Title: It Should Have Been Me
Author: Laura Sichrovsky
Permission to archive: Yes! Please!
Rating: R, Maybe hard R. (There isn't any actual sex, but the thoughts Charlie has running loose in his head might be a bit too racy for the under 18 crowd.)
Summary: Charlie accidentally sees Amita with a date and has a hard time dealing with the thoughts this brings up.
Warnings: Sexual content
Acknowledgments: Thanks need to go to M. Marchand for her help with this. She gave up sleep to help me to hear Charlie more clearly and we appreciate it. Thank you to CBS for being willing to take a chance on a show like this and for keeping it on. Thank you to David Krumholtz for making Charlie such an entertaining guy to play with and thanks to Charlie for spending some time in my head. He scared the Rice Krispies out of me when he just started talking, but after my heart rate settled down it was actually fun. Huge thanks have to go to my little sister, Kristen, for taking time out of her life to read this over for me and then chop it to bits. People have told me I have talent, but that's just because they only see what I write after Kristen has made me make it better. She spends large amounts of time going over my writing with her red pen and never expects anything in return. She is the best! And lastly, but not leastly, (Not thinking that's a word, but…) to my most patient husband who not only doesn't freak about the guys who live in my head but who also understands when the story seems more important than he is. (It's not, but I can see how he'd think that.) He is more wonderful than I could ever deserve. To the readers of this story, I hope you like it!
Disclaimer: I do not own Charlie, Don, (Oh, how I wish I did!) Amita, Alan, Larry, or any of the Numb3rs' characters. I am not employed by the creators of the show, nor have they given me permission to use these characters as I have. I also failed to get Brad Pitt's permission to use his name in this. (While I'm not a Brad Pitt fan, I definitely don't see him behaving like this man. Sorry to have put your name to such a jerk, Brad.) No one is paying me to do this (although if they asked I certainly would!) and if you are seized with the odd notion to send me money for this, please don't. Numb3rs and all it's characters are owned by CBS Broadcasting Inc. and are being used here without their permission. If you have any complaints about this story, please don't send hate mail or pretzel bombs to them, direct it all to me.
It Should Have Been Me
Charlie rested his head against the chalkboard, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes. His whole body ached and there was a faint but persistent throbbing behind his left eye. He had been working on this same set of equations since about noon.
Now it was…Charlie opened his eyes and looked at his watch. It couldn't really be one o'clock in the morning, could it? He hadn't eaten dinner, or lunch for that matter and it occurred to him that his father had probably gone to bed just a bit worried. Charlie sighed, trying to determine if he really wanted to continue or just go take a much-needed nap on his office couch. Maybe a quick drink of water would help him decide.
He wandered to the drinking fountain around the corner, feeling his cramped muscles loosening up as he walked. The water, although it tasted slightly of the metal from the drinking fountain, was just what he needed. He realized that he hadn't had anything to drink for around nine hours, since his morning coffee had run out. After he finished his drink, he splashed some of the cold water on his face. He thought it might wake him up, but it only served to cool his skin, which he decided wasn't all bad. In fact it actually felt quite good, but it didn't make his brain feel any less fuzzy.
He just wasn't used to these hours anymore. Amita had, under orders from Charlie's father he was sure, taken to pushing him out the door at 6:00 pm under threat of erasing his boards. But she had spent the day at a conference and Charlie had spent all his free time working this equation. He was so close to solving it, but his weary brain told him that it wouldn't be finished tonight.
He knew he was tired. The numbers were running around in his head in a jumbled mass. It was going to take some honest concentration to make them fall back into line and he wasn't sure he could actually do that. Feeling a bit surly about it, he tried to force the equation to behave as he walked back to his classroom. Maybe if he moved the unknown to the other…
His musings were interrupted by voices. Voices at this hour? Who would be in the math building at one in the morning? As he drew closer, he realized the voices were coming from his classroom. He wondered if it was a fraternity prank. That had happened twice at the beginning of the semester. Large, rowdy boys wearing dresses had broken in and stolen all the desks from three of the classrooms. Charlie hesitated. He wasn't sure he really wanted to deal with frat boys in dresses. But it was his classroom, and worse, his equations, so he took a few tentative steps forward and paused to listen at the door.
"Are you sure no one is here?" a male voice asked.
"Trust me," a female voice responded. "The only person who could possibly be here is the professor who's room this is and if he were on campus, he'd be here. You can't tear him away from his chalkboards."
