Paper Locks

The end draws nigh. . . .

A/N: I couldn't decide how to end this and Pelant, so I wrote several endings. You can decide which you like best. I just thought everyone should have a shot at him.

Enjoy!

oOo

Scenario 1

It took only one shot.

Sighting down the barrel, matching up the target in the scope with all the variables—distance and wind and temperature—it was fairly easy to do it, a few calculations in his head and it is done. Bullet through the chest, through the black, black heart of the beast.

A squeeze of the trigger and it is done.

That distance—he can see the melted flesh of the man's face from this distance easily—puts this kill in the range of an ordinary sniper. The body will be found because a body is needed. It will be the final punctuation on over two years of hunting and being hunted. This is not a trophy kill, but a necessary one.

It is rational although it is really rage that spurs him to do this.

The knapsack will hold evidence of Pelant's intent. Whatever he had in his hands will also figure into the final chapter of this story. Nearby, Seeley Booth is inside the home drugged to sleep with the zolpidem and other drugs that Pelant had placed in the liquor bottle earlier that day. There will be enough of the drug in his system to verify his alibi. Tempe and Christine are at a bed and breakfast in Delaware down the hall from Russ and Amy, across the hall from Emma and Hayley. He's got people monitoring the security system to make sure it won't be tampered with.

He's got an airtight alibi—he's got receipts and time-stamped video surveillance tapes that place him in a small hotel just a few miles away. Russ and Amy and Temperance will tell the authorities that he gave up his spot in the B&B so that his son and daughter could spend time together.

He learned from trying to take out the Gravedigger.

His dark clothes help him to blend in with the shadows as he walks away from his position. The dark lump of evil flesh lays still on the ground and if his shot is off he knows it does not matter; the dogs barking now are the same who have been alerting their masters to the prowlings of a coyote in the area.

But one wild coyote will no longer prowl the area.

While he's tempted to put his signature on the body, he knows enough not to. Grandchildren are nice and the time with Christine makes him want more. More grandchildren, if Temperance and Seeley are willing; more time to spend with the ones he's got. More time with family.

The rifle will have to be disposed of. While he's covered his tracks, a mistake now will put his life in jeopardy and even if he is willing to give his life to save his daughter's, he's grown a bit too long in the tooth to want to give up his freedom just yet.

He breaks down the rifle as he walks away. This he practiced in the dark for several weeks and he's got it down pat. Count the pieces. Load them into the deep pockets of the trench coat he's modified. Walk slowly away.

He would have liked to have had a dog to walk with, but he's learned over the years that the simplest plan is the best. Fewer loose ends to tie up.

Two blocks down he locates the car he's stowed there and sits heavily into the seat. It's not the weight of his actions that pull him down, just the time of night and his age.

And he doesn't give another thought to what he's just done as he starts the car and pulls away into the night.

oOo

Scenario 2

"No body, no murder."

The gun pointed at Christopher Pelant's head remained as rock steady as her resolve.

The maniac—because wasn't that exactly what he was?—seemed at a loss for words. But he managed to grind out a "you're not dead" that seemed rather superfluous.

"I was expecting better."

In the low beam of her flashlight, she could see the scarred rivulets of flesh on one side of his face made more ghastly in the shadows. The left side retained the boyish look that he had used to disarm his victims.

"You aren't a killer, Dr. Brennan," he began, his one good eye steadily on her. "You've only shot people in self defense." He tried a small smile. "Three people to date. One you shot in the leg because he was going to light you on fire."

"Then you don't have to empty your hands," she suggested.

It didn't take genius intellect to know what she meant.

The stalemate continued for several more seconds before Pelant bent down slowly to the ground and lay his weapon—some kind of modified taser, she thought—onto the ground and took a step backward.

She kept her light on him and held her ground. It had been fairly clear that Christopher Pelant was going after Booth and that Booth was making himself as big a target as possible for the madman. A simple deduction suggested Pelant would have had to pass her on the way to the house and she had been waiting for him. It hadn't hurt that she had booby-trapped the environs around the house with a system of passive alarms to alert her of his whereabouts.

He tried another smile. The right side of his face took on the appearance of one of one of the mummies of Guanajuato or Gallagh Man in Ireland. He took a step closer.

"Your partner, Agent Booth, he's the killer." His voice had a low, almost monotone quality. "He's the one who wants to kill me. It's what he's been trained to do."

She said nothing to this, her hand steady as she held the gun.

"He doesn't really deserve you," Pelant continued. "You're here. Obviously you were able to deduce what the next move was. Can you say the same for him?"

Despite not having been home for 14 days and 11 hours, she quelled the impatience to be done with Pelant. He shifted from one foot to the other as she played her light over his form. Light jacket broken by the straps of a backpack. A bulge in his right pocket.

She tightened her grip on the gun. "Two fingers," she ordered. "Right pocket first."

