Author's note: I should warn you. This is absolutely not angsty. Far from even. I don't know what happened...It's like my fluff bunny kicked my angst Musie right out the window! Oh, stop cheering will you? lol

Well, as you might have read in the summary this is my entry for the September NJC. This month's song is Times Like These by the Foo Fighters. It's an awesome song, but what made it even more special was that when Jemb sent it to me during one of our nightly conversations, we both got the same mental image! So we decided to both use that image and see how alike or different our stories would turn out.

When I listened to Times Like These, I saw Brennan driving down a highway. The accompanying feeling was one of freedom. It seemed like she was escaping and going on the search of something at the same time. A road trip is the perfect symbol in my opinion. When you're out driving, there's a world of possibilities at your feet. It's up to you---up to Brennan in my story---to choose whether to take an exit or to continue on driving.

Details of our challenge can be found at the SLP homepage, which can be reached through either my or Jemb's profile. And while you're at it, why not check out our latest collaboration called Eight Legged Houseman?

Btw, thanks Jemb for the beta-job. It was cool discussing both our entries before posting them.



I-80

Booth had been right. Mustangs were made for cruising down highways on summery days. Brennan shook her head, smiled despite her thoughts, and pushed the accelerator down. The engine's vibrations caused shivers to run from the steering wheel through her hands to her spine. The sensations made her temporarily forget about her partner, about whom she didn't want to ponder right now. The image of him standing lonely on the sidewalk as she pulled away from the curb was too fresh in her mind. A strangled sigh escaped her as she squeezed the steering wheel a bit tighter. As much as he had wanted to join her, and as much as she had wanted to allow it, it wouldn't have been right. This journey---this sudden taking off---was something she had to do by herself.

Brennan unconsciously reached for the delicate golden necklace she was wearing. On that necklace, resting on her chest, was hanging the ring her father had handed her a while ago. It was a family heirloom, a beautiful piece of jewelry, and most importantly, a clue of her past. She had slipped it on a necklace for various reasons. One was that Brennan never wore any rings because it was impractical to wear one when examining remains. The main reason was, however, a highly emotionally charged one. Brennan wore that ring around her neck because she wished to keep what little there was left of her family close to her heart. It was a clue from her past, something solid that proved that, apart from her father and brother, she had a relative somewhere out there.

A relative who got closer with every mile her car pushed forward. For five hours she had been driving now. About half an hour ago she had passed Chicago. The next big city on her route was Omaha. If she made it there, she'd be halfway---halfway through her journey and halfway to meeting her aunt. A sudden grin appeared on her face. She relaxed in her seat letting the wind play with her hair as she adjusted her pair of sunglasses. She still couldn't believe what was waiting for her at the end of her trip. Somewhere in Salt Lake City there was a woman who shared her genes, her blood, and her memories. Her feelings nearly overwhelmed her. The knowledge that she actually had an aunt, who had invited her over, was almost overpowering. If Brennan had been the extrovert type, she would've flung her hands in the air and would've screamed with joy. Instead she resolved to speeding up some more and turning the radio on.

With the Foo Fighters turned up high and an elbow loosely resting on the burgundy Mustang's door, Brennan sped down the I-80. All her thoughts were burned from her mind by the hot July sun while the wind blew her worries away. Brennan didn't regret having rented a 1968 Mustang convertible to make the trip by car. She could've easily taken the plane, but then she would've missed the splendid sights she passed and would've passed up an excellent opportunity to sort through the rather chaotic mess in her head. One morning Booth had been at her door with information about her missing aunt. In a matter of seconds he had turned her life upside down, like he usually did. It wasn't until she had contacted her aunt, had agreed to meet, and had rented a car that she had felt at ease again. Brennan glanced at the empty passenger seat. Booth could've tagged along---after all, he had found one, well another one, of her relatives---but she had refused to give in. She had to meet her aunt alone and would have to come to terms with her parents' past on her own, without having omnipresent Booth hovering around.

Brennan had just adjusted one of the straps of her top that had slid down and had just received an approving honk from a passing truck when the Omnipresent himself dared to try and reach her through her cell phone. A sigh escaped her upon seeing his name flash on her phone sitting on the passenger seat. Apparently there was no escaping him. With an even deeper sigh she grabbed her phone and hit a button to accept the incoming call.

"Booth," she mumbled, slightly irritated, but mostly exasperated since he was the last person she wanted to talk to right now. She didn't feel like having another heated discussion about why she had ordered him to stay behind. He had pestered her relentlessly about taking him with her, but she had stuck to her guns. Obviously he preferred to ignore the fact that she was a grown woman, capable of taking care of herself, she had pointed out. Of course he had brushed her arguments aside. He always did when he was determined to have things go his way. The only difference between all the other times he had tried to pull that trick and now was that Brennan had put her foot down. In doing so, she had crushed both his foot as well as his feelings. Their conversation---maybe painful snapping was a more accurate term since they had come closer than ever to saying things they'd surely regret later---had ended when Brennan had turned away, abruptly dismissing Booth and indicating she had made her mind up.