Charlie jumped slightly as he recognized the female voice. What was Amita doing here in the middle of the night and just who was in there with her?
"So this is where you work? It's a bit stuffy."
"Oh, it's not so bad," Amita replied. "I actually kind of like it here. That's why I wanted you to see it."
There was a pause and Charlie heard footsteps that told him that Amita's companion had moved across the room. He felt curious and just a little horrified, picturing all kinds of sordid things that this…boy could be doing to her in Charlie's classroom. Unable to control his morbid curiosity any longer, Charlie silently moved a few steps closer and carefully peered around the door frame.
Amita was standing next to Charlie's desk, one hand gently resting on a stack of papers, her eyes closed. Behind her was a tall blond man, his arms wrapped around her, his lips on her neck. The man whispered something into Amita's hair and she turned around in his arms, her mouth going to his, her fingers twining in his hair.
He had heard that voyeurism could be a sexual stimulant. To Charlie, it was like watching a train wreck. He felt sickened, like the wind had been knocked out of him, his breath coming in painful, soft gasps, his stomach churning. He wanted to just turn and run or better yet, to step in and stop this little sexual adventure, but he could not move, could not think, could not get himself away from the performance being played out in front of him.
Amita had moved closer to her date, their kisses becoming more intense. As the man's hands traced down Amita's back, she let out a soft moan.
For Charlie, this was what pulled him from his trance, the sound small, yet powerful. He felt his whole body constrict and he spun around, frantically turning his back to the couple. Finally finding the strength to move, Charlie practically ran from the building, into the cold dark night. He stood on the walk, gasping, choking on his own breath. He felt nauseous and surprisingly empty.
His brow creased as he tried to understand what was happening. Yes, he had seen Amita with a man, so what? She was an attractive woman, why shouldn't she have men interested in her? And if she wanted to do Lord knows what with them, well, that was her business. It had nothing to do with Charlie. Heck, if she wanted to sleep with every student in the math department, why should it bother him in the least? Yet it did and Charlie couldn't figure out why.
He drew in deep, frigid breaths as he slowly walked away from the building, his mind turning over the problem. Was it because it was his classroom that she had chosen for her tryst? There was something disturbing to him about that, but it was just a quiet undercurrent at the back of his mind, not the reason for this overwhelming anxiety. He paused for a moment, wondering if he would be able to look at his desk the same way ever again, then pushed the thought from his mind and continued walking.
It wasn't that he didn't want her to enjoy herself. She was a good friend and he wanted her to be happy. Was it the man she had chosen? That couldn't be it. Charlie didn't even know him, so how could he dislike him? He was probably a very nice young man.
Yes, his mind whispered to him, but he isn't…
Isn't what? Charlie asked himself. Isn't good enough for her? Isn't smart enough for her? Isn't…
"Me," Charlie said out loud to the star lit night.
Charlie froze in his tracks. Had he just said what he thought he'd said? But…but…No…Couldn't be…I don't…I can't…I can't want her…I don't want her…I don't…want her to be up there in his arms. I want her in mine.
Charlie looked around for a bench. He really needed to sit down right now. Luckily for him, there was one just in front of him. He wasn't sure he could walk very far as his whole body was shaking.
He sat, his mind whirling, throwing thoughts at him that frankly scared him. It shouldn't be that man up there with her, it should be Charlie. It shouldn't be that man who was tasting her lips, holding her close. It shouldn't be her date that was pinning her to the desk, watching her amazing body writhe beneath him. It shouldn't be this man's name she screamed out into the empty classroom.
"It should be me," Charlie said out loud again. "It should be my lips on hers, my hands on her skin, my name she calls. It should be me."
Dear God, he had said it. He had finally put voice to the thoughts that haunted his dreams at night, to the desires he felt when he looked at Amita. He'd been afraid to face it, knowing the ramifications if he did. Now that he'd said it, could he take it back? Did he want to?
Charlie sat on the bench, his head down, his mind a jumble. He was her thesis advisor, he could not betray her trust like that, could not jeopardize everything she had worked so hard for. He'd never want to see her hurt or disciplined for his weakness. But he was also a man and as a man, he knew he could not deny his feelings. Look where that had gotten him so far; he was sitting on a bench at 2 am talking to himself. But the rules…
"Screw the rules," his father's voice ghosted in his head. "What's more important, learning or love?"
