Title: Life vs. Charlie Part II: Topsy Turvy

Author: FraidyCat; Collaboration Kudos to The Silent Rumble

Genre: Drama, Angst

Time line: Any Time is Good For Me

Summary: An equal opportunity whumping (or as close as I can get)

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Drat the luck.


Chapter 1

By all rights, Charlie should be happy. He should be feeling fine. Was it just this morning that he was?

Only a month into fall semester, less than five months since surgery for a perforated ulcer that nearly killed him, he was still feeling relaxed after taking the summer off.

Well, not completely off, exactly. But he hadn't taught during either summer session, and he hadn't even set foot on campus for two months. He had worked a lot on his own cognitive emergence theory, and had even researched and written an article for one of the math journals…but he had also gone hiking with Larry for five days in the Sierras, without his laptop. He had played golf with his father at least once a week, and while he still wasn't very good at it, he was actually starting to legitimately enjoy it.

He and Don had taken a long weekend in Las Vegas — they had only managed that because Don was actually helping the Vegas FBI office implement a new inservice training schedule modeled after L.A.'s. Still, the brothers had netted some quality time at the tables, taken in a few shows. Don, busy as ever, hadn't been over for dinner as much during the summer — mostly because he was actively pursuing a relationship with Cecile, one of the nurses who had taken care of Charlie in the hospital. Once Alan had figured out why they were seeing less of Donnie, he just sat around and smiled a lot.

Charlie had attended a symposium for a week at MIT, sitting in the crowd of teachers on their summer breaks. He hadn't even presented a paper. There had been time between sessions to renew old acquaintances. There had been free evenings.

There had been Amita.

It had been a year since she had accepted the job offer from Harvard, and while they had shared the occasional e-mail or phone call, it had been an awkward year. Finding himself with free time so near Harvard, Charlie had appeared late one afternoon in one of her physics classes, sitting near the back of the huge auditorium and marveling at the teacher she had become. When the class was over and the students filed out, he waited. She got together her papers, glanced toward the shadow she sensed in the back of the room, recognized him — and burst into tears. Amita had been humiliated at her uncharacteristic show of emotion. Charlie had been a little overwhelmed by it himself. Yet they ended up spending every evening together the week he was there, and had reached a new place in their relationship.

Actually, that wasn't quite right, either. What they had done was reclaim their friendship. The awkwardness of "what might have been" gave way to the solid core of mutual respect and admiration that had always been there. The only uncomfortable moments of the week had been because of the Eastern school head hunters who haunted the symposium, all trying to convince Dr. Charles Eppes that he was wasting himself at Cal Sci, and should be part of the Ivy League again. MIT itself. Princeton. Yale. Harvard — although to be fair, that offer had probably come in response to the one from Yale. Those two schools would do anything to one-up each other — even create a position for a math instructor they didn't really need. No matter. He was happy where he was, it was easy to tell them all "No" — and he and Amita were friends, again. Their e-mails and phone calls since that week had become much more frequent and natural.

Back in L.A., he had only worked on two cases for Don, and he had refused all other consulting offers. Well, more accurately, he had talked them all into waiting. For him, it was a slow summer — and it was wonderful. He was ready to start teaching again when fall semester began in late September, and now, he was enjoying his favorite time of year. Almost Halloween, streets and lawns gathering gold and russet leaves from the trees that hung over them, and the last two days had seen serious rainfall. Charlie loved the smell of rain in the fall. He had never analyzed it — which was unusual enough — but it was different from rain any other time of the year. Rain seemed to belong to the fall, somehow. He listened to it pound on the roof, and what would depress him at any other time of the year brought him peace, in the fall.

So by all rights, he should be happy.

Instead, he sat in his office in the growing dusk, stared at the data on his laptop, and was terrified.