good news for those of you who don't like cliffhangers: this chapter is the end of our 4-chapter action-packed climax. no more insane cliffies.
bad news for those of you who like 4-chapter action-packed climaxes: this is it. we cool down a bit after this. denouement and revelation to follow. (and smuff, of course)
now, back to the cliff's edge!
Before she had time to react, a dull pain engulfed the side of her head and she fell to her knees, phone skittering away from her across the catwalk.
The low whir that the factory was producing fused with the rush of blood in her ears. It was nearly deafening, but she still heard him speak. "How has your recovery been, Dr. Brennan? I hear you had brain surgery," his nasal voice croaked. "It's really too bad you came."
The voice was edgy and she was cautious. It would be naive to assume that he was unarmed. "I'm going to need for you to slide your weapon over nice and slowly." She pulled herself away from her attacker before raising her hands and turning to look at him. Columbo stood motionless before her in a wrinkled and dirty suit. A Glock was trained on her in his gloved hand.
She spoke with as much confidence as she could muster. "You won't shoot me. You know that the Jeffersonian will track the bullet back to your gun."
His mouth twitched. "Well, you're part right. I couldn't shoot you with my own gun, Dr. Brennan. This, however," his hand gripped the gun more tightly, "is registered to your partner."
At the mention of him, her caution snapped. "Where's Booth?" she spat.
He plunged his other hand into his pocket and pulled out a heavy lighter. He flicked it open and held it, unlit, over the edge of the walkway. Brennan glanced down and realized that he was standing 30 feet directly over the crate of explosives she had opened.
Logic told her that any flame he lit would most likely go out before it hit the explosives, but in such an unstable state, there was no saying that the impact or a resulting spark wouldn't set them off. All the same, Brennan didn't want to admit defeat. "Are you certain the explosion would reach us up here?"
His finger moved only just enough to click a flame into existence and he spoke coldly, "The concussion alone would certainly kill Agent Booth, so let's try this again: Slide your gun to me, nice and slowly."
Brennan's heart and mouth stopped. She moved, carefully and deliberately, to retrieve her gun and push it across toward him. Metal slid across metal in a dull ringing skid.
"The FBI knows that you were the one who poisoned us," she prompted.
Columbo said nothing, but returned the lighter to his pocket and pulled out a pair of handcuffs, presumably Booth's as well. He crouched low and slid them in her direction, gesturing to the side railing.
Before he had a chance to direct her otherwise, Brennan slapped one cuff on one of the bars and the other on her left wrist, looking an am-I-doing-this-right question at him. Hopefully she looked as innocent as she was trying for. Having one hand free was far preferable to none.
She also knew that if these truly were Booth's handcuffs, she had a spare key in her back pocket. But as long as he was staring at her, she could do nothing about it.
Columbo had clearly not planned on her appearance there, and seemed to be considering the situation. As he stood, Brennan noted just how different he looked from the last time she'd seen him. Then he'd seemed small, frail, an old man whose strength had passed from him. But there in the factory with such an impenetrable look in his eyes, he seemed more like a rapier primed for battle. All pretense of decay had fallen away.
The heat hung oppressively and she tested the restraints. Finally he seemed to have made a decision and moved toward her.
Oh, God. Fight, Brennan. Do something.
She still had her right hand free, but she didn't have quite the range of motion to get in a good swing. Could she maneuver enough body momentum for an effective kick? When he stepped within reach, she decided that the time to try was now or never.
She shifted her weight back on her free arm and let her foot spring at him.
He sprang faster.
Columbo stepped forward and swung a fist in retribution. It connected with the injured side of her head, and she saw stars.
Her cranium was screaming at her; a banshee-like shriek. Some small part of her brain poked through the pain and cried that her free hand was resting just inches away from the key to the handcuffs. As subtly as she could manage, and under the pretense of bending and moaning at the new source of agony, she slipped the key into her palm.
Brennan looked up at his now blurry image. It faded in and out of focus and she saw him approaching her again angrily, lighter back out of his pocket and over the edge. Her head swam. There was no way she could unlock herself before he struck again, and she was certain that one more blow could easily render her unconscious.
She had to try. The tiny key seemed stubborn when it came to doing its job. Once, twice, three times it missed the lock. The fourth time, it seemed, was the charm. She would have to correct Booth when she found him.