Put like that it almost sounded like an equation. Charlie wondered if that could work. He began to run numbers, percentages, word problems. But in the end, Charlie found as they had before, that in some instances, his precious numbers failed him.
He closed his eyes, forcefully clearing his head. This wasn't really getting him anywhere and he felt that deep exhaustion washing over him again. He really needed to just sleep, to clear everything out of his mental circuits and start clean in the morning. He briefly toyed with the idea of going back to his office to the couch, but quickly dismissed the idea, not wanting to run the risk of seeing Amita with her date again. He just wasn't up to that. He was only a few miles from home; he could walk. Yes, it would be taxing in his exhausted state, but the alternative was far worse.
He got to his feet, his body still shaking slightly. Yes, sleep was definitely a priority now. A movement to his left caught his attention, causing him to turn and look back towards the math building. Amita's date was hurrying down the walk in front of the building. He looked upset and he was alone, both things that set off alarms in Charlie's head.
Why wasn't Amita with him? Why was the man leaving in such a rush and so obviously unhappy about it. What had happened? He truly knew nothing about this man. All sorts of ugly thoughts ran through Charlie's head, not the least of which was date rape. What if the man had…he couldn't even put that thought into words.
Amita. He had to know if she was all right. He turned and ran to the building, thinking up punishments for this man, each worse than the next. If he had done anything to Amita, anything at all, Charlie was going to hunt him down and make him pay for it. He might even get Don involved. Don could be pretty evil if he was properly motivated and Charlie was sure he could motivate him.
He was running a scenario through his head involving her date and Don's Tazer gun as he rounded the hall to his classroom and stopped dead in his tracks, his mind going suddenly blank. Amita was coming out the door, turning towards him, a look of concern on her face, but otherwise seeming fine. She looked up, seeing Charlie and slowed to a stop. She stood, just outside his classroom, looking at him, not saying a word. Charlie returned her silent stare, his eyes taking in everything about her, looking for anything that could be wrong and coming up with nothing.
The soundless seconds spun out into minutes, neither speaking nor moving, each studying the other. Finally, Amita dropped her gaze to the floor, breaking the spell. Charlie could see that she was fine, feeling a great rush of relief mixed with irritation. She was perfectly all right and he was racing the halls playing Sir Lancelot, slaying pretentious blond dragons in his head.
This just wasn't right. The only thing in his life that ever had this type of hold on him was math. What gave her this power over him? He knew she would never be interested in him. He was obviously not her kind of man. He was everything her date was not. Her date had been tall, tanned, and noticeably athletic; Charlie was none of these. He was skinny, dark, and decidedly bookish. He knew this, he accepted this; in fact, most of the time he was proud of this. But sometimes…sometimes when he compared himself to Don or at moments like this when his heart betrayed him, he hated what he was and more importantly, what he was not.
Charlie shook himself free of his musings, moving forward down the hall. Amita was fine and he still desperately needed sleep. Since she was through with her date, he decided his couch wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Amita had not moved, still standing just to the left of the classroom door and he had to pass very close to her to go in. He'd determined that he wasn't going to say anything; after all, it wasn't really his business. Besides, he wasn't sure in his exhausted state that he wouldn't say something that would incriminate him. He moved past her, into the room and turned to go into his office, noting as he did so that she was following him.
"Charlie?" she asked softly. "Charlie, are you okay?"
"Fine." he murmured, his voice clipped, barely above a whisper.
He continued toward the couch, refusing to look back at her. If he looked at her, his resolve might crumble and he would do something he would surely regret.
"You don't seem fine," She sounded genuinely worried and her tone tore at Charlie's heart.
"Just tired," he sighed, stopping and just standing, staring at the floor.
"Aren't you wondering why I'm here this late?" she asked, moving to stand in front of him.
Something about this question struck Charlie as absurd. His whole night seemed to have been consumed by what she was doing here this late and he found himself feeling irritated she would even ask.
"What you do at night is your own business," he replied shortly, sounding more annoyed than he had intended to.
Her eyes widened and she looked hurt.
"Charlie, you don't normally snap at me for no reason. I'm worried," she said, her hand going to his shoulder.
Something about her words conflicted with the images his mind had painted earlier of her with her date. Her fingers began to gently massage at his shoulder, sending shivers down his spine, further annoying him. What gave her the right to do this to him? He stepped back, looking at her, trying to justify his mood with his feelings for her. She seemed startled at his sudden aloofness. It was so unlike Charlie to close her out.
"Charlie, what is wrong. I want to help you, but you have to let me in."
