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start new when your heart is an empty room

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"Hodgins."

You fold your hands in your lap serenely. You know what's coming, and it's not going to be pretty, but you gave Cam three weeks before dropping the bomb, so most of the anger you needed to process has simmered down to just sadness and a little bit of bitterness. "Dr. Saroyan."

She looks at you as if you've broken her heart. "Jack--"

and you say, "not now. I have to finish this. Then come and find me." She flinches a little bit, but you can't have the conversation you need to while FBI technicians are examining records and video footage - conducting what in reality amounts to a full-scale lab audit - all around you. It's a longer conversation than that, and messier, and Cam's cried enough at work this week.

-

Angela refuses to leave you alone, as if with her love she can make up for the universe. You get angry with her on Wednesday - five days after, if anyone's counting, not that anyone is - and say, "I love you, but I need a few hours alone!" She looks at you like you've broken her heart, but collects herself and apologizes, kisses your forehead to show she's not angry, and that she understands. You love her. That's why you need the few hours, because you don't want her to come with you.

-

He's still wrapped in bandages. "I didn't think anyone would come."

You aren't allowed to sit, and an agent stands inside the door because the conversation is on record, basically. You can't pass any privileged information onto Mr. Addy, even though you don't know any information, and don't have anything else to give him. You put your hand on his head, stroke his hair. The burns aren't healing properly. "I would have come sooner," you tell him, "but they had to finish the legal paperwork."

"Would you tell--" he starts to say, but you shake your head sharply. Don't say it, Zach. Just don't say it. Of course I'll tell them. He leans back, closes his eyes, and you want to wrap the blanket around him, put a pillow over his nose and mouth, suffocate him until he can't breathe. You want to keep him safe.

-

The FBI analysts are joking in the break room. They've taken over, basically, like red fire ants at a picnic, like locusts, like rats-- Sweets would probably have a field day analyzing your choice of metaphors, and you snort. "Can't believe it," the one says. "Too weird."

"Can't you?" another answers. "They're scientists, not cops, after all--" and then they clam up, eyes harsh and smiles patronizing as you reach for the coffee pot. You want to shoot them between the eyes just to change their expression, but maybe it'd just freeze their faces that way forever. In the back of your mind, you make a mental note to take up target practice.

-

"Jack," Angela says quietly, "maybe you should talk to someone."

It's eight days after, if anyone's counting. you roll over, bury your face in her sweet, beautiful, soft hair so you don't have to look at her face. "I made the call," you say. "I just, didn't know how to explain it to you."

She tightens her grip. "the few hours alone."

you don't answer. you don't want to lie; you don't want it to be the truth.

-

Zach's still on a lot of medication - all the pain meds he wants, now that the DA has a confession - but his face still screws up in pain. You don't hold his hands, because they're bandaged up and painful and broken and gone, and because he killed someone. "I keep having nightmares," he says, and you say,

"me too."

He looks at you, and you wish that you could see something different there, but he's still Zach, and you still love him, and you're pretty sure that you won't testify this time.

-

Cam finds you. It's twenty-two days after, so she's had time to settle down, and anyway, it's better you have this conversation with her than Brennan, who will yell and actually cry, and stand in front of Booth who'll just ask you to cowboy up for Brennan. "Please, Jack, can we talk about this?"

She's wearing all black. You both are. Even the sneakers on your feet are pitch black. Grieving for Booth was bad enough, now you're grieving for yourselves, too. You stand up, say, "can we go in your office?" She raises an eyebrow; you explain, "I don't want to talk to Dr. Brennan about this."

"Jack--" but she gestures to her office, and you follow her until the door is closed. "Jack," she says again. "I know this is a hard time, but resigning is-- what I mean is--"

You watch her struggle for the words to explain career suicide, how things will get better, how you'd be better off staying and working, when in reality you know her mouth is really saying please don't go too, we need you, because everyone is leaving now and I can't handle this. You interrupt with, "it's been twenty-two days."

She looks confused; says, "he was arrested on--"

"Since people thought I was capable of it." You're not angry, much, anymore. You're not. You're just broken, broken and burned and incapable of healing. Third-degree burns on your heart, you want to say, and almost snort. You stand up. "I just - don't know how to get around it."

-

Angela finds out from Cam; Brennan finds out from Angela. Brennan stops you in the parkade, and says, "Hodgins, please."

You're standing roughly in the same places when you were kidnapped last year. Not even for Brennan will you stay in a place that's so fundamentally changed. She's looking at you, eyes watery, as if you've broken her heart.

-

"I resigned," you tell Zach in a low voice. He keeps staring up at the ceiling. "I told Cam about the water? How it was from my neighbourhood." Zach twitches. You say, "I didn't want to, but I did."

There's a long pause. "You had to," Zach finally croaks. "It's okay."

My neighbourhood, not ours. "I knew what it meant," you tell him.

Zach looks at you. A single perfect tear is running down his cheek. "You shouldn't resign," he says. "It doesn't make sense. To run away. Because of me."

The nurse comes in, and you stare at Zach's tear, and your hands ball into fists as the nurse gets ready to change his bandages. As she mutters in a clinically efficient manner, saying 'one minute' and 'there we go', you watch the crispy flesh of Zach's hands and want to strangle the nurse with your bare hands, want to crush her larynx because she doesn't understand. When she's done, you sit down heavily, on the edge of the bed. Zach doesn't move, because he can't touch you to comfort you, wouldn't know how, and because he's restrained due to his current status as a convicted murderer. You stroke his foot through the blanket, gently, over and over, and close your eyes.

-

Cam's smile as you file new paperwork is like brilliant sunshine on the dreariest day. "Thank you," she says, and stamps 'approved' on your extended leave forms. She tosses the resignation in the garbage, and like that your lifeline is gone. You watch her leave, happier than you've seen her since before Booth died.

You press your lips together, look around the lab, at the people going back to work. You look down, and realize that the pencil you were gripping a moment ago is now snapped perfectly in two, and your knuckles are white.