A/N: This started out as two short scenes exploring the immediate aftermath of their separation, and took on a life of its own. My plan now is to write three more parts (June, July, August) looking at what everyone is doing while Brennan is away. I don't intend to attempt to resolve the situation so much make suggestions as to what might be happening leading up to the premiere. (It's a given I'll be wrong, but that's where my theory of Fan Fiction as Alternate Universes comes into play.)
Brennan didn't look back.
Pain that served no purpose was useless, and could be distracting. So she turned the radio up loud enough to make certain she couldn't hear Booth yelling, and drove away.
There was no GPS in the car, and she'd left her phone with her father, so she concentrated on the directions Max had provided. Their agreed-upon route was one that stuck to back roads and old highways. He'd purchased the car the day before under an alias - the fact that he still had up-to-date aliases was something else there was no point in thinking about - meaning there wouldn't be an immediate way to connect the car to her, or to put out an APB on her. But he'd said interstates would still be dangerous, especially around DC. Too many cops knew what she looked like.
And it wasn't like the goal was to hurry anywhere in particular. She had all the time in the world, as long as she was at their meeting spot in three days. No, the goal wasn't to get to somewhere, Just to get away from where she'd been. Where she belonged. With Booth. In their home. Caring for their daughter together.
Grimly, she once again forced her mind away, to Pelant. The fastest way home was to find something that would clear her and incriminate him, so while she drove into the late afternoon sun, she mentally went over every detail of every encounter they'd had with him, every clue he'd left, everything he'd pulled off which had resulted in this flight.
It was a disturbingly long list.
She drove until Christine started to fuss, then pulled off beneath a clump of trees on a dark side road. The baby was definitely unhappy, and who could blame her? By the time Brennan got her out of the car seat, her daughter's whimpers were threatening to turn to screams. "Shh...," she murmured as she unbuttoned her blouse, made her breast available. The baby latched on, and Brennan sighed with relief that was more than physical. It was good to take a break from the driving. "As soon as you finish, I'll look for a place to spend the night," she promised.
The moonlight poured in, allowed her to see Christine's downy head as the baby suckled, and a wave of tenderness washed over Brennan. Would she have made the same choice, done the same thing, if not for her daughter? She didn't know. She could no longer imagine life without the baby nestled against her. She pressed a kiss to Christine's head, and the memory of Booth doing the same thing moments before she left pushed into her mind.
Resolutely, she forced it back out. She could not go there, could not think about what she'd just done to him. What she'd done, she'd done for him as well. It was their only chance, slim though it might be, to reclaim the life they'd had that Pelant had taken from them.
Did it make it better or worse that she knew what it was like to watch your family drive away and leave you?
Booth had no idea how long he'd sat on the church steps, certain if he moved to do whatever came next, he'd simply shatter. Brennan had left him. Just driven away with his daughter, and left him with ...nothing. An empty child carrier, an empty heart. He stared around blankly, then looked up at the church rising behind him, unable even to form the words to pray.
She'd made a point of telling him that she loved him. But she didn't trust him enough to want him with her. He'd do anything to protect them, and it hadn't been enough.
He thought of the baptism, and oddly enough, was comforted more by that than her words. That had been her goodbye to him, hers and Christine's. But damn it, why hadn't she understood he'd need to say goodbye to them, too?
The street was empty, strange for this time of day, but he kept staring in the direction his life had gone. Max's words came back to him. "If you knew, you'd be an accomplice." That'swhy she'd not given him the chance to say goodbye, to know? To feel apart of what was going on, to feel connected to her and Christine? Not to feel so damn lost?
Once, he'd have agreed with her. Reluctantly, but he would have done so. His career mattered. But now? Was it worth it? Worth this? Honest to God, he didn't know.
What the hell was he supposed to do? Go back to that great big empty house and do ...what? No job, and hell, his car wouldn't even start until he fixed Max's sabotage. "You stay in the system. I'll make sure she stays out of it." What did that even mean, when he was suspended? Pelant ownedthe system at the moment. Eight years, Brennan had been working to give names to the nameless and bring criminals to justice, and just like that, they were all willing to be manipulated into participating in what so easily could have been her death. Bitterly, he wondered if she'd stayed, gone to jail, turned up dead, who would they have blamed for that?
Max's final words came back to him: "You get that bastard, you'll bring your family home. I'll keep her safe."Cautiously, he took a breath, let it out. Division of labor. Max and Brennan would keep her and Christine safe; he'd find a way to nail Pelant's ass to the wall.
But exactly how was he supposed to do that when he wasn't working for the bureau?
He considered his options. Did he have the right to further involve the team? They knew Brennan was innocent, but it wasn't just their careers that were at stake. Of Pelant's three known victims - well, known to Booth and the team, at least - two of them had been a threat to his freedom. Krane would eventually have given Pelant up as his source, and Ethan...Pelant must have believed that what the crazy genius was telling Brennan was a real risk to him. If Booth was going to have to go after Pelant by himself, it would probably be safest for the others to involve them as little as possible.
He thought of Angela and snorted. Yeah, that was a pipe dream.
Still, he'd try to keep them as low-profile as possible, at least. With Brennan gone and Booth out of the picture, the team would be given other cases. From the bureau's perspective, there wasn't anything left for them to do. Brennan had killed Ethan and Pelant was apparently as innocent as a newborn babe on all fronts. And Krane's case had been given back to the DCPD since there was no evidence linking it to a serial killer.