She looked into the barrel of the gun aimed right at her face.
If she lived to find him.
Suddenly, his knees buckled and he crumpled into a heap. Both hands released their captives, Booth's gun fell at her feet and the lighter slipped from his grasp beyond the railing.
A blur of red flung itself over the edge, arms stretching far out in either direction. One caught the lighter, the other hurled itself around a bar, and Rossi dangled precariously high above the ground.
Rossi secured her grasp and reached to her belt with the unattached hand. She yelled, "Brennan, cuff him!"
Brennan quickly released herself from her restraints and moved to where Rossi was suspended, all the while eyeing the unconscious Columbo warily. "Let me help you up. You could fall."
She slammed her cuffs and the lighter up on the walkway. "Cuff him! Before he comes around!"
Brennan complied, pulling the man's arms behind his back and securing him. By the time the restraints were in place, Rossi had pulled herself halfway up and Brennan helped her the rest of the way.
When Rossi finally made it back onto the catwalk, she exhaled firmly. Time slowed to normal. Rossi's large brown eyes glared and she asked animatedly, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, I think so."
"What the hell are you doing, going off without me?" she snapped.
"I'm not completely helpless."
Rossi raised her eyebrows and gestured at the cuffed and unconscious Columbo.
"I'm not!" Brennan was getting irritated at how petulant her own voice sounded. Are you really so petty as to be angry at the woman for saving your life? Twice?
Rossi picked up the lighter and handed it to her, then moved to check Columbo's pockets. "You have a head injury, Doctor Brennan." She handed over a box of matches.
"I am aware of that, Agent Rossi." She could hardly ignore it. The adrenaline had begun to recede and Brennan's head was full of a stabbing pain.
The agent kept her eyes trained on her unconscious collar. She retrieved a flint from his coat pocket and handed it to Brennan. "Which is bleeding."
Brennan touched her head, felt warm wetness in her hair. Dammit.
Rossi retrieved Brennan's gun from Columbo and passed it to her, then pocketed his own. "What the hell?" Rossi held up another lighter. "Is this man trying to set himself on fire?"
Brennan took the lighter from Rossi's extended arm. "I suppose it's an occupational hazard of working with explosives."
"No," she scoffed, "it is hazardous for someone working with explosives. I would expect that he would keep these kinds of materials far away from that." She bobbed her head toward the stack of boxes far below them.
When she finally finished her inspection, she turned her full attention on Brennan, still fuming. "Why on earth did you call me if you intended to wander off on your own?"
"I didn't intend... did you find Booth?"
Rossi suppressed a sardonic chuckle and mumbled beneath her breath, "No one has your balls anymore." Then, replying out loud to the question, "No, I did not."
Brennan let it go. "Come on. I think I have an idea where to look."
She sighed. "I cannot leave Columbo here alone." Rossi pulled out her cell phone to call for backup.
"Protocol," Rossi explained. Brennan was just about to launch into a description of where she could stick her protocol when the agent spoke again, irritably, "There are reasons why protocols are set in place, Doctor Brennan." She pulled her phone from her ear and looked at it in irritation. "What the hell? I always have reception."
She squinted at Columbo, rolled her eyes in frustration, and pulled a box from his back pocket.
"Damn jammer." She switched it off and redialed.
"So Booth could have been trying to call." Brennan's mind whirred and came to a halt. "But wait a minute, I just got a call through to Columbo's phone a few minutes ago."
Rossi squinted at the box in her hand and flipped it over, examining it, "His cell phone jammer must be blocking specific phone to tower communications frequencies only. And you are not using FBI cell frequencies."
"So it wouldn't affect incoming or outgoing calls on my phone or any incoming calls on your network."
Rossi nodded. She stooped once again next to Columbo while her call connected and pulled a phone from his pocket. "Is this Seeley's?"
Brennan took it and flipped it open to reveal a Philly Flyers screensaver. "Yes." She pocketed it along with Booth's gun and handcuffs.
The agent spoke with dispatch and requested backup, then flipped her phone shut.
"Columbo said that Booth was near the explosives," Brennan said, anxious to find her partner.
Rossi replied, "There is an area that I wasn't able to check before I came looking for you. I think the hallway might lead back around in this direction." She gave Brennan directions and looked at her unblinkingly. "Find him. And be careful."
