The Head in the Game
Some of us laugh, some of us cry
Some of us smoke, some of us lie
But it's all just the way that we cope with our lives
I've grown to see the philosophy
Of my own mistrust, we all have our faults
Mine come in waves that you turn to rust
My wandering soul found solace at last
I wanted to know how long it would last
I'm losing control, coming down fast
This heart that I stole I'll never give it back
- Starsailor, "Some of Us"
"I don't like it. At all."
Clarke adjusted her belt buckle, her fingertips idly tracing the rooster outline above the word cocky.
"Deputy Director Diyoza, it's the only way Dr. Woods will work with me again. She drives a hard bargain," she added with a mild chuckle.
Diyoza narrowed her eyes. "Your personal feelings for Dr. Woods aside, if you bring a Squint into the field, you're asking for trouble, Special Agent Griffin."
Clarke remained quiet, glancing at the array of service medals and photos of the FBI's new deputy director in all sorts of situations. Out in the shit with her fellow enlisted, holding heavy fire power as they stood guard against protesters outside a girls' school; several from her competitive track days, and Clarke's favorite one, where she was sweaty, smiling, and riding piggyback on her daughter, Hope, outside a Habitat For Humanity build.
A vast improvement over the previous deputy; a cold, and ultimately corrupt, man named Charles Pike who had caused an incredible amount of harm and destruction to the institution Clarke had devoted her life to and risked it for every day.
Comparitively, the new deputy was a family woman, a humanitarian, and a highly-decorated military veteran; all things they had in common. All things Clarke could respect. Diyoza seemed to want to--as Clarke herself did--make up for the crimes she felt guilty of committing while serving. Clarke could respect that as well.
After all, an army ranger sniper like herself had an awful lot of sins to atone for, too.
Diyoza pinched the bridge of her nose, looking incredibly stressed. "You're absolutely sure you need Dr. Woods? The lab at Quantico has billions of dollars in funding. And a forensic anthropologist that doesn't give me ulcers."
Clarke fixed her superior with an even, serious look. "Quantico has had the kid's body for two weeks and they still can't even say if it's a little boy or a little girl. There are parents out there missing their kids, and if it was Madi, I'd want Bones to be the one looking for her. In or out of the field," she replied honestly.
Clarke took a breath, her voice softening, but remaining respectful and serious. "I’m sorry, ma’am, but we need her to figure out who this child is, and who they belong to. And she refuses to work with the FBI again if she can't be a full part of the investigation. Not me, not any other agent."
Diyoza sat back and threw her hands up in defeat. "She's your responsibility, Griff. If she shoots someone this time, I hope it's you."
The woman opened her top drawer and pulled out a bottle of antacids, opening it and shaking four into her hand, popping them into her mouth with a stern look at her agent. "And she can’t have a gun!"
Clarke nodded, putting her arms up in surrender. "Heard, ma’am. No gun. Shoot me, not the suspect. My squint, my responsibility."
Diyoza narrowed her eyes. "Have her shoot Agent Blake, too, while she’s at it."
Clarke smirked lightly as she made her way towards the exit.
"Griffin?" Clarke paused, turning back. "Dr. Woods is the one who risked our case by shooting a suspect with alcohol on her breath. Why is it she’s refusing to work with us, again?"
Clarke’s cheeks flushed just slightly, and her eyebrows arced together a few millimeters in surprise. "I—uh.. It’s—er, personal reasons," she concluded.
Diyoza gave her a withering glare that remained fixed on the agent as she pulled open the second drawer of her desk and retrieved a bottle of aspirin. "I’m gonna die before I have a chance to retire to a farm. And I always wanted to retire to a farm, Griffin. A nice, peaceful farm."
"Yes ma’am," Clarke responded unsurely, lingering in the doorway.
Diyoza poured several aspirin into her hand, then thought better of it and added a couple more. She swallowed them with a sip from her mug—'proud of my child' with a rainbow backing—and pointed at Clarke.
"Go get your anthropologist, and try to keep it in your pants this time."
Clarke’s face went pale, her jaw dropping. "Ma’am! That’s not what I meant, at all. It was—"
"Please," Diyoza interrupted, looking pained as she held her hand out and shook her head. "Please just leave before I jump out the window."
Clarke smiled nervously, adjusting her cocky belt buckle once more. "Yes ma’am."
"I can’t let you onto the platform," Dr. Woods’ assistant, a young prodigy named Raven with zero social skills and a habit of missing the point, blinked innocently at her.
