Characters: Booth, Brennan, Zack, Cam
Spoilers: Through 3x15: The Pain in the Heart
Summary: This is an episode tag/filler for The Pain in the Heart.
Feedback: is always appreciated. Thank you.
Word Count: 3,821
Disclaimer: Bones and its characters belong to FOX, not me. This story is purely meant to entertain. No copyright infringement is intended.
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What follows isn't intended to be a comprehensive rewrite of the episode; it's just what I needed to write.
"If you knew what I know, you’d understand. You’d be proud of me," Zack said, brown eyes as clear and earnest and filled with keen intelligence as they’d ever been, pleading for her to understand how he could commit murder. Even now, she felt those eyes seeking her approval.
Every cell in Brennan's body strained to understand. Booth had tried to help her understand why her father had killed. With the passage of time, she'd inched closer to acceptance. "I’ve always been proud of you, Zack," she replied, holding his gaze. She rifled through her memory in an effort to recall if she had ever uttered those words to him before. If she had, she didn't remember it; that disturbed her. Why had she waited so long to say it?
As Zack's familiar gaze shifted between her and Booth, Brennan marshaled her thoughts. People were being murdered and cannibalized; this had to stop. Booth loomed behind her, practically vibrating with urgency. They needed a name. She needed to remain calm and rational -- to separate her emotions from the priority at hand. Right now, information was paramount; she needed to discern the best way to coax the necessary details from Zack. This was no different than any of the countless interrogations she and Booth had conducted as partners.
Except that it was.
After she dismantled what she thought were his assumptions but which still did not explain his actions, Zack conceded defeat relatively quickly. But it was a hollow victory, and the satisfaction that usually accompanied a suspect's confession was completely absent. As he slowly unraveled the story and gave them the critical information they needed, tears sliding down his cheeks for the first time during their acquaintance, moisture gathered in her own eyes. She dammed them, forehead pressed against his. She had no right to cry.
Before he was Gormogon’s apprentice, he was hers. Why had she waited so long to say it?
As the team, minus one integral member, gathered outside Zack's hospital room, Angela spoke. "So how did this happen?" she said, voicing the thought Brennan suspected hovered in all their minds.
"Logic," Brennan replied, because it was the best answer she had to a question she feared she might never be able to answer. She stood with her back to the door that separated them from the other room's occupant, but she wanted to slide it open and step inside. The urge to ask Zack himself grew inside her, pushing against her throat: Why? But her mind burned with the image of how young, pained, and lost he'd looked in that white bed, breathing astringent hospital air instead of standing over an examination table at the Jeffersonian as he should be. How, she thought, could she not have noticed how lost he was before events had reached this point?
Caroline turned to look at her. "No. I’m sorry, chérie. That might cut it with you eggheads, but this happened the way this always happens: a strong personality finds a weak personality and takes advantage." She said it with such confidence; Brennan wondered what evidence made her so certain in her conclusion. "I hope we fry the guy."
"That’s not gonna be necessary," Booth said.
Brennan straightened at his words, the implication clear in her mind: he had killed again. Her throat tightened.
"Good riddance, I say," Cam replied, voice curiously flat.
Once, there had been a moment when Brennan had envied the ease with which Dr. Saroyan had called Zack Zackaroni. When Brennan had tried the nickname, it had sounded leaden and foreign. Now, there was nothing left to envy.
"What’ll happen to Zack?" Hodgins asked, drawing Brennan's gaze and causing her to wonder what the lab would be like without their incessant squabbling and inane competitions.
"I cut a deal," Caroline said. "He pleads guilty, cooperates, and we find him non compos mentis. That way Zack is moved to a secure psychiatric facility instead of going to prison."
Non compos mentis: not of sound mind. In Brennan's opinion, Zack wasn't insane. "Brain and heart," she remembered Booth saying; pressing her lips together, she remained silent.
"No. That won’t stand up. Zack isn’t actually insane," Sweets said, before being herded away from their small group by Booth.
This action piqued her curiosity, but she turned away, facing the door to Zack's room. Without quite knowing why she did it, Brennan surrendered to impulse and flattened her hand against the glass that stood between them and Zack. Her hand, still smooth-skinned and whole, imbued her with the ability to continue her work. As she continued to stare into the room, her eyes were drawn to Zack's unmoving hands swathed in thick, white layers of bandages that hid destroyed cartilage and damaged bone. White: the color of mourning in some Eastern cultures.
Their eyes met in wordless communication. "I'm sorry," said his eyes. The apology sliced through her; what else, she wondered, had those eyes tried to tell her when she'd been out in the field with Booth or in the lab, busy trying to name the dead? What of the living had she missed because of her focus on the dead?
Blinking, Brennan tried to smile past the suffocating ache in her chest.
