AN: My apologies for not posting in so long! I've been OOC (as in out-of-country, not out-of-character, although an argument could be made for that as well) but hoping to shake off my rust and start some writing again. My thanks for all those who reviewed while I've been out of contact, and I'm sorry I haven't yet thanked you individually. Special shout-out to bunny888, who caught me in an embarrassing vocabulary snafu. LOL... thanks for your sharp eyes! (Legal jargon: still don't own these characters, no infringement intended, etc.)
Angela Montenegro struggled against a yawn as she settled herself at Hodgin's eat-in kitchen. Not Hodgin's, she corrected herself wryly, the kitchen of the Montenegro-Hodgins.
"Something funny?" her husband asked her. With his half-open plaid bathrobe, disheveled curls, and a sprinkle of sleep crusties at the corners or his eyes, he offered a wealth of possible answers to his own question.
"Nothing," she chose to demur, laughing softly to herself. "But I'll take some of that orange juice if you're pouring."
Hodgins slid a glass down the counter with a bartender's flourish and waggled his eyebrows at his lovely wife as he poured. "Two fingers or four?" he teased.
"Better make it a double. I'm drinking for two, you know."
He leaned in to kiss his wife on her forehead. "Maybe that's why you're twice as lovely all of a sudden."
Angela couldn't stop from rolling her eyes, even as she smiled at him. "You're twice as corny, so what does that mean you're carrying?"
He laughed and shrugged, distracted by the adorably rumpled look of his wife first thing in the morning. "You know what? I … have no idea.. I've lost the metaphor. Maybe after some coffee..."
"Take a shower and think it over," she suggested wryly, settling back on her chair and snapping open the day's newspaper.
Her eyes lit almost immediately on a very familiar name, set in boldface type right on the first page.
"Jack...?" she called him back, as her eyes scanned the first few paragraphs of the article.
"What is it?"
"There's a story about Bren in today's Post," she explained, her voice slow with tension.
Hodgins leaned in, reading over her shoulder. Their eyes grew wide at the same time, and Angela viciously flipped the page over without confirming that he was ready.
"...oh my God," she breathed.
Feeling all morning grogginess drop suddenly away, Hodgins raced towards the bedroom. "Hurry up!" he called, "We need to get to the lab!"
Angela scurried as quickly as her pregnant lady legs could carry her to her purse and fished around for her cell phone.
"Come on... pick up, pick up..." she muttered.
"You've reached an audio recording of Dr. Temperance Brennan, as I am either unable or unwilling to answer my phone at this moment. If you choose to leave me a message, I may return it."
"Dammit!" Angela immediately wrapped a hand over her burgeoning belly, as if she could shield her infant's ears from her cursing. "Alright, Booth, your turn..."
Across town, the FBI's best Special Agent was flooding a stack of the diner's pancakes with maple syrup when his cell phone chirped. "Booth," he answered, licking the messy residue of syrup from his fingertips.
"It's Angela—where are you?"
"What? Why? What's up?"
"Did you read this morning's Post? The article about Brennan?"
"The... what? What article? No..."
"Well you better get yourself a copy before you talk to her. And you know what else, Booth? I tried, really tried, to like Hannah. But this? This is bullshit," she swore fiercely, dropping her hand subconsciously over her stomach once again.
"Ange, I have no idea what you're talking about... hello? Ange?"
Scowling, Booth returned his phone to his pocket and checked the counter for abandoned newspapers. Finding a stack a few seats down, he flipped through the sections until he found the front page. The headline leaped out at him, dropping his jaw in surprise:
DR. TEMPERANCE BRENNAN OF JEFFERSONIAN: CIA SPOOK?
And there, nestled just under the inexplicable title, was his girlfriend's byline.
It had been Cam who had broken the news to Dr. Brennan, who had been ensconced in Limbo since just after dawn. Brennan hadn't been able to hide the shock that had initially crossed her expressive features, and Cam's heart had gone out to the colleague she now considered a friend. She wanted to stay, offer whatever comfort she could, but her phone had been ringing off-the-hook all morning with calls from concerned members of the Jeffersonian Board. Besides, Brennan had snatched the newspaper from her hands immediately and retreated to her office, utterly absorbed in the article, dismissing Cam as surely as a queen waving away her subject.
