Genre: Gen. Drama. Case story. H/C.
Spoilers: Anything up to S2's Soft Target is fair game.
Notes: This is my first attempt at a "case story," so to speak and is probably one of the most detailed plots I've written recently. It when through a few forms, and I have to thank Devra for alphaing this story, telling me not to give up on it, and giving it another look when I finished major edit #1 :).
Warnings: Crimes scenes are mentioned and
detailed, but nothing worse than you'd see in an episode of the
Disclaimer: Not mine. Just borrowing and plan to return...eventually :).
Those were wonderful words, even if they meant there'd be a pile of paperwork waiting for him on his desk the moment he stepped back into the office. But paperwork hardly mattered when the right person was in jail with a trail of evidence long enough to keep him there forever. It was satisfying and for Don, the reason he got every morning. The part of the job he loved.
Sadly, their suspect had left six college professors dead in his wake. The tip they needed hadn't occurred until shortly after victim number six.
Some parts of the job never got easier.
Truth was, Don had another reason to be glad the case the closed. A far more personal one.
Every single victim had been male, a college professor in the sciences, and under the age of forty.
He had found it hard to let Charlie out of his sight. Even harder to let Charlie work on this case. Their father had freaked, and Don had spent so much time anguishing over it that he had gotten very little sleep and absolutely no peace of mind.
Until now. Score one for math and the FBI. The bad guy was behind bars and Charlie's safe in Pasadena. All's well that ends well.
And Don was left with the paperwork, which was perfectly fine with him.
He bolted up, his ragged breathing obscenely loud in his ears as his eyes slowly adjusted to the bedroom's darkness. A glance at the clock told him it was nearly 4 a.m. He ran a hand across his face, surprised to find it soaked with sweat. Surprised, because short of his muttering Charlie's name, Don had no clue about what had just happened.
A dream, he assumed, but he rarely, if ever remembered his dreams. It was about Charlie, that much he was certain. Judging from the sweat, this wasn't just any dream. This was better classified under the heading of nightmare.
His heart was still pounding and he closed his eyes. Why had Charlie's name been on the tip of his tongue? The case was closed. He'd seen Charlie just a few hours ago, ate dinner with him, Dad, and Larry. He'd spent so much time yawning at the table, both dad and Charlie had wanted him to stay, but had he insisted he was fine and drove home shortly after.
So why was his heart beating so quickly? Why the sweat?
His hand reached out towards the bedside table, grabbing his cell phone. He flipped it open and dialed Charlie's number.
He was about to hit send, when he stopped himself. It was late and he was being ridiculous. This was ridiculous. Charlie was fine. He, on the other hand, was a different story so he shut the phone, took a deep breath, then settled down among the pillows.
One thing was for sure as he tossed, turned, and pounded the pillows; he sure as hell wasn't getting anymore sleep tonight.
"You know, that file's probably a whole lot easier to read if you actually opened it."
Don shook his head and looked up to find Megan standing next to his desk, holding a cup of coffee.
She put the cup down next to his keyboard. "I think you need this more than I do. I can go and get another cup."
"Thanks." He picked up the cup and took a long sip. "Didn't get much sleep last night," he explained. Much was an understatement, of course, because none was probably closer to the truth.
"No kidding," Megan commented. She took a moment to assess him. "You okay?"
She didn't look convinced, but thankfully, decided not to push the issue, but instead peered over his shoulder at the unopened file on his desk. "We closed the Peters' case."
"I know. Doesn't mean I finished all the paperwork, though."
"O-kay," she said, giving him an odd look.
He ignored it and took another sip of his coffee. "Megan," he started, but was interrupted when he spotted Charlie heading towards his desk. An alive and well Charlie, though he wasn't sure why he was expecting anything else. He'd called the house that morning and his father told him Charlie had already left for campus. Don had called Charlie's cell and gotten his voice mail.
He was obsessing and he knew it. But that wasn't what really bothered him. The fact that he had no idea why he was being so paranoid did.
"Charlie. What are you doing here?"
"You called me," Charlie answered, his brow crinkling in confusion. He reached into his pocket and took out his cell phone. "You left four messages."
"And you actually checked them?"
"Yes." Charlie sounded slightly hurt. "Dad said you called the house, too. What's up? New case?" He picked up the file on Don's desk.
"No." Don grabbed the file, but not before Charlie had a chance to open it.
"This is your last case. I thought it was closed."
"Paperwork," Megan volunteered. "I'm going to get coffee. Want a cup, Charlie?"
Charlie shook his head. "No thanks." Megan walked away and Charlie frowned. "Okay. No new case. Why did you call, then?"
"Can I call just to say hi?"
"You can," Charlie said, "but you don't."
"Sure I do," Don insisted.
Charlie shook his head. "No. No, you don't. Don, I repeat, what's up? I have a two o'clock class I should be prepping for right now."
"Nothing," Charlie repeated. "Okay. Well, then, I'm going to try and catch the bus back to CalSci." He started to leave.
Don stopped him. "Wait."
Charlie turned. "What?"
"You're here. Least I can do is buy you lunch."
"Lunch?" Charlie raised an eyebrow.
"You do a lot of stuff or me. Lunch is the least I can do."
"Lunch?" Charlie repeated. "Don, I once spent an entire night putting together a geographic crime index and you didn't so much as say thank you. Now you call me, not just once, but four times, tell me to come down to the FBI to take me to lunch?"
Don shrugged. "I owed it to you. I mean especially after the whole Val-"
"We settled the Val thing," Charlie countered. "This isn't about that last case, is it?"
Of course it was, but Charlie didn't need to know that slight bit of information and Don sure as hell wasn't about to admit it. "Of course not."
"Which means it is," Charlie shook his head then ran a hand through his hair. "Don, you had like four agents on me all the time. It was stifling, really."
"It was needed."
Charlie sighed. "Yeah, well, it's done. And I really do have a two o'clock class, so if you're serious about buying me lunch..."
"I'm serious. Let's go."
Don put the file back down on his desk. Lunch with Charlie, then back to the office. Hopefully it would be enough to put whatever was plaguing him to rest.
He surveyed the scene. He was alone, a fact that struck him as odd, and he frowned because he was never alone at a crime scene.
The office was in disarray, the typical signs of a struggle plain as day. Papers had been scattered, books littered the floor, and a piece of chalk had been crushed into white powder; whether by the assailant or the victim was for forensics to determine.
He turned and found himself facing the chalkboard. It was covered in numbers - no, make that calculations - and there was a clear jerk toward the end of a sequence as if the writer had been suddenly interrupted. Don ran his finger across the board and...
His eyes popped open, and all he saw was the white ceiling of his bedroom. The fan was on and it was slowly turning, creating a moving shadow.
Don glanced at his clock. 2:42 a.m. Wonderful.
He scrubbed his face, blinking to clear the sleep from his eyes. Another dream, but this one was different. This one he remembered, clear as day.
Not a nightmare. But somehow, it had shaken him. And he had no clue why.
He sighed. The only thing he was sure of was he needed some sleep and it wasn't happening tonight.
He thought about the chalkboard, the numbers, as he drove to work and Charlie immediately came to mind, but that wasn't right because the handwriting hadn't been Charlie's. But it had been the work of someone math inclined.
He almost called Charlie.
Instead, he tried to push it out of his mind and turned into the FBI parking garage. He was about to turn off the engine when his cell rang.
"Don, he's back."
He had a feeling he wasn't about to like this call.
"Peters isn't our man. Or if he is, we've got a copycat on our hands."
This was not what he needed to hear.
The déjà vu started the minute he stepped out of the car and walked onto the campus of Pasadena City College. He chalked it up to pure coincidence; after all he wasn't one to believe in dreams.
But when he entered the professor's office, it was there as clear as day. The papers, the struggle, the crushed chalk, the board full of calculations, complete with the abrupt stop in the sequence.
For a moment, Don just stood there.
Megan tapped his shoulder and he jerked.
"Sorry," she said.
He moved closer to the board and studied it. The same handwriting. Don had to admit -it was eerie. But he didn't have time to dwell on it. "They find him yet?"
She shook her head. "No. But if the MO is the same, it's not looking good. He had office hours yesterday afternoon, had a couple of students stop by. David and Colby are trying to locate them. His wife was alarmed when it got to be after two a.m. and he hadn't come home."
"I take it he doesn't stay out late?"
Megan shook her head. "Every night, home in time for dinner."
"Except for last night. We got a recent photo of this guy?"
"Yeah. School ID photo. He's only been working here six months."
"Six months?" Don repeated. "How old is this guy?"
Someone passed Megan a printout. "Twenty-nine," she answered and handed the sheet of paper to him.
Don almost dropped the page the second he got his first glimpse.
Brown eyes. Curly hair. Short brown curls, not as long as Charlie's, but the similarity was striking and not something Don wanted to see. The young professor was smiling broadly.
"Happy guy," Megan commented.
"Yeah," Don muttered. He was almost grateful when his cell phone rang and he handed the picture back to Megan as he answered. "Eppes."
"We've got a body."
Straight and to the point, something Don was used to on the job. The caller didn't even need to say anymore more. And though he couldn't be sure, he had a gut feeling as to whose body it would turn out to be.
He ended the call.
"Greg Carlson, twenty-nine. Found strangled next to a dumpster in West LA. He'd been tortured, but the full coroner's report won't be back for a couple of hours. We have to have the wrong guy." Megan grabbed a folder and leaned against the table across from Don.
David shook his head. "No way. The evidence is rock solid. We're talking DNA. This has to be a copycat. Peters was all over the news. All anyone needed to do was pick up a paper and read the details."
"Plus Peters confessed," Colby added.
Don had to sigh at that. He'd been down that road and been wrong. He wasn't going to make assumptions here, even when there was a confession. He stared at the crime scene photos that had been tacked up on the wall.
"There's no cut across the forehead this time."
Megan put down her own paperwork. "That's true. He'd be breaking his pattern and serial killers rarely break their pattern."
"Unless they're caught." Colby leaned back in his chair. "Our guy Peters have any friends?"
"He worked alone. Or so he says..." Don's voice trailed and found himself trying to look anywhere but at the victim's face. He'd called Charlie as soon as he'd seen the body, reassuring himself Charlie was alive and well. By shear luck, Charlie had picked up his cell. Perhaps Charlie could work his magic again.
Yet this time, Don had a feeling something was different. Something other than the lack of the Peters' typical MO. And this something involved Charlie, though Don had absolutely no concrete evidence or even any reasoning to back that claim. Unless his dreams counted and Don wasn't too sure about having his nighttime dreams examined by anyone. He knew they were crazy; he didn't need other people to confirm.
"We find those students? The ones who went to his office hours yesterday?"
"I already spoke to one," David replied. "Colby and I are talking to the other kid at two."
"Good." Don turned completely away from the photos. He needed to sit at his desk, piece together evidence, anything that would solve this case, yet get him away from the victim's face. "Charlie's coming in to run some more numbers. Someone let me know when we have the full forensics report."
He walked away, plunking himself in front of his computer. Evidence, right. Too bad there wasn't any. Peters' was behind bars when this happened, so they had to start over from scratch. Don found himself staring down at his keyboard as if it would yield all the answers.
"Hey. You called?"
Charlie. Don jerked up at the sound of his brother's voice.
"Sorry," Charlie apologized. "You know, you're really jumpy lately."
Don ignored the comment. "Another one, Charlie. Your equation pointed us straight to Peters, but now we've got another murdered professor on our hands."
"I know. Greg Carlson." Charlie sat down in a chair across from his desk, tapping his fingers on the armrests.
"That's right. How did you know his name? I just got back from the crime scene. Don't tell me the press-"
"No. I saw Megan on the way in and caught a glimpse of the crime scene photos." He paused a moment. "Actually, Greg and I were acquaintances. He attended the lecture I did on H Infinity Control of non-linear systems a few months ago. He'd read my paper. We exchanged emails, even met for lunch once or twice. He was starting a new teaching job and we talked math and lesson plans. He was a nice guy." Charlie let go of the armrests. "It has to be Peters. My algorithm picked him out almost immediately."
"Your algorithm also picked out a housewife in New Jersey, who had been grocery shopping during the last murder. Besides, Peters is out of the picture this time."
Charlie leaned forward in his seat. "Don, maybe he didn't do it."
Don raised an eyebrow.
"This could just like that sniper case. With the commonality of murder weapons, yet-"
"This isn't a bunch of blue houses," Don interrupted. "But you're right; it could be a copycat. I'm hoping you might be able to help me."
Charlie shrugged. "I can try, of course, but one death isn't enough data-"
"Make it enough data. I certainly don't want a report performance." As soon as the words left his mouth, Don realized they were harsher then he intended. But he couldn't get Carlson's face out of his brain. Learning he and Charlie knew each other did not make him feel any better. All it did was raise another red flag and added another agent to the total he'd again have tailing Charlie.
Charlie stared at him a minute and Don shifted, avoiding direct eye contact, and immediately regretting it. The lack of sleep had him on edge, and coupled with the rest of his day, he wasn't himself. Not by a long shot.
"What's different this time?" Charlie asked.
"Different?" he repeated.
"Peters' MO. The cut-"
"Across the forehead," Don finished. "It's not there."
"You know, the chances of a serial killer changing-"
"I know, Megan already mentioned that, and the statistics are hard to ignore. But he'd been tortured." Don regretted sharing that detail when he saw it was now Charlie's turn to shift uncomfortably. "Charlie, I'm sorry-"
"I know." Charlie was quiet a minute. "Look, do you know anything about services or-"
"It'll be a day or so before the body's released, but I think we have his wife's contact info," Don responded. "I can get it for you."
