This is a one shot based entirely on the episode "In Plain Sight"
Tons of spoilers so if you haven't see the ep. yet - be warned.
This is a difficult subject matter and I have tried to handle it appropriatly.
There are some baseball terms in this that may very well be incorrect. I don't know squat about baseball.
Nearly two weeks had past since the arrest of Derrick Lambert. His daughter Libby and his wife Michelle Collins were placed together in a halfway house closely monitored by social workers as Michelle continued on her road to recovery from methamphetamine addiction. The courts had agreed to remand supervised custody of Libby to her mother because of her efforts to save her daughter from the abusive life Derrick Lambert had forced both of them into. Despite the fact that the FBI team and Charlie had "done a good thing" as Megan had put it, the young professor could find no solace in his own heart.
Charlie had confided in Megan and his father, at least partially, about a little girl he had known as a child. A little girl named Jessica Cartman who was also being abused by her father. He had known about this abuse and had done nothing to stop it; he had done nothing to save her. Charlie could still remember his words to his father after seeing the picture of Libby Collins.
"I should just walk away? What kind of person… …would do that? You wouldn't do that."
When that horrible image of Libby's naked body came up on the screen in his office, Charlie felt himself transported backward in time. Libby didn't really look that much like Jessica physically but the resemblance that hit him hard was in their eyes. He clearly remembered the haunted and hopeless look he saw in the eyes of Libby Collins. He had seen those eyes before; when he was eight years old. After his initial shock at what he saw on that screen passed, his whole being filled with a mixture of rage, fear and remorse.
He hadn't thought about Jessica in years, yet she still resided in the back of his mind, buried in his heart along with the secret he had kept for over twenty years. He had utterly failed Jessica, just like he had failed his own mother when she had needed him the most.
Megan had suggested that Charlie find Jessica and see how she was doing. It had sounded like a good idea at the time. It took him a couple of days to find Jessica's family. Her mother took Charlie to visit her grave and told him about the letter that she had written before swallowing a full bottle of sleeping pills.
At the age of fourteen, Jessica couldn't take what her father was doing to her any more. Her suicide letter detailed everything that had happened to her over the last seven years. She knew where her father kept the video tapes he made and when they were found he was convicted quickly.
The fact that Jessica had died to save herself from this man, hit Charlie like a freight train. He wanted to tell Mrs. Cartman how sorry he was that he didn't have the guts to say anything about what was happening, but he couldn't speak. The fear that he had felt when Mr. Cartman had threatened him descended upon him with all the force and power it held over him when he was a child. He was rendered mute as the guilt crushed him and his mind replayed the events of that fateful day nearly twenty three years ago over and over again.
It was a bright Saturday afternoon and Charlie had finished all of his homework for his tutor, and done all of his household chores. He wanted to go and visit his friend Jessica who lived two blocks over. She was the only child that Charlie had ever met who was the same age as him but didn't mind that he was so smart. She actually liked talking to Charlie. He had a wonderful way of explaining things to her that made perfect sense. Charlie enjoyed her company as well. She was the only kid his age that didn't look at him like he was some kind of freak and his parents had encouraged the friendship.
Mrs. Cartman was at work and Charlie walked around to the back yard looking for Jessica. She wasn't around and no one answered his knock at the screened back door so he sat on the back steps and waited, assuming that she and her father were at the park. After a short time he realized that he could hear someone crying. It sounded like it was coming from the basement door adjacent to the back screened door. Charlie got up and called out to Jessica but received no reply, yet he could still hear her crying. He pushed open the screen door and entered the kitchen feeling flutterings in his stomach. He knew it was wrong or at the very least, quite impolite, to enter someone else's house uninvited but the sounds of his friend's weeping drove him forward.
He slowly opened the basement door and called out softly to her. There was no reply other than more crying so he went down the stairs to try and find her. When he entered the brightly lit basement he was confused by what he saw. Jessica was curled up against the far wall of the basement with her knees pulled up tightly to her chest. Her head was buried in her knees and her body shook with her staccato sobs. What confused Charlie was the fact that she wasn't wearing any clothes.
He approached her slowly looking around. He saw a mattress on the floor just a few feet away from where his friend sat, that was brightly lit with over head spotlights. There was a video recorder mounted on a tripod that was pointing right at the mattress and he saw her clothes in a heap near the end of the makeshift bed.
