Chapter 15: Rogue Element
It only took him 14 minutes this time, but Pelant guessed Brennan's password in the end: Reason.
She honestly hadn't thought that it would take him that long, but his own ego seemed to have gotten in the way. Most of the words that she could discern as he muttered and punched them into the keypad involved intellect in some way...genius, brilliance, ability, accomplishment, acumen, acuteness, adept, aptitude, aptness,astuteness, bent, brain, brilliance, capability, capacity, creativity, discernment,endowment, expert, faculty, flair, grasp, head, imagination, inclination, ingenuity,inspiration, intelligence, inventiveness, knack, mature, originality, percipience, perspicacity, power, precocity, prodigy, propensity, prowess, reach, sagacity,superability, talent, turn, understanding, virtuoso, wisdom...
Nevertheless, as she had hoped and dreaded in equal measure, he had guessed it and it was with hardly repressed glee that Pelant climbed the steps toward her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hodgins move. Pelant's head whipped around to warn him off but Hodgins had already stopped. Brennan shook her head no and Sweets gripped his arm. Pelant stuck his tongue out at Hodgins, turned back to Brennan, and continued climbing to the top of the platform, pausing while she swiped her security card. Brennan reached up and efficiently allowed him entry, but then stepped back a few steps toward the center of the platform, putting her examination table squarely at her back. False comfort, but comfort nonetheless.
Pelant stepped up within inches of Brennan, but instead of looking directly at her, he tipped his head up to look at the array of people above him. In the game, he and Brennan had the most status, the most power, the most advanced ability, skill, and recovery totals. He had triumphed over the other antagonists—sidekicks, really, extensions of Temperance—and while he was sorry that he wouldn't see Booth's face when he beat Dr. Temperance Brennan herself, he wasn't sorry for the strategy that led him to separate them.
The people overhead were not even pawns; they were drones. Powerless, they were more like the faceless, background inhabitants of the virtual game world, witnesses at best. He allowed himself a moment to take it all in, the triumph. Just a few luxurious seconds of self-indulgent sensory input.
He was on the forensic platform, her domain. Surrounded by the tools of her trade, not to mention the bones she had been working on, Christopher was reminded of the hours he spent on the malware he carved into the bone. That was one of his best ideas. The juxtaposition of modern and stone age technology was thrilling, and his anticipation of the malware's impact on both their hardware and their arrogance was worth every second of the days and weeks he spent on the code and the microcarving.
Still not looking directly at her, he could sense the shape of her body in front of him, rigidly held and still. He became aware of the sound of her breathing, smooth and controlled, but faster than usual. She was not unaffected by this. He had rarely been this close to her and could smell some kind of fruity, girly scent and a little sweat. It felt good to know she was affected.
He grinned happily up at the people on the catwalk and then turned and smiled at the people arrayed below him. They looked worried, especially the mouthy lawyer. Pelant knew that his smile—already disconcerting because of his scar—had turned grim and scary. He had to give them credit, their expressions didn't change at all. He was going to win this game, battle-scarred as he was even, and there wasn't anything they could do about it.
Before he ended the game, however, he had something to say. He turned to face her.
"Temperance." He was momentarily surprised by the tenderness in his own voice. Standing close to her like this, he could see the striking intelligence in her eyes. Yes, she was scared but mostly she was curious. He loved that about her. It was so hard to find people who saw the world the way he did. He let his eyes meet hers, let himself look at her, imagine for just an instant that they were together, that they would turn and play the next game together. He let his eyes drop to her lips. This wasn't about sex, or worse, about having a girlfriend. But if it was, he would choose her, press his lips against hers, tip her head back... He clenched his fingers into a fist to prevent himself from touching her. She was beautiful, objectively, but he felt sudden rage at anyone who looked at her and thought that she was pretty. It was her mind and what she could do with it that made her more desirable than any woman on the planet.
Too bad she had to die.
"Temperance. I enjoyed our game." He waited, in case she wanted to respond.
She blinked and finally said. "Planning it was an interesting exercise, if one I would have preferred to forego."
He nodded sadly. "As much as I enjoyed it, I think I am finished with this game now, and since I suspect the next game you have planned for me is prison or death, I think I had better end it on my terms. I could, of course, get out of prison again but somehow, doing that is getting tedious.
He flipped up the flap of his messenger bag and pulled out the simple detonation device used by evil villains in the movies and on television for the last century. His fingers curled around the yellow plastic tube and his thumb pressed the big black button, and as he moved to speak, to announce that he would be taking Temperance Brennan with him safely from the building and no one could stop him, two very surprising things happened.
First, Temperance took his hand in hers. His free hand, not the one holding the detonator. He was helpless not to glance down to see her warm, slender fingers slipping around his, her body drawing closer, but then his eyes leapt up because he heard
the glass doors of the Jeffersonian lab whooshing open where they should have stayed locked. He knew he had this lab locked down and that meant...but then
Hayes Flynn rolled through the doors in a wheelchair. Pelant didn't know what it meant but it was the first truly shocking thing about this afternoon and that meant...Booth.
