Author's Note: I started working on this after the Season 8 premier in September. What stood out for me in that episode was the B/B hotness, and Pelant's threat: he gave Brennan a marigold that stood for "pain and grief." So, I wanted to explore how that story might play out. (I don't address the smut here, sorry. Go elsewhere for that. :)
Now that Pelant might be coming back on the show, I wanted to get my version out first! As you'll see, this tale is set a little farther in the future.
Beta work: Thanks to three wonderful gals for reading and offering advice: jsq, threesquares, and tempertemper.
Posting schedule: This story has 12 chapters (10 are written and I'm working on the last two). I hope to post twice a week, perhaps Saturday and Tuesday.
Content warnings: Car accident, child abduction, gun play. Those of you who know my writing, I hope you trust me to handle this well, and I've sought advice from betas on how to do that. Still, this story means serious fear and angst for our favorite characters. If you're in the mood for that, proceed and enjoy.
Part 1: Crash
"Angela, she's only two years old. She won't understand the significance of celebrating a birthday among friends and peers."
We'd just arrived at the diner, and I slid into a chair while plunking my purse on the table. "So it's for the adults. Just use it as an excuse to have a party, Brennan. Christine and Michael can eat cake with their fingers, play with the boxes instead of the presents, and that's all they need to be happy."
Brennan looked almost sentimental at that image, before digging into the salads we'd ordered for lunch.
I took a sip of iced tea. "So where was Booth going, that he couldn't join us?"
"He has to go interview a suspect for a fraud case he's working. His car's in the shop, so I told him to take mine."
"Wasn't yours in the shop just last week?"
"Yes." She sighed. "Booth was lamenting the timing, that they both decided to crap out at the same time."
I smiled. "His words, not yours."
"So, where do you think we should have this event?"
"The birthday party? Well, there's always your house, or ours. Maybe a park so the kids can play. The weather should be…"
Brennan's phone rang and she shot me an apologetic look, even as the name on the screen made her mouth turn up. "Hi, Booth."
I saw her face change: confusion, fear.
I sat close enough that I could hear it wasn't Booth.
Brennan put her free hand over her ear to block the diner's background noise. I heard a man give his name and then I caught scattered words: "EMT… car accident… husband insisted I call."
"What?" Her voice was tight with shock but she didn't correct the assumption she was married. "Is he—can I talk to him?" My stomach knotted at her tone.
All I could make out was, "Keep it brief… before we get in the ambulance." The color drained from Brennan's face and she went silent, listening.
I knew, somehow, that Booth had come on the line.
"I understand," she told him. "I love you." She glanced at me, then, with restrained panic. "Yes?" It seemed the first person had come back on. "How serious—? Which hospital?"
She was already standing up and grabbing her jacket.
I stood too, my legs quivery with dread.
Brennan closed her phone and spoke quickly. "Booth was in a car accident. He thinks Pelant sabotaged it somehow. That was an EMT who called from the scene. I'm meeting them at the hospital."
"Sweetie, wait! How could Pelant… How bad was Booth—"
"They couldn't say. Serious but not critical. Booth sounded…" She shook her head, eyes glistening. "Dazed and in pain, but very clear. That I shouldn't—that any of us—should take a taxi, not our own car."
"He thinks Pelant might…"
Her mouth was a grim line. "Might go after anyone close to me."
I retrieved my own bag so I could pay the bill, and call Hodgins to spread the warning.
We got into a cab a few minutes later, and when Brennan reached for my hand, I held onto it, hard.
They were both blaming themselves.
Booth hadn't even come home from the hospital yet, but he and Brennan were full of anger and guilt.
I mean, of course they were—if Pelant the cyber-genius-murderer was back, spreading pain and grief, as Brennan said he'd promised when he left the country.
It was two days after the accident. Hodgins and I were leaving the hospital with Christine, who we'd promised to drop off at the nanny's apartment. My dad was watching Michael, so we could help Bren with things like grocery shopping, before Booth was released later today.
I had Christine balanced on my hip as we went down the stairs and out to the parking lot. Her little hands fidgeted with my necklace. When Bren had taken her to visit Booth, her face had blossomed into a big smile at seeing her dad. But then she'd seen the bruises and butterfly bandage on his temple, and started to cry. He'd cradled her against his chest, both of them torn between gladness and tears.