Still not understanding what it was that he was seeing, he picked up her clothes and stepped over to her, placing a soft hand on her shoulder. She stopped crying abruptly and looked up into Charlie's eyes and what he saw there behind her tears was burned into his memory forever.
The clothes that he was holding fell from numb hands as he stared into her pain filled orbs. The fear and desperation were so shocking to his young mind that he felt stunned by it. He never heard Mr. Cartman approach from behind but jumped when strong hands grabbed him and spun him around. He found himself face to face with Jessica's father. The man's breath reeked of alcohol and his eyes were glassy. Letting go of one of Charlie's arms, Mr. Cartman took a hold of the boy by his throat. An evil smile spread across the man's face and Charlie felt like a bucket of ice had been dropped into his belly. He stood there paralyzed with terror as he finally realized what was happening.
"Look honey, a new cast member for our play." Cartman breathed into Charlie's face. He started to pull Charlie's shirt off of him when something in the young genius snapped into place and Charlie started struggling madly to get away from this man, hitting him with his free arm.
"No! Stop, I'm telling my parents what you're doing. They'll call the police!" Charlie managed to choke out before the hand gripping his neck closed off his ability to speak.
Charlie's words had the effect of sobering up Jessica's father very quickly and he slapped Charlie hard across the face making him fall to the floor in front of Jessica who had stared screaming, "No Daddy! No! Leave him alone!"
He knelt down on the floor placing one knee on Charlie's pelvis pressing down hard as he leaned over the boy and spoke in a low and sinister voice, his face almost touching Charlie's.
"You will tell no one. If you so much as breathe one word to anyone I will kill you and her!"
His rancid breath was making Charlie nauseas and then Jessica's father ran his hands down Charlie's body which had begun to tremble with blind panic. He pressed his knee into Charlie so hard that he wet himself soaking the man's knee as Charlie cried out in agony.
"I p… promise I won't tell. P.. Please stop; it… it hurts."
Mr. Cartman got off of Charlie but seemed enraged that the boy had wet himself and gotten him wet in the process. He threw Charlie across the room where he slammed into a steel support pole that reached from the floor to the ceiling. Charlie fell to the floor gasping and holding himself as tears of pain and fear rolled freely down his face. Before he could regained his composure, Mr. Cartman had crossed the room and pulled Charlie up by his hair and forced him to look at Jessica.
He bent low had hissed in his ear, "You tell anyone, any one at all, and she dies first. Are you clear on that?"
Charlie could only nod for his throat had closed up as if he were still being throttled. Jessica's father threw him at the stairs leading up out of the basement and began bellowing about trespassing on private property. Charlie couldn't really hear what he was screaming as he scrambled up the stairs as fast as he could. He ran all the way home and hid in the garage for hours before he stopped shaking and crying.
Charlie never told Don or anyone else what had happened down in that basement. He was terrified that Jessica's father would kill her as he had promised. They never played together again; Jessica's father made sure of that and Charlie has carried that dreadful secret with him all of these years.
Now it seemed that every time he closed his eyes he saw those eyes staring up at him from the depths of hell, a hell he did nothing to alleviate. The guilt was devastating him, but it was too late to do anything about it now. With Jessica's death he realized that he would never find absolution from his sin of silence.
Charlie had withdrawn into himself. He still taught his classes, he went home at night, ate dinner with his father, worked on his newest equations but his boundless energy had left him. He found himself merely going through the motions of life, bereft of vitality.
This was not lost on his family or friends and as often as they tried to talk to him about it he would simply claim fatigue do to his work schedule and offer up a smile that never reached his eyes.
Megan stopped by his office to ask for his assistance on a fraud case that the forensic accountants had back logged because of three major cases they were working for other divisions. Charlie knew it would only be a matter of time before the FBI would once again ask for his assistance, but he found that he simply had no heart for it anymore.
"I'm sorry, Megan, I just don't have time to help the FBI right now. There are lots of other mathematicians I could recommend." He pulled out a folder from his desk and handed it to her. "Here is a list with their names and contact information."
Megan could see the hollow look in Charlie's eyes and it disturbed her. She thought about the look on his face and the passion in his eyes when they spoke outside of the FBI offices two weeks ago.
"She looked at me and I knew…
Have you ever wanted to kill someone?"
