"Dr Brennan?" Zach was, as ever, hesitant. He'd been in awe of Dr Temperance Brennan since well before he submitted his application to work under her direction at the Jeffersonian. But there was no one else to ask; he'd exhausted all other avenues, and hadn't received any answers that he liked or found constructive. He thought Booth might have been able to help him more, but as usual their communication had been barely enough to call communication.
"Hey, Zach. I didn't know you were still here." She had only the desk lamp on and it framed her like a stage light until she was all curves and angles, eyes and lips.
"Just packing up a few things." His words made her pause and put down the pen she was holding.
"So you're really going to go? Booth told me you'd been asking questions. About what it's like to be in a war."
"He didn't answer them." Zach took her questioning as an invitation and came in to sit down across from her. It felt foreign; Angela and Booth communicated with Dr Brennan from this chair. Zach talked to her with a skeleton lying in between them.
"He… doesn't like talking about it." She slipped the paper she was writing on into a file and suddenly he had her full attention. He couldn't remember having her absolute full attention before. She would always be half thinking about something else, the case, cause of death, inconsistencies. It was somewhat disconcerting to have those eyes settle on him without flitting quickly past.
"It seems you know that I've been asked to go to Iraq. By the President. He sent me a letter." Dr Brennan nodded, still silent. Zach squirmed in his seat, wondered why she hadn't told him not to go yet. It seemed to be the standard answer when he announced his intention to serve his country.
"I got one, too." She said, pulling an official envelope out of her drawer. It was identical to the one Zach had received, save for her name.
"Are you going?" He was surprised; maybe there had been some truth to what Hodgins had said. That every forensic anthropologist was being summoned.
"No." Dr Brennan put the envelope carefully on the desk. "I'm not going. Not this time." He'd heard she'd been involved in war identification before; it was why he was here at such a late hour, why he'd worked up the courage to come into her office and ask her about it.
"But why?" She smiled sadly.
"I've been to wars, Zach. Identifying children killed by roadside bombs, the blown apart limbs of those who've stepped on a mine. People who've been shot down in the street by snipers and left there so long that they've started to decay and can't be identified." The smile was gone so that she just looked sad, eyes downcast to the envelope between them.
"This war is something that should never have been fought, not in this way. There was no logical discussion, no real planning. Just an invasion. But…" She looked up just as Zach had started to speak, to ask her if he should remain here in a silent protest, the way he thought she was.
"That doesn't mean there aren't people dying and families who should be able to bury their loved ones the way they choose. No matter what the reason is behind a death, the fact that there was a death means we need to help."
"But you're not going." Zach said. He couldn't understand. Dr Brennan never spoke in riddles, the way Angela, Hodgins and Booth did. But she'd just contradicted herself and that, to him, was a riddle.
"No, Zach, I'm not. What I'm doing here is just as important. People here die, not because of a decision made by a government far removed from the war zone, but because of other people, who are conscious of their actions and who need to be brought to justice. There is no justice in war. One death is a tragedy, but a million becomes a statistic."
"So you think I should stay here?"
"I can't tell you what to do, Zach. But there are people who need identifying in Iraq. People who need to be brought home. And you can do that."
"Yes, I know."
"Just remember when you want to come home, Zach, you tell them you're ready to leave. And you leave." The colour in her eyes intensified and he answered quickly, placating the emotion he saw.
"Okay, I will." She nodded, satisfied, and put her envelope back in the drawer.
"Dr Brennan? Anything practical I need to know? Before I go." She looked pensive for a moment.
"If someone's shooting, you put your head down and you run. And you keep running until you can't hear anything. The people who are shooting are going to be aiming to kill, not to wound."
"Okay." Zach stood up. He'd already been here too long, in this unfamiliar chair.
"And, Zach?" She looked at him, the light hollowing her face so it looked almost like a death mask.
"Don't ever sleep with your back to the door. And don't take anything from strangers, not even children. They use little kids to carry the bombs." Zach nodded, let himself take a deep breath. He'd imagined what he saw on television; tanks parading down the street, soldiers in green camouflage to keep him safe. But this idea was slipping away from him.
"'Bye, Dr Brennan. It's been…" He turned when he got to the door, but couldn't find anything to say to her. Not when there were just two of them, when he realised she was the most brilliant person he had ever met and that he didn't want to farewell her with an empty sentiment. Sentiments were emotional, more of an Angela thing. He and Dr Brennan weren't emotional people, they were pure science. And science had no words that carried enough emotion, to let her know what the past few years had meant to him.
"I know, Zach." Somehow she understood, and he smiled weakly.
"Come home safe," she said, but she didn't give him time to answer that he would before she had pulled out her notes and resumed writing. He knew why; she didn't want him to have to lie to her.
There were no guarantees of safety in a war zone.
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This was just something that was hanging around in the back of my mind. Zach talked to Booth about the war, but Brennan must've been in a hot zone sometime, identifying the dead. And why wouldn't she have received a letter as well?
As for the political protests, they were all mine. Flame away, you're not going to change my mind. And I think Dr. Brennan would know what's going on. She has a tv now, and it strikes me that she could be a news/discovery channel kinda gal (and secretly I'm quite sure she watches infomercials on the sly).
Thanks for reading.