His phone rang and he closed his eyes, pretended for a moment that it would be Brennan, knowing before he looked at the display that it wouldn't be. But it was worse than he'd hoped. Flynn. Not quite ready to face convincing the FBI that no, he really didn't know where his partner was, he silenced the phone, let it go to voice mail.
His brain switched tracks, and he thought about her words to him. "I love you, Booth. I don't want you to think Christine is the only reason we're together." The grief, rage, and terror were still there, but the pressure eased in his chest a little more. That, with what Max had said …it wasn't that she hadn't trusted him enough to let him run with them. Rather, she was trusting him to make it safe for them to come back home.
He had to believe that. There was nothing else.
So he would do so. He'd start by gathering more intel on Pelant. He didn't believe for a moment that the whack job would turn into a model citizen now. He'd run it past Sweets, but his sense was that Pelant was having way too much fun controlling everyone around him to give it up now.
But damn it, he wasn't looking forward to that lonely house.
Brennan did as Max had suggested. The twelve-unit motel outside a small town in Pennsylvania was privately owned, and while showing its age, appeared clean and well-kept. The innkeeper was friendly, but not too much so. At his inquiry as to her destination, she told him she was taking her daughter to meet some extended family, and that had seemed to satisfy him. He passed her a registration form, then went to get the key from the next room.
There was nothing whatsoever common about the name Temperance. Using it seemed extremely foolhardy, because if they tracked her, he'd be more likely to remember it. But if she put anything else down, and he asked for ID, she'd be in trouble.
Deciding the chances of his remembering her name were greater than his asking for ID given how relaxed he was, she boldly put 'J.T. Booth' in the name field. Joy was no longer her name, but it had been once, and Booth...women changing their names as part of a relationship with a man was a ridiculous, demeaning, antiquated custom.
But at the moment, using his name was a connection back to him. A link, and somehow, a promise that they'd be together again.
The innkeeper showed no interest at all in ID, and barely looked at the card she'd signed.
He'd given her the room at the end, away from the other cars. She laid Christine in the middle of the bed, then surveyed the space. It would do. Returning to the car parked just outside, she opened the trunk, stunned to see everything her dad had crammed in it. She'd managed to pack a few things for herself and Christine while Booth had been arranging the earlier baptism, but Max had added the portable crib, the collapsible stroller, extra diapers and wipes. She was relieved to see her laptop tucked off to the side. They'd argued about that, until she'd convinced him that having it didn't mean using the internet. But all the files on Pelant were there - if Cam had been instructed to make certain Brennan didn't keep copies when she'd been removed from the case, she'd not passed that on - as well as notes for her next novel. If nothing else, maybe she'd get a good start on writing it over these next weeks.
There was non-perishable food as well, and water. And sleeping bags and a tent. Grateful for her experience on rustic digs that meant she'd manage that life if necessary, Brennan really hoped it wouldn't be. Not with Christine.
She left the survival gear, but brought in everything else, too drained to figure out what she might or might not need. Once in the room with the door locked, her gaze strayed toward the phone. She knew the answer before it even fully formed in her mind. No. No calls. No contact.
Resolutely turning her mind to something else - anything else - she unpacked Christine's bag, pulling out pajamas and what she'd dress the baby in the next day before opening her own suitcase. She frowned when she spied one of Booth's Flyers' jerseys resting on top of her clothes. She'd not packed it, would never have thought to do so, so why had her father? Shaking her head in bemusement, she reached for it, then noticed a plain white envelope tucked beneath it.
She slid a finger beneath the flap to open it, and swallowed at the photos that spilled out. Two of Booth, one of the two of them while she was pregnant, one of him with Christine, and one of the three of them with Parker. She remembered giving them to her father a few weeks earlier. She looked at all of them, but kept going back to one of the ones where Booth was alone. She traced his face, swallowed against the tears. She'd known the moment he laid Christine in her arms that her life would never be the same again, that the emotional attachment to her daughter was immediate, permanent and irrevocable, and she'd rejoiced in that, even while it terrified her.
She'd not understood that sometime in the past year or so, her bond with her partner had deepened to nearly the same degree as what she felt for her daughter. It wasn't just Christine. She knew a number of single parents, and they all seemed fine with not having a romantic partner. Brennan was as strong as any of them, and yet, the thought of not seeing him, not hearing his voice, not arguing with him, not watching him with Christine or Parker or shouting at a sports display on TV...a tear broke through her control and slid down her cheek.
An emotional storm might have followed if Christine hadn't started to fuss. Swallowing the tears, Brennan picked the baby up, the photos still in her hand. Christine rubbed her face on Brennan's shoulder, waking up, then noticed the photos and reached for them. Knowing they'd go straight to her mouth, Brennan shifted so Christine could see them but not grab them. The baby touched the top one of Booth and vocalized …something..
She couldn't possibly recognize him from a photo. Brennan knew that. But for the first time, she wondered what the consequences would be of the separation. How long would they be apart? How long would it be before Christine forgot her father? What would it do to him if when they reunited, the baby acted the way she did around strangers? Closing her eyes she rested her head against her daughter's. Damn Pelant.
She'd look it up. She'd research memory and facial recognition in infants younger than six months. There would be all kinds of research- Then she remembered. No internet. No research databases. No parenting sites.
Her eyes narrowed as she stared down at the photos. Fine, then, She'd not always had easy access to research databases. She could find the answers, it would just take longer. A bookstore. She'd find a bookstore at the first opportunity.
