Sweets had successfully managed to avoid Dr. Brennan for two days before she finally caught up with him in the bureau garage where he was having a late lunch in his car. He'd told himself his choice of location was due to a busy schedule, not because he was avoiding the woman even now standing by his passenger door.
He'd be lying. But what was he supposed to say to her if she asked what was going on with Booth, or asked for advice? What was safe?
"I believe it's generally regarded as emotionally unhealthy not to take proper breaks from work through the day whenever possible," she said as she settled into the passenger seat.
Yeah, she was a fine one to talk. He was pretty sure she didn't take lunch breaks at all unless someone – Booth, Angela, Cam – made her. Or hadn't before Christine, at least.
He swallowed the last of his PB&J – he wasn't hungry much himself, these days – and asked, "What can I do for you, Dr. Brennan?"
Without hesitating, she jumped right in. "I need to know what to do about Booth."
"I don't know what his behavior means, so I don't know how to respond."
For the first time, she looked away, seemed to gather herself before meeting his eyes again. "Breaking our engagement. I need to know if the best thing for all of us is for us to separate." She swallowed. "Or if we've already done so, and I'm unaware of that fact."
"Did he say anything to suggest that?"
She shook her head. "No. He said what we have is enough. But he would not want to hurt me more than he had to." Her voice faltered. "He would be careful about how he ended a relationship."
Sweets was pretty sure that Booth hadn't been overly worried about hurting Hannah the night they broke up, but he didn't say so. "Dr. Brennan, Agent Booth has not confided in me since he broke your engagement." There. That was true, and hopefully safe enough not to trigger Pelant. "So I can't tell you exactly what it means."
She cleared her throat, and reached for the door "I see," she said quietly. "I'm sorry for disturbing your lunch, then."
He was sure he'd seen tears in her eyes before he turned from him. Screw Pelant. "But there is a question I think you should ask yourself."
"Does he seem happy with things as they now are? Is he at peace since calling it off?"
She went still for a moment, absorbing the implications of what he'd said. Then she opened the door, climbed out. "I will consider that. Thank you."
He watched her walk away, and could only hope no one died because he'd said it.
Naked purple elephants with pink spots could have been dancing across his monitor, and Booth wouldn't have noticed. He had some of the puzzle, but key pieces were missing, namely Pelant. Nothing they did would make a difference until they found the bastard.
Movement at his door caught his eye and he looked up as Caroline stepped in. "I heard Pelant's grandfather was here."
"Yeah. It wasn't a long conversation. He didn't have much to give us." He scribbled on a note, 'gave us DNA sample' and handed it to her.
Caroline's eyebrows shot up when she read it, but she nodded. "Where is he now?"
"On his way home. He's got two agents who are going to keep an eye on him, but at this point, I'm hoping there's no danger to him. He didn't really give us anything, and Pelant doesn't usually go for the direct battle."
"He's going to get one if he's not careful. Homeland Security's figured out that he was the one who screwed up the traffic that day, and they're not impressed with his trick. And that's not his only problem. He made Serberus look bad by stealing that missile and nearly killing those girls. And if those squints of yours hadn't figured out what was going on that day and stopped it, we'd have a big diplomatic mess on our hands, if not another war. So Pelant's got Homeland Security, seriously pissed off mercenaries, and the state department all after him."
"You're worried about him?"
"Hell, no. You know me better than that. I'm worried about the collateral damage. None of those groups are known for their subtlety or concern for innocent bystanders when they take out bad guys."
The words were standard Caroline, as was the tone. But she was looking at him with an intensity that made him sit back in his chair. "Are you asking me to do what it sounds like you're asking me to do?"
She held his expression. "Stop him, before anyone else dies. I don't care how you do it." Her tone softened. "We do what we have to do, chere."
"Yeah, we do."
Booth watched her leave, wondering what Pelant was making of the conversation. Caroline had clearly wanted him to hear all of it.
Something was wrong with Booth. Brennan had been too distracted to pay sufficient attention to Booth, but now that Sweets had shifted her focus, she could see that he was unwell. The opposite of at peace, as Sweets had worded it.
Exhaustion, fury, sadness – even grief, perhaps, though she couldn't imagine what would be grieving him.
He was at the front of the bureau storage room, waiting for everyone to take a seat, but instead of interacting with anyone, he was leaning against the wall and staring at the floor in front of him as if the answers to all their questions were written there.
Flynn entered and closed the door, and Booth finally looked up, obviously taking a quick head count. "Where's Hodgins?"
