This fic follows the events of The Doctor in the Photo by about two weeks. Hopefully this will tide all of you (as well as me) over until the return of Bones in January. This will be about seven chapters, and I hope to finish it before that next episode airs. So, here goes. Enjoy :)
Chapter 1: So This is Christmas
December 25th, 2010
The Christmas tree was glowing in the corner, casting a light golden shine on the walls. As her eyes unfocused slowly, the individual bulbs melded together, softening and expanding. She sighed and looked away, trying to not think, to focus only on the ridiculous decorations.
She had always disliked Christmas, and not for all the same reasons. For one, there was the fact that she didn't have the happy childhood memories that most of her friends seemed to about sitting on Santa's lap and trying to stay up to hear the reindeer on the roof. Mostly, she just remembered the way it had felt when Russ had stepped into the living room, his face serious, his eyes dark. The way he had said her name, thick with pain.
The way reality had crashed down on her.
And after that... well, Christmas really was a commercial holiday. It was much like Valentine's Day, where those who were most liked were most rewarded, where everything was a popularity contest.
Years and years of her life had been filled with watching other people celebrate, other people shop and gush over the presents they had bought for their loved ones, and the ones they had received in return. She had watched as boys she had liked chased after other girls with arms full of gifts and thoughtfully written Christmas cards. She had watched as her roommates in college packed up, wrapping their gifts and getting ready for the drive home for the holidays, to spend Christmas with their parents, their siblings, their cousins, their aunts and uncles and grandparents.
She had watched everyone smile and laugh and pleasure over the joys of the holidays... with everything she had never had, and never would have.
Because, if she faced the facts, she'd see that she didn't fit into any of those scenes. Hell, the tree in her living room hadn't even been her idea. Angela had made her get it last year when they'd been shopping together, and this year... well, she'd just put it up. To see how it felt.
And it hadn't made things better. It hadn't made anything better. It had just made her feel sick to her stomach, like a constant nagging reminder of what she was lacking.
The bottom of the tree was empty. And it had no decorations besides the built-in lights. She wondered, fleetingly, if she still had that box of things in the back of the hall closet. The one she had gathered that year after her release from the foster system when she'd made her way back to the house—finding it run down and abandoned—and salvaged what she could. But she had no intent of putting any of them up. If just a tree with barely any memories attached to it hurt to look at... she didn't want to imagine how decorations that had been on the tree in that living room, on that day, would affect her.
Booth was spending Christmas with Hannah.
She had no idea if they had Parker or not, because, well, Booth hadn't mentioned it to her. Usually, he spent every year in the month or so before Christmas either eagerly explaining what he had planned for him and his son... or complaining about how he didn't get to see him.
This year, though, she'd heard none of it.
Assumably, he had replaced that listening ear she had always provided with Hannah's.
Which shouldn't have shocked her. None of this should have shocked her. Hannah was Booth's girlfriend. They were happy together. They were in love. He wanted to be with her as much as possible. Whenever possible.
And he no longer wanted to do anything with her. Even if it was work related. Even if it was just lunch to discuss the case, or a late afternoon in one of their offices slogging through paperwork.
Ever since the Lauren Eames case. Sure, her world had been dumped upside-down for those three days. Nothing had made sense, and everything had just... spiraled out of control continuously until she hadn't known which way was up and which was down, and she had just wanted to collapse from the exhaustion of thinking too much. But she hadn't been the only one changed because of it. Because she had told him, told Booth, about her feelings. Had told him she had been wrong. Had practically admitted that she loved him.
And that had been remarkably stupid.
It didn't matter that, the next morning, she'd felt better for it. Getting it out there and all... taking a shot at a better future rather than hiding. No, it didn't matter. Because now, she was lost again, and even farther from happiness than she'd ever been in her life.
Booth had taken her seriously. To a point that she hadn't imagined, in fact. Now, he avoided her. Spent a lot of time telling her about what he and Hannah did together. Almost like he was trying to convince her that he was with Hannah, and that it wasn't going to change. Almost like he was afraid she was too attached to him, and she wasn't going to be able to move on.
He was half right. She was attached, and she wasn't going to move on.
But what she wasn't going to do, was tell him, or do anything to let him know just how much she was aching inside. She wasn't cruel, and she wasn't stupid. Far from it. She knew when to give up and gather up what was left of her dignity. So she'd had no intent of trying to... force her way in between him and his girlfriend.
