The Seduction of the Accomplice
Chapter 1: An Innocuous Beginning
"A wolf often lies concealed in the skin of a lamb."
Zack stood awkwardly near the table of snacks. He didn't like this part, but you were supposed to stay. He usually didn't talk to people when neither Hodgins nor Dr. Brennan was with him. Dr. Brennan seldom went to talks like this anymore; she didn't have time. She only came if she were giving a talk herself. Besides, this one was outside her field. And Hodgins claimed not to be interested. So, he had come alone. The talk was interesting enough. He certainly didn't regret coming; it was just now that he wished he were back at the Jeffersonian.
"He droned on and on, didn't he?" a stranger said. "At least the snacks are good; I was almost nodding off at the end there." Someone had walked up to him and started a conversation. The man was younger than he was, though he looked older than Zack; probably a grad student. He was holding a small paper plate of snacks and a plastic cup.
"If you were only interested in the snacks, why come to the talk at all?" Zack asked, honestly curious.
The guy gave him a strange look, and then walked away. So, probably not what he should have said. But it was a valid question: why come to a talk if you weren't interested in it? He'd already stopped the speaker and questioned him on the efficacy of dwelling on funding (or lack thereof) in such a morbid manner. The man had not taken him seriously, unfortunately, so he probably wouldn't even realize that by bemoaning the lack of attention being devoted to the research he was actually taking attention away from the research that was being done. Zack found that ironic.
"So, what is your interest in nuclear power?" Another stranger. Usually not so many people spoke to him. Maybe he was standing too close to the food.
"Strictly academic. My work does not extend to alternative fuel research, poorly funded or otherwise." It would never have occurred to him to ask the stranger the same question. He stared at the man's shirt; no tie.
"What work do you do?" the man continued.
"I'm a forensic anthropologist, so the only reactions I get to do are chemical, in the context of recreating a murder scenario. I keep up with developments in nuclear fusion because of my other doctorate." It didn't feel like bragging in this academic context, but then, he had never understood why people accused him of that when he was merely stating his credentials.
"Oh? And what is that in?"
"Applied Engineering." There, he hadn't mentioned his thesis. Practicing restraint was supposed to be a good thing.
"I must admit, I find forensic anthropology more interesting than burning plasma diagnostics myself."
"It is. I get to work on current murder cases, and identify remains that are thousands of years old. Nothing theoretical about that."
"Yes. The bones of the human skeleton can tell you an incredible amount about how a person lived and died, and the hypotheses can be checked not just by simulations or replicas, but by direct comparison to the actual bone." Zack paused and looked at the man's face for the first time. "Why are you still here? Usually people have walked away by now." He only got to talk about his work…at work.
"You were discussing skeletons; while only a layman, I find such study very interesting."
Zack left the talk pleased with himself. He'd carried out a sustained conversation with a stranger, and apparently described his work in such a way that a layman could understand. Dr. Saroyan was always pestering him to do that in preparation for presenting evidence at trial. The man had even asked him for his e-mail address; he might speak to him again. He would tell Hodgins about the talk when he got back to the Jeffersonian; he was pretty sure his friend did have some interest in nuclear fusion, even though he'd denied it earlier.
Author's Note: I am a huge fan of Zack, and I have a lot of trouble trying to believe he did what the writers of the show said he did. This story, however, does not attempt to exonerate him. It offers an explanation (as close to canon as possible) on how Zack could have possibly fallen for something like this. *PLEASE* let me know if he seems out of character at any point. This story will be painful, though, so you have been warned. Don't keep reading if you don't want to see him fall...it's going to be like a train wreck.