"How're you feeling?" Charlie asked as he set the book he was carrying onto the bedside table.
Don Eppes propped himself up on one elbow and regarded his brother for a long moment before replying. "Much better now, thanks to you."
Charlie shrugged. "It wasn't just me," he said. "It was everyone. David, Colby, Megan… even Dad and Larry helped." He looked up to find his brother shaking his head. "What?"
"You figured out the code, Charlie," he answered. "The techs didn't do it, David, Megan, Dad… they didn't do it – you did." He lay back on the pillow and stuck out his hand, which Charlie took. Gripping it firmly, Don added, "Just like I knew you would."
"I almost didn't, you know," Charlie said softly.
Don pulled on Charlie's hand, enveloping him in a fierce hug. "You did, Charlie. That's what's important. I owe you big time."
Charlie hugged him back, just as strongly. "You do, don't you?" he asked. Pulling out of the embrace, he said, "Everyone's outside, waiting to see you."
Don rolled his eyes. "Dad, too?"
"Dad too," Charlie affirmed. "He's been on pins and needles since you came to."
"Really?" Don looked at him, puzzled. "Why didn't he come in?"
Charlie said, "I wanted to see you first. He understood."
Don opened his mouth to ask a question, then decided against it. "You'd better bring them in then," was all he said.
Charlie went to the door and stuck his head out. "Come on in," he said. Standing to one side, he held the door while everyone filed in. Exclamations of "Don!" and "How are you?" filled the room. Alan, Larry, David, Colby and Megan all crowded around Don's bed as he tried to respond to each of them. Charlie slipped out of the room unnoticed.
Moving down the hospital corridor, he paused to watch the news report on one of the patient's televisions in an adjoining room. He couldn't hear the reporter, but watched as the camera showed Jason Parker, the man who had abducted Don, being loaded into an FBI vehicle and carted off to prison. The hearing had been fast – conducted within a day – and the case looked to be closed practically before the trial had begun. Parker was going to spend a lot of time behind bars.
Charlie sighed and resumed walking. He had many things to think about. He was still wondering at the change in his personality over the last few days. It wasn't all due to Don's captivity, he knew. It had started well before that, and culminated with this case. Charlie found a waiting room at the end of the corridor and sat on a couch to think.
He was still there an hour later when Amita found him. She stood in the doorway, watching him silently for almost ten minutes before walking over to him.
"Charlie?" When he didn't respond, she carefully took a seat on the couch beside him, although as far away as possible. She was still unsure of where their relationship stood. She clasped her hands together on her knees and tried again. "Your father asked me to come find you."
Charlie lifted his gaze to her face and away again. "He did?" he asked quietly.
Nodding, Amita continued, "And Don was wondering where you went, too." She paused. "Actually, everyone was getting ready to go."
Charlie leaned back into the cushions and crossed his arms. He stared at the coffee table in front of him without speaking.
Amita asked, "Are you still mad at me?"
"Hm?" Charlie lifted his right hand and set his index finger against his upper lip. "What for?" he said. At Amita's lack of response, he finally looked over to find her staring at him with disbelief. "Oh, the other day. No, no. I'm not mad at you." He uncrossed his arms and turned in his seat to face her. "I've been thinking…" he began.
"No kidding," Amita replied.
He gave her a wry look and continued. "I've been thinking about a lot of things, not the least of which is what happened the other day in the garage." Amita began to speak, but he held up his hand. "Let me finish, please," he asked. At her nod, Charlie said, "All this time, we've been proceeding under the assumption that we would get together when I was no longer your thesis advisor." Amita nodded. "And then, when we were free to, we tried dating. It… well, it didn't work."
"There's an understatement," Amita put in.
"And then you were spending time with Penfield." Again he held up his hand as Amita opened her mouth. "And I thought about that, too. I wondered: Why was it so easy to hang out with him, and not with me?" He spread his hands out, palms up. "Because there wasn't any pressure. I had built up this image of you and me together when you finally finished your thesis, and when it didn't turn out – everything fell apart for me."
"Charlie, I…" Amita began.
"Oh, I don't blame you," Charlie said. "That responsibility lies on me, I know that now. No," he continued. "I was jealous of the easy way you two got along more than anything. And I've been thinking of a way to get that back between us." Charlie stood abruptly and took a few steps away from the couch before turning. Placing his palms together, he said, "I've thought about it from every angle."
Amita sighed. "A relationship isn't an equation, Charlie."
He let his hands drop and said quietly, "That's how I think, Amita. Mathematically. And logically. And I've come to the conclusion… We just don't add up."
He sat beside her again. "You and me – we don't add up… we don't fit. We did, once. Maybe we will again. At least," he searched her face for understanding. "At least, I hope we will. But not right now. Right now, we don't fit." He tore his gaze from her face and looked down at his hands. He wanted, desperately, to hold her and not let go, but he knew it was for the wrong reason: to hold onto the past.
Amita sighed. "I think I know what you're saying, Charlie. This must be hard for you."
Shrugging, he replied softly, "It's been a hard day."
She rubbed his arm. "So for now, we're friends?" she asked. "And you can ask me for help, I don't mind at all."
"Good," Charlie nodded, glancing at her briefly before staring once again at his hands. There was a few seconds of silence between them before Amita rose. "I'll go tell your dad I found you, shall I?" she asked. Nodding again, Charlie replied, "Please." As she turned to leave, he added, "Could you also tell him I'll take a cab home? I want to stay with Don for a little while."
Amita nodded. "Sure," she replied.
Charlie waited a full fifteen minutes before rising. Going to the door, he scanned the hallway for familiar faces. Finding none, he made his way back to Don's room.
"Hey, Buddy!" Don greeted him enthusiastically. "Where'd you disappear to?"
"I went down the hall," Charlie replied. "I needed to be alone."
A look of concern crossed his brother's face. "Everything all right?" he asked.
Charlie considered for a moment before replying. "Yeah, actually. Everything is good." He looked at Don. "You said you owe me big time, right?"
Don regarded him warily. Slowly he answered, "Yeah, why?"
A devilish grin stole over Charlie's features. "Think you can arrange for Megan to give me mouth-to-mouth?"