Blue on Blue
Disclaimer: I don't own Bones. I am, however, interested in renting Booth. A five-hour minimum would apply.
A/N: Reader & monkey Twitter pal Number1Squint tweeted me the following prompt: "What if Pelant hacked Booth's military file and leaked a story he didn't want anyone to know about?" I knew instantly what sort of reveal I thought would be most damaging to Booth. This is my response to that prompt. I know it's short, but I hope you like it anyway.
They were standing in the kitchen when each of their smartphones buzzed in unison as the devices lay on opposite ends of the granite countertop.
It was late—ten o'clock—and Brennan rolled her eyes at the sound. They had just managed to put Christine to bed after a particularly fussy evening on account of the cold their daughter had picked up at daycare and they were both exhausted. Brennan picked up her phone and saw it was an incoming email, not a text (which she considered a more urgent communiqué), so she dismissed the alert and set the phone screen-down on the counter. Booth unlocked his phone with a swipe of his thumb and squinted at the screen, then made a grunting sound.
"What is it?" she asked him as she surveyed his creased forehead.
"It's an email from Hacker," he said, his voice peaking with incredulity. "It's gotta be important because he never sends emails this late at night," he added. "He's not exactly the kind who burns the midnight oil, if you know what I mean."
Booth opened the email and began to read, his brows furrowing hard over his deep-set brown eyes which narrowed and blinked once, then twice, as he scrolled to the bottom of the email. Brennan saw the color drain from Booth's face and he dropped the phone on the counter with a loud clatter as if the device itself had suddenly burned his fingers. He looked up at her and his lips curved in a deep frown as his eyes darkened. "Oh my God," he said, his voice somewhere between a sigh and a wail as he turned away, covering his face with his hands, his fingertips rending his scalp as he growled.
"What is it, Booth?" she asked, her mounting concern audible as her voice cracked.
He pulled his hands from his face and turned away, drawing a sharp breath between his gritted teeth.
All he could hear through the murmur of blood roaring in his ears was the rhythmic beating of helicopter rotor blades and the crackle of small arms fire a few blocks away. A soft breeze blew off of the ocean but served only to remind him of the sweat that dripped from underneath his Kevlar helmet and dribbled down his neck.
"Booth," she pressed him. "What's wrong?"
He held up his hand for a moment as if to shield himself from her gaze, then raked his hand through his hair as he glanced at the phone sitting on the counter. Even though the text of the email was blurry and indistinct at that distance, he winced at the sight of the words on the screen and closed his eyes, as if he could somehow erase the words from his mind if he could no longer see them. She heard him sigh and Booth lowered his head, again averting his eyes as his breathing turned shallow. Brennan knew from the ticking of his jaw, the quick sideways jerk of his head and the way he squeezed his eyes shut that whatever Hacker's email said, it had opened up the floodgates of some kind of unwanted memory.
Ash-hadu al-la ilaha illa llah
Ash-hadu anna Muħammadu Rasulullah
Hayya 'ala s-salah…
She felt strangely frozen in place as she watched him hunch over the counter, leaning into this hands as his breath came in quick gasps. As if suddenly aware that she was watching him, he stood up straighter but refused to look into her eyes as he turned away again and stared numbly at the stove. His hands curled into fists as he pushed himself away from the edge of the counter.
The call to prayer echoed in his ears as he steadied his rifle and scanned the rooftop of the battered, pockmarked building from his shadowed position in the dusty alleyway where he crouched with a dozen other men from Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. The muezzin's haunting voice fell silent, but the silence was short-lived as Booth and the Rangers heard the sound of engines and amplified male voices as militia trucks wove through the adjacent neighborhood shouting into their megaphones, "Kasoobaxa guryaha oo iska celsa cadowga" ('come out and defend your homes').
Booth flinched when Brennan placed her hand on his shoulder, and she felt as seared by his response as he seemed to have been by her touch. After a few moments, he seemed to relax somewhat and she stepped closer to him, leaning in and resting her forehead on the space between his shoulder blades. She closed her eyes and felt his biceps tighten underneath her hands as a shudder passed through him.