"Oh, like you let the Brad Pitt clone in earlier?" It had slipped out before Charlie could stop it and now there was no taking it back.
Charlie looked at her face. Her eyes were wide with shock and hurt, but Charlie couldn't tell whether it was from his comment or the fact that she realized what he had seen. He'd never meant to hurt her. He took a deep breath, pushing down his frustration.
"I'm sorry," Charlie said in a decidedly gentler voice. "That was completely uncalled for."
"What were you doing here so late?" Amita asked quietly, not looking him in the eyes. Her voice quavered slightly and Charlie wasn't all together sure that she had forgiven him for his callousness.
"I was working on that equation we started yesterday…well I guess now that would be two days ago."
"Where were you when we came in?"
"In the hall getting a drink."
Amita just nodded. Could this be any more awkward? The thing he loved about talking to Amita was how natural their conversations flowed. She was incredibly intelligent and had a wonderful sense of humor that made her the perfect foil for Charlie. He never worried that she might take something the wrong way or think he was crazy. He was comfortable with her and that comfort actually brought out the better parts of Charlie's personality, making their relationship all the more important to him. And now he had changed all that with one moment of thoughtlessness.
"You talk first," Charlie decided. Amita nodded again, taking a deep breath.
"I'm sorry. I obviously upset you and I'm sorry."
"Amita, I told you, what you do is your business."
"Not if it hurts you." She crossed the intervening space to stand painfully close to him. She gently touched his shoulder again. "I never wanted to hurt you. Not for anything."
There was something about the tone of her voice that caught Charlie's attention. He looked into her eyes, the last of his anger leaving him.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," He involuntarily brought his hand up to tenderly stroke her face. "I was the one who over reacted. I had no reason to treat you so poorly and I'm very sorry."
Amita leaned into his touch, closing her eyes.
"Why did you get so upset?" Her voice was soft and slightly breathy, making Charlie's stomach flutter. He couldn't take his eyes off her face.
"I'm not even sure. There was just something about the thought of you here with him…"
"Because I used your office?"
"No, that wasn't it. I thought it might be, but…You just deserve better than that over dressed movie boy wanna be."
Amita opened her eyes and laughed.
"Like dark haired, wickedly smart math professors?"
He knew it was a joke, he could tell that from the tone of her voice. Maybe it was her closeness or maybe it was the beauty the laugh brought out on her face that made him take a chance. He leaned towards her until her face was just inches from his. He could feel her breath on his skin, smell her musky perfume. He would never remember making a conscious decision, but at the same time he would never forget what he said.
"Why not?" The question was just above a whisper, breathed almost into her mouth.
Her whole demeanor changed. Her breathing sped up, her eyes searched his face to see if he was kidding. She leaned her body closer to him, although Charlie didn't think she'd meant to. Her whole attitude was one of almost painful wanting.
"You shouldn't joke about things like that." He could hear the tension in her voice and somehow knew it was a good thing. "It might get you into trouble. After all, there are rules."
"Screw the rules," Charlie said, his voice unconsciously echoing the tension in hers. "What's more important, learning or love?"
Without waiting for an answer, Charlie crossed that last inch, his lips claiming hers in a tender but passionate kiss. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her to him, the kiss deepening. For the next few seconds, everything else in Charlie's existence stopped. He ceased to worry about the rules, he didn't think about his job, even the numbers in his head faded to nothingness. The only thing that meant anything to him was the woman in his arms. After a few moments, Charlie broke the kiss and pulled back slightly to look at Amita.
"Wow," she breathed. "That was…"
"Better than I'd even dreamed."
"You've dreamed about me?"
Charlie tried to make it sound like a joke, but he was actually shocked. Beyond the fact he was sure he wasn't the type of man any girl dreamed about, to have one that he was interested in return the sentiment was relatively rare. Could it be that they had been attracted to each other all along?
"Well, yeah. You thought I was joking, but I've been daydreaming about a certain dark haired, wickedly smart math professor for a while now. I just thought I'd never be able to compete with your numbers."
"Oh Amita," Charlie pulled her closer. "You've actually taken the place of equations in my dreams at night. Wow, that sounded so geeky."
"I think it was cute," Amita laughed. "So why didn't you say anything?"
"Are you kidding? Beyond the fact that you are so against the rules, I knew I wasn't your type, so why even try?"
"What would make you think you weren't my type?"
"Oh, maybe guys like your Brad Pitt clone."