"That would be great," Charlie said softly. "And the case - I'll see what I can do."
"No problem." Charlie started to leave, but stopped himself at the last second. "Don?"
"You are going to have someone watching me again, aren't you?"
"I always do."
"You're over reacting. Like you did with lunch a couple of days ago."
"Lunch was lunch. Whoever is out there is dangerous, Charlie. And he or she is hunting professors. Forgive me for being slightly concerned. Especially when Carslon looks exactly like--" He caught himself before he finished his sentence. But it wasn't fast enough.
"Like me?" Charlie finished. "Greg and I both have curly hair. So do millions of other people and millions more have curly hair that is also brown. The statistical chances of--"
"I don't care about statistical chances. I care about my brother being oblivious to the fact that he could be setting himself up to be the perfect victim."
"The perfect victim?" Obviously, Charlie wasn't pleased with that statement.
Again, Don was reminded of how he needed sleep. "I didn't mean that. I meant...forget it. Go. Run your numbers."
For a second, he thought Charlie might protest, might try and drag out the argument, but he didn't. He let it drop and nodded.
"Fine. Give me the data and I'll do my best."
The case was going nowhere, and fast. The students didn't have any clues and Don was at a dead end. He didn't want this case to go cold, or for this guy to strike again. He had David and Colby out on a threadbare lead. He and Megan were re-examining evidence. Charlie was at home working with Larry, or so he had been ten minutes ago when Don checked in with the two agents watching him.
And to top it off Don still had no serious leads.
"Remind me again about the types of serial killers." He reached across the conference table and thumbed through past crime scene photos.
"Thrill seekers," Megan started. "They see killing as a way outsmart law enforcement, to play a game. They love media attention, police pursuit, evading capture. But they don't stay quiet. They brag, often send messages and keep detailed records of every kill."
"Like a trophy," Don muttered.
"Exactly," Megan agreed. "Then there's the mission oriented. The ones that believe they're doing society a favor by getting rid of people they feel are less desirable. Like prostitutes. Professors don't exactly fall into that category."
"More like the opposite." Don scanned the photos. First hit was a physics professor, then a philosophy professor, followed by a two English teachers, a Biology guy, a Linguistics guy, and now there was a math professor dead.
"Last type is power and control. Those are the killers that-"
"Enjoy the victim's terror, suffering, and screaming," Don cut in. He remembered that lovely point from Quantico. Personally, he found those people the sickest of all. "That's Peters."
"He admitted it and showed no remorse once we had him."
"Sounds like you believe we did get the right guy after all."
"Yeah, I think we did," she admitted. "Carlson, yes he was tortured, but something's different."
"No forehead gash?" That was obvious one, but Don knew that wasn't what she meant. He had the very same feeling and it was extremely frustrating to not be able to pinpoint it.
"Yes, but there's something else. You think Charlie's having any luck?"
He pushed the photos in front of him away. "I sure hope so."
It was after four when Don made his way back to Charlie's. He was happy to see the government sedan across the street, and even happier to see Charlie sitting at the dining room table, papers scattered. Larry sat across from him, and Charlie's laptop was open. Neither man looked satisfied.
"Should I ask?"
Charlie sighed. "I don't get it. It says I'm wrong. That Peters has to be one responsible."
"Peters was in custody. Is still in custody, Charlie."
Charlie shook his head. "That's true, but he still comes up as the prime suspect. It doesn't make any sense. Peters isn't the answer."
"Right." Don pulled out a chair and sat down next to Charlie. "How about if you take the older cases out of the mix?"
Charlie frowned. "Pull them out? Why?"
"Because it's falsifying the data," Larry put in. Don nodded; Larry got it.
Charlie, however, continued to frown. "One case isn't enough data. I told you that. If we pull out the other murders, we're starting from scratch."
"Not enough data would make any analysis much more difficult. But, Charles, perhaps the way we are examining the data is not the best." Larry gestured as he spoke, hands moving, and Don briefly wondered how Charlie wasn't constantly dizzy. Then again, Charlie often talked with his hands, especially when explaining a concept. Maybe it was a science thing.
Charlie thought a moment. "Well, there are other theories..." He and Larry started discussing, but their words faded into the background when Don's cell rang. He picked it up.
"Don, you have to see this."
It was Megan, and something was up. Something, he knew that was yet again, not a good thing. "See what?"
"We got a letter. This isn't power and control guy anymore. This guy is thrill seeker."
A pit formed in Don's stomach. "I want a copy-"
"Already got it."
"Good. I'll be there in twenty."
It mentioned him by name. Don read the words carefully. This was a game. A complete and utter game and one that had just gotten very personal.
"I needed your attention, Agent Eppes, and I got it. Watch your back," he read. But that wasn't what bothered him. He could handle being threatened. It had happened before and it would happen again. It came with the job. No, it was the last sentences that chilled him.
"And your little brother's. I like math professors."
Don bypassed his father when he dropped by Charlie's. Alan was obviously heading up to bed; his hand had been ready to lock the back door when Don came through it.
"Where's Charlie?" were the first words out of Don's mouth.
"Hello to you, too. He's at the table, working. You know, Donnie, as much as I love seeing you stop by, it's nearly midnight."
Don stole a glance at the clock on the microwave. How had it gotten so late? "I know, but I really need to see Charlie."
"Like I said, dining room." Alan reached out and locked the bolt. "Is everything all right? I saw the news."
Don avoided his father's eyes. "I don't really want to get into it. It was messy, and we don't have much to go on yet." The news said nothing about the note, and if Don had anything to do about it, that particular piece of evidence wouldn't ever be seen by or mentioned to the press.
Alan looked like he wanted to push, but he didn't and Don was grateful. While he wanted to believe he could hide things from his father, in reality, he knew Alan Eppes was much perceptive than he gave him credit for.
"If you want to stay, there are fresh sheets on the bed in your old room."
"Thanks." He watched Alan leave before heading straight towards Charlie.
"Don, this is getting a little out of hand. You called me thirteen times." Charlie waved his cell in front of Don.
Don didn't care how many times he had called. Charlie hadn't picked up, which was the reason why Don threw some files in the car and left the office.
"If you picked up your phone every once in a while, or at least reviewed your voice mail, I wouldn't call so much," he answered. He'd get no sleep again tonight, but he knew it wouldn't be because of some dream.
"Wouldn't call...My cell was in my bag and I didn't hear it. I only just checked the messages." Charlie put down his phone. "Why are you here? I still don't have an answer. Not one that makes sense."
Don intentionally ignored Charlie's question and slumped down in a chair. "That's fine. We got a few answers of our own this afternoon."
Charlie gave him a look that asked him to elaborate, but Don wasn't in a talking mood. Charlie, however, wasn't ready to take no for an answer.
"Was there another...?"
"No." Now, just a crazy person apparently out to get him and Don had not a clue who it was and why they wanted revenge. He'd spent a couple of hours digging through past cases, pulling out suspects and family members. But there was so much data and there was no way he was dumping all that into Charlie's lap. In fact, he wanted Charlie off the case and tucked away somewhere safe.
He wasn't aware that he'd actually spoken his thoughts out loud until Charlie stared at him, mouth open.
"Why do you want me off this case? This is about Greg, isn't it? Don, it's a coincidence. Of course, I want nothing more than to make sure the person responsible-"
"It's not about Carlson."
"I'm *not* a victim, Don."
Yes, you are, he wanted to shout, but he bit his tongue. He could see the argument from earlier that afternoon rehashing itself and honestly, he didn't have the energy to deal with it.
"Maybe not, but you fit the profile. And that's something that I can't ignore," he shouted back. It was more than that and he had the typed words to prove it.
"So does half the staff at CalSci. Does that mean you have agents on them, too?"
"Half the staff at CalSci isn't my little brother," Don grumbled.
"Little?" Charlie repeated. "I'm younger, not 'little'."
"Fine, younger. The fact is, Charlie, half of CalSci hasn't been threatened."
"Threatened?" Charlie was confused.
If he wanted Charlie to drop this, he'd have to come clean and he hated it. He glanced over his shoulder, making sure his father had headed upstairs. Alan might be able to draw certain conclusions, but that didn't mean Don was going to hand it to him on a silver platter. He could just hear the lecture and he didn't want to sit through it. Especially, since this time he was ready to agree.
"I got a letter. It isn't Peters. Peters is our guy for the last six university murders, not this one."
"He threatened you, didn't he?"
He did, but that wasn't what worried him. "I guess you could say that." He stared at Charlie, willing him to get the silent message, get the point. Understand.
"I want to help. I found Peters-"
"This is a whole new game, Charlie. This isn't a math problem anymore."
"Everything's a math problem," Charlie replied, just as Don expected him to. Everything was numbers to Charlie. But numbers didn't explain why people killed other people.
Don couldn't live with himself if his job got Charlie killed. "It isn't," he said, his voice unyielding. "I don't want you working on this."
Charlie blinked and Don could see the wheels turning inside his brain. He feared Charlie would protest, but he was in shock when Charlie responded with a soft, "Okay. If that's what you want."
Charlie gathered up his work. "I'm going to bed," he said, "If you want there's sheets-"
"On the bed in my old room," Don finished. "I know." He sat at the table long after Charlie left, wondering what the hell had just happened because that was too easy and that unnerved him even more.
It was another classroom, another crime scene. But this time, it wasn't random. Don knew this place well, too well, from the numbers on the chalkboard to the broken bowl of gumballs scattered across the floor.
A struggle, yes, but this time there wasn't a kidnapping. There was a body surrounded by the proper crime scene personnel.
His feet were glued to the floor. He knew where he was, knew the horror of it, the worst case scenario popping out at him.
It couldn't be.
Don's eyes flew open and his hands scrambled for the blankets, shoving them aside. For a few moments he lay there, doing nothing but listening to his heavy breathing. A glance at the bedside clock told him it was just after four.
He didn't want to think, not about is dream, not about anything. He got dressed and found himself standing in front of the door to Charlie's bedroom. He felt silly, stupid, but he needed to know. He gently pushed the door open, wincing at the creak it made. Just another inch and he'd be able to see ...
An empty bed.
Don swung the door open all the way, revealing rumpled sheets, piles of dirty laundry, but no Charlie.
It took Don two minutes to get to into his car and out onto
the road. Charlie's bike was missing and all he could see was the
broken pieces of glass and loose gumballs from his dream. He
tried not to panic. He knew exactly where Charlie had gone; a
quick check with the agent he had tailing Charlie told him he'd
gone to the university. Don had a field day with one of agents on
Charlie for not being notified right away. And despite the fact
that he'd been told Charlie was fine, his mind still didn't want
to believe it.
He gripped the steering wheel every time he hit a red light, and did anything not to count the seconds that passed. Finally, he pulled into the space in the main campus parking lot and sprinted across the campus lawn towards the math department. Before he even entered the building, he stared up at the window he knew was Charlie's.
The light was on.
Immediately, he took let out a breath. The light being on was a good sign.
He should have known better.
The light was on all right, but the broken glass was there, the gumballs were scattered across the floor, and papers were strewn everywhere. Don didn't even bother to look towards the corner. His stomach sank and a chill ran down his spine.
Charlie was standing in the middle of it, a look of absolute shock and terror across his face.
Only then, did Don look.
Fuck was the first word that came to his mind.
Charlie didn't move and Don took a few steps further into the room, careful not to disturb anything that could be considered evidence. He touched Charlie's shoulder. Charlie flinched.
"Don?" The word was whispered so softly that Don almost missed it.
"How long have you been here?"
"Two minutes. I was down in the main computer lab and I needed...I came back to...I turned on the light..." Charlie fumbled for words. "Don, he's..."
"Dr. Philips. Fred Philips, from the physics department." Charlie drew in a sharp breath, and Don let go of his shoulder and turned to face him.
"He's new," Charlie continued. "Started two weeks ago, just getting his lab settled. Larry and I...god, we had lunch with him two days ago. I..."
"I'll take care of this." With years of practice behind him, Don flipped open his cell and dialed the right numbers, spoke to the right people, did his job. Only after he finished, did he notice the patch of white taped on the backboard in the mist of Charlie's latest figures:
//Told you I liked professors. Though, perhaps next time, a certain one might not be so lucky. You can't ignore me or catch me. But I look forward to seeing you try.//
Charlie was freaked.
He wasn't the only one.
Don had tried his best to forget about the dream that had driven him here and concentrated on doing his job, both professionally and personally. He had guided Charlie out of the room, settled him in the faculty lounge down the hall before heading back down the hall. He had hated leaving Charlie, and had hesitated at the doorway.
"I'm fine," Charlie had muttered, his tone even. But his eyes betrayed his words, staring straight ahead. He didn't move from the couch Don had guided him to.
Don hadn't moved.
"Go," Charlie had said, waving his hand but not breaking his stare.
"Okay," he had agreed, knowing it would only be for a few minutes. He'd need Charlie's statement before the dawn broke
When the crime scene was set, the questions were being answered, the letter taped to the backboard bagged and on its way to the bureau to see if any other information could be obtained from its surface, Don returned.
Megan was sitting with Charlie, talking. Larry was standing a few feet away, busying himself with the coffee maker and Don wondered when the physicist had gotten there. Then again, it shouldn't have been a surprise. Larry was probably Charlie's best friend and Don had caught a glimpse of the news van through the window. Any hope of keeping this case out of the media spotlight had been shot to hell.
