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He'd entered her office hundreds of times and it had never bothered him, but tonight the voluminous white light hurt his eyes. How did she not go blind, working in there? The starkness of it made him ache, right down to his bones.

Brennan would appreciate the metaphor.

Maybe not.

She didn't usually like metaphorical conversations. Actually, she'd probably offer a rational, scientific explanation as to what his body was experiencing, exactly how and why the ache had occurred. Too bad he wasn't in her office right now.

Instead, he found himself hovering in a different doorway, studying the texture of a boring carpet made even flatter and less distinct by the constant in-and-out tread of Jeffersonian foot traffic. She's an artist; she really should have a more distinctive interior design going on in here, rather than a mere few personal touches. Not that Dr. Goodman would allow the change. Decorations weren't in the budget.

Screw the budget. Goodman knew who the Jeffersonian's biggest benefactor was. The company, anyway. He wouldn't be able to say no to a quietly generous ‘contribution' that included updating Angela's lab. At first the man wouldn't utter a word, but he'd arch that archeologist's curious eyebrow when Hodgins slid the paperwork across his desk. Just a messenger, sir. I happen to know the CEO. Goodman would see right through that. The wanktard who ran the Jeffersonian's gift shop could see right through that.

It was also a risky move. Angela and Booth knew, Zack was sworn to secrecy under penalty of homelessness, but Brennan could still find out. The rest of them, they all could. After he'd worked so damn hard to keep that aspect of his life private. Vault-safe. All it would take was one person figuring out the combination, and the life that he loved would crack open.

Then again, Goodman might remind him that the well-lit drawers were functional and necessary. He couldn't argue with that. They needed all the space they could get, especially with the extra bodies coming in from unsolved F.B.I. cases. More work for the team: more to examine, more to catalog, more to store.

Still, as he stood in her doorway, absentmindedly rubbing the round toe of his boot against the rough weave of the rug, he could almost picture the area, Angela-style. Her abundant warmth and colorful energy -- that gorgeous, wide smile -- expressed throughout every square inch of the room, in earthy colors on its walls, the smooth shape and style of a rich, curvaceous desk, the cozy softness of the pillows on the settee… plush, cheerful, welcoming. That would be more like her.

Then maybe she'd have a safe haven to crawl into, after a day like today. Then maybe she wouldn't be sitting there at her icy metal desk, her hand flipping listlessly through that file, page by horrible page, as she leaned on the opposite elbow, her other hand a closed fist pressed against her cheek. Then maybe her face wouldn't look like that.

He exhaled a breath he didn't know he'd been holding, and she jerked her head in the direction of the doorway, her dark eyes widening.

"How long have you been standing there?"

He shrugged. "Not long." Leaned against the doorframe, kept his voice light. "You know, the carpet in this room really sucks."

She didn't laugh. She had such a great, big laugh: it started out low and wickedly knowing, then opened up wide like a horse at full gallop. He wished she were laughing now.

Closing the folder, she drew in a breath and straightened up from her hunched position, pressing the palms of her hands flat against the top of the desk as if it were enough to hold her up. The air escaped her lips, its weight filling the room, pushing against him, intense and stretched like the walls of a balloon about to burst. She looked up at him again, her eyes glassy. "It's been a long day, Hodgins. I'm tired."

"We're all tired. We've been up for…" He glanced at his watch, counting. "Thirty-seven hours."

"No, it's not that." Her voice sounded gravelly. "It's everything, all of it." She twisted away from him, her eyes returning to the file on the desk. "I'm just so tired."

He waited, but she didn't continue. Instead, she avoided his gaze, concentrating on the grinning image clipped to the top of the folder. She ran the pad of her index finger against its edge.

The case had been closed about a half hour ago, Booth and Brennan off to make an exciting arrest, everyone else grabbing coats and keys, heading out the door, relieved and exhausted. Normally after a long stretch of captivity like this, Hodgins would have been nearly first in line, his mind already halfway home, his body craving the feel of Egyptian cotton sheets and a soft comforter cocooning around him. Blissful sleep. But tonight felt different.

He'd started on auto-pilot, one hand grabbing his blazer, the other grasping his well-worn messenger bag, reflexively stretching its strap over his head and into its comfortable position across his chest. His feet propelled him forward, across the platform, down the metal steps, past the security watchman.

Hey there, Dr. Hodgins. Long night?

Long couple of days, man. I am so outta here.

Have a good one, Jack.

Thanks, Frank.

Halfway down the hall, almost to the exit, his shoulders tightened like he was forgetting something. His pace stalled, his body hesitated. He turned, his mind blank yet nagging. Auto-pilot took him back.

Frank's voice amused. You forget something?

His mind still muddled, searching. Yeah.

As he swiped his ID card and made his way back up the stairs, his limbs lifted and dropped and bent and stepped, just like they were supposed to, just like they did when he came in thirty-seven hours ago, but this time every movement felt rigid and heavy. Bone-weary.

