So this is Christmas
A/N: This is a Secret Santa gift for avaniheath. With apologies to John Lennon.
That damned song was stuck in his head.
It careened and crashed inside his brain, screeching holiday greetings when all he wanted to do was forget Christmas, forget presents, forget the season.
But it hadn't always been that way.
For the past weeks since Thanksgiving, he'd been singing a delightful medley of carols in the shower, blasting Christmas tunes from both car stereos to bolster his partner's holiday spirit, and filling the air with a mixture of songsters from Johnny Mathis' soulful croon to the latest jingles from the newest boy band.
Up until yesterday he had been in love with the holiday season.
Up until yesterday.
Bones had already relented to trekking out to Sugar Plum farm for a weekend to hunt for and cut down their own Christmas tree with a promise of a stop at her favorite restaurant to complete the circuit. He'd plied her with mulled cider and a cascade of kisses before she'd agreed that it would make a rather picturesque image of Christmas for their family album just as long as they didn't have to traverse the entire mountainside for their perfect tree.
He'd said perfect tree, because this had been shaping up to be the perfect Christmas. The case load had been light, the house had a decidedly Christmas-y air, even if he had been the chief architect of the decorations, and Bones had been fairly easily won over, especially when he had insisted that the first such holiday as a family had great significance. She'd backed him up with a flurry of anthropological thingies and doodads and he was well on his way to building the deluxe holiday wonderland complete with an electric train set to encircle the tree.
He'd barely kissed Bones goodbye yesterday morning when Ebenezer Scrooge showed up to take back all of his Christmas cheer. First, Rebecca called to tell him that Parker wasn't coming to share Christine's first Christmas with them in Washington. Then CIA swooped down to snatch up Bones to take her to some hush-hush site to identify some super secretive dead person. The daycare had called in the middle of a meeting with Hacker to inform him that Christine had to be pulled with a stomach bug that refused to settle down despite a full teaspoon of that icky pink medicine.
Then he'd gotten the call.
Dead body off the interstate on a God-forsaken piece of real estate just past purgatory and deep within what-the-hell land.
His twelve days of Christmas had turned into the twelve rants of Christmas:
Parker wasn't going to be with them. He'd cajoled and begged and had been on the verge of buying a plane ticket for himself, Bones and Christine, but Rebecca wouldn't give in
Bones was on some super-secret job that was so heavily veiled he couldn't even get a small glimmer of where she was or when she might be home.
Christine was as miserable looking as he felt. She'd sleep, but trying to ease her distress was hard given his own distress.
Dr. Clark Edison was his forensic anthropologist, not Bones. . .
Which meant the lab would work slower, less filled with fear of Brennan. . .
Which meant he'd probably be working Christmas day in between
Spooning more of that wretched pink gunk into his daughter along with Pedialyte as a chaser. . .
And Christine was sure to sleep through most of what should be her first, best Christmas. . .
And Bones wouldn't be there to help with the baby.
Because Bones wouldn't be there.
Which meant his first Christmas with his partner and his daughter and his son as a family was ruined
Because Bones and Parker wouldn't be there.
"You want me to keep talking until you find something you want to write?"
Dr. Clark Edison looked up from the body and glared. Booth closed his eyes and tried to concentrate, the Christmas song mocking him as he stood over the forensic anthropologist and their latest case.
"Okay," Booth muttered. "Just give me the basics again."
"The decedent is male, approximately 6 feet tall, mid-forties."
"White?" he asked.
"Oh, definitely," Clark replied. "No brother would be caught dead in this place three days before Christmas."
Booth sighed. Clark was as snarky as he felt and while he should be concentrating on the deceased and the first stage of the investigation, all he could think of was his daughter and son and partner. "Cause of death," he asked more out of habit than anything else. "Tell me it was natural causes and we can all go home. Except him, of course."
Clark shook his head. "Appears to be a gunshot wound to the chest," Clark offered. "Probably what nicked his right ulna. Defensive wound."
Booth wrote down the information. This wasn't going his way at all. "Anything else you can tell me?"
"I'm freezing my butt out here and would much rather be inside the cabin Nora and I rented for the holiday than kneeling over a dead body here in outer Mongolia." He twisted his head toward Booth. "Any idea when Dr. Brennan will be back? I really would much rather deal with the really old dead ones that usually come to me in a nice crate in the comfort of the lab."
