AN: This is a post-S7 finale fic and contains no spoilers for S8. It's just me and the voices in my head and they don't know shit about what HH&Co. have planned for us in the fall (unless I'm very, very lucky and accidentally get something right).

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He picked up his car from the repair shop the next day, avoiding the "How did that happen?" question by simply ignoring it. The harsh lines carved into his face after a sleepless night haunted by nightmares did not encourage the mechanic to repeat the inquiry.

He was at the third stoplight on his way . . . somewhere . . . anywhere but the empty house he'd left that morning . . . when a simple look in his rear-view mirror, a glance he'd taken only because more than 30 years of driving made such an action more habit than thought, broke through the fragile walls of self-control he'd managed to erect.

One small flicker of eye movement.

One tiny adjustment to his level of vision and there it was. The curve of a handle. And suddenly, he couldn't see anything else.

Her car seat.

Empty.

Buckled in because he'd . . .

. . . he didn't know why he'd secured it in its usual place.

He didn't remember doing it.

He just had. He just had, goddammit, because that's what you did with an infant's car seat. You buckled it in and you shook it a little bit to make sure it was secure and then you tugged the seat belt again, one last time.

Because she was his daughter and even though she was only a few months old, already he couldn't remember life without her.

Because when he tried to breathe through a chest squeezed in a vise of guilt and worry, the air around him was tinged with the scent of baby powder.

And Brennan's perfume.

The car behind him honked loudly and without thinking, he slammed his foot on the gas and peeled through the intersection, leaving the smell of burned rubber drifting in his wake. The next light turned yellow as he approached; instead of slowing down, his foot hit the gas again as he whipped the car to the right and took the turn on two wheels.

He drove without stopping. If the light was green, he went straight. If it was red, he turned right. If a car in front of him slowed down, he swerved around it with an angry squeal of tires.

And kept going.

He drove until he left the city behind and there was nothing for miles ahead of him but road and farmland and more road. When he couldn't see past the tears that wouldn't spill . . . because he would not cry - he WOULD NOT cry . . . he pulled over, brakes screaming, dust and gravel flying. He threw the car into park and thrust himself out before the tires even stopped rolling, slamming the door hard enough to crack the tiny side window . . . and wouldn't that be a bitch to fix! he snarled silently.

Angry, worried . . . terrified beyond anything he'd ever experienced before, he picked up a large chunk of rock and flung it as he screamed into empty air. Then, because he could, he yelled again. His face red, the muscles in his neck standing out painfully, he gave voice to his fear and frustration and impotence, throwing rock after stone after bits of gravel, again and again and again, leaving dirty smears behind when he brushed away the tears he'd sworn he wouldn't shed, roaring until his throat was raw and his shoulder ached and there were no more rocks to throw. Finally spent, he bent over, hands on his knees, shoulders heaving, forcing air in and out.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

He barely heard it, that small melodic chirp. Three notes. Maybe four.

His head lifted with a snap and then he was at the car, flinging open the door, kneeling in the dust and dirt and broken pavement, searching under the floormat and under his seat and under the passenger seat and . . .

Taped beneath the steering wheel, under the dashboard, he found it.

A phone.

He ripped it free, swearing when he tore a fingernail to the quick.

We're safe. I love you. I'm sorry.

Oh, God. He sat on the hot asphalt, his back against the car.

bones? baby? His fingers felt both boneless and thickly solid and refused to move as swiftly as he wanted them to as he struggled with the unfamiliar keys.

Booth? I didn't expect you to have discovered this phone so soon.

yes yes yes i heard it when ur txt came. when did u put it there? where r u?

It was Dad's idea. He knew you'd feel better if we had some means to communicate. He said it's as safe as these burned phones can be.

He smiled unwillingly. burners baby. theyr called burners. where r u? tell me n ill b there

You can't, Booth. If you aren't there, the FBI will stop looking for the truth about Pelant. You have to find the truth so we can come home.

bones baby come home He stared at the phone, willing her to obey his order. this is killing me

I know and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I couldn't tell you because you would have talked me out of leaving. I'm so sorry.

We can't let Pelant get away with this, Booth. You will find out the truth and when you do, Christine and I will come home.

His breath caught. she ok?

She's fine. She misses you. I miss you.

I have a message for you from Dad. No matter how careful we are, these phones aren't safe and we can't use them very often. Go to the bank, to our safety deposit box. There's a $20 bill in there. Dad marked it and left it there.

He stared at the screen in shock. How in the hell had Max . . . never mind. Booth shook his head and left the question unasked. He'd worry about that later.

Every Saturday morning go to the farmer's market, to the organic farmer we like. Buy something, anything, from him but pay him with that $20. He'll give it back to you and in the bag will be another phone.

Destroy this phone, all of it. Destroy every phone. I'll send messages to the new one each week to let you know we're safe. You can reply but destroy every phone. We will also be using a new one every week.

Dad thinks replacing the phones so frequently will prevent anyone from being able to track us with them, or at least make it harder. I can't tell you where we are but you'll know we're safe.

Booth read through the instructions again, stuck somewhere between being appalled at Max's thoroughness and grateful his family was with the one person who cared as much about their safety as he did.

baby just come home. well find some other way

Find the truth, Booth. You will, I know it.

i love u

I love you, Booth. I'm so sorry.

Remember, every Saturday there will be a new phone. If you can't get to the market every week, he'll have another phone the next week.

i love u bones

I love you, Booth. Dad says I have to stop, that we have to destroy this phone.

i love u

I love you, too.

bones tell max thanks.

I will. I love you, Booth. Find the truth so we can come home.

i love u

bones?

bones?

baby?

Dammit! He cursed and threw the phone to the ground. He stared at it for a few minutes then picked it back up and read through the short conversation again.

And again.

And again.

When every word was branded into his memory, he removed the memory card from the back and, with effort, snapped it in half. The rest of the phone he beat to fragments with the old fashioned jack he kept in the trunk, taking a perverse pleasure in releasing his frustrations on the plastic and circuitry. When he was satisfied not even Angela's magic computer could put the thing back together, he gathered up the shattered pieces and tossed them to the four directions.

Finally, he slid into his seat behind the wheel again. He sat there in silence for a long while and stared unseeingly down the road while the words they'd just exchanged repeated in his head like the music wheel of a player piano.

I love you, Booth.

I love you, Booth.

I love you, Booth.

With a growl that matched the roaring of the engine, he whipped the car around and raced toward home.

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Thanks for reading!
MJ