It was Angela. He'd noticed the look on her face, a couple hours earlier, when Zack had announced his latest findings. The hard truth struck all of them like a severe beat down from quarter-sawn cumuru, but when Angela heard it -- the way she'd clutched that sketch pad to her chest and stared at the bones laid out on the tables, as if she could meld them back together and recreate their flesh bodies by the power of her colored pencils, her compassionate heart, and the strength of her devastated gaze…

He had wanted to approach, maybe say something -- what, he wasn't sure -- but Brennan had needed his confirmation data on the wood slivers and trace metals, and Booth's height loomed taller and angrier, so there hadn't been time for words, then.

Now he couldn't seem to find any.

He watched her finger draw an invisible design across the folder, circles and lines and sweeping arcs, colorless and cold. Empty, like the lab. Its eerie, late-evening silence usually comforted him; it was one of many reasons he liked to come in and work when no one else was there. But tonight--

"I just don't know if I'm cut out for this, long-term."

He kept his voice measured as he left the protection of the doorway and inched towards her. "You've said that before and haven't quit. Why is this day any different?"

The words came out fast, harsh and bitter. "Because this time we found the dead bodies of two young children crammed into an old metal garbage can. They weren't just abused; I barely had anything to work with, to recreate their faces for Brennan. Their parents tortured them, Hodgins, left them to rot. Zack said the evidence was undeniable. Their parents." She pushed her hair back and looked up at him, revealing the very expression he'd seen earlier, only this time wet and anguished. Her voice broke as she continued. "Who does such a thing? What am I supposed to do with that? I just go home and eat dinner and go to bed? Move on as if it doesn't matter?"

He stood in the middle of the room, halfway between safety and uncertainty. Dulled by fatigue, his synapses went to the wrong place for words. "Last time you felt this way, all you needed was Dr. Goodman to describe the nobility of your job to you in a deep, soothing voice. Do you want me to call him?" He offered a half-smile even as his tight gut told him he'd already made a mistake, but he couldn't seem to shut up. "I'm pretty sure I can arrange for him to talk to you via satellite. We just have to get word to him somehow, you know, in--" He cleared his throat. "New Guinea."

The white light glared at him.

She leaned back in her chair and stared at the ceiling. A droplet of water escaped the corner of her eye and meandered across her temple, dissolving into her hair. After a long minute, she heaved a sigh. "I'm really not in the mood for jokes tonight."

He swallowed. "I know." He took another step forward, and another.

Her brow furrowed, but eventually her eyes softened. "He did make me feel better that day." Her chair swiveled to face him. "Okay, Hodgins. What have you got?"

The hint of pleading in her eyes made him pause. "I'm not sure I can say it better than he did."

"It's not about my job this time. It's about people who don't treasure human life. It's about how ugly people can be."

His mind saw a young boy's broken skeleton, hideously mottled yellow, brown and black, his own guilty hands unceremoniously scavenging the ruins for larva, plants and particulates. His voice came out an unintentional whisper. "I know."

The way she looked up at him, her shining eyes plaintive and expectant, he felt an urge to reach out and touch her face, pull her into a hug, something, but he couldn't seem to close the gap. He'd already screwed up once.

"Give me something, Jack."

He shrugged. "People suck."

She rolled her eyes and started to turn away.

"I'm not being flippant here. I'm serious." He eased himself down to sit on the edge of her desk and pressed his hand against the case file. "These people are proof positive. Some people shouldn't be parents. In fact, my own could've--"

She raised an eyebrow at him.

He coughed. "Anyway, the point is, we stopped these people. We figured it out. Booth's going to arrest them, and they will be convicted. And you were a part of that. What happened to those kids was horrific, and it does matter." His hand closed over hers and squeezed for a moment before pulling away, his voice relaxing again. "So, I don't know… come have a drink with me, we'll play depressing music, maybe light a candle in their honor, but you should go home tonight and sleep well, knowing you helped catch their killers. That's an amazing thing." His mouth upturned. "In a way, you're kind of a superhero. Like Wonder Woman."

The corner of her mouth twitched, but she remained silent, listening.

"Well, actually, Brennan's Wonder Woman. She's got the Halloween costume. But you-- you're--" He offered a soft smile, his eyes bright. "You're something else, Angela."

She met his gaze, the quirk of a smile playing on her lips. "Bet your ass, I am."

He smirked. "Are you sure you're not in the mood for jokes? Even a little one? I could do my Booth impression. You'll like this; I've been fine-tuning it since that Mara Muerte case." He jumped up from the desk, bouncing in place. "The voice is decent, but the body stance and the hand gestures are what really sell it."

She couldn't hold back her grin any longer. It spurred him on.

"Ah, see, I knew you wouldn't be able to resist. Mocking Booth is good clean fun. Wait -- he's not behind me, is he?"

Her laughter filled the room.

end