"We all would like to be somewhere else," Booth muttered. "Like our victim."
Clark turned back to the body. "She likes this kind of thing. Hovering over dead bodies in the middle of nowhere, the more pieces, the better. She likes the challenge."
Booth shook his head as if to shake away errant Christmas tunes and even more wayward comments. "According to CIA, she'll be back when they're good and ready to send her back."
Clark straightened up from his crouching position and changed tones probably because his opwn had been so desolate and sad. "Look, I know this must be kind of rough. The first Christmas with the baby and all. And without Dr. Brennan, it can't be what you envisioned. I'm sorry."
But the change of tone only soured Booth's mood even more. "Let's just get this all packed up and sent back to the Jeffersonian before we all become snow cones."
In general, he loved Christmas. He'd become used to a dead body to christen the season—after all it was his job and with Bones by his side, their synergy usually could make short work of the case. But he could usually tamper the disgust of a body with a bit of holiday gusto—bright lights, carols on the mall, church decorations combining the Bones' pagan—"Did you know that carolers were probably derived from the Mummers who celebrated Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun by dressing in costume and visiting their neighbors with song?"—with his sacred—the full-size nativity crèche outside the church. And with Bones and the baby he'd been looking forward to a season of teasing his partner into a greater holiday spirit and challenging her scientific anthropology with his unscientific faith.
Last year had been a revelation as had, if he would admit it, all the Christmases of the past with Bones. They'd been sharing her apartment—just for the holiday since they were hosting a dinner for the squints at her place and he had a secret wish to see her place dressed in holiday finery—and he'd witnessed another private side of Bones, the one who seemed to want to surrender to the season but just couldn't.
Oh, she gave him the look, the tolerant I've-got-to-put-up-with-this-for-Booth look, but when he caught her one night just standing in her living room staring at the lights on the Christmas tree bathed in the glow it gave to the darkened room, her face awash in the colors dancing along the tree, he saw a depth of sadness in her he had not seen before. He sensed he saw just a small bit of the girl who believed in something at one time but had lost that when her parents had left her and her brother behind. Over the years he had seen so much of his partner that he had thought he'd seen most of that side. But the deep, ineffable sadness on her face gave him pause and while he never brought it up, he could never quite forget that look.
This Christmas was as much for her as for the baby.
But it was damned difficult when your partner was somewhere in Timbuktu doing God knows what.
"Yeah, I got it. Follow this guy and see where he goes."
Noel stood in front of him in the FBI conference room and waited. And waited.
"Go. Follow. Get information." Booth's patience was balanced on the edge of a knife. Inaction would only send him skittering off and the way he was feeling, he might just shoot this clown.
Noel hesitated. Well, it was hard to tell with Noel because he was the definition of laconic.
"This is Christmas and I wanted to give you a present, Agent Booth."
He expected Noel to negotiate a better payout- $50 on receipt of information and forgiveness of his latest petty crime weren't quite enough to make him move quickly. But present?
"Yeah, dude. It's the season of giving and there are just some people you meet who need some holiday cheering up. And you, my friend," he said as he started to rummage in his messenger bag, "are that person."
He pulled out a small rectangular object wrapped in ribbon and as he bent to look at it, he realized that Noel had wrapped a raggedy paper-like string around a. . . .
"Soap. It's soap, man," Noel said. "Made from hemp oil. Hemp oil is environmentally friendly and a renewable resource that has outstanding medicinal benefits. . . ."
"Soap?" Booth asked. Hank had taught him better, but he hadn't expected a present. And certainly not a present of soap.
"Three bars of my very best soap," Noel added. "Knowing you I think you're more of a citrus kind of guy. Did I tell you that this soap is especially good for the skin. Hemp oil is one of the finest. . . ."
He listened to the sales pitch, the benefits of a hemp oil soap far better than the commercially available products and yada yada. But he listened. Or at least pretended to listen.
"Thank you," he said as he took the bars. "I appreciate the thought."
"It's more than a thought, man," Noel protested. "It should be a revolution. This is far better for you and for our environment." He pointed to the soap. "And it has a manly fragrance."
"Thank you," Booth said again and moved to herd Noel from the room.
