"Drive west," he'd said. "Stay off the interstates, and don't speed. There's food in the trunk, and diapers and stuff for Christine. Stop only to sleep or buy gas." His voice had been low, his eyes steady on hers. "I'll catch up with you in three days."
He'd met her as promised. Then again ten days later, and a third time a week after that. Brennan followed his instructions to the letter, but as day piled up on top of day she wondered how long she would have to run, how long she would have to pretend to be other than who she was.
In the evenings, in one nondescript motel room after another, she watched the news, flipping from channel to channel in a fruitless search for information about Pelant. When there was no news to watch she turned to the sports channels because sporting events were important to Booth. She wanted to share that with him and, someday, with their daughter.
Invariably the news left her feeling tired and frustrated, and the sportscasters' voices filled her with aching loneliness. An hour's worth of channel-surfing often ended with a quiet curse as she snapped off the TV and tossed the remote aside. It was in those moments of impotent vexation that Christine anchored her, pulling her back, forcing her to remember what was truly important.
Every night ended the same way, with Brennan standing in for Booth on the job that had been his since their daughter's birth-a job that would be his again as soon as this exile ended. After Christine was fed, bathed, and dressed in a clean onesie, Brennan read to their daughter, her heart aching with the knowledge that it should've been Booth's deep voice guiding Christine into sleep. There'd been no time to gather any books before they'd left home, so the Gideon Bible supplied their bedtime stories. Brennan wasn't bothered by this. The Bible was readily available in every motel, featured challenging and interesting vocabulary, and contained myths that Christine would need to know in order to one day make a reasoned decision about religion.
As days turned into weeks with no word about the case Brennan grew increasingly restless. She didn't like being on the run. She should be in the lab, helping her team solve this case. She should be with Booth, helping him interview witnesses. But most importantly, she should be spending time with her partner, building their family instead of leapfrogging across the country while Christine grew up without a father.
The night Christine rolled over on her own for the first time Brennan's frustration reached the breaking point.
"I need to go back." She said it quietly, without taking her eyes off the baby, who seemed determined to practice her newfound skill until she rolled off the bed.
Max had been seated at the table poring over a ragged map, but his head jerked up at her words.
She bristled. "My team needs me, Dad. I can prove Pelant is guilty." And she needed Booth.
Max looked at her in disbelief. "Did a gypsy read your fortune today?" He dropped the pencil he'd been using. It clattered against the edge of the table and rolled off. "Wait. No. I get it. You managed to find the one piece of evidence nobody else could. It was just lying there in the nightstand, right next to the Bible."
"Don't be ridiculous." She hated his sarcasm. Hated more that he was right. She didn't have any new evidence, nor even an idea of where to look for it. But at least if she were home she would have the hope of finding something. Here she had nothing.
"What happens when you go back?" He was on his feet, hands on his hips. "What happens then, huh Tempe?"
His eyes slid away from hers just a shade too soon, and something about the way he turned away from her to pick up the fallen pencil made her uneasy, but she let it pass.
"They'll arrest me."
Max dropped the pencil on top of the map and looked at her. "You're damn right they will. And last I checked they don't let kids in the clink."
Her eyes went to her daughter. The thought of being without her, even for a little while, made Brennan's stomach churn. "It won't be for long. I didn't do anything wrong." Besides, the current state of affairs wasn't any better. Yes, she had Christine, but she didn't have Booth. And Booth didn't have either one of them.
"You think they're just going to take your word for that?" Max shook his head in exaggerated doubt. "You can try, I guess. Denial doesn't work too well for most people, but maybe for the great Temperance Brennan…"
"Stop it." Christine had started to whine, and Brennan shot Max a warning look before reaching over to rub the baby's back. "It's been two months. I can't do this forever. I can't walk out on my life like you and Mom did. I have responsibilities."
Max's eyes narrowed. "Don't make this about your mother and me."
Her temper was wearing thin, and Max's insistence that leaving had been a good decision grated on her, so instead of backing off she attacked. "Was it easy for you, Dad? Didn't you ever wonder how Russ and I were doing? Whether we were okay?"
"Of course it wasn't easy." Max dropped back into his chair, and Brennan noticed for the first time that he seemed tired. "We worried about you every minute of every day. We wanted to know how you were and what you were doing and—" He shook his head. "But we couldn't be with you. It wouldn't have been safe." His eyes locked on hers. "Leaving you alone, as hard as it was for all of us, was a hell of a lot better than watching you die."