Megan was never one to beat around the bush so she set the folder down and stood directly in front of Charlie so that he couldn't look away without being rude.
"Did you find Jessica, Charlie?"
So much anguish filled the young man's eyes that she felt her heart break, then just as suddenly as the overpowering emotion had appeared; it disappeared to be replaced with the blank and empty look that had taken up residence in the mathematician's eyes ever since this case was closed. The burning anger was gone, but so was the spark that defined Charlie's buoyant personality.
"I have to get back to work, Megan. I'm sorry I can't help you out this time."
Charlie turned away from her and picked up the chalk that he had been using when she entered his office and began writing on the board again. Charlie had erected a wall around himself and she could see that she wasn't going to be able to break it down and get him to talk; at least not at the moment. She picked up the folder that he had handed her and thought about saying something more to him, but he had effectively shut her out so she patted his shoulder and turned to leave the office.
Don was also aware of the change in his brother's attitude since the Lambert case. He felt badly that they had butted heads so much during the course of the investigation, but Charlie had to understand that he still had a job to do and he couldn't let his emotions dictate the course of a federal investigation.
His father had been very clear about his feelings regarding Charlie's involvement in Don's FBI work. Alan Eppes had expressed his reservations in the past especially when there was danger involved, like with the LA sniper a few months ago, but this was different. Charlie was obsessed with finding this little girl and he didn't care if the rest of the investigation fell short with his desire to save this child.
Don stopped by the house in the evening to talk with his father about how Charlie was doing now that the case had been closed and the little girl was safe. He wanted to talk to Charlie but his brother hadn't answered any of his voice mails and seemed to be avoiding Don.
Don grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and he and his father sat out on the back porch as the sun began to set over the horizon. "I don't get it dad, why is Charlie still so upset about this? I mean it's a horrible thing that this kid went through, but her father is in jail now and we managed to help keep her out of foster care."
Alan sighed and looked back at the house. Charlie was probably in the solarium working. He had been very quiet after this case and that silence had only intensified as time passed. "He feels guilty about Jessica Cartman."
Don thought about that name for a moment before he placed it. "The girl Charlie used to play with over on Banker Street?"
Alan nodded. "Apparently when they were children, Charlie knew, or at least strongly suspected, that she was being abused by her father. He didn't say anything to anyone, and now this case with Libby Collins has brought all of that to the surface. I told you before, Charlie has a big heart and sometimes that isn't such a good thing."
Don frowned in puzzlement because that is not something he would have expected his father to say. Alan noticed Don's confusion over his choice of words and elaborated.
"He spent a couple of days looking for Jessica to see how she was doing. I guess Megan suggested he do that, since he felt so badly about not helping her when they were kids."
Don sat back and also glanced up at the house for a moment. The light in the solarium was off now so Charlie must be in the garage. "Did he find her?"
"Yes, and it has been incredibly difficult for him ever since."
"She's not doing so well then? Was it true that her father was abusing her?"
Alan got up walked over to the railing staring up at the first stars as they began to grace the evening sky. "Yes it's true. They moved away from this neighborhood when she was only eight or nine but the abuse continued and by the time she was fourteen she couldn't take it anymore." Alan turned around and looked at Don before continuing. "She committed suicide after writing a letter to her mother telling her what her father had been doing. Charlie has visited her grave a couple of times since he spoke to her mother."
"Oh God, I didn't know. But why is he blaming himself? He's smart enough to know that what Jessica's father did to her wasn't his fault or his responsibility. He was just a kid and he didn't even know for sure what was happening. I don't see how he can blame himself for what happened to her."
"Donnie, would you feel any differently if you were in Charlie's place?"
Don put his beer down on the table and stood up to join his father over at the railing. "I would probably feel badly about it, but I wouldn't shoulder the responsibility the way Charlie has. I mean he is the smartest guy I know, but this is just not smart. God, Dad it's down right stupid. Charlie thinks logically, his whole life is based on what is logical, so I just can't figure out why he is this twisted about something he thinks he knew over twenty years ago!"
"That's because when you look at me you see my genius, you don't see me, Don. You never really have."