He was happy with Hannah. Happier than she'd ever seen him. Why would she want to ruin that, when all she'd ever wanted was to make him happy?
That was why she'd turned him down that night outside the Hoover building, after their long talk with Sweets. That was why she'd made up her mind to never let anything hurt him... including herself. And she was the greatest threat, even if he didn't see it.
She should be relieved that he had found someone new, someone that loved him back and could promise to always feel that way. Someone that was solid and understandable... as well as tall and blonde.
And yet, through all of that, she couldn't help but feel a stab of agony whenever she saw them together. She wanted, irrationally, to prove that she could do better than Hannah. That was where the mishap with the telephone had come in. It had been stupid, but she'd seen it as a way to make him happy. It was only later that she realized she had passed on a bit of knowledge that was attached to her. If she wanted to let him go, she needed it to be Hannah who discovered little things about him, without her help, so that he could be happier and more involved.
But some days, the pain wasn't something she could fight. It was a physical presence, weighing her down. And she hated it. It wasn't normal, and it made her feel like another person entirely. Dr. Brennan didn't break down in her office when no one was looking. Dr. Brennan didn't freak out because her partner walked right past her office to meet Hannah at the doors for a kiss before they left together. And Dr. Brennan most certainly didn't let herself fantasize about how happy she could be if only she had made a different decision all that time ago.
It was too late, though. Too late, and she needed to accept that.
Sooner rather than later.
Things would be so much easier if she had Angela to talk to. Through every relationship, she'd always had the artist to talk to. Not that she went to Ange herself... but rather than Angela, through whatever mystical means of understanding, figured out something was wrong and came to her, pushing her until she finally spilled everything. And then they talked, and Angela would agree with everything she said, and they would both go into great detail about how stupid men were, and how it was their faults that nothing was ever easy in a relationship. All leading up to some sort of advice that Angela would leave her to think about... advice that almost always turned out to be hugely successful.
This was different, though, because this wasn't some man she had met at a seminar, or some guy she'd run into at the coffee shop. This wasn't her trying to understand mixed signals and figure out what to wear on a date.
This was her trying to understand why everything hurt so much, and why she felt so goddamn alone all the time, even when it seemed like she was still surrounded by people that she cared about... and that she had thought cared about her in return.
The thing was, though... none of them seemed to have noticed her distress. Angela spent most of her time working on art or avidly discussing her pregnancy with Hodgins or some other member of the team. Her and Cam now had something in common, and the latter seemed determined to share motherly advice, and gush over the baby outfits that she hadn't been around to pick out for Michelle.
Angela had questioned, once or twice, about her emotions. But they had been fleeting instances, and Brennan had never felt much like talking. But when had she ever? The only way her friend had ever gotten her to open up was by sitting her down and dedicating an hour to figuring out the details.
Nowadays, Angela asked if she was okay, she waved her off halfheartedly, and Angela hesitated before leaving her on her own again.
She knew she could easily call Angela up at any time, and her friend would be more than happy to talk it out, but somehow she couldn't get up the courage to do so. Partly, it was because she didn't want to be a bother in Angela's clearly happy life. But mostly... she didn't want to admit what was going on. She didn't want to have to tell her best friend, who's love life was so successful and filled with joy, that she had failed in her own and was now left with nothing to do but sob her eyes out in Booth's car after being rejected.
Secretly, she was terrified that... well, maybe Angela would agree with Booth. Maybe she would say that Brennan had missed her chance, and that by giving him up she shouldn't have expected any more than this.
Besides, Angela seemed to like Hannah. This past week, they'd gone out to coffee more than once. She'd been invited the first time, but after turning them down, they hadn't asked again. The last day of work before the lab had closed for the holidays, she'd gone looking for her friend to ask a question about the victim... and hadn't been able to find her. After searching the lab, she'd been forced to go to Hodgins and query about her whereabouts, only to find out that she'd taken an hour lunch to go shopping with Hannah and then grab a bite at the Diner with both her and Booth.
She felt like she was drowning in her own life, which had spiraled so far out of control that she didn't even feel like it was her own anymore.
She almost wished it wasn't.
Her friends had their own matters to deal with, and no one cared if she worked all hours and got little to no sleep. No one cared if she missed lunch, and no one cared if she locked herself in her office for a couple hours with the lights off so that no one would see the tears trailing down her face.