The distant crackle of small arms fire came closer and suddenly the group of Rangers huddled along the wall in the alleyway found themselves under fire. The rounds kicked up dirt and stones just a few feet away, and Booth heard a bullet ricochet against the wall behind him. A couple of the Rangers began firing their M16s in the direction where the hostile fire seemed to be coming from, and Booth swung his M24 sniper rifle around and adjusted his scope to the proper range for the group of concrete buildings that lay hundred yards away from his squad's position. Between bursts of incoming fire, the air echoed with the bellowing sound of the militiamen's call: "Kasoobaxa guryaha oo iska celsa cadowga..."
Brennan tugged gently at his arm to try to encourage him to turn around and face her. "Talk to me, Booth."
He saw muzzle flashes from the windows of a building on the right side of the road, but for several seconds, he couldn't make out the human form of a single shooter. Booth's patient eye saw an African head come into view on the edge of his scope's circular reticle and he swiveled slightly at his hip to place the crosshairs over the shooter's head, then pulled the trigger.
He grunted and wrested himself out of her grasp one arm at a time before taking a few steps back and leaning against the counter in front of the sink, his shoulders slumped as he closed his eyes and ran his hands through his hair again.
"Read it," he muttered, looking up at her with pitch-dark eyes that glimmered with anguish. "Just..."
So she did, picking up his phone and scrolling back to the top to read Hacker's email. Two sentences into the missive, it was clear that the email was not from Hacker, even though it was sent from his FBI email address. Brennan felt her chest tighten and a hard, painful lump form in her throat as she read the note, and she knew Booth was watching her, gauging her reaction to the revelations within. The email was unsigned, and she scrolled back up to the top again to survey the list of recipients: The Director, Deputy Director and Assistant Deputy Director of the FBI; the FBI Chief of Staff and a distribution list of Special Agents in Charge which she presumed included every single SAC of every single Field Office in the entire FBI; every individual Special Agent and tech in the D.C. Field Office, plus a number of names she recognized from the Hoover, including several of the administrative assistants that worked on the same floor Booth did; Dr. Lance Sweets; every member of the Jeffersonian's Board of Regents and what appeared to be each of the Senior Executives for the Jeffersonian's various administrative departments as well as herself, Camille Saroyan, Jack Hodgins, Angela Montenegro and every one of the graduate student interns; and to several recipients at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, FOX News and MSNBC, including one name that made Brennan start a little at seeing again—Hannah Burley.
She set the phone down and tilted her head to the side as she pursed her lips together, struggling for what to say to him as she tried to frame the information in her own mind. "I didn't know, Booth," she said, wincing as she heard the sound of her own words. "I'm sorry..."
Booth stared at the tile floor beneath his feet, unable to meet her pale green eyes as he began to speak.
"We were under fire," he explained. "One of my guys had already gotten hit in the leg. He was bleeding all over the fuckin' place, but the rounds kept comin', you know. We were pinned down against that building, and we knew Aidid had his militias in the area. We would hear their trucks driving around, and them yelling on bullhorns to the locals to come out and get us. We could see where the fire was coming from and—"
Brennan took a step towards him. "Booth, I—"
"No," he growled at her interruption, shaking his head as he finally brought his eyes up to meet hers. He held his hand out to block her approach, his splayed fingers trembling as he willed her not to take another step closer. "I didn't have time to confirm, you know, that the face I saw was..." He swallowed hard, and turned away, his breaths rising and falling hard as he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block out the memory. "We'd lost two of our Blackhawks that afternoon and all hell had broken loose there. We were trying to get to our guys, you know, but we were pinned down in that alley. So when I saw part of a head in that window and knowing that not doing anything meant not only that my team was gonna be pinned down and maybe get all fucked up there, but we weren't gonna be able to get to the guys on those Blackhawks who needed..." His voice wavered a little then trailed off as he felt the chaos of that sunny afternoon rise like bile in his throat.
"Booth," she said, her pitch low and tender as she sought to give him with her voice the comfort she knew he was unwilling, at least at that moment, to accept in the form of an embrace or any other sort of soothing touch.