"Ahhh, him. He was just someone to go out with. The guy I was really interested in wasn't paying attention to me after all."
Charlie blinked, then looked mildly shocked.
"You slept with some guy just to pass the time?"
"Lord no! What would make you think I slept with him?"
"Well, I saw…You were…He…" Charlie couldn't even put together a coherent thought about the evening's earlier events. "You were in his arms. You kissed him."
"Yes, I did. Then I stopped kissing him. He decided that he was so amazingly desirable that I must want to go at it right here on the classroom floor. I said no. He got insistent and I was starting to think I might need to hurt him to get across that no meant no."
"I knew it!" Charlie exclaimed. At Amita's raised eyebrow, Charlie blushed. "That's why I came back here instead of just going home. I saw him leave and I had to make sure you were all right."
"I would have hunted him down with Don's stun gun if he'd have hurt you. I might not have been here to protect you, but I would have died if anything had happened to you."
Amita reached up and touched Charlie's face.
"Oh Charlie, that's…No one's ever been so chivalrous to me. I wasn't really in any danger. I've taken self-defense classes and could have probably put him in the hospital. But the fact that you were worried about me is just so adorable. You know, actually, you did protect me. You just didn't know it." She smiled at his bewildered look. "Prince Charming had just gotten to the point where he'd pushed me into your office and was closing the door when I saw your bike. I realized that meant you were still around. I pointed this out to him and it was amazing how fast he was suddenly across the room from me. I told him I thought it was best if he left and he did. That was when I went looking for you."
"You were looking for me?"
"That's why I was in the hall. I was worried about you. I always worry when you work late."
"You do? I didn't think you even noticed."
"Who do you think follows you around with those, "do not erase" signs and makes sure there is a bottle of water and a sandwich on your desk?"
Charlie blinked. He'd not really thought about it before, but he realized that she did do those things. He only went meal-less on days she was elsewhere, like today. If he really thought about it, it was Amita who kept a spare jacket for him in the office. She had stopped by his house and picked it up one day after he'd gone to work in 50-degree weather wearing a t-shirt because he'd just not noticed the weather. It was also Amita who shooed him out after 6:00 if he was still around so that he wouldn't work a late night, as he had tonight. Any time he needed a ride anywhere, she could be counted on to cancel her plans to help him and just lately, she was putting in ridiculous amounts of her own time to help him with his work for Don and the FBI.
For Charlie the whole moment was a startling revelation. He had been so sure that he was nothing to her but a professor, someone to help her with her thesis and all the while she had been quietly loving him, expecting nothing in return and he had been too dense to see it. Of course he was pretty sure that was because he hadn't let himself see it. There were always the rules to think about. He was a man who always needed things to make sense, like any good equation should. But emotions, especially someone else's, were such a random variable that they couldn't be quantified that way. It should have made perfect sense. He cared for her plus she cared for him equaled a good relationship. But don't forget to subtract for rule violations. That put an unethical spin on the, "equals a good relationship" part. So he should just walk away, right? But he didn't want to, in fact at this point he wasn't sure he could. And that suddenly cleared up the whole thing. When an equation didn't work out, sometimes you needed to remove the corrupt data. Charlie tweaked with the equation in his head and was gratified to see it all fall into place.
Life went beyond math, beyond work, beyond this campus. He knew how rare it was to find someone you cared for enough to risk everything. How stupid would he have to be to walk away from it all in the name of academics? Earlier that evening, he had been hurting because he wanted the man who loved Amita to be him. Now that he had the chance, would he turn his back on it?
Charlie leaned in to kiss her again, tasting her tender lips, letting himself revel in her. He could stay like this forever, holding her close, just loving her. Finally, he broke the kiss and sighed.
"What's wrong?" There was a note of worry in her voice as if she expected he'd changed his mind.
"I was just wondering who you were going to get to be your new thesis advisor. You might want to ask Larry."
"Well," Charlie nuzzled her neck, working his way slowly to her ear. He'd made a decision and he was very happy with it. He lightly nipped her ear lobe, then whispered gently. "There are rules about being very romantically involved with your thesis advisor."
She pulled back to look at him slightly shocked.
"You never answered me," He said, smiling at her. "So I chose for you, if you are willing."
"Learning or love. I chose love. It's up to you of course, but I think we are both going to be happy with the way that equation works out."
She leaned back in, pressing her body to his, wrapping her arms around him.
"I think I already am."