Chapter 1: Hold the Fort

~January 1992~

"Ms. Brennan."

Her head jerked up, eyelids scraping against dry corneas. She blinked slowly, and her stomach dropped as she realized what she'd done.

"Ms. Brennan? We're all waiting for your answer." The arch tone matched the eyebrow rising above horn-rimmed glasses.

Students tittered, and Temperance's chest and throat tightened along with her stomach. "I'm sorry, Mr. Lightfoot," she said softly. "Number seventeen?"

"Eighteen." He frowned.

Her shoulders crept up nearer her ears but she read the answers she had carefully printed on her study guide. She'd done all but two without referencing the book. "In order to determine the fall time of a ball thrown into the air in a frictionless environment," she drew in sharp breath as something narrow was shoved hard between her scapulae. She continued, ignoring the groans from the class as she spoke. "First you must know the vertical displacement, the velocity at which it ascends, the gravitational constant of nine-point-eight-one meters per second squared and the formula y = vt - zero-point-five gt-squared, where Y-"

"Yes, Ms. Brennan, thank you." The sleeve of Mr. Lightfoot's tweed jacket rode up his arm as he pointed to another student. "Mr. Pawlaczyk. Come to the board and draw a graph for a problem where velocity is the unknown variable. Ms. Mendez, while he's doing that, number nineteen."

Temperance ducked back into her notebook, biting her lip. She looked over her calculations for the eight problems she had created for this concept: two leaving out each variable, one set in a frictionless environment, the other set in a real environment. The rest of the class was soon solving Jeremy Pawlaczyk's problem, and Brennan turned the page to the several dozen problems she'd created and solved for balls rolling across flat surfaces (with and without friction), up and down slanted surfaces, for boxes being moved from a stationary position, being pushed along a flat surface steadily, being pushed up an incline. She was constructing an angle-of-ricochet calculation when the bell interrupted the review of question twenty-five.

"All right. Turn in your notes, and remember, semester exams are one week from today. I will supply formulae, but you are responsible for the applying the concepts."

Half the students were out the door before he said the word "exams," and by the time Temperance was dropping her pages of calculations into the in-box the room was nearly empty. Mr. Lightfoot said her name, and she stopped, shouldering her backpack.

"Are you all right? I've never seen you anything other than alert."

She forced her eyes from his bow tie to his face. Adults often called an averted gaze disrespectful. "I was up late studying. Thank you for asking."

He frowned, opened his mouth, closed it.

Temperance blurted, "I need to go to French. We have a unit test."

He nodded, and she rushed to the door, dodging students in the hallway on her way to class.

She couldn't make any more mistakes, she berated herself as she hurried. She couldn't draw attention to herself. No falling asleep. No being late. Nothing to hint that things were not managed and normal. She'd told the social worker who'd called to follow up after her parents disappeared that the situation was resolved. She hadn't lied. She was resolved to wait and manage things, staying in the one place where the police could reach her with information, where her parents or Russ could find her when they came looking. She couldn't afford for the school to get suspicious and call social services.

Heart pounding, she made it to her seat just as French class started.

ooo

As soon as the final bell rang, Tempe ran for her locker in the far building. She twisted and dodged her way through the halls, but a few of the students she bumped into shouted, "Watch out, freak!" at her.

Ignoring the gibes, she spun her lock and yanked open the locker. She grabbed her coat with one hand and yanked on her hat and scarf with the other. She slammed the locker shut, snapped the lock closed, and snatched up her backpack in one movement. If she could just take her coat to her afternoon classes, she could avoid this mad dash back and forth across campus.

Outside, she did not move her eyes from the yellow bus that was her only way home, even when traction failed and she had to windmill her arms to avoid falling. Heedless of the burst of laughter, she sprinted on, reaching the bus and smacking her gloved palm against the glass just as the driver shifted into gear. He opened the doors and she climbed the three steps and sat behind the him, gasping. The bus pulled away seconds after she sat down, and deposited her on her corner twenty minutes later.

At only 3:30, it was already half dark and she trudged through snow that had drifted onto the sidewalk and along the sections of sidewalk that neighbors had not cleared. Her feet felt heavy but warm in the lined boots she and Mom had shopped for and bought back in November. It was the last afternoon they had spent out together.

The clouds hung low, and her breath fogged in the damp air. The cold nipped at her cheeks and pinched her forehead and ears where they peeked out from under her hat. The six books in her backpack weighed down on her shoulders and back like the approaching house weighed on her mind.

Today, she had promised herself, she would not hope.

She would simply go home. Either they would be there when she arrived, or the house would be empty, as it had been the day before and the two weeks before that. No amount of hope or mental bargaining would change the outcome.

She collected the mail before heading up the driveway to the side door, but didn't pause to look around. Anticipation would only lead to a longer period of anxiety followed by self-pity. These were the facts. They had been consistent every day since school had begun, just after Russ had driven away and not returned.

She turned the key in the lock, took a breath, and walked in. She set her backpack on her father's kitchen chair, carefully hung her winter gear on its hook, set her boots on the rubber mat beneath her coat, and sorted the mail methodically. Her father's she set at his place at the table, her mother's at that setting, Russ's occasional letter at his. Only those that were clearly household bills had she begun to remove and stack neatly on her mother's desk by the checkbook.

