Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Saturday, Mid-day
Jack Hodgins was fuming.
The only thing that would make it worse was if the elevator doors were more mirror-like. As it was, if one more person got on the crowded elevator and smiled, snickered or stared at him he was going to scream.
He gave the gaudy, free-standing grave-side style pink and purple botanical abomination beside him a vicious shake. To add insult to injury, with its built-in stand, the damned thing was a foot taller than he was. It was friggin' gigantic. It had originally been taller still, but he'd had to force it into the Mini Cooper, and it was somewhat worse for wear with a few broken stalks dangling at the top for added character, not that he gave a shit at the moment.
He was going to kill Goodman.
Apparently Saturday was the big day for visitors and so far he'd had to endure looks from kids young and old, teenagers whose air of faux sophistication still let them drop their jaded poses long enough to smirk or sneer, and various soldiers' parents, wives and sweethearts. It was almost worse when some of them pretended not to notice.
And that was just his first abortive trip on the elevator.
Booth was no longer in the same room so, after being unable to find a nurse to ask, he'd been forced to ride all the way back down to the lobby to get the new room number, lugging the excrescence the whole way, before coming back up. In the course of his long promenade he'd encountered blue haired grannies, soldiers in civvies, some rowdy and some somber, visiting wounded their buddies, a rambunctious Cub Scout den, what seemed like a whole VFW post of old farts in regalia, and even a two star general with his coterie of junior officer sycophants. They'd all given him the look. Then, in the other rear corner of the elevator there was one guy, in a gray Army t-shirt, wearing dark sunglasses who'd been riding almost as long as he had. He'd never taken his eyes off Jack, not even once.
Man, that guy was really starting to chap his ass.
However, the worst had to be the hospital staff who'd surely thought they'd seen it all, until now that is. In particular, there'd been a bevy of cute young nursing students who'd smiled sweetly at him, whispered amongst themselves, then, as they got off the elevator, paused for a backward glance and a shared giggle.
Yep, he was going to kill Goodman, alright.
Then, in the press of the crowd he'd missed his floor on the way back up, unable to squeeze to the front of the car before the doors closed, and he'd been forced to ride all the way to the top floor before coming back down, thereby providing entertainment for still more visitors.
Goodman had realized late Friday there'd been an oversight, and no flowers had been sent in the Lab's name. He'd gone ape shit because Booth was probably going to be released Monday, and had found a florist who would be open on Saturday morning. However no delivery could be arranged so he'd volunteered Jack to be the errand boy. That bastard was still riding his ass about the stink with Booth, refusing to believe that they'd really kissed and made up. He grimaced. Make that 'buried the hatchet.' So he was the fall guy.
It wouldn't have been so bad but for this… this floral Frankenstein. Some idiot had simply figured 'the more the merrier', and, as a result, the arrangement consisted of an overabundance of genera. He'd identified Rosa, Dianthus, Lilium, Chrysanthemum, Dendrobium, Eucalyptus, Limonium, and Gypsophila, just for startersIt had just about every damned thing but Kitchensinkus. It was freakin' hideous, an eyesore above and beyond being positively Brobdingnagian in proportion.
It was proof you could give a front office flunky the corporate platinum card, but you couldn't give 'im any class. Bigger was not always better.
'Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity,' he consoled himself.
At least he, the conspiracy buff, didn't think Goodman was that vindictively Machiavellian. The thought that the humiliation had been intentional was just too disconcerting.
Finally, his stint in vertical purgatory was drawing to a close as the slowly descending elevator reached the fifth floor again. One more down to Booth's. Mercifully, the car was nearly empty now.
Nearly empty, that is, except for a couple in their fifties and the guy in dark glasses who'd never quit staring. Jack had taken refuge behind the bulk of the monstrous bouquet, but he stuck his head out again as the doors opened. Damn if that SOB wasn't still there with his back to the side wall of the car, still staring directly at him. And now the guy was sporting a small grin.
Enough of this shit. The other taller man looked very fit, like he could take him apart with one hand tied behind his back, but Jack didn't care…
"Just what are you looking at!" he challenged.
The other man answered. Or, rather, he didn't.
"Is this the fifth floor?"
Taken aback at his failure to provoke his nemesis, Jack simply answered the question, "Uh… yes, yes it is."
"Thanks." The other man reached out with a long red tipped cane to locate the doorway and stepped through.
Jack's jaw dropped, and, even as the doors closed, the voice from the other side came through loud and distinct.
"What an asshole!"
Jack was in shock for a second before he could do any damage control.
The doors fully closed, and it was too late.
He gave the other last two now glaring passengers a sickly grin, sighed, and hung his head in defeat as the elevator dropped along with his stomach.
The doors opened on Booth's floor, thank God.
He practically ran out.