The words hung in the air, stark and heavy, and long seconds passed before the silence was broken by Christine's gurgle of pleasure as she rolled over again. Distractedly, Brennan reached over to shift her back to the middle of the bed.
"You could've taken us with you." She swallowed against the lump in her throat. "At least we would've been together."
"They found us, Tempe." His voice broke. "They found us. They killed your mother, and they would have killed me, too. I couldn't risk leading them back to you kids. I couldn't take that chance."
She knew all that. They'd been over it more than once since Max had come back into her life. It was hard to remember facts, though, when feelings kept getting in the way. Which was further evidence of how much she'd changed since she'd met Booth. She no longer found it a simple matter to compartmentalize her emotions.
"You weren't willing to take any chances this time, either. You brought me out, Dad. Me and Christine. But we left Booth behind just like you and Mom left Russ and me back then."
It had been eating at her since she'd made the decision to go. By leaving, she was making the same choice her parents had. Would Booth understand her reasons? Did she even have the right to ask? She'd heard him calling out to her as she drove away that day, had recognized the pain and confusion in his voice. She hated that, hated that she had hurt him.
"We talked about this, Tempe. The only hope you two have of turning this thing around is if Booth stays in the system. "
And if he had come with them, it would've cost him his job. She knew that.
"Tempe … we did the right thing, here." His tone was smooth. Persuasive. "We just have to give Booth a little more time. He's a smart guy. He'll figure this out."
She wanted Max to be right. Not about Booth being smart; she already knew that to be true. She wanted him to be right about the case. She couldn't go home until somebody found proof that Pelant had set her up, and if anybody could make that happen it would be her partner. She just wished it weren't taking so long. She missed him. It was as simple, and as complicated, as that. And she knew Christine missed him, too.
"Tempe, look at me."
She took a steadying breath and adopted an expression of calm interest. "What?"
"I'll talk to Booth," he said. "When I leave here I'll go back to DC, and I'll talk to him."
Something about the way he said it reminded her of her earlier unease. She narrowed her gaze in sudden suspicion. "What aren't you telling me?"
Max looked away. She knew what that meant. Years of working with Booth, of sitting with him while he interviewed witnesses, had taught her a great deal about human behavior. Max was keeping something from her.
He blew out a breath. "Tempe…"
Icy fear crawled up her spine and settled at the base of her neck. She was on her feet, her fingers closing around his bicep, before she was even aware that she'd decided to move. "What's happened? What's wrong?"
Had Pelant hurt Booth? Was he even now lying in a hospital somewhere, alone and in pain, while she and Christine were halfway across the country? Had something worse happened? Was he…? She couldn't finish the thought. Terror consumed her. Horrible, black fear the likes of which she'd never known. She couldn't lose Booth. She couldn't…
"Tempe!" Max's voice again, whipcrack sharp. "Stop it! Booth is fine!"
It wasn't until he pried her fingers off his arm with a grimace of pain that she realized how tightly she'd clamped down. She let him go and slumped back down on the bed, the aftermath of her adrenalin rush leaving her limp. It took her a few seconds to catch her breath and bring her scattered thoughts back into alignment. Her momentary panic had been irrational, she knew. She'd been under so much stress, for so long, that she wasn't thinking clearly.
"Then what is it?"
He sighed. "They rescinded the arrest warrant last week."
Sudden fury blasted apart her newly-reclaimed calm. Last week. The arrest warrant had been rescinded last week. And Max hadn't told her, hadn't set her free. Why? What did he hope to accomplish? Unable to speak past her anger Brennan clenched handfuls of bedspread and baby blanket, crumpling the soft fabric in white-knuckled fists as Christine whimpered and rolled over quiet, anxious sound cleared Brennan's mind. She gathered her daughter into her arms and nestled her close.
"It's okay, baby." She used the endearment, one of Booth's, without thought. "It's okay." She lifted her eyes to meet Max's troubled gaze, her voice hardening as she stared him down. "We're going home."
"Tempe, you have to understand…"
"You and I are done here, Dad." She stood, still holding Christine while she lifted the suitcase onto the bed and snapped open the catch. "We're leaving."
"Booth asked me not to tell you yet." There was a note of desperation in Max's voice, and she turned from gathering Christine's things to stare at him.
"I don't believe you."
