerine from the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter and started to peel, sliding into the booth next to Parker. "We sit down together, sort out the letters, write down lists of what to get, who to get it for and which address to send it to, then we go shopping for it once Early Christmas Day is over."

Parker, eyeing the juicy fruit, tugged on her shirt sleeve, nodding at the orange fruit and giving her wide, pleading puppy dog eyes. Rosalie rolled her eyes at his attempt even as the corners of her lips tugged minimally.

Booth raised an eyebrow at her, "Then why isn't it on the itinerary of things we were gonna do today?"

Rose shrugged. "Mom figured you wouldn't want to do something like that," she said, peeling off a piece of tangerine to hand it to Parker, who, beaming widely, grabbed the fruit between two fingers and popped it in his mouth, offering her a sparkly-eyed look the whole time he chewed. Rose popped the next piece into her mouth before giving the next one to Parker without being asked.

Booth turned his head to look at Brennan, both eyebrows lifted this time. Brennan shrugged, blushing slightly. "It's supposed to be a fun day," she pointed out. "I don't think doing Christmas chores with us constitutes as 'fun'."

"Aw, it's fun, Bones," he assured her, standing up and wrapping his arms around her from behind, his lips ghosting over her neck as he spoke next. "I think it's sweet what you're doing, and it's a good idea."

Brennan, leaning into his embrace, turned skeptical eyes on him.

To reassure her, Booth looked to his son, who was being offered the last piece of tangerine, and asked, "Bub, you wanna help Bones and Mini answering Santa's letters?"

And even though he knew that Santa wasn't real, four year old Parker received the warmest, happiest sort of thrill at the question. "Yeah!" he agreed instantly, brown eyes lighting up and spine straighter than before. "Can we, Bones? Please?"

Brennan laughed at his eagerness, unsure if he understood what he would really be doing. It was far less glamorous than he thought, she was sure of it.

Neither Zan nor Tri enjoyed answering the letters, mostly because it wasn't anything but reading and making lists. Both of her little boys had learned to read, though they weren't all that great at it yet, but these letters had spelling errors and illegible handwriting done by mostly children. It made things a whole lot harder for them to read. Besides, even if she read to them out loud, they would still get restless after a while.

They were far more interested in shopping for the needy than they were in reading their words.

"Okay," she gave in. She wasn't going to stop him from helping out if he wanted. After all, that was the whole point, wasn't it? To be gracious to others? If Parker was going to learn from the lesson that Christine Brennan had tried to teach so many years ago, who was she to complain? "You can help. C'mon, let's get Wyatt, Zan and Tri and get started."

Rosalie stepped out of the booth so that Parker could hop out. Brennan led Parker by the hand towards the living room to get the others. Booth was left alone with Rosalie - he sat awkwardly on one end of the table while she stared at him unabashedly, peeling away at another tangerine.

Giving her a small smile, Booth tried not to show just how relieved he was when the microwave timer beeped, giving him something to do. He slid out from the booth and walked towards the microwave, grabbing an oven mitten and sliding it on before grabbing the plate inside.

"How's your first Early Christmas Eve going?" Rosalie asked him as he returned to the table.

Booth, who had been sweeping some of the letters aside so that none of them would get dirty accidentally lest he spilled food on them or something, blinked several times before looking up at Rose. "It's going good," he admitted. "I didn't know what to expect when I came here…"

"Afraid it wouldn't be Christmassy enough for you?" her sharp cobalt eyes piercing through him, assessing him the same way her mother would assess bones, narrowed as though he had offended her somehow.

Booth hastened to assure her, "No, no…That's not what I meant at all. I mean, yeah, it is very Christmassy, but I wasn't having doubts about that…" It was strange that she could make him feel like a fish out of water sometimes.

Brennan had told him, the night he'd met Rosalie for the first time, that she was like that with everyone - heavily distrustful, taking offense in the simplest things, always a very complicated girl. She 'guarded her heart', Brennan had said. Booth could understand that, to some extent - even if she was any normal, average thirteen year old girl, she would still be a teenager, and she would still be a complicated mess right about now - but it still made him a tad uneasy every time he got things wrong with her.

It always felt like Rosalie was trying to test him, to see if he would impress her somehow, and when she'd flicker her eyes over him, a small frown on her lips, he'd feel as though he failed the test somehow.

And it was clear to see that Rosalie had the tightest relationship with Brennan. The two were more like best friends than parent/child.

Booth didn't want to be the kind of boyfriend who sought to create some sort of friendship with the children to gain the mother's approval, but he felt like he had to step up his game concerning Rose.

He wanted to get along with Brennan's family - he and his partner were two people who valued their children more than anything in the world, so he knew the importance of him being able to have a good relationship with the four mini Brennans. It was just harder with Rosalie, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to try his hardest.