It turned out that Booth's new room was still on the same floor as before; however, this time the nurses were at their station catching up paperwork instead of making rounds out on the floor. If he'd just been a few minutes later he could have been spared a world of hassle. A cute redhead, about thirty at most, was at the desk right behind the high counter, and a frosted fifty-something was behind her rummaging in a locked cabinet.
"Excuse me, I'm here to bring these to Agent Seeley Booth. Could you tell me where room 429 is?"
"Sure. Go back to the elevator bank and cut through to the corridor parallel to this one. Take a right then you'll find 429 down near the far end on your left."
"Thanks." Jack gave her a genuine smile. Bless her, she didn't bat an eye at the horticultural horror. He turned away to go.
He turned back for her explanation.
"If you want to save us all a trip you could just leave that here. His room is overflowing with flowers now, and he's asked us just to collect the cards and spread any more flowers out among the soldiers here."
Jack nodded. That was Booth. He'd seen Walter Reed mentioned on CNN yesterday as the location of the wounded FBI agent but as far as he knew Booth's identity was still secret. However, the leaked news that the agent wounded saving the last hostages was the very same sniper who'd kicked the shit out of the terrorists on the front steps had been electric. Jack imagined flowers were being sent by all sorts of complete strangers.
"No, thanks. I really need to get these to him," he implored. "I work with him at the Jeffersonian, and my boss will have my ass if he doesn't see them."
She considered it for a moment. "Ok," she reluctantly allowed.
"Thank you! You're a lifesaver." He picked up the arrangement and turned again.
"I'd knock first if I was you…" said a smoker's voice.
The older nurse had spoken for the first time. He turned to look at her. She looked like a burnout.
She wrinkled her nose and groused, "She's in there. He seems like a nice enough fella, I just hope he knows what he's getting into." She turned back to the cabinet.
He was confused…
"Don't you pay Peg any mind. She's got no sense of romance," the redhead said.
The older nurse merely grunted.
"Well, I think they're cute," the younger one fired back.
The older one pulled her nose out of the cabinet again at that.
"You wouldn't think it was so cute if you were here yesterday havin' to do some of the steppin' and fetchin'. She's bossy, that one. Questioned damn near everything I did, too. Not to mention they kept screwing up the telemetry all afternoon, and I had to keep checking on it. I'm just glad they pulled most of his monitors overnight." She turned back to her task, muttering darkly.
The implied lack of social skills finally clicked. Brennan?!?
The younger nurse stuck out her tongue at Peg's back then turned back to him with a smile. "Cut to the other hall, then down on the left near the far end."
The walk only took a few minutes. Here it was, Room 429. The door was ajar, and he could hear low voices inside.
It must have been the density of the big door. It was the only possible explanation for what happened next.
He set the flower stand down in the hallway, knocked on the heavy door to announce himself as advised, and stepped right in through the doorway.
…and promptly spun on a heel and walked, no, practically jumped, right out again.
He didn't think he was noticed.
He leaned against the wall of the corridor in shock. Brennan and Booth? Even though he'd teased her a week ago about a "date", he was unprepared for the reality of it.
Finally recovering his equilibrium, he inched to the very edge of the doorframe and shamelessly eavesdropped. This was just too priceless.
He could just make out the murmuring voices.
At first his jaw gaped, then he barely suppressed what surely would have been a loud snort. Brennan and the L-word?
The very thought of her uttering sweet nothings, even her version, just did not compute.
Suddenly Booth's voice increased in volume and clarity, piercing the fog of his astonishment:
"I said 'No peeking!'"
A throaty chuckle was the only response…
There was the sound of a splash followed by a metallic clatter as something hit the floor, then more feminine laughter and muffled voices again.
Jack couldn't help himself, and a sputtering sound escaped. He froze, listening to see if he'd been discovered, but there were no more words from inside.
He slid the monstrous floral arrangement partly into the doorway, careful not to make a sound, then made his escape. Angela was going to pee in her panties when he told her.
He almost made it to the elevators before he died laughing.
Jeffersonian Medico-Legal Laboratory, Monday Morning
Jack joined Angela on the way to the central platform.
The Lab was up and running again and they were all trying to get a handle on the backlog resulting from its closure most of the previous week. Goodman had "requested" their presence for a command performance. The bastard had a hard-on for some remains Zack had just started working on, something old enough for Goodman to be able to strut his archaeologist stuff on. Apparently ordinary murder victims were just too pedestrian for him.
If that wasn't aggravating enough, Jack still had his suspicions about whether or not he'd been setup playing delivery man.
At least Angela smiled at him warmly, "Good morning, Jack. How are you today?"
They'd spent a lot of time together in the aftermath of the attack, at least when she wasn't forcibly baby sitting Brennan. Suddenly, he didn't find squint love to be quite such a ridiculous concept after all.
"Oh, fine," he replied in a normal voice and a big smile of his own, but then he grabbed her by the elbow as she swiped the security sensor at the foot of the stage with her badge.
"But I still can't believe you didn't warn me!" he hissed.
