Author's note: This is hopefully the beginning of a very long series composed of minor stories and some pointless fluff. Updating may be sporadic. You have been warned
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Wish I did.
Temperance Brennan circled the mutilated body serenely, as if looking at a jigsaw puzzle that she was stuck on. "Not that she would ever get stuck on a jigsaw puzzle," her assistant Zack Addy thought quickly. "Unless it was all one color with really tiny pieces."
He was carefully prodding at a cut in the muscle of the chest of the nearly skinless body on the table. "Long blade on the weapon but it will take some time to determine the exact type."
Dr. Brennan nodded. "Okay. Any other observations?"
He scanned the body with his eyes, looking for anything he might have missed. "Cause of death seems to be one of the ten stab wounds to the chest and abdomen. Impossible to say which on at this time, but most likely one punctured his heart or the greater vessels. Victim was not skinned in the traditional sense. Possibly flayed?" he made a face. "Blood pooling at the surface suggests that he was alive when it happened."
"Very valid observations. Now let's get to work on an ID."
Angela and Hodgins appeared from opposite corners of the lab and began to speak at once. "I have a face to go with…that."
"I found something in that powder from the wound!"
"Ok," said Brennan. "One at a time. Angela?"
She held up the drawing of the young man, as good as she could do from the remains of the victim's face. "Ready to run through the database."
"Ok, good. Hodgins?"
"The white powder in the wounds is lime."
"Lime?" asked Angela. "As in the fertilizer? Was someone trying to get rid of the body?"
Hodgins shook his head. "Not near enough for that. And Lime doesn't get rid of bodies. That's a mistake that was made popular by horror movies and graphic novels. What it does in most cases is preserve the body even better." Realizing that he had strayed off topic, he came back to what he was saying. "It was only in the wound. That means it was on the blade. He was probably killed in a gardening shed or greenhouse."
"Ok, guys," said Cam, entering with a file folder in her hands. "We got a new kid, and I expect you all to play nice."
"New kid?" asked Zack. "You got a new grad student already?"
"Cool," said Hodgins. "Zack gets to be a big brother." The younger man made a face.
Brennan took the folder to confirm. "I got a new grad student. Casey McKnight." She looked up. "Is that a guy or a girl?"
"I get that a lot," said a very feminine voice from the ground level. "But usually it's in reference to my hair." The girl climbed the steps, running a hand through her very short red hair. "I was told to dress comfortable. I hope this is ok." She wore an olive-green t-shirt with the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the saying "It's only a flesh wound!" and worn jeans. Zack swallowed hard. Even if she did have hair shorter than his, she was quite possibly the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Angela, embarrassed by her friends' lack of social graces. "Hi. I'm Angela Montenegro. This is Temperance Brennan, Zack Addy, Jack Hodgins. You've met Dr. Saroyan. She nodded to each one in turn, and Casey looked at them and smiled nervously. Zack was looking everywhere but directly at her, Brennan was still looking at the file folder, and Hodgins was visibly sizing her up.
"Is it just me," said a voice coming up behind them, "or are grad students getting younger?" Seely Booth scanned his card and was up the short steps in two strides. "How old are you, kid? You don't look old enough to be out of high school!"
"She blushed, looking at the floor. "I get that a lot too. I'll be 24 in a few months."
He turned to Brennan. "So, do you have anything new?"
"We were just going over the body. Casey, why don't you take a look? Tell us what you see."
The girl forced her nervousness down. This was her job now, and she could do it, nervous or not. Putting on gloves, she stepped up to the body. "Male, between 25 and 35, stabbed and partially flayed with a very long and sharp blade."
"Like a sword!" exclaimed Zack, putting it together.
"Well, yes and no. Dr. Addy, right?" The title still startled him. No one called him that since the first day unless they were teasing him. That didn't seem to be her intention, so he nodded. She motioned for him to come forward, so he inched to the table. When he was beside her, she prodded a stab wound in the muscle with one finger. "When most people say 'sword', they're thinking of a Scottish claymore or a Roman gladiator. This cut is flat on the top, not narrowing like the bottom. I'd say a katana, the Japanese sword of the samurai. Not the first on most people's list, unless you're a Highlander fan." She turned from the remains to face Zack. "Did I pass?"
Zack frowned. "Pass?...I-"
"Yeah, kid, you passed," said Hodgins, breaking in before Zack could confess that he hadn't figured it out yet. He walked up to the two young scientists. "Zack was just saying that before you walked in."
