"Just think, " Amita said. "She could be your boss...and your stepmom."

Charlie snickered, but the face he turned to her could have illustrated 'woebegone'. "Okay, it's definitely condo time for Dad if that happens."

She laid a hand on his arm. "Does it bother you, with your mom? I'm sorry."

"I don't mind him, you know, seeing people," Charlie said. "Mom wanted him to. It's Mildred. I mean, she chews us out for dating—" his hand touched his chest and gestured vaguely between them "—and then she turns around and dates my dad herself?"

"Well, then we've got the perfect comeback, haven't we?"

"See, I like that you said 'we'," Charlie said, taking her hands and pulling her towards him.

"I—" This attempt at conversation seemed doomed to go the way of the one in the garage, as Charlie leaned in towards her, running his fingers up her bare arm, sending a pilot wave of shivers ahead of them. "I—Charlie—"

He stopped tantalisingly short of her mouth, breath warm against her cheek, so close she could have counted his eyelashes. "I guess maybe I was wrong about you being ambivalent," she said.

Charlie pulled back a little. "I think I was the only kid in high school who knew the meaning of 'bivalent' before 'ambivalent'," he said.

Amita grinned. "We all know about your mad Scrabble skills," she teased. "Your point, Dr Eppes?"

He frowned, biting his bottom lip. Amita's heartbeat picked up a little. She'd always thought he had a great mouth.

"Okay, that was a bit...Fleinhardt—" Amita giggled "—but I guess I'm trying to say that I'm really not that good at this. Don says that the reason I have a thing for older women is because one of us needs to know what we're doing... By the way, I do not have a thing for older women, it's just that I never used to meet younger women. I'm doing it again, aren't I? Babbling."

"Just a little," Amita said. Butterflies quivered in her stomach. Her visceral self wanted to be kissing again, not talking. Come on, you're a rational woman, she scolded herself. Charlie's hands moved up her arms, past her elbows, drawing her towards him.

"I guess," she murmured, tracing her forefinger under his bottom lip, "that by 'bad at this' you don't mean this specifically."

"No," Charlie said, "I was talking about the whole relationship thing generally. This—" He slid his hands over her shoulders and into her hair. "—I do all right at."

Better than all right, Amita thought as their lips met again, laughing softly against his mouth.

"What? You're laughing, is that good?" Charlie said, kissing along her jaw.

"Uh," Amita said, the ability to think having temporarily left her. "Oh...good? Yeah, it's good." It was Charlie's turn to laugh.

"One thing," Charlie said, very close to her ear, "I have a tendency not to realise that I—that things are important to me until I think I'm going to lose them."

Amita considered this. Buying the house, his reaction to the prospect of the Harvard job, tonight in the garage—it all held together.

"So—" She pulled away from him. "Charlie, are you sure it's not that you're reacting to the threat by...by grabbing and hanging on? I'm sorry, that came out badly, but I want to be sure."

Charlie frowned thoughtfully, shoved his hands into his pockets and walked up and down the length of the living room. "If we stopped dating now, we'd still be friends, right? It's not like you're going to leave CalSci. And it's been awkward before and we came out of it okay."

He knelt on the couch and leaned over the back of it, adjusting a curtain that really didn't need it. "But I—I want more than that. What about you? What you said about work, and college...I mean, I'm the one with tenure. I'll—I'll do whatever you want. As your friend, or as...whatever."

Amita looked at him, at the vulnerable, hopeful expression on his face. I could love you so easily, she thought, with a moment of ice-clear self-awareness. She was standing at a fulcrum, but she couldn't stay there forever. Deliberately, she walked towards Charlie, coming to stand a couple of feet in front of him. "It's all right, Charlie. By this time I can't imagine my life without you, either."

His face lit up. "Amita—oh, come here."

He pulled her down with him onto the couch, his hands twining into the hair behind her head. This kiss was an open, urgent tangle of tongues and teeth and need.