For now, more urgent matters demanded her attention. Since she wouldn't be going back out, she took her blouse off, then settled on the bed to feed the baby. Once they were comfortable, she said, "Your father is very unhappy at not being with us," she began. "You must never think otherwise. He loves you very much, and is very distressed about not being here." She tried to imagine what Booth was doing, and her mind went blank. "He's missing us," she said softly. "I know that for certain."
She held Christine and played with her for a while after the feeding, until the baby's eyes drooped. Her own following suit due to the long day and the driving, Brennan put her to bed in the portable crib, then reached for her nightgown. Instead, she picked up the Flyers' jersey, and without letting herself think about it - if she did, she'd feel stupid - she went to get ready for bed. Sleeping in his shirt wouldn't be a substitute for sleeping with his arms around her. But it was his and...well, it was his.
The meeting with Flynn had gone pretty much the way Booth had expected it would. When he'd called the agent back and told him Brennan had fled, Flynn had given him thirty minutes to show up at the Hoover or else a warrant would be issued for his arrest. It was posturing, in Booth's opinion. They couldn't make an arrest for being an accomplice stick when they didn't have any evidence he knew where Brennan was, but there was no point in antagonizing them further. And being as fair as possible to Flynn, it was as annoying as hell to think you were about to close a high profile case, only to have your suspect vanish.
As it was, he barely made it within Flynn's arbitrary time limit, thanks to having to reattach the wires Max had disconnected and replace the distributor cap. At least the old man had left him the tools he'd needed to do so.
He stared at the other agent across the table in the interrogation room. More posturing, in Booth's opinion, in not giving him the courtesy of the conference room.
Flynn stared at him through narrowed eyes. "You want me to believe you have no idea where your partner is,; where your daughter is."
Why had he not realized what a bastard the man was before now? "No. I do not know where they are."
"And we should believe you, why?"
Because some day this will be over and I'll stomp your ass, Booth thought. "If I knew where they were, I'd be with them. Look, when you gave me a choice earlier between suspension and desk duty, what'd I pick?"
"You said it was to protect them from Pelant," Flynn snapped.
"So why would I be here now instead of with them if I could make the same choice?"
"I'm asking the questions here."
"Yeah, well, better get started then."
"Fine. Take me through your day again. Ms. Julian told you and Dr. Brennan that a warrant was being issued. What happened then? What did your partner say?"
"That she wanted to move our daughter's baptism up."
"And that didn't seem like an indication to you that she might be thinking about fleeing, particularly given her family history?"
The man was a moron. "Not without telling me, no. What would you do, if you had an infant that you'd most likely never see again? Wouldn't you want to leave her something?"
"Never see again?" There was a hint of a smirk. "Is that an admission of guilt, Booth? That your partner knew she'd be convicted?"
"No, damn it. It's an acknowledgement that Bones wouldn't live to see a trial once Pelant had her where he wanted her."
"Oh, come on. You know the procedures in place to keep someone like Dr. Brennan out of the jail's general population. Solitary wouldn't be fun, but-'
"You really are an idiot, aren't you? Ethan died because of a 'computer glitch' that allowed him into an open ward. Ezra Krane's remains never made it to the lab because of a series of orders no one can trace. Bones goes to jail and within days an order pops up moving her to GP, and in hours, she's dead."
"She's the one changing the orders, Booth, so unless she's developed a death wish, she'll be safe in jail. We'll guarantee it. Call her, tell her to turn herself in."
"I. Don't. Know. Where. She. Is," he said. "And no, you can't guarantee her safety, not while Pelant is out there." Wearily, Booth wondered again why he'd ever believed in the system at all. Maybe once this was over he'd go into the private sector. "Tell me something, Flynn. Show me where there's any evidence at all that Bones has the skills to hack into the systems you're accusing her of hacking?"
"Dr. Brennan's genius IQ level is well-known."
"Yeah, and so is Pelant's, a convicted hacker. There is nothing in Bones' background to support her doing this. She's all about bones and anthropology. You're following what looks like hard evidence and ignoring everything that would point a different way just to close the case."
The door opened, and Director Sam Cullen stalked in. His glance took in both of them, but then settled on Flynn. "He's right, Agent. This investigation is a pile of especially smelly crap."
Flynn and Booth both stood, Flynn's face a satisfying shade of white. "Sir, the evidence against Dr. Brennan-"
"Is too convenient," the older man snapped. "Particularly for someone compiling evidence against a guy smarter than all of us put together."
"You're going to push to drop the charges?" Flynn asked stiffly.
"Hell, no. I said the evidence was convenient, not invisible. If Brennan's guilty, I'll escort her to prison myself. But I'm damn well not going to let a serial killer take down the best team we've got while you stand and clap." He pointed to Booth. "You. Your suspension's revoked. Get your ass back on the case and clear your partner."
"Sir," Flynn said, "He assaulted…"
"Yes, he did. Why? No, don't look at Booth," he said sharply. "I want to hear why you think he attacked Pelant."
"There was no record of the phone call he claimed to have received," Flynn answered stiffly.
"No, there wasn't. I'll ask again – so why did he attack him?"
For the first time, Flynn looked genuinely uncertain. "I, uh, because he believed Pelant was framing Dr. Brennan?"
"And how did going to his house and beating the crap out of him help with that?"
"Ah…I don't know, sir."
"If you're going to use it against him, figure it out. Follow all the evidence, not just what's wrapped in a damn bow for you. Ask the questions you're not asking. Find out what the hell's going on, and how. Now go get Booth his weapon and badge back."
Flynn bolted and Booth and Cullen studied one another. Cullen had taken early retirement after his daughter's death, but had been talked into coming back to lead the agency while Booth had been in Afghanistan. Booth hadn't seen him since his return, and thought he still looked tired and old. "Sir..."