"Then what did you mean?" Rose asked, not looking at all happy with him at the moment.

Booth snuck a quick look at the kitchen door to see if Brennan was back with the boys, but she was nowhere to be seen. He could hear her with Parker and Zan talking loudly from the living room, and he could even hear Tri, whom he supposed had woken up from whatever nap he was taking, all of them calling out for Wyatt to join them, laughter in their voices.

He was alone, facing a Great White Shark.

"Uh…You know, I just…" he sighed, placing his fork down on his plate. "I didn't know what to expect," he repeated. "Mostly because this whole family aspect of Bones' life is really still very new to me, you know? I mean, uh, I've known her for months - over a year, if you wanna count our first case - and it's just…It's a big thing, and it requires time for me to get used to it."

Which was true, even if he had been spending a lot of time with her at her apartment, therefore getting acquainted with her personal life more and more each day. It was just a lot to take in and it still sometimes seemed surreal to him. He had to wonder, at times, if she felt the same way about him and Parker, though it can't be as shocking as him discovering about her home life.

Rosalie nodded her head slowly, taking in his words. "Okay, sure," she reluctantly conceded. "I can understand that."

Booth allowed a small smile to steal across his lips. "I just…It's been really fun," he said lamely. "Early Christmas Eve, I mean. I'm glad, you know, I'm glad you and your mom invited us. I, uh, I know Parker's been really upset about missing Christmas with me, and with you guys…So, um, this is good."

Offering her a genuine smile, realizing that he probably hadn't given Rosalie a proper thank you yet considering this was her idea to begin with, he said, "Thank you. You know, you were the one who invited us in the first place."

Rosalie rolled her eyes, her expression softening slightly as she saw the sincerity of his gratitude and his words, attempting nonchalance to tamp down her blush at the unintentional charm Seeley Booth exuded. "Yeah, sure, whatever," she shrugged. "No big deal."

Booth gave her a knowing grin, knowing she was touched by what he'd said. "Uh-huh," he teased, standing up once more to go to the fridge and grab himself a drink.

Rosalie scowled at him, fighting back a smile. "Just because I find you slightly charming on a very rare occasion doesn't mean anything," she informed him stubbornly.

Their little moment was ruined as Wyatt entered the kitchen, having changed from his flour-covered clothes. "Are we leaving for the ice rink?" he asked, looking around eagerly.

Rosalie glared at Wyatt, irritated at him for reasons he couldn't even begin to understand. "You know we won't go until lunch is over," she reminded him. "The place is always so packed with annoying families with annoying little kids during lunch time."

Wyatt raised an eyebrow at her. "You do realize we're an annoying family with annoying little kids, right?" he pointed in the direction of the three little boys, all headed their way with Brennan in the lead.

Rosalie sniffed, tossing her hair over her shoulder, saying in a snooty tone in the perfect imitation of her mother when she was being smug about one of her achievements, "We're Brennans. We're not annoying."

Booth snorted slightly at that. "Right," he drawled sarcastically, just as they were joined by Brennan and the three boys, entering the kitchen loudly.

"Okay, let's get started, then," Brennan said, clapping her hands together, a yellow legal pad clasped between her arm and her body, as Parker, Zan and Tri ran for the dining booth, sliding in one by one and grabbing for the peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Rosalie went first, dipping her hand into the cardboard box and pulling out a handful. Once she had a few letters in hand, she turned to leave.

"Rose, where are you going?" Brennan called out, halting her.

Spinning around to face her mother, Rosalie placed her free hand on her hip. She gave Brennan a look that said Brennan should know the oh-so-obvious answer without having to be told. "Mom, I cry when I read these letters," she waved the letters in her hand slightly. "I can't cry in front of people."

"Okay, wait, what?" Wyatt asked incredulously, shaking his head at his sister. "You cry in front of us every year."

Rosalie huffed, annoyed that they weren't getting this. "Well, it's different this year. There's Booth and Parker. I can't let them see me crying," she hissed.

Wyatt turned to Brennan. "Okay, if she gets to do this in her room, I do, too," he said quickly, ready to whine about how unfair it was if Brennan disagreed.

Brennan glared at the two of them, placing her hands on each of their backs and steering them towards the lounge booth. "No one is doing this in their rooms," she growled. "We've always done this together, and that's not going to change! Now sit, read and weep!"

Despite being amused over Brennan's interactions with the twins, Booth gave Brennan a worried look. "Are we intruding?" he asked her in a low tone, placing the bottle of grape flavored Snapple he'd grabbed from the fridge next to his plate of lasagna. "I don't want us to intrude. If you're not comfortable with us being here, Parker and I could leave…"

Parker, who had been busily chatting away with Zan and Tri, looked up at his father's words. "Daddy, no!" he protested immediately. "I wanna stay here!"