"Sniff it," Noel said. "Real citrusy. More lime than lemon and a hint of mango and there's a sharp tang of grapefruit. But the lime is the real deal"
He stood frozen by the absurdity of it all—the present weighing heavily in his hand as he tried to measure just how lost he felt.
Noel hesitated, too. "It's just you looked like you needed something to cheer you up, man. Dead bodies got to be a real downer especially when this is a season about hope." He finally hit the doorway. "Merry Christmas. And wish Dr. Hottie a Merry Christmas, too."
"'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house," he recited, "not a creature was stirring, not even little Christine mouse."
He stood before the Christmas tree, its lights twinkling against the strands of plastic tinsel he'd draped over the branches despite Bones' protests that he should have gotten the biodegradable kind, Christine in his arms caught between sleep and wakefulness.
The fever she'd been wrestling with seemed to have lost its fight and he kissed her forehead again gauging her temperature.
"So, this is Christmas," he announced softly. "It looks like Christmas with all the lights and ornaments on the tree. And the wreath on the door. Can't forget the wreath. Mommy will tell you that the wreath was a symbol of victory with the Greeks, but Daddy will tell you that the evergreen is about life continuing and the red on the wreath is a symbol of the. . . of the. . . ." He stopped. How could he tell his infant daughter that the red symbolized someone's death so she could live when her parents did what they did for a living? "Red's just a pretty color that looks good against the green," he said finally.
He stood looking at the tree swaying the baby to sleep as he tried to sort through the day. Everything that could be done for the case had been done. Still no word on Bones' return. Angela and Hodgins had invited him over for Christmas brunch. Hank had promised him the afternoon and between them they'd show Christine the best Christmas possible under the circumstances. Max had called as had Jared and Russ, but he hadn't been able to muster up any holiday cheer.
"It's just you and me, kiddo," he said.
But Christine was sleeping.
"Merry Christmas, little one," he said, pressing her lips to her forehead. "Santa will be here soon."
He'd set out milk and cookies for Santa—despite what he knew would be Bones' protests. It was about tradition—their tradition. Cut their own tree. Decorate the house with their decorations. Make a night of that. Wait until Christmas Eve to place the presents under the tree. Wake Christmas morn to find Santa come and gone and the joy of Christmas unleashed for their daughter and his son.
That was to be the tradition. Family in the morning, friends in the afternoon or evening. Dinner with Pops or Max, maybe Russ and Amy and the girls. Maybe Jared and Padme.
They already had the tradition of a dead body for the holidays; that seemed to be entirely out of their control. Despite his admonitions that skeletons and Christmas didn't mix, they always seemed to be stirred together.
"We'll have Christmas when Mommy's home," he whispered. But he couldn't add to the thought.
It just wasn't Christmas without his family.
She just couldn't shake the look on his face.
This had been Christmas, Booth-style, up until Rebecca had pulled the best present of all for Booth, a visit from his son. She had seen that look before, a mixture of disappointment and sadness, two emotions that seemed to—as irrationally as it seemed—to radiate off of Booth.
Standing before a pile of dust and bones, she could just blink to summon up that look, to recreate the feeling of sheer helplessness she had felt when Booth's Christmas plans had begun to unravel.
She knew she could little refuse the United States government's request. She was a paid consultant and while her livelihood did not depend upon her work for the government or at the Jeffersonian for that matter, three months of flight that summer had made each request more precious.
Suppressing a sigh, she reached for another piece of bone and tested its fit against the part in her hand.
She looked up and recognized the young woman who had been assigned as her lab assistant. In one hand she held a coffee mug and in the other, a sheaf of papers.
After almost 36 hours of straight work, she tried to steady herself and focus on the young woman in front of her.
"I brought you some coffee and the reports on that histrionic analysis. . . ."
"Histological," she corrected gently. "Histrionic has a different root, histrio meaning actor whereas hist means tissue." The sigh escaped this time. One is Latin in origin while the other is French."
"Histological analysis," the woman corrected herself.
CIA had whisked her away to work with sub-standard lab facilities and a sub-standard assistant who seemed capable of only fetching and retrieving. She sighed again.
"Is there anything else, Dr. Brennan?"
She fixed the woman in her gaze. "Has Agent Southerly been able to comply with my request for. . . ?"
"He's still working on it," the woman said. She looked a bit unnerved? Nervous? Brennan let go of trying to read the woman's emotions.