"Sure you can," Clarke replied, tapping her fingers impatiently on the railing leading up the five steps to the forensic platform. The stupid thing was rigged with a high tech computer that Clarke vividly remembered setting off the last time she’d simply walked past it without a key card. An array of security guards, many of them armed, had appeared like a flock of birds, and she had learned her lesson about trespassing in Dr. Woods’ territory.
"Just, you know," Clarke mimicked swiping. "Wave your magic swipe card doohickey in front of the magic laser beam and open sesame, I have platform rights."
Raven frowned, looking somehow confused and judgmental at the same time. "There are a number of things you said that don’t make sense, not the least of which being that the word doohickey means a small object you can’t remember the name of. You said key card, so you know what it's called, and it’s not magic, it’s science."
Clarke blinked. "Okay. Can I come up if I promise not to use the word 'doohickey' improperly again?"
"No," Raven replied simply, continuing with whatever she was doing on the platform that Clarke couldn’t see.
Because she was not on the platform.
A fact she was increasingly losing patience for.
"Because," Raven responded in the same mild tone she always used. "Dr. Woods told us after last time never to let you in here again, under penalty of firing. And I like my job."
Clarke raised an eyebrow, deciding a more friendly approach was in order. She could do this; she’d killed warlords and parachuted out of planes on fire. She’d chased down serial killers and jumped out of moving cars.
She could communicate with a Squint.
"Do you always do everything people tell you to?" she asked conversationally.
"Everyone does what I tell them to," came a flat, annoyed tone from behind her. Clarke whirled around to face two very pretty, very stern, green eyes. Dr. Lexa Woods stood with a stack of folders in her arms, looking commanding and professional in her dark green lab coat.
Clarke offered the anthropologist a charming smile. "Hello, Bones."
Lexa frowned. "Don’t call me Bones. What did Director Diyoza say?"
"She said you can’t have a gun," Clarke replied, following Lexa as she turned on her heel unceremoniously and headed for her office. "And that she hopes you shoot me."
Lexa dropped the stack of paperwork onto her desk, looking confused and, ostensibly, somewhat annoyed by the lack of logic present in the director’s statement. "How am I supposed to shoot you without a gun?"
Clarke shrugged, tucking her thumb into her waistband as she stepped across the impressively large office to gaze at the items on the shelves. "You can use mine, I guess."
"It seems unwise of you to offer me your own gun to shoot you with." Lexa sat down and began organizing the folders, glancing through them one by one as she continued, "I assume that means she agreed to my full participation in the case?"
"She did," Clarke nodded, reaching out to run her fingertips over the delicate leaf of an attractive little plant on one of them.
"Don’t touch that!" Lexa snapped loudly, and Clarke whipped her hand back quickly, looking stunned.
"Relax, Bones. I wasn’t gonna hurt your begonias." Jeez. She was even more uptight than she’d been last year, and that was saying something.
Lexa raised an eyebrow, looking vaguely amused. "That’s a Hippomane mancinella. The Spanish called it manzanilla de la muerte, or the little apple of death. It contains phorbol, a toxin which causes searing pain and blisters on contact. It's believed that an arrowhead coated in the sap of H. mancinella is what killed Juan Ponce De León."
"Okay.." Clarke blinked, taken aback, and glanced at the plant she’d almost touched, then back at the nonplussed anthropologist with horror. "Then why the hell do you have one in your office?"
Lexa shrugged, returning to her paperwork. "Research. People don't usually molest my decor. Have the remains sent over here. I’ll start processing them immediately."
Clarke sighed, scratching at the bridge of her nose and beginning to feel a burning sensation growing in her chest. She should probably pick up some antacids herself.
Clarke tried not to look smug as Raven scanned her onto the forensics platform. "Hah. No choice but to let me up onto the fancy science stage now, huh?"
Raven looked mystified. "What?"
Clarke sighed. There really wasn't a point. "Never mind. Thanks."
She climbed up and made her way to where Lexa already stood, sliding on a second pair of evolution one exam gloves. She approached the autopsy table and took out her pen and pad, regarding the tiny corpse uncomfortably. "What do we got, Bones? How old?
Lexa lifted the small, damaged skull and handled it carefully as she inspected it beneath a tiny but intensely bright lamp. "Young. Pre-pubescent, nine to thirteen. The supraorbital margins are slightly rectangular, suggesting the child is likely male, though it's still more difficult to tell at this age. Third molars haven't erupted yet, placing his age more accurately around eleven or twelve."
"Same age as Wells Jaha," Clarke scribbled furiously as Lexa carefully set the head down and began a visual inspection of the body itself.
