Baby, It's Cold Outside
by Amy L. Hull
Set circa Christmas 2008 (between "The Bone that Blew" and "Double Trouble in the Panhandle") for 2bbornot2bb's prompts: "Brennan & Booth, Mega UST on the job, Christmas, undercover, and Brennan in danger, without sexy-tiems, babies, or sugary sweetness, set before S6." I hope this kit-bash of the prompts works for you, and that the wait was worth it. Thanks to Biba for organizing the exchange and giving me an extension. Thanks to my betas: Marley Blue, someonetookmyname, and Mechabeira.
"We could go undercover!" Bones proclaimed, practically bouncing.
Booth cringed. The idea of going undercover always morphed Bones from a responsible, dull, adult scientist to a twelve-year-old kid, and her judgement plummeted accordingly. She was hard enough to keep safe when she wasn't caught up in a game of make-believe.
"Bones, I don't think-"
"But you need me! I'm the one who can identify the man who likely committed this crime. I'm the one who would be attuned to his uneven gait, which was probably caused by scoliosis that would typically lead to uneven pelvis and shoulder heights when comparing the two sides."
She made his head spin when she used sentences that long. "Shoulder height. There you go. You can stay safely back here and I'll look for a guy with one shoulder taller than the other one." He tilted his shoulders and dragged one foot, "Sannnnc-tu-arrrry."
Bones just put her hands on her hips and tilted her head, eyebrows raised.
He straightened. "What?"
"Booth, first of all, Victor Hugo's Quasimodo suffered from thoracic kyphosis, not scoliosis. Second, the difference in shoulder heights is likely to be so minute that only measurement or touch would be able to determine its presence."
"But you can-"
Her nose wrinkled. "Of course I can tell, but I'm also looking for multiple physiological and kinesthetic markers in those male attendees who are between five-foot-eleven and six-foot-one."
"Kinetic markings," Booth muttered to needle her after that impressive-and typical-display of condescension. Some days it was a good thing he was a gentleman and a professional. They'd have a lot more shouting matches otherwise. Bones opened her mouth-certainly to correct him-and he raised a hand. "I got it. You have to go because your visual analysis is far superior to that of anyone else I could bring."
"I'm glad you acknowledge that," Bones smiled.
"All right, well, you'd better get ready. The surveillance team is going to want to debrief us by 5:30, and I've got to go tell Brunner that they've got to get an extra server inside."
"Oooh! I get to serve people hors d'oeuvres and wine and mingle?" She was practically clapping her hands.
Now it was his turn for that tinge of derision. "Bones, you hate that stuff. You made me come to your last book opening, and I swear it was just so someone you knew would be tortured by the dreariness as much as you."
"I did not!" Her eyes had gone so wide she looked like a surprised Warner Brothers cartoon character. She shook her head. "I mean, I did ask you to come, but I thought you wanted to be there, with all those little sausages and cheese platters! And you said at the time that it was lovely."
Booth sighed. "It was...very nice, Bones. It was just boring."
"And there really had been a series of strange letters from a fan! You were the one who said I should have protection, and there's no one who can protect me better than you."
They froze, both holding their breath. She did not meet his eyes, but hers were bright, her cheeks were flushed, and she trusted him more than anyone else. He swallowed. Focus, Seeley. You have a job tonight. "I'll be back for you at 4:30." She'd barely nodded before he turned and left the platform.
Booth knocked on Bones' office door.
Bones was standing behind her desk with a white dress shirt hanging to mid-thigh, and nothing else.
He stared. Blinked. Swallowed. He pushed the door closed, hissing, "Geez, Bones!"
"Sorry I'm not quite ready. I thought we were going to change into our costumes once we met the surveillance team, but this box of clothes was couriered over and I just got it ten-"
"Bones! Don't you think you should put the pants on now?"
She glanced down. As if not having pants on were a complete surprise. He rolled his eyes, but came back to focus on her bare thighs. Long thighs...legs.
She huffed. "Fine." Grabbing the black dress pants hanging over her office chair, she added, "Your Puritanical attitudes are limiting, Booth."
A gentleman would look away, his conscience said as she leaned over, revealing the cream lace of otherwise-practical underwear. A gentleman looks away. He wrenched his head to the side, looking studiously at the world art that graced ever shelf and surface. There was a carving of a naked woman, full breasts hanging to where she held a naked infant to nurse. Another small statue of a full-bellied, naked woman whom Bones had informed him was in the shape of "the goddess of Willy Dorm," though for the life of him he could not imagine how he'd heard it was what she'd meant to say. He was about to just close his eyes when Bones spoke up.