Don and Alan spun around at the sound of Charlie's voice. He had spoken very softly but his words seemed to scream in Don's ears. Charlie was leaning against the door frame leading back into the kitchen. His features were hidden in shadow as the light from the brightly lit room shown behind his dark curls. Even though Don couldn't see his face clearly he could tell that his brother was tired. His face looked pale except for dark circles under his eyes. He looked smaller somehow than usual. It took Don a moment to realize that it was the lack of liveliness that Charlie always emanated that made him seem almost shrunken.
"Hey, Buddy. How are you feelin'?"
Charlie didn't answer; instead he just looked down at the floor. Don approached him tentatively. "Come on out and have a seat. I want to talk to you."
Charlie stood where he was. He just glanced up at Don and slightly shook his head. "I'm good here, thanks."
Don didn't want to push him too hard. He knew if he did, Charlie would clam up and say nothing. It was a step in the right direction that Charlie had come out to the back porch and joined them in the first place.
"Um... yeah, ok Buddy. You know we contacted one of the mathematicians that you had on the list you gave Megan today. She said that you had it ready for her before she even arrived this morning. It gave her the impression that you have decided not to consult for the Bureau anymore… which is fine if that's what you want."
Charlie didn't answer Don, but shifted his feet uncomfortably.
"Is that what you want, Charlie?"
With a sigh Charlie finally looked up at Don. "I'll be thirty-one next month, Don. I only have a certain amount of time to make significant breakthroughs in my field. Between my consulting work with various agencies, my research time, teaching and lectures, I'm just too unfocused. I need to concentrate on my own field of study now while I still can. I can't get wrapped up in…
...other things. It's like I told dad, I'm so easily distracted. I just don't…
...I can't do this anymore. I'm sorry."
"Hey, that's ok Charlie. Really I'm not pushing you to do anything that you don't want to." Don paused for a moment. He wasn't entirely sure he should continue but he needed to know what was going on in Charlie's head. "Are you sure that your decision is not because of what happened with the Lambert case…
or Jennifer Cartman?"
Charlie looked directly into Don's eyes and held his gaze for a long time before answering. "No."
He turned and stepped back into the house and went upstairs to his room. Don didn't follow him. He knew that Charlie wouldn't talk any more tonight. He needed some time and space, but Charlie's words echoed in his head.
"That's because when you look at me you see my genius, you don't see me, Don. You never really have."
Don went home thinking about what Charlie had said and wondered if perhaps he was right. How many times over the course of their lives had he simply 'not gotten' Charlie? He thought that they were doing better now that they were older and working together but the way they had butted heads all the way through the Lambert investigation made him realize that Charlie might have a point.
Even though Don maintained that he acted correctly in the course he took the investigation, it was also clear that Charlie was right in trying to find Libby Collins as well. What they had seen in that photograph had upset Charlie on a much deeper level than he understood and that was the problem.
Why was Charlie so deeply disturbed by that photograph? Any time you see a kid in trouble or the kind of horrible image of a defenseless child being exploited in that fashion it is disturbing, but Charlie took it to a much deeper level than anyone else.Don was a trained FBI agent and could set his feelings of revulsion aside to get the job done. Charlie wasn't, but then again neither was his father or Larry and they both handled the shock of seeing that image much better than Charlie had. No; there was more to this than any of them realized.
"That's because when you look at me you see my genius, you don't see me, Don. You never really have."
Don had a restless night. He slept only fitfully and had strange dreams that he couldn't quite remember when he woke up. Finally at five in the morning he gave up trying to sleep and got up and dressed. It was Saturday and there was no reason for him to go into the office today. He remembered Jessica Cartman vaguely from their childhood. She was Charlie's friend and five years younger than him so he never spent any time with her. He did remember where she lived and the park near their family home where the two of them would play.
The sun was bright by eight o'clock and Don decided to drive to that park near Charlie's house. He wasn't sure why he felt the need to go there, but he had long since learned to follow his instincts when he was confused about something. He stopped and got a bagel and a cup of coffee and when he got to the park he took a seat on the bench near the play ground and tried to remember back to their childhood. He wanted to try and see Charlie like he was as a child.
There were several kids with their parents already at the park playing. He sat back and watched the children as they played and relaxed as memories from his own childhood eased to the surface. He could clearly picture the whole family together at this park. Charlie loved playing in the sand box and the monkey bars. He was fascinated by the symmetry of the jungle gym and climbed all over it examining the angles of the metal rods to each other and their lengths. In the sand box he would use a stick to write out cryptic mathematical symbols that he was learning from his tutors and try to work out algebraic equations that a high school student would work on.