"Yes," Amita said, snatching breath when she could. "Confusion—rapidly reduced."

"That other stuff you said—Millie and everything—"

"Don't care," she murmured, crooking an arm round his neck, leaning forward into him.

"Good," Charlie said, and then neither of them said anything else for some time.

She could hardly remember the last time she'd made out like this, the warmth of Charlie's body against hers, tasting chocolate dessert from his mouth, faint scrape of stubble on his jaw, his hands firm on her arms and back. He hadn't put them anywhere else yet, but she had plans to change that.

"I don't think," Charlie said breathlessly, "that I ever made out on this couch when I was a kid. I left here too young."

"Clearly you need to do some catching up. Can I volunteer?"

He grinned. "Oh, yeah. Please do." His hand moved from cupping her cheek, down her neck and along her shoulder to finger the edge of her shirt.

"Can I—?" Amita forestalled him by shrugging the top off her shoulder.

"I like this shirt, it comes off easy," Charlie mumbled, his mouth following the path of his hand.

"Charles Eppes, I'm shocked—oh!" He'd just hit a nerve that sent a jolt right down to the pit of her stomach. Charlie went "Hmm," the particular noise that meant that's an interesting discovery. The fact that he was making that noise about her sent a thrill of want through her, and she squirmed as he moved his mouth back, his tongue flicking against the sensitive spot. She clenched her hands in his shirt, tension curling in her solar plexus. "Yeah, Charlie, there—"

His free hand tugged at the other shoulder of her shirt, a hard yank that took it halfway down her upper arm, and the bra strap with it. She had his blazer off by now, his shirt untucked and half the buttons out, but she still calculated that he was winning.

She leaned harder into him, shifting her weight—they were gradually tilting towards the horizontal, Charlie underneath—and elicited a groan from him, probably at where his hand had just landed. Amita tugged his head up to kiss him again, grinning at his enthusiastic response.

For a few breathless, mindless minutes the only words were more and need and please, the two of them the centre of the world. They were almost flat now, legs tangling, Charlie compact and wiry beneath her, all restless hands and hungry mouth, a thousand fantasies made real, solid, warm and right in her arms.

"Want you," he gasped, sucking in a ragged-edged breath.

Heat flowed through Amita, her breathing and heart rate racing. She rocked her hips against his, watching as his eyelids fluttered closed, and he made a sound that could only be described as a whimper.

"Oh, Amita, yeah...please—" He grasped her waist and pulled her firmly against him, kissing her so hard that it was her turn to whimper. She got one hand down between them and moved it downwards, prompting a whole-body shudder from Charlie, his head going back and his mouth falling open, inhaling sharply.

"Are we actually gonna do this?" she breathed.

"Please," Charlie said, eyes opening again, wide and dark.

"I doubt you want the authentic teenage experience of being caught out on the couch by your dad."

That made him grin. "Upstairs?"

"Uh-huh." Amita wriggled encouragingly, making him jolt up against her.

"Slight flaw in that—have to let go of you to get there."

"Make a sudden rush and get it over with," Amita suggested, and suited action to word by rolling off to kneel on the floor. Charlie uttered a small bereft sound and stood up.

"Okay, okay," he said, putting his hands out to pull her to her feet. "Bed."

"Right now," Amita agreed.


Afterwards, Charlie's head resting in the hollow of her shoulder, Amita stretched, her muscles protesting. She'd feel that tomorrow and think of Charlie. The idea sent a little shiver of pleasure through her.

Charlie leaned up on one elbow and grinned at her, a little shyly. "Hello."

"Hello yourself," she returned, feeling awkward too. People who said that sex changed nothing—how bizarre to be so intimate with someone and feel the same afterwards.

His hair was mostly standing straight out like a young Einstein, apart from one curl stuck damply to his forehead. Amita reached up and pushed it back, feeling something tender twist behind her breastbone. Charlie caught her hand as she ran it over the crown of his head, brought it round to his mouth and kissed her knuckles.

"You," he said, "are amazing."