"He had a lunch meeting he couldn't avoid," Cam said after a glance at Angela, who had apparently opted for giving Booth the silent treatment. "He'll be here shortly."
Booth nodded, and then said, "Detective Allanson called me. The body of one of their clerks was found this morning. She was strangled with crime scene tape, and her fingers had been cut off."
"Pelant?" Sparling asked.
"They're sending the remains to the lab, but it's hard not to jump to that conclusion."
"I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this was the clerk who entered the details of the vet's death into the system," Cam said.
"He wants us to know he's watching and can strike at any time, " Sweets said.
"I'll be heading out after we finish here to survey the scene. Meanwhile, Pelant's grandfather came in this morning. He didn't have anything new to tell us, but he gave us a sample of his DNA. Cam tells me that since he's the paternal grandfather, there's a test that will prove that link if it's Pelant's DNA on the lab coat the veterinarian was wearing."
"We've got him, then," Flynn said. "If he killed the vet, we'll be able to prove it's a relative of the man who was in here earlier, no matter what the name is."
"How many times?" Angela's voice was sharp.
Brennan turned toward her. "How many times what?"
"I've been researching exactly how he wiped out his Pelant identity so fast, particularly since there's no record of anyone giving him access to a computer after we arrested him. It's essentially a worm, one that activates on a pre-determined schedule unless he tells it not to, wiping out his current identity and creating a new one."
"He doesn't need a computer," Sweets said.
"No. All he needs is a good memory, so he can remember what identity comes next. There's no telling how many of them he has set up. Wiping out his real identity – Pelant – would have been the hardest one, because it was real. More documents to find and destroy. His fake ones? Ridiculously easy for this program. It's out there on the PCs of people who forgot to update their antivirus programs, and when a certain amount of time passes, it activates. Hacks into wherever it needs to go to delete the former identity and create a new one – government databases, credit bureaus, colleges."
"Every few days?" Flynn asked.
"I don't know how frequent it is, and it might not a regular pattern. But if he's arrested, I'm assuming he'd want it to activate sooner rather than later."
For about five seconds, no one said anything at all. "Then we'll never make it to trial with him," Booth said.
"Not even with the DNA. Especially since he'll no doubt wipe out the DNA results as well, so we'll have to start over with the tests."
Caroline spoke up. "Even if we can convince a judge to hold him while you prove the DNA matches the current ID, the fact that the next time they look, there won't be anyone with that ID in the system and we'll have to start over will be a problem. That happens more than once, we'll lose all credibility."
Something subtle shifted in Booth's demeanor. For just a moment, his shoulders seemed to sag, as if a weight was settling on them. And then he straightened, looked around at them before his glance settled on Brennan. It almost seemed as if he was asking her for something, but she didn't know what.
The door opened, and Hodgins came in. He was out of breath, and was wearing the expression Brennan had heard Angela describe as his mad scientist look.
"I know where Pelant is," he blurted.
Booth found his voice first, and something in his tone caused goose bumps to rise on Brennan's arms. "Where?"
"He bought my estate. I was having lunch with the guy who took care of the property for us, and he was complaining about the new owner. He met him the last day Rob was there. He described him as 'creepy, late twenties, with a disfigured face, some sort of computer nerd.' It struck me, and I asked him for more details…it's Pelant."
"It makes sense," Sweets said slowly. "He would see that as a win over you."
Flynn looked at Booth. "Tac team?"
Hodgins shook his head. "Getting through the gate and down the drive will give him too much of a head start. I'd bet all the money he stole that he'll have something in place to defend himself, and going in direct will give him time to trigger it. I have a better idea. There's a tunnel he doesn't know anything about."
"This is Pelant," Booth said dryly. "Why wouldn't he know about it? And what kind of tunnel?"
"Escape tunnel. The house was built just before the Civil War broke out, and my great-however-many-times-removed grandfather wanted a way to escape, should the house come under attack. It's not on the blue prints. Any of them. Even during a remodel I did ten years or so ago, I left it off. I liked knowing it was there and that no one else knew about it. Call it paranoia, but it's useful now," he pointed out.
Booth frowned. "He might have found it."
"Unlikely. It begins outside the property, and looks like a standard utilities access point. It ends behind some shelving in a sub-basement. The only way he'd have found it is if he went along every wall in the entire building, looking for something that might be a secret room."
"It's a really big house," Angela said.