Years of partnering with Booth had taught her some of the police lingo and procedures, but she didn't consider the anthropological significance of such a transfer of knowledge. She just didn't want Pelant's part in her life to drag on much longer.

He complied, albeit slowly, his two fingers sliding into the slash pocket and emerging with a mini iPad. This he carefully laid on the ground at his feet. The left pocket produced nothing.

"The pack," she said pointing the gun toward one of the straps. "Slowly."

This time the small smile seemed almost wolfish in the low light. Pelant removed one strap from his shoulder and threaded his arm through. Then the other. He held the pack by the strap.

"I've done nothing wrong," he offered. "You have no proof that I had anything to do with anyone's death."

"Carol Morrissey, Ethan Sawyer. . . ," she continued to list the names of the people, to give voice to the outrage of the souls of the dead even if she did not believe in the soul. She could substitute her own outrage at his continued ability to destroy. "You killed them all."

"It's unfortunate that so many people have died," Pelant countered, his voice taking on a slight edge that only she might notice, "but you can't blame me for what's happened."

Her eyes followed his movements as he slowly bent down and placed the pack gently on the ground. Unfolding himself, Pelant lifted his arms even with his shoulders his hands with palms up.

She crouched down and laid the light on the ground so that it pointed at Pelant then reached into her pocket for a phone. With one hand she flipped the phone open and pressed the first button.

And his bag began to blink.

The thin canvas muted the red light, but the gap between the flap and the top of the bag was enough to allow the red to scar the night.

"You have a choice here, Dr. Brennan," Pelant was saying. "You can give up your life, again, but this time for Agent Booth. Or," his smile grew wolfish and lopsided, "you can let Agent Booth take his chances."

She hesitated for only a moment before she lowered the gun.

"I would feel far better if you were to put your gun on the ground, Dr. Brennan." Pelant made no move, but a slight smile creased his face. "And the phone."

This time she hesitated before complying.

"Toss them over here," he said, his smile far too like the death grins of the skeletons she worked on. "Gently. It's very sensitive."

Again, she did the will of the madman and sent first the gun, then the phone toward Pelant. Gently. Both skittered to stops well before the bag.

"I understand, Dr. Brennan, I do." Pelant was saying, his voice somewhat grating despite his honeyed tone. "Agent Booth has been something of a disappointment. You just can't be sure of the people closest to you."

Even as she imagined his face whole again, nothing could make it innocent in her mind's eye.

He bent to the small iPad and touched the surface. The red that had once washed the small area around the bag in its own staccato beat stopped. He then picked up the gun and trained it on her.

"I've enjoyed playing with you, Dr. Brennan," he said as he put the phone back into his pack and pulled a roll of tape from the bottom. "But I can't let you warn Agent Booth that I'm coming."

She did as he asked, laying face down on the ground, then endured the creepiness of his hands on her as he taped her hands together before turning her over.

His face hovered above hers and she could see in the dim light the craggy flesh on one side and the smooth skin of the other side. He helped her sit up and he then taped her legs together.

"I can assure you, Dr. Brennan, that Agent Booth won't feel anything. He'll see the explosive device just seconds before its detonated. He'll have that sense of helplessness that comes from knowing what's about to happen, then. . . ."

His voice trailed off or she simply gave up listening to him. She'd never had much patience for the ramblings of the madmen they'd run up against over the years and Pelant's voice only seemed to ratchet up her anxiety.

But she never stopped looking at him. Eyes, she knew, were not windows to the soul, nor a means of expressing one's emotions, but she almost willed Pelant to feel the full extent of her hatred through hers.

He smiled, that death mask smile—half alive, half dead.

"I've always been the smartest one and this time is no different, Dr. Brennan. Always a step ahead." He pulled off a piece of duct tape and held it near her mouth. "You couldn't win this round, Dr. Brennan, despite the fact that that little fake death stunt was really quite clever." She tensed as he applied the tape to her mouth and forced herself to look at him.

"Goodbye, Dr. Brennan," he said as he straightened and swung his pack to his shoulder. He slipped his arms through the straps then bent for his taser. "Although I suspect we will meet again." He gave her another lopsided grin before waving and heading toward the back of her house.

The glow of light from the back of the house seemed warm and inviting as she tested her restraints and so very far away.

And she counted.

The calculation was somewhat faulty, she had to admit, but about halfway toward the house, still two hundred or more yards away, a red light began to blink through the thin fabric of his backpack.

oOoOoOo

Amid the car alarms and the dogs barking and the sirens blaring in the distance, her muffled moans had had little chance. But it hadn't taken long for the police and firefighters called to the scene to find her trussed up at the far edge of her property and release her to the loving embrace of her partner, Booth.

While it made no rational sense, she had a feeling that the touch of Pelant on her skin would not be easily erased. Nor would the scar on their lawn where his body—where parts of his body—continued to smolder.