"Spinal column is severed midway through C-3, and the edges seem relatively smooth. It will be impossible to tell until we get the bones cleaned, but the imprecise, varied angles suggest it was removed with a sharp implement by someone with very little experience disarticulating human remains."
Clarke paused. "So, murder. With a knife?"
Lexa shook her head. "I can’t possibly know that yet. The head was removed, but with something more like an axe."
Clarke felt a rock sink into the pit of her stomach and she couldn’t help a look of outward horror as she confirmed, "Someone cut this kid’s head off with an axe? Please tell me he was already dead."
Lexa studied her briefly before returning to the top of the table. She swung a large, round magnifying lens over the portion of the spine that jutted from the victim’s decayed flesh and clothing scraps. She probed the region carefully with her brow furrowed, then gazed back at Clarke with reticence.
"I’m sorry, Clarke. Hemhorragic staining on the bone and extensive damage to the surrounding soft tissue suggests the victim was alive at the time that his head was removed."
"Oh, god," came a quiet female voice from behind them. Still reeling from Lexa’s revelation that someone had beheaded an eleven year old kid to death, she turned to take in the new arrival on the platform.
The woman was tall and built like a model, and her air was sweet and relaxed, but she also carried herself like someone who was well aware of the effect she had on people. She wore a fringed bohemian sundress that reached her ankles, where a pair of taupe, slouched boots lay. She wore a few pieces of jewelry—nothing ostentatious, but it all looked handmade and indigenous in nature. There were little turquoise beads and tiny feathers adorning her ears and delicate silver rings on several of her fingers. She had several small tattoos, and one large but simple set of swirled tribal lines that wrapped around one shoulder.
She looked incredibly out of place.
"What kind of monster does that to a little kid?" she continued, the look of dismay and sadness twisting her pretty features. She tapped her stylus against the tablet she carried in an anxious rhythm as she regarded the remains.
"The kind who’ll be serving twenty-five to life when I catch up to them," Clarke answered, nodding at the new arrival reassuringly. "Special Agent Clarke Griffin, FBI. I’m highly motivated to catch the bastard who did this."
The woman seemed to relax slightly, and she flashed a dazzling smile. "Well, hello there, Special Agent Sunshine," she replied coyly. "I guess you left your white horse outside the lab? I wouldn’t mind going for a ride with you later."
Clarke smiled back, blushing with an awkward chuckle at her forwardness. "Uh—"
She smirked and held her hand out. "I’m Echo. I don't belong here. I’m actually an artist. Lexa sucked me into her life of crime against my will, and now I’m trapped here in this hellish vortex of death and child beheadings."
Clarke shook her hand firmly. "An artist, huh? So a normal person, not a genius squint?"
"You’re correct, Echo is not a genius," Lexa volunteered. "But she can often be quite helpful. I have found her to be incredibly useful on numerous occasions."
Clarke cringed; boy, Lexa really told it as she saw it, didn’t she? But Echo smiled as she moved beside the anthropologist. "Thanks, Lex. That was something almost very much like a compliment. I told you that blog I showed you would help with that."
Lexa looked confused and mildly disgusted. "What? No, I didn't even read past the first article. If I wanted to listen to people who aren’t experts in anything talking about topics they know nothing about while using words they don't understand; I would own a television set."
"You don’t own a TV?" came another new voice, but this one, Clarke knew. She nodded at Lexa, who nodded to the security guard stationed near the based of the platform to swipe the man up.
"No," Lexa replied simply, not offering any further information nor seeming interest in the latest arrival.
"Hey, come on up. Everyone, this is Special Agent Bellamy Blake, he’s gonna be working with us. Blake, this is the Squint Squad. Dr. Woods, Echo, Raven, and—uh—" Clarke faltered, gesturing at the man at the far end of the platform hunched over a workbench who hadn’t spoken nor turned around since she’d arrived.
"That’s our bug and slime guy, Murphy," Echo offered helpfully as a noncommittal grunt came from the table. "He hates everyone and everything, but he looks really cute with a beard."
"I am an entomologist," he replied, turning around with a sour look on his boyishly handsome face. He did, indeed, look cute with a beard. "And I actually have quite a few degrees, so can we please show a little respect for our insect friends?"
Clarke made a face, gesturing with her pen at the screen full of dried up maggots that was now visible at his workstation. "Those things are our friends? Are they gonna they tell us who killed our victim?"
Murphy gave her a withering glare. "Don’t be absurd. Of course not. But they can tell us when our victim died, and despite the crowded state of the platform inhibiting my ability to concentrate on doing my job, they have. Victim was killed three months ago."
Blake, who looked merely intrigued by the flurry of chatter, introductions, and information being exchanged, nonchalantly moved directly next to Murphy and peered over his shoulder at the petri dish he held.