They had gathered around the mezzanine table so many times, drinking one of Hodgins' concoctions from test tubes or simply chatting after a case. The memories buffeted each other in her head until she wanted to scream. But she didn't. Because cool, collected, and rational Temperance Brennan did not randomly shout.
She busied herself counting the people around her: one, two, three, four, five. Hodgins, Angela, Cam, Booth, and Sweets. The number was correct, but the fifth, the fifth was wrong. Which of these does not belong?
"Probably could’ve spent more time with Zack. You know, got him to see the world a bit more."
"All those things I say about secret societies and conspiracies; I never knew he was listening."
"I should’ve gotten him a girlfriend."
The words swirled around Brennan as she stared down at her hands and mutely listened to her colleagues and friends berate themselves. She didn't notice who said what; it didn't matter. In that maelstrom of sound, she inhaled through her mouth, tasting emptiness.
"Oh… You know what? The hell with Zack. He’s an adult. He made his choices. People are who they are. There’s nothing any of us could have done for the guy."
The anger in the words roused Brennan. "We love Zack, Cam," she finally said, voice soft. Love. Not a word she spoke often. But Angela had said it to Zack when he was first hospitalized; Brennan wished now that she'd been the one to say it, back before she learned what she knew now. But wishes were irrational, and what was the point, anyway, when what was done couldn't be undone?
"Yeah, well, he killed someone. And he deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life," said Cam.
What Zack deserved and what Brennan wanted for him, even now, were not the same.
It should never be easy to take a life. Actions had consequences. Yet the thought of Zack living in a psychiatric facility was easier to bear than the thought of him serving a prison term. Even she could see he didn't have the toughness of a man like her father.
Silent again, Brennan watched her colleagues all pull objects from the box that Hodgins said contained Zack's favorite things: a trophy, a harmonica, a drawing, a book. "I never gave him anything," she said, and was as surprised that she'd spoken as her companions appeared to be. Objects had no intrinsic power; she knew that. But she couldn't help remembering her mother's earring and the loss she'd felt when she realized it was gone -- or the inexplicable hope that rose in her when Booth returned it to her. Irrational and illogical, and still, irrefutable.
"Brennan, he totally loved you. I mean, as much as he was capable," said Angela. Her dark eyes softened with what Brennan knew was compassion. Though she understood her friend's desire to reassure her -- had become used to it and even grown to expect it over the years -- this time the words offered no solace.
"But I never gave him anything," Brennan repeated, looking around at their stunned faces. The team. Her team. All but one. Visual proof -- again.
This proof forced her into motion. She walked away without a backward glance, and though she knew the floor was solid and level, that didn't keep her from almost stumbling before she found herself sitting on the stairs. With her hands folded over her eyes, Brennan fought for control. Behind her, footsteps tapped on wood. Hearing them, she pulled her hands away from her face and laced her fingers together. A quick glance confirmed the identity of the person who had followed her, but she didn't need to look to know it was him.
Booth lowered himself to the step beside her, sighing heavily. Paper whispered as he unfolded what he held in his hand. "Dear Mr. Addy: It is my pleasure to offer you the post of my intern in forensic anthropology. I chose you from hundreds of applicants because of your knowledge, your desire to learn, and because I feel you will find a home here." He paused; she waited. "I think you gave him something great, Bones," Booth said.
His face was serious and drawn as he handed her the letter, and she knew that whether he verbalized it or not, the loss of another life and the discovery of Zack's involvement in the Gormogon murders hung heavy on him. It was for that reason as well as her own weakness that she moved closer to Booth and let her head rest on his shoulder. When he shifted to touch her head with his own, she set the envelope and letter beside her and remained still and quiet, just breathing.
Sweets had said she was proficient at compartmentalizing. While she still didn't put much stock in psychology, she knew Sweets was correct on that count. But in spite of her skill at compartmentalizing, inside she was as human as Angela, who cried during the silly movies she forced Brennan to watch one Saturday night every month. Inside, her body housed organs, muscles, bones -- just as all humans did. And whether emotions grew from chemical reactions or something else, she had them. She felt them.
Right now, even as she struggled to remain detached so that she could identify the emotions pulsing in time with her blood, she felt them all tumbling out of their designated boxes. Anger. Sadness. Denial. Confusion. Fear. All scattered at her feet like so many bones haphazardly tossed out of modular skeleton storage.
The silence in the empty stairwell made room for the punishing echo of Zack's words: "If you knew what I know, you’d understand. You’d be proud of me."
Brennan shivered, fine tremors wending their way up her spine and radiating outward until Booth lifted his head. "Hey," he said, dipping his head to look straight into her eyes. "Hey," he repeated, his breath brushing her face, "it's OK."