So lost was she in the warmth of Booth's arms, that she didn't quite hear the question posed to her the first time.

"Pelant did this?" Booth asked again.

She heard the name and felt the frisson of tension contained within those two syllables, as irrational as that might be, but she took a deep breath and expelled the monster.

"Yes."

The cocoon of Booth's embrace was far too comforting to let go, but she forced herself to look at the remains being roped off as a crime scene in her yard.

"Cam should have enough tissue to confirm identity," she said. "It's Pelant."

One of the police officers approached. "Agent Booth? I thought I'd tell you that the FBI's officially taking over the investigation," he said. "The Jeffersonian has been called to the scene." He turned to go then turned back. "Bet there's more than one agent glad he's gone."

Booth thanked the man, but continued to hold her close.

"This is one case we don't get to work," he murmured. He squeezed her shoulder and she snuggled closer to him. "Did you talk to him?"

"Yes." She felt the long hours of tension slip away replaced by a strong urge to simply slip away from the activity here in their own backyard and sleep in her own bed. But she knew that the noise and the growing crowd of people milling along the front of their home along the police barricades would prevent any rest in her own bed tonight. The lights of the neighboring houses were ablaze and added to the emergency lighting set up by the bomb squad.

"What did the bastard have to say?"

"Mmmm, not much," she said as she burrowed into Booth's side.

"What did you talk about?"

She closed her eyes and shut out the months of terror from Pelant and the final horror of the mess that remained of him on the grass.

"Not much," she murmured. "Just the perfect murder."

oOo

Scenario 3

Instinct told him this would be the night. Instinct and the flickering baby monitor—now you see Christine, now you don't.

And the haze—was that the word?— in his head as he stumbled up the stairs and practically crawled his way into the baby's room.

"Hello, Agent Booth."

A thousand bees buzzed in his head as he swung at the bastard holding his life hostage and missed spectacularly pitching forward onto the couch.

And he held on for dear life, but his muscles seemed to be on loan to someone else. "What the hell?" he mumbled as he tried to right himself.

Even to his ears the words came out slurred as did whatever the hell Pelant was saying to him.

"It's the ambitrollitronduragentboothilini," came out of Pelant's face.

A few gulps of breath did nothing—even his throat refused to cooperate—and he struggled against the feeling that he was asphixiating surrounded by air.

"Agent Booth?"

"Chris-teeene," he managed. The name sounded odd. He tried it again. And again.

"She's safe, Agent Booth." The voice grated on him. "Don't you remember? Dr. Brennan's father took her this afternoon."

He couldn't remember that, could barely remember his own damn name. "Bones," he croaked.

"That's rather sweet, Agent Booth." Pelant smiled and the white teeth blurred into multiples of multiples. "She's dead." In the silence that followed he tried to remember the last time he'd seen her. But even the memory of her face was morphing and changing into Pelant and he tried to shake away the image.

"No," he grappled with the arm of the couch and tried to push and pull himself to a sitting position. "No. No. Damn you. No."

Each word came out sharper and sharper.

"She drove her car off a mountain road, Agent Booth." Pelant smiled and the effect was like half a zombie Halloween mask. "Rumor was that she was despondent over you getting cold feet and breaking off your engagement."

Nothing he'd endured over the last couple of weeks, nothing, not the loneliness, not the single parenthood, not the fake grief, not the pretend descent into alcoholism could have pulled him from the fog he was in. But that did.

Rage fueled his movements and he pulled himself to a sitting position. The epithet he hurled at Pelant was short and Anglo-Saxon and not nearly strong enough to express his abject hatred of the man.

"She died knowing that you didn't love her enough to marry her, Agent Booth." Pelant smiled that insipid smile of his, one half of his face frozen. "If you loved her you would have found a way."

"You son of a bitch," he spat out. "You know exactly why I couldn't marry her." He rocked back and forth on the couch as if the momentum might help him stand, but he collapsed backwards, the exertion against whatever Pelant had placed in his drink far too tiring.

While he sat helplessly on the couch in his daughter's room, Pelant, in all his arrogance, supplied the answer to the riddle of why he had backed out of the engagement and fractured the best relationship he had ever had with a woman.

"You're far too concerned with your sense of honor to really consider how devastated she was by your reversal on the proposal, Agent Booth. You're far too good a man." Pelant's tone oozed condescension. "You put your, what did Dr. Sweets call it? Oh yes, your White Knight Syndrome. Your need to protect others at the expense of yourself."

'And the woman you loved."

It was the last thing that Pelant could say. The beast within Booth rose up and within milliseconds of that last syllable, had wrapped hands around Pelant's throat.

"I played the drunk for you because you're a weasel who likes to prey on the weak," Booth ground out as he felt past the soft tissue of Pelant's neck to the rigidity of bone. "But you won't have anyone else to hurt because you are done."