She felt invisible, like... she was back in school again. Surrounded by people that worked with her because that was what they had to do, because it was in the job description. Not because they cared in any individual capacity.
Which was why she was here, now, on Christmas, all alone.
She had almost gone on a trip, perhaps to Guatemala or back to El Salvador, but something had held her back. A last hope, perhaps, that maybe she wasn't entirely forgotten.
In the past, Angela had always made sure they did something together for the holidays. She had some sort of party, or at the very least dragged her to the one the Jeffersonian threw. This year, neither had happened. Angela had offered to bring her back an eggnog from the staff party. Hadn't even asked if she wanted to go. And so she'd turned down the eggnog, trying not to show any emotions on her face, but feeling like she might fall apart inside.
How could she possibly blame Ange, though, when it was really all her fault?
For the past six years, she had turned down almost every offer to go have fun. She'd only gone to clubs under extreme protest, and hadn't been very much fun at Christmas parties. Was it really a shock that no one would invite her this year, when she'd been distant and unresponsive for the past few weeks? They probably assumed she didn't want to be bothered. Probably thought that she was just putting up more walls, icing herself over to drive away others.
And in part, she had been. But not intentionally.
She'd been so lost in herself, that she'd been desperately hoping someone would come along to pull her back to the surface. Normally, that would be Angela. Maybe even Hodgins, or Cam.
But especially, it would have been Booth, who would have worried about her and tried to cheer her up. Who would have checked up on her periodically to ensure she ate at normal hours, and went home at a reasonable time. It would have been Booth who would have enquired about her plans for Christmas, whined about how she should be getting in the spirit, and, even if he suspected she would say no, would have invited her to do something with him, even if it was only brief... just to make sure she wasn't entirely alone for the holidays.
He hadn't called her for anything non-case-related in two weeks.
She felt a tear slide down her cheek, and let out a shaky breath.
God, she was losing it. Honest to goodness losing it. A few years ago, she'd never have let herself cry like this, even if she was alone like this in her own home.
She didn't even recognize the woman in her bathroom mirror anymore when she got up in the morning. The dark circles, the despaired expression, the hollow eyes.
Why was she doing this to herself? Because she thought she needed him?
She buried her head in her hands. Who was she kidding? She'd lost this battle five years ago when she'd agreed to be partners with him. She'd sent herself down this path, and periodically along the way she'd questioned her own intentions, wondering how it could possible end any way but in disaster.
She'd predicted this; had predicted her own misery and ruin. Only, she'd thought she would get through it with a lot more grace. Had thought that she would be more adept at handling the pain, after all the suffering she'd been through in the past from failed relationships.
Apparently, though, she'd been wrong.
Because in Booth's car, soaked through with her hair hanging in her face, she had told him what she hadn't been able to keep to herself anymore. She had told him what had been running through her head ever since she'd started talking to Lauren, ever since they had talked to that helicopter pilot who reminded her so much of Booth, and of how much he had wanted to give to her.
And when Booth had reminded her that he had a girlfriend, when he had told her that Hannah wasn't a consolation prize, she had realized that it was never going to happen. Not now that she'd pushed him away and into the arms of another woman. Not now that she had let her one chance pass her by because she'd been scared, and hadn't wanted to hurt either of them by failing.
What if she hadn't failed though? What if things had actually worked out? What if they had been happy together?
She didn't know if she'd ever know the answers to any of those questions... but what she was fully aware of, sitting her in her lonely apartment staring at her lonely tree... was that she knew this loneliness hurt far more than she had ever thought she'd be able to bear.
Through the silence, the shrill ring of her phone made her jump. Her eyes sought out the clock as her hand groped on the end table in the dark for her phone. Five o'clock. She hadn't even realized how much the light had faded while she'd been sitting there, lost in her thoughts.
For a brief flickering of a second, she felt a jump in her chest that maybe, just maybe, it might be Booth. Calling her to at least wish her a Merry Christmas. Some small sign that he still cared, that he hadn't forgotten about her entirely, like it seemed he was trying very hard to do. She would have even been relieved to see Angela's name flashing on the screen, to have her friend be calling for any reason at all.
But the number wasn't either of them. It was Sweets, and she felt her heart constrict in her chest and her throat tighten. Probably work related. Probably something she didn't want to deal with today.
