Title: Into the Wild
The Final Challenge
Rating: This one is rated a T.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Owned by Fox.
Author's Note: Hey everyone! I hope you like this. As this is the final challenge I assume you can all guess this is the last chapter. Once this is posted my story will be complete. I want to thank every person who reviewed this. And everyone who signed up to my MA stories. I still cannot believe how many of you there are! Normally I don't dedicate my stories, because I'm not some best selling writer but I'm giving into the melodramatics of it this time and I want to dedicate my last chapter to every person who wrote to me and told me it was good. Thank you, so much!
The top of Iris' Rise was spectacular, the height offering a panoramic view of the forest below. For the first time Brennan saw what she had endured for the past three days. The meandering river, the tall trees, the terrain, she saw it all and the sight was breathtaking. In a strange way, it was worth it. She wished she'd a camera.
Booth inhaled, smiling.
"Well, Bones," he said. "I think we are almost at the end. I cannot imagine they'd pick anywhere else to end the journey." Brennan shrugged.
"I'm not so sure," she said. "Where are the others? What about the last task?" Booth turned in a complete circle, to the valley behind them and back to the place where they'd come from. His elation didn't fade. "I think maybe we're late." Brennan added.
"Or maybe we're early. Who knows what happened to the others." She pressed her fingers to her side, wondering if anyone else had fallen off cliffs and almost drown in the river. She imagined they hadn't.
Turning she saw three other peaks, similar in height. The hilly formation ran in a row. To her right there was one, to her left, two. Brennan imagined the rising and falling land as waves. Between each hill the valleys dipped, and at the base, the river they'd rafted winded through.
"Look at this, Bones," Booth snagged her arm, leading her to a rounded stone at the highest tip of the hill. A second note was weighted by another stone. Booth snagged it. "Listen, 'You've reached your final task. It's a simple one. Spend another night in the forest and tomorrow, it'll all be over.' What kind of a task is that?" Booth passed the paper to Brennan, as if perhaps she might decipher something he could not.
"Well," she said, slipping the paper into her pocket. "Why don't you do the tent thing again and I'll see if there are berries or something in the forest down there," she pointed to the line of trees a quarter way down the hill. Booth nodded.
It took her only a few minutes to get down the hill and into the trees where the day light seemed blotted. A few beams of soft light broke through the leafy trees, but she struggled to see. She wasn't entirely sure she knew what kind of berries she was looking for. If only Jack was there. He'd know exactly what she needed and exactly what she should not pick.
She heard a shuffle behind her and spun, a scream caught in her throat.
"Be still," she heard the gruff voice before she registered the man's face. He reached into his pocket and she expected a gun. He pulled a leather badge and flicked it open. "Agent Clifford. Come with me, Dr Brennan." She crossed her arms, no longer afraid.
"I don't think so," she said, indignant. Clifford rolled his eyes.
"It's not an option. Move," he ushered her down the hill, his strides wide. She struggled to maintain his pace, and now that his fingers had grasped her bicep, she was stumbling. "Everything will be explained," the agent whispered. "Just do not make noise, do you understand?" Brennan tripped, falling to the dirt. She swiped his arm, Clifford recoiled. "Doctor Brennan," he hissed, yanking her to her feet. "This is the third task and if you continue you'll alert your partner. Move." Confusion marred her brow, but she followed Clifford to the base of the hill, furious that she'd just wasted energy climbing.
They seemed to walk for thirty minutes and she knew Booth would be worried. He'd be looking for her now. She opened her mouth, ready to scream his name, despite knowing it would be futile now.
"I don't recommend you make noises," Clifford said as if reading her mind. In the distance she heard the familiar hum of a helicopter and stopped.
"What the hell is going on, here?" She asked. The agent sighed.
"You're annoyingly difficult, you know that?" He began to move, ushering her again. She hated how he didn't answer her question and how he acted as though he were in charge. He had not scaled cliffs, built rafts or survived on grilled fish for three days! He had no right to usher her anywhere!