Pelant's face was turning a furious red and he felt that border approaching quickly, the one that he had crossed dozens of times as a sniper and a soldier and a cop.

"Booth?"

She had witnessed him crossing into this territory rarely before, but had she said the word he could have easily snapped Pelant's neck.

Pelant's eyes—well, actually the one good eye—was big and round and couldn't help but seek out the face of the woman he thought had died weeks ago. Booth released him and sent the bastard skittering to the floor, one hand to his throat.

"You. . .tricked. . . me," Pelant croaked when he'd finally been able to talk.

"The police are on the way," Brennan said. He felt her hand on his arm. "And the paramedics."

He stumbled backward, suddenly exhausted by the effort to stand, but he fought hard.

"It's okay, Booth," he heard as his eyes shuttered close. He felt Brennan holding his arms and pushing him and he let her guide him. The back of his leg hit softness and he folded his knees and sank backward, grateful because he felt heavy and boneless. Words blurred into images and suddenly he tumbled backward, Bones on top of him and under him, and he sank into the darkness.

oOo

He opened his eyes to angry lights and dark sky and faces in shadows. His body was heavy and weightless and he felt like he was flying.

"I'm here, Booth."

He moved his mouth, thought he moved his mouth, but nothing came out.

"Pelant's dead."

And the shadows descended once again.

oOo

The room he woke to was boxy and unfamiliar. But not the face.

No. Not that face.

He smiled back. Somehow he seemed to feel each muscle in the effort.

"You're back."

He closed his eyes and opened them, feeling everything in the movement. His eyes drifted to his arms and he moved one hand, then the other. His left finger was attached to something.

He felt her hand, wonderful and warm, soft and firm and his arm. "You've been asleep for almost 27 hours, Booth."

It didn't quite register. "Say it again."

That look. "You've been asleep for almost 27 hours." The look deepened. "Do you want me to call the doctor?"

"No," he said. "Say my name again."

"Booth?"

"Again."

"Booth."

The lips that spoke his name met his and he felt every wonderful bit of that.

He opened his eyes to that face again.

"Do you remember anything?"

"I remember I want to kiss you."

And that smile. He smiled back.

"You don't remember."

He shook his head. "Pelant's dead."

Her face slid from one emotion to another and he wondered if she knew just how lovely she was. "He ran from Christine's room and we ran after him."

He listened, his mind registering the words, but not the actions. Somehow he'd tackled Pelant and the two of them had gone tumbling down the stairs.

And Pelant's neck had broken in the fall.

Shaking his head, he tried to recall the image, but he couldn't remember any of it. But he didn't care. He'd lost far too much time to Pelant already.

He studied her face. The face he'd known for 9 years now, almost 10 and he wanted another ten year with her. Thirty. Fifty. A hundred or more if that were possible.

Her eyes, those pale blue eyes that could capture the light of the sun and be sky blue or appear gray in the diner or spark almost green outside at the park, those trusting eyes had remained steadily on him as he almost pulled them apart with his inability to handle Pelant and the madman's blackmail.

He shifted over on the bed and pulled her down to the edge. Holding her hand in his, he studied her expression.

"I need to tell you something."

Subtle shifts in muscles beneath layers of skin revealed what he sometimes thought of as her listening face. Her scientist's face. Open to the evidence. Willing to take it all in.

So he began to tell her the story of how a man almost lost the woman he loved by doing the right thing in the wrongest way possible.

And yet the string of love pulled tight to straining point and almost breaking held them together.

And he sealed his story with a kiss.

oOo

Scenario 4

He raised his head at the sound of the tentative knock at his door.

"Sweets."

The tension from three months of dancing to Pelant's tunes had mostly melted away and he felt genuine happiness seeing the shrink.

Until he caught the expression on his face. Dressed in casual clothes, the young man's expression was anything but casual.

"I was wondering if the ballistics report came in on Pelant."

"You want to know when you can get back to work." Booth grinned at the young man. "Going crazy not being able to shrink some heads."

Sweets stepped in and the gut feeling Booth had at his first glance intensified and settled in as a certainty. He'd seen that look a hundred times.

Most recently in his own mirror.

"I just want to know which one of us was responsible for Pelant's death."

Booth leaned back in his chair and pointedly avoided the report on his desk.

"I mean, it was a good shoot, don't get me wrong," Sweets continued. "He had Christine, he was threatening her life and a shoot to kill was justified." He paused, his eyes sweeping past Booth toward the photos on the back wall. But his eyes had that glazed look from a lack of peace. "And I know we were all in different positions and we all shot at him and I just thought. . . ."

The haunted look betrayed his thoughts.

"That's just mop-up, Sweets." He tried to lighten the mood in the room. "Take advantage of the mandatory time off. Go see a movie. Go bowling."

"You're not."