Deep blue light suffused falling water as it cascaded down the rock face. Booth could feel its warm draw, the downward pull.
He stepped under the fall and tried to drink, but his mouth refused to open. This filled him with deep sadness and he shut his eyes.
"Booth." The ringing, familiar voice sounded distant.
He opened his eyes. She'd sounded like she was far away, but stood not three feet from him under the flow of the water.
Booth tried to speak her name, but was once again unable to open his mouth.
Brennan's long auburn locks stuck wet to her face and body. Her lips looked as though he'd just been kissing her. She was speaking, but he could not discern any particular words from the mumble that sounded so distant.
His eyes travelled down her body. She wore a thin, white button-down shirt. The water had soaked it through and she was clearly wearing no bra.
Booth tried to draw her to him, but found that she was out of reach, regardless of how many steps he took in her direction. Her mumbled words sounded panicked, but her face was serene; the combination made him feel calmly unhinged.
Booth's eyes could not help but follow her hands as they travelled up the side of her torso, rounding the sides and cupping her breasts. She gripped, she pressed them together and rubbed a finger over each of the nipples now standing proudly against the wet fabric. Her open mouth formed a silent moan. The distant mumbling did not match.
He watched, transfixed, as she leaned her head back and peeled the wet shirt up and over her head. The warm water poured the strands of hair down her back and she brought her fingers back to run in the canyon between her full breasts.
He suddenly stumbled and the water became cooler.
She abruptly stood close before him. Her eyes were plaintive. His name tumbled from her lips like water over the fall, "Booth, Booth, Booth..."
Get up, Booth.
Get up. Bones needs you.
Brennan stood at an angle, aimed her own gun at the lock on the only room she couldn't enter, and fired. The handle was hot and she recoiled, before grasping it through her sleeve and jerking the door open.
She had finally found her partner. He lay there, stripped down to his undershirt and propped against the wall. He faced the rapidly growling boiler. His eyes were closed.
God, no. No no no. Brennan rushed to him and felt for a pulse. The intermittent pressure beneath her fingers wasn't strong, but it was present and she breathed in mild relief.
He was a large man with lots of heavy muscle on his form and the fact that his body was veiled in sweat didn't help her efforts to relocate him to the hallway. She had noted that the factory was warm and humid before; she now knew where it came from. The fact that Booth had been locked in here for some unknown length of time (possibly hours) filled her with unease and her primary goal became getting him somewhere even slightly cooler. But it wasn't easy, and her head was complaining keenly with the exertion.
She looped her arms under his and gripped them across his chest as she heaved him out of the room. Her head was spinning slightly, but she ignored it and slammed the door shut, blocking the blast of hot air that emanated from within.
He appeared to breathe more deeply here in the cooler and clearer air. A good sign, she thought. But his skin was still far too hot; she needed to find a way to cool him down. She mumbled to herself, she spoke her thoughts aloud. Stay with me, Booth. Her eyes moved in a panic, not really expecting to find anything, but intense in the attempt. A water fountain would be helpful, but none was in sight. Only a chair graced the hallway. She let her head fall back in frustration and her eyes locked instantly on it.
A fire sprinkler.
Please let the water be on. Please let the water be on. She pulled the chair to directly beneath the spigot and pulled out one of Columbo's lighters.
Her fingers flicked. Nothing. She cursed and withdrew the other lighter. The second one worked and within moments, cool water came spraying down all along the hall.
She dove back down to his side, sat with one knee raised and the other stretched along the length of his body, and propped him up against the inside of her thigh. She smoothed the falling drops over his angular face and cupped her hand to gather some in front of his mouth.
"Booth, Booth, Booth," she called quietly to him. "Come on. Drink, baby. Drink."
His lips parted and he seemed to let a bit of it drain down his throat, though he still remained mostly unconscious.
Running footfalls disturbed the steady sound of the falling water and Brennan grabbed for her pocket, pulling out the first gun that met her fingers. She swung across Booth's chest and aimed his Glock back behind him at the approaching sound.
Rossi stopped abruptly and raised her hands. "Just me. Reinforcements arrived."
Brennan breathed deeply and dropped the gun at her side.
"He is alive?" she asked as she moved around to face him.
Brennan looked up at her and nodded.