Charlie's head was pointed downwards, and every minute or so he'd nod. Don knew the helpless and guilty feeling; it was one he was experiencing himself. What would have happened if he hadn't gotten here when he did? He could just imagine the phone call and what could have been if their father had...
Dad. Damn. It was nearly seven a.m. and Alan made a habit of watching the early morning news. There was no doubt he wasn't going to be pleased.
He started to step closer to the couch when Megan looked up and caught his eye. Her glance said 'wait' and as much as he didn't want to, he knew she was right. He shouldn't interrupt Charlie's statement; it would be much easier to let Megan finish and get Charlie home. So instead, he approached the coffee maker. Larry offered him a cup.
"You happened to be on campus?"
"I was on my way here, yes," Larry admitted. "I heard the news on the radio, which is quite unusual, considering the fact that I don't usually listen to the radio in the morning."
Don took a sip of the coffee. It was black, but he didn't care, he could use all the straight caffeine he could get. "Coincidence, then." He knew all about coincidences lately.
"One would think so." Larry dipped a spoon into his cup and stirred, not seeming to notice the fact that he was getting drops of liquid on the counter and himself. "Dr. Philips is...was a brilliant man."
"Charlie said he was new. Been here two weeks."
Larry nodded. "He came from MIT. His office is perpendicular to mine. He was still unpacking boxes and was waiting on a lot of lab equipment. But his insight on particle acceleration and wave production and its relevance to auroral dynamics along with his plan to uncover the plasma micro-physics behind electron and ion acceleration and the role of the various plasma wave modes commonly observed above the visible aurora, well..."
Larry had lost him at auroral dynamics, but Don nodded, letting the professor babble onward about a man whose death had obviously impacted him. He took another sip of his coffee and couldn't help watching Charlie out of the corner of his eye. Megan had a hand on his shoulder and for a split second he had a flashback to the look on Charlie's face when he found him, standing amidst the broken glass.
He shook his head. Larry was still talking, still stirring his coffee. Only when Don placed his cup back down on the counter, did Larry stop.
"Oh dear," he commented and grabbed a napkin to sop up the mess he had made. At the same moment, Megan rose from the couch, patting Charlie's shoulder as she did. She met Don's eyes again and nodded. He took his cue, leaving Larry to his mess. Larry hardly noticed; he heard him ask Megan if she wanted coffee as he sat down next to Charlie.
He didn't say anything at first. But it turned out he didn't have to.
"This is why you don't want me working on this case." It wasn't a question and Charlie's gaze stayed straight ahead when he said it.
"Yes. One of them," he admitted. "But, Charlie, this isn't because-"
"Of me?" Charlie turned to him. "I saw the note, Don. But he has a pattern and if I sit down and look at it-"
"I don't want you to look at it," he interjected. "Charlie, you can't help me. This is beyond you. This is personal. We have no clue who this guy is, just that he wants my attention."
"Which he got," Charlie muttered. "But Don, he's obviously following Peters' pattern. I could use the same algorithm as a basis to try and---"
"This isn't Peters. And honestly, Charlie, I don't even want you working on the case. This guy killed someone in your office. Got in without so much as anyone noticing. He's dangerous. I think you should stay home for a few days."
"I can't stay home."
"Your office is a crime scene. You can't work here even if you wanted to. And like it or not, there will *still* be two agents watching you."
Charlie took a deep breath. "I have a life. I have classes. My office..." He ran a hand through his hair. "Don, I'm glad that..."
"Glad that what?"
Charlie blinked. "Why were you here? It was after four in the morning."
Don didn't want to answer that. "Why were *you* here?"
"Work," Charlie answered. "I can concentrate better at night. You didn't answer my question."
Don shrugged. "I just was. Why does it matter?"
Charlie studied him and Don resisted the urge to turn away. He didn't want his brother to try and read him because in his exhausted state it was a bit harder to hide. Finally Charlie spoke.
"Good." He gave Charlie a feeble smile. "I'll take you home. I'm sure Dad's seen the news and I have a feeling you and I will have some explaining to do."
"Yeah," Charlie agreed.
To say that their father wasn't happy was the understatement of the year. Don knew the minute he stepped through the door that he'd seen the news and the size of Alan's frown let Don know just how much information the press had gotten hold of.
"I called your cell phone and all I got was your voice mail. There was a murder in Charlie's office?"
"Yes," Don admitted reluctantly. "And I was on the phone when you called." He watched Charlie slump down in a dining room chair. He rested his hands on the tabletop, and as much as he was trying to hold himself together, it was easy to see that morning's events still had him shaken.
"I thought you had caught the guy. The one killing professors. Then I turn on the news this morning and find out you haven't. What's going on and why does it involve a dangerous criminal in Charlie's office?"
Don sighed. This is why he never used to bring work home with him. Before Charlie had gotten involved, Don hadn't talked much about work. He'd drop by for dinner, perhaps a file or two under his arm, but he'd never shared many details. Oh, sure, he'd mention it was a murder case, sometimes vent a tiny bit of frustration if his day hadn't gone well, but that had been it.
When had that changed? He'd like to think it had been Charlie, since that seemed to be the easiest explanation, but he knew it wasn't the truth. Mom hated his job. Respected it, but didn't like hearing the gritty details at the dinner table.
"We did get the right guy. It's just gotten a lot more complicated, Dad."
Alan crossed his arms. "Well, I have time. Care to elaborate?"
"I can't." He shouldn't, but that wasn't what was holding him back.
"Can't? Or won't?"
"Does it matter?"
Both Don and Alan turned at Charlie's voice. He stared down at the table, his head shaking back and forth slowly, his fingers moving restlessly. "Because it doesn't. We got the right guy the first time. This is different. An anomaly. The data doesn't add up."
Don let Charlie's statement sink in. It was true and it made his life a mess. He could hope that when he headed back to the office they'd have a lead off that note, but he wasn't holding his breath. He had a feeling this guy wasn't careless enough to leave a fingerprint behind. The note was typed, so handwriting couldn't be analyzed. This guy was good. His father was looking at him, he knew, and still waiting for a further explanation.
He though about what to say, but before he could even open his mouth, Charlie pushed his chair out and got up, making a beeline for the front door.
Don stopped him.
"Where are you going?"
"Out for a walk," Charlie answered.
"Charlie, you can't-"
"I need to clear my head. I won't go far. Send whoever you want to follow me. Just make sure they keep their distance." He met Don's gaze. "Please."
He nodded. "Yeah, sure."
Charlie gave him a terse "thanks" and headed out the door. Don reached for his cell, making a quick call. He gave a glance out one of the front windows and watched the car containing agents slowly pull out. Satisfied, he turned back to his father.
"Charlie's right. Peters, the guy we arrested, is the right guy. This is a copycat and we have absolutely no leads. Only that he wants me to listen to him." Don paused a minute. "I pulled Charlie off this case."
"Pulled him off? Why?"
Don gave him an odd look. "Why? I'd think you'd be overjoyed that I did."
"Well, I'll admit, the fact that Charlie was working on a case involving the murders of college professors was not something I liked, but I'm surprised."
Don sat back down at the table. "Surprised about what? That I told him I didn't need his help?"
"Yes," Alan answered. "The last time you had no leads, you pushed Charlie. You always push Charlie, even when I don't agree. Charlie pushes himself. Something happened."
"Nothing happened." He was lying and he knew his father would see right through him, but he hoped, like the last time he'd dropped by, Alan would let it go.
Nope. His father wasn't going to. But this case had him rattled and Don wasn't in the mood for a long conversation. Especially one where his father reminded him again that Charlie wasn't an FBI agent.
"It's personal, Dad, and it's confidential. It something I shouldn't be talking about and frankly, I doubt you'd want to hear it anyway. I put a couple of agents on Charlie. But I can't have him helping me. You're right, Dad. I chose this life and Charlie didn't. And he shouldn't pay for my choice." He sighed and got up. "I have to get back to the office."
Before Alan could ask him anything further, Don was out the front door.
There was pavement. Smooth and gray, with a straight line of white. A parking lot, he quickly realized, but something was different. His view was unusual.
Then he understood. He wasn't there. It was as if he was watching a movie. A faraway observer seeing the events unfold across the big screen without any input into what happened, yet knowing inevitably what would.
There were tires. Just the hint of rounded black in the corner of his vision and a sliver of hub cab. Again, familiar, but he had trouble placing them.
A step closer, a pair of feet entering the scene. Sneakers that paused and he heard a jingling. The person was searching for their keys.
Then it hit. The moment in every horror film where the viewer knows the person on screen is in peril, that in one more second it could be -
Someone was shaking him and he bolted up, startled. It took a few seconds for him to notice his surroundings. His desk. He'd actually fallen asleep on his desk. He'd fallen asleep across his keyboard, in fact. He found that ironic, since it was an action he'd expected of Charlie, not himself, especially not in the middle of the afternoon, in the midst of a busy FBI office.
And even if he did, he didn't dream.
Megan stared down at him, a folder in hand. She didn't look like she had woken him with good news.
"What?" Suddenly a flash of sneakers crossed his vision. Yet again, he knew this wasn't something he'd like.
"There was another incident at CalSci twenty minutes ago. We got a call from the local PD. Charlie found Larry in the parking lot, by his car. He'd been struck from behind."
Don's body went cold. "Is he...?"
Megan shook her head. "He's alive. They took him to Huntington Memorial."
He dropped the folder onto his desk. "I should-"
"You should get some sleep," Megan interjected, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Don, this case is getting personal. You need to drop by the hospital, check on Charlie and Professor Fleinhardt, but then maybe you should go home."
"I have a job to do. A team to lead." He needed sleep, yes, but he needed to solve this case first.
"We can handle it for a few hours," Megan answered. "You told me I didn't have anything to prove, why do you think you do?"
"I don't. But I didn't question you when you thought you did, did I?"
"Actually, you did. But you let me do my thing. You still didn't think I was okay. And I don't think you are." She looked directly at him. One thing he had to say about Megan was she didn't back down.
"What makes you say that?"
"You fell asleep on your desk. That isn't something you do. You're exhausted and we're hitting dead ends that lead to more violence. This person knows you, knows Charlie."
This person did. And between that and the dreams, it had Don more unglued than he was willing to admit. Not to Charlie, his father, Megan, anyone. He had a connection to this case he couldn't explain and it was unsettling and frustrating.
That had to end. And end soon.
"That is exactly why I'm going to the hospital and coming right back here."
Megan pursed her lips, as if she was holding something back. "Fine," she said. "But I'm driving."
They had barely pulled out of the parking garage when Megan thrust a folder into Don's lap.
"You'll want to see that."
"Why?" He flipped it open. "Wait...the note had a print?" His eyes scanned the pages further and he frowned. "A woman's print?"
"Yeah," Megan replied. "Which in and of itself is interesting because women don't fit the law enforcement's profile of a serial killer."
"Because they rarely torture their victims?" They'd mentioned that at Quantico and because of it, a serial killer was always labeled as a 'he'.
"Women who kill serially generally use poison and aren't normally associated with the sexual attack, torture, or violence of their male counterparts."
"Doesn't mean they can't though, does it?"
"No profile is completely perfect. At best they're guides that happen to be right a majority of the time. Bet Charlie would be all over those statistics."
"I bet he would....Maria Fosters. We actually gotta a hit off the database?"
"She was brought in two years ago for unpaid parking tickets. Almost five thousand dollars worth of them. Husband bailed her out; paid the tickets."
"That's a whole lot of parking tickets."
"Guess she never had any quarters on her. Of course, the real issue isn't that. Look at her sheet."
Don's frown increased. "She's five-two. One hundred and ten pounds. There's no way she could have taken down Philips and Carlson. There were signs of struggle."
"Against someone that clearly had to be bigger than both of them. I'm thinking her husband. Look, I sent David and Colby out to bring her in-"
"Good," he interrupted. "We got anything on her husband yet?"
"Just that his name is Jonathon and that he doesn't have a record."
"David and Colby are on it," she repeated. "We just need to concentrate on getting to the hospital."
The hospital was a mad house. It was Megan who spotted Charlie slumped on a chair in the corner of the ER waiting room. Sitting next to him was Amita. She had a comforting hand on his shoulder, but Charlie paid her no attention. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the two agents he had on Charlie standing near the ER admittance desk. One was reading a magazine, looking no different from another person waiting.
Charlie shifted as they approached, his gaze connecting with Don's.
"He left a note."
Don stopped in his tracks at Charlie's words.
"I know," Megan said. "I talked to the PD."
"You did?" Don asked. She hadn't shared that piece of information with him. Or maybe she had. Don zoned out a bit on the drive over, his mind wandering back to his dream and the attack on Larry. And more importantly, why he continued to have these dreams when they did nothing to prevent further violence.
"It was typed," Amita volunteered. "Three lines. It mentioned Don and Larry by name."
Megan nodded. "Were you with...?"
"Yes," she answered. "I met Charlie at the library and we were walking across the parking lot."
"I told you to stay away from CalSci," Don muttered, eyes still locked with his brother's.
Charlie turned, a slightly guilty look clouding his features. "I needed to work," he stated. "Besides, who knows what could have..." He bit his lip.
Don wanted more answers, but getting them now wasn't a good idea. He let it slide, knowing full well why Charlie had ended up at CalSci.
"How's Larry?" he asked.