"I'm not what?"

Sweets skewered him with the lost look on his face. "You're not taking time off."

Booth held out his hands. "Desk duty. Mandatory." He picked up the stack of reports on his desk. "Catching up on some light reading."

"Dr. Brennan's at the lab."

Booth dropped the papers on his desk. "Bones doesn't get the mandatory time out." He sighed. "She probably wouldn't take one anyway."

"I'm up-to-date on my reports. I've completed all the latest profile requests."

Booth scrambled. "Maybe you could update the Jeffersonian personnel thingamadoohies. Dig up a cold case. Invent something."

Even Sweets paused at that.

"Look Sweets," Booth rose from his chair. "Does it really matter which one of us killed him? Like you said, it was a clean kill. It could have been anyone of us."

But Sweets had lived far too long with the possibility that not knowing was gnawing at his conscience. That was evident. "The preliminary report said that the bullet which killed him fragmented and it was uncertain as to which bullet was the actual kill shot." His eyes flickered momentarily toward the floor before catching Booth's. The intensity was startling. "The Jeffersonian was going to conduct their tests and determine whose gun fired the kill shot. I need to know if I am responsible for the death of another person. Even someone like Pelant."

Booth almost wanted to reach out and hug away the pain. In life, Pelant had destroyed lives; in death, the bastard was doing more of the same.

Looking down, his eyes briefly considered the FBI ballistics report on his desk, but he couldn't speak the truth. Not now. Not with Sweets looking like that.

"Cam said we should have the final report today," he assured him. "This afternoon."

"I can go over there," Sweets said. "Find out first hand, so to speak."

"No," Booth blurted out. "No. Pollutes the results."

Sweets gave him a look. "But Dr. Brennan's there. She fired on Pelant, too. You, me, Dr. Brennan."

"You know how she compartmentalizes," Booth shook his head. "She reads books in the same room as I'm watching hockey. Knows the whole book. And the hockey score. If she can keep the book separate from me yelling at the screen, she can compartmentalize this."

"Look," Booth tried to breeze through the reassurance, "you're going to be in your office, right? When I get the report, I'll bring it down and you can be the first one to read it. Okay?"

"Okay."

But Sweets lingered.

"It's just. . . ," he began, then stopped. Booth leaned toward him. "I just need to know. I mean, I qualified to carry a gun when Dr. Brennan was pregnant because I was going out in the field more with you. And I knew that it meant I might take a life. But now that I have, that I might have, I don't know exactly how I feel about that."

"It might not have been you."

"There were three of us."

"One shot each." Booth held Sweets' eyes with his own. "One in three chance."

"Yeah." Sweets turned. "Dr. Brennan would say that you shouldn't worry about something that hasn't happened yet because it might not happen."

Booth gave him a small smile. "She's right."

The young man nodded, but worry still shadowed him. "This afternoon, then. At the latest."

Booth watched him go and stood there, leaning against his desk for some time.

Straightening finally, he picked up his phone from his desk, the background photo of Christine and Brennan he'd snapped that morning a reminder of everything right in the world. Pelant was dead and buried and would take no more victims. He could make sure of that. He dialed.

"Cam? About that ballistics report you sent me. . . ."

oOo

Scenario 5

"Anything?"

She sipped at her tea and shook her head. "You asked that 10 seconds ago."

Max Keenan screwed up his face in a way she would never expect from his daughter, her best friend. The past few days of working with him had given her a taste of where Brennan had gotten her concentration. But the wily old fox betrayed so much more in his expressions than did his daughter.

"It's just that if we have access to his computer it would be nice to have something to do."

"Patience and time do more than strength or passion."

She turned toward Zack who was staring into the large monitor, oblivious to Max's expression.

"What are you? A fortune cookie?"

"On the advice of my psychiatrist, I am reading the fables of Jean de la Fontaine and examining their psychosocial messages for insight into the complex psychological processes of transformation and growth through allegory."

Max stopped his pacing and sank down into the chair he'd abandoned minutes ago. "And what the hell is that supposed to do for you in the loony bin?"

The old con man could be as charming as a showing of "Finding Nemo", but he also had the bluntness of a shark. A lot like Brennan.

"According to my therapist, they indicate the potential destructiveness of behaving ego-centeredly or by trying to gain power over others rather than by being guided by the eros motive of mutual respect."

Again with the screwed up face. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't really understand metaphor."

Max relaxed and gave Zack a half smile. "I don't really like fairy tales."

The bonding moment was broken by a signal from her computer. "We're in."

Zack's screen switched and they were seeing what Pelant was seeing on his computer.

"He's accessing the security cameras near the park by Brennan's house."

She exchanged looks with Max.

The park images showed what one might expect at midday on a day in the middle of the week. Parents with children. A man on a phone. A woman spreading out a picnic lunch for herself and a toddler more interested in testing the limits of the blanket she had spread than in the food.