Booth exchanged a long look with Caroline – he'd not looked at Brennan since Hodgins burst in – and then he said, "Hodgins and I will go. Flynn, I need you and Wilson to go to Maryland and see Det. Allanson, process the scene where her clerk was found. Think of a good reason for me not to be there. Shaw, you and Sparling find a way to provide security for Hodgins' caretaker, hopefully without tipping off Pelant."
Hodgins' face went white. "I should have thought of that."
"You would have at some point, but given the clerk, we're not taking any chances. We can't stop him from killing innocent strangers, but we can at least identify the more obvious targets."
We can't stop him from killing innocent strangers… His tone seemed odd to Brennan, especially intense, when he said that phrase. Discussion broke out around her, including both Flynn and Angela arguing with Booth about going into the house with just Hodgins. But she ignored it, her mind making connections that she should have made sooner.
A little over two weeks before breaking the engagement, Booth had commented on how lucky he was to have her in his life; shortly before that, he'd been foolishly emotional over her catching the bouquet at his mother's wedding. Many, many recent moments, from his looking for her in the middle of the night because he missed her, to his not seeing her the way so many others did, flawed and cold, proved his love for her.
Yes, love sometimes failed, the chemical basis for it breaking apart. But it didn't happen overnight.
It made no sense for Booth to have gone from clearly still wanting her to propose to him while wearing that ridiculous lampshade his mother had sent to not wanting to marry her the same week. It made even less sense for him to have gone from the happiness he'd displayed when she proposed to breaking it off a day later.
They'd been in the park, with Christine, planning the ceremony. And then Marianne had called, and...he'd been quiet after that. Not much to say, nothing about how his mother was doing beyond generalities.
Pelant. Rage rose up, and she ruthlessly shut it down. The phone call hadn't been from Marianne at all. Pelant had forced him to break off the engagement. We can't stop him from killing innocent strangers… Oh, Booth.
The room had mostly emptied, though she could hear Angela and Hodgins by the door having a fierce argument, and Caroline seemed to be finishing a conversation with Booth. She gave Brennan a sharp look as she walked out.
Booth was just watching her, a closed look on his face. But when she approached him, he went to leave. "I've got a lot to do before tonight, Bones. And they'll be bringing the clerk's remains to the lab."
She ignored his words, stepped in front of him so he couldn't leave. He started to speak again, and she placed her finger over his mouth. "When I walk out of this room, nothing will have changed. But you need to know I will not allow him to take you from me." And then she kissed him.
After being in a sexual relationship with him for over two years, she knew exactly how to do so in a way that would disrupt every thought process – for both of them – except that of being with each other. He resisted for a few seconds, his arms remaining at his sides, before he yanked her to him with a growl and desperately kissed her back.
If Angela and Hodgins were watching instead of arguing, they were getting one hell of a show, to use the colloquialism. But Brennan didn't care, and she was pretty sure Booth didn't, either.
They were both out of breath when they broke apart, though his arms were still hard around her. "Bones," he said raggedly. "he'll kill people."
For just a moment, she stood there, reveled in the feeling of holding him in such a way, of the unmistakable evidence that he still wanted her. And then she sighed, and pulled away, enough to look at him, to see both the relief and fear in his eyes. "He won't know." She placed her hands on his cheeks. "I don't blame you for not telling me. But if he doesn't know me well enough to know I'd eventually figure it out, then that is a failure on his part."
He rested his forehead against hers. "This ends tonight. That clerk is going to be his last victim."
What about you, she wanted to ask. What toll will this take on you? Instead, she kissed him again, a brush of lips. "Yes. And then we'll go from there." She stepped back from him. "I'll return to the lab now."
"I should say the same thing to you." After another long look, she turned and walked out.
Booth worked in his office until dusk. He filed a preliminary report on the Maryland clerk, noted that they believed it was Pelant. Documented the DNA results from the veterinarian's lab coat – they couldn't match it to anyone in the system, but he included his own opinion about it being Pelant.
He didn't file the report that Cam had sent to him via Flynn, that the grandfather's DNA matched as a direct male ancestor to the sample from the vet's coat. There wouldn't be an official trail showing that his grandfather had given them the DNA until it was absolutely necessary.
If it was necessary. Increasingly, it was looking like it wouldn't be.
He was trying not to think about what had happened between him and Brennan, beyond relief that she was no longer believing a lie. But fear that Pelant would figure it out and retaliate was a living, breathing thing inside him.
He had a job to do, and he couldn't let it be about him. About them. It had to be about Carole Morrisey, and the Maryland clerk – a woman in her mid-forties named Georgia Maynard – and everyone in between.
