Title: Stream Of Life
Summary: Cam is trying to deal as best she can with this sudden turn of events when she finds herself spending time with someone who might understand why she's so hurt.
Notes: Spoilers for season 4 finale (Pain in the Heart).
He was intelligent, rigid, rational, logical, but yes, always seeking approval from authority figures. Which is why this hurts more than it should; you were his authority figure. Why did he stray?
Maybe you weren't authoritarian enough.
The call comes out of nowhere. Everyone has the day off, to rest or mourn or drink an entire bottle of scotch, whatever they need to do. Whatever allows them to move on and jump back into the daily grind. You wanted this day to be your moment of silence but the phone cracks through the silence of your apartment and the voice on the other side is the last one you expected.
"Cam, hi." Her voice is perfunctory, too neat and too tied together in the wake of all this. "Booth was keeping me company yesterday but I am doubtful that he has complete understanding of the ramifications of this..."
You strain to listen as she speaks, searching for something, anything... a tremor, an embarrassed sniffle, a sign that Brennan is as torn up as everyone else is by this mess. But Cam senses nothing of the sort. Maybe it's all out of her system. Maybe Booth already gave her a shoulder to cry on. Then why is she calling me?
"Are you asking for my company, Brennan?"
"Only because I know you'll understand my perspective..." There is a pause, a beat of the heart, a confession. "... things changed when I wasn't his boss any longer."
You've never been here before but you sense the gravity of this place, scarlet and mahogany, the scent of rice and tea. Brennan makes a straight line to the front of the restaurant, frowning as she sits down on a stool.
"They changed the decor. It used to be darker in here."
You look around. "Seems dark enough to me."
"Can I take your order?" A pleasant man with short blond hair appears before you. Brennan looks unnaturally perturbed.
The man frowns slightly. "Sid? He sold this place about eight months ago. Wong's is under new management now. I guess you guys need menus." He walked over to the register and deposited two laminated sheets onto the bar. "Take your time."
"For a significant amount of time, he was my apprentice." She launches into the heart of the matter after poking at her coconut tofu curry for a few minutes. "When he was my grad student, he was my left hand-"
"-Your right hand, Dr. Brennan. You mean your right hand." You interrupt, stirring your disturbingly neon-yellow wonton soup. So much for authenticity.
"I was completely involved with every moment of his work." She continues without pause, spewing her thoughts as if she can contain them no longer. "I knew about all of his projects, I knew how his mind worked. I was his boss and he followed all of my instructions with such precision and detail..."
Zack and detail go together like mom and apple pie. You think about his open face, staring back at you as you read him scientific journals, and your heart dies a little more.
"Maybe if I had continued to pay the same amount of attention to him after he was a full member of the team, gave him all the praise and commendation from before, he wouldn't have done it." She admits quietly.
Brennan's words have gravity. What can you say in response? She's talking about the good old days she had with Zack, the bond between teacher and student; her memories are a direct comparison to how you handled Zack yourself.
"You're not blaming me, are you?" You'd hate to hear an affirmative, but you ask anyway.
"No. No, of course not." Her eyes are wide and she sounds alarmed that you would even think such thoughts. "If anything, I think you were doing a better job than I was. That trophy... I didn't even know about the 'king of the lab' game he played with Hodgins. You called him by a nickname, which promoted a collegial familiarity that I never cultivated when I was teaching him." Her eyes are downcast. "You showed him affection that I never did."
"You can't condemn yourself for that, you are who you are and Zack knew that." You reply.
"Booth says that I shouldn't blame myself for not giving him anything, that I gave him the best gift of all: the opportunity to work at the Jeffersonian. And I know, logically speaking, that Zack valued what I had given him."
"But it doesn't take away the guilt, I get it." Emotions rarely follow any sort of logic, Brennan.
"I wish I didn't feel like this." She sounds frustrated. "It's irrational. Booth would tell me it's okay to be irrational in a situation like this, but..."
"You need someone who might understand your reaction. Someone else who held an superior position to Zack." Finally, Brennan's desire to see you makes sense.
"As Zack's superior, you would see why I feel responsible for what has happened. Booth has been comforting, but he doesn't really comprehend that."
You know what Brennan is getting at. "We're alpha-female team leaders; when anyone in the pack strays, it's not only a blow to the team, but it brings up questions in the leader's ability to lead."
"That's a very accurate metaphor." Brennan replies, sighing. "I've always prided myself in being detached, with having excellent reasoning skills. I teach around the country, around the world, that as scientists we have to hold true to those traits. I taught Zack that and he was everything I had ever asked for in an assistant." Her voice is steady but you notice that only after a few bites of the curry, Brennan has pushed the food away forlornly. "I was improperly instructing him the entire time. What if I've done the same thing to others? What if I've convinced people to sacrifice the individual to preserve many?"
"You're a great leader, a great teacher, Brennan. Don't let your doubts convince you otherwise."
"Great, huh?" She can't help but smile slightly.
"Well, not as good as me, of course." The familiar confidence rolls off your tongue, but in the wake of what has happened there is a bite of self-loathing in it. You're no different than Brennan; you're questioning everything.
"As I've already said, I admit that you are an efficient and synergistic leader, far more capable of leading the squints than I am."
"Thank you." You exhale, relaxing slightly. The two of you sit in silence for a while. You finish your rapidly cooling soup, watching the blond man serve customers and hand out menus. How long before things go back to normal? How long will it take before you stop using your anger at Zack as a cover for your own insecurity?
"Are you still mad at him? At Zack?"
"A little." You admit.
"More than you're angry at Gormagon?"
"I don't know."
"Do you think that being in the army had anything to do with what Zack did? The military mentality is known for putting aside the self in order to protect complex ideals. Maybe Zack wanted to experience that again, to protect the masses."
You feel your stomach drop into your feet. A few months ago, you briefly asked Zack about Iraq. He was evasive, you were busy, the subject was dropped. I should have been more persistent. Or at least sent him to Sweets.
You can't admit your failings to Brennan. But you have to answer her question. "I don't know about that. You said it yourself; he was tempted by logic, not the need to be a hero."
"I thought you didn't believe my logic explanation."
"Hell, I'm not sure what I believe right now." You turn away from her slightly, clenching your teeth together so that you can will away the tears that are slowly filling your eyes. You've spent too much time crying over the memory of a sweet, innocent, brilliant friend that should never have been a murderer.
"I can't eat this." Brennan announces, pointing at her food accusingly. Like she found a murder weapon. "The use of packaged spices and frozen vegetables greatly reduces the culinary experience. Sid's food was much better."
"Well, you heard the waiter; Sid, whoever he is, is gone." Cam replies, not really understanding why Brennan is so upset about it but recognizing that change is difficult.
"I was looking forward to a familiar experience, back when I was Zack's boss." Finally, there's emotion in her voice, sullen despondency. You put your hand on her shoulder.
"Hey, it's alright." You lean closer to her, digesting your own words as you speak them, praying for them to be true. "We're going to be alright."