Author's Note: Love it or hate it overall, the (not so) recent Ghost Killer episode featured a touching scene that brought up what I love most about these contradictions. They show us human folly and the occasional risk of unintended consequences.
The Premise: Doctor Clark Edison is a unique intern because he's the only one who already had a PhD in Anthropology and was introduced by Brennan herself as "the one anthropologist I wouldn't want to face in court." His drive to prove himself as her equal is contradicted by his willingness to accept a subordinate role; and his constant plea for professional behavior in the lab extracts a painful price when everyone grants him his wish at the worst possible time.
The current chapter is a T.
Episode tag to The Ghost in the Killer.
(With references to Con Man in the Meth Lab and Couple in the Cave.)
The Catch in the Contradiction
Eleventh Catch: Always the Professional
Dr. Clark Edison prides himself on professionalism. He arrives to work on time, crisply dressed and prepared for quiet pursuits. He shuns gossip, idle speculation, inappropriate banter and public disclosures of what should be private business. There is indeed such a thing as "too much information" and his list of the things he doesn't want to know about his coworkers (or them about him) is extensive.
This has made his history at the Jeffersonian Medico-legal unit a trial of evasion and endurance, for the denizens of that esteemed institution do not share his aversion to mixing personal with professional. Angela the artist openly cavorted with Jack Hodgins (the resident jack of all forensic trades) for years and only marriage and a baby seems finally to have put an end to the hijinks; Dr. Camille Saroyan's liaisons with interns and other people's exes has provided ample fodder for the tittering coffee klatches loitering in the lounge; and then there is Dr. Temperance Brennan's epic romance ('We're just partners,' my left foot, Edison scoffs) with her not even remotely just-a-partner, Special Agent Seeley Booth.
If anyone has ever tested his commitment to professional integrity, she is it.
How can a woman that intelligent not see what is right in front of her: that it means love when a man spends every minute of his free time with her and looks at her and touches her like Agent Booth does? How can a man that used to dominating his destiny not seize a beautiful woman who blatantly has the hots for him and just take her where she clearly wants to go? (Straight to the nearest bed, for crying out loud!)
Not that it's any of his business, of course. It's not.
Clark has spent years schooling his coworkers on what topics he will willingly discuss (work), which ones to leave him out of entirely (everything else, please!), and not to ask him any intrusive personal questions, (by which he means any personal questions at all, thank you very much). It has been an arduous campaign, years of avoidance and dogged redirection finally getting them all to back off and leave him in peace. For her part, however, Dr. Brennan's general oblivion towards the travails of others has been the one refreshing exception to the rule. She does not gossip (despite the fact that for years, the juiciest gossip in the lab usually concerned her and her do-they-or-don't-they? will-they-or-won't-they? relationship with her partner). He's never had to remind her to focus on work nor ask her to back out of his personal life, although she has unwittingly dragged hers into his sight on more than a few occasions.
Thus it is quite surprising that the only times Dr. Clark Edison ever lost his professional persona, it has been due to his exasperation over Dr. Brennan's inability to see what is painfully obvious to everyone else.
Case in point:
She had no idea of the effect she had on men.
That night she walked into the bone room on three inch heels with long calves teasing flashes from within the deep split bisecting her black skirt; her hair swept up into gorgeous curls and spilling softly around the angle of her elegant jaw; her eyes misted with mystery; her incredible curves poured into that tight bodice; and his love of Nora damn near forgotten, as well as his recollection of the basic mechanics of breathing.
"You have got to be kidding me," Clark had muttered, too shocked by Agent Booth's monumental stupidity to realize he'd stumbled across the professional line himself just then.
"What?" Doctor Brennan had glanced askance at him, threading an earring and completely unaware of Clark's concerted effort to rein in his unruly tongue, body and thoughts. Nora, he firmly reminded himself. Nora he loves, Nora loves him, Nora is perfect. Brennan may be beautiful but she is also too much work, too much ... everything.
