Title: Windows of the Soul
Genre: Drama, Angst
Time line: Sequel to "The Eyes Have It"
Summary: Charlie (who else) continues to deal with the aftermath
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em - but wanna cuddle 'em.
Don stood cautiously outside the lecture hall. The door stood open, and he could hear his brother's voice droning on about "As" and "Bs" and even "Zs". He uses a lot of letters for someone who works with numbers, Don thought wryly.
He peeked around the corner. The last time he had caught Charlie mid-class, Charlie had stopped the lecture and introduced Don, and a few hundred heads had turned to him at the back of the room, seeming to expect something. He didn't want to go through that, again.
Most of the heads today were bent, hands were madly scribbling notes. An unhappy few were staring at the chalkboard in the front of the room, looking as lost as Don felt. He noticed that Charlie seemed to zero in on these students, lengthening his explanations and trying to simplify the theory. Still, Don got the idea that Charlie's office hours would be full, later.
Don frowned. Something seemed different, today. He watched a little longer, risking being spotted. Charlie pivoted away from the class and scratched something else on the board, then pirouetted back. One hand held chalk, the other rested on the cane he still used, six weeks after being shot in a terrorist raid on the FBI office. Don nodded. That was it. Every other time he saw Charlie teach - here at Cal Sci, or in a conference room at the FBI - he wandered. He was a walking talker, not a standing lecturer. He concentrated on Charlie's voice. He sounded tired, too...but that could be because of those blank looks he was still getting from some of the students. Charlie had admitted to him once that his undergraduate level courses were the most difficult for him to teach, because he found it exhausting to think and express himself on a level that could be followed by someone whose world did not revolve around mathematics. Don smiled a little as he headed down to wait for Charlie in his office. His brother got that "undergraduate" tone a lot in the FBI office, trying to present one of his theories.
Charlie's office door, as usual, was unlocked. Don entered and picked the chair that looked most comfortable. The one behind the desk. He tilted back in it a little and checked his watch. Class was due to release right about now. Right on cue, he saw multiple shadows passing the glass insert in the door - students on their way to other classes. Sometimes he would hear one scribble on the sign-up sheet posted near the door. Yep - Charlie's office hours would be full, today.
Another three minutes passed before he saw the knob turn. Charlie's backpack dropped inside the door, and he heard his brother's voice. "I understand that, Richard, but you're really putting too much emphasis on this one equation. I'm not convinced you have a thorough understanding of the basic theory."
A voice Don didn't recognize answered. "But Dr. Eppes, I've taken up half your office hours on that, already." The voice degenerated into a whine. "I'm never gonna get this."
"Have you arranged for a tutor, called one of the names on the list I gave you?"
The voice became defensive. "Not yet. I've been working a lot."
Charlie started to say something else, but the other voice interrupted him. "In fact, I have to go to work now, Dr. Eppes." There was a slightly disdainful tone to the farewell. "Thank you for your time. I'll get right on that list of tutors."
Charlie sighed as he pushed the door open further, limped heavily into the room. He started when he saw Don at the desk.
Don laughed even while he marveled. He hardly ever heard words like that come out of Charlie. For one thing, it was only one syllable.
"You scared me. What are you doing in here in the dark?"
Charlie turned on the overhead light at the switch near the door and limped a few more steps to the chair facing the desk. He carefully lowered himself to it. Don's laugh faded and he found himself frowning again.
"I just got here. I knew your class would be out soon, so I waited." He cleared his throat. "You look like your leg hurts."
Charlie pulled over a second chair and then used his hands to lift his leg onto it. He shrugged. "Long class. And Professor Emory is out, this week. I took one of his classes this morning."
"You can't teach sitting down?"
Charlie crossed him arms, contemplated Don. "I'm fine, you know. Everything's on schedule. Sometimes I forget to take the cane with me."
Don knew he had to trust him on this. "Okay." He started to stand. "Want this chair?"
Charlie waved him down. "I'm good. So what are you doing here?"
Don was suddenly glad for the desk between them. "We've got a case we could use your help on."
Charlie looked away. "Oh."
"I don't want to push you," Don assured him. "You've been teaching for three weeks, now, so I was hoping…"
Charlie looked at him. "What is it?"
"Your specialty. Lots of numbers. Financial. Identity theft."