And Booth.

He looked disheveled, the stubble like dirty smudges on his face.

"I don't see the progeny."

"Christine's with Russ and Amy," Max supplied. "The girls have to go back to school next week."

Angela heard the wistfulness in his voice. "And Booth is out of the house to give Pelant time to get in the house."

Holding onto Pelant's machinations on his computer was something akin to her roller derby stint as Smacky Kennedy. If she didn't keep an eye on everything around her, their entire operation might just crash into the rails. But Pelant was predictable—his next peek was at the house security.

"He's bought Booth's drunk act," Max said. "At least I hope so."

Angela ignored the comment as best she could. She hadn't much liked Booth these past few weeks and his gamble for taking down Pelant seemed just that—a gamble.

They saw the house at rest, waiting for its family. There was something about that big open space of the great room with the blending of Brennan and Booth's things that seemed like a living creature. A beautiful woman, someone had once said, changes in the varying lights in which she lives and like Brennan, that house seemed to embrace its beauty with its different looks.

"He's uploading something to the cloud," Zack interrupted her reverie. "It's an image file."

Her fingers danced the tango with Pelant, trying to keep step with him without stepping on his toes and letting him know they knew his movements.

"Max?"

But he was a step ahead of them, his phone already out and to his ear. "Is this the St. George pool? I need to know if you have lifeguards on duty."

This time it was Zack who screwed up his face. "It seems highly probably that a public swimming pool would have lifeguards on duty especially at this time of day."

Max ended the call. "He's telling Russ that he needs to go to the park and delay Booth so Pelant can get into the house. St. George slew dragons; that's Booth. The lifeguard is Russ," Angela explained.

Max just shook his head. "He's just not good with metaphors."

oOoOoOo

They knew everything:

The image file was of an empty crib. Pelant could play, now-you-see-her, now-you-don't on Booth's heart and mind.

Pelant had replaced bottles in Booth's liquor stash with his own.

The house had a series of points of entry and egress that Pelant had tampered with.

He'd broken into Booth's gun safe. Both gun safes. The guns were there, but there was no telling what he might have done to them.

They knew everything. Well, almost, Angela would say in the days that followed. They knew the who, the what and the where. They just didn't know the when.

As it turned out, they knew everything he'd done to the house, but they didn't really know what he was up to.

oOoOoOo

Booth might be living in a house that was a ticking time bomb, but it was Brennan who was a time bomb waiting to explode.

She spent her time watching and waiting. Watching the security monitors Angela had cloned and set up in the vacant offices in the top floors of the Jeffersonian. Waiting with the rest of them for something to happen.

Angela spent the time watching and waiting as well. She'd come into work at the Jeffersonian's Medico Legal Lab after dropping off Michael at daycare. Then after a morning's work in her office, she'd go down the hallway past the daycare to an old service elevator up to the top floor. Past the jungle of draped plastic and abandoned paint buckets. Past a corridor of empty rooms, that, because of budget cuts would remain empty, to a suite of offices.

And her favorite squints.

Well, certainly two of her favorite squints: Brennan and Zack.

Zack was, well, Zack. Despite being furloughed to the Jeffersonian somehow, Zack refused to wear anything but the vanilla ice cream pajamas he had been issued in the mental hospital. Beyond that, nothing had really changed with him.

But Brennan? Watching her was like watching a mother tiger separated from her cub. Each photo or video they passed on to her daily helped alleviate some of her loneliness for only a moment before the fact she held only some image and not her child aggravated the situation further. Coupled with the fact that she still felt a strong sense of loyalty to Booth despite months of lies and evasions only seemed to ramp up her protective instincts. And increase Angela's own protective feelings for her best friend.

"I miss them," Brennan said two days after they'd traced Pelant's movements in Brennan and Booth's home, and her face shifted from quiet resolve to that all-too-familiar look of pain.

The simple, "I know," and the hug she could offer in support had become reflexes, part of the muscle memory of their relationship. But there was little anyone could do to help beyond that.

Except maybe Zack who had a knack for talking to Brennan in the squint speak she understood that, at least for a moment, could take her mind elsewhere. "Dr. Brennan? If we try to apply the concept of forward induction to Pelant's movements, we should not take his movements in isolation, but rather we should determine the larger context in which he is playing. Interpreting his moves by assuming each step he takes is rational predisposes that he is, indeed, rational. The problem is that while this is a dynamic game, we have insufficient data to properly assess Pelant's next move."

"He's acted rationally throughout," Brennan countered, the intellectual game they played with one another just heating up. "For each threat, he determined the payoff and acted to create a determined equilibrium."

"But the question as to the real threat to Pelant hasn't been completely set," Zack continued. "It seems we might have another player in part of the equlibria."