"Oh nothing," he backpedaled quickly. "Nothing, Dr. Brennan. I just ... er, didn't know that you were so ..." (fist-bitingly, irresistibly gorgeous! What the hell is that man thinking, letting you go out with his brother looking like that?!) " ... er ... " (This is highly unprofessional, Edison, get a grip!) He drew a breath at last, drawing in oxygen and a mad scramble for decorum with his eyes fixing almost desperately on the x-rays, not on her. (I'm never gonna be able to look her in the eye again. Nora, baby, I'm so sorry.) "... The murder victim was supposed to be a long term, heavy drinker," Clark managed to say at last, "yet his bones show no signs of alcoholic osteoporosis."
He expelled a sigh of relief when she evidenced not the slightest awareness of his utter lack of professional behavior. Instead, she stepped closer to the x-rays and confirmed his observation that the bones of their victim did not match the man's given medical history. Within a few more minutes she was gone, leaving him to sag against the wall and wonder how Agent Booth ever managed to get any work done.
Not that it was any of his business.
Case in point:
She had no idea that her sizzling connection with Agent Booth had fueled an on-going public discourse for years.
They'd all spent seven long months away from the medico-legal lab while Dr. Brennan ran off to the Homo floresiensis project in the Malukus (an excellent career move, as far as Dr. Edison was concerned) and Agent Booth answered a call to train the Afghan Army in counter insurgency tactics (possibly less of an excellent idea, given the guns and IEDs and potential for grave bodily harm). And that left Dr. Clark Edison gratefully working in a professional lab in Chicago, where discussions centered around isotopes rather than romantic tropes. But the directors of the Chicago lab had given a promotion to some other (totally undeserving) guy and now that Dr. Brennan was back he was more than happy to come back to DC as well.
Because he preferred working with excellence.
Even if it was a sort of demotion.
Even if it meant he also had to endure a certain facet of the job and the Jeffersonian that he'd always hated: the central pair of Brennan and Booth had returned and so their groupies had all congregated in the Jeffersonian once again, abuzz with the latest developments in the saga of When Seeley met Temperance, then met a blonde named Hannah and brought her back to DC and — my, oh my! — whatever will Temperance have to say about that?!
Those were the exact words he'd heard gleefully whispered less than an hour ago. Clark had taken himself out of the lounge area with a coffee and his partially eaten eclair, disgusted by the two self-proclaimed 'B&B groupies' who were polluting an otherwise restful place with their inane speculations. Dr. Brennan was an intelligent and private woman who would not appreciate having her personal affairs being so salaciously drooled over Danishes. They should leave the poor woman some dignity if they wouldn't take any themselves.
He and she were bending over two unfortunate dead souls, both bearing shattered bones, and yet aside from him and Brennan, no one else seemed to care. Why? Because Dr. Brennan had innocently reported her recent encounter in the Diner with that other woman, and while Brennan was ready to move on and resume working, everyone else was ready to pounce.
"So, what was it like meeting Hannah," Dr. Saroyan inquired.
Bet those lounge lizards wish they could be here for this, Dr. Edison thought with annoyance. When questioned directly, what Dr. Temperance Brennan had to 'say about that' was a generously worded remark in praise of her rival's excellent characteristics. "She seems very pleasant and attractive. Her face fits comfortably within the Golden Ratio."
Right. See? a rational response. Dr. Edison heartily approved of Dr. Brennan's objective evaluation as well as the plunging pitch at the end of her statement, declaring her discourse at an end. Brennan was finished speaking on the matter. Now let's get back to work.
Instead they got off onto a tangent about beauty and the Golden Ratio and Angela the artist, gifted with her own brand of bluntness, snorted. "You mean she's hot."
Brennan flicked up a disapproving scowl but did not deign to reply.
"I just assumed that when you came back from your trip you'd finally be a real couple," Dr. Saroyan opined, clearly not ready to get back to more serious and impersonal matters, nor to the job they were all there to do. Which really should not feature any commentary on Dr. Brennan's former love life. Or current lack thereof.
"We were never a couple," Dr. Brennan insisted.
On the other hand... That. Right there.
That inability to see what was so painfully obvious to hominids bearing rudimentary sensory organs and basic cognitive functioning had Dr. Clark Edison biting his tongue but determined to keep working because, damn it, this was none of his business. And it was none of their business if Dr. Brennan and Agent Booth were every bit as blind as naked mole rats.