"Grazie a Dio."
Brennan resumed trying to get him to drink. "Booth. Come on, baby. Come on." She cradled him, kissed his face. Hers was twisted with worry.
"You love him very much, don't you?"
Brennan looked up at her with desperate eyes. "Yes," she breathed.
Brennan looked at her, blatantly puzzled.
"He has finally someone worthy of him. I didn't know if you were for a while. He has a tendency to choose women who are not right for him. It is very frustrating to see a good man dating beneath himself. I, myself, wasn't good enough for him. Not that I let it stop me from trying to be with him. But now I don't have to worry."
She shrugged. "I take an interest in people I care about."
"Take care of him or I will kick your ass."
Case in point. "If I don't kick yours first."
Rossi's eyebrows rose and a smirk crossed her lips. "I was the one who took out Columbo."
"I was handcuffed and have a hole in my head. Come by my lab, I'll put one in yours and we'll call it an even fight."
"Ha!" Rossi roared. "No one has your balls anymore!"
The sound of the waterfall morphed into a gentle rainfall that surrounded him. He was propped up against someone and a soft hand cupped his cheek.
His eyes opened and it took only one second to absorb the scene. Bones and Rossi were both kneeling beside him in a long hallway.
And behind Rossi, he could make out the slight, but taut form of Arthur Columbo approaching. He held a crowbar aloft and approached on them with a look of crazed malice on his face. Columbo brought his arm up in what would be a heavy swing at Rossi's skull.
Booth tried to speak, but his mouth still refused. His right hand twitched and touched his gun lying next to him. The grip fell into his palm like an old friend and he raised it.
One, two shots. Columbo fell. The gun fell from his hand and Booth slid back into darkness.
He must have only been unconscious for half a minute that time, because when he regained sight, Rossi was slapping handcuffs on Columbo once again.
"He's unconscious, but I'm not taking any more chances."
Just then a radio at Rossi's waist buzzed and a wavering voice spoke. "Agents be cautioned. Suspect... ow... has escaped."
Rossi rolled her eyes. "Yes, we gathered that." She pressed a button and replied, "Columbo is here. He has been incapacitated. We will need a second ambulance at the scene." The voice on the other end acknowledged and she gave directions to their location before clipping it back onto her belt. Kneeling beside Columbo, she applied pressure to his shoulder.
"He was handcuffed," Brennan insisted. "Who is he, Howdini?"
"Houdini, Bones," Booth corrected hoarsely.
"Booth," she gasped in relief.
"Did you use your FBI-issued cuffs on him?"
Rossi closed her eyes in frustrated realization and was quiet.
"And leave him alone with his keys?" Booth continued.
"He was not alone," Rossi argued. "He was with two other agents. But I should have taken his keys. I am not in the habit of arresting fellow agents."
"Why would he have keys to her handcuffs?" Brennan questioned.
"Most law enforcement cuffs use the same key to make criminal transport easier."
"Speaking of criminal transport," Rossi began and they turned to see three more agents approaching, "we need to get out of here."
Brennan's eyes met Rossi's in recognition, "That's an awful lot of sensitive explosive in the next room. I don't know what the autoignition temperature would be for some of those unstable explosives."
"It's not getting any cooler in here; the boiler valve is broken," Booth added, rubbing his chest weakly.
Rossi said, "I will call for a medic."
"No, we need to get out of here now." She turned to Booth where he was squinting and looking up at her. "Can you walk?"
He nodded. "Help me up." One agent supported him on either side as they made their way toward the exit. The third helped Rossi carry Columbo.
When they finally reached the outdoors, all hobbling as quickly as they could manage, Booth took in a long breath of cool, fresh air. The ambulances had just pulled up. They deposited Columbo in one and Booth at the back of the other.
No sooner had he been set on a gurney than a loud thundering BOOM made everyone duck. What windows remained on the old factory shattered and flung glass in all directions. The sound seemed to reverberate off all the nearby buildings. When it died away, the only sounds were of a half dozen car alarms and barking dogs.
Brennan sighed, nonchalant. "There goes the value on my condo."
Rossi looked at her and smirked in good-natured amusement.
next chapter will be a bit calmer. in some ways, at least. ;)
oh please, pretty pretty please review! i've been building to this for months. and i'm really curious... how did these last four chapters grab you?