"He's still unconscious," Amita answered. "I think they're doing a CAT scan now. But the doctor's optimistic."
"He has hit from behind," Charlie said softly. "Maybe with a tire iron, they're not sure. We have to get this guy." There was no denying the urgency in Charlie's last statement.
"We will, buddy." Don sat down next to Charlie. His glance swooped up and met Megan's for a second before settling back down to his brother.
"I'm going to check in with David and Colby. See if they picked up Maria Fosters yet."
"Good." Megan headed towards the emergency room exit, cell phone in hand.
Don shifted and silence settled between him, Charlie, and Amita. Don's mind wandered again, back to his dream, back to the case.
He'd put someone on Larry, and hoped it would make Charlie feel better. He wasn't sure if it made him feel better. But it would make him feel a little less guilty.
Less guilty because he was thankful it wasn't Charlie.
Charlie turned at the voice and Don saw the anxiousness flash across Charlie's face when a nurse approached.
"He's awake and asking for you. The doctor says you can come back."
Charlie sagged in relief and looked towards Amita and Don. Amita gave him a small smile and Don found himself mirroring the gesture.
"Go," he said. Charlie didn't need to be told twice. In less then three seconds, he was up and following the nurse.
Just as Charlie disappeared out of view, Megan returned. "Colby and David found Maria Fosters. They're on their way in."
"Good." Don made a mental decision to stay for while, for both Charlie's sake and to see if Larry could offer any information. He'd told Megan to go back to the office, but she wanted to stay and he knew there was no convincing her otherwise.
He sure as hell hoped Maria Fosters was the key, because if she wasn't, they were back to square one.
Thankfully, it appeared Larry would be all right. Despite the fact that tests showed the physicist had received a hairline skull fracture, the doctor assured them he would be fine and only in the hospital for a couple of days. Don didn't miss the look of relief that ran across Charlie's face, and he realized a similar weight had been released from his own shoulders.
He needed to head back to the office and check on Colby and David's progress, but he had been reluctant to leave Charlie. Charlie, however, insisted, and Megan volunteered her car keys and to stick around.
Colby was already talking to Mrs. Fosters when Don reached the area outside the interrogation room. David was standing outside.
"How's Professor Fleinhardt?"
"Awake," Don replied. "But he doesn't remember anything." He nodded his head towards Colby and Fosters. "Well?"
"There's no way she did it. The first two victims have at least sixty pounds on her."
Don stole a look into the room. Maria Fosters was close to what he'd pictured from her written description. She was dark-haired, slim, and petite. She was shaking her head as Colby spoke, a worried look evident across her face.
"What about her husband? The one that paid her parking tickets."
"Dead," David replied. "Killed in a car accident two months ago. Big guy, though. There were pictures of him all over the house. Six four, at least, and well over 200 pounds."
"There goes that theory," Don muttered.
"Yeah," David agreed, "but she's got a son."
Don perked up a little at the news. "Oh? Any chance he take after his father?"
"Oh yeah," David confirmed. "Pictures of him all over the house, too. But that's not where it ends."
Don raised an eyebrow, urging David to continue.
"Her son received his PhD last year. From CalSci."
Don blinked. He hadn't been expecting that. "CalSci?" he repeated. He'd been expecting to connect Fosters to himself, since every note addressed him by name, appeared to target him, taunt him by getting closer to Charlie.
He never even considered this angle.
Colby finished and got up from the table, leaving Mrs. Fosters wringing her hands on the barren interrogation table. He joined Don and David, letting the door close behind him with a gentle click.
"She doesn't know anything," were his first words. "And she has a solid alibi for the first murder. She was at a book club meeting and it checks out."
"She could've typed the letter. Helped out her kid," David put in.
Colby shook his head. "Not that woman. No one's that good an actor. And her son's out, too. He's been out of the country for the last two weeks. Some physics seminar in England. She called him last night."
"Or so she says." He wasn't ready to believe anyone anymore. Not when they started striking close to home. "Phone records?"
"On it," David answered, walking towards his desk.
Don looked through the glass into the interrogation room. Maria Foster was still wringing her hands, her eyes worried. Colby was right; she had no idea. It, of course, didn't explain why her prints were on that note. Something was missing. Something obvious.
"You said her son got his PhD in physics, right?"
"Right," Colby answered.
"Robert Fosters. Class of '05."
Don needed more information. And unfortunately, he knew where he'd have to go to find it.
"I'm heading back to Huntington Memorial and will see if the name rings a bell with Charlie. Try and track down her son."
Don tucked Megan's keys in his pocket as he made his way towards the hospital's elevator. Hopefully Charlie could shed some light on the name. Don was betting Robert Fosters might have taken a math course or two of Charlie's along the way.
The lead wasn't much and it still nagging at his brain. It didn't fit the case. Something was still off.
The feeling stuck with him as he approached the nurse's station. A quick phone call to Megan before leaving the bureau told him Larry had finally been moved to a room, so he went there, not expecting Charlie to have headed anywhere else in the past couple of hours.
What he found on Larry's floor eclipsed his worst nightmare. Megan was questioning a nurse. That in itself wouldn't have rung any alarms, but the woman was sitting down, while a doctor taped a piece of gauze to her forehead. The two agents he had on Charlie were a few feet away.
Charlie was no where in sight.
The door to Larry's room was open, something that didn't automatically strike Don as odd - patient's doors were always open during the day. But Don knew beyond a doubt that Charlie wasn't in there.
Don's blood turned cold.
Megan turned. She didn't need to say a word. Don knew the answer.
"He was sitting with Dr. Fleinhardt. I stepped into the bathroom to refill the pitcher. You know, the one on the bedside table. Someone came up behind me and the next thing I know, I'm on floor."
"Did you see or hear anyone enter?"
She shook her head. "No."
Don wanted to slam his fist into the wall.
Charlie was gone, most definitely gone. A sheet of paper that had been left behind in the room bore one simple sentence:
"Catch me if you can."
Why, all of things, couldn't Don have foreseen this? He'd dreamed about everything else. Of course, he hadn't really been able to stop those events either.
So what the hell was the point?
Larry had been in and out, the concussion he'd suffered reeking havoc on his short term memory. Last thing he'd been aware of was Charlie telling him he was heading down the hall for a moment, though Larry couldn't recall why. Yet, the nurse had said Charlie was still sitting in the room when she entered. Meaning, of course, they were still only sure of one thing.
Charlie was missing.
There were no signs of a struggle. No one on the floor seemed to have seen anything and the incident had occurred during a major nursing shift change. The nurse that entered Larry's room had literally been working for less then ten minutes. Whoever was responsible for this was good. Not even the agents following Charlie had noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Of course, for Don, these dead ends were frustrating and more time was ticking away. He hadn't a clue how much time Charlie had. The first victim had been tortured for nearly twelve hours before being strangled and dumped, just as Peters had done to all his victims. The second victim, however, wasn't tortured. He was killed only a mere hour before Charlie entered his office and a night watchman at CalSci had seen Philips heading towards the parking lot ten minutes before the M.E.'s marked time of dead. And Larry...
Well, Larry was still alive. No pattern. Not a typical serial killer pattern at least.
"He's taunting us," Megan said. "Thrill seekers see outsmarting law enforcement as a game."
"That they do. He's taunting me," Don corrected, leaning against the wall outside Larry's hospital room. "But something's..."
Megan frowned. "What?"
Don didn't answer her, instead heading back into Larry's room. The physicist was in bed, looking distraught and wincing as if he had the headache of the century. He probably did, but Don hoped his long-term memory might cooperate with them both.
Larry blinked, a hand reaching up to rub his forehead. He nodded, and then grimaced when he discovered that was a bad idea. "Yes?"
"Robert Fosters. Physics PhD candidate. Graduated last year. Ring any bells?"
Larry's brow furrowed. "Fosters...yes. He was Peter Faulker's student. Wrote his thesis on the hydrophobic scoring of proteins. I was the second reader on his committee. Why? Does this have anything to do with Charles?"
Don hoped it did, but he hadn't a clue. "The note in Charlie's office yielded a print. It matched a Maria Fosters."
"Ah, Maria. I recall her. I met her. I believe it was commencement weekend last May." Larry continued to rub at his forehead. "Forgive me, I'm not exactly-"
"I wouldn't expect you to be," Don interrupted. "Anything stick out about Fosters?"
"Stick out?" Larry asked. "Robert was a diligent student, and reading his work was always a pleasure. He was quiet, I remember, even more so after the Laine incident."
Don's ears perked up. "Laine incident?"
"Yes," Larry continued, finally dropping his hand from his forehead and allowing it to fall onto the mattress. "Derek Laine. He was another physics doctoral candidate. I didn't know too much about his work - he was Grace Reirs' student and her work is on much different levels than what I chose to study and I-"
"Larry," Don interjected, trying to steer the man back on point.
"Right," Larry continued. "Derek was accused of plagiarism when he turned in his final thesis for review. There were rather long and large examples. I remember because Charles highlighted several passages and brought them to my office -"
"Wait. Charlie found this?" A light clicked over Don's head. After all these dead ends, could it really be this simple?
Larry nodded, and winced again, but it didn't deter his train of thought. "Yes. Charles was the second reader. Derek had some complicated calculations weaved into his theory."
"He was expelled. The plagiarism was very apparent and when the matter was further investigated, it was discovered that Derek had falsified several of his lab findings as well. He was eventually expelled."
"This was last year?"
"Last June," Larry confirmed. Then he gave Don an odd look. "Where did Charles go? I know he was here a moment ago."
While Larry's long-term memory was definitely unaffected, the blow to his head had let a mark on his short-term memory. Don gave him a small smile. "We're looking for him."
"Oh" was Larry's response. Another nurse walked in, and Don took the opportunity to leave. Megan was at the nurse's station, their phone to her ear.
"Okay, thanks." She ended the call and turned back to Don. "Robert Fosters checks out. David just talked to him and three other people that confirm that he's been giving lectures at Oxford for the past three days. I think we're at another dead end."
Don shook his head. "Fosters isn't our guy."
"What do you mean?" Megan asked.
"I'll fill you in in the car. Right now, I need all the information we can find on a Derek Laine."
"The amount of paperwork CalSci has on Derek Laine is staggering," Colby commented as Don dropped another load of paperwork on the conference room table.
"And we're going through each and every piece," Don said. "The faster the better. Laine hasn't given us any particular timetable to go by."
"Technically, Laine isn't even what we'd classify as a serial killer," David put in. "He's only had two victims."
"Three, if you count Professor Fleinhardt," Megan countered. "Four, if you count Charlie." She picked up a folder and skimmed through it. "Though if you think about it, Derek Laine fits the Holmes typology of a serial killer almost perfectly."
Those weren't words Don wanted to hear. His nerves were completely shot and every second that passed felt like an opportunity that slipped through his fingers. Just ten minutes ago, his cell had rung, and in unusual fashion, he'd actually glanced at the call ID before answering, but when he saw "Dad" flash across the LCD window, he let it ring. There'd be hell to pay later, but hopefully he'd have found Charlie by then and explanations wouldn't be needed or matter.
"He has an above average IQ," Megan continued. "Was socially inadequate and in the first two murders, he killed at one place and dumped the body at another. He's left behind no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene, has contacted law enforcement to play games. And in one file, while commenting on his application and interview for admission to CalSci, several professors called him extremely charming."
"That how he almost got away with making up his research?" Colby asked.
"He came from money. Drove a flashy car, appeared to be a nice human being. Maybe people just don't want to question," David said.
"Did we get back in touch with Maria Fosters?" Don asked. His eyes scanned page after page of data. Somehow he knew Laine had written that note from the Fosters' home.
"Ten minutes ago," Colby answered. "Her computer is being picked up as we speak. And you were right. She says Derek stopped by last week. Wanted to see Robert's yearbook. She confirmed that she left him alone in the den with the book for nearly half an hour. Main computer's in the den."
"Explains her fingerprints," Megan muttered. "Of course she would have handled the printer paper."
"He was sloppy," Don said. "But not because he was careless. He wanted to be sloppy."
Don knew this wasn't about him. It never had been. It had been about Charlie. Laine had thrown them all for a loop. If you asked around campus, it wasn't hard to find out Charlie Eppes had a brother in the FBI. Hell, it was common knowledge. Finding out Don's first name was even easier. Addressing the notes to him was a red herring.
It was Charlie he wanted all along.
He was playing a game all right, that Don didn't doubt. Megan was right; Laine was acting just like a serial killer. He enjoyed it, he enjoyed stringing Don along. But that was the part that Don didn't get. If this was all about Charlie - if Laine was getting revenge on Charlie, why was he stringing Don along?
"If he wanted to be sloppy, the question is why?" Don murmured. "What did he do after the expulsion?"
"Nothing. He had enough money to remain unemployed for a while," David answered.
"Can't imagine the words plagiarism and expulsion make for a good job interview," Colby commented.
Don's cell rang again and he stole a glance at the LCD, before shoving it aside, unanswered. Megan raised an eyebrow.
"Not important," he offered. "Okay, so Laine's pissed. Charlie exposed him in front of all his peers, cost him career. So he wants revenge. But why not just go for Charlie? What does the rest of this mean?"
Megan lowered the file she was looking and slid it across the table. "Here's a clue. Laine visited student health services four times prior to his expulsion. Mental health, to be specific. The notes are sketchy, but I'm putting money on childhood abuse. Fits the profile."