And then...and then...he heard the sound of the gun, the prick of the bullet no, no that wasn't right bullets don't prick but then he didn't care about the bullet because Temperance was embracing him, holding him, both of her hands on him, lowering him gently to the ground and then...and then
It was very strange and unpleasant to be pressed so close to a man other than Booth. He smelled wrong and if taking his hand had been uncomfortable, letting the weight of his body pull her to the ground in some parody of the sexual act was much, much worse. Her hands, which had stayed dry throughout, were suddenly damp with sweat and her thumb was alarmingly slippery on the black button of the detonator she was now depressing. Pelant's creepy hands had dropped away and Brennan felt her mind recoiling from him even as she tried hard to stay as still as possible.
Her eyes searched for Booth. There. Just where he stood on that long night in the lab to shoot a travelling cantaloupe with a replica of the rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald used. He was standing right where he had been that night. How had he gotten there?
She watched him lower the rifle, still alert, and move quickly to peer over the rail to check her safety.
"You okay, Bones?" He called down.
"Yes, Booth, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?" She could really only look at him with one eye, the way that Pelant was laying on her, the way she was trying to hold his body still, and Booth's voice, repetitive though his question was, was welcome.
"I am sure. Booth?"
"I'm right here, Bones, I'm coming."
"You know who is good at jibber jabber?" It was already starting to get hard to hear as people started moving and talking, and Brennan raised her voice.
"I'm coming, Bones. Stay there, I'm coming!" He sounded a little worried.
"Where else would I go?" Brennan commented acerbically from under Pelant's dead weight. She raised her voice. "Booth! Do you know who is good at jibber jabber?"
This time he didn't disappoint. "You are, Bones. You are the best at jibber jabber." She subsided, satisfied. His voice was coming from the stairs this time and she knew he was on his way.
But then, real relief as Hodgins and Wendell were there with her and several helmeted Bomb techs shifted Pelant off of her, clamping the detonator button carefully and even more carefully shifting the messenger bag with him. And then Pelant was being lifted off of her onto a gurney and wheeled down off the main platform although not taken from the lab yet and Hodgins grabbed her and hugged her, and again, the feeling of having lived this story before, but she couldn't help but hug him back, a few tears squeezing out as she was transported back to another desperate place. She wrapped her arms around Jack's neck now, but smelled the acrid odor of that car, the coal-rich soil they were buried in, the perfume that Angela never got to wear, the stink of sweat and fear and ingenuity.
Without asking her permission, Hodgins transferred her to Wendell who embraced her too. And she could hear raised voices and people clattering down the steps and new voices and the doors whooshing open and closed again as more security services and probably paramedics and more FBI agents, maybe even homeland security given the threat of bombing at a national institution. Who else? Agent Flynn. What had Agent Flynn been doing here? Distracting Pelant, obviously. Her mind insisted on cataloguing even as she lay on the cool floor of the forensic platform. Her legs refused to consider standing and her ears strained for the sound of the one person she most needed to hear. She certainly couldn't see him with all these people around her.
"Get out of the DAMN way!" And she had just enough time for her mouth to curve up in response to this overreaction before Booth was there. Booth, whom she had seen just that morning but whom she hadn't felt close to in weeks. He crouched just long enough to haul her into his arms, hands sweeping up and down her back, holding her like he always did, always had. She could feel his lungs working like bellows. Booth was in excellent health and rarely labored for breath. Brennan just pressed her face into his neck and breathed in the smell of his t-shirt and sweat, opened her mouth a little just to taste his skin. He didn't seem to notice but pressed a kiss to her head. "God, babe. Jesus. What were you thinking?" His blasphemy sounded more like a prayer.
Brennan heard a familiar voice and raised her head suddenly, knocking into Booth's chin. "Angela!" Angela floated through the doors, in her element, surrounded by her flock of programmers, all taking orders from her. She saw Brennan and laughed, a huge white smile on her face. "We got him, Bren!" She shouted, adding, "and the kids are safe and happy with my Dad, don't worry!" And then her attention was caught by the tech bringing Pelant's laptop over.
When Brennan turned back to Booth, his eyes were still on her face, conducting his own catalogue while simultaneously smoothing her hair back with his hands. For the moment, there was no strain between them, no cringing hesitation, just straightforward relief and desire to keep her near him, always. Her palms rested on his chest and she could tell already that her nearness was calming him. His breathing was not nearly as stertorous.
"Bones?" His deep voice, always nuanced, held a thousand questions.
She looked up at him helplessly, not knowing where to begin and also realizing that a little bit of anger, the legacy of these past weeks, was creeping back between them. She pushed it away, ruthless. His fear for her, his ultimate rescue of her, the love shining in his eyes...they were palpable and reliable. "I don't know where to start, Booth. Can we...can we...go somewhere..." She looked around helplessly.
