Booth's kidneys ached as a rush of adrenaline assailed him. Within seconds of placing the receiver back in the cradle, he was sprinting out of his office, hands already beginning to tremble with a mixture of rage and apprehension. He fumbled ineffectually with the keys to his SUV, somehow mustering the foresight to switch on his siren before he floored the accelerator. His tyres screeched with the strain of his hasty departure, but he made no effort to slow down. Thankfully, the traffic milling around downtown DC gave him a wide berth. He pounded his fist against the horn to ward off anyone who was suicidal enough to stand in his way.
He pulled out his radio to call for back up, trying not to imagine what Bones might be enduring at the hands of their latest crackpot killer. When they had been called on to help excavate the remains of his most recent victim, Brennan's beautiful azure eyes had taken on that haunted look that never failed to make his gut wrench. This guy was brutal enough to make Howard Epps look like Florence Nightingale. The victims had been young, and female. Three of them had been unearthed to date, their bones telling excruciating tales of torture, rape and violence.
The heinous bastard, fuelled by feelings of his own inadequacy, had deliberately targeted girls and young women whose intelligence had been publicly commended; the high school valedictorian, the Harvard alumna, and the winner of a prestigious scholarship. Sweets had marked him out as an only child, a chronic underachiever who had probably experienced intense parental pressure to succeed. His family would have been excessively traditional in their roles – his father a domineering breadwinner, his mother a subservient housewife, and it was likely that he had witnessed extreme domestic violence from an early age.
Sweets explained that they were looking for a male – most likely in his late twenties - who had been taught from the outset that women were lesser mortals, domestic servants who were there to cater to his every whim. But then Mummy's Boy was forced to fly the nest and contend with the harsh reality of the real world, where things weren't structured quite the way he was anticipating. His relationships invariably failed when he realised that his girlfriends were capable of giving as good as they got. He was living in a place where his archaic views were mocked and his advances scorned, and he couldn't even regain his standing in the workplace. According to Sweets, this was the type of guy who was aghast to discover that his female colleagues were being considered alongside him for that coveted promotion, and outraged when they won the contest. So he preyed upon confident and clever young women, killing them before they could reach their potential, demeaning them the most effective way he knew how. By raping them.
Booth let out a tortured cry. Bones had only been missing for three hours, but he knew this bastard could maim and mutilate his victims in a tenth of that time. He thought about the contempt the inadequate asshole would be feeling towards his esteemed partner, and whether she was feeding his rage by refusing to acquiesce to his demands. Their perp was a repeat offender, who obviously knew the FBI was on his trail, but he would still want to toy with Bones before putting her out of her misery. To have her at his mercy would be a dream come true.
Booth heaved an angst-ridden sigh. There were plenty of people with a Doctorate, but no one deserved the title more so than Temperance Brennan. As far as he was concerned, she was a genius of Einstein-esque proportions. Sweet's propensity for profiling perpetrators frankly paled in comparison to Bones' ability to deduce the cold, hard facts from meagre nuggets of information. Still, that didn't mean she would have the foresight to do what was needed to stay alive. She could fight back, that he knew, but she had also determined that the killer was a weighty guy, with the strength to crush his victims like rag dolls. He wondered whether she would know how to handle him, to realise that her stoic resolve and condescending cockiness would only serve to incense him further. She had earned the right to be proud of herself, but he prayed that he had taught her the instincts needed to survive.
He thought back to the horrific scene that had greeted him when he had last saved Brennan's life, how her tear-stained face and evident terror had caused him almost as much pain as his extensive injuries. How, in the aftermath, she had wrapped her arms around him and sobbed against his shoulder, momentarily heedless of his cracked ribs, or the presence of Hodgins lingering uncomfortably in the background, shifting nervously as he watched his infallible boss break down. Booth hadn't cared about the pain then. In fact, it had been completely obliterated by the heady sensation of being so close to her, when only seconds before he had been faced with the bleak reality of losing her forever. That moment had, in actuality, been fleeting. Brennan was always quick to regain her composure, being so wary of losing it in the first place. But that didn't change the fact that it was burned into his subconscious forever.