"Of him seeking revenge? Or of him being a potential serial killer?" Don skimmed the file.
"It could go either way," Megan said. "I tend to believe he possessed serial killer tendencies that manifested themselves when Charlie made his accusation. Most serial killers don't usually start killing until their late 20s, 30s, or 40s, often proving it's not just childhood which is the causal influence."
"So Charlie awakened the beast, so to speak?" David asked.
Megan shrugged. "It's a possibility."
Don didn't like weighing possibilities. His cell beeped, letting him know he had yet another voice mail. He didn't need to hear his father's voice. What he needed was a lead. Anything to tell him where Laine was, and more importantly, where Charlie was.
Charlie was still alive. He could feel it in his bones. But he had no idea how much longer it would last. No idea if Laine would contact him again, or if Laine was done playing and ready to get what he wanted.
Don's voice mail beeped again. There was no way Laine was getting what he wanted.
Three hours later, Don had called and guiltily lied to his father, Maria Fosters' computer was part of evidence, and Don was downing his seventh cup of coffee. Colby and David were out, tracking down Laine's professors. It was well after three in the morning, but Don knew that they'd probably have a better chance of tracking someone down at CalSci now then during conventional work hours.
He stared down at Laine's last note, the words blurring in front of him.
"You think a clue will jump out at you if you stare at it long enough?"
Don looked up. Megan stood in the doorway, sipping at her own cup of coffee.
"Colby and David found Professor Reirs, but so far, haven't heard much else." She sighed. "Don, you need to get some sleep."
"I can't," he said.
"A couple of hours, even if on the couch in the break room. You can't do anything else right now." She walked into the room and set her cup down on the table. "You call your dad back?"
He looked up at her. "How'd you know he called?"
She shrugged. "You don't avoid many phone calls. But just so you know, Charlie's disappearance didn't make the eleven o'clock news."
He let out a sigh of his own. It had gone against every fiber of his being to lie to his father, but he didn't need his father to panic. He needed to find Charlie. "But it's only a few hours until the early morning headlines."
"I haven't talked to a reporter." She gave him a little smile. "You aren't going to sleep are you?"
Don took another sip of coffee. "Are you?"
"We're not talking about me."
He waved her off. "Tell me when you've found anything that can help us."
Back to note he went, blinking exhaustion from his eyes. He needed a break.
This time there was no mistaking it. It was Charlie. The recognizable curls were damp and plastered to his forehead, and the dimness of the room, he could see the shivers that racked Charlie's frame.
Time was running out. Charlie shifted, his arms curled around his stomach as if he were in pain. He leaned forward and coughed. A red glow cast itself across his face.
Red glow...he searched his brain. Once again this was a familiar scenario. Very familiar. But what? He was an observer, unable to stop the unfolding events.
He had to stop them.
Charlie moved, leaning against the concrete wall. Just to the left of him was a small puddle of water. He could hear the dripping from above, as if there was a leak in the ceiling. Charlie eyes shifted and his hand reached out to a shadow next to him.
Red, a shadow...if only he could see more. If only he could move to the right, see the shadow more clearly and see what was creating it.
Charlie blinked and his gaze turned forward. For a brief minute, Don felt like his brother was were staring right at him. But they couldn't be, he wasn't there.
Charlie shook his head, reached out towards the shadow again. This time the view changed. Don saw wood and paper.
A bookshelf. A bookshelf plus red.
Where the hell was....?
Don awoke to someone shaking him. His eyes popped open and he bolted up, dislodging the person's hands and sending the files on his desk flying.
Before he could even blink the words flew out of his mouth.
"He's at CalSci."
Megan stared at him oddly. "Charlie's at CalSci?" she asked. There was no mistaking the disbelief in her tone.
Don braced himself against the back of his chair and shifted his feet to the ground. He couldn't believe he'd fallen asleep at his desk, but he didn't have time to berate himself for it, nor scold Megan for not waking him sooner. "Yes," he answered, well aware of how utterly insane he sounded.
"And how...?" The end of her sentence dangled in the air.
"I know," he stated. He hadn't expected her to understand, especially since he was offering her no valid explanation. Not enough sleep, dreaming that his kidnapped brother stared at him in a dream...
Megan stared at him a moment. "Colby and David are back. But that's not all."
"What?" He resisted the urge to run out of the room. Every second he sat here, he was wasting time. Charlie was at CalSci, he knew it, but that was all he knew. The dim red light haunted him. He needed another clue and he needed to comb CalSci to find it.
"Your father's here."
Don's stomach sank. He didn't need this. He turned his wrist, looking at his watch. Three-fifteen a.m. It was too early for the morning news.
"He received a note," Megan continued.
Don was pacing, reading the three typed lines over and over again.
"Know who I am? Doesn't matter. I still always win."
It was simple, straight to the point. The paper had been folded; Alan's name was typed across the top.
"It was left on the back door, taped to the wood. Charlie wasn't home, I drifted off in the chair in the living room. I heard the back door, thought it was Charlie..."
If Don was a wreck, Alan wasn't doing much better.
"What's going on, Don?"
He didn't answer. Every second that went by was another second he could be using to solve this case.
"CalSci," he muttered. "We need to check out CalSci."
He sounded like a madman. Alan frowned, studying his son.
"CalSci?" Alan repeated.
"Yeah," Don replied and tossed the note aside and patted his pocket for his car keys.
"Where are you going?" Alan asked.
"CalSci," he repeated. "Stay here, Dad. I'm going to find Charlie."
If anyone else protested, Don didn't hear it. He made a beeline for the elevator and didn't turn back.
CalSci was more active in the wee hours of the morning, Don had recently learned, so finding the campus aglow wasn't unusual. Don pulled his car into the parking lot and stared through the windshield at the number of windows lit up.
So, he was here.
And he had no clue where to go next.
He pulled his key out the ignition and opened the car door. He stepped out onto the pavement and surveyed the scene. Red light, he remembered. He'd seen it, or heard of he knew. Via Charlie, most likely.
Too bad he didn't remember.
Behind him, he heard another car pull into the lot and the flash of headlight made him turn. When another car door opened and Megan popped out, he wasn't surprised.
She smiled. "You need backup. And besides, isn't the job sometimes about intuition and hunches?"
"I didn't even give you the reasoning behind my theory."
"Do you want to?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"No," he answered.
"Okay." She reached behind her back, adjusting her gun. "Where are we looking?"
Charlie's office was dark and still marked with crime scene tape. Don flipped the light switch and stared into the room. The gumballs, thankfully had been cleared along with broken glass, but the room was far from clean. Megan stayed just outside the doorway, while Don ducked under the tape and stopped in front of Charlie's desk.
He was looking for something, but what is was he had no idea. After staring at Charlie's desk for what felt like several minutes, he sighed, defeated.
This was stupid. He was at CalSci because of a dream. Yes, it was incredibly eerie that every dream he'd had seemed to come true. Well, every dream except one: his first.
That was the one he didn't remember. He'd woken up with Charlie's name on his lips and his heart beating a mile a minute. Had that been a prediction? Was it big brother intuition? Don and Charlie had been close when they were very little, then the years and high school had driven them apart. He'd never experienced such a connection with his brother.
Of course, having a connection meant absolutely nothing if he didn't find Charlie soon.
He turned and accidentally bumped a few scattered pages teetering on the edge of Charlie's desk. They tumbled to the ground and that's when Don heard it.
A small clang, like the sound of metal hitting the ground.
Metal, or a set of keys. Sure enough, Don bent down when he shifted the fallen papers, he found it. A lone key. Nothing identified it, but Don knew right away it didn't lock Charlie's door. Nor did it lock anything else in the room.
//"Ready to head home?"
Charlie looked up from his blackboard. "Sure," he answered, laying the chalk down. "I just have to stop downstairs for a moment. I need to grab a volume from the Dungeon."
"The Dungeon?" Don asked.
"It's what we call this small storage area down in the basement," Charlie explained. As he spoke, he started shifting the papers and texts occupying the top of his desk. "The key is somewhere..." he muttered. "Ah, here."
He pulled out a single, slightly tarnished key. "Most of the basement is empty due to the flood damage last May. But the Dungeon survived because it's so hidden I guess the water even missed it. You could probably kill someone down there and no one would ever know," he joked.
"I think someone would eventually notice."
Charlie shook his head. "I think I'm the only one that uses that room. It's full of texts that Amita says were 'put there to die.' But she doesn't realize that if she actually looked she could find some very useful research tools down there. Personally I think she just hates the red light."
"Red light?" Don asked.
Charlie grinned. "For some reason, the light bulb down there is red. And a bit dim, but it works, so I'm not complaining."
"You could get it changed. Maybe then Amita would go down there."
"Nah," Charlie answered. "Then it wouldn't be the Dungeon anymore."//
Don scooped the key up and turned back took Megan.
"I know exactly where Charlie is. Call in for more backup." He ducked back under the police tape and headed down the hallway. Megan was at his heels.
"Backup?" she repeated. "Where are you going?"
"Downstairs," Don answered and paused at the door leading into the stairwell. He laid his fingers across his gun for security. He had his hand over the door knob when he saw a piece of white sticking out from underneath the door and he bent down to pick it up.
He paled at the words and passed it off to Megan.
"Two plus two equals four," Megan read. "Or does it? You found the answer, but does it matter if you find it in time?"
"Charlie's in the basement. And we don't have much time. Laine's gotta be here. Back-up," he repeated.
Megan nodded. "Fine. But you can't go alone. That's stupid. Laine overpowered two large men. Wait for back-up."
"I can't." Don opened the door, one hand still on his gun. "Call an ambulance, too. We'll need it."
If Megan answered, he didn't hear it. Something inside him snapped and he was taking the stairs two at a time. He had no rationality for his feelings, it was pure brotherly intuition and he knew if he paused even just another moment, Charlie could be dead.
No, Charlie would be dead.
The basement was dark, the fluorescent light flickered in the cold hallway. Even in the dim lighting, the water damage was apparent and the whole place smelled of mold.
He slowed his pace down slightly, his FBI training kicking in. He'd have hell to pay for entering a potentially dangerous area without back up. Behind him he heard footsteps on the staircase and knew it had to be Megan. He could only hope that she'd made the phone calls.
He stopped in front of the door, gazing down at the thin line of red peering out the door's edges. It seemed too easy. There were no surprises, no Laine to be found. Of course, if Charlie was dead on the other side of the door, Laine didn't need to be around. He would have succeeded and Don would find him and kill him with his bare hands.
"Charlie!" he called, and he heard his breath when he didn't hear anyone inside answer.
He tried again. Nothing. Gun pointed he reached into his pocket with one hand and withdrew the old key, fitting it carefully into the lock. The lock clicked and he started to open the door. He'd only pushed it an inch when he finally got an answer.
Don froze. It was weak, but there was no denying it. Charlie.
"Charlie?" he asked.
"You can't open the door." The voice was low and pained.
In the background he heard a door open and he turned around, both hands on his gun. He relaxed when he saw Megan.
"Charlie, you're going to have to be more specific. Laine, is he in there with you?"
There was a brief pause and for some reason Don could picture Charlie shaking his head just before the simple "no" followed.
"You open the door and...it's connected to the knob."
"What's connected...." The words died in Don's throat when he took a closer look at the barely opened door. Fishing wire.
"Back up?" he asked Megan.
"Coming," she answered.
"They need to get here *now*. And I think we need the bomb squad."
He'd almost killed his little brother. And that's what Laine wanted all along. As promised, Don had agents at his disposal within twenty minutes. They tried to get Charlie to describe what Laine had rigged, but Charlie had stopped answering almost five minutes ago.
Don felt like punching his hand through a wall.
"I don't care how, just get him the hell out of there," he demanded and on two separate occasions when David and Megan had asked him to step away.
In the end, it was Colby that offered the suggestion that got them anywhere. He suggested cutting a panel from the wood, so that they could at least peer in. Ten minutes passed before Don could even get a glimpse of Charlie. Ten excruciatingly long and painful minutes during which both CalSci maintenance and a jigsaw were tracked down.
It was ingenious and would have killed Charlie in the same fashion that Carlson and Philips were killed. The fishing wire was rigged to an elaborate maze of hooks positioned in the ceiling and would have surely strangled Charlie when the door was opened. It was connected so intricately that even if Don had severed the line connected directly to the door it would not have released Charlie. The time he would have spent untangling the line would have cost Charlie his life.
Not that Charlie wasn't near death already. He'd been tortured, cut several places by what Don guessed was a very sharp knife. None of the wounds were life threatening on their own, but several were still bleeding, and if they remained that way, Charlie might have bled to death over the next few days if he hadn't been discovered.
An insurance policy of sorts, Don thought with disgust. The minute his guys had Charlie down Don was at his side, only moving when the paramedics needed to get in. When they got Charlie loaded up and ready to go, Don had to step away.
A hand touched his and he turned.
Brown eyes met his.
"Thanks," Charlie whispered and before Don could respond, Charlie's eyes closed again and he was out the door.
How Don made it to the emergency room he didn't really know, but here he was, sitting in an uncomfortable chair while he waited for any news about Charlie.
His father was sitting next to him, or at least he was the last time Don had actually lifted his head to look. Currently, he had his head in his hands, the exhaustion he'd been fighting for the past few days finally seeping all the way to his bones.
"You should have told me," he heard his father mutter.
He slowly lifted his head. "So you could panic? It wouldn't have helped, Dad."
"I don't panic," Alan replied. "I just don't like either of my sons hiding anything from me."