As Don sat there he could remember Jessica much better. She was a pretty little girl who was Charlie's age. She never minded the fact that he was so smart. In fact he remembered her telling Charlie once that it made him the "right kind of special". That seemed like such a cute little phrase back then, but now in hindsight Don realized that it could have meant something far different.
If this child was being abused by her father then he could see how she might view Charlie's uniqueness as an escape that she could envy. She never seemed to tire of listening to Charlie's long descriptions of how things worked together. How watching the way a leaf fell from a tree was unique to each leaf yet also predictable.
As he sat there he tried to remember the last time they had seen Jessica and her family. They had moved away, rather suddenly it seemed, when she was still fairly young. It was summertime that much he knew. Suddenly a long forgotten memory came to him with surprising clarity.
Don came into the kitchen to grab a glass of milk and a couple of cookies after he had put his bat and glove away in the closet. It was warm out and baseball practice had gone very well. It looked like his team was a shoe in for the league championship, especially with the three best long drive hitters in the county on his team."Hi mom!"
Margaret Eppes looked up from the dough she was kneading. "How was practice, Donnie?"
"Great, I'll bet a million bucks we win the pennant this year! Johnny Ryerson set a fly ball right out of the park and I hit a perfect line drive to the left outfield. Between the two of us we were able to bring in five runners."
Margaret smiled warmly at her eldest son. She was unfamiliar with the baseball terms but what he was saying sounded pretty impressive. She glanced up at the clock and saw that it was getting late. "Donnie, honey could you go find your brother. He went over to Jennifer's house but he really should have been back by now."
"Aww mom, he's supposed to be really smart, so why doesn't he know when to get home on his own?"
"Now Donnie, it's a small favor really. You know how distracted Charlie gets. It's easy for him to forget about the time. Besides I'm asking you to do this for me and I know you could never deny your dear old mother anything right?" she said with a teasing tone and a twinkle in her eye.
Don couldn't help smiling as they played this special little game. He stood up and bowed with a flourish taking his ball cap in his hand and crossing his chest with it as though swirling a cape. "My lady, your every wish is my command."
Margaret started giggling and curtseyed. She would have offered him her hand to kiss except that she was up to her wrists in bread dough.
Don headed out the back door and ran all the way over to Jessica Cartman's house. When he knocked, Mr. Cartman came to the door and said that he hadn't seen Charlie all day. Don checked the park, the duck pond, the playground and everywhere in the neighborhood that his younger brother might have gone. By the time he made his way back home he was very irritated and slightly worried. He headed into the garage and saw his younger brother in the back corner wiping his face with one of the clean rags that his father stacked near his tool bench.
"There you are, Charlie! Mom has had me out looking for you. How come you weren't at Jessica's house? That's where you told mom…"
Don's words trailed off as he noticed how his brother looked. The front of his jeans were wet as though he had peed his pants, his clothes were a shambles and his face looked as though he had been crying for a long time.
"What the hell happened to you?"
Charlie tried to walk past his older brother, but Don grabbed him by his arm to stop him. "Charlie! Where have you been? What's going on with…"
Charlie started struggling wildly and hitting Don yelling "Get off me! Let go!"
Don let go of him in shock at his reaction. He had only grabbed Charlie to stop him from leaving. He wasn't trying to hurt him. Charlie stumbled backward and fell against the garage door leading out to the driveway. When the late afternoon sun lit up his face, Don noticed that his neck looked red.
"Charlie! Did someone beat you up or something? What happened to your neck?" Don said as he reached out to help the younger boy up.
Charlie hit his brother's hands away. "Don't touch me, Donnie. Don't ever touch me!"
Don started to get a little scared now. Charlie was acting so weird. "I'm gonna' go get mom."
Charlie was on his feet in a second pulling at Don's arm. "No, Donnie please don't. I'm… I'm sorry. I… I…OK ok… your right, the Meisner brothers found me in the park. I said some stuff to them and they didn't like it so much. Please don't tell mom. I promise I'll stay away from those guys and I won't cause any trouble. Just let me go up stairs and change my clothes before mom and dad find out. Please Donnie, don't say anything."