"If I knew you were going back…" she chuckled. Her big brown eyes flashed at him
"Well, they weren't quite in flagrante but they were pretty damned close!"
Goodman turned from Zack at the sound of their voices. "Dr. Hodgins, Ms. Montenegro, how nice of you to finally join us."
Jack forced a grin and merely nodded at the supercilious SOB.
Goodman began holding forth for his captive audience, apparently having been missing the chance to play professor now that he was an overpaid, chair warming paper shuffler. Jack only listened with one ear as he ascended the steps and instead watched with interest as Zack was picking apart an old, twisted skeleton that still bore some scraps of rotted leather and what looked like decayed woolen clothing of indeterminate color. He was transferring the removed bones to the other lighted exam table and rearranging them in standard anatomical position.
Jack moved closer to inspect the textiles while Goodman was still pontificating.
"… Mr. Addy has a most fascinating find today, a male skeleton from a construction site on the Maryland shore which appears upon cursory examination to be approximately two hundred years old. A pewter button he has already recovered bears the embossed image of three cannon on wheeled carriages, which strongly suggests the decedent was a British artilleryman from the War of 1812. This is truly exciting. Our first priority after accurately dating the remains is to ascertain whether or not there is any other evidence to corroborate the hypothesis that this is a British soldier. The…"
Jack tuned out the droning windbag and went to work collecting samples from the clothing…
Goodman's near shout startled him. He practically dropped the tray he'd filled with the specimens he'd collected. The administrator needed to get the hell out of his way and just let him work.
"What!" Jack didn't bother to make it sound like a question.
"I said, 'How went your errand Saturday?'" Goodman wasn't exactly asking nicely either.
"Oh that." Hodgins left him hanging and started to turn back to his work. The other man was already aggravating him.
"So, Dr. Hodgins, just what did Agent Booth say?" Goodman insisted.
"I don't know, we didn't talk. I simply left the flowers."
Goodman began clouding up. "Do you mean to tell me –"
Ah crap. He'd better interrupt, "I didn't go all the way in. I turned around at the door when Brennan was in there with him, having a private moment if you know what I mean. I don't think they saw me. The nurses said she'd been there all morning..."
Goodman waved a hand dismissively. "Be that as it may. At least tell me, how did he look?" he demanded.
Suddenly, like so many other things Jack said which got him in trouble, it was just there.
"Well…" Stay deadpan.
"Out with it, man!"
"I'd have to say somewhat better than average…" Jack paused, relishing the feeling of dangling the bait, toying with him.
Out of sight behind Goodman, Angela was shaking her head minutely. She'd long since learned to recognize the look in his eye that spelled trouble.
Just before Goodman was about to erupt, he finished the sentence, setting the hook.
"…judging by the sheets."
"What?" Bafflement warred with the irritation on Goodman's face.
Jack grinned as he dropped the bomb.
"Well, either Booth's got two hundred and seven bones or he was really happy to see her."
Goodman was stunned speechless, appalled by the implied vulgarity. His eyes bugged out of his skull then his jaws began working without actually issuing any sound. Finally they snapped shut. His eyes narrowed, and Jack fully expected steam to start shooting from the other man's ears any second just like some cartoon.
Angela choked off a single laugh then reddened and dimpled as she grabbed his arm. Jack laughed out loud in Goodman's face as he let her drag him away toward her studio.
Zack Addy was so engrossed in his task that it took an extra few seconds for his brain's cognitive centers to catch up with processing the recent auditory input. He stood up straight and turned to make eye contact with Goodman, not quite sure what he'd missed.
Goodman was breathing heavily and was clearly perturbed. It was apparent even to him.
"Why, why that man…"
Zack cringed and braced himself for the explosion.
However, instead of finishing the explanation, the administrator simply glowered at him for a moment then turned about and stalked back to his office, shaking his head and muttering darkly the whole way.
The assistant was left standing there alone, still puzzled himself. After a second he started to follow Jack and Angela, but he paused at the steps.
He called out to them frowning, "Wait! I don't understand ! I didn't see an extra rib on Booth's X-rays…" His voice trailed off, and his eyes widened.
He hurried after them.
The stage was empty except for the bones.
A/N – Revised
It came to my attention that FFN's Terms and Conditions specify that only actual story content may be posted as "chapters." Therefore, I will come back and insert a proper Afterword here. In the mean time, I have gone back and revised the opening Author's Notes in Chapter1 to acknowledge my beta readers among other things.
If you go to my profile here at FFN, the website link will take you to my LiveJournal page where you can find various articles I am posting about writing Servare Vitas. Also there you can find the official "cover art" for SV kindly donated by a professional illustrator, as well as photos of the various weapons and gear if you are interested. There is also a posted 'deleted scene' formchapter 27 you may find interesting.
Of course the story itself is cross-posted there, but I am still in the process of organizing proper links to all of the chapters.