She couldn't ignore the call, though. It was the first real contact she'd had in days. The first attempt to reach her someplace other than her office, which was where she'd practically been living for the last two weeks.
"Brennan," she answered in a clipped tone, desperate to keep any traces of her swirling emotions from his perceptive ears. She didn't need him questioning her well-being. He was her shrink... the last person that she wanted digging into her problems.
"Hey, Dr. Brennan, it's Sweets."
"I know. I have caller ID," she said impatiently. She just wanted to find out what he wanted and then get rid of him. She wasn't sure how long she could talk before she lost the little control she had over her vocal chords. The moment her voice broke, he'd be all over her.
A long pause.
"I was just... wondering what you were doing for Christmas."
She froze, her eyebrows drawn together and her eyes darting across her living room as if trying to perceive his face and read it, even though she knew it was impossible.
"Daisy and I were just about to sit down for dinner, and we thought that... well, maybe you'd like to join us."
She tried to get her voice to work, but it appeared to have failed her. She opened and shut her mouth several times, trying to fight the burning agony in her throat that felt like it was going to overwhelm her any second.
God, she hated emotions.
Crazily, she found herself answering without even thinking long enough to stop herself.
"I... yes, I would... I would love to join you."
"Oh yay!" a voice that was distinctly high pitched and familiar in a different way than Sweets' came across the line. "I knew you'd come, Dr. Brennan. This is going to be so much fun!"
"Sorry," came Sweets' voice again. "Daisy, I told you to let me-" she heard, somewhat muffled, the conversation that he was clearly having with the phone held away from his face.
"Oh, but Lancelot-"
More murmuring, harder to understand, and then, "Dr. Brennan?"
"I'm still here," she managed, surprised that now she found herself suppressing laughter at their antics.
"We'll see you in twenty minutes?"
"Yes, I will be there... thank you."
"Of course. What's Christmas without friends and family, right?"
Just like that, the lump was back in her throat. "Yes," she agreed softly. "...Exactly."
"I heard there was a huge step forward in the Brazilian dig," Daisy gushed, eyes huge as she leaned across the table, holding the basket of rolls towards Brennan despite the fact that she hadn't asked for them.
Fighting a grimace, she added a third roll to her dish and smiled politely as she took another bite of the turkey, which was really quite good. Turned out, Sweets was talented in the kitchen... something she never would have guessed.
"Yes, I've heard that there were several finds recently of infant bones. No full skeletons yet, but the results could be revolutionary in uncovering the origins of some of the earliest tribes in the region."
"Daisy?" Sweets said, eyebrows raised.
"Oops," she said, covering her mouth and giggling slightly. "We weren't supposed to talk about work over the holidays," she explained to Brennan before spinning again to her boyfriend, "Which I totally agree with," she emphasized with those huge eyes practically bulging.
He offered a humored smile, and then turned knowingly back to Brennan, giving her a sympathetic look.
"Why don't we talk about something different. Like... holiday traditions."
"Oh! That's such a great idea, Lancelot. You're so smart... I'll get us started!" She bounced in her seat, setting down her utensils and pressing her palms to the table again as she bit her lip and rolled her eyes to the ceiling in an over-exaggerated manner, clearly thinking. "My family used to have this crazy tradition of hanging apples on our tree, and we could take one down each day until it was Christmas!"
Booth would have found that incredibly strange, Brennan found herself thinking. He would have given her one of those looks that was just for the two of them, and they would have cracked up laughing at just how absurd it was.
But instead she found herself pushing a carrot around her dish and fighting not to make her presence to obvious. She needed Sweets to not look at her right now. Or Daisy, for that matter. She wasn't sure which would be worse... at least Sweets would be likely to be subtle if he noticed something was wrong. Daisy would probably explode about it.
She needed to stop thinking about Booth. It only hurt more every time she did, because it was a constant reminder that no matter how much she desperately wanted to spend time with him, and feel like she belonged again... it wouldn't make him feel the same way.
When she looked up at last, and struggled to catch up with the conversation, she found Sweets keeping Daisy's attention with a story of his first Christmas with his adoptive parents.
Her eyes misted over, and she tried to remember the first real Christmas she'd ever had. But nothing came to mind... only the phantom pain of a fist slamming into her jaw like she was a punching bag. No presents under the tree for her... and she had dared to ask.