Brennan sat absently at her desk, staring without comprehension at the flashing message light on her desk phone. She had finished the article, but its words floated around her without meaning, like fluffs of cottonwood blooms, impossible to grab. It just didn't make sense. Why would Hannah choose to write an article about her at all? And why without warning? And why so... hurtful?
She had done her best to befriend the vivacious blonde, had allowed her to lay claim not only to all of Booth's free time but to her own sunglasses for goodness sake, had thought they were on friendly terms. But this...
Brennan's finger traced the gray, scalloped edge of the newspaper, as if she could coax understanding from it. The ink lines jumbled in her vision and she realized that she was tearing up. Unacceptable.
"You're suing her for slander!" Hodgins barked, sliding pellmell into her office with a similarly disheveled Angela in his wake. "I'll get you my own lawyers! I have this guy, Osserman, who makes a mongoose look polite!"
"Sweetie, sweetie, how are you?" Angela soothed, draping a hug over her shellshocked friend as best she could. "I guess you read it, huh?"
Brennan nodded, not really comprehending until their arrival how public this particular embarrassment actually was. "I..." she shrugged and shook her head, uncharacteristically silent.
"I'm serious-" Hodgins continued, looking irate, "This is nothing more than a hatchet-job character assassination. She has no evidence, no facts, nothing to accuse you of—she's just dragging your name through the mud on hearsay and suspicion-"
"I know that," Brennan sighed. "Which means I really can't sue her for slander. I mean, look at this," Brennan gestured weakly at the paper in front of her. "She never comes out and states that I've done anything wrong. The whole thing is just questions. Questions crafted to make me look as bad as possible."
"With shadowy details of Dr. Brennan's many trips to volatile foreign countries now emerging, and her inexplicably high level of security revealed, should the American taxpayers be asking themselves why the Jeffersonian's government grants fund off-record CIA operatives?" Brennan read aloud, her mouth twisting in disgust. "It's all worded so that it's not actually accusatory!"
"Oh Bren," Angela sighed, reaching for her friend's hand. "We'll figure this out. People are too smart to believe this type of... of..."
"-yellow journalism!" Hodgins shouted.
Angela continued, "This will all just blow over soon enough."
"I'm not so sure about that," Cam sighed, entering Brennan's office with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She sank down onto the couch with a weary lack of grace. "The board members aren't happy about this... and a few of them are calling for Dr. Brennan's immediate resignation."
"What?" Angela gasped. "You must be joking..."
"The Jeffersonian is an apolitical scientific institution, Angela. This idea that our scientists are running around... doubling as CIA operatives is... well, it doesn't help our image, and it won't help us continue to receive funding."
"Last I checked, the CIA was a government agency, Cam, just like the FBI. Nobody has a problem with us solving all the FBI's cases," Hodgins sneered.
"The FBI is not the CIA," she reminded him. "The Federal Bureau of Investigations is totally above-board, letter of the law. The CIA is... covert, sneaky. It just doesn't help our image."
"Our image?" Hodgins challenged.
Cam raised her hands in self-defense. "I'm just explaining their viewpoint, I'm not agreeing with them."
"But this isn't even true- surely we can demand a retraction or something from the Post..." Angela continued.
Brennan, who had been frozen as the conversation whirled around her, snapped to life. "It's not entirely untrue," she said quietly.
She could feel their eyes turn towards her in unison.
She took a deep breath and tried to make them understand. "I had just finished my doctorate when a CIA agent contacted me, asked me to identify some remains found in Guatemala. He said I had a chance to serve my government, that it was completely safe, that it would be a straight-forward identification and that was all."
The silence in the room stretched painfully around her as she recalled the events of years long past. "I can't tell you any more than that; the information is classified. But the trip wasn't as straight-forward as they had promised." She paused, clenching her shaking hands together. "I told the CIA I would never work for them again."