Booth shot Parker a warning glance. "Parker…"

Brennan stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Booth's middle. "No one's intruding," she assured him softly, leaning up to brush her lips against his. If there was any real discomfort any of her children had felt towards Booth or Parker being around them, she would've known and she would've asked them to leave. She didn't need to be good at reading people like Booth was to be able to understand her own children. That was exactly the reason she had no trouble dismissing Rosalie's attitude with a simple, "Rose was being Rose. It's fine."

Booth turned his attention back to Rosalie, dubious, and was surprised to find that she'd snatched the bottle of grape Snapple from his table, unscrewed the lid and was sipping away daintily.

Catching his look, she maintained a neutral expression and shrugged, "Grapeade is my flavor. It's so off limits. Pick one of those teas or something - that's mom's."

Brennan, apparently seeing something in Rosalie's behavior that Booth didn't, squeezed him tighter and looked up at him. He was surprised to see her smiling widely. Her chin propped against his chest, she said, "See? She's only that rude to family."

And even as he laughed at her words, shaking his head and leaning down to kiss her, he couldn't help but worry.

Not over Rosalie, because cranky teenage girls, he could figure out. Eventually.

He was worried about Brennan because behind the sparkle of her pretty eyes, he could see a storm brewing, and despite the soft velvet of her lips against his, there was something in her kiss that wasn't quite right.

Booth didn't have enough time to deliberate over this, however, because as quickly as their kiss had begun, it ended. Brennan pulled away from his embrace completely, lightly guiding him to the booth and pushing him to sit, sliding in next to him after grabbing a drink for him from the fridge to replace the one her daughter had stolen.

"Let's do this," she said with a smile for everyone at the table, reaching out to take a letter of her own. "Ooh, this one's from a boy named 'Leonard'."

"I like 'Leo'," Zan nodded approvingly.

"How old is he?"

Booth eyed Brennan as she interacted with the others - joking with Rose and Wyatt, reading the letter in her hand out loud, allowing Tri to crawl under the table and up onto her lap…The smile on her face could've fooled anyone else, but he was learning everything there was to know about her. He was learning her.

Everything wasn't perfectly fine.

Frowning, Booth turned to his lasagna and picked up a letter of his own. This is Early Christmas Eve, he reminded himself. This is the Christmas weekend I won't get to spend with Parker or Bones. Don't screw it up.

He popped a forkful of lasagna into his mouth, chewing the heavenly morsel and grabbing his bottle of Snapple lemon tea. As he took a swig of the drink, his eyes caught Rosalie's.

He lowered his bottle, surprised when her dark blue eyes fixed on him. He furrowed his brow, sensing that Rosalie was trying to silently convey a message to him. He watched as her eyes flickered almost too quickly in the direction of her mother before they darkened, meeting his gaze once more, a warning in them.

The warning was for him to be careful - not because Rosalie thought he would hurt her mother, because hell knew if anyone could actually hurt Brennan.

It was a warning to be careful because Booth wasn't the only one who could sense the storm brewing.

I hoped I did the Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas thing right. I myself share the same beliefs Brennan does, maybe in a not-so-anthropologically-speaking sort of way. I just think that while Brennan wouldn't encourage her kids to believe in an invisible, imaginary deity like Santa (or God), she wouldn't rob them the joy of Christmas or receiving/giving gifts. After all, she herself had to have had good Christmas memories from when her parents and brother were still around, and when she had Rose and Wyatt, I think she'd have been faced with a tough decision to make regarding what to say and what not to say.

This was how I envision Christmas to be like for Brennan and her family, and not just the Santa thing, either. I meant the donations and the good deeds and the volunteer work, mostly because Brennan had gone through a lot. She was a foster child, she was a pregnant teenager, she was a struggling single mother and she was an anthropologist who went from one poverty ridden country to another. She's faced a lot and she understood what it was like to need help from others, what with Wes' help. I'd think she'd want her kids to understand the value of money and appreciate what they have, as well as give to others who are in need.

I don't know, maybe I was wrong. I hope I did the episode/chapter all right and didn't turn it into some sort of Mary Sue-ish disaster.

Also, there have been a few reviews asking how Brennan would've managed to handle college and getting her degrees if she had to take care of twin children when she was younger. I hope I managed to clarify this for you since I had been vague before.

P.S. The Santa/Saint Nicholas story was taken almost word for word from '' website (the piece was written by Carol Myers) and from 'SANTAS(DOT)NET'. I edited a few parts to minimize mentions of religion, since Brennan wouldn't read something that has connotations of religion in it, even if it has something to do with Santa and saints and Christmas.

P.P.S. Who managed to catch where I got some of Brennan's 'Early Christmas Eve/Day' traditions from?

Pictures for this episode are on my profile page if you're interested.

Juliet.