"No I-" he started, but Hodgins elbowed him discreetly in the ribs and he shut up.
Cam was almost forgotten until she spoke up. "Dr. Brennan, maybe you could give your new assistant a tour of our facility."
"Oh," she said, the idea not occurring to her. "Sure, come with me." They left to get acquainted more than to see their workplace.
"So," said Angela. "What do you guys think?"
"She's smart," said Hodgins. "Did you see how fast she identified the wound? We hadn't got that far yet. What do you think?"
"Well, she seems sweet. She dresses like you guys, though. I think she's going to fit in fine. Zack?"
He hadn't moved, was still standing beside the body, but was staring off into space. Angela didn't think he had even blinked since his mentor and new co-worker left the room. "Zack? Hey, brain-boy! Earth to Zack!"
Finally, he turned to face them slowly, as if in a daze. His usually pale cheeks were flushed. Having his attention, Angela repeated herself. "What do you think of her?"
"I…think…uh…" he trailed off as if he caught another train of thought. "She called me Dr. Addy!"
After the tour, Casey was given her own blue lab coat and sent back to the body. They examined it completely, Dr. Brennan taught her to take casts of the wounds, and they learned all they could from the remaining flesh. "Okay, Zack, Why don't you take Casey in the back and show her how to clean the bones."
Zack froze. "I…Uh…sure."
Casey didn't seem to notice her colleague's hesitation, and helped him roll the gurney into the back room.
Hodgins walked close to Angela. "Is he being weirder than usual?"
Angela shrugged. "It's hard to tell. He does seem a little…" she trailed off, looking for the exact word to describe the change in their odd young friend. "Off."
"Do you think he's afraid she'll take his place?"
This confused Angela. "Take his place? But she's just a student! By the time she gets her PhD, he'll have even more seniority."
Hodgins shook his head. "That's not what I meant. Family is very important to Zack, and now he's at the other end of the world." Angela opened her mouth the say that D.C. wasn't exactly the other side of the world from Michigan, but he cut her off. "His words, not mine. So we're his surrogate family. He's not worried about his job, he's worried about his place in the hierarchy!"
Angela winced. "Like a kid with a new baby sister."
Hodgins looked at the door to the room the kids went off to. "We're going to have to be careful.
"So, do use enzymes, or do it manually?" She asked as she and Zack wheeled the body into the debreiding room. "Do we need any protective gear? What do we do with the tissue when we're done?"
Zack realized that she had the same habit he did, babbling uncontrollably when she was nervous. It was somewhat endearing, and he realized guiltily that he had done very little to alleviate those nerves. "No, nothing like that. Just get some gloves and goggles. I'll show you how we do it." He smiled to himself as he got the jar full of beetles off the shelf. "And don't worry about the leftover tissue…"
To her credit, she barely flinched when he poured the flesh-eating bugs on the corpse. Zack was impressed; He had almost been sick the first time he witnessed it. He had gotten over it quickly. So why did it feel like his stomach was crawling?
Casey was watching against the glass, fascinated by the efficient little cleaning crew. Zack moved closer to her and watched, too. After a few moments of silence, Zack felt compelled to share one of his secrets. "See that lazy one over there in the corner? That's Billy. And the one beside him is Joanne. They stay together." He trailed off, looking at his shoes. Of all the dumb things to say, he had just told the pretty new girl that he had named the flesh-eating insects. She would laugh at him now, look down on him as stupid, or even worse, give him the same look he got from everybody in high school. The one that said he was at best a freak, and at worse some kind of contagious microbe.
She surprised him by smiling. "What about that one, crawling up the glass?"
"That's Myrtle," he said. "She kinda stays off to herself. I think she's scared of crowds."
"I don't blame her," Casey replied under her breath, not intending for Zack to hear.
He did hear, however. "Me neither," he replied.
They stood there, side by side, hands on the glass, two fascinated kids watching a natural phenomena that most would find disturbing. This was how Angela found them. And it was so cute that she couldn't disturb them. Instead, she ran off to find Hodgins. And her camera.
The two older squints watched the younger ones for as long as they could stand, then Angela had to snap the picture. Of course, the flash and the sound of the camera broke the moment. Casey and Zack jumped away from the glass, and each other. "Sorry, guys. I just couldn't resist!" They looked at her with frighteningly identical expressions of uncertainty.
Hodgins nudged her, and she remembered why she came in the first place. "Uh, guys, we're going to Wong Foo's. Hope you'll come with us. Kind of a 'getting to know the new kid' thing. You in?"