"I owe you, Booth. You and your team. But I know better than anyone what a parent will do when their child is threatened. The evidence may be convenient, but it's still damning."
"Sir, Bones didn't kill Ethan. The last time she saw him, he was in a high security area. He was no more of a threat to our daughter than any of the criminals we've locked up."
"Point to you, Booth. But the evidence is there. Find a way to disprove it."
"And for the love of God, stay away from Pelant."
Being reinstated felt better than he'd thought it would. But Cullen's belief in Brennan eased that pressure a little more. They were nowhere near where they needed to be, but having the director of the bureau at least raising the possibility she was innocent gave them room to breathe. Gave them hope.
But damn it, there was no way to tell her that, and their house was still empty.
It was late by the time he pulled into Hodgins' driveway, but he needed to be with someone who loved Bones as much as he did, whose faith in her was uncomplicated.
Cam…he and Cam would have to talk at some point. She'd been right to hold the line she did, and he was grateful.. But tonight, he needed something else.
"Booth!" Angela threw open the door and rushed to meet him as he started up the walk. "Where have you been? Where's Brennan? Is she okay? No one's answering their phone!"
Damn. He yanked his phone out, a little panicked. Flynn had made him turn it off when he took him into interrogation, had threatened to confiscate it, and Booth had forgot to turn it back on. What if she'd called?
But no, there were no unknown numbers. Angela, Sweets, Caroline, Cam…Russ. That one would be fun to return.
He looked up, wondered how to answer the question. "She's fine." He hoped. "She's gone, Angela. She left with Christine this afternoon."
She looked at him blankly. "Gone where?"
Hodgins stepped up behind her, touched her arm. "He means she's a fugitive." He turned observant eyes on Booth. "You don't know where, do you? That sucks, man." He motioned them inside, closed the door.
Angela's expression was stunned. "She really didn't tell you?"
"It would have made me an accomplice," he said tiredly. "We'd talked about going, but she and Max made the decision on their own. She left after the baptism. I went to get the car, which Max had sabotaged, and when I came back, they were gone. Max filled in some of the details."
They'd moved into the living room, and he collapsed on the sofa while Angela sat across from him, with Hodgins perched on the arm of her chair.
"She told me she loved me," Angela said quietly. "She knew she was leaving by then. Booth, I'm so sorry. She loves you, too, you know."
"Yeah." Would it be enough, though? What would this do to them? He didn't know, was too tired to guess.
"So now what? There's a plan, right?" Hodgins asked.
He pushed away the ever present desire to scream himself hoarse and said, "Division of labor. Max keeps them safe, we find what it takes for her to come home." Though how they were supposed to let Brennan know it was safe to come home when the figured it out, he didn't know.
Max probably had a crystal ball.
"How are you going to investigate when you've been suspended?" Hodgins asked.
"About that…" He looked at Angela, remembered what she had done for Cullen's daughter. He filled them in on his reinstatement, including the order to avoid Pelant.
While they digested that, he shifted focus. "We've got two different things to prove here. The first is that Bones is innocent of Ethan's murder. The second is that Pelant is guilty. We got hung up trying to prove he was framing her, and managed to make her look guilty and him look innocent."
Angela and Hodgins exchanged a look. "Yeah, we were talking about that," she said. "It just all went to hell so fast, you know?"
"You can say that again." He shifted, pushed away thoughts of a car driving away. "So here's what we're going to do. I'm going to focus on proving she couldn't have killed Ethan. You're going to prove Pelant is guilty."
Hodgins nodded. "Makes sense. Where will you begin?"
"The psych facility. I'm going to re-interview everyone there, have Sweets interview the patients." He frowned, unsure of Sweets' status. Well, if someone complained, he'd deal with it then. "And you all…"
"We've got a couple of things," Angela said. At his look, she held up a hand. "They're not magic bullets. The first are the library books Pelant had checked out. I think he was uploading code onto the RFID tags the library uses to track materials, code that hacked through the library security, onto the internet, and from there to where he wanted it to go."
"Like to the psych facility, to order Ethan's release?" Booth wasn't a computer expert by any means, and even he knew that what she was saying was nuts.
"Individual programs," she said. "I think one triggered a 'glitch' in the facility's network security that allowed the second program, from a second book, to access to the ward assignments."
"And if the second book gets checked in before the first?"
"The second virus waits and keeps trying. Booth, most hackers are looking for attention, or to steal personal information to sell. They're not looking to change a ward assignment, and that means they don't have a program to flag it. Antivirus software works on the assumption that a virus is going to target a lot of computers, not just one network. So the security programs may not even have noticed these programs slipping through."
It made his head hurt. "Right. So we've got the books, right? We match the books we can prove Pelant had checked out to things he did, and there we are."
But Angela was shaking her head. "The code is a bitch, Booth. He used a programming language that's ...well, it's named after Dante's eighth circle of hell. It was never intended to be used for actual programs. He then used code words for the variables. Most programs are written with at least some thought toward making them comprehensible. This is just the opposite."
"Think of something translated into Russian, by way of Swahili, and then written in a mix of Chinese and Japanese characters," Hodgins said.
Booth simply stared at them. "The code is in …code?"
Angela nodded. "I'm working on it, but it's making my eyes bleed." She hesitated. "There's a second problem, too."