And they were off in their own world of squintspeak and she along for the ride. Meanwhile the monitors continued to capture the shifting light in Brennan's home. And the monitors continued to capture the cyber movements of one Christopher Pelant.

But those movements were far less predictable.

oOoOoOo

Her movements, on the other hand, were predictable. The only steps outside her routine seemed to be to avoid Booth. Oh, she understood that love and loyalty and lust might hold a couple together, but his treatment of Brennan—agreeing to marry her then backing out followed by weeks of lying and evasiveness—had only strained his credibility.

Some part of her should have rebelled against the routine that had become her life, but Brennan had asked for her help and because they were the best of friends, sisters really, she just couldn't refuse. The detours upstairs were as much to help her friend over this rough spot in her relationship with Booth as to catch the killer. Sometimes she wondered what had happened to the free-spirited artist who had married a man she barely knew on the sands of an exotic beach and who did caricatures in the park for seed money for Paris.

But she was wife and mother now, artist and computer geek, friend and sister—and probably, right now, the conductor in the plan to stop Christopher Pelant.

oOo

Three days after discovering Pelant inside Brennan's home, she was making her usual lunch-time foray toward the squint nest, her canvas and painting supplies in hand. It was her cover story, a chance to capture the light on the rooftop of the Jeffersonian and re-capture a little bit of her artistic life. In some ways, it was more wish than lie.

"Ange?"

She turned at the voice and flashed her husband a smile. "Jack, I really need to get upstairs."

"The light and all."

Brennan would tell her it wasn't possible, but she caught the twinkle in Jack's eyes, that hint of the big secrets they were keeping: a dead woman alive, a crazy genius upstairs, electronic breadcrumbs tracking a madman.

"You forgot this." He handed her the insulated bag. It was heavy with her lunch and something extra for Brennan and Zack.

He helped her hang it from her shoulder. "You almost forgot Michael this morning."

Anticipation had made them all a bit edgy, a little less focused on their work. She kissed her husband. "It's just that I've had a lot on my mind lately."

In his smile was all the reassurance she needed. "Everything will come to a good end, Ange," he said as she boarded the elevator and pressed the button. "It's got to work out."

oOoOoOoOoOo

The elevator lurched to a stop and she waited for the door to open.

And waited.

It made no sense for people to hit the button repeatedly when an elevator stalled, but she did what everyone else did. "C'mon," she ordered the reluctant door, "just let me out."

But the elevator started again, this time slowly descending. "What did I hit?" She pressed the button for the top floor again, but the elevator answered her by opening the door a floor below the squint nest.

With an exasperated sigh, she pummeled the door close button. "C'mon, c'mon." But the door's gaped open and refused to close. She hitched the insulated lunch bag onto her shoulder and grabbed the handle of her art satchel and left the elevator behind.

The floor was like the floor above, missing ceiling tiles revealing conduits and pipes. She was familiar enough with the layout to make the short walk to the stairs.

Where the door was locked.

Banging on the door only hurt her hand and she rubbed the battered flesh as she did a U-turn and headed back to the elevator.

Where the door was closed.

"This isn't funny," she said to no one in particular.

She tried the elevator button, but all she got were repeated sounds of frustration. Then she reached for her phone in her pocket.

And it wasn't there.

A few colorful words later, she was shopping the vacant rooms looking for something—anything really—that could make the wait easier or help her blow a hole through the door to the stairs—because isn't that what Hodgins or Brennan would do—when she heard the unmistakable sounds of someone behind her.

"Hey, I. . . ." she said turning, then stopped suddenly.

"Hello, Ms. Montenegro," said Christopher Pelant. "Or do you prefer Mrs. Hodgins?"

Once she had told Brennan that she could spit with deadly accuracy, but years working cases at the Jeffersonian had taught her that naïve little ability was no match for someone like Pelant. But a mighty swing of her lunch bag high and the satchel low and she bought herself some time to run.

oOoOoOo

She would never recommend playing hide and seek with a serial killer, but that's exactly what she was doing. It seemed far better than playing Twister with him. The floor was a labyrinth of offices and suites with doors that all looked alike and opened up or remained locked like some kind of perverted carnival fun house. Her only advantage, if she could call it that, was the floor layout resembled something like a blocky figure 8 only doubled, and the twisting in and around and through was a great way to confuse her pursuer.

Or so she thought.

Round and round she went, testing every door and every window, diving behind partitions and desks, looking for the perfect hiding place, abandoning one find for another, then another, never satisfied, never quite sure that Pelant wouldn't find her.

Until he did.

She'd run into a workshop area where crates littered the floor, and she considered climbing into one when she saw the door in front of her slam open and Pelant stood in the doorway. An abrupt turn and the fear and the adrenaline weren't enough to sort out her feet and she pitched headlong down, skittering there like one of Hodgins' bugs. Part of her wanted it to be over and the other part of her wanted to bludgeon him with all the spirits of the people he had murdered.