"Is that better, Booth?"
He glanced back cautiously. Her shirt was tucked in and she was fastening the fake bow tie, folding down her collar, and pulling her hair up into a ponytail.
"Yeah," he managed. "Let's go."
The entire mansion was outlined in holiday lights, and a single electric candle shone in each window. Under the well-lit evergreen tree in the front yard was a handsome snow family, clearly made from the snow that had fallen deeply last week, but brought up from a different part of the estate so that the snow blanket would not be disturbed. Animatronic carolers stood by the front door with music piped to a speaker at their feet, and the wreaths on every door were impeccably woven and tied with ribbons.
The main entranceway featured a two-and-a-half story Christmas tree, decorated with twinkling lights, more ribbons in bows, and fancy, delicate, blown-glass ornaments. The main room was festive for the season, bedecked with holly, poinsettias in every corner, those dangly white lights strung around every window and by the ceiling, and holiday music played throughout the house.
They'd arrived early enough to mingle with the catering staff. The short notice meant the surveillance team only had hidden radio equipment for Booth, which Bones had sulked like a child about until they handed her the visual transmission glasses. Then she'd lit up like that same child seeing the tree on Christmas morning. He grinned, remembering her enthusiasm in developing a silent code of nodding or shaking her head as she observed each guest.
Booth was stuck behind the bar, directly under a speaker that was playing Christmas music just a bit too loudly. At least from this vantage point he could see all the areas of the party but the kitchen. The guests were in clusters: hovering around the buffet tables, admiring artwork or furniture, or talking in groups while drinking. A few were dancing. Most wore gala dress clothes, but a few had gone the "ugly Christmas sweater" or the "naughty Santa's elf" route. Angela would be proud.
Booth smiled as Bones emerged from the kitchen, gracefully balancing a tray. Her ponytail swayed in time with her hips and Booth found himself swallowing hard again. Bones looked entirely natural. Her smile was genuine, her eyes bright. She actually made eye contact-casual, non-threatening eye contact-with people as she offered them wine or hors d'oeuvres, took their empty glasses, collected refuse from side tables, and directed people to the bar.
Every time she pointed, she flashed him an even brighter smile, like a secret between them.
Booth smiled back, then barely caught himself before overfilling a glass for a Sex on the Beach. Only two ice cubes fit, so the recipient, he thought, as he handed it to her with a smile, would be enjoying the night.
Reginald Barnsley, the host, hadn't put in an appearance. The report on him had said the man liked to make a big entrance, so Booth hadn't expected him until an hour into the soirée. It was now two and a half hours into the event and...nothing.
He filled whiskey sours and shook dirty martinis on auto-pilot while watching as Bones gave the headshake signal at each guest. She was managing to make it look like it was part of the warm, full laugh that, even in this clamoring environment, carried across the room. She always sounded entirely alive and real when she laughed and Booth found himself grinning more genuinely as he mixed six Cuba Libres for three giggling women in their late 20s.
When he looked up, Bones was nowhere to be seen, and his stomach dropped. He scanned every corner of the room, using a Ranger search pattern and was moving to step from behind the bar when Bones backed out of the swinging door to the kitchen, laden with new trays of food and still looking energized.
The last notes of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" faded and suddenly a trumpet fanfare sounded. The entire house fell silent.
Another fanfare rang out, then the trumpet was joined by an all-brass group in "Good King Wenceslas." A dapper man appeared at the top of the grand staircase, arms spread wide. Is that really a red velvet smoking jacket? Booth stared. The man's wavy, silver hair did not move-despite hanging to his collar-as he descended in time to the music, smiling broadly, arms still outstretched. He reached the bottom of the staircase-well, four steps from the bottom-just as the song ended.
Definitely Barnsley, Booth thought. That's an entrance, all right. He rolled his eyes, found Bones, then flicked his eyes back at their host. Bones nodded to him, then turned to Barnsley.
"I hope you have been enjoying this year's business-free Holiday Gala. Please, continue to eat, visit, dance, imbibe, and celebrate!"
At that the music began again, still instrumental, still a bit too loud. Of course, as the liquor had been flowing freely, the sound in the room itself was greater.
Bones caught his eye. She was frowning. Her eyes flicked to Barnsley and she shook her head at Booth at about the same time that the team spoke into his ear, saying that Bones had come up empty and asking him if he'd like to abort. He looked at Bones and questioned with the "kill" gesture. She shook her head vigorously and turned away, turning back to the kitchen.