The guilt crept in and Don willed it away. He had enough guilt piling up from Charlie's kidnapping and until he knew Charlie would definitely be okay he knew it had no chance of letting up. Even then he knew that it wouldn't just disappear.
"I wasn't intentionally hiding anything from you," he insisted, but even he didn't believe his words.
"I called you four times," Alan noted. "You didn't pick up and when you called back you lied to me. I'm a father. I worry."
"I didn't lie, I just omitted," Don defended, but the words sounded weak. "And I just didn't pick up. That doesn't mean something's wrong."
"No," Alan said. "But this time, something was."
Don swallowed. His father was right and he hated when his father was right.
"You know, I keep thinking that one of those days I'm going to get a phone call. A phone call that tells me you're seriously hurt or even worse, dead. Your line of work doesn't give me the greatest sense of security, but it's what you do and you're good at. But I don't expect it when it comes to Charlie."
"I took him off the case. And I keep telling you Charlie's a grown man that could tell me no," Don replied, wondering who he was trying to convince.
"He'd never tell you no and you know it."
Don ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, well, that's Charlie's issue, not mine. I need his input. He's spent so much time telling me that math is relevant to crime-solving that I default to it. Plus, I'm not the first government agent he's helped, Dad. Charlie has clearance that goes higher than mine does and I still don't know what he's done for the NSA."
"He's never gotten kidnapped working with NSA," Alan commented.
"No," Don agreed. He shifted his eyes towards the busy ER. "And he's never gotten kidnapped working on a case for me, either. Like I said, I pulled him off the case and he even agreed to it. He'll be fine. The paramedics said his vitals weren't so bad considering."
"Considering," Alan repeated and Don turned back towards him. He could see his father turning the word over in his brain. Don half expected him to continue, but Alan didn't, letting silence fall between the two of them.
It almost did Don in. Two minutes paused. Two long minutes where Don watched the second hand on the wall clock mounted across from them move.
"I shouldn't push him," he finally admitted, his tone soft.
His father stared at him and shook his head. "Maybe not. But even if you didn't, Charlie would still be volunteering his expertise. You can't stop him."
Don considered his words. Charlie was stubborn. The same could be said about himself, his father, and his mother had a stubborn streak a mile wide. It was a family trait that couldn't be helped nor ignored.
He opened his mouth to respond when a doctor appeared.
Both he and his father were on their feet and Don felt anxiety swell though his veins, temporarily overshadowing the exhaustion.
The doctor smiled. "He'll be fine. Looks a lot worse than it actually is, though he will be in some discomfort for a while. We're giving him fluids to counteract the blood loss, and he'll need quite a few stitches, but all in all, he's extremely lucky. You can see him if you'd like."
That was all Don needed to hear to start walking. The doctor led them into a small trauma room, where another doctor was already at work on a deep laceration across Charlie's forearm.
"We've given him some fairly hefty pain medication, so he might be a bit groggy," the doctor warned.
Don wasn't worried about groggy. Charlie was a complete mess. There was no other way for Don to describe him. In the harsh, bright light of the ER, he looked a million times worse then he had under the glow of the dim red bulb in the Dungeon. There seemed to be cuts up and down his arms and when Don got a bit closer he could see the bruising lurking from underneath the hospital gown he was in. A light blanket was wrapped loosely around his torso, but his lower legs were uncovered and when Don turned to look at them, he saw only more cuts and bruises. An IV ran down to Charlie's left hand, carefully positioned in a spot free from injury. Don wondered how they'd even been able to find one.
Charlie's eyes were closed, but when Don stepped next to the bed, they opened and Charlie smiled.
"Don. Dad," he said and lifted his IV'ed hand to wave slightly.
Groggy was an understatement. Charlie's eyes were wide and glassy. He was feeling no pain, Don was sure.
"How you doing, Charlie?" Alan asked.
"I'm okay," Charlie answered. "Doesn't hurt, which is good because," he turned his eyes towards the doctor doing the repair job on his arm, "I hate needles." The sentence was whispered as if it was the biggest secret in the world.
"I know," Alan said with a smile. "You always did. Your mother hated taking you to the doctor when you were little. You were convinced that every time you went, the doctor was going to give you a shot. You and Don, actually."
Alan's tone was light, but Don saw the serious gleam in his eye. They could talk about this later; Charlie didn't need to hear it now.
"I did not," Don defended.
"Did, too," Charlie answered and yawned. "Sorry. 'ired."
"I'll bet." Don reached out and touched Charlie's shoulder. "I'm glad you are going to be okay."
"I'm fine," Charlie murmured, his eyes closing again.
"Is he really all right?" Alan asked the doctor, echoing Don's sentiments.
The doctor didn't look up from suturing. "Really," he assured them both. "We're waiting on some x-rays, but it's mostly heavy bruising and mild lacerations. A few, like this one, needed sutures, and his blood pressure was lower than we'd liked when he came in, but the fluids are correcting that nicely. We'll give him a few doses of an antibiotic to ward off infection, but he could be out of here as early as tomorrow if he continues to improve."
Continues to improve. Sure, Charlie would continue to improve physically, but Don had no clue what would happen emotionally. His own nerves were shot and he hadn't been the one kidnapped. When Charlie sobered up, would things be different. When Don got the whole story and heard exactly how Laine had managed to nab Charlie in the first place, he was positive it would set forth an explosion of feelings.
It didn't help that Laine was still out there. Megan, David, Colby, plus a dozen other agents were on Laine's trail, so it wasn't over.
But, despite that, Don took another long look at Charlie and relaxed. He felt a bit of the tension in his body escape and exhaustion reared its ugly head once more.
He blinked. His father's voice sounded far away and he felt hands guide him to a chair. He saw worried eyes and the brush of another white coat.
Then there was nothing.
He couldn't believe it. Not when he opened his eyes and found himself lying on stiff hospital sheets and not even when he saw his father adjust his reading glasses and look up from his crossword puzzle.
"No way." He knew he was tired, but there was no way he'd fainted. He'd never fainted in his entire life, and he'd been through large amounts of stress filled and sleepless nights before. "I've never fainted in my entire life," he said out loud.
"There's a first time for anything." Alan set his newspaper aside. "You took ten years off my life, you know. First Charlie and then-"
Charlie. The rest of Alan's statement washed away. "Where's Charlie?" Don lifted his head off the pillow and was surprised when a bout of dizziness hit.
Alan reached out and pushed him back down on the bed. "Charlie's in the next bed, sleeping. Something you should have been doing more of, apparently."
Don blinked. "I couldn't," he admitted. He lifted his hand towards his face, but frowned when he discovered an IV imbedded in it.
"Your blood sugar was low," Alan explained. "Megan said you'd been drinking lots of coffee, but she couldn't remember the last time you'd eaten anything."
"Megan was here?"
"A couple of hours ago, getting a statement from Charlie."
"A couple of hours...?" He tried to push past the lingering cobwebs in his brain. "Just how long was I out?"
"Well, it's almost six, so about eight hours."
"Eight hours?" Don repeated. Again, he was dumbfounded. Laine was still out there and he's spent too much time lying horizontal. He started to shove the blanket away. "I still have a case to solve."
Once more, Alan stopped him.
Though it was only one word, there was no denying the forceful tone behind it. His father meant business and Don couldn't ignore the worried look in his eyes. Charlie had given them both one hell of a scare and Don was sure when he collapsed it hadn't made it at all easier for Alan.
"You have an office full of people that are perfectly capable of solving this case," Alan continued. "Right now, you need to stay put."
Don regarded him for a long moment. "Okay," he finally said softly, letting his body relax and the weariness settle. "But, Dad, Charlie...what did he tell Megan?"
"I don't know," Alan admitted. "He made me leave. You and your brother both share a powerful need to hide things from me."
"This again? Dad..." Don turned his head to glance over at the other bed in the room. In typical Charlie fashion, all he could see was a mess of curls sticking out of the blanket. It was something Charlie had always done, even when they were kids. He'd always burrowed into the sheets, leaving only the very top of his head visible. He looked impossibly young, though Don knew that wasn't the case. Charlie was a grown man, thirty, but despite that fact that he was the first to point that out, sometimes, just sometimes, Don himself had a hard time believing it. In some areas, Charlie was light years ahead, in others light years behind.
"How's he doing?" he asked softly.
"All right, or so they say. He has a slight fever, but I've been told antibiotics will take care of it." Alan didn't sound like he believed that fact.
"So close," Don muttered. "It was..."
"I know," Alan finished. "That much I know."
Don felt his father place a hand on his shoulder. "I'm just happy that both my sons are okay."
"Yeah," Don agreed, his eyes still focused on Charlie's bed. Okay was a relative term.
And until Laine was behind bars, Don wasn't inclined to believe it.
An update from Megan the next morning didn't make Don feel much better. He sat on the edge of his hospital bed, dressed and waiting for the doctor to sign his discharge papers. A few feet away, Charlie slept on, thanks to another heavy dose of pain medication. His fever had spiked sometime after midnight and the in and out of both nurses and doctors made Don extremely nervous. Charlie wasn't going home today.
"His apartment's cleaned out," Megan told him as he reached for his sneakers. Don had finally convinced Alan to go home, though he didn't stay home for long, appearing again far too early, but at bearing a change of clothes for Don.
"His lease was up last month and the landlord said Laine paid his last month's on time and had no plans to renew. Neighbors said he kept mostly to himself, but the few that had seen him in the past week say he was always heading out with a box in his hand."
"Any movement on his credit cards?"
"Not unless you count the fact that he canceled every single one two hours after Charlie was found. Cleaned out his bank account, too."
"Fosters hear from him?"
Megan shook her head. "Fosters hasn't talked to him in over two weeks. Mrs. Fosters hasn't seen him since he stopped by unexpectedly to check out her son's yearbook."
Don bent over to tie his laces, pausing when he was once again hit with a wave of dizziness. Despite the forced rest, he was still exhausted.
"So he's got a good lead on us," Don said, mostly to himself. "I need to think."
"No, Colby, David, and I need to think," Megan answered. "You're on medical leave."
"According to who? My dad? I'm fine," he insisted. Laine couldn't have gotten far, Don knew it, and he needed to find him.
"No, according to the doctor I talked to outside. You're suffering from fatigue and it just took you almost five minutes to tie your shoes."
"Not five minutes," he defended, staring down at the laces. "What did Charlie say?"
"Nothing that tells us where Laine is going." She was silent a moment. "I think you should talk to him."
"What happened? Dad said you took his statement."
"I did," Megan answered, "and you can read the report, but I think you should ask Charlie yourself. I need to get back to the Bureau."
"You'll keep me updated?"
She nodded. "I will. Just...talk to Charlie."
Talking to Charlie proved to be harder than he'd hoped, but not any harder than he expected. Charlie was hiding something, and while Don wanted very much to get to the bottom of it, another part of him didn't want hear exactly what Laine was capable of.
"He stopped by Larry's room. Said he'd heard about Larry on the news and wanted to see if he was all right. I didn't think much about it. Derek took the expulsion rather well and he was studying physics..." Charlie shifted and hissed. Don immediately started to get out of the chair he was sitting in, but Charlie held up a hand.
"I'm fine, really. He apologized, Don. Thanked me, even, for exposing him. Said it was best thing that had ever happened to him. Larry was asleep again and a nurse came in. She had gone into the bathroom when Derek offered to buy me a cup of coffee. We were three steps outside the room when he said he must have dropped his wallet and want back in for it. About a minute later he came out. He wanted to take the stairs, said he hated elevators."
Don frowned. He didn't like where this was heading. "What happened?"
Charlie looked down the blanket. "As I told Megan, I'm not sure. I think he stuck me with something, because it all got blurry. It was dark..." He looked up, but didn't meet Don's eyes. "I don't really remember a lot, Don."
He was lying. "Not even how you got to CalSci?"
Charlie shook his head slowly. "No. He was angry, that I remember. A complete 180." He started picking at the tape holding down his IV.
"Stop that," Don told him and Charlie moved his hand away from the IV. There was much, much more to his story. There had to be. Why else would Megan be so insistent that he talk to him? Had Charlie told her more than he was willing to tell him?
"Charlie," he started, but Charlie interrupted him.
"There *isn't* any more. The doctors tell me I was tortured, the FBI tells me I was tortured, but I don't remember it. All I remember is CalSci and realizing that the second someone opened that door..." Charlie swallowed. "Did you find him?"
"No yet," Don admitted. "We're working on it, though."
"Good," Charlie responded. "How are you? Dad said you collapsed. I was a little out of it this morning."
"You had a fever of 103, you were allowed to be a little out of it, Charlie. I'm fine. Doctor signed my discharge papers two hours ago."
"Then why are you still here?" Charlie asked.
Don was a bit taken aback by the question. "You're still here," he answered. If he couldn't get his hands on Laine, then he'd stay by Charlie and make sure Laine wouldn't come back to get his hands on Charlie. Because this time, Laine'd have to get through him first.
"Oh," Charlie said, his eyes falling back down the sheets. "I'm tired."
Don frowned. "You just woke up. You feeling okay?" An overprotective hand reached up to Charlie's forehead. "Okay, I think your fever's back up." Don reached over for the call button and pushed it.
Charlie turned into the pillow. "It's fine. You don't need to call someone."
"Too late. You have a fever. Dad'll have my hide if I let something like that slide past me. It's bad enough I'm in the doghouse with him."
Charlie sighed. "Where *is* Dad, by the way?"