I knew Brennan felt guilty about loaning him her car. The FBI techs were still dismantling it, along with Hodgins' and my car, Cam's, Max's, and anyone else we deemed at risk. They'd found a tiny device on the brake line, nearly invisible in the crash debris. A saboteur could have controlled it remotely, triggering the release of a powerful corrosive agent that ate through the line, so the brakes failed.
"It should have been me." I heard Bren speak in a low voice. I hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but I'd dropped my jacket just as I left them alone yesterday, so I picked it up and lingered in the doorway.
"I'm glad it wasn't you, Bones."
"No, Booth…" Her voice cracked, and I imagined she was leaning over the bed, cupping his face, or kissing him gently. He'd suffered lacerations, bruises, and a fractured tibia. Even so, it could have been worse.
We'd all gathered in his room earlier, and he'd told the story in his no-frills way. "I was on the highway about to exit, and the brakes failed. I hit the pedal harder, pumped the brakes—nothing. So I put on my hazard lights and pulled the emergency brake, and that seemed to slow me a little. Smelled like burning rubber, anyway. But that section of highway was ending, so pretty soon I had no choice. There wasn't enough time to do anything. Lucky for me I had to go up a hill before turning off, and that slowed me too. But I was coming up to an intersection. I would've crashed right into dozens of people. So I drove off the road and into a big tree. All I wanted was to stop at that point and, well… that did the trick."
Brennan sat by his bed, her hand on his arm. She was shaking her head as if to say, Don't be a hero.
Cam seemed to agree with that sentiment. "Damn it, Seeley, couldn't you have found a runaway truck ramp or something?"
"Hey, at least I hit on the passenger side, not my own. That little car of yours folded right up," he told Brennan, "like an accordion." She looked like she'd been punched in the stomach, and he clearly regretted what he'd said. "Hey, it's okay, Bones. I'm teasing, all right?" He reached out to caress her hair.
She hid her face for a minute, saying in a muffled voice, "I'd hit you if you weren't already injured."
Booth had a nice black eye, along with some cuts to his face. His leg wouldn't need surgery, but he'd taken a serious impact to the chest. Both Brennan and Cam had insisted on seeing the x-ray and CT scan, to rule out complications like internal bleeding or pressure from trapped air. Bren told me he had abrasions at mid-sternum and over the anterior iliac spine, from the seatbelt.
"But," Booth was saying, "that car has a solid framework, front and side airbags—it could've been worse."
Hodgins grimaced. "Man. It was bad enough."
"I'll say it again," Max put in. "Pelant needs killing."
Brennan gave him an enigmatic, steely look, and Booth said, "I wish I'd done it before."
Sweets didn't even have any psychological comments. He noticed me glancing expectantly at him and said, "Hey, I'm not here in a professional setting. I completely agree with Max."
I didn't need Sweets to tell me: Brennan and Booth felt guilty for not being more alert to Pelant's actions and whereabouts.
No one questioned that Pelant was behind the accident. True, it was a departure from his usual pattern. Tampering with the car presented more variables; it wasn't as neat as he seemed to prefer. But I'd gotten too familiar with Pelant's style, during those months that Brennan was on the run, and I knew he was behind this.
Cam was giving Booth a shrewd look. "I'm guessing this wasn't a total surprise. Has he slipped back into the country, or what?"
"He might have. We found hints he's up to something." Booth nodded at me. "I had Angela investigate a few of them, to help out the FBI's cyber crime experts."
"Why didn't I know about this?" Cam demanded.
I shrugged apologetically. "We didn't find anything definitive. If I had to describe it, I'd call them… echoes. Traces that Pelant had been at different sites or databases, hints that he had done something, but he erased it."
"You weren't sure if he was toying with us," Hodgins said, "or plotting actual crimes."
"Well." Brennan's hand still rested on Booth's arm, but her voice was hard. "We have our answer."
After Hodgins and the FBI had made sure our car was safe, I went to drop Christine at the babysitter's. Teresa was a serious, dark-haired girl studying for a degree in biochemistry. She'd endeared herself to Brennan on her trial run as a nanny, when Bren came home to find Christine playing with chemistry flashcards.
I handed the toddler over, along with her bag of books, toys and snacks. Teresa wanted to know if Booth was all right.