"I kinda have to, don't I?" asked Casey. "Being the new kid in question. Sure, I'm in."
"Zack?" asked Hodgins.
"Great! Come on! Booth, Brennan, and Cam are waiting on us!"
Casey fell into place behind them, but Zack hesitated. His stomach felt as if the beetles were crawling around inside it, nibbling occasionally. He was slightly dizzy, feverish, and felt weak. Maybe the chicken salad he found in the break room was older than he thought. He made a mental note never to eat anything without a date on it, but maybe he was coming down with something. Flu maybe? Then he realized that he was alone, and hurried along to catch the others.
They filed into Wong Foo's, Angela gently directing Casey to the middle. Zack scooted to the far side by Hodgins. If he was coming down with something, he would be less likely to pass it on to someone if he was on the outside, rather than surrounded by people on both sides.
Sid came out to check on them. "Hi guys. New kid?"
Brennan introduced her. "Sid, this is Casey McKnight. She's my new grad student. Casey, this is Sid. He runs this place."
"Hey, Mac. Nice to meet you. You're sure a lot prettier than her last student. No offense, Zack."
Zack was resting his chin on his hands and barely looked up. "None taken. You're merely stating a fairly obvious fact."
Sid raised an eyebrow, but let it go. "I'll go see about your food." As he walked away, he smiled as he heard verbatim what every first-timer says: "But we haven't ordered yet!"
Booth quickly explained it to her, and her eyes got very big. "But how does he do it? I'm allergic to a lot of things!"
Angela shrugged it off. "Doesn't matter. Zack's allergic to…What is it, Zack?"
"Eggs," he replied without looking up. "Which means I can't take a flu shot and stand a statistically higher chance of developing a latex allergy."
Hodgins opened his mouth to make a joke about the possible consequences of a latex allergy, but was sure he sure it would go over half the heads at the table. He made a note to tell Angela later. "Sid has never brought anything that caused a reaction in any of us. If you leave it to him, anyway." His stomach rolled at the memory of the seven-organ soup that had given him flashbacks for days.
She shrugged. "Okay. You guys still eat here, so they must not have killed anyone you know."
They were silent for a few moments, no one really sure what to say. "Look," she finally said. "I'm not really good at this whole 'people' thing. What do we do now?"
Angela was unsure how to respond to having the situation so plainly stated, but it didn't seem to phase the other squints. Booth was used to it by now. "I think you're going to be right at home here."
She looked at him. "I don't know what that means." Booth nearly choked, and the girl, Brennan, and Zack all looked at him funny. Angela and Hodgins fought hard not to laugh. Casey ignored it. "If no one else has any ideas, I have a thought."
"Okay," said Cam. "Let's hear it."
She paused, still not totally comfortable talking in front of this group of near strangers. But she knew she had to get over it. The best way was to make them not be strangers anymore. "I propose we go around the table and you each ask me one question. In return, I get to ask you each one question."
Zack sat up a little. "That's very logical," he said approvingly.
"Very logical," agreed Brennan. "A good idea."
Casey smiled. "Ok. Dr. Saroyan, why don't you start?"
Cam paused for only a second. "What do you think is going to be the most interesting aspect of this job?"
Casey answered immediately. "I'm really interested in determining cause of death and collecting evidence. I love solving the puzzle and finding the clues that prove my theories."
Cam nodded approvingly. "Good answer. Who's next?"
Booth was sitting beside her, so he went next. "What's your opinion on the war in Iraq?"
Brennan looked at him. "How is that relevant?"
"The object is to get to know her, right? That question will tell me a lot about who she is."
"Hodgins disagrees with you, what does that tell you?"
He sighed, not wanting to have this argument, certainly not wanting to have to explain how it would give him an intuitive impression of her that he would trust until proven wrong. "It tells me that Hodgins is opposed to anything he views as government control, which I already know. Now, let her answer."
She was a little uncomfortable with the disagreement, but agreed silently with Booth. The object was to get to know her. "Well, I'll keep my opinion to myself, but I will say that one of my two best friends in the world is over there now, and the other will never come home from there, and even if people don't agree with the war they should support our armed forces 110."
"I can get behind that," said Hodgins.
"Me too," said Booth. "Ok, Bones, your turn."
"Bones?" asked Casey.
"Just an annoying nickname he insists on using," she said. "So what made you choose this line of work?"