"Gee Bones, I had no idea you go around picking up phones using my name. If you want to wear it so badly, then get your ass to the nearest church to get married," Booth joked.

Brennan rolled her eyes. "Why are you calling me, Booth?"

She could almost see him shrug as he answered. "Just wanted to check how everything's going."

"Everything's going great. I joined a biker gang as soon as I was out of D.C. The tattoo hurt a bit, but the leather outfits are definitely worth it."

Was that a throaty grumble he swallowed? "The highway's calamitous for your sense of humor, Bones."

"Calamitous? It's obviously doing wonders for your vocabulary." Sarcasm dripped of her words as soon as she spoke them.

Booth sighed and remained silent for a few long minutes. Brennan didn't feel the need to help him out. He had called her so it was up to him to keep the conversation going, so she figured. During those quiet moments, Brennan went back to enjoying the weather elements teasing her senses. The sun had turned her skin slightly red by now. A healthy blush had been painted on her cheeks by the soft summer breeze that ran over the hood of her car before touching her face. The air was filled with the low humming of car engines and the distinctive smell of exhaust fumes. She glanced in her rearview mirror and nodded at the pair of bikers riding behind her who had served as inspiration for her joke. When Booth's smooth voice filled her ear again, Brennan was thrown out of a beautiful moment of tranquility and back into what she considered to be a pain-in-the-ass conversation. She still vividly recalled their heated argument and the resonance of his footsteps echoed, the lone sound in the empty lab as he walked away. Booth hardly ever apologized. It had made the hesitant apologies he had offered her when he had stopped by her place all the more jarring. She felt her stomach contract upon remembering how stricken he had been when he had caught her in the middle of loading her bags into a rental car. Maybe, just maybe, she had been a bit too harsh with him. But she had been that way for both their sakes. Booth couldn't always be around whenever she stepped on an emotional rollercoaster. She had had to make him understand that.

"I should've never tracked your aunt down."

"What are you talking about? Of course you should've. I would've smacked you if you hadn't!" Brennan's surprise was evident. Booth's struggling was too.

"Your dad was sent to prison because I found him. Imagine what'll happen to your aunt."

Suppressing a grumble, Brennan curtly returned, "You didn't find my father. You only "found" him because he wanted to be found. If he hadn't wished to appear, he would've never resurfaced. The only thing you did was slap cuffs on his wrists." In a sarcastic voice she continued, "And thanks for having such good faith in my family genes. We're not all criminals, thank you very much."

"You don't have to point that out, Bones. I know that already. It's just that..." The sound of footsteps echoed in Brennan's ear. Booth was obviously pacing around. "You don't know what's waiting for you in Salt Lake City."

"Of course I know. There's an aunt waiting for me. She's part of my family---my family, Booth."

"You've got a family here too. No need to cross seven states to find one."

"Wrong. I've got blood ties---family roots---in Utah. You can't beat blood ties."

He sighed. "I can try."

"Try as much as you can," Brennan replied. "But it'll never be the same." She kept quiet as she pushed her sunglasses up her nose and slowed down a bit. Well aware of how harsh she had sounded, she said a bit more gently, "You have to let me do this, Booth. You have to set me free for a while."

He imitated her silence for about a minute. Brennan pictured him pacing around aimlessly in his living room as he did so. It was a hot Saturday in the middle of July. Without a doubt he was wearing a pair of comfortable jeans and a tight fitting shirt. It was his dress down code---one she had gotten to know during the casual weekends they spent together when they had lunch at the Royal Dinner and went to the movies, or visited some kind of exhibit, or sometimes attended a baseball or hockey game. They had begun seeking out each other during weekends to keep each other company in the comfort zone they had created far from the horrors they shared from Mondays to Fridays. Their mutual, though silent, agreement to deepen their friendship on Saturdays and Sundays could be traced back to a phone call Brennan had made to her partner exactly one month after her father's trial. She had offered him a ticket to a hockey game and nice meal afterwards. That ticket and phone call had been the first of many, until at one point the calls stopped. Instead of casually informing over the phone if the other one was available, they began turning up unexpectedly on each other's doorsteps. They had gotten back to how they had been before the whole Epps ordeal that had triggered something in Booth's mind, before Sully had come along to sweep Brennan of her feet and leave her behind afterwards, and before Brennan's world had crumbled upon seeing her father's crimes smeared out over the six o'clock news. They were friends again, but on a different level. They had fine-tuned their friendship.