"Brennan told you about the accident?" I summarized how he was doing. "They suspect foul play, but the FBI is all over it. Booth made a few calls, and some uniformed police officers are going to keep an eye on your place from the street. He says that an in-person threat is really unlikely, though. It's just a precaution."
Brennan and I got to her house at about the same time. We put away the groceries I'd bought, started a load of laundry, and talked about the update Cam had provided a couple hours ago.
"Cam promised Booth she'd do everything she could," Brennan said. "That she'd work with the head investigator, make sure things are moving quickly, and report back to us. It's the only thing keeping Booth in that hospital bed. Otherwise he'd be chasing after Pelant, rupturing his stitches without a thought for himself—to make sure the rest of us are safe."
We were in the kitchen, and Bren had started to unload the dishwasher. I moved in to help with the silverware.
"They found something else at the mechanic'swhere Booth and I take our vehicles," she continued. "One of the employees, who hadn't even worked there very long, quit unexpectedly. This was just before Booth's accident. And according to the owner, he was one of the employees who worked on my car. The FBI is tracking his credit cards and found that he made a number of recent purchases, much larger than he usually makes, including airfare out of D.C."
"So," I said, "Pelant paid him to sabotage the car and then get out of town? At least, that's how it looks."
Brennan nodded, pensive.
I couldn't imagine what she was feeling. I was scared enough, looking over my shoulder all the time. Hodgins had checked our home security system three times last night, and I found myself scrutinizing my email account, running sophisticated virus scans, even startling when my phone received a text. Because with Pelant out there, you never knew when that technology might turn on you.
We, however, turned our attention to dinner.
"I don't know if Booth will be hungry, after the medication," Bren said. "But I thought soup would be nice. Something hearty yet easy to digest."
I gestured at the fridge. "I got sandwich fixings, too, in case he's tired of only soft food from the hospital."
"Of course, trying to feed soup to Christine could be an adventure. Still, she's less messy than Michael. I give him something like that, most of it goes on his shirt, rather than in his mouth."
"I might not pick her up until after dinner," Bren said. "We haven't had an evening with all of us together for a while, but…" She frowned. "Is that my phone?" I watched her go to the front door, where she'd left her cell and keys. "Brennan," she answered. "Oh, hi, Teresa. How's Christine?"
She listened for a moment, while I reached for a can opener, some broth, and a pot for dinner.
"You mean she's not there?" I heard the same sharp note of panic in Bren's voice that I'd heard two days ago. "What FBI agent?"
I whirled around. Her face looked frozen, even while she demanded information. She glanced at me—I must have looked sick—then she took the phone away from her ear and put it on speaker.
"…less than an hour after Angela dropped her off," Teresa was saying. "I got a text from Booth saying two people were coming to pick her up. It was an FBI agent and a social worker. He had a badge, and he talked like he was a friend of Booth's, saying he had to take her to a safe place, just in case. I thought you sent them to protect her…"
Bren's face was stark. "We didn't."
I knew that I should do something—call 911, call Booth or Cam or the FBI—but I just stood there, helpless.
"What did they say?" Brennan asked. "What did they look like?"
Teresa stumbled through a description. The man was tall with a shaved head, he wore a suit; the woman was middle-aged and had an accent. "She looked sort of mean, not like you think a social worker should look, but she clearly knew her way around small children, by the way she picked Christine up…" The girl's voice had been shaking, and now it faltered. "I didn't think there was anything—I mean, I was scared because he said there might be danger, but he looked so… legitimate. But he wasn't, and—oh my God. I gave her to people who… Oh my God."
Bren had put the phone on the table, leaning both hands against the edge in a white-knuckled grip. "Teresa, I need your help. I need you to tell the FBI exactly what happened. I'll have some agents come to you. Tell them exactly what these people looked like, what they said, everything you can remember. We'll get your building's security tapes, too. For the entrance, hallways, parking lot—as many locations as you have." She was thinking aloud, and I was glad one of us was capable of it. I still felt paralyzed.
"Dr. Brennan, I can't tell you—I am so sorry."
She paused, then said what I'd have expected from Booth. "Not as sorry as Pelant is going to be."
I finally found my voice. "You're sure it's him?"
She hung up unceremoniously on the babysitter, then lifted her phone, staring numbly at the screen. "It's him."
She showed me the photo that had just appeared. A picture of a marigold.