He pulled at her hair and she found herself scrambling up to relieve the pain only to come face to face with the monster. Her artist's eye got a good look for only a moment at the ravaged, zombie half of his face, the white marble eye, the wrinkled gauze-like flesh. But it was enough.

She screamed and struggled and spat at him, but he was stronger than he seemed and she felt a tightening arms around her squeeze the very air from her chest and she gasped giving him opportunity to pull her closer.

"Angela!"

With his Flyers t-shirt and his weekend stubble, Booth looked nothing like an FBI agent, but the Glock in his hands and the steely look on his face told an entirely different story.

She tried to pull away from Pelant, but something crackled just beyond her forehead and the arm around her throat made escape impossible.

"Let her go, Pelant." Booth's hands were steady and his voice cut through her panic. "It's your only chance to get out of this alive."

"No, Agent Booth." She stiffened at Pelant's breath on her skin. "That's not how this is going to work. There are several places within the Jeffersonian where I have placed tanks of hydrogen cyanide with timers. I leave with Ms. Montenegro and I will give you the location of those tanks. Otherwise, there will be dozens, maybe hundreds of deaths on your conscience."

"And we know how you feel about the deaths of innocent people."

Something shifted on Booth's face, something like the shifting light in a room and she saw just how desperate the situation was.

"That's not going to happen."

Her body jerked with Pelant's as he pulled her closer. "You kill me and the timer will automatically set to zero and people will die. You let me go and I will tell you where those tanks are."

"Either way you're going to kill Angela."

Booth's words chilled her and she tried to fight against Pelant, but the arm around her neck was cutting off her air and her muscles felt leaden.

"She could upset my plans, Agent Booth. I can't have that."

"You're not going anywhere and Angela's not going to die today. Right Angela? I'm not going to let him hurt you. He's not going to hurt you. You believe me, Angela? Right?"

She wanted to believe but terror and pain and Pelant's arm around her throat and the crackling of electricity near her head fed her answer.

"You have to trust me, Angela. Trust me. I'm going to get you out of this."

"He's using typical FBI tactics, negotiating protocols. Assure the hostage. Stall for time. But he knows he's beaten. Hundreds of lives for one. He knows the odds are against him because I am a man of my word. But he's not."

"Trust me, Angela. Look at me. Trust me."

The back and forth would be dizzying in some action movie, but in the middle of it, she was lost in the sea of terror.

"That's right, Angela," came another voice. "Trust Booth."

Her body shifted with Pelant's as he twisted almost completely around to see Brennan with his good eye. Her friend was standing in a doorway with only a phone in hand.

"Let her go, Pelant," Booth ordered.

Pelant tightened his grip and she saw flashes of white. "You're dead."

Brennan had the phone to her ear.

"You're supposed to be dead. You died," Pelant kept repeating.

"Angela, trust me," Booth said.

"They have the locations of all the tanks, Booth." Brennan's voice cut through the fog.

"You're dead." Pelant practically spat the words out.

"No," Booth's words seemed to hang in the timeless void of memory, "you are."

oOoOoOo

She remembered much of what happened next, the single gunshot, falling backwards onto the lifeless body of Pelant, being lifted up by Booth, clinging to Brennan, being passed on to Jack's arms like some boneless rag doll.

She was left with impressions, images really, fragments caught by the sticky shutter of memory. Closing her eyes, they would come back as a fast-moving collage, a promise of her brain not to linger too long on the worst of it, but to flip through everything quickly, ever so quickly so as to skip over the accompanying emotions. But the emotions refused to go quietly, drawing her into gasps of terror, blanketing her with anxiety attacks in the days that followed.

No one really asked her what happened beyond the statement she gave to the FBI, and for that, she was grateful. Jack took her home and held her, rocking her gently to sleep and easing her out of the nightmares that forced her to relive her panic and terror. Brennan came by with Christine and held her hand and together they played with their children and tried to forget.

And forgive.

Oh, not Pelant. There needed to be a special place in Hell for him, one in which he could die again and again in the most excruciatingly ways possible. In fact, she was painting for real now, taking her canvasses out to their sun porch and re-creating the circles of hell for Pelant if only to exorcise him from her spirit.

The forgiveness was for Booth.

And the cup of coffee that she balanced up the elevator and down the hallway and into his office.

"Hey."

He looked up from the report in his hands and she couldn't help but notice the suspicious look he gave her.

"What are you doing here?"

Setting the coffee on the desk, she fidgeted with a ring on her hand. "I thought I'd bring a peace offering. It's coffee. From the diner."

It was a start, an opening of negotiations. Maybe it would take them months to decide on the shape of the table or the terms of their agreement, but there was one place they could both start from.

"We both love Brennan," she said as he removed the lid from the coffee, "and we both want her to be happy."

His features softened.

"We just go about it in different ways."