"Downstairs getting coffee. Do you know how long he's been here?"
"Too long, I'm sure," Charlie answered, closing his eyes. "I'm just tired," Charlie reiterated slowly.
"Uh huh," Don said, not believing him for a second. He was relieved when a nurse finally showed up.
"I think his fever's up again," Don told her immediately.
Charlie cracked an eye open and glared at Don. Don ignored it.
"Well, let's see if that's true," the nurse commented and turned to get a thermometer. She stuck it in Charlie's ear. Charlie squirmed slightly, and grimaced, the movement obviously aggravating one of his countless cuts and bruises.
"You in pain?" the nurse asked while she waited for the thermometer to beep. "I'll have to double check, but I think you're just about due for some more pain medication."
"No," Charlie responded. "Makes me sleepy."
"You're tired anyway," Don pointed out.
Charlie glared again and thermometer beeped.
"One oh one point eight," the nursed said. "That is a bit up from a few hours ago." She laid the thermometer aside and attached a blood pressure cuff around Charlie's right arm. Charlie winced at the pressure. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "This may be uncomfortable, but I'll be done in a minute." She was, but Don was sure that didn't matter much to Charlie. She didn't announce the reading, but from the look on her face, Don could tell it wasn't something she was overjoyed with. She undid the Velcro and proceeded to check Charlie's pulse. Finally she laid his hand back down and gave both of them a small smile. "I'll be right back." She disappeared out the door.
Charlie sighed. "Great. She's going to get the doctor."
"Why is that a bad thing?" Don asked, trying to keep the worry out of his voice. Yesterday, the doctor had said Charlie would be discharged today if he continued to improve. Don certainly didn't call a fever an improvement.
"Because I want to go home," Charlie said. "Or at least be able to go down and see how Larry's doing. But I haven't even been able to get out of this bed."
Don studied his brother a moment, once again taking in the various bandages and bruising. "I think when you get out of bed, you'll be in a world of pain, buddy."
"Not with all the drugs they keep giving me. Though Larry could probably beat me in a game of chess if we tried to play right now."
"Even with a head injury? Does that mean your father has a shot?"
Don looked up. Alan had entered without him even noticing. In one hand was a cup of coffee. In the other was a bottle of orange juice. He handed the orange juice to Don.
"I'd prefer the coffee," he told Alan.
"And I say you'll drink the orange juice." Don opened his mouth to protest, but Alan just pointed to the bottle. "You won't go home, so you will drink the juice."
Don relented, twisted the top off, and took a long sip.
"Thank you," Alan said, taking a seat on the other side of Charlie. He frowned when he got a good look at his youngest son. "You look feverish."
Charlie rolled his eyes. "I'm-"
"He is feverish," Don cut in. "Almost 102. The nurse just took it."
"Is she getting a doctor?"
"Could we not talk about me as if I'm not here," Charlie insisted. "And I'm sure she went to get a doctor because that seems to be all that happens around here. Try to sleep, get woken up, pumped full of medication that makes me spacey, and get asked a million times about what happened when I *don't* know."
Alan raised an eyebrow and exchanged a glance with Don. "All right, Charlie. I just asked."
Oh yeah, Don knew, Charlie hadn't told him the whole story. He was lucky they weren't near any blackboards. In that vein, Don made a mental note not to let Charlie con anyone into giving him a notebook and pencil. If he started writing equations, he'd never talk.
Charlie needed to talk. Charlie needed to do a lot of things. It never meant Charlie listened.
Don's thoughts were interrupted when the doctor came in, chart in hand. He, like the nurse before, didn't look pleased and it didn't take long to find out why.
"Your white cell count is up," the doctor told Charlie. Don knew what that meant: infection.
Charlie just closed his eyes. "So I'm not going home, huh?"
The doctor shook his head and scribbled something across Charlie's. "We've going to run another blood panel. In the meantime, we'll change your antibiotic."
"Fine. Whatever," Charlie responded.
Don traded another glance with Alan. Charlie gave in too easily. That was definitely not good.
The problem was Don had no clue how to fix it. He didn't even know where to start. A moment later, the doctor left, Charlie pleaded fatigue, and he was no closer to getting to the truth.
"We got him."
The second Don had heard Megan say those words, he was combing through the key rack in the kitchen for the keys to his mother's old car. His father had dropped him off at home with explicit instructions to take it easy and get some sleep, but he'd been jittery since he heard Alan drive away. His own car was still at CalSci, if he remembered and medical leave be damned, there was no way Don wasn't going to get his own moment with Derek Laine.
David met up with him when he entered the office.
"Megan and Colby are talking to him," David volunteered. "We're going to need a positive ID from Charlie, though."
"That's easy," Don answered. "How'd you find him?"
"We got lucky," David answered. "Gas station attendant in Malibu recognized him from the photo the media's been showing."
"Malibu, huh? He didn't get very far, then." He turned and looked into the integration room, getting his first glimpse of the man that had almost killed his brother.
He wasn't sure what he was expected, but Laine wasn't it. He was a big guy, yes, easily over two hundred pounds, but he had the height to match it. He stared straight ahead, showing absolutely no emotion nor reaction to what Megan was saying. He had to know he had no way out. He didn't seem to care.
That pissed off Don more than anything and he had to look away.
"It's not a good idea," David commented.
"What isn't?" he asked. He knew exactly what David meant, but wasn't sure if he'd actually say it.
"You talking to him," David said without a beat. "With Charlie's statement, the kidnapping case is solid."
"Yes," Don agreed. "But not the two murders. And not the attack on Larry."
"He did it," David said. "And we got him. Guess it's up to the prosecution to fill in the blanks, unless we get a confession. And I've been in there - that ain't happening."
"He denying everything?"
David shook his head. "Not everything. He knows we got him on Charlie. That was the only time he reacted."
Don was a bit surprised. The way Laine was holding himself, it didn't seem like he'd had cracked. "Reacted how?"
"He seemed disappointed that Charlie was still alive. Won't utter a word about any of the other victims and we've been at it over an hour."
Don mulled that over as his gaze went back towards Laine.
It was then that he saw Laine staring right back at him. Laine blinked and then his lips curled into a smile that Don could only describe as pure evil. It sent a shiver down his spine and a surge of anger straight to his brain.
He didn't realize he'd taken a step towards the room until he felt a hand on his back.
"It's not worth it," David said.
Don looked down at his hands, and noticed they'd curled into fists. He let out a breath. David was right. Seeing Laine convicted would just have to be enough and he'd have to settle for during whatever he could do to make sure that happened.
Don had other things to worry about and slugging Laine wouldn't help Charlie cope with what happened, especially if he lost his job because he had been unable to keep his temper with a suspect.
When Don returned to the hospital, he found Charlie sleeping, Alan still present, and Larry visiting. Larry and Alan were playing chess on Charlie's tray table and Larry was seated in a wheelchair, still looking as if his head was bothering him.
"Hi Dad. Larry."
"Hi Don," Alan responded, taking Larry's castle.
"I was not well prepared for that," Larry muttered, then looked up in Don's direction. "Don."
"You winning, Dad?" Don asked, taking a look at the chessboard.
"He is," Larry admitted, reaching a hand up to gently rub a temple. "I'm afraid I'm not at my peak." He moved a pawn.
"He's doing much better than Charlie was," Alan said. "He lost two games before he fell asleep."
"Two games?" Don repeated, stealing another glance at Charlie. Charlie shifted slightly in his sleep, and a slight frown crossed his lips for a moment before he settled.
"Pain medication. The fever's the same." Alan studied the board a minute before moving his bishop. "Check."
"Check?" Larry said, surprised. "That can't be...actually, I suppose it is." He moved his king out of danger.
"You headed back to the office, didn't you?" Alan asked. "Even after I dropped you off at the house and told you to stay put. I should have remembered to hide your mother's old keys."
"I had to," Don insisted. "We got Laine."
Alan looked away from the game and up at Don. "You did?"
He nodded. "In Malibu, thanks to the media coverage, of all things. We have him on Charlie's kidnapping, so we're trying to get him to link himself back to Larry and the other two professors."
"I'm afraid I can't offer any assistance," Larry said. "I can't recall seeing-"
"I know," Don cut in. "And what we've got is actually circumstantial, but I'm convinced that there's a good enough case for a jury to convict him across the board, even without a confession." Don sighed and took another look at Charlie before turning back to his father and Larry.
"He wasn't even sorry. The son-of-a-bitch looked at me and smiled." Don could hear the anger surface in his voice and tried to hold it back. He didn't want to wake Charlie.
"You didn't do anything you'd regret, did you?" Alan asked.
"No, but that doesn't mean I didn't want to. Dad, you should have seen him. It was..." He ran a hand through his hair. "It was tough."
"I'm sure. If I'd seen him, I'm not sure I've have been able to do the same."
Don almost grinned at that. "What about violence not being the answer?"
Alan raised an eyebrow. "I've never met someone responsible for harming either of my sons." His eyes turned serious, showcasing something Don hadn't seen before and didn't even know existed in his father. "And I hope I never do."
The notes, preserved in all their evidence glory, were going to be a major player for the prosecution when it came to the murders. Charlie's testimony would confirm the kidnapping, even if Laine didn't utter a word. In the end, Don didn't doubt the jury would convict and Laine would, at the very least, be spending a long time in prison.
Alan had insisted Don stay at the house and since the only vehicle in his possession was his mother's ancient Ford, he didn't have much choice. Charlie had been barely awake when they left the hospital, but thankfully his temperature had gone down. The doctor had even talked about releasing him tomorrow.
At that Charlie had brightened, looking, if only for a few seconds, like his normal self.
And Don had, for the first time in what felt like forever, slept through the night.
He was surprised when he woke up and found himself blinking through the sunlight streaming into his old bedroom. He'd half expected to be awakened by another nightmare, another vision that told him the nightmare wasn't over.
Instead he felt refreshed, the constant exhaustion that had been haunting him for the past twenty-four hours dissipated.
No dreams. Just nothing.
Poof. Gone. If only the angst that resided could be erased just as easily.
But despite the differences, the resentment, the arguments, Don could never ignore the need to protect his brother. Yes, he was an adult and more than capable of taking care of himself, but that never mattered. Hurt was hurt and sad was sad.
And Charlie was a bit of both.
Don walked down the stairs, listening to the sounds of his father in the kitchen. He still needed to pick up his car at CalSci and if he played his cards right, Alan might just drop him off there on their way to hospital. And while Don was there, he could stop by Charlie's office and grab a few things so that Charlie could work from home because if Don had any input, Charlie wasn't going back to campus for a few days.
Don found scrambled eggs, toast, and orange juice waiting at the dining room table. His father pushed a fork his way and sat down with his own plate and cup of coffee.
Don eyed the orange juice. "I could really use a cup of coffee," he tried.
Alan slipped his reading glasses on and reached for the morning paper. "That's nice. Too bad you're not getting one. Drink your juice. I want to get to the hospital by nine."
Don contemplated going into the kitchen and pouring himself a cup of coffee. Alan had to have made a pot.
The paper shifted. "There's no pot. I made instant this morning."
Don shook his head. "How did you...wait, did you stay instant coffee? You hate instant coffee. Mom was the one that liked it. Whatever you're drinking has to be at least a year old. And decaf."
"Still want some?"
"Good." Alan lowered the paper a moment and nodded towards Don's plate. "Now eat. And drink your juice."
Charlie was awake and sitting on top of the covers when Don and Alan got the hospital.
"Finally," Charlie said and Don saw something cross his brother's face that he hadn't seen recently: a smile.
"I've been fever-free for over twelve hours!" Charlie was beaming and Don couldn't help grinning himself.
"That's great," he responded, patting his brother on the shoulder. He had still been running a slight fever when he and Alan had left early the night before. The fact that was gone must mean the doctor found the right antibiotic. Sometimes he was amazed as how quickly medicine could turn something around. "Does that mean you can go home?"
"I'm waiting for the doctor to stop by. Maybe tonight." Charlie waved his hand in the air and grimaced. Fever aside, his body obviously still had a great deal of healing to do.
"I hope he plans on sending you home with some pain medication," Alan commented and dropped a plastic bag on the tray table next to Charlie's bed. Charlie perked up even more.
"Is that what I think it is?"
Alan pulled the table towards the bed. "I always make too much the scrambled eggs and when I called this morning, I was told you were doing well..."
Charlie immediately lifted the plate out of the bag. "Thanks, Dad. Hospital food is the worst. The eggs they gave me this morning, well, it looked like pus was running from them.
Don let out a snort at that statement. "Pus?" he repeated.
"What?" Charlie responded, in between bites of egg. "That's a perfectly valid word and completely accurate to what was on my plate."
"I'm sure it was," Alan commented. "Hospital food doesn't evoke my appetite."
"I actually don't think it's that bad," Don admitted. "Sure, it's not Dad's cooking, but it's a lot better than some of take-out I've eaten on the job."
"Take-out?" Charlie echoed. "I didn't know that items out of the vending machine down the hall counted as take-out."
"Hey, don't be so quick to judge, Professor," Don shot back, giving Charlie a playful shove. Charlie hissed and dropped his fork, sending scrambled eggs across the table. Don regretted the action immediately.
"Sorry, buddy," he apologized. "Do you need anything? I can call a nurse."
Charlie's teeth were still clenched, but he shook his head back and forth slowly. "No," he finally managed. "I'll be fine."