(Damn it, did I just think the word 'naked' in the same sentence as 'Dr. Brennan'?) Clark shuddered in revulsion, feeling this unprofessional work environment seeping deeper into his psyche. Exasperated, while Brennan bent back over the victims and resumed her inspection, Dr. Edison turned to the boss (Who is actually nosing in worse than any of her employees. Talk about setting a bad example!). "Doctor Saroyan, you assured me that you would try to keep this work place professional."
"And I will, Doctor Edison," Saroyan replied through gritted teeth and a grating facsimile of a smile.
"No, no, no," Angela objected a second later, belying both her boss and her best friend in the same breath. "You were a couple. You just weren't having sex."
Dr. Edison rolled his eyes and groaned, turning away from temptation. Maybe they all just needed to get it out of their systems. After all, seeing the end of their favorite entertainment come at Dr. Brennan's expense had to be a disappointment.
Angela persisted, "Were you jealous?"
Of course she has to be jealous, Clark thought, clenching his jaw as the impatience mounted. But what difference does it make? It's her life and, he can tell, Dr. Brennan doesn't seem to want to pursue this line of questioning. So why didn't they all just leave it (her) alone already?!
Brennan looked at Angela with the most befuddled cluelessness that anyone never feigned. "Of course not. I'm happy for Booth. Why would I be jealous?"
And that, finally, was just too much for him. Clark finally got it, why they didn't just leave it alone already: if this was what they contended with on a daily basis, this kind of absolute refusal to admit to reality, well ... no wonder they'd all gone stark, raving Soap Dish in this place!
He felt himself slipping down the drain right along with them as they all turned to regard the resident genius with varying shades of disbelief and it was the ultra-professional Dr. Clark Edison who finally verbalized what they all were thinking. "Because it's obvious you and Agent Booth were attracted to each other! I mean, a blind man could see that. I just couldn't understand why you two just didn't rip each other's clothes off! I mean, just get all butt-naked and …"
He trailed off in horror when he realized that he'd gone sooo much farther than he'd ever intended. (Not that I ever thought about ripping Dr. Brennan's clothes off that hot, curvaceous body... I mean, it's not my fault for noticing because, damn. If he's throwing that away, then Agent Booth is a fool... But no, really, I'm all about Nora!) As he realized just how far out of line both his words and his thoughts had taken him, Clark turned around slowly. "Oh, my God, oh my God, oh my God..."
They were all gaping at him in shock, but in Dr. Brennan he saw a flicker of pain, confusion and even a dash of disbelief. She was not as clueless as all that, after all. She was trying to keep it professional too, deflecting intrusive speculation by pretending she didn't know what she'd lost and his loss of professionalism had only caused her embarrassment and further pain. "Uh, I'm sorry. Uh, it just popped out, okay? You guys weren't focusing."
And she was just so damned beautifully obtuse. (But now he understood why.)
"Dude," Hodgins breathed in amused disapproval. He leaned in to advise in a whisper, "a little self control...?"
Clark gulped down shame and remorse, and turned back to work.
None of his business. None.
So yes, he's had a few lapses.
Even so, when it comes to his own life, Clark has made certain to keep it out of the lab entirely. The only reason anyone knows Nora exists is because Angela Montenegro started hitting on every male within spitting distance during her 'sexual fasting' phase, and he'd brought in Nora so the amorous artist would see the No Trespassing sign in Nora's luminous eyes. Otherwise, his private life was private, members only. No one knew anything and that was exactly how he liked it.
Until three days ago, when Nora informed him every relationship reaches a turning point. Go forward together or move on alone. He'd stalled; she moved on.
Somehow, while he was busy working and avoiding gossip, not paying attention to relationships that were none of his business, his own relationship stopped being his business as well. Nora's eyes, always so soft and gentle, glistened with tears when she assured him he would always have a place in her heart and she would have liked to move on with him at her side. But time was wasting and he wasn't ready and she ... had to take that chance of family now, before it was too late. She wasn't getting any younger.
They lived together; or at least, he thought they still did. (He hadn't gone home for three days because the pain of watching her move out was too much to witness. It would be bad enough to finally go back to the house and find all traces of her gone.) Clark knew that made him a coward, that his absence might effectively be leaving a swelling void that is pushing her right out the door, but he can't bring himself to fill it.