Booth cleared his throat. "Well then...Consider this me setting you free." A sharp click followed by short beeps indicating the conversation was over. Booth had hung up on her. He had cut himself off from her, just as she had requested. She was alone now and as free as a bird...and a very hungry one at that.

Five minutes later, Brennan pulled up at a small restaurant at the side of the road. After she had sat down in the back and had ordered something to eat, she fiddled with the clasp of her necklace until she got it open. As she held up the necklace with the ring dangling down, her forehead creased and she pursed her lips a bit. She stared at the ring for the longest time, her gaze only broken when a waitress returned with her toast and coffee. That piece of jewelry stood for what she was chasing---blood ties...family. Brennan knew she wouldn't feel at peace until her aunt had shared her story about her ring, but at the same time it symbolized what she had left behind in D.C. Angela, Booth, and the others were her family too. Maybe blood didn't link them, but something unnamable held them together as a family nonetheless. As the tiny stones embedded in the ring reflected the light falling through the diner's windows, it dawned on Brennan why Booth wished he had never located her aunt. He didn't want Brennan to forget about the eccentric family she had created. He wanted her to remember their friendship. He refused to go back to how they were during that crisis that had threatened their partnership. He was unwilling to let "them" slip away.

A smile and a bright twinkle in her eyes illuminated her face as Brennan quickly cleaned her plate and emptied her cup of coffee. Like Booth she cherished how things were between them now. She liked going to bed on Friday nights knowing that she had something worth looking forward to. She liked them keeping track of each other's calendars so they'd know when not to stop by. But most of all she liked how they could pinpoint each other's needs, almost to a fault. The necklace she was wearing, for example, had been a gift from Booth. He had worn it himself for several years. It had kept his medallion of Saint Michael, patron of police men, close to his heart. When she had showed him her family's ring, he had immediately removed the fine chain from his neck and had handed it to her, wordlessly offering her a piece of himself and also proving that he understood the emotional value of the ring. He had seen how she wanted to keep it with her, but couldn't bring herself to slide it on her finger.

After she had paid the bill, Brennan hopped into her car. She let the engine roar a couple of times before speeding away. Once she had joined the other travelers on the I-80 again, she grabbed her phone and dialed a number she knew by heart.

"Special Agent Seeley Booth speaking," he curtly answered her call after the phone had gone over at least ten times.

"Cut the formalities, Booth. You know damn well who it is."

"What a wonderful invention caller ID is," Booth muttered. "I thought you wanted to be set free?"

"I still do."

He immediately shot back, "Then why the hell did you call? I let you go. You shouldn't be looking back."

"Booth," Brennan sighed. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm on a one way motorway. Salt Lake City is only the first stop."

"It is?"

Brennan confirmed with a nod that Booth couldn't see, but would probably sense. They fell into silence just like they had during their previous conversation. It was a silence in which Brennan granted Booth time to think her words through while she leaned back in her seat and let a feeling of freedom wash over her.

"So a one way motorway, huh?" he hesitantly asked. "Where's that road leading to?"

Her smile grew bigger. "I think you are well aware of where it is---where we are---going, Booth."

She could hear a smile in his voice when he replied, "I guess I do. It eventually all leads to some kind of "us", one way or another."

They were once again plunged into silence, only this time it felt comfortable. Brennan broke it when she briefly touched her necklace like she had dozens of times in the last hours. "I'll bring you back a new chain."

"Thanks, Bones. Not just for the chain, but also for sticking with us---with me."

"It's the most logical thing to do, Booth. No matter where to or how hard I run, I can't escape you, nor the rest of my family. We're linked. We've been tied together from the moment I offered to help you with your cosmic balance sheet."

Booth chuckled. "The highway's definitely having an effect on you. You're firing deep thought after deep thought at poor helpless me." He paused. "Seriously Bones, don't walk out on us. We're your family. Just..." He sighed. "Just find your way back, okay? Leave a trail of bread crumbs or something."

Now it was Brennan's turn to laugh. Booth quickly joined in. Before they knew it, they were chuckling amicably as Brennan sped down the highway and Booth was sitting in his living room. Hundreds of miles separated them, but in that particular moment it felt as if Booth was sitting right next to her. When her chuckles faded, Brennan gently said, "I'll see you next Saturday, Booth. Behave while I'm away, ok?"

On that warm albeit mocking note, Brennan hung up and tossed her phone onto the passenger seat. All the tension had fled her muscles leaving behind a mix of happiness, anticipation, and freedom to tease and excite her until she came face to face with her aunt. Brennan leaned back relaxed and with a smile thought how one could learn to trust life again at the strangest times.



I think I've got a thing for titles with numbers in...