Confused and hurt, she dropped the blanket she'd been holding and stared at him. "Booth wouldn't do that." But what if he had? Was he so angry about the way she'd left that he didn't want her to come back? Was Pelant just an excuse now, a way to put off the moment when he'd have to face her?
"You don't get it, Tempe. Booth loves you. And he loves his little girl." Max leaned down to pick up a tiny yellow sock that had fallen unheeded to the floor. "He just doesn't want you to come home until he's sure he can protect you."
"Why didn't he call and tell me that himself?" It didn't make sense. If he loved her so much, why hadn't he contacted her the moment the arrest warrant was quashed. Dad knew where she was. He would've given Booth the number.
Max straightened from tucking the sock into an empty corner of the suitcase and turned to face her.
"You know why." the sharp rebuke reminded her that in this situation at least, he was still the expert.
And she did know. The phones weren't safe. Nothing electronic would be safe. Not yet. Not as long as Pelant was still out there. Fine, then.
"We'll hire security," she said. "You find somebody for us, Dad. Somebody you trust." She didn't care about the money, didn't even care all that much about the thought of having strangers in her home-as long as she could be there, too. "I'm going home. I'm taking Christine with me, and I'm going back to the man I love." She'd never put it to him like that before, never stated her feelings for Booth in such stark terms. But it was true. And it was all that mattered right now.
Max watched her for long seconds in silence before finally giving her a reluctant nod.
It took her five minutes to pack, five minutes during which Max plied her with warnings and instructions while Christine gurgled happily in her car seat. Did she sense, somehow, that she was going home? Was she old enough to understand? Despite all the reading she'd done, Brennan wasn't sure. Packing finished she snapped the suitcase closed, picked up Christine's car seat, and crossed to the door, then stopped at her father's light touch on her arm.
"Drive safely, sweetheart. And tell Booth …" He paused, bit his lip. Fear lingered in his eyes. "Tell him I said hello."
It was an odd request, but she nodded. Then, impulsively, she set down the suitcase and Christine's car seat and reached out to him, hugging him fiercely. "Thanks, Dad."
He'd come through for her, had guided her and her baby through a difficult and lonely ordeal. She would always be grateful to him for that.
"You're welcome," he said, hugging her back. When she pulled away, she saw that his eyes were moist. "I'll have security on your doorstep first thing Monday morning. You keep them close, you hear me?"
She smiled a little. She remembered that tone. It was the same one he'd used when she'd been five years old and he'd been teaching her how to cross the road. "You look both ways," he'd said. "And then you look again." She had looked both ways. She'd experienced life without Booth, and life with him. It was time to cross the road.
"I will, Dad. I promise."
The trip took three days. Unwilling to risk sleep deprivation Brennan resisted the urge to drive through the nights, but she and Christine still spent many more hours on the road than they had done before. Late Sunday night, as the lights of the city began to appear in the distance, Brennan felt a weight lift from her heart.
They were almost home.
Traffic was light at that hour, and the city streets were comforting in their familiarity. She hadn't realized how much she loved her adopted home town until she'd been forced to leave it. She never wanted to leave it again.
It was after two in the morning when they finally rolled into the driveway. Christine was asleep, the neighboring houses were dark and quiet, and when Brennan set the brake and turned off the engine the car settled into the late-night silence with a rattle and sigh of relief. She took a deep breath.
She was home.
They were home.
She pulled the keys out of the ignition and took off her seatbelt, then pushed the button to unlock the doors. She looked up again as the front door opened. Booth stepped out. He wore jeans and a faded t-shirt.
And he was armed.
As he leveled his weapon at the car Brennan was reminded of another time when she'd surprised him in the middle of the night and found herself face to face with the muzzle of his gun.
Without making any sudden movements Brennan opened the door, swung her feet out, and stood up, leaving the door open so that she would hear if Christine woke up and started to cry. Then, heart pounding, palms clammy with nervous sweat, she faced Booth across the broad expanse of lawn, waiting for him to recognize her. Hoping that he would forgive her for leaving.
She needn't have worried. An instant after she'd gotten out of the car Booth was holstering his weapon, and when he called out to her she was reminded of the joy in his voice when she'd returned from Guatemala after his surgery-and the hug they'd shared in her office.