Mom had kept the checkbook as balanced as her accounting books at work, and Tempe knew there was still money for bills. Her methodical search of her mother's desk the previous night had revealed the car and house payment booklets and a calendar of payments. Temperance had already mailed electric bill, but nothing more was due.

Tonight's study schedule was Physics, Pre-Calc, and French, then a dinner of the last can of Spaghetti-Os, followed by Anatomy, AP U.S. History, and American Lit, a careful perusal of the contents of the filing cabinets in the family office, and only then bed.

Her mother's alarm clock sounded just as Tempe started lit. It was her reminder to watch the weather report. If there was going to be more snow, she'd have to shovel, which meant getting up earlier in order to get to school on time. If the walks weren't shoveled, someone might notice. Everything had to look normal.

She sat with the book on her parents' bed, TV turned to WGN, and watched Tom Skilling's meteorology report. The reception was bad, but it was the only set that got the channel at all since she cancelled their cable. Weather report noted, Temperance flicked the TV off and finished with Eudora Welty and the South. Then she carefully re-packed her backpack and returned it to her father's chair. Her fingers lingered on the wood back as she stared at the piles of mail and the empty seats for a long moment.

It was over two hours later when she climbed into her parents' bed, wrapped her arms around her mother's pillow, and rested her head on her father's, with their blankets pulled up close under her chin.

Her father's alarm clock squawked at 5:30, she shivered under the covers, then she ran in place for a minute before throwing back the blankets and peering out the window. Cold radiated off the glass toward her face and hand. Dad had always trusted Skilling's science, and there, covering the driveway, sidewalk, and road, were the six inches of snow he'd predicted. Just like yesterday and the day before.

Dress, shovel, make sure the house wouldn't attract attention. It was like a litany in her head. She grabbed half a sandwich for breakfast, caught the bus, and was halfway to school before she realized she'd forgotten to make lunch.

ooo

"Temperance! Where are you going?" The girl grabbed at her sleeve.

Temperance tugged away, biting her lips as she spun her lock. "Home!"

Jodi leaned close to try and see into Tempe's face. "But today's Math Team. We need you there 'cause the next meet is this Saturday!"

"I can't." Tempe slammed her locker closed, grabbed her backpack, and wrapped her scarf around her neck, hurrying for the bus.

Jodi skipped sideways with her, then reached for the red fabric that spilled down Tempe's chest. "Isn't that your mom's scarf?"

"Yeah. Mine was wet." Under the straps of her backpacks, Tempe's shoulders ached from four consecutive days of shoveling snow morning and afternoon. Her homework, household maintenance, and sleep time had all suffered.

"Maybe it'll be dry when she picks you up." Jodi got in front of Tempe, pressing mittened hands together as if in prayer. "Pleeeease say you'll stay? We're up against Hinsdale and Niles this weekend and if you're there we could win."

"Jodi, I can't." Tempe looked over Jodi's shoulder to her bus at the front of the line and dodged around the other girl. "I've got to catch the bus."

"Your mom always gets you, though."

"She..." Tempe's chest and throat tightened. "She can't today."

Jodi spun away and ran alongside. "Well, at least I know you'll be ready for the meet. The bus leaves school at six Saturday morning."

Tempe kept her eyes on the bus. "I can't come Saturday either."

Jodi grabbed her coat sleeve, stopping her. "You have to come! We don't have a chance without you!"

Tempe tried to pull away, avoiding Jodi's eyes. "I don't have a ride. And-"

"My parents will drive you!"

"They can't!" She was not going to cry. It was the cold making her nose start to run. "Please. I'm going to miss my bus." Tempe pulled away again and Jodi's arms fell, the puffy white nylon of her coat whispering against itself as her eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry," Tempe said. "I have to catch my bus." She fled.

The bus started to move, and she ran with it for nearly ten feet, pounding on the door. The driver let her on and she huddled against the window in the seat behind him. Her stomach was knotted, aching with hunger as they drove past the cookie-cutter houses of the subdivisions. She kept her mouth open, breathing through her swollen throat as the edge of her mother's scarf absorbed the tears she couldn't hold back.

ooo

Posting Schedule: This story is completed (there are 26 parts) and will post twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for the next 13 weeks.

Author's Notes: Thanks upon thanks to my wonderful betas and sounding boards: jsq, bluemorpho, and havocthecat. HUGE and effusive gratitude to my line-editor and prodder to make this story as good as I could at this time, as well as encouragement and sounding board services while I planned and wrote for two years to Ayiana. I will be placing notes with the appropriate chapters.

Buyer Beware: There is no Booth in this story; it is entirely canon-compliant as of Feb 2012.

Spoilers: Story ends pre-series, but contains spoilers for all episodes that deal with Brennan's childhood, past, and history, including: "Boy in a Bush," "Girl in the Fridge," "Woman in the Garden," "Woman in Limbo," "Judas on a Pole," "Stargazer in a Puddle," "Boy in the Time Capsule," "Sum in the Parts of the Whole," and "Death of the Queen Bee." My notes and extrapolations on Brennan's background can be found at my Temperance Brennan Timeline at Amilyn dot livejournal dot com slash 742675 dot h t m l (remove the spaces).