Casey wondered how to phrase this, especially in front of Booth. He was essentially a cop. "I want to make sure the bad guys go to jail. What we do is so important. The cops can do the best job in the world, everything by the book, but if the technicians screw up the whole case gets thrown out and the bad guys go free. I want to be one of those. I want to make the case."
"A very accurate description. Good answer." Brennan was pleased with the grip on reality that her new student had. Most people didn't understand the pressure that they were constantly under. If she knew that already, things would be much easier.
Their food came then, and Casey was delighted with her grilled chicken strips, cheese fries, and chocolate shake. They all dug into their food. It was Angela's turn.
"I noticed the necklace you're wearing. What's the significance of it?"
She fingered the silver cross around her neck. "Well, it's silver 'cause I'm allergic to gold. It breaks me out. And this symbol is called a Maltese cross. It's the symbol for firefighters. And the cross behind it signifies that God is behind what I do."
"You're a firefighter?" Angela asked. "Oh, sorry, I already used my question, didn't I?"
"That's ok, that's why we're doing this. To give us stuff to talk about. Yeah, I'm a firefighter, EMT, and level 1 Haz-mat technician. I was on my fire department back in Tennessee for six years. I was next in line for a captain's spot when I moved here. Hey, is there a volunteer department around here or are they all paid?"
"They're mostly paid," said Booth, "but I'll call around and see who has volunteer spots if you want."
"Yeah, that would be great! I know I wouldn't have time for a paid position, but I'd love to get back in it. So, who's next?"
"Me," said Hodgins. "What's your theory on the Kennedy Assassination?"
"How much time do we have?" she answered with a smile.
Hodgins grinned. "We'll talk later. Too many people around."
"You are going to fit in here," said Angela. "Zack, your turn."
Zack sat all the way up. "What does your family think about what you do?"
She looked down briefly, composing herself for the answer. "I don't have anybody," she finally answered flatly. "Ok, my turn. Dr. Saroyan, how was I chosen for this spot?"
After a pause, Cam answered. "You're grades were a big part of it, 4.0 in six years at Vanderbilt is impressive. Also, your application essay was brilliant." Naïve, but brilliant. She didn't want to say that out loud, but that was a definite part of her choice. She didn't want someone completely jaded and cynical. They were hard to teach.
"Thank you," said Casey, blushing slightly. "Agent Booth, what branch of the military did you serve in?"
"What? How did you know I…Army. Rangers, to be specific."
She smiled. "Rangers lead the way." He still looked confused. "You can just tell." He still was unsure, but he let it go.
"Dr. Brennan, how do you come up with the ideas for your books? They're incredible! Do you really do all those things? Will I?"
Brennan laughed. "You realize that's actually three questions? Well, I've done most of those things, and I guess if you want to, you can too."
The girl smiled. "That's exactly what I want to do!"
Booth rolled his eyes, and thought "Just what I need, two squints following me around. At least Zack was happy staying in the lab!"
That got it around to Angela. "Dr. Brennan said you make most of your jewelry. Do you think you could teach me?"
Taking in the girl's clothes and lack of make-up, the question surprised her. "Yeah, absolutely."
"Dr. Hodgins, what's your theory on spontaneous human combustion?"
His blue eyes sparkled with excitement. "How much time do we have?" he asked, echoing her answer. "And please, call me Jack."
She turned to Zack, who had been looking at her but quickly looked away. He looked nervous. "Dr. Addy, what's your favorite song?"
He was a little confused by the question. "My favorite song?"
"Yeah. Surely you have a song you like. I love music. What kind do you like?"
He ducked his head, embarrassed. "Uh, well…I guess "Superman" by Five for Fighting."
"Really?" asked Hodgins. "Didn't see that coming."
"Hey," said Casey. "That's a good song! Good choice."
"Thanks," said Zack, his usual monotone voice sounding tired.
"Hey, Zack, you okay?" Angela asked. "You've hardly touched your fries."
He shrugged. "I don't feel well. Maybe I'm coming down with something. Could someone give me a ride home?"
"You look flushed," said Angela, reaching around Hodgins to feel his forehead. "Doesn't feel like you have a fever."
"I can give you a ride," Casey volunteered.
"No!" exclaimed Hodgins. "I mean, I'm going that way. C'mon, Zack."
The younger man stood up slowly, holding onto the table as if dizzy. He steadied himself, then stood back for his friend to get up. Hodgins bid them a farewell, Zack waved weakly, and they were gone.
Casey looked down at her plate. "He doesn't like me very much, does he?"