And the ones who would die next if Pelant wasn't stopped.
Hodgins appeared in his office door, dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt. "You ready, dude?"
His expression was grim, causing Booth to acknowledge that while the greatest losses had been the human lives Pelant had snuffed out on a barely more than whim, that there had been other losses, other sacrifices. Jack Hodgins had been driving Booth nuts for years with his goofy experiments and paranoid conspiracy theories, but he'd take that man any day over the one standing before him…darker, grimmer, and prepared to kill.
"Yeah. Let's go."
The manhole, covered in brush, was in a group of trees on the edge of a park a half block from the edge of the property. They'd parked at the other end of the park and moved along in the trees, as much not to be seen by patrolling cops as anything. Wouldn't that be fun to explain?
As Hodgins cleared the brush aside to open it, Booth couldn't help but wonder why the utility company hadn't found it by now. Putting the thought away, he followed Hodgins down the ladder.
Hodgins had known both the area and the entrance to the tunnel well enough that they'd gotten by with only a small pen light until Booth closed the cover and they were on the ladder. Then Hodgins brought out a bigger light that allowed them to see on their descent to the floor and start toward the house.
It was a damn good thing he wasn't claustrophobic, Booth thought. He kept his head angled down to make sure he didn't hit it on the ceiling, and he could feel the walls brushing his arm from time to time. Despite the flashlight, the dark was oppressive, and at one point, he was convinced he heard something behind them. Hodgins didn't react, though, so either Booth was imagining it, or he'd identified it as an animal.
They finally came to a heavy metal door. Hodgins handed Booth the light, then motioned him to stand back. He obeyed, and the other man pulled open the door, which swung surprisingly smoothly to be as old as it was. On the other side were metal shelves, empty but for dirt and marks of where tools had once been laid on them. Hodgins gave one of the shelves a light push, and the unit moved, swinging out into the room.
They went through the opening, and then paused, listening. For a moment, Booth thought he heard that noise again, but when the silence fell once more, he was sure he'd imagined it.
Hodgins began to move, and Booth followed him through two more empty rooms that were more dirt cellar than anything before they finally came out into a finished part of the basement, and then to a utility area where the electric panel was. Hodgins went to it, and examined it. "He hasn't made any changes here," he said softly. "I had some of this re-wired when Angela moved in, to make certain it would adequately support her servers." He tapped a circuit breaker. "Given that, I'd almost bet that when I trip this, he'll lose power to his toys. He'll have backup UPSs, of course, but he'll come down to check it out."
Hodgins took a breath, and then flipped the breaker.
Booth motioned behind them, and they stepped back into the next room, the one they'd come through to reach the panel. From the shadows there, they could see the electrical panel and the door that led into upstairs. Perhaps ten seconds went by, and then they heard an unmistakable noise, but it was coming from behind them, not the door Pelant would come through when he came down to check the breakers. They frowned at each other in the dim light cast by the pen light.
"I'll go check it out," Hodgins mouthed.
Booth hesitated, and then nodded. The other man melted into the darkness, and he turned, once more watching the door, his weapon ready.
Footsteps, neither overly cautious nor rushed, on the stairs warned him someone was coming, and Booth switched off the small light he'd turned on when Hodgins left. The door opened, and Christopher Pelant stepped into the utility room, snapping on the overhead as he did so and flooding the room with light.
Dispassionately, Booth watched him from the shadows, noting the horrific disfigurement on the younger man's face. He waited until Pelant was at the panel, then he stepped forward, out of the shadows.
Pelant jumped and spun around, and there was something satisfying about knowing he'd startled him, but Booth had to give him credit for a quick recovery.
"Agent Booth. I had given up on you finding me."
The scars made the innocent smile much creepier, Booth thought. "Miscalculation on your part."
"It was. I shouldn't have doubted you. But you have been …distracted lately, I think."
"I know it was difficult for you to call off your engagement, but our game must remain a priority."
"You have my undivided attention."
"I see that." Pelant motioned to the gun. "Are you going to arrest me again? Or execute me?" He looked thoughtful. "It's a dilemma, isn't it? If you shoot me, you'll be violating your own moral code – this isn't a sniper situation, and no one's in immediate jeopardy." He smiled. "Well, no one that you know of, at least. But if you arrest me…well, look how well that turned out the last time. I win, Agent Booth, either way."
He reached into his pocket, and raised an eyebrow when Booth didn't react. "Trusting, aren't you? You don't know what I'm pulling out." He held up what looked like a remote for a car. "Shall I tell you what this is? Or let you find out later?"