"Brennan?" she looked up in alarm and found that Daisy's seat was vacated and she could hear her humming merrily in the kitchen as the water from the sink ran. Sweets was leaning across the table towards her, his brow furrowed with concern. "Are you okay?"
She sighed, and contemplated just telling him she was fine, like she told everyone else. It was a lie; one that she told far too often. But even if she had wanted to, the words wouldn't have been able to come. The glowing lights from the garlands that surrounded each doorframe in Sweets' apartment suddenly stained her eyes, and she averted them as her vision blurred. She bit down into her bottom lip, fighting a sob, and making sure that her bangs were shielding her face.
Not here... not in front of Sweets and Daisy...
"Brennan?" the question was more insistent, more concerned.
"No," she whispered out, her voice shattering and a single sob shaking her shoulders as she rapidly shook her head back and forth, her eyes squeezed tight shut and her throat raw with emotion that she didn't want to let loose.
"Hey, hey..." he said, worry obvious in his voice. "It's... it's okay..." his chair rattled across the floor as he pushed it out from the table. She knew he had gotten up, and she heard him move around the table.
Rather than coming to her side of the table, though, he vanished into the kitchen.
She heard him murmur something to Daisy, who asked something back, her words, although not distinguishable, clearly filled with concern that she could hear just from the change in pitch. He answered something else, and then returned to the dining room and pulled out the chair next to her to sit down.
For a moment, she thought he might try to put an arm around her or something, but thankfully he thought better of it.
"I'm sorry if this was a bad idea," he said at last. She could feel his eyes on her, watching intently.
She shook her head again, not sure if she had enough voice to speak. But she figured she should at least make the effort, before he got too worried.
"No, no... it was... it was a good idea. I-I'm glad you... invited me. Really." Her voice cracked in a few places, but she got the words out. Hesitantly, she raised her head and peered through her bangs at him. His lips were pursed and his eyes nothing but sympathetic.
"I apologize for bringing up traditions, though. I should have realized that... it wouldn't be a subject you'd be happy with. I was just trying to distract Daisy from death and gore and anything really that wasn't... happy and cheerful. We're supposed to be happy on Christmas."
"The only people that are happy on Christmas are the people with families," she whispered.
"Hey, you have a family," he intercepted, placing a hand on her arm. Surprisingly, the touch didn't bother her, and she didn't flinch away. His hand felt warm. Reassuring. It was... nice. The feeling of someone caring enough to make the effort.
She shrugged at what he had said, though. Because she wasn't sure if it was true anymore.
"I'm guessing that this is about more than just Christmases past, though. Am I right?"
She paused, biting her lip again, and then nodded.
He gave a bob of his head in acknowledgement. "This is about Booth and Hannah."
She sucked in a sharp breath. She might as well have answered, because that was clearly all the response he needed to judge the truth for himself.
He wasn't wrong, though, of course.
"I've suspected that things weren't the same, ever since that case with the... doctor."
She just nodded again, and then said softly, "He won't even look at me anymore."
Sweets expression collapsed, empathy echoing through his eyes. "Brennan..."
"I don't need your pity," she snapped, her voice coming out coarse and not nearly as harsh as she had intended.
He nodded understandingly, his hand gone from her arm. He leaned sideways into the table, still watching her. She felt her face fall as surely as he saw it. She wasn't angry with him. Far from it. If anything, she was furious with herself.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. Lashing out because she was frustrated, at the one person who had shown any interest in her in weeks... well, it wasn't going to do any good.
"No need to be," he assured. "Is there... anything I can do to help?"
His question surprised her more than anything else that evening had. She'd never expected him to offer such a thing. She'd stopped expecting anyone to offer help, to be honest. She was more than a little tempted to accept, but she didn't know what she could ask of him.
What could he possibly do to fix this mess she was in?
"I don't know," she answered honestly, her voice raw.
He just nodded again. "Well... I'm here. And like I said before... you truly aren't alone. You have friends in this world. Friends that think of themselves as your family. You need to know that... trust in that."
She didn't have the heart to tell him that she didn't believe him. He was trying, and she was very grateful for it. So she simply nodded and offered him what she hoped was an optimistic expression.
Because she was alone. Alone here with this one life boat bobbing by her side... and she wasn't even sure if she wanted to be rescued anymore.
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