"It's important that Booth gets. . . ."
"Yes," the woman said quickly, cutting her off. "He's made contact and he believes that the package will be delivered as scheduled on Christmas day."
Terrified? Uncertain? Normally she might not give any thought to the emotional comfort of the woman, but this was important.
"I think I've been quite clear as to my requirements."
Angela would have called that her imperious tone, but it always seemed to work.
"I'll. . .I'll talk to Agent Southerly again about the package."
This time she only looked at the woman, a long, assessing look then nodded once, dismissing her.
If Booth couldn't have the Christmas he had planned, she had tried to engineer the next best thing for him. If she couldn't be home for Christmas, perhaps she could give Booth a sense of home. Despite the ambiguity of the words, the sheer inaccuracy ofit all, she tried to let go of her own ache and bent to the work before her.
Fitting together bone bits no bigger than 8 centimeters in length, she'd discovered that CIA hadn't brought her one skeleton, but three, two adults and one that appeared to be a child. The bones had been initially blown apart in some kind of explosion, but tool marks and the difference in coloration on the margins of the bones had suggested that a hammer or sledgehammer had been used to reduce the skeleton even further.
For a moment she gave into fatigue and closed her eyes.
And saw Booth. And Christine.
Somehow the images of both of them made her ache the more and she fought to keep control on emotions battered by too little sleep and too much caffeine.
Then something shifted. The image of Booth morphed into the last time she had seen him, his eyes clouded with pain and she opened her eyes to release herself from the image only to look into the eyes of Agent Southerly.
"We went to a lot of trouble get this histological analysis," he said, his words clipped and his pitch slightly higher than she might expect. "What's it mean?"
"It means," she began, her own voice gaining strength as she studied the report then looked at the work remaining before her and calculated the required time, "I can tell you much more about our victims such as where they grew up and perhaps where they have lived for the last several years."
The look changed on Southerly's face, became fluid as it shifted toward something else she couldn't quite read.
She reminded herself that this was not Booth or one of her interns, but someone she would have to educate.
"I can tell you," she said as she pointed toward the completed skull sitting on the other worktable, "that male 1 was born in Mali and lived in the southern region probably in a village near Kita."
His expression shifted, but she ignored its implications. "The child was reared in the same village although he. . . ."
"Yes," she said, this information not as clear cut as the rest, but she forged ahead anyway. She explained why it would be difficult to determine sex based upon the skeleton of a child alone, but she had experience on her side as well as an understanding of the culture and customs of Mali and something else.
"And our third body?"
This was the skull that still lay in pieces, the one that probably held the greatest significance to the CIA.
"I still need an hour or so with the skull," she said as much to the half-completed skull as to the agent. "If you've completed your side of our bargain, then I'll tell you everything I can about the victim."
Southerly began to protest, but she said nothing, holding firm.
"All right, Doctor," he said, the exasperation easy enough to read. "Is there anything else you require?"
""Yes," she said, her own confidence rising as the architecture of the skull seemed to become visible to her, "a ride home." She straightened her shoulders and picked up a piece of skull. "I'd really like to be home with my partner for my daughter's first Christmas."
He woke to that same damned song.
There was such a thing as overkill and he wondered if this was some kind of cosmic punishment for all the wrongs he'd committed in his life.
"God," he started, but chose not to finish his plea. Instead, he mumbled a bitter "Merry Christmas to me" and unfolded himself to sit on the edge of the bed.
And the song seemed. . . clearer somehow. Ungarbled by the worn needle in his brain.
"Bones?" he cried as he grabbed for his robe and pulled on his slippers, hopping out the door of his bedroom. "Bones?"
He practically flew down the stairs and rounded the corner to see not Bones, but a miniature version of himself.
The collision with his son brought tears to his eyes and he held on tightly as if certain that his dream would evaporate if he let go.
"Dad," came the strains at his chest, "please let me go."
He released his son to an avalanche of questions. "How'd you get here? Does your mother know where you are? How'd you get into the house? How's this possible?"
"I'm supposed to tell you that Santa sent me since you seem to hold, what is it? Yeah, great regard for a mythical creation. That's it."
He burst into laughter, the first relief in days and pulled Parker to him for a gentler hug. "God, it's good to see you."