Charlie looked interested. "Can you bring the data here?" He suddenly looked embarrassed. "It's just that with helping to cover for Emory…"
"It's 15 boxes of paper, Charlie. LAPD brought us in on the case, and that's what they've got, already. When we start adding to it...I just think it would be easier for you to come to the office."
Charlie was so silent Don could hear the clock on the wall ticking.
"Which you've noticed I haven't done."
"Well...yeah. I have. It's no secret that you don't want to come back there, Charlie."
"Is there really a case?"
"What?" Don sat up straighter in the chair. "Of course there is. And we really need your help, before you ask."
Charlie reached up to rub the back of his neck with one hand. "I have a headache. Emory's class is undisciplined, unruly, uninterested…"
Don smiled. "Underclassmen?"
Charlie sighed again. "Worse. Freshmen. Required class." He looked up ruefully. "For all of us, it seems."
His brother didn't seem too offended by the conversation, yet. Don decided to risk more. "What does your counselor think?"
Charlie looked confused. "My what?"
"Your counselor. The one you started seeing after you got out of the hospital. What does he think about your coming back to the office?"
Charlie blinked at him. "You and Dad asked me to see someone."
Now Don was starting to get confused. "Yeah. And you said you would, I was there when you made the appointment."
Charlie crossed him arms again. Don's interrogator's brain interpreted it as a defensive move.
"I did." The tone was defensive, as well. "I did what I promised to do, what you asked me to do. I kept the appointment."
Don was silent. Obviously no follow-ups.
Charlie's tone moved from defense to anger. "Why would you think I would have more than one appointment? I know Merrick made you all see departmental medical staff - did you go more than once?"
Don swallowed. Maybe this had been a little too risky. Too late now. "No, Charlie...but it's different."
His brother's eyes grew darker with anger. "Why?"
"Because I'm a trained agent, for one thing. Besides that, I wasn't at the scene during the attack. And most significantly, Charlie, I wasn't shot."
Charlie looked at the clock on the wall, closed his eyes for a moment, just long enough for him to put the mask back in place. He looked back at his brother.
"I know what happened. I can 'see someone' every day for a year, and it won't change what happened. It won't change anything for Carolyn Trimble, either."
Don looked at him. "Who?"
Charlie uncrossed his arms long enough to run a hand through his hair, then dropped both hands to his lap. "Exactly," he said, his voice sad. "You don't even know her name. She was married, had two preschool-age children, came here from San Diego six months ago, even though there was no full-time position open in the L.A. office for her. Her husband got a promotion, so they came. I was the last person she ever spoke to, Don. What exactly is going to change that?"
Don squeezed his own eyes shut for a moment, then. "The temp tech." He opened them again and looked at Charlie. "How did you find out all that stuff?"
Charlie grasped his leg and lowered it from the chair. "It wasn't hard, Don. I asked. I called her husband, to tell him...tell him...I don't know...'sorry I sat on your dead wife for an hour?' Turned out it didn't matter why I called, anyway, he just needed someone to show an interest…"
Don felt a cold jab of fear. Maybe there was a lot more going on here than whether or not Charlie would come by the office.
"When did you call him?"
Charlie looked at him. "Don't worry. I'm not obsessing about her green eyes all day long." (I'd better not tell him about the nights, Charlie thought, the dreams…)
"It was weeks ago, before I came back to work." He grabbed his cane, began to push himself off the chair. "Speaking of which…"
Don got out of his chair and stood uncertainly behind the desk. "Listen, Charlie, I'm sorry if I haven't been around enough…"
Charlie actually laughed, he couldn't stop himself, even though he knew it would only make Don more apprehensive. "About the case..." he started, but Don interrupted him.
"If you can help, great. Like I said, we're working with LAPD on it, so we've already got experts coming out of our ears..." He smiled tentatively. "Let's face it Charlie, you're just better than they are."
Charlie smiled grimly in return. "Good try, Don." He looked at the clock again. "My office hours start in five minutes. I'll have a student…"
Don brushed past him to get to the door, but stopped long enough to squeeze his arm. "I'll try to get to the house tonight, for dinner."
"Dad would like that. I have a departmental thing, before a faculty meeting that starts at 7...but really, you should go. For Dad."
Don hesitated. "Can we have lunch, tomorrow?"
Charlie looked at him, eyes suddenly sad again. He started to move. "I don't know, Don," he said, limping behind the desk. "Call me. I don't know what new hell tomorrow will bring."