So he's sleeping in his car. Sneaking into the lab to shower in the decontamination showers. Wearing the same shirt and tie two days in a row because he didn't have the foresight to grab a change of clothes before fleeing the scene of their mutual desertion. When he oversleeps that first morning (there's no alarm in a car) and dashes into the lab irredeemably late, the only notice his uncharacteristic tardiness nets him is a raised brow from Hodgins.
And then there is Brennan, who is having her own bad day and sniffs that she doesn't need an anthropologist. Her cold dismissal cuts deep, leaving him to tighten his tie and wait while Dr. Saroyan defends her decision to call him in instead of one of the lesser mortals more suited to slavery. He volunteers gamely that he's there to serve (not like he's got anywhere better to be now that Nora has gone) and Dr. Brennan once again manages to level him.
"Clean these," she barks and stalks away.
Clark feels the trio remaining on deck looking at him with pity of the professional kind, but he doesn't want it. He doesn't need it: if he desired to, he knows he could leave and go just about anywhere. His PhD is in hand, his credentials impeccable, his reputation is sterling; and he's had offers, quite attractive ones. He's only here because he admires Dr. Brennan from afar and still manages to learn from her, though a part of him wonders if she will ever find something to learn from him.
It might be time to move on, now that Nora's gone.
Clark looks down at skeletal remains curled into a fetal position and then at Dr. Saroyan. "Didn't you say these showed evidence of being buried in a casket?"
"Then why isn't she laid out straight?" Nobody goes into a coffin with knees drawn up tight to the chest, as far as he's ever known. Yet this body is dried and dessicated, the stringy ligaments tightly constricted and holding the bones in place. This body has been left in the fetal position for years.
Everyone shrugs, leaving him to the grunt work. Though it's lonely, tedious scullery work teasing dessicated flesh off these bones, he welcomes the time for quiet reflection such work brings; wants that time to think about Nora and whether he's really ready to let her go. But he is continually distracted because as he works, he hears the usual gossip gristmill whispering. Word is that Dr. Brennan is becoming obsessed with cold cases and Dr. Saroyan has asked her to leave off during business hours. Rumor has it that she isn't sleeping well or getting along with Agent Booth. Clark rolls his eyes. (First everyone wants them together, now they can't wait to break them up!)
He stops for lunch and sits alone in the lounge. Angela wanders past, plopping down on a seat nearby and taking out her phone to send a text to somebody. "How is Michael Vincent doing," Clark finds himself asking.
"Fine." She glances up from the phone to give him a cursory shrug. "Turning two and a half but all the way full of mischief." That's all. She doesn't want to bore him with details from her personal life. Angela smiles and leaves a few minutes later.
A technician fills his coffee cup and nods Clark's way but leaves almost immediately.
Dr. Saroyan takes a seat at the table across from him and stares thoughtfully ahead.
"Have you heard from Michelle?" Clark ventures.
Cam looks startled and turns his way. "Yes, she's fine. Back at school now."
"Did she decide on a major?" He wonders why he's asking, but there's a yearning to know. And to be known.
"Not yet." Cam opens the book she's brought, signaling a desire for conversation to come to a close.
Clark cleans up after himself and returns to work, where he becomes Dr. Edison, the professional.
When Dr. Saroyan catches him in the shower the next morning (the second day of doom in a world without Nora), he feels mortified at being so exposed. Not just literally (because he's naked and Saroyan lets him know she's well aware), but also metaphorically. His personal life is starkly on display in the way he's reduced to sleeping in his car, showering at work, and wearing the same rumpled shirt as yesterday and the day before. His life is falling apart, he's losing everything that ever mattered: Nora, integrity, privacy, happiness.
"Do you want me to explain?" and he realizes he's actually begging her to ask.
God, please, somebody notice!
But she could not care less. It's none of her business, unless his unprofessional behavior makes it so and then all she's going to do is fire him. Clark swallows his pride and nods, vowing he's got to go home and face the emptiness tonight. Or else go crash at the Y and maybe break down and buy a new wardrobe.
Saroyan catches him at lunch again that afternoon and he stammers that he's just eating here to save time. Instead of threats of dismissal, this time she threatens his livelihood in an entirely different way. "What do you think of Dr. Brennan's serial killer?"
