Okay. You know the drill. I do not own the show "Numb3rs" or the rights to it. They belong to whom they belong and we should know who that is by now. I'm just merely playing in their sandbox.

AN: The ArcLight is a real theater in Hollywood. And they do make caramel popcorn everyday and it is a popular concession item. Plead the fifth on how I know ; )

X is for Xanthippe

He blinked once. Then twice. No, he was not hallucinating and for once there was no logical explanation he could come up with in that moment for the sight before him. He didn't even think his numbers could explain it…just then, anyway.

"What are you doing?"

Larry Fleinhardt was bent over a medium size tub on his desk peering intently inside through a device reminiscent of ones seen in the Ghostbuster movies or even the Sleepy Hollow film with Johnny Depp. He was also wearing doctor gloves and sifting through the contents of the tub. It sounded like corn.

Or caramel corn, to be more precise. Charlie finally noticed the five empty, clear medium-

sized tubs sitting on the corner of Larry's desk.

"ArcLight caramel corn?"

It was then Larry realized he was no longer alone. Looking up, it took him a moment to recognize who it was who interrupted him in his task. He blinked looking much like a Cyclops given the lens over his right eye, and it was that one Charlie noticed the most.

"Ah Charles," Larry said, pleased to see his friend and colleague. "Burning the midnight oil as always, I see."

"Uh, yes, I was. And I was heading out just now, but I saw the light on in your office." His voice went slightly up in tone, questioning. In the past it had been common for Larry to work late just as he did, but Larry was less and less in his office after the eleventh hour since he married Megan Reeves.

Charlie just answered his own question. "Xanthippe strikes again, I see."

"I have yet to decide if it is fortuitous or not," Larry said with a nod.

"Megan had a craving for caramel corn?"

"At precisely eleven," Larry confirmed. "And not just any caramel corn, as you can see. She said she only wanted the freshest and she was adamant that only ArcLight would do."

Charlie picked up the five empty tubs. "Was she craving this much?" Sure, Megan was four months pregnant, but surely one would suffice. Alright, maybe two…

"Because of my previous experience—"

"This isn't the first time?" Charlie had a hard time believing his friend would drive the distance to the theater once, let alone twice.

"I don't think I need to remind you that my loving Xanthippe is carrying the next generation of Fleinhardts and is not immune to the odd cravings or the ill temper created when denied," Larry explained, again using not only a term to describe an ill-tempered woman but also the wife of Socrates.

And she would never have anything on Megan Fleinhardt.

Charlie was taken aback. "You tried to say no? Did you forget about her gun?" he teased.

"Only the first time and only for a brief moment before she reminded me."

Charlie laughed. "So why are you here now instead of giving Megan the caramel corn she wanted?"

"That would be due to the fact that the first caramel corn I purchased for her did not fit her expectations."

Larry explained that he had driven to Hollywood to the ArcLight and reached the theater just as the last show was going in. He immediately headed for the lower snack bar and explained to the ticket taker that he was only there for the caramel corn. Fortunately Larry could see that there were still a few tubs available; he'd heard from friends and other colleagues the horrors of having gone to the theater and they were out of caramel corn.

After purchasing the one tub, he headed home. At first everything was okay. Then Megan asked for a bowl and, to Larry's puzzlement, she started to sort the caramel corn in to two sections.

"What are you doing?" Larry had asked.

"I'm sorting the kernels."

"I see that. I guess I want to know why."

Megan's only reply was to hold up two kernels, one from each pile. One appeared to be more round, fully popped, and extremely exposed to the mix. The second was a bit lighter, chipped, and had an un-popped kernel attached.

"Good. Not good," Megan said, gesturing with the fully popped and more exposed kernel first.

"Unfortunately the batch I brought home had a greater portion of 'not good' than 'good,'" Larry finished. "So this time I purchased more caramel corn and decided to sort through it here before taking it home. Unfortunately I failed to realize just how long it would take to get just the right pieces." He looked down at the tub with a forlorn look.

Charlie sighed. "Have an extra pair of gloves?"

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Megan was worried. Her husband had gone out the night before to get her caramel corn, but he never returned home. It was not like him to be out all night.

Maybe Charlie knows where he is. Megan hit the speed-dial for Charlie on her phone.

It went to voicemail.

Her stomach did a flip-flop. Or it could have been her baby shifting. Oh, God! She prayed Larry was all right. She wasn't sure she could be a single mom!

She dialed the next person she could count on.

"Eppes," a sleepy voice answered.

"Hey Don, it's Megan," she said, trying to keep the worry from her voice. "Is Charlie there?" She assumed her boss crashed at his brother's and father's as he did a lot of the time.

There was a long pause and then she heard Don speaking to a woman.

Crap! He must have spent the night at Liz's!

"Why are you looking for Charlie?" Don asked.

"God, I'm sorry Don! I didn't—"

"Megan, it's okay. Just tell me why you're looking for…oh, I see. You're looking for Larry and figured Charlie would know?"

"Yeah," Megan admitted sheepishly. "Larry went out last night to get me caramel corn and when I woke up this morning, he wasn't here."

Silence.

"He never came home?"

"No. And it's not like him." She could almost hear Don agreeing with her on the other end.

"I'm sure he's okay, Megan. You tried calling Charlie, right?"

"He was the first one I called. It went to voicemail." Megan heard Don make a sound between a chuckle and snort.

"Typical. Listen, I'm going to head over to CalSci. Charlie's probably there now and I'll see if he's heard from Larry. I'll call you when I know."

"Thanks Don."

"Don't mention it. See you later Agent Fleinhardt." He hung up before she could respond.

Agent Fleinhardt. Damn straight!

Half an hour later, Megan was leaving to go to the office. Her cell phone beeped letting her know she had a text message. Actually, it was a picture text.

"Oh, Larry!"

In the picture on her screen were two sleeping figures, heads resting on a familiar desk. She could make out the one big tub and then a few smaller ones. Then there were one and one-half tubs of caramel corn. She could see something scribbled on them.

There was a second beep indicating another text. Again, it was from Don.

"Figured you'd need help reading the chicken scratch. Says Perfect for Megan.

See you at work."

Megan grinned. She first had to make a little detour.

END