The three late-20s women returned, this time with their friends, and ordered Long Island Iced Tea all around. One reached around and tucked a bill into his rear pocket, letting her hand linger until he shifted to the side. Booth hoped they had rides home; they were already long past capable driving.
Three rum runners, a screwdriver, a Black Russian, and two kamikazes later, Booth scanned the room again. Barnsley was moving from group to group, schmoozing and smiling and shaking hands. Everyone he could see had been at the party for over an hour. But Bones wasn't there. She should have been back with platters by now...unless she'd decided to do something monumentally stupid.
"Booth," a voice sounded over the tinny microphone in his ear, "we've lost contact with Dr. Brennan."
"Dammit." Booth yanked off the little apron and tossed it aside. He stepped from behind the bar just as the group of now-wavering women returned. "I'm on my break," he said.
"Hey, we all just want Malibu Bay Breezes!" one of the women called.
"Catch a plane, then," he muttered.
The kitchen was even more bustling than the party, but Bones wasn't there.
"Hey," he said to the first server he saw. "That new woman. Tall, white, reddish-brown hair, really pretty. You seen her?"
One after another servers shook their heads.
Dammit. It could have been ten minute since she'd refused to pull the plug on the op and disappeared. An awful lot of things-horrible, unthinkable things-could happen in ten minutes.
He scanned the kitchen. There were four doors. One opened into a walk-in refrigerator/freezer, one into a walk-in pantry bigger than the combined sitting and dining rooms at Pops' old house. One opened into the back yard, where the gusts that had been cold earlier had shifted to piercingly frigid. Booth pulled the door closed. The fourth door led to servants' stairs and Agent Adewuyi confirmed in his ear that had been the last place they'd seen Bones go. Booth headed up them, but he froze when he saw a pair of smashed glasses on the stairs.
"Adewuyi, we need you in here. Bones' glasses are on the stairs, broken. Move!"
Booth nudged the door open at the top of the staircase, leading with his backup weapon as he cleared the hallway. Shorter end of the hallway first, clearing each room, then the rest. He startled a couple who'd slipped away from the party to enjoy themselves, but otherwise the floor was empty. Even the bathroom was dark and unoccupied. Of course, in a house with five bathrooms on the main floor, not many of the guests would find cause to venture upstairs.
By the time he'd cleared half of the third floor, Booth could hear little other than his own heartbeat. Agents Taksin and Lebakov had checked in that there was nothing odd outside the house and Adewuyi was heading up the front stairs after coming in as a "guest" who'd forgotten her invitation when she went out for a smoke. It was a good thing they'd had at least one agent dressed for the occasion as backup.
"Third floor, clear. Taksin, Lebakov, keep an eye on the exits and try not to get noticed. Adewuyi, I'm entering the fourth floor."
Booth scanned the hallway and a tiny sound pricked at his ears. He worked his way methodically through the rooms and the sound grew louder. It was a rapping, knocking sound.
He threw open the door to a bedroom in the middle of the hallway, he saw Bones on the balcony. She was leaning heavily against the doors, eyes closed, knocking. Booth cleared the room, closets, and attached bathroom, then unlocked and unlatched the doors. The snow and sleet had picked up speed just since Booth had looked out the back door and it felt like needles of ice were stabbing him through his clothes. It couldn't be over twelve degrees. He dragged Bones in. She was wet, her hair stiff with icicles.
She was like an icicle, teeth chattering, lips blue, shivering uncontrollably.
"B... B..." she stuttered.
"Shhhh." Booth pulled the comforter off the bed and wrapped it around her. Her hands were as white as the fancy bedspread and wouldn't move. He held it closed around her, her hands between his. Then she was coughing, and he was still shushing and rubbing her back hard to create friction.
"Adewuyi, I found her," he said. We're in the middle bedroom on four. I need you to continue to clear the remainder of the house, and call an ambulance."
Of course she could say that work perfectly clearly.
"No ambulance. Not...long enough...for damage...be okay." She shuddered again. "Booth, found him."
"I figured that."
She looked confused. It was a symptom of hypothermia.
"Why would you have been locked out there if you hadn't found the bad guy, Bones?"
"Oh. Logical." Her teeth were still chattering hard between syllables. "Booth, gotta...find. Killer."
She tried to push herself up, but her coordination was still all but nonexistent. She was going to fall trying, so Booth hefted her to her feet, pulled an arm over his shoulders, and held the comforter tightly around her with the other hand as the moved out of the room.