"Those maggots are dead," Blake pointed out unnecessarily.
"Very good," Murphy praised him sarcastically. "Water is also wet, air is made up primarily of oxygen, and Dr. Woods, can I please go back to my lab now that I’ve made nice with the government stooges?"
"Yes," Lexa replied from where she was bent over the corpse, completely uninterested in anything else that had been going on.
"No," corrected Clarke, pointing her pen at Murphy. "You stay. How do dead maggots tell you three months ago? That’s not right; it can’t be. This is supposed to be Wells Jaha, and he only went missing a month ago."
Murphy looked downright cold then, and he set the petri dish down on his table, gripping a rubber band around his wrist and beginning to snap it rhythmically against his flesh.
"Because," he began in a cheerful, patronizing tone as though he were addressing a small child. "Fly larvae hatch at a prescribed rate, and their egg laying would have been delayed by the weather in that region right at that time. These babies show a significant time gap between generations that has no other rational cause besides the storm system that swept through the greater DC area three months ago."
Clarke and Blake both stared back at him dumbly.
Lexa was still working, and discussing something with Raven as they investigated something on the skull together. Echo merely looked amused as she did something with her tablet, leaning casually against the railing of the platform.
Murphy sighed with clear aggravation and spoke slowly. "Bug.. no.. lay.. egg.. in.. rain."
"Oh, cool, that’s so cool," Blake replied, stepping back and nodding before addressing the group. "Sorry, this is my first murder investigation, I’m really pumped to, you know. Dive in. Get into it, let's go. Get my hands dirty."
"God, I wish that were me," Echo mumbled to herself, tapping something deliberately on her screen.
Clarke waved her arms a little. "Okay, everyone, reign it in. So, we have an eleven or twelve year old boy, his cause of death, and now his time of death. But three months ago means this isn’t the missing kid."
"Maybe not the famous one," Echo began from behind her tablet, looking troubled. "But this is.. someone’s missing kid. Who died a horrible death, and ended up here, instead of being out running around in the grass. We still have to help him; he deserves to be found, too."
"Echo," Lexa said, lifting her head. Her tone was surprisingly soft and she looked reassuringly at the artist when she added, "I’ll have Raven clean the skull first, so you can start your facial reconstruction while Murphy sorts through the rest of the evidence they sent over."
Echo looked comforted by that, oddly enough, and she smiled and touched Lexa’s shoulder warmly. "Thanks." She accidentally caught sight of the table once more, and quickly turned her head away in disgust.
"Ugh, okay. I’m going back to my office, where there are only beautiful things to look at." She paused, then flashed an incredibly charming smile at Agent Blake. "You’re welcome to come too, if you want, handsome."
Blake looked absolutely befuddled, and his cheeks were burning as he looked to Clarke for help. "Is she seri—" he quickly looked back at Echo. "Are you serious?"
"Yes," she replied, overlapping with Clarke’s, "No."
Echo gave Blake a wink before she exited the platform, and Murphy, presuming his job had also been completed for the time being, snapped the band against his wrist as he passed by them without acknowledging anyone and disappeared behind a frosted glass door.
"No," Clarke reiterated to Blake. "You’re coming with me while the Squints do their squinty things."
"What are we doing?" the rookie agent, eager to get his hands dirty, straightened his shoulders and tie, trying to look more professional. "Questioning suspects? Going back to the scene of the crime? Put some pressure on witnesses?"
Clarke looked at him in comic disbelief. "Pressure on witnesses? No, Blake. I have to go tell the Jahas that the body doesn’t belong to their son, and I thought it was a good idea to bring a shrink with me just in case they find that news upsetting."
Blake’s face sobered quickly, and his voice softened. "Oh, I’m sorry, Clarke. I didn’t realize—"
Clarke held her hand up. "It’s okay. Really." She gave him a reassuring smile. "Why don’t you go bring the car around while I finish up here, alright? Stiff upper lip."
She tossed him the keys to the SUV and he nodded, looking grateful to have a task to focus on.
With the platform otherwise empty, save for Raven, who was working with the skull on a separate table now, Clarke approached Lexa and stood slightly adjacent to the table, leaving her plenty of room to work.
"Your team seems nice," she offered. Lexa didn’t blink nor stop rotating the victim’s hand in her own beneath the magnifier.
"Yes, they're quite effective," she agreed distractedly. "Extensive fracturing on the phalanges, several of the nail beds are split down to the bone."