"I...I don't think we're going to get to do that yet, Bones." He pulled her into his chest again, dropping his chin onto the top of her head, "God, baby, I just want to get you out of here, but I think that we—"
Cullen's booming voice sounded from nearby, "Booth!" And a little more quietly, "Dr. Brennan! A word, if you would, down here."
But even Cullen didn't get the time he wanted as the Bomb techs and FBI techs worked to clear the room. Brennan insisted that everyone who had been present for the first part of the afternoon (she couldn't quite bring herself to continue calling this afternoon's travesty of recreation a "game") stay until Angela gave the All Clear. Angela was busy analyzing the contents of Pelant's laptop and shutting down any connections between it and his homebase, presumably having shut everything she could shut down from there already and trying to ensure that Pelant's departure from the building didn't set off any attacks. Finally, she gave a tentative thumbs up.
But the FBI were taking no chances. Ginny Shaw and Sweets made sure Pelant was at least partially alert and aware of what was going on so that Angela could make him aware that his security had been breached, his knots unraveled, and the many metaphoric and actual guns he had pointed at people had been disarmed. With every new revelation his smug—if slightly woozy—expression closed down a little more. They watched him carefully for any non-verbal sign that there was something they had missed, and continued to watch him as they moved him from the lab to an FBI vehicle for transport to a maximum security detention center. Sweets thought it was unlikely that Pelant would sacrifice himself to hurt them in some final act of self-destruction. To his mind, Pelant's psychology was clearly that of a survivor, if nothing else. Nevertheless, they watched.
Nothing happened. Angela and her team of hackers seemed to have made a clean sweep of Pelant's defensive and offensive systems.
And so, in the end, it was only a little more than an hour after Booth had shot him with the tranquilizer dart that Christopher Pelant left the Jeffersonian for the last time. Again, Booth looked at Brennan. Can we get out of here? And again, Cullen intruded, raising his voice for attention and waving a hand over his head. "All right. ALL of you. Everyone who was here this afternoon, you are coming with me. We...you...got him. And I know you are hungry and haven't been sleeping well and have just been through the longest damn day ever, but I think we need to debrief and it needs to be now." He checked his watch. "Everyone get yourself to the Founding Fathers. We'll take their back room. Fifteen minutes. See you there." He turned to give instructions to several of the agents staying behind.
Booth looked at Brennan helplessly. "Did you bring a bag with you?"
Brennan glanced up at the forensic platform. "Up there, Booth."
He pressed her shoulder. "I'll get it."
When he got back, Brennan was standing surrounded by most of the team. They stood a minute more, waiting for Angela to finish up, but when she joined them, they all headed out through the double doors together. Yet again, Brennan was reminded of the long night when they had been seconded by the General Services Administration to examine a dead president's bones. This time she recalled the morning after that long night. The breakfast that felt like dinner and the giddiness of sleeplessness and intrigue and being involved—again—in something most people only dream of touching.
There were more of them today, though, and the sun, instead of rising, was slanting through the nearby buildings in dusty late afternoon shafts of light. Brennan, Booth, Hodgins, Angela, Cam, Sweets, Wendell, Arastoo, Fisher, Daisy, Clark. Everyone who had been able to come to the lab today. Finn was at a conference. Zach was out of reach, although Brennan confirmed that Sweets had gotten word to Zach that they had Pelant in custody and that everyone was alive and well.
A surprisingly short time later they were greeting Cullen and Shaw, Charlie Burns and Agent Flynn. In the quiet that fell as one by one they took their seats, there was resolution and hope, but also a sense of waiting, of unfinished business. They all felt it, to one degree or another, and several of them thought that perhaps it was just that they had lived under the threat of Christopher Pelant for so long, they had become used to the ever-present anxiety. They had a good chance of beating him this time, still within the system. That was something. Maybe they would be able to track down some of Hodgins' missing millions.
Sam Cullen met their server at the door, exchanged his credit card for a bottle and a tray of shot glasses, and then served them himself. When they looked surprised, he answered their raised eyebrows with a gruff, "To take the edge off. I don't know about the rest of you, but that goddamned dog and pony show in there was no cakewalk. Someone will be here in a minute to take our orders—it's on me today—but first—" He poured a last shot for himself and raised it where he stood, "To Dr. Brennan. I have said it more than once, but lady, you have got balls." Brennan smiled a little and downed her shot smoothly. The others followed. Caroline pushed her chair back and got to her feet, preparing to say something herself when six phones signaled incoming text messages. Cullen, Booth, Flynn, Shaw, Sweets, and Caroline all looked at their displays and then at each other.
"Jesus." Cullen muttered, looking at Booth. But Booth wasn't looking at Cullen; he was looking at Brennan. Somehow he had ended up on the end, with Brennan on his left. He didn't move but turned his head toward her.
"He's dead." Her partner stated baldly, watching her face, her eyes. "Pelant's dead. He was shot in the head, shot through the transport window halfway to the Hoover."