"I think he had a virus watching the library system. When I started scanning too many of the tags of books he'd had, he took their network down, completely wiped the database. They've got redundant backups, which I don't think he was anticipating, but they can't restore the data without the same thing happening again unless we can find and eradicate the virus that caused the crash, and there's no anti-virus for it yet. I'm working on that. I've got the code from about a fourth the books saved on an external drive – meaning it can't compromise our system – but it may take weeks to get to the rest of the code, let alone start figuring it out."
"But the code is on the tags, and you have the books."
"The tags were designed to be read by a multi-million dollar library system. I'm working with their IT department, helping them restore data, but right now, their preferred solution is to remove the books from the system, find a way not to restore them when the rest of the database is. I'm trying to convince them I'll make it worth their while by consulting with them for free, including creating the antivirus but it's not easy. And doing that is taking time away from cracking the code."
Frustrated, he rubbed his eyes. "It's still something. And that's more than we've had before."
"That's not all we've got in our corner," Hodgins said. "Though there's a problem with that, too."
"Let's hear it."
"Cam and I found code in Ethan's room that he left for Brennan – well, he left it for someone, and we're assuming it was her, or rather it was the insights into Pelant he was going to give her."
Angela shook her head. "It's not just breaking the code and figuring out what it says. It's dealing with math so far above my head I don't have a hope of knowing what it means, anyway."
"Why did he write something Bones would never be able to understand? She's not a mathematician."
"We don't think he wrote it for her," Hodgins replied. "I think he wrote it for himself, notes as he figured out what Pelant was doing that he wanted to give to her."
At Booth's look, he held up his hands. "Don't look at me, dude. I'm the bug and slime guy. Pure mathematics, not my thing."
"The problem is that we don't have anyone whose thing it is," Angela noted. "I'm not sure even Zack could grasp it."
"Well, find someone," Booth said.
Her phone rang before she could respond, and they all tensed, stared at it as she looked at the display. "It's an unfamiliar number. Hello?" She listened, made a noise of assent, then handed the phone to Booth. "It's Max."
Puzzled, he took the phone. "Booth."
"Meet me at your coffee shop at 6AM. Bring anything you want her to have."
He hung up before Booth could say anything, and he frowned.
"What is it? What did he say?" Hodgins asked.
"He wants me to meet him in the morning at the coffee shop near our house. Bones and I stop there some mornings. Angela, what did he say, exactly, when you answered?"
"You're wondering if it was a Pelant-recording? I don't think so. He asked if you were here and then waited for me to answer before asking to speak to you. What do you think it's about?"
"I don't know. He said I should bring anything I want her to have, so I suspect he's leaving town right afterward." He sighed. How did he know what she needed, or would want? How did he even have any way of knowing what she'd taken? "I'd better get home, see if there's anything they missed packing." He started to stand, saw Angela shaking her head.
"It's not that kind of item, big guy. Come with me."
It was a full two hours later by the time he finally pulled into their driveway. Angela had had 'ideas,' and he'd gone along with them, because, well, it would have been easier and more productive to argue with a wall than to resist her. He hoped some of it made a difference. Staring at the darkened house, he was too heartsick to judge.
On a sigh, he exited the car, started up the walk. As he deactivated the security, he thought of other nights he'd come home late from work while Brennan was on maternity leave, and for a moment, tried to pretend that was still the case. That she and Christine were inside, sleeping.
He stepped into the house and knew such thoughts were foolish. The house felt ...empty. Bereaved. So did he, he realized. They were gone, as much out of his reach as if they'd died. Big, beautiful house, full of so many memories...and nothing else. No warmth, no laughter, no family.
Shaking his head, he started up the stairs. He paused for a moment in the hall, puzzled by the door to the nursery being closed. Unless the baby was asleep, the door was generally open. Max must have closed it without thinking when he was packing. Booth opened it, stared over at the crib, his heart crumbling. Where were they? Were they safe? Were they asleep? Was the baby keeping Brennan awake when she would probably be driving tomorrow?
It was hard to believe that less than twenty-fours earlier they'd been together. Despite the stress and anxiety - or maybe because of it - they'd made love the night before, and fallen asleep wrapped in one another's arms. And now...he didn't know what state they were in, didn't know when he'd see them again.
He was terrified, in some dark corner of his mind, that that 'when' should be an 'if.'
He swallowed hard, rubbed his eyes. They would do this. He and the team would bring them home. Resolutely, he turned, went to their bedroom. Without looking at the bed, he stripped to his boxers then turned, went down stairs. The sofa in his man cave would be his bed until they were home.
Booth beat Max to the coffee shop. Half the size of the Royal Diner, it was only blocks from their home, and catered to a clientele of local families rather than cops and lawyers. He understood why Max had chosen it, but it reminded him of Brennan. But then, what wouldn't in his life?
He sighed, rubbed his eyes. He hadn't slept well, so he figured he might as well get up and get started with the day. Every day he devoted to the task was a day sooner they'd be home. Sleep would happen when it happened.
He sipped the hot, strong coffee that would have to substitute for rest, and planned the day. After the meeting with Max, he'd head to the Hoover and start going over the case files for Ethan's murder again. Somewhere in there was a thread he could tug, one that would lead to clearing Brennan.
In fact, he might as well get started on some of it now, he thought, tapping keys on his phone.
"Uh, hello?" Sweets sounded so confused, Booth checked his watch. Five-thirty was a perfectly reasonable time to get someone out of bed. At least when the someone was Sweets, and his own life had just gone to hell.
"Meet me in my office at 7:00AM."
"No, it's the emperor. Are you going to be there or not?"
"Brennan's on the run with Max, and Cullen reinstated me. You need to catch-up." To be fair, Booth hadn't called him the night before when he finally left the Hodgins'.