Clarke frowned, coming in closer and looking into the lens just in case she could see what Lexa was talking about. Seeming to go with the presumed premise, Lexa pointed out something that Clarke couldn’t for the life of her make out on the tips of the fingers. Broken nail beds, she assumed.
"Hairline fractures to both thumbs, and the wrists were bent unnaturally. Violently, repeatedly," she relayed, her face unreadable.
"Th—the kid was tortured?" Clarke asked, feeling even sicker inside herself. How could someone—?
But Lexa shook her head, looking down at the small corpse with admiration. "He fought back. Hard. Against someone far stronger and larger than he was. It was.." she shook her head as she took a small breath. "Incredibly brave."
Clarke softened, lowering her pad and pencil and taking in the deep sadness behind the scientist's eyes. "It was. Kids are like that. My daughter Madi, she’s crazy ticklish, and she’ll even bite you if you aren’t careful. Took a piece out of my ex at Disney once."
"You have a child?" Lexa looked up, seeming genuinely interested. "I didn’t know that."
Clarke nodded, rolling her pen lazily between her fingertips. "My ex has primary custody. He has a trust fund and no job, and I.." She gestured at the corpse. "Murder never sleeps. It’s better to keep her away from this. She’s got anxiety, and she doesn't feel safe at my house."
Lexa frowned a little. "She's objectively more safe under the roof of a former army sniper FBI agent than most other places she could be."
"Thanks, Bones," Clarke smiled softly.
"For what?" the anthropologist looked perplexed. "I merely stated a statistical reality. Did you say your daughter would bite her attacker?"
Clarke was beginning to adapt to Lexa's rapid fire subject hopping and forced herself to go with it as long as it eventually led to a coherent destination. "Uh, yeah. Kids that age, it's kinda their thing, you know. They go feral, they claw you, bite you. Madi's definitely a hair puller. It's totally normal. Right?" she looked to the FBI psychologist with a bit of concern in her eyes.
Blake nodded reassuringly. "Oh, for sure. Kids have even less control over their primal instincts than adults do. The part of their brain responsible for decision making and empathy isn't developed. They have no sense of right or wrong; they're like tiny psychopaths."
Clarke frowned. "What? No. My daughter is not a psychopath, okay?"
"He's actually correct," Lexa looked at the shrink, dumbfounded. "You seem knowledgeable for someone who wasted their life on psychology. You never considered a more productive field?"
Blake chuckled nervously, glancing to Clarke for help, but she merely shrugged.
This was clearly just Lexa's personality, and frankly, the boy was gonna have to learn to swim on his own if they were gonna be working together. She gestured unsympathetically.
"You want to work my cases, you learn to communicate with my anthropologist," she shrugged, flipping back to the beginning of her notes.
Having confirmed he wasn't going to get any help, Blake took a deep breath and then, after a moment, diplomatically explained, "I find that often times, understanding the perceived or expressed motivations responsible for past human behavior can be helpful in the course of a current murder investigation."
"Seems somewhat logical," Lexa made a 'not bad' expression while shrugging, indicating she accepted his rationale behind an inferior career choice, and turned her attention to her intern. "Raven, before you boil the skull, have Murphy see if he can retrieve any particulates from between the teeth. The child may have bitten his assailant."
"Of course, Dr. Woods." Raven lifted a tray with the skull on it and left the platform, heading for the same frosted glass door Murphy had disappeared behind.
"Boil the skull?" Blake looked mildly sickened. "You're going to, uh, boil the skull?"
"Of course," Lexa shook her head, the small amount of mild lack of disrespect that had been in her eyes a moment ago dissipating quickly. "How else would it get clean? Perhaps psychology was an appropriate career choice for you after all, Agent Blake."
Blake darted his eyes to Clarke. "Why didn't that feel like a compliment?"
"It wasn't one," the anthropologist replied nonchalantly.
Clarke intervened before Agent Blake wet himself or Lexa emotionally eviscerated him any further. "Brought the car around?" Blake nodded, looking relieved. "Let's go tell the Jahas their son is still missing. They shouldn't have to wait any longer for some kind of news."
Blake nodded and headed for the exit, but Clarke paused, leaning on the edge of Lexa's exam table. She purposefully invaded the brunettes space, just a little, and said quietly, "You should be nicer to people. Open up a little. Let them see the real you."
Lexa shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know what that means."
"Nah, I think you do," Clarke smiled a little as she followed after Agent Blake. "Call me when you have something, Bones."
Lexa watched Clarke's back as the she caught up to her fellow agent, looking totally mystified.
"Don't call me Bones," she responded automatically, but there was no energy behind it this time, and Clarke just flashed a warm smile over her shoulder as she exited the lab.