Clark looks down, noting her hands resting on a stack of files and a storage box. He hesitates. "I'm ... skeptical." He doesn't know one damn thing about it, except for the gossip and the rumors.
"Good." Declaring he'll be objective, she hands it all over to him, putting him in charge above Dr. Brennan. It feels like a betrayal, but having to chose between a boss who can fire him and an idol who won't, leaves him with no choice at all.
He begins to realize that he and Dr. Brennan are more alike than they are different. It's evident in their driving need to excel, to be in charge. It's evident in their pursuit of work over private failings. It's evident in her stung pride when she finds out that Dr. Saroyan has placed him in charge of the cold cases she has been pursuing for months. It's evident in the hollow darkness of her eyes, signs that personal demons are damaging her ability to work just as insidiously as his are doing him in. They are both coming apart at the seams and covering their cracks with Spackle and unhealthy levels of denial.
He's not going to ask her, and she's not going to ask him. Somehow, they both nod and dance around each other in the bone room, clopping around in wrong-fitting shoes (he's in her shoes, she's in his).
Yet Dr. Edison can tell Dr. Brennan is hurt by the way she drags Dr. Saroyan over and sarcastically defers to her peer's professional assessment of her own finding. Since she isn't reputable enough to be trusted, she adds, with a tart, lemony smile. He can feel the acid burn as he starts in but Brennan cuts in, cuts deep again, and he thinks once again that Nora might have had the right idea about moving on.
It all comes to a head when she questions him about his time and dedication. The cold cases that haunt Dr. Brennan drive her to blast through his professional shell with a question that implies he might not have enough time to dedicate to her cause. She punches loose everything that has piled up within him, although she may not quite realize that's what she's done. He is certain it wasn't deliberate because she would never do anything like that deliberately.
Still, the question breaks a logjam of his own making and his agony spills out. All of it. Nora leaving, his loneliness and heartbreak, his desolation. That work is the only consolation. Her eyes soften as she listens and does not interrupt, but her response is professional and glacial. "Good."
Breathing heavily, Clark feels a sting heat his cheeks from what feels like a verbal slap, even though this is exactly the sort of response he should desire. He has been begging for a professional environment for years and the old adage to 'be careful what you wish for' has never been more true. This is what he wants. So why isn't he more glad when she starts to turn away, bringing his embarrassing outburst to a subtle conclusion?
Slowly, then, Dr. Brennan turns back around and faces him again. She, too, has recognized a similarity. Softly, she speaks. Thoroughly, she understands. "I'm sorry for the pain that you're going through. And I admire the fact that it hasn't impeded your impressive abilities to work."
Clark feels the heavy bands of pain that have been drawing tighter during the past few days loosen, as if cut. The same implacable woman who can cut him down with a look has cut him free from the prison of his own making. She's noticed. He marvels at it, the relief he feels, that she is the least 'normal' of them all and yet it is this oblivious woman who has missed what was painfully obvious to everybody:
Dr. Clark Edison doesn't want his personal life to mix with his professional duties. He doesn't want to be asked about it. So she didn't ask, but she's the only one who noticed.
"Thank you," he replies, touched so deeply and yet recalling how that relief has come at an awkward price: now she knows, and she isn't one for gossip or unprofessional comportment, either. "I'm sorry that all spilled out. I'm not really sure what happened."
What happened, he thinks, is that she cut him open and it came out in a flood. But even before then, she saw him. He begins to wonder if that slice of hers was intentional after all.
"That happens to me too," Dr. Brennan admits softly. "I hold things in and then ... watch out!" And she chuckles a little, a commiseration between two professionals who abhor public displays of sentiment and weakness, of passion or pain.
He realizes that all the gossip about her is cutting her, too. That whatever she's going through is spilling into her conduct at work despite her best efforts at containment ... just like him. That for all of their differences, they are alike in this one way. They share a relieved smile and an understanding that reassures them both.
This moment will never be mentioned again. It doesn't need to be.
Author's Note: The next story is all about morality and try as I might to avoid it, that one is determined to stray into M territory. Who am I to question estrogen-fueled inspiration...? ;)