Movement caught his eye and he saw Max coming where he sat in the corner. "Got to go. My office, 7:00AM."
He disconnected, watched Max settle across from him.
Max didn't bother with pleasantries. "Anyone following you?"
Annoyed that he would ask, he said, "No. You?"
Max shook his head. "I'm a wily old man. You're the one they'll be after."
"Let them come." He'd made a mistake in allowing Pelant manipulate him into the attack, something he wouldn't repeat. But if the sociopath thought Booth would sit back and let him win, he was in for a shock. "So what do you want?"
Max reached into the pocket of his jacket, pulled out a bulky envelope. "Two burner phones. Don't use them but to call us, and only in an emergency - you clear her, you're arrested, that sort of thing. Don't use them anywhere that could be bugged. Not the house, not the car, not your office."
"Right." If he were arrested, would it really matter whether she knew or not? He stared hard at the old man, for just a moment, wanting to beg to be allowed to go with him. To damn them all to hell and go be with her. But there was Parker, and he couldn't leave the child who knew him for the one who was too young for it to matter. And, as hard as it was, there was something else he wanted more: a chance to raise their daughter as herself. Not whatever name they'd give her while they ran. So what came out in response to Max was, "What's the plan?"
"Better you don't know much of it. I'll meet up with them, we'll go where it's safe." Max looked around, then leaned in a bit. "Listen, I've got a few friends in this area. If someone comes up to you at some point and starts talking about Minnesota in the spring, listen carefully. They'll be from me."
Booth gave him an incredulous look. "Minnesota in the spring?"
"Don't knock it, it's gorgeous. It's where I met Tempe's mother."
"Right. Minnesota in the spring. Got it." He stared hard at the other man, then leaned in. "You'd better get that this isn't a game," he said quietly. "This isn't about you reliving your glory days. You keep them safe until I say it's safe for them to come home."
Max's eyes hardened but the easy smile remained. "Then you'd better get busy making it safe for them to come home."
"That's what I'm damn well going to do." He reached over and picked up a bag he'd placed on the seat next to him. Sliding it across the table, he said, "For Bones and Christine."
Max took it without looking inside. "Got it." He looked at his watch, then stood. "I'd better go." He nodded toward the phones. "Emergencies only."
Booth stood as well. "Right. And Minnesota." There was a hundred other things he could say, but he settled on, "Keep them safe."
"I will." He turned and walked out.
Booth watched him go, and wondered how long it would be before he saw him again.
She was in the club, preparing to sing, when she saw the gun, saw Booth move in front of her. But it wasn't Pam who fired the weapon, but Pelant. And he didn't hit Booth's chest, but the center of his forehead.
And then she was in the lab, holding a skull with that bullet hole, knowing it was Booth's, while Pelant stood across from her, smiling.
"No!" Brennan jerked awake, sat up in the bed. Shaking, she heard a whimper, and for a moment, couldn't say whether it was her or Christine. It came again, and she shoved the images back. The baby needed her.
She stumbled to the portable crib, picked up her squirming daughter. "Shhh..." She rubbed her cheek against the baby's head, felt the dampness from her tears. "There is no such thing as precognitive dreams," she said. "The future is undetermined, and Pelant could not kill your father in such a manner. The dream was an expression of my fears, that's all." Not real. She glanced at the phone, the desire to pick it up, dial his number, a physical ache she couldn't explain.
Christine had quieted in response to her mother's voice, and Brennan turned, settled back on the bed with her. She'd read theories expressing both approval and disapproval of infants sleeping with their parents, but at the moment, she was too tired and distressed to care. She needed to touch Christine as much as the baby seemed to need her.
"This is why deep emotional attachments are unwise," she murmured. "Nine months of sleeping beside him appears to have destroyed my ability to sleep comfortably alone." The baby gurgled, and Brennan sighed.
There was no point in attempting to return to sleep, The dream had been too disturbing. Despite the fact that she'd actually experienced watching Booth be shot in front for her, the part of the dream that had seemed most real was Pelant in the lab.
"He can apparently do anything and go anywhere, so why wouldn't that seem real in a dream?" she said to Christine. "But he is not actually omnipotent. No one is." She frowned. "Well, your father would say that God is. I do not agree, but it seems only fair to note that difference of opinion since he's not here to represent his views."
In response, Christine stuck her fist in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully.
Dawn was just breaking when she went into pay for gas at the large station/convenience store on the edge of town. With Christine sleeping in a sling across her chest, Brennan added a large coffee and a banana to her total, then picked up a newspaper as well.
It wasn't until she stopped several hours later to feed Christine that she flipped the paper over and saw her own photo toward the bottom of the page. She froze, too shocked at first to even read the accompanying headline: "Best-selling author flees murder charge."
She skimmed the rest of the article, her fear growing. Why had she not anticipated this? It was somewhat sensationalized, of course, and emphasized her novels and the film that was in production over her work at the Jeffersonian, which, according to the journalist, she did in her spare time when she wasn't writing the Kathy Reichs books. But the gist of article was accurate, and damning: She'd been about to be charged with the murder of Ethan Sawyer and had fled D.C. with her daughter.
Christine finished and began to fuss, so Brennan lifted her to her shoulder while she attempted to assess the situation. The one thing in her favor was that the photo was a touched up shot the publisher used for book jackets taken right after her return from Maluku when she'd had bangs. She'd hadn't looked like that in reality the day the photo was taken, and now, exhausted and on the road, with a different hair style, she looked even less like that woman.