He looked up at the ceiling for a few seconds and sighed. "I...I had to make the call," he said, his voice broken as he pleaded for understanding. "I was twenty-two years old, Bones..." His jaw shifted from one side the other and his nostrils flared. "About five seconds after I pulled that trigger and...that's when we got the radio call to cease fire. The guy I..." He swallowed hard and folded his arms in front of his chest, then opened his eyes again, gazing into hers with a pleading look. "The guy I killed was from another chalk...another team of Rangers who'd infiltrated that building just as we started taking fire."
A silence hung between them as he wiped the tears from his eyes with the heel of his hand.
"I killed another Ranger."
"Booth," she said. "It wasn't your fault."
He blinked, then nodded, letting his gaze fall as he stared at the floor for a few seconds, then looked up again and said, "I never told you, Bones, because...well, because that whole thing, and what happened, it's still classified. As far as the official story of that operation went, what I did..." His mouth hung open as he blinked away more tears and cleared his throat. "What I did...killing another Ranger...it never happened. Aside from the men in my chalk and the guys in...in his chalk...there were only a handful of people who knew what—"
"You did the best you could under the circumstances, Booth," she said, her eyebrows raised as if begging for him to accept her reassurance. "No one will think any less of you. No one will hold what happened against you."
"But I do," Booth said darkly. "The man I..." He kneaded his lip between his teeth, then scratched the back of his head and sighed. "His family was told he was killed in a firefight with Somali militiamen. They go out and put flowers on his grave at Arlington every year on October 3rd, but they never knew what really happened to him—that he was killed by another Ranger—and now half of fucking Washington knows. It'll probably be on the front page of the fucking Post tomorrow morning."
He grunted in frustration and turned, looking out the window and staring at the moonlit leaves of the oak tree in the backyard.
"You know, Bones," he said gravely. "I've spent twenty years trying to forget what I've done. Trying to forget the fact that I had fifty kills as a sniper, not the forty-nine that show in my service record. Trying to forget the fact that I've been lying for the last twenty goddamn years..." He sighed and turned around, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat as he swallowed, his lower jaw jutting forward as he looked into her eyes. "Lying to the rest of the Army, to the FBI, and..." He shook his head sadly. "And to you."
"No," Brennan said firmly. "You haven't done anything wrong, Booth. You didn't do the wrong thing in 1993, and you didn't do anything wrong protecting the classified nature of that information. You did the right thing, Booth." She paused, then glanced over at Booth's phone laying on the counter. "It's Pelant," she said. "He did this to get to you, Booth. Just like he went after Hodgins and Angela. He's trying to get to you, Booth, by attacking what you hold most dear..."
He stood there in stony, pained silence as if waiting for a death blow, his jaw rigid as he closed his eyes and tried to flush the image of the mocha-skinned Staff Sergeant from his memory.
"Pelant thought he could attack your honor," she said. "But he's wrong, Booth. Your honor is not diminished by what happened in Mogadishu, and..." She paused and waited for him to look at her again. "You kept that secret because you are an honorable man. No one questions that, Booth. But in attacking your honor, Pelant had to break into secure Pentagon records as well as hack into the FBI's computer system again."
Booth nodded. "You're right," he said, his voice tense as he dug inside of himself to find the strength that he knew his partner saw in him, even if he felt anything but strong in that moment. "Every time he strikes at us, he leaves a trail, right?" he asked, his forehead creasing as his brows arched in as hopeful of an expression as he could summon. "We'll get him."
Brennan smiled. "We will."
A/N: Not my best work, perhaps, but hopefully it was of some value. Number1Squint did pose an interesting prompt, and I wanted to play with it a little. I hope you folks liked that.
Don't keep me guessing. Let me know what you thought of that. Share your thoughts as I've shared mine. Consider taking a minute to leave a review. I pour my heart into these stories and love to know if people are reading them. Feed my muse. Reviews = happy muse = more stories (rinse and repeat).
Thanks for reading.
Editorial note: The story's title "Blue on Blue" comes from the NATO term for friendly fire which derives from military exercises where NATO forces were identified by blue pennants and units representing Warsaw Pact forces by orange pennants.