Her lips twisted at the lie. "No, it's not, Booth. This is my house," she said, tapping her chest. "Do you remember telling me that?"
"Yeah, I do," he said.
"The Jeffersonian is my house, and it was Zack's, too. How could this happen?" she asked. "I don't understand any of it." She craned her neck to peer around the stairwell, as if the answer lurked there, if only she could see it. "How? Why?" Her voice rose in a panicked crescendo. She heard it, but she couldn't reign it in.
"I wish I knew, Bones," he said. "Sometimes things happen, and they never make sense, but maybe you learn to accept them. Right now it's too soon to know. This just happened. We just found out. Give it some time." As he wrapped his right arm around her, pulling her into him, she heard the sudden hitch in his breath.
Instantly she pulled away, resting her hand lightly on his shoulder. "Your wound -- are you all right? Are you in pain?" As soon as the words left her mouth, she knew they were ridiculous. Of course he was in pain; he'd taken a bullet in the chest for her. His pectoralis major would be stiff and sore from the impact of the bullet and the resulting surgery, and the stitches would pull whenever he moved. The impromptu grappling match with the man at his fake funeral surely would not have helped.
Thinking about his funeral unearthed other unpleasant thoughts. Though she had tried to box it away, the memory of Booth's pale face and dark blood, slick and warm on her fingers, kept reappearing. Guilt crept over her. Regret, too, for the hasty words she had spat at him in his bathroom.
"Nah, I'm fine, Bones. Just a little stiff." He gestured with his left hand, waving her concern away.
"It's more than that, Booth." Looking away, she let her hand slip from his shoulder.
He didn't answer, just caught her hand and sandwiched it between his. The warmth of his skin against hers compounded her guilt. She wanted to say something, but at the same time she didn't. The words bubbled up inside her as heat crawled over her face. Thinking of Zack and what she should have told him sooner, Brennan cleared her throat. "I'm glad you're alive," she said, fixing her gaze on her partner and willing her eyes to communicate what her mouth could not. "Glad" didn't begin to encompass what she'd felt after two weeks of thinking he'd died after taking a bullet intended for her. But she wasn't Angela, and she wasn't Booth, and this was the most she could give him right now.
Sighing, Booth dragged his foot forward, his shoe squeaking against the step. "Me too."
"You saved my life. Again. When I thought you were dead..." She trailed off and started to pull her hand back.
Booth's hands tightened, halting her retreat. She pushed back a wave of gratefulness for his persistence.
"I can imagine," he said.
"Does your face still hurt?" she asked, studying him.
Booth gave a snort of laughter. "You hit pretty hard for a girl."
"Booth..." she warned.
"Just kidding, Bones. Just kidding." He fell silent for a long moment. "Listen, I'm sorry."
"For not telling you myself that I was OK. It was stupid; I don't have an excuse. I should never have left it up to the Bureau to contact you." With a heavy sigh, he released her hand.
She rubbed it against her knee, missing the contact in spite of herself and not knowing how to ask for it. The glide of fabric under her palm proved a poor substitute.
"I know how hard it was for you when your parents disappeared; I don't want to be one more person who does that to you. Not if I can help it." He sighed and straightened his shoulders. "I'm sorry. Do you believe me?"
Seconds ticked by while she judged his sincerity. Slowly, Brennan nodded. "Yes. I believe you."
"You know, you did good with Zack. You got him to talk."
She shrugged. "For all the good it did."
"What are you talking about?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "We got Gormogon."
"Yes, but maybe if I'd listened sooner, Zack would never have gotten mixed up in all this to begin with." She raised her eyes from the stairs and glanced at Booth. "Maybe you wouldn't have had to kill one more person."
"That's a lot of 'maybes.' And there's no way this is your fault. If it is, it's all of ours. Besides, you want to know something?"
"What?" she asked, her attention focused on him.
"It doesn't make me a good person, but part of me is glad that bastard is dead--"
"You're one of the best people I know," she said, interrupting him. This much she could safely say.
"--He murdered and ate people," Booth continued, as if she hadn't cut him off. "That nutjob tried to blow us up. You had teeth stuck in your arm, Bones. That is some seriously twisted shit. Not to mention he approached Zack for help with his crazy master plan. I can't forget any of that. Wait," he said, frowning, "what did you just say?"
She gazed back at him, unblinking. "I said that you're one of the best people I know."
His mouth opened, and his gaze flicked away from hers before returning. "Thanks."
"Do you regret shooting Pam?" Booth asked, surprising her.