But she was traveling alone with an infant girl. It would help once she met up with her father, as the article didn't reference him, and she could stay out of view of the public more. She still had nearly thirty-six hours, though, before their first attempt at a meeting.
Fortunately, she estimated only another six or seven hours of driving time. They were meeting outside Toledo, Ohio, which, by interstate and optimal conditions, was less than nine hours from D.C. But on the highways and rural roads Max had mapped out, they'd estimated it would take closer to fifteen, and Max had thought trying to push farther than that with Christine unwise.
The baby had done well, so far, Brennan judged, but the trip was affecting her. She wasn't used to being ignored for such long stretches while she was awake. She looked down at her now. "We've got approximately six hours of driving left before we reach the hotel where we're to meet your grandfather tomorrow evening. I believe we'll stop in the next town and I'll do what I can to change my appearance. Then we'll leave early in the morning for the final push to Toledo."
Christine burped, and Brennan figured that could count as approval.
Outside Canton, Ohio, she found a shopping area that included a Target. She suspected her father wouldn't approve, but the risk seemed worth it and at the moment, she was making the decisions. She selected hair dye, reading glasses, a hat, and food, and was pleased to find several books on child development as well. "They're not of the highest academic standard," she murmured to Christine. "But hopefully they won't be entirely inaccurate. Unfortunately, I don't see any books on pure mathematics at all. I'm certain that's simply an oversight."
As she was heading toward the registers to check out, she saw the baby section, and detoured. It wasn't wise to linger, but she was always drawn to new clothing ensembles for Christine. When she'd justified it to Booth by noting how fast their daughter was growing, he'd laughed at her.
But it wasn't the dresses she found herself studying, but rather the clothing obviously intended to be worn by boys. Frowning, she stared at a miniature Cincinnati Reds jersey. "Your father would not be pleased at seeing you in that rather than a Phillies brand," she murmured. But people looking for brunette Temperance Brennan and her daughter would be less likely to see her in a woman with red hair traveling with her son.
She selected three outfits designed for boys – though she didn't see any reason Christine couldn't wear something decorated with dinosaurs, tractors, or the color blue – and skipped the sports jersey completely.
She paid and left the store, feeling relieved to be once more on the road. It took over an hour of driving, including some backtracking and going well off their route, to find another hotel that met Max's requirements: no chains, quiet, but not so much so that a woman traveling alone with a baby would be particularly noticeable.
It was nearly 3PM by the time she got settled. Christine was awake, so Brennan put her in the stroller and parked it next to the vanity so she could interact with her while she dyed her hair. After some thought, she'd decided that something different but still within a normal range for her skin tone would be best. There was no point in changing the color if it only said, 'hair color disguised!' to everyone who saw her.
As a result, an hour or so later, her hair was 'Autumn Flame Auburn.' She modeled it for Christine, pleased. "The name of the color is rather dreadful, but it looks acceptable – different, but not as unnatural as black or blonde would be." Staring at herself in the mirror, she touched her hair. And wondered what Booth would think of it.
She was a fugitive from justice, wrongly accused of killing a man, and yet it was neither of those things that made the following day one of the worst in recent memory.
Christine cried. Continually.
Actually, that wasn't an entirely accurate term. Crying was stressful and heartbreaking, but the baby only did that when she was taking a break from screaming as if someone was poking hot knives into her skin. Brennan would find a place a pull over, crawl into the back seat, take her out of the car seat and cuddle her, and the screaming would subside into whimpers. While Brennan held her, she'd calm down.
But only until she was put back in the seat.
She didn't appear ill. She didn't have an elevated body temperature and her diet and bowel movements were normal. But she was very obviously distressed at being alone in the backseat, and Brennan didn't know what to do. "There's really nothing I can do," she said to her currently quiet daughter. "We're only an hour or so from the hotel where Dad will meet us, and we have to continue driving. If he meets us, further travel will be easier because I can at least be in the back with you." She refused to consider what she would do if Max didn't arrive as scheduled.
"Please, Christine," she said, too tired and stressed to feel foolish for begging the baby to do something she wasn't cognitively developed enough to make a choice about. "Please calm down and let me drive."
She placed her back in the seat, and sat for a few minutes, stroking her cheek and talking quietly to her until Christine fell asleep. "Maybe I was wrong to bring you," she whispered. "It's hard enough being apart from your father, I can't imagine being away from you as well. I find the thought unbearable. But maybe it was selfish of me to do so. Maybe a good mother would have left you behind." Like hers had? She shook her head, unable to face that question.
Her hand still cupping her daughter's cheek, she leaned back, closed her eyes. What she'd, she'd done. Regrets would be pointless.
When it was clear the baby was asleep, Brennan returned to the driver's seat, pulled the car out and onto the road…and angry shrieks erupted from the back.
Brennan cried along with her.
By the time she pulled into parking area of the hotel Max had chosen, Brennan was more on edge than she ever recalled being before. It was the worst possible time to discover she couldn't compartmentalize her emotions when her daughter was screaming with distress over something Brennan couldn't do anything about.
Shaking, she parked at one end of the lot and rushed around to unbuckle the baby and lift her out of the seat and into her arms. "Shhh," she whispered, patting her. "We're here now, and can take a break. I'll feed you, and give you a bath, and we'll listen to some music until your grandfather arrives."
Christine's cries slowed, and she hiccupped. Brennan shifted her and slipped her into the sling, fastened it. The baby relaxed more, apparently understanding in some way that that meant she wasn't going back into the car seat.