The pleading look in Charlie's eyes was enough to keep Don quiet,and something about Charlie's explanation didn't sit well with him, but he kept his mother occupied while his younger brother slipped upstairs to wash up and change his clothes.
As the memory of that day surfaced in his mind Don felt a horrible sickening feeling creep up his spine. He had only been thirteen at the time and had not recognized the words that Charlie had used as red flags. Don suddenly realized that Charlie didn't just suspect that his friend was being abused, he knew it just as Don knew that Jessica's father had hurt his little brother too. Charlie had never said anything, probably because he was too scared to. Don got up from the bench and headed for his car. He was going to talk to Charlie about this whether he wanted to or not.
Charlie had already gotten up and was out in the garage working at his blackboards. He didn't acknowledge Don when he came in and he wasn't sure whether or not that was purposeful.
"Charlie, we need to talk."
Charlie paused in his writing for a moment but didn't turn around. "I'm trying to get some work done here, Don. Can this wait?" He began writing again hoping that this would get the point across loud and clear that he didn't want to talk.
"Mr. Cartman didn't just hurt Jessica did he, Charlie?"
That got Charlie to stop writing. He carefully set the chalk down on the sill of the blackboard in front of him and waited.
"I remembered the day I found you out here. Mom had sent me to go and get you from Jessica's house, but you weren't there. I looked all over before I found you in the garage. You were crying and freaked out when I touched you."
Charlie closed his eyes tightly and pinched his nose between his eyebrows. It was a gesture of frustration that both Don and he shared.
"Talk to me Charlie. What did that bastard do to you?"
"Nothing, Don. I don't want to talk about this."
Don swallowed his frustration and stepped up lightly behind Charlie, placing his hand on his brother's shoulder. "Charlie you said that I don't see you, but I want to. You have to let me in. Please talk to me."
Charlie finally turned around and looked at his brother. The wounded look that shown in Charlie's eyes, sent a wave of pain through Don's chest.
"It doesn't matter, Don. It's all in the past…
a past that no one can change."
"Charlie, you have to deal with this. You have to face it or it will never leave you alone. When you least expect it; this will come up and hurt you all over again, just like it did this time. Talk to me Charlie."
It took Don another fifteen minutes to convince Charlie to open up and tell him what had happened in Jessica Cartman's basement. By the time Charlie had finished telling the story he had tears dropping down his face.
"You have never talked to anyone about this have you?"
Charlie shook his head. "I was scared, Don. He said he would kill her and me if I told, and I believed him."
"I'm sorry Charlie. I'm sorry that I never realized what happened to you. I knew that you were lying about the Meisner brothers. I wish I had realized that something like this had happened."
"How could you, Don? You were only thirteen years old. It's not like you were a trained psychologist or an FBI agent. It's not your fault. The fact that I never told anyone is my fault! I just let Jessica live in that hell. I had the power to save her and I never did. I failed her, Don…
…just like mom." Charlie added that last in barely a whisper.
"Charlie! You were only eight years old. This guy scared the shit out of you and threatened to kill your friend and you. God, how can you blame yourself for this? Would you expect any other eight year old to talk after being put through that?
And as for mom, Charlie she understood why you did what you did. She told me not to be angry with you for working on that problem, that P vs. NP thing. You didn't fail her Charlie, you didn't fail Jessica. Her father did that, not you."
Charlie was silent for a time and Don let him think about what he had said.
"Don, my mind is telling me that you're right, but I can't seem to get my heart to understand that. I still feel guilty. I still feel like it's my fault that she is dead now. If I had told someone, then she would be here today. I can't get past that reality. I can't reconcile that fact, Don. I'm searching for an absolution that will never come."
Don stood up and crossed over to his brother. He placed his hand on Charlie's chest. "The absolution that you are looking for is in here, Charlie. You just have to accept it. You have to forgive yourself before anything will be right for you."
Don took Charlie's hand and pulled him to his feet. "Let's go get some coffee on the way to the cemetery."
Charlie frowned in confusion and said "What?"
"You need to go see Jessica again. You need to tell her that you are sorry for what happened to her and to promise her that you will make sure that this will never happen to another child that you know again. Then you need to tell her about Libby Collins."
The emptiness left Charlie's eyes for the first time since he had seen that picture of Libby. It was replaced with hope and he nodded silently as he followed Don out to his car.