The helicopter came into view when she was practically frog-marched into a large circular clearing. Clifford told her to get in, and with reluctance, she obeyed. When the agent joined her, the door slammed shut and the craft lifted, taking a sharp left turn. When she glanced over her should she saw Dr Jensen and Agent Turner's partner buckled into the seats there. She frowned.
"Okay maybe now you can inform me?" She asked, turning to Clifford with a blazing glare. He shrugged.
"Not yet. We have one last stop to make. Agent Patterson." Brennan remembered Owens and Patterson. Booth mentioned they'd taken a wrong turn. Which meant they'd found their way to the final task. The final task which no one had completed. She felt uneasy.
The helicopter banked again and another clearing came into view. When they landed, Clifford jumped out, running off into the forest. Brennan shifted, watching as his disappeared. She contemplated jumping out too. But the two women behind her didn't seem bothered at being bundled into a big military chopper and flown from one mountain to another.
They seemed to wait forever before Clifford returned, Agent Patterson following compliantly without a word. He looked relieved as he helped her into the aircraft, slamming the door again. He inhaled deeply, settling into his chair.
"Okay Mike, that's them all. Back to base." The pilot nodded once, and the helicopter rose.
Clifford waited a few moments, catching his breath before he turned to them. "Has anyone been hurt?" He asked, glancing at them each in turn. Brennan knew it was wrong to lie, and her side seemed to ache in response. But she shook her head along with the other women. She wondered if she looked as guilty as she felt. "Good. We've never had such a tight competition before." Brennan frowned. "Each of you arrived at the third point within an hour of each other. Admirable. Our tasks this year were not easy." Jensen was nodding her head in agreement and Brennan noticed a small abrasion on her temple.
She had many abrasions herself.
"How is this possible?" Brennan asked. She'd been incapacitated for a full day. The other teams should have made it to their hills well before she and Booth had. She glanced at each woman in turn, and saw how Patterson rubbed her wrist and the dark haired agent didn't rest her weight on her foot. As an anthropologist she knew all women had injuries that they weren't voicing. She felt less guilty, keeping her secret.
"Similar strengths can result in similar performances. Which makes the final task all the more breathtaking." Clifford smirked as the helicopter rose to the highest point in the entire forest. She saw the peaks of each four hills and everything beyond. "This," Clifford said, gesturing to the peak of the mountain. "Is Mount Linore. This is where we watch. We have a chalet here that affords us three hundred and sixty degree views of the forest. If a flare goes up, we can see it, pin-point the location and have a rescue team out in minutes." Brennan jolted when the chopper landed on a heli-pad with a thud.
"What's this got to do with the final task?" She asked, her patience wearing. Clifford smiled, seemingly proud of himself. Brennan was irritated.
"Whoever sends up the first flare, wins." The agent said as if it made perfect sense. It was the first time anyone else spoke. When Agent Patterson's did, her voice was strained.
"We were told igniting a flare would effectively eliminate us from the contest. We were told-" Clifford waved off her concerns.
"Yes, essentially until task three, that is true. However your partners do not know where you are, do they? This final task determines the lead agent's ability to prioritise. A good agent will want to alert someone to their missing partner. They'll no longer be concerned with the flare and what it represents." Brennan shook her head in disgust.
"That's a dirty trick," she said, folding her arms. The door breezed open but no one moved.
"Dr Brennan," Clifford said, "This is not a trip to the fair. This expedition has been carefully orchestrated to assess exactly where our agents stands in their abilities to do their job. It's not about coming away with a medal." The others didn't speak as they were led from the helicopter to the chalet. Inside the smell of coffee assaulted their senses. But Brennan was unprepared to indulge while Booth was wandering the forest alone, tearing his hair out in case something had happened to her.
"What happens now?" Dr Jensen asked, sitting awkwardly on the edge of a wooden chair. Around them the four walls comprised of glass showed every part of the forest visible to the naked eye.
"Now?" Clifford poured himself a cup of coffee. "Now we wait."
It was explained that each agent had a different coloured flare. Whoever ignited the flare first, would win the contest.
"Ordinarily," Clifford said, "we'd have to take earlier performances into consideration but unbelievably you all done equally well. This is the decider." Brennan huffed.