Hodgins flopped down onto the couch next to Cam, his conspiracy-loving mind swirling dizzily around this new information. Angela simply gazed at the floor; this story wasn't entirely unknown to her. Brennan wondered if they were judging her, lowering their opinion of her, and so she had to fight to keep her voice steady as she spoke again, quietly but intensely.
"I never broke any laws, and I was deceived by the CIA as to the true nature of the work they wanted me to do. I did nothing wrong. Please...believe me."
Three sets of eyes locked despairingly on hers.
"Oh sweetie, we know," Angela assured her, offering her another hug.
"What're you supposed to do when the government demands your participation anyway?" Hodgins reasoned. "Not your fault, Dr. B."
Cam sighed, digging her thumbs into her temples without relief. "Maybe... maybe we can just buy time and the Board will settle down... "
"That's kind of you, Cam, but I infer from their resignation request that my continuing association with the Jeffersonian is a liability to the institution as well as you, my immediate superior. I don't want to harm your career."
Cam leaned forward, watching the other woman earnestly. "To be clear here, I'm not asking you to fall on your sword, Dr. Brennan. I'll support you as long as I possibly can. You're a good scientist, and this institution needs you."
Glancing away from the intensity of the moment, Brennan cleared her throat awkwardly. "Thank you, Cam."
Angela launched herself away from Brennan, pacing the office angrily. "Well none of this addresses the fact that Booth's gifrlfriend is a slimey little weasel-"
"Angela," Brennan murmured.
"No, I'm right, Bren! Come on! With one little, conniving article, she could lose you your job! You have to have some feelings about that? Some anger? I mean, I have some anger on your behalf—more than some!"
"I'm not angry," Brennan replied. "I'm... confused."
"How could she do this?" Angela continued to whine. "How could Booth let her do this?"
"Woah," Cam interrupted. "Why do you assume Booth knew about this?"
"Please," Angela sniffed, her pretty face contorted with anger. "How can you jump to his defense, Cam?"
"-All I'm saying is that the Booth we know would never throw his partner under the bus like this-"
"-The Booth we know hasn't been here in months because there's a new Booth who spends all his time sucking face with this deceitful little ...little... shrew … and doesn't care about this team anymore-"
"I know how this looks, Angela, but I just don't see Seeley doing something like-"
"He's thinking with his little brain and now he's ruining everything-"
"STOP!" Brennan shouted, unable to watch her two friends spiral any lower. "Please, just stop. There's no reason to take this out on each other. And as for Booth's culpability... well, I'm afraid there's no question of that," she said sadly.
"What does that mean?" Hodgins asked.
"This paragraph: Dr. Brennan's personal history—one of criminal origins, abandonment of the birth name Joy Keenan, years in the foster care system after the apparent death of her parents, and physical and mental abuse sustained at the hands of a foster father—suggest a humble beginning. According to anonymous sources, the foster father who abused her left her with both physical and emotional scars. How she raised herself to become a pillar of her discipline and a best-selling author remains mysterious. How could a young woman with no family or financial security achieve so much at an early age? In light of her covert government activities, is it possible that the CIA funded her education?" Brennan paused to catch her breath before explaining the only evidence she needed of Booth's guilt, a fact that had quietly but swiftly crushed her heart when she'd first read the article that morning.
"Booth is the only one I ever told about my foster father. The details are in my record, yes, but not the part about... about the physical scars," Brennan whispered. "Hannah couldn't have known that if he hadn't told her. Booth must be the anonymous source. No one else knew."
At that moment, Booth strode into his partner's office, finding the entire squint squad looking up at him with expressions he could barely understand. Shock, betrayal, hurt, and from the most beautiful set of blue eyes he had ever seen, soul-destroying sadness. He had expected their irritation and anger, but the intensity in the room seemed so much deeper.
The first thought that entered his mind was that maybe he should have finished Hannah's article before racing over there.
"Bones... what... what's going on?" he gulped.