Booth clutched the steering wheel tightly, swallowing the lump in his throat. It was too soon to admit defeat. He inwardly willed Cullen to wait for his arrival before embarking on the rescue operation. Under any other circumstances, he would have had the utmost faith in his fellow agents, but he cringed at the thought of one of his colleagues fumbling to free Brennan, laying their hands on her when she was at her most vulnerable, relaying their rehearsed words of reassurance, which would undoubtedly fall on deaf ears. She needed him. He was the only one, besides Angela, who had ever been able to get through to her. Underneath all the banter and bravado, he had done everything humanly possible to convey that he would never leave her. He remembered her asking, only recently, whether he was capable of betraying her. They were both slightly tipsy, and she had delivered the question partly in jest, but he knew his definitive "no" had resonated with her, somewhere.
Booth fought back tears as he considered how desperately hard he tried not to let Bones down. He followed her around like a lost puppy, turning up where he wasn't needed or wanted, sleeping on her couch to ensure she made it safely through the night. She had even learnt to tolerate the protective hand that he instinctively laid against the small of her back whenever they went out together. The gesture was almost automatic, even when they were ambling along next to each other in perfect synchronicity; he had to reach out, just to reassure himself that she was still there. And yet the bitter irony of it all was that, despite attempting to spend every waking hour with her, he was never there when she truly needed him. He still led awake at night thinking about the horrors of New Orleans, of seeing her in that hospital gown, covered in bruises and faint traces of her own blood. He continued to have nightmares about her being engulfed in scorching hot sand, his face contorted with the effort of pulling her free, only to find her limp and lifeless in his arms. And then there was the whole Kenton fiasco. He didn't know if he would ever truly forgive himself for placing her in the care of a would-be murderer.
And now there was another bad guy on the scene. Possibly the worst they'd had the misfortune to encounter. It hadn't even crossed his mind to warn Bones against getting too involved; he knew it would be a futile gesture. When he saw her this morning, she had been confined to the laboratory for over twenty-four hours, trying to find answers the best way she knew how. She was dozing at her desk when he brought her a cup of coffee, and he hadn't been able to resist brushing an errant strand of hair away from her face. The gesture was delivered with infinite tenderness, but it was still enough to wake her, and she had blinked up at him whilst he tried to conceal his embarrassment at being caught out. He made a flippant remark about how he had been preserving her dignity by wiping the drool off her chin, and she narrowed sleepy eyes at him, before breaking into an indulgent grin. That was enough acknowledgement to get him through the morning, and he had left to chase up another futile lead, unaware of the soft smile that had remained plastered to his features for quite some time afterwards.
A few hours later, Temperance Brennan and her team of squints made a major breakthrough. She called Booth on his cell phone, sounding jubilant, and asked him to meet her for a working lunch at his office. She nipped into the diner to ask Sid to prepare her two meals to go.
And then she disappeared.
It was Hodgins, as always, who had tracked down her likely location – Booth still didn't understand how he did it, but the bugs and slime guy had pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. Again. Now he was heading towards an abandoned shack, and he made a mental note to pay kudos to the rare species of tree that had led Hodgins to pinpoint the wooded area surrounding it. He could see nothing but countryside sprawling for miles around him. It was completely isolated. A place where no one could hear you scream.
Booth killed his lights and slowed down drastically as he began his approach, noting the positions of the other agents who were poised to begin the operation at a moment's notice. They had reached the scene only minutes before Booth himself, but Cullen had clearly been awaiting his arrival. He just hoped those few minutes wouldn't affect the outcome of the rescue, or else he would never be able to live with himself.
He exited his vehicle, closing the door with barely a sound, and gave his colleagues a curt nod, receiving several in return. He tried not to notice the looks of barely veiled sympathy, and instead motioned them into their respective positions.
They were ready to roll.