Brennan considered his question seriously. "No," she finally said, looking at him without flinching. "She'd shot you, and then she raised her arm as if she was going to fire again. Maybe at you, maybe at me. You were on your back, staring up at me. Bleeding. And your eyes... I couldn't take that chance." Sighing, she shrugged. "I'm a good shot, Booth. Perhaps I could have shot to wound rather than kill. To be honest, it was almost instinctive." She paused and looked down at her feet. "I want to regret it more than I actually do." It made her uncomfortable, this way in which she was her father's daughter; it did not change the outcome.
Booth grasped her chin and gently turned her face toward him. "I understand."
Releasing her, he sighed and stretched his legs out in front of him.
They sat side by side, not speaking. In her most honest moments, Brennan admitted to herself that she often relied on Booth to pull from her the words she wanted to speak but was afraid to. Now, she waited for him to prod her. When he didn't, she silently weighed the risks and benefits. What settled it was the same thing that had led her to seek his counsel during her father's trial: it was the knowledge that he was the person she talked to about these kinds of issues. "You said you can't forget what Gormogon did. Well, I don't know if I can forget what Zack did."
"No one's asking you to."
"But I can't forget everything else about him either. What he did was wrong; it's not acceptable. Wanton murder is not acceptable. I know that." Still, picturing Zack alone in the hospital or whatever psychiatric facility he would eventually be transferred to made her chest hurt. Swallowing against the pressure, she said, "I still want to visit him." She frowned, the paradox pulling her in multiple directions.
"I think that makes sense, Bones. He's your friend," Booth replied, gently, "your family."
"I just... This doesn't make sense. At every step along the way there were decision points. Zack had choices. He chose to kill that lobbyist. He chose to steal canines from modular skeleton storage. He chose to walk into the lab day after day, look me in the eye and say, 'Yes, Dr. Brennan' and 'No, Dr. Brennan,' as he always did. He..." Breaking off, she shook her head, unable to speak.
Booth shifted beside her until their shoulders touched. "He betrayed you," he said, finishing her unvoiced thought so easily that discomfort surged inside her. Booth saw things, knew things...
"Yes." Resting her elbows on her thighs, Brennan steepled her hands. "I don't understand why he did it," she said, frustration sharpening her voice. "I don't understand why he made those choices." I don't know if I could have said or done something to help him. To stop him. "I want to ask him."
"Give it some time; maybe he'll tell you. If he doesn't, go ahead and ask him," he said. Brennan's stomach growled loudly then, and Booth's gaze snapped to her. "Come on," he said, rising to his feet more slowly than he would have if he'd been uninjured. "Let's go get something to eat."
Eat. Yes. It was necessary, though they had resolved nothing. It was what the living did, whether they were free or institutionalized. Booth stood beside her, alive, while Zack...
Their eyes met, and Booth added, "Not at the diner. We'll try some place new, OK?"
The way he said it, she understood it wasn't really a question. So she didn't bother answering as she picked up the envelope and letter and stood. Instead, she silently thanked him for knowing without being told that she associated the diner with Zack.
She took for granted the myriad ways in which Booth knew her. And if at times it sparked a feeling of unease, so too did it bring a sense of comfort. Booth -- familiar and safe. He habitually reached across the divide when she could not. Occasionally, occasionally she reached back.
Brennan's mind flashed back to the diner they would not be patronizing today, and this reminded her of the day they had all gathered there to celebrate Zack's hiring. They had laughed and toasted him; she'd patted his shoulder with an open palm to signify her approval. The memory brought with it a stab of pain.
Together, she and Booth crossed back to the mezzanine and found Cam sitting alone at the table. Angela and Hodgins were nowhere in sight; perhaps they'd gone home. Cam didn't look up as they entered, just stared down at a sheet of paper covered in writing. Curious, Brennan peered over her shoulder and noticed that Cam held the paper upside down.
There had been a time when Brennan had distrusted Cam, and they'd both jockeyed for position at the Jeffersonian. But they'd resolved their differences and become colleagues and team members.
Brennan couldn't quantify what she'd lost as a result of the Gormogon murders. Whatever she'd lost, Cam had lost something, too. They all had. Cognizant of this loss, Brennan decided to reach. "Booth and I are going to get something to eat. Would you like to join us?"
Cam turned to look at her. "Thanks, but I'm not really hungry." Something moved over her face, and she glanced back at the paper. After turning it so lay face down on the table, she pushed back her chair and stood. "Actually," she said, straightening her jacket, "that sounds good." Her gaze met Brennan's, and she nodded. "Just let me get my purse."
The three of them strode toward the stairs that descended into the lab. Cam walked ahead. Booth paused before taking the first step. Tilting his head, he glanced at Brennan, mouth unsmiling but eyes warm.
Despite being much less skilled than Booth at reading the minutiae of peoples' facial expressions, Brennan deciphered the approval in his face. "What?" she asked, even though she knew the answer.
Booth shook his head. "Nothing, Bones."