Special Agent Seeley Booth had developed a deep, if sometimes still grudging, respect for the scientists at the Jeffersonian. Mostly because they were just that: scientists. No group of people could sift through and uncover evidence with the thoroughness and blunt science like his team of squints back at the lab, and it took only one day of working with government-trained Homeland Security and FBI forensic experts for him to fully appreciate the effectiveness of his normal team.
If it had been any other case, Booth knew he would have had to swallow a lot of pride in order to make the call to request Hodgins' help on site, but in this instance he knew it was not necessary. The scientist had been just as deeply wounded by the travesty of the event as he, and the agent knew no apologies or gloating would be necessary.
Now as he waited for him in the darkening twilight at the edge of the crater that used to be the DOJ building, he wondered for the umpteenth time about the hypothesis presented to him the evening before; that someone or a group of some ones from inside his own government were responsible for this massive loss of life. As abhorrent and sickening as the thought was to him he had to admit, for the first time, that it was entirely possible.
Secretive government operations had been taking place since before the birth of the country itself; espionage, treason, and national deception pre-dated the Revolutionary War. Booth himself had been a party to many classified and top secret actions that had never been officially sanctioned by a specific branch of the government, despite the fact that he was "officially" a member of the Army as a Ranger. In the event he or any member of his team had ever been killed or captured while in country, no one entity could be held responsible and all could maintain plausible deniability.
Still, he reasoned, sanctioning the assassination of a terrorist or dictator in a third world country was completely different than plotting an attack on American soil, on Americans, by Americans. Even old theories that the government knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor ahead of time and allowed it to happen draw the US into World War II was a far cry from launching the attack themselves. Either way it was not something he was completely prepared to digest yet.
Booth's stomach growled, reminding him that nothing else had been digested lately either. He had never ever been so consumed by work that he had forgotten to eat; never been so absorbed in his process that food was somehow, unbeknownst to him, missing from the day. He had fussed at Brennan for years for doing just that, and was now slowly beginning to realize it was not always a conscious decision. He had spent the entire day at the blast site, overseeing the collection of evidence and conferring with the highly government-trained forensic agents, and before he knew it the day was gone. The shadows were growing longer in the impending dusk, and he shivered slightly as his stomach growled again.
"Allright, pipe down," he commanded softly. His stomach continued to protest, so he moved to one of the large tents that had been erected on the perimeter of the site and filled his coffee cup again for the umpteenth time.
"Hey, Booth," he heard Hodgins' voice after emerging from the tent. Booth almost laughed out loud at the site before him. Hodgins was wearing his normal navy blue Jeffersonian jumpsuit, but had layered warm clothes underneath it to the point of restricting movement. His arms skewed out awkwardly to the sides, giving him the appearance of not being able to completely lower his arms.
"WHAT are you doing?" Booth finally asked, pointing to the man's clothing.
"Hey, you said to meet you at the blast site in order to help collect evidence. I figure if I'm going to be outside for hours on end and it's going to get down into the 'teens tonight I'd better bundle up."
Booth shook his head. "Hodgins, we're not at the North Pole."
"Hmph. We'll see which one of us gets cold first," he wagered, waggling his eyebrows at the taller man.
Booth shook his head and turned to walk towards the site, Hodgins falling in step behind him. His voice was lowered when he spoke again. "Um, I thought you'd like to know..." the scientist began, somewhat uncertainly.
The sound of Hodgins' voice stopped him in his tracks. He didn't turn around, simply turned his head slightly towards the other man behind him. He had been afraid of receiving this information ever since his mind had begun calculating the personal human ramifications of the attack.
"What is it?" he asked, dreading the news and not wanting to hear it.
"Dr. Brennan, she..." Hodgins began, then paused heavily. Booth picked up on the hesitation, and the pause that lasted far too long. In a split second his train of thought shifted, quickly beginning to fear that maybe his initial read of the conversation was completely wrong and that something had happened to his partner.
He turned then to fully face Hodgins, his controlled mind not yet allowing him to panic. "What about Brennan? Is she okay?"
"What?" Hodgins asked, not understanding at first, until he recognized the barely concealed yet increasing sign of confusion and panic on Booth's face. Quickly he realized that his hesitation had caused it. "No!" he began vehemently. "No no...GOD no! Brennan's fine," he soothed, "I'm sorry, I just..." he stopped again. "I'm just not very good at this," his voice threatened to break again.
Booth's rising panic was averted swiftly, though he did make a note to call Brennan later in the evening to discuss the information that he knew was coming from Hodgins. Booth also took pity on him, not wanting his friend to have to vocalize what he already knew, and decided to spare him the extra grief.
Hodgins looked at him with red eyes, not yet tearful but on the verge. "Yeah. How did you..."
"I just figured," Booth shrugged his shoulders. "She was a workaholic – no way she wasn't there on a Friday afternoon. That and she hadn't answered my calls all week," he finished. "So Bones was the one...that..." he left the question hanging in the air.
Hodgins nodded. "She positively identified Ms. Julian earlier this afternoon."
Booth nodded. "She was a great lady. I'll miss her."
"Me too. Even though it seemed like she was usually yelling at us for how we screwed up in one way or another."
Booth let out a low chuckle. "Yeah, she was just that way. All business," he began, but changed his thought mid-sentence. "But with a slightly puckish side," he offered fondly. His cheeks grew slightly red when he thought of his last encounter with Caroline's "puckish"-ness, and at the sweet dreams of mistletoe he had for weeks afterwards. Yet another thing I'll never get to thank Caroline for...
They had reached the edge of the bomb sight when Hodgins audibly gasped as he drew up next to Booth. "Oh my god," he whispered.
For a long moment he regarded nothing but the gaping hole in the ground, speechless at the magnitude of the moment. Then he chanced a glance at the tall agent beside him, a man who had brought strength and honor into the forefront of all of their lives, and a man he was proud to call his friend. He was suddenly overcome with the urge and reached over and clapped him on the back, surprise evident in Booth's eyes.
"I'm glad you're still here with us, man," he finally managed, not caring if the agent thought he was crazy for such an outward show of emotion.
Booth's voice dropped when he responded, and he seemed only slightly uncomfortable. "Yeah. Me too."
Hodgins nodded, then retracted his hand in order to readjust his bag over his shoulder. He had only gone a few steps towards the access path down into the massive crater when Booth's voice stopped him.
"Hey, Hodgins," he began, two strides easily bringing him to the scientist's side again. "Thanks," he offered, a small but genuine smile crossing his weary face. "Thanks for...you know...thanks for caring."
Hodgins easily returned the smile. It was rare to see the strong and confident man suddenly sheepish and at a loss for words, at least with anyone other than Dr. Brennan. "No problem."
Booth managed to right himself, his outward posture returning to that of the strong special agent Hodgins was more familiar with. "And, just so you know, I really do hope you're wrong about this," he began.
Hodgins rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to protest when Booth cut him off with a wave of his hand.
"Simmer down and let me finish!" he commanded, take-charge Booth apparently now back in control. "I was just going to say that I hope you're wrong. And if you're not I don't have to like it," he emphasized. "But I know and expect you and the rest of the squint squad to be honest and find the truth, no matter how ugly it might be. And I hope you know that I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure you guys have the chance to do that. We clear?"
Another slight smile tugged at one corner of his mouth as he nodded his assent. "Crystal."
"Good." Booth slapped an official FBI identification badge into the shorter man's chest, releasing his hold as Hodgins grabbed it and stared at a small picture of himself. "Because you're now 'un'-officially FBI and it's going to be a long night."
END OF CHAPTER 8
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