"I hope you don't mind," came the muffled words of his son. Booth released him a second time, but held onto his shoulder for good measure and pulled him to the couch.
"I got to ride on a military jet, Dad. They let me sit in the cockpit with the pilot and I got a military escort to the house," Parker raced through his explanation. "It was great. Do you think they'll let me go back on the jet?"
Booth managed to keep up with Parker. "But how's this possible?"
"Mom said this is your Christmas miracle," he said solemnly. "Mom didn't want me to come by myself, but when Bones called she agreed especially when she found out I was going to be riding with some VIBs."
"Yeah. Very important bureau. . . bureau. . . Bureau-somethings." Parker hesitated. "I don't know, but I got to come here for Christmas."
"VIPs," Booth offered. "No, that's right. But the biggest VIP on that plane was you." He wiped the tears from his eyes.
"I didn't want to miss Christine's first Christmas," Parker said, his tone solemn. "She only gets a first Christmas and even if she can't remember everything, we can remember for her. And take lots of pictures."
Booth bent to kiss the head of his son and offered up thanks for his Christmas miracle and for his partner who didn't believe in them.
So, this is Christmas, he thought as he heard the familiar sizzle of batter against the hot pan. The Christmas tree stood as silent witness to the start of a Booth-Brennan tradition. Open one present apiece and then pancakes to fuel up before the mad dash to finish opening the pile under the tree.
So it really wasn't a tradition, just a hope. If he waited just a bit longer maybe his other wish would come true, walk in the door and make this the perfect Christmas.
At the table, Parker was playing with Christine, the lighted box between them erupting in fits of colors and sounds that only elicited more laughter from his daughter and more encouragement from Parker. "C'mon Christine," he cried, "you almost beat me that time."
But whether or not Christine knew she was playing a game with Parker, it didn't matter. Her laughter was infectious and she seemed to be a fountain of giggles.
"Dad, she's a pretty happy kid, isn't she?" asked Parker.
"Yeah," said Booth as he tested the edge of the pancake against the spatula. "She's a real happy baby."
Parker said nothing, watching as Christine slapped at his newest game. "You know, I'm a pretty happy kid, too. Being here and all."
"I'm a pretty happy kid, too," he said finally as he tamed the lump in his throat.
"You're not a kid, Dad. You're a grown up." Parker protested, his smile radiating across the kitchen.
"How many pancakes can a Booth man eat?" he asked.
"A dozen," Parker cried.
He flipped the pancakes and was about to one-up his son when the doorbell rang. And rang.
"I'll get that," he said as he strode to the door.
It was not quite what he expected.
"Let me in Shrimp, it's kind of nippy out here," the old man commanded, shoving a box with presents into his hands. "Thought I'd have to wake up the neighbors to let me in it took you so long to come to the door." He paused. "Merry Christmas, Seeley."
Before he could say another word, a streak of color flashed by and Parker was hugging Pops and the older man was hugging him right back.
Booth stood at the door, speechless at this latest turn of events, when, as he was shutting out the cold of winter, his grandfather stopped him.
"Don't close the door just yet, Seeley. There's a big package out on your porch that I couldn't manage. Why don't you bring it in here?"
Dutiful, he took one glance at the scene of the oldest and youngest Booths, then stepped out onto the small porch.
"Merry Christmas, Booth," she said as she fell into his arms.
"So this is a traditional Christmas," said Bones as she peered over her wine glass.
They had managed to survive a handful of squints and a few family members and, oh, yes, a Christmas that almost wasn't, but all in all, Booth felt pretty sure of himself on this one.
"I didn't say traditional, Bones," he said as he sidled in closer to her. "This," he said, raising his own glass to clink against hers, "is a perfect Christmas."
"Perfect?" she said, as she took in the Christmas tree standing guard over their holiday cheer. "There's no such thing as perfect."
"Well," he said as he leaned back against the couch, "we're not traditional, so it can't be that. But it can be perfect because we all got what we wished for."
"I didn't wish for anything, Booth."
He studied her. She looked tired, but she had managed a houseful of guests and giving him two, no, three surprises all in the same day. Not surprises.
He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her closer. "We both got to be with our family and friends. We were all here, together, Bones. That's what made it perfect."
She said nothing, only nestling closer to his chest, her heartbeat the only song he needed to hear.