Don didn't believe it for a minute, especially when Charlie pushed the plate of eggs away. He looked towards Alan. Alan pulled the tray table away and stepped in closer to his youngest son. Charlie, all smiles a moment ago, had now closed his eyes tightly. His teeth were no longer clenched, but his shoulders were raised, his body language spelling out the word "pain" loud and clear.
Don reached for the call button, but Alan raised a hand. A minute passed and Charlie's eyes finally opened.
"Better?" Alan asked.
"Yes," Charlie said. "Just hit a rough spot on my back." He let out a breath, looking every bit like he was still trying to get himself under control. "I don't think I want any more eggs, though, Dad."
"Okay," Alan answered and shot a look at Don. Don frowned, not sure what his father was hinting at. A split second later, he realized.
Charlie turned green and Don just managed to grab the basin Alan had hinted at and shoved it under Charlie's face before his brother lost the scrambled eggs he'd just eaten.
After he was done, the dry heaves hit, producing an awful sound as Charlie brought up bile. Don winced in sympathy, unsure of how he could help or if he could even help. He settled for laying a hand on Charlie's back and guiding him back down to the pillows when he was finally done.
Alan hit the call button then.
Charlie shook his head again. "I'm okay now, Dad. It was just the -"
"Pain," Alan finished. "Which is exactly something they can help with here. You just have to let them."
"The doctor is never going to let me go home now," Charlie muttered, closing his eyes. Don empathized with Charlie. Throwing up sucked. Throwing up while in pain had to really suck.
And it was all because he gave his brother a playful pat on the back. Another pang of guilt to add to the already growing pile.
"Not you fault," Charlie said, eyes still closed. "About everything."
How did he...? Don touched Charlie's shoulder, careful to be gentle this time. Charlie's eyes opened again and a half smile graced his lips. "Don't feel guilty," he said softly.
"I don't," Don denied.
"You're lying," Charlie countered.
"All right, enough," Alan interrupted. "Sounds like both of you are lying if you ask me." He looked out the door. "And that nurse is taking too long. I'm going to see if I can find her."
"Dad, don't," Charlie started but Alan was out the door before he could even finish his statement. "You *do* feel guilty, Don. And you've got nothing to feel guilty for. You're not responsible for me just because you're older."
"I don't feel responsible," Don fibbed. Maybe if he said it enough times he'd actually believe it.
Charlie sighed. "I'm a grown man, Don. I can look out for myself."
"You can," Don agreed. He paused, unsure of where this conversation was leading versus where it should be leading. He shifted the subject a bit. "But I'm not the only here who is lying."
"What do you mean?" Charlie shifted his weight a bit on the pillows and bit his lip at the movement. His pale face had Don's hands heading back towards the emesis basin. Charlie grabbed his arm. "Don't need it. I'm 'kay."
Don wasn't sure if Charlie was okay. Physically or otherwise, but he let his arm fall back to his side. "I meant that I think you remember a lot more than you're willing to tell anyone. Unless you told Megan."
"I'm sure you read the report, Don. You know exactly what I told Megan." Charlie's eyes met his, his gaze turning from pained to down-right serious.
"I know what she wrote down," Don said. Megan was nothing but a professional and what was in that report was just the information they needed to haul Laine in. And if Charlie stuck to those facts, it would be all he'd ever be questioned about. Don didn't doubt the facts. Didn't doubt exactly what Laine had planned to do his brother.
He just doubted how much of it Charlie was actually conscious of.
It hurt that Charlie wasn't willing to talk to him. The why didn't matter as much as the actual fact that Charlie was hiding something. Was Charlie trying to protect him? Protect their dad? Protect himself?
Charlie's eyes shifted.
"I want to hear it, Charlie. It won't go farther than this room."
Charlie swallowed and for a moment, Don was sure if he was because he was nervous or nauseous. It could have been both.
"I..." he stammered, and shook his head. "I don't want you to know, Don. I don't even want to know."
A brief thought crossed Don's mind. Had Laine...no, that would have turned up in the medical report, right? Or would it? Don felt a flush of anger flash across his face.
"Did he touch you Charlie?"
"Touch me?" Charlie asked. His brow furrowed for a minute. "No! Well, I mean yes, but no, not in the way you're thinking about."
"Then what?" Don wanted the truth. He couldn't deal with his own imagination anymore.
Charlie let out a long sigh and glanced towards the door. Finally he turned back to Don. "It was late. He was not pleased, blamed me for ruining the foundations of what he thought would have been a fantastic science career. His numbers were jumbled, though. Sooner or later, with or without me, he'd have been exposed."
Don sat down on the edge of the mattress, listening.
"There was no one in the parking lot. The guards shift change is at midnight and that's also a popular time for students to use the main computer lab. The math department was deserted. I was...out of it. He'd hit me, or I think he did. He could have drugged me, frankly; all I know was the world was a bit blurry at the edges. He didn't start cutting until we were downstairs, until I was completely aware, really.
"I remember blinking at the light, wondering why the room was red, finally recognizing exactly where I was. My hands and feet were tied," Charlie continued. "Even if I'd screamed, no one would have heard me and if they did, no one might have even cared."
Don tensed at that statement. He would have cared. He did care.
"I didn't scream. I didn't want to give him the satisfaction. Plus, he was so much bigger than I was. While I was bleeding, he starting kicking and hitting and..."
"And?" Don pushed.
"And nothing," Charlie finished. "I blacked out. Next thing I knew I was strung up and Laine was laughing, telling me it didn't matter if anyone found me, because if they did it would be fine. He told me I'd get a chance to experience the true pain of having my heart and soul ripped from my body." As soon as he finished, Charlie sat up from the pillow, face pale and panting.
Don got the hint and shoved a the basin under Charlie's chin, rubbing his brother's back gently as his body revolted and suffered through another painful bout of the dry heaves.
Alan picked that minute to come back in with a nurse. Thirty minutes later, Charlie had been settled back under the covers, drowsy from a combination of pain and nausea medication. The doctor had dropped by, been concerned, and as predicted, wanted Charlie to stay another night.
Alan got out his reading glasses and a crossword, looking like he was staying for the duration.
Don sat again, looking at Charlie's fitful sleeping form, and let the fear his brother must have felt sink in.
Charlie was finally released from the hospital the next morning. An hour later, Laine was arraigned and denied bail.
Charlie said nothing more about Laine or the kidnapping.
Don absorbed what he knew and backed off, returning to work the day after Charlie came home.
If anyone had come to him to express his or her concern about Charlie, Don had expected it to be his father first. But Alan's qualms were not the ones that guided Don out of the office early one Tuesday morning.
Almost two weeks had passed and Charlie was healing, physically, at least. The bruises were slowly fading, going through their Technicolor dance and a majority of the stitches that Charlie had had been removed. The cuts remained, but like the bruises, those too, were on the road to recovery.
Charlie returned to CalSci a week after his release from the hospital, ignoring protests from both Don and Alan that he should wait. Charlie, of course, said he was fine and that he had classes to teach and tests and papers to grade. So he did. And he seemed all right, coming home at the usual times, even smiling now and again.
Apparently, that had been a front.
In the end, it was Larry that expressed his concerns, as directly as he could. The physicist stopped by the FBI field office and found Don.
Don had been surprised to see him. Larry had been released the same day as Charlie and Don knew the man still suffered from frequent headaches. Charlie said he'd returned to work, but in a move uncharacteristic to Larry, had been heading out early each day.
"Larry," Don had acknowledged. "Charlie here?"
Larry had glanced nervously behind him and Don had found it odd. "No," the man admitted. "Actually, Charles is the subject I had hoped you'd be able to shed some light on."
It had only taken a few minutes to learn Charlie was withdrawn, even at work. His sense of humor, corny at it was, had disappeared from his lectures. Charlie looked tired, Larry had explained, even more fatigued than the physicist felt himself, which was saying a great deal.
It hadn't taken long for those facts to drive Don away from his desk and into his car, where he kicked himself all the way to Pasadena.
When Don entered the garage, he was overwhelmed by both the chalk dust in the air and the ever-constant sound of frantic writing across one of what had to be a dozen chalkboards.
Larry's concern was well founded; Charlie was at it again.
It, of course, wasn't good. The backboards themselves were not a bad sign. Since Charlie had began developing his new cognitive theory they had become the norm and not a way for Charlie to escape via P versus NP.
No, that wasn't what bothered Don. What bothered him were Charlie's eyes. They were directed towards the board, staring straight at the numbers his fingers created, yet their real focus was miles away and distant. Charlie was writing, but it seemed mechanical. There was no passion in his strokes. Determination, yes, but denial was a strong force.
There were also large circles under them. Circles Don swore he hadn't seen when he'd been by for dinner just two nights ago. His father hadn't either, it seemed.
Were they both blind?
Charlie jumped, the chalk dropping to the ground. Don heard it hit the concrete and snap into at least two pieces and roll. For a second, he had a brief flashback to another day, another set of boards, after he'd moved back to LA and after his mother had been given a two month time table.
"Don't do that," Charlie said, slowly bending down to pick the fallen chalk.
"Sorry," Don said. "You all right, Charlie?"
"I'm fine," Charlie replying as if an autopilot. "I'm just running through a new train of thought..." He turned back to the board and wrote another equation before laying the chalk down and sighing. "Larry came to talk to you, didn't he?"
"What makes you say that?" Don asked, not confirming nor denying the statement.
"It's two thirty in the afternoon. You never stop by at two thirty in the afternoon in the middle of the workweek, unless you have a day off. And I know you don't have today off." He spun back towards Don, eyes focused. But the dullness remained, leaving the brown eyes empty.
"No, I don't," Don admitted. "Charlie..." Again, he was at a loss. This wasn't territory he was used to exploring. He'd pressed Charlie for answers, to fill in the blanks. Charlie did, and Don hoped that might help Charlie along a bit. It was naïve, he knew. He'd been an FBI agent long enough to know that victims of twisted crimes didn't heal overnight, even when those who cared about them did everything they could.
"What, Don? You wanted to know what really happened and I told you. I hated every second of that discussion, but it happened. What else do you want?"
Don didn't answer right away and Charlie went back to the board, picking up the chalk again.
Don gripped his hand and physically took the chalk from Charlie's fingers.
"I want you to get past this," he said. "Larry was concerned and now I see he has every right to be. He's your friend. I'm your brother. This isn't healthy."
"What isn't?" Charlie asked, his eyes staring down at the ground.
"This," Don repeated. "You go through the motions, but something's missing. Maybe you should talk to someone. Maybe Megan-"
"I don't want to talk to Megan and I don't want to talk to a therapist." Charlie's tone was firm. "I just..." His voice faltered and Don worried he'd retreat again.
He didn't. Instead he blinked and started stepping away from his calculations until he reached a chair. He fell into it, his muscles sagging. When he looked up at Don, something was different. The eyes.
They were still lost, but they were alive.
They were Charlie.
"I just want to forget," Charlie finished, his voice so soft that Don needed to get closer to hear him. "Dad doesn't talk about it. You want to talk about it and then we do and it doesn't make anything better, because in the end, it still happened. The thing is, I'm not scared. Not scared to go back to CalSci, not even scared to go back down into the Dungeon. Although," a ghost of smile graced his lips, "they pushed up the construction down there. The Dungeon won't be the Dungeon for much longer."
"Really." Charlie pointed out at the board. "This isn't retreating. This is valid work. Just so you know."
"It's not P vs. P, that much I know."
"P vs. NP," Charlie corrected. "So Larry's worried? I'm worried about him; he still has headaches and leaves early every day."
"Larry had and is still recovering from a serious head injury. But don't change the subject," Don said.
"I'm not," Charlie insisted. "I'm trying. Really, I am."
Charlie's eyes locked with Don's and Don knew his brother was telling the truth. Maybe these things just took time. He just wanted Charlie to be Charlie again.
"I know," Don finally responded. He wanted to ask Charlie if he was sleeping, but bit his tongue. He'd save that question for another time.
"Don't tell Dad, Don. Please." Brown eyes pleaded with him.
"Tell him what?"
"That Larry came and saw you."
Don was silent a minute. "Fine," he hesitantly agreed. "But I can't guarantee that Larry won't say something to Dad himself."
"He won't," Charlie answered, sounding quite sure. "After all, he came to you, didn't he?"
The two lapsed into a period of comfortable silence, neither knowing just what else to say.
It was Charlie that proceeded. "Don, I never did ask you, how did you know to go to CalSci? Laine seemed to think you would figure it out, but Megan told me he didn't leave a direct trail."
It was Don's turn to shift his eyes. "What else did Megan say?"
"Instinct," Charlie said. "She said you acted on instinct. Don, there was one moment before Laine rigged the door, that I closed my eyes and wished that you would find me and I reached out-"
"Towards the bookcase," Don finished.
Charlie blinked, shocked. "I did. I thought it anyone had snapped a photo of me at the moment, they'd have no clue where I was."
"You were right," Don intoned, his words soft.
"Does it matter?" Don asked, feeling very odd sense of déjà vu.
"Charlie, trust me, it makes no sense, so believe me and Megan when I say someone out there wanted me to find you." He hoped Charlie would buy it. The dreams were over, and like Charlie's ordeal, Don wanted to move past them and onto the rest of his life.
"I just wanted to help you."
Charlie shook his head and smiled. "Don, you did. You are. Some things just take time and I've got time."
"Time," Don repeated and couldn't resist ruffling Charlie's hair.
Time he could do. Now, at least, Charlie did have time.
They both did.