Epilogue: Passage of Time
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
Time didn't seem so objective these days. While Zack knew that the movement of the hands on the clock was as precise as ever, and his life was even more orderly and scheduled than it had been before, he still experienced the passage of time in a very subjective way.
Visiting hours were short.
The nights were interminably long.
He had never minded being alone before, but here, he was not really alone. There were nurses, orderlies, psychiatrists, other patients, people who cleaned, people who cooked meals, therapists. He was not even sure what all of the different techs did, but they worked here. Even locked in his own room, alone, he felt the presence of other people. He could not get away.
That was not entirely true. He could. But he was not supposed to. They expected him to stay in here until they decided he could leave. Dr. Sweets said that would only happen if he were cured of his delusions. Since he did not suffer from delusions, that meant he would never be allowed to leave. A Catch-22. He supposed if he had gone to trial for murder, he would have gotten a life sentence anyway. And this facility was much nicer than a prison. If he had to spend his entire life locked up, he would prefer the loony bin to prison.
He called it the loony bin because that was what Hodgins called it. Dr. Sweets didn't use that name, but he did not insist on correcting Zack's usage, either. The nurses, though, the people who worked here, they would frown or press their lips together when he said that. That signaled disapproval. They referred to this place as a "facility" or a ward, which made little sense, when the official name was McKinley Psychiatric Hospital. Zack didn't mind those words, but what he would not call this place was an institute. The Jeffersonian was an institute. Being here was not being institutionalized. It was the opposite.
There was nothing to do here. He did things – he ate meals, attended physical and occupational therapy for his hands, requested library books. He called his family once a week when he was allowed to use the phone, slowly typing in the code from the phone card they had mailed him. 900 minutes sounded precise, but he could easily spend 900 minutes doing nothing at all – fifteen hours would go by without any acknowledgement from him. Spending those minutes talking to his father or his siblings brought the time into sharp focus. His mother always wanted to talk to him, but she wasn't very good at it. She would break down and cry, then hand the phone to his father. So he mostly talked to his dad.
He had always been so focused on his work, but here there was no work to do. They told him that his therapy was his work now, so he did his best to put effort into that. He always answered all the questions his therapist asked him, did the exercises they assigned him for practice back in his room. But there was nothing to think about while he was doing this. They told him that playing solitaire was good practice, but handling the cards was difficult. He did not have computer access. He could watch TV, but not all day. He had library access, but they did not have a subscription to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. He checked. They informed him that subscriptions to scholarly journals were not in the budget.
He tried to explain the strange movement of time to Hodgins the next time his friend visited.
"Oh, you mean like 'All Summer in a Day'?" Hodgins asked. Zack's confused look prompted him to elaborate. "The short story? By Bradbury?"
"But I am in the loony bin, not on Venus," Zack pointed out.
"So you have read it. Listen, I know you take things literally, but just try this as a metaphor. The one day all year when it does not rain and they can go outside is like the one day each week you call your folks. Right?"
Zack didn't look convinced. "But I can't go outside. I have to stay in here."
Defeated, Hodgins backtracked. "Relativity. The observer influences the event. Time is not independent of your experience of it. Einstein explained it to normal people by saying that if a beautiful woman sits on your lap for an hour, it seems a minute, but if you put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, it seems like an hour."
Zack stared at his gloved hands. "I don't trust Einstein any more. He also said that intellectuals solve problems, but geniuses prevent them," he said quietly.
"Zack…hey…if we could have prevented all of this, we would have…"
Zack shook his head. "No, not you, me. I was trying to prevent something; that's why I'm here. Solving cases after the fact wasn't good enough any more. I wanted to…do something."
Hodgins looked away. He could not bear to watch his friend talk about making a cold-blooded decision to murder a man who was (mostly) harmless. He wanted to talk about something else, but there were few things he could bring up without rubbing in how isolated Zack was now.
"Do you want to hear how everyone is doing?" he asked.
Zack nodded, smiling.
"Well, Dr. Brennan's new book came out, did you know that?" Zack nodded again. "So, she's been busy with publicity for that, travelling around the country, doing an interview on TV, that sort of thing. She hasn't missed any cases, though."
"Have you read her book?" Zack asked.
"Nah, not yet. I'll send you a copy, and you can let me know if it's any good, how's that?"
"I do not plan to read it."
Hodgins looked at him in surprise. "Why not, man? I thought you read all her stuff. Not too many fans could claim to be familiar with her technical work."
"I read the books because I like her journal articles, not the other way around," Zack said. "I thought you knew that."
"I was teasing. But, seriously, why don't you want to read it?"
"Because we're all in it. We always are."
Hodgins stopped smiling. "Oh. I guess…I guess that would be difficult." He swallowed.
"I don't mind reading about all of you. But I do not want to see what she will do with me. I find I am having that problem with a lot of books now."
"You have other friends who use a thinly-disguised version of you as a character in their novels?" Hodgins asked skeptically.
"No, the authors do not refer to me intentionally. But their books are still unpleasant to read."
"You've lost me…"
"For instance, I was reading the Hobbit, because apparently people associate children's books with mental illness and stock the library shelves with that rather than professional journals. And I had to stop reading in the first chapter when the protagonist mentioned an interest in stories about the unexpected luck of widow's sons. I have never had that happen before."
"Probably because you've never had a guilty conscience before. Don't worry, it'll…it'll pass. You'll…" He stopped. He could not promise that Zack would get over murdering someone.
"I know I was mistaken. I was wrong. I know better…now," Zack assured him.
"Well, I'll read the book, and let you know if it's okay, how's that sound?" Hodgins promised.
Zack nodded. "That is acceptable. I would hate to tell Dr. Brennan that I did not read her book." After all, it's not like he could say he couldn't find the time.
Hodgins told him what the rest of the team was up to; mostly mundane activities. He was even able to talk about Angela without getting upset. When visiting hours were over, it seemed like no time had passed at all. But Zack knew that however many hours passed until the next time his friend visited, it would seem interminable.
Author's Note: And that...is that. I am sorry for the long delay in posting the ending of this. Finishing stories is not my strong point. Hopefully, this story fills in some of the gaps left by the writers and provides a little bit of closure on Zack's very unfortunate fate. I know the final two chapters are completely introspective; I didn't want to rehash 'The Pain in the Heart'. But at least with this ending, Zack's talking to people again!