Better to know, if Pelant was willing to talk. "What is it?"
"It's a remote. Anyone home at your house? I know Dr. Brennan hasn't moved out, so perhaps she's there, with your little girl? Or maybe the estimable doctor is at the lab and Christine is with Max, your conman father-in-law? Oh, wait…there's not going to be a wedding, is there?"
Booth watched him, looking for any telltale twitch that should signal he was getting ready to detonate whatever it was. "There's no one home." It was true, and he was grateful. Brennan was at the lab, waiting with the others, and while Christine was with Max, they weren't at the house.
Pelant tossed the remote into the air, catching it with a deft flick of the wrist. "So what's it going to be? Do you kill me, and I win, because the best crime fighting team – in, well, DC, at least - couldn't figure out another way to stop me? And you, good man that you are, spend the rest of your life carrying the weight for that choice? Or do you arrest me, and I win, because you'll never be able to hold me? What's it going to be? Which victory is mine?"
Booth stared at his adversary thoughtfully, his mind running quickly through all the things Pelant been wrong about thus far – including how quickly Brennan would figure out why he'd called off the engagement. "You think you know us, that you know me. Know what I'll do, what I'll feel. You don't."
"Oh, but I do, Agent Booth, and I win, either way."
"No, you really don't." Booth aimed and fired, watched Pelant fly backwards into the wall behind him. He'd shot him dead center of the forehead, so there was no chance he wasn't dead, but he still went over, crouched, felt for a pulse. There was none, and he sighed as he stood and holstered his weapon. He looked down at the wasted life on the floor, the squandered potential. "Nobody won."
At a noise behind him, he turned and saw both Hodgins and Brennan standing there. Hodgins said, "I'll go call for the team." He stopped next to Pelant and said quietly, "there was a time when seeing a man shot like that would have been horrifying." He looked up, met Booth's eyes. "That was before I woke up to a corpse above my bed. This was the only way to stop him." He turned and went upstairs.
Booth turned back to Brennan. "You were the noise I heard in the tunnel."
She shrugged. "I was never going to let you come alone, so I saved us the trouble of an argument."
He went to her, took her hands, and said what he'd been unable to say in the storage room. "I won't blame you if you don't want to marry me after all this. But you need to know, Bones, that there will never be anyone else for me. I love you, I always will."
"I love you, too. And we have a wedding to plan." She glanced past him, to the body on the floor. "Soon would work for me."
He pulled her to him, rested his head on her shoulder. "Me, too."
Much, much later, Booth sat with Brennan at a table in the back of The Founding Fathers. She was worried about him, and he didn't know what to say to reassure her. He didn't know himself how he was, really.
"It's always been cut and dried before," he finally said. "Either I had direct orders from someone in the chain of command, or someone else's life was in immediate danger. There shouldn't be a gray area in taking a life, and there was here." He wouldn't pretend otherwise on that point. "Maybe Angela and Caroline were wrong, maybe with the DNA, we could have found a way of holding him, convicting him. But how many more lives should we have risked?" He didn't tell her what Caroline had told him about Homeland Security and Serberus. That was her story to tell, if she chose to.
His phone buzzed, and he answered. "Booth." He listened for a moment, and then said, "That's it? Everything else is clear? Good to know. Thanks, Caroline." He disconnected, and looked at Brennan. "Bomb techs found the bomb. It was in the alarm clock next to our bed. It could have gone off any time he wanted it to."
"They're sure that's the only one?"
"Yeah, they're sure." He tossed back his drink. "Look, I don't know how I'll feel about it later. I don't know if I'll spend the rest of my life wondering if there was another way. But I'll sleep tonight."
Brennan said, "A lot of people will. And many others will be safer and live full lives because you were willing to do what had to be done." She reached over and took his hand, threading her fingers through his.
"He can't hurt anyone else. He can't kill anyone else simply because they were in his way, or to score a point against us. That matters."
"It does matter." She frowned, thinking it through. "Maybe it's all that matters. We arrested him once. Stopped him that way, and it wasn't enough. Hodgins is right. This was the only way to guarantee no one else would die. And stopping him, one way or the other…that matters."
He stood, pulled her to her feet. "And maybe it's not the only thing, Bones. We're going to go home, make love, get married, raise Christine, have a life. And so are all the other people he didn't have a chance a kill."
"Well, except for raising Christine. Only we'll be doing that."
He laughed, and kissed her. It felt damn good to do both.
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