Getting Up the Nerve

Chapter 5

Angela waited three more days before cornering Brennan about Zach's behavior. The jumpiness wasn't getting better and he stammered when he wasn't talking like a robot on uppers. It seemed to be worse when Brennan was around, and Angela suspected that wasn't a coincidence. Something was up.

"Hi," Angela said as she stopped beside Brennan's desk. Her friend darted a glance at her, then went back to studying the file before her.

"Hi," Brennan said. There was a long pause as Angela waited for her to give her her undivided attention. Brennan finally looked up again with a frown. "Angela?" she asked, puzzled.

Angela cocked a hip and put her fist on it. "Do you know what's wrong with Zach?"

Brennan shook her head slowly. "I don't know what you're talking about. He seems fine to me," she said, dropping her eyes to the file again to avoid Angela's probing stare.

Angela sighed. Her friend could be so dense sometimes. "He is not fine," she said firmly. "He's a wreck, and it seems to be worse when you're around." She stared at Brennan for another long moment. "You really haven't noticed?" she asked, amazed.

Brennan shook her head. "I'm sorry, I don't have your instincts. What do you think it could be?"

Angela rolled her eyes. "I think he has a crush on you," she announced.

Brennan was saved from answering as Booth spoke from the doorway. "Who does?"

Brennan stiffened. Booth was looking back and forth between her and Angela with a frown.

"Zach. He's been acting weird around Brennan lately," Angela explained after looking past Booth to make sure nobody was lurking in the hallway.

Booth's eyes went wide as a suspicion dawned in his mind. "So that's who--! Wait, how long has he been acting weird?"

Angela shrugged. "A week and a half maybe," she hazarded, watching Booth's expressive face.

Booth smirked as his suspicion was confirmed. "That's what I thought. You're right, Angela, he's got a thing for the dear doctor here," he said, watching Brennan's face for her reaction. She had an odd look on her face, but it wasn't surprise.

"Why aren't you surprised?" he asked curiously. Brennan pursed her lips and looked away. "He asked you out, didn't he?"

Brennan folded her arms stubbornly, looking back at him angrily. "That's none of your business," she said coldly.

Booth nodded, grinning. "Shot him down, didn't you," he said with satisfaction. When she remained silent, he experienced a moment of doubt. "You did, didn't you? You didn't actually agree to go out with him?" he asked incredulously.

Brennan closed her eyes and sighed. "No. I—I don't see him that way, I tried to explain—But I promised I wouldn't tell anyone. And now you and Angela have figured it out somehow, even though I tried to behave like nothing happened—"

Angela touched her arm. "It wasn't you," she said reassuringly. "It was Zach."

Booth was shaking his head in disbelief. Bones was the coworker Zach had asked him about. And he had advised him to go for it. And he had done it. Un-freakin'-believable.

Brennan was upset. "You can't say anything about it," she ordered sternly.

"Of course we won't, Bren. Right Booth?" Angela prodded, frowning at Booth.

He lifted his hands in surrender. "Not a word." Brennan was studying him, trying to gauge his sincerity.

"I mean it, Booth," she said, a warning in her voice. "No teasing, no comments, not a word."

"Hey, I wouldn't dream of it. My lips are sealed," he said, pantomiming locking his lips and tossing away the key.

She sighed. "Okay. Because I don't want his feelings hurt any more than they already are."

Angela looked sympathetic. "He took it pretty hard, didn't he?"

Brennan frowned again. "It didn't seem like it, but you know me. Maybe he's more upset than I thought. I just hope he gets over it. It's really messing with our work dynamic."

"Aw, he'll be fine in no time, you'll see," Booth said reassuringly. Angela and Brennan didn't look so sure, but there was no point worrying about it. Zach would have to work it out on his own.

BBBBB

Zach couldn't handle the awkwardness any more. His concentration was shot and if he knocked over one more tray of instruments, he thought Dr. Brennan might ask Dr. Saroyan to replace him. Not that it would be easy to find another forensic anthropologist, but he didn't want to take any chances. He decided he needed Booth's advice. The irony was that it was Booth's advice that had gotten him into this mess in the first place. He caught up to him in the hallway as he was leaving.

"Agent Booth, can I have a word?" he called. Booth stopped, but didn't turn. Zach wasn't deterred. He came around to stand in front of him, rubbing his hands together nervously.

Booth raised his eyebrows and Zach took that as permission. "She said—no," he confided in a whisper, glancing around for the third time to make sure nobody was around. Booth didn't respond. Zach thought maybe Booth didn't know what he was talking about. "You know, the, uh, lady I asked you about? She—she said she doesn't feel that way—" he stammered, trailing off awkwardly at the grim look on Booth's face.

Booth sighed. "Sorry to hear that, Zach. Now, I need to—" he said, turning to go.

"How do I work with her with that hanging between us?" Zach asked all at once, desperate to keep him from leaving without getting the advice he needed.

Sighing again, Booth turned back towards him. "Do you remember a time when you weren't attracted to her? A time when you were just friends?" Zach thought for a moment, then finally nodded. "Focus on those feelings." Zach was uncharacteristically silent. Booth decided to give him a new direction for his amorous tendencies. "Find someone else that you like and ask her out." Zach gave him a doubtful look. "You know, Bo—she's not the only fish in the sea," he finished, silently cursing his slip.

Zach looked thoughtful, apparently he had missed it. "Fish?" he said, somewhat puzzled. His eyes widened as comprehension dawned. "Ah, okay, I see. Hmmm." He turned and walked away slowly, considering possible targets. Booth sighed with relief. Well, that was easy. Maybe now things could return to normal. Or what passed for normal around there.