"If this isn't a game, Agent Clifford, you seem awfully excited. You're treating this like an Olympic sport! Our partners are being unnecessarily tortured." Clifford rolled his eyes again.
"Don't be melodramatic, Dr Brennan," he said, adding cream to his coffee.
Standing at the north facing wall, Brennan saw the four hills, lined like a pretty constellation. She pressed her nose to the glass, wondering what might be going through Booth's mind. He'd be imagining the worst. He'd have images of her lying dead at the bottom of a bit and her stomach turned in disgust. How could these people justify a challenge like this?
The sun dipped, the sky darkened and after an hour and thirty minutes it seemed like no one was going to call it quits.
Brennan sank to her knees, watching the hills, her chest tight. Her ribs had begun to ache again, but she ignored the pain. She wanted to see Booth, wanted to see that he was alright. It was irrational and unprofessional, but her heart hurt in ways it never had before. She didn't care about winning. She didn't care if Booth never lit the damn flare. She just wanted the expedition to be over, so she could take him home and they could forget about hiking and catching fish and swimming in the river.
Brennan got to her feet, ready to turn when a bright white spark flew into the sky, exploding against the darkening clouds in a shower of red. Coloured sparks fluttered, and everyone in the room stood to attention, lining the window in awe. The beacon of light dissipated into something that resembled twinkling red stars until they were gone altogether, leaving only a trail of curling smoke that rose from the ground.
Agent Turner's partner turned to Clifford, her eyes wide. "Who owns the red flare?" She asked, and the agent dropped his eyes to a piece of paper in his hand. Brennan sighed, thankful that the damn thing was over. She could go home and pretend everything had been a dream. Except when Booth made love to her. She wanted to experience that again and again and the sooner the better.
"Agent Booth." Brennan released a hum, turning to Clifford as though she'd missed something. In her mind, she saw Booth leaning over her, his eyes expressing his desperation to be inside her.
"Agent Booth?" Turner's partner echoed. "There was me thinking he liked to play hero." She seemed irked. Brennan sank into the closest chair, closing her eyes.
Clifford was barking orders. "Get the other four out of there now." The pilot was off, and from outside Brennan heard voices. Three agents piled into the chalet and one more headed off with the chopper. The room was a buzz of activity, congratulations were plentiful but she heard none. Did these people really think it mattered to her that Booth lit the first flare? So he was recognised now as the best agent in the group but she'd known all along. They weren't informing her of anything new.
When the chopper returned forty minutes later, Booth was the first to leap out, making his way towards the chalet as though he were still a Ranger and he were on a mission. Brennan saw the look of dementia in his eyes and strode towards him. They didn't touch. The others were close, and public displays of affection lead to vulnerability and made everything to complicated.
"Are you alright?" Booth growled. She nodded.
"I'm fine. I had no choice… I had to come with him…" Booth silenced her, gesturing to the door. Inside, complaints rose throughout the group. Wasn't he meant to be revelling in the glory of being the best?
The air outside was cool, intensified by their height. It was dark, and above their heads the clouds had parted and the stars stone. It was the first night she'd been allowed to appreciate the sky. The trees had been a canopy above their heads for only a few nights. But it was too many.
Brennan sank to the ground, arms around her knees.
"Shouldn't you be celebrating?" She asked. Booth surveyed the darkened forest. The forest that had almost claimed her, yet at the same time, released her.
"What am I supposed to be celebrating?" He asked. "I thought you were injured." Brennan nodded, resting her chin on her knees.
"But I'm not. I'm okay. They say you're the most professional agent. They reckon only a focused agent, with good prioritising skills would have known the light the flare rather than plunder blindly in the dark." Booth shrugged, shaking his head.
"There was nothing professional behind my reasons for lighting the flare, Bones," he said, looking down at her. "Winning means nothing. You're the reason I lit it." She blinked. He crouched, his lips close to her ear. She tilted her head, inclining herself towards his hot breath. "And right now, I want to go home and I want to take you to bed. Properly." She inhaled, her breath trembling.
"Sounds good to me," she said, releasing a chuckle.
Well, it's finished now. And I'm breathing a sigh of relief. Any more I might have had to kill them in order to maintain the adventure! I hope you liked it.