Adewuyi met them in the hallway. "I was just coming for you. The upper floors are all clear. He could have hidden behind our search pattern, though."
Booth shook his head. "Possible, but I think he wanted out of here." He held Bones tighter. "You sure you're okay?"
"And you can identify him if you see him again?"
Her lip curled as if to say, "What do you think?" but she concentrated on propelling her feet forward.
Booth kept an arm around Bones' shoulders as they walked down the stairs, comforter still wrapped around her. Barnsley wanted to associate with murderers, he could damned well donate his comforter to a woman that murderer hurt. And if that woman who was his partner didn't stop stumbling soon, she was going to the hospital even if she didn't speak to him for a week.
Agents Taksin and Lebakov were mingling, looking for all the world like agents from the movie Men in Black rather than the Federal Bureau of Investigation, skinny ties and all. Booth rolled his eyes.
"There," Bones said.
He followed her gaze and saw a man staring back. The man froze for a second, then ran, tipping over the buffet table behind him. It was over in seconds. Taksin had cream puff on his shoulder, Lebakov had caviar on his white shirt, and the suspect's face was smeared in chocolate mousse, but they cuffed him and led him out through the kitchen as the catering staff swarmed to clean up the mess and the chef let out a wail from the kitchen door.
Booth turned and Adewuyi was already standing with a cuffed and subdued Barnsley.
"I walked up to him with my badge and he immediately babbled about how he was just trying to launder money and increase his profit margins and how it was Smith-he says the other guy's name is 'Smith'-who killed our victim, Smith who made all the plans." Adewuyi grinned. "I told him I'd take him out through the kitchen for going quietly."
Booth smiled then. At Adewuyi, at Bones, at the decorations. "Merry Christmas to all," he said, holding Bones closer.
"Look, sir," Adewuyi pointed up. "Mistletoe." She smiled and led Barnsley away.
Booth stared at Bones. Last year was still...too close...and the idea... Before he even finished the thought, she reached up and pressed her lips to the corner of his mouth, bringing her arm around his back and squeezing. She moved closer to his ear. "Thank you for finding me and saving my life. Again." She met his eyes and the flecks of brown flickered against that icy blue-grey for a long moment.
The party continued in the background, and "Jingle Bell Rock" played merrily as he ushered her into the kitchen.
He'd warmed the SUV up to toasty before even letting her step out of the kitchen, but even with that brief exposure, it was over a mile before Bones stopped shivering. Booth kept casting glances in her direction anyway, but she remained silent. When she finally spoke, what she said was not even close to what he expected.
"I never told you the real reason I asked you to come, Booth."
He frowned. "You didn't ask me to come. I was going anyway and you demanded to come."
"Not to the party, to the book premiere party." She turned toward him while still leaning against the SUV's headrest.
Bones' no-warning subject changes made his head spin. So many things about her made his head spin. All he managed to say was, "Huh?"
"I mean, I didn't lie to you. There had been a series of odd letters from a fan, and my agent and publicist agreed there was some cause for concern, but they offered to supply security for me."
Booth glanced over at her and she looked at her hands.
"It's just that...I trust you more than anyone. I know that, like tonight, you'll keep me safe. And...I just hate those events."
Her voice had taken on that little-girl quality that never failed to make his heart hurt and to blunt the sharp edges he usually used on the world. "Then why were you so excited about this one?"
She looked back at him. Her hair had curled as it dried, and without the formality of its usual style, she looked even younger. "Because at this one, I didn't have to be me. I wasn't Dr. Temperance Brennan, Bestselling Author. The entire room wasn't clamoring to talk to me or see me or get my autograph. It was just...a party. Food and people wearing clothes and masks that tell interesting things about their societal positions...I could see this as an anthropological study."
"But not when the event is about you, huh?"
"Well, I still see it as an anthropological study, but since I am the focus, I am more concerned about what my choices of clothing and words and posture say about me, what I might inadvertently reveal or convey, and how people might treat me as a result."
She'd returned her gaze to her hands, and he reached over and wrapped his index finger around hers.
"But...with you there, I know I'm safe, and not just from an odd fan, but...I know I can look across the room and you'll smile and wave at me, or make a silly face, and I know that you care about me as a person, not as an autograph to collect or an author to quiz. You'll still see me, no matter what faux pas I make." She looked back up, a weary smile across her face.
He smiled, nodding to her while reeling inside. She trusted him. With everything. "Merry Christmas, Bones."
"Merry Christmas, Booth," she said, looking back out at the falling snow.
He murmured, "And to all a good night."