Giddy with happiness and light-headed from exhaustion, she watched him leap down the steps and break into a run. She wanted to rush forward to meet him, but she couldn't leave Christine alone in the car. But it didn't matter. He reached her side in seconds, sweeping her into his arms and hugging her so tightly that, for a moment, it was difficult to breathe. The lean strength and familiar contours of his body, the scent of his skin, and the press of his hands against her back destroyed the rigid self-control that had seen her through their time apart. When he eased back to look at her the tears she'd been holding back for almost three months spilled over to wash down her cheeks, and she had to grasp handfuls of his shirt to keep herself from falling into him again..
"Bones…" He framed her face with his palms and used his thumbs to brush away the moisture. "God, Baby. I missed you. I missed you so much."
She offered a watery smile and a nod. "I missed you, too." He felt thinner, his ribs more prominent against her palms, and even in the darkness she could see that he looked haggard. The time apart had been difficult for him, too.
She reached up to kiss him, and that, too was a kind of homecoming. She knew these lips and this mouth. The quickening pulse that matched her own. The crisp texture of the short, dark hair that slid between her fingers. She even reveled in the coarse familiarity of his day-old beard. Needing more, she pressed into him, wrapped her arms around his neck, and deepened the kiss, gently at first, then with more passion as other needs rose up inside her and she felt him respond.
Christine's soft cry interrupted them, and she drew back, easing out of the kiss as Booth lowered his forehead to hers. She slid her hands down his arms to twine her fingers with his, and they stood there, catching their breath, until Christine's cries took on a more demanding note.
Booth lifted his head and grinned. "She's louder," he said.
"And bigger." Thinking about the milestones Christine had passed without him made her wistful. "She missed you." It probably wasn't true in any measurable sense, but Brennan didn't care.
"I missed her, too," he said, as he turned toward the car and the daughter he hadn't seen in three months.
She didn't hear what Booth said, but Christine's cries stopped. A moment later there was a soft click as he released the catch on her seatbelt, and then he was lifting her out and into his arms. He turned back with Christine cradled close, his head bent low over hers. Father and daughter held a quiet, wordless conversation before Booth looked up again. He held out his free hand to her, and she walked into his arms, the three of them forming a small, tight huddle beside the car.
It wasn't until a van drove by, its headlights piercing the darkness with startling intensity, that Brennan remembered how exposed they were. Here. In their own front yard. Booth must've noticed too, because he straightened, his eyes following the van as it continued down the street and around the corner.
"We should go in," he said quietly.
"Bones—" He hesitated. Took a breath. "I had an alarm system installed. They just finished the work this afternoon."
"I know," she said. "Dad told me." He must have paid the workmen extra in order to get the installation completed before her arrival.
"Pelant can probably hack it," she said.
"Probably," he agreed, "but it's better than nothing."
She dropped her gaze to Christine. The baby's fingers were curled tightly around one of Booth's, as if Christine were determined not to let her father out of her sight again. "I know you didn't want us to come home yet."
He looked uncomfortable. "It isn't that I didn't want you here," he said. "I just … Bones, Pelant's been in our house."
"I know." Max had told her that, too, as part of his futile effort to keep her from coming back. "And I'm glad you installed the alarm, even though he can hack it."
Booth's nearly palpable relief made her smile. They'd discussed a home security system when they'd been renovating the house, but it had seemed an unnecessary expense at the time. Now … Now everything was different.
"There's something I need to tell you, too," she said.
"Dad's hiring bodyguards."
Booth's look of incredulity faded into a quiet laugh. His lips brushed her forehead. "Of course he is."
"I asked him to. Pelant might be able to hack a security system. It'll be more difficult for him to circumvent a guard."
"But not impossible."
"No." Pelant had already proven himself in that regard. "But I'm not leaving again. Christine and I belong here. With you."
His expression softened, and she sensed a subtle change in their relationship, as if the events that had kept them apart for so long had somehow finished by bringing them closer together. She didn't understand that, but he would. Later, she would ask him about it.
"We're going to get him, Bones. I promise."
It was an optimistic promise. Pelant was free. He had access to computers. He had earned the trust of the people around him. And he was brilliant. But she and Booth could beat him. She was certain of it. As long as they stayed together.
She tugged at Booth's hand. "Come on," she said, and reached up to give him a quick kiss under Christine's watchful and unblinking gaze. "The Mighty Hut awaits."
Booth flashed a grin and pulled her back in for a longer kiss that only ended when Christine squirmed and chortled between them. Booth straightened, smiled down at their daughter, and twined his fingers through Brennan's.
"Lead on," he said.