Wiping her own face with some tissues, Brennan sighed as her own stress levels began to drop, and started toward the office. "I don't know what time he'll arrive," she murmured. "Sometime this evening, he said." If he didn't come, she'd be in trouble. Neither she nor the baby could survive three more days like this one.
The inn keeper smiled at her. "Looks like you've got a tired little boy, there."
Startled, Brennan nearly corrected him, then noticed the blue shirt visible through the sling. Apparently, her subterfuge was working. "Yes, we're both quite ready for a break," she said.
"I'll give you the room at the end," he said. "in case it gets busy later."
The room was similar to the ones they'd stayed in the last two nights, and Brennan sighed in relief at the thought of being able to rest for a little while. She unpacked the car, then settled on the bed next to Christine…who was now sound asleep. "You couldn't have slept like that an hour ago? Really?"
She put pillows around the baby, then took a shower, allowing the water to wash away the stress of the last hours. There had to be a way of traveling with her daughter even if she had to continue on alone. But how?
Acknowledging that for the moment, she was out of ideas, she finished the shower, dressed in yoga pants and Booth's jersey, and crawled onto the bed with Christine. Curled up against her daughter, she slept.
The room was dark when pounding on the door awakened her, plunging her into terror. They'd found her and would separate her from Christine. Who knew how long the baby would be with strangers before they reunited her with Booth?
The knock sounded again, and, she sat up, shoved her hair out of her face. Not someone pounding, but a reasonable knock. She turned on the light, automatically checking to see that the baby was still sleeping before stumbling to the door. She peered through the peek hole, nearly collapsed against it when she saw her father standing there.
It was with immeasurable relief that she opened the door as he was about to knock again. "Dad!"
"Hey, sweetheart." He studied her as she closed and locked the door behind him. "Nice hair."
"What? Oh, the color." Brennan turned, went to get a drink of water. "It seemed wise, given that they're looking for me." Wanting desperately to ask about Booth, she instead filled her father in on the last several days.
"Dressing her as a boy is good. That's a smart move. I knew you'd be good at this," he grinned. "You think fast on your feet. Always have."
She didn't want to be good at being a fugitive. She wanted to go home. She wanted to work cases with Booth, attend the mommy classes that Angela had dragged her to. Her throat suddenly clogged, she took another drink. "We're not going to be able to travel endlessly." She told her father about Christine's screaming.
"Yeah, you didn't travel well as a baby, either," he said. "But we're only going a few more hours from here, at least for now, and we'll do it in one car. I know a guy near here who'll buy the car you've been driving. We'll switch to what I've got, and you can ride in the back with her."
Knowing more about his plans, where they were going from here, was probably important. Instead, she asked what she really wanted to know. "How is Booth?"
"He's fine," he said. "You know him –already gearing up to catch that bastard."
It sounded right, but somehow off, at the same time, and she frowned.
"Where are your keys? I'll bring my stuff in and move what's in your car to mine. I've got something for you from him," he added as an afterthought.
In minutes, he'd swapped things around to his satisfaction and carried in his duffel bag and a brown paper bag, which he handed to her. "I'm going to go sell the car so we can leave early in the morning. Might take me an hour or two. I'll bring back something to eat, too."
Her eyes on the bag, Brennan only nodded, and barely heard him as he walked out.
For the first time since driving away from Booth, she faced what she'd been afraid to consider. What if he really didn't understand her decision? He'd said he'd go with her if she ran, though he worried it would make her look guilty. What if he felt betrayed, or thought she didn't love him?
There was absolutely no point in speculating. He would either understand that she was trusting him as she'd trusted no one else, or he wouldn't. On a deep breath, she opened the bag and reached inside.
Whatever she'd expected, it wasn't an envelope, an MP3 player with a screen in a case, and three childrens' books.
Puzzled, she opened the envelope, opened the sheet of paper, and read.
I've been staring at this piece of paper for 30 minutes and still don't have a clue what to write. Remember that night after the blizzard when I told you I was angry, but not at you?
I'm just mad that we can't seem to catch a break. I want to go back to the house and find you and Christine there, asleep, not to go to sleep myself wondering where the hell you are and if you're okay. We agreed not to let that bastard change our lives, and he did, anyway.
Hell, maybe I am mad at you for just leaving that way. Or maybe that's part of it, at least. But that's the irrational – to use your favorite word – part, because I get why you did it. And maybe that little bit of mad made it easier to convince Flynn I don't know where you are.
But I love you, and I heard what you said. I know you love me, too. We'll figure this out, get through it.
It's not much, not enough, but Cullen came out swinging in our corner. He reinstated me, ordered me to clear your name. And Angela's still working on some things as well.
I'm probably sounding insane. I'm pretty sure I looked that way when I got to the Hodgins' house tonight after leaving the Hoover. While I was updating them, Max called, told me to meet him tomorrow morning.
I think the hardest part of this is not knowing how long it will take for us to get this bastard. So Angela came up with this idea which might be sort of lame, but…she recorded me reading a couple of Michael's books, and put it on the player. The screen's probably too small to really see me (she says you can transfer the file to your laptop if you want) but we thought if Christine hears my voice, maybe she won't forget me. I know she's too young to really get the books and stuff, but …play them for her sometimes, okay? Maybe you can hold the books and turn the pages.
You're a great mom, just like I knew you'd be. Take care of her, and know I love you both.
Clutching the letter in one hand, Brennan turned on the mp3 player and saw there were only three files on it. She laid down next to Christine, pressed 'play' and cried while listening to the man she loved read Guess How Much I Love You to the daughter he didn't know when he'd see again.