Amita looked at their intertwined fingers and slid closer to him, her blood thrumming with satisfaction. "So're you. That was amazing."

The simple happiness of his smile became modulated with something less innocent, a decidedly male expression. "You know all about my perfectionist tendencies."

"Oh, you—" Amita shook her head, leaned in and kissed him. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and made an inarticulate, contented noise. They lay cheek to cheek for a while, Charlie's arm a warm weight across her body, his breathing and heartbeat almost as close as her own. She ran her hands through his hair, down his back, along his arms. It was still a little strange that she could touch him as much as she wanted, whenever she liked.

Presently Charlie opened his eyes—she felt his eyelashes brush her cheekbone as he blinked—tensed a little, and asked, "How long does the new Bond movie last?"

"A little over two hours, I think. Were they driving? You know how that parking lot gets when all the students pile in."

Charlie untangled one arm to look at his watch. "We're probably okay for a bit. I don't know about you, but I've been caught out by Millie quite enough for one evening."

"Yup," Amita agreed. "Wouldn't she be mad if she knew her little lecture had the opposite effect to what she intended? Hey, Charlie. Why do you of all people wear a calculator watch? I've wondered that for years."

"I hate to destroy my reputation for infallibility, but there are some calculations even I can't do in my head. Anyway, it looks cool."

"In an 'I am a huge geek' way," Amita teased. "You want to send out the right signals—attract the right geek girl—"

"You hadn't worked that out without the watch? You know, the first one I had, I didn't pick it out. Don did. Dad and Mom gave him a watch for his sixteenth birthday, so of course—"

"—You wanted one too. And begged and pleaded until you got one."

"Yeah, and you forgot whined," Charlie admitted, slightly sheepish. "Eventually they gave in and went off downtown and came back with it. In hindsight, maybe Don's pick was a little sarcastic, but I loved it."

"Aww, I bet you were such a cute kid."

He made a face. "You're not gonna starting looking at my baby pictures now, are you?"

"I'm sure your dad would love to oblige. Speaking of Don, you know who's more likely than Alan and Millie to turn up about now?"

"Oh yeah," Charlie said, looking at his watch again. "Case is closed... he missed dinner here... either something new has come up, or else he's stopped off for beer."

"We could just stay up here with the lights out and pretend we aren't in the house," Amita said lazily.

"That's not guaranteed to make him go away, though. Sometimes I meet him at breakfast, and I know I can get really absorbed, but generally I notice who's there for dinner and who let himself in at some horrible hour in the morning and crashed on the couch without telling us."

"That's kind of sweet, actually," Amita said. "So, are we ever getting up, or what?"

Charlie pressed his face into her hair. "You know, it'd be real nice to stay here with you for about three days," he said, rather muffled.

"The explanations might get embarrassing, though."

"Mmm..."

"Hey—" She lifted her head to grin at him. "It's not like we can never go back to bed again."

"Oh," Charlie said, his smile blooming in answer. "I like the sound of that." His hands shifted on her back in a way that said right now would be good.

Amita, struck by a sudden memory, snorted with laughter. "Do you remember Larry having that 'untwinnable experience' with Professor Wilson?"

"Was that the time he told us the math department was the least—I can't remember, some SAT-fodder word—but basically that we never got to have sex?"

"Yeah, I think you're right."

Charlie ran his thumb down her nose. "We're working on it. Basic scientific principle: repeated experimentation is needed to achieve the optimal result." He kissed her, bit gently at her lower lip. "Amita...why did we take so long to get here?"

"Are we going for the Cliff notes version?" Amita sighed, then smirked. "You know, right now I'm having trouble remembering."

"Okay, I admit I was kinda dumb about it a few times—"

She decided this post-mortem wasn't really necessary. "I believe that a scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy. Feynman said that."

Charlie half sat up, grin firmly back in place. "Ah, but wait. Define non-scientific."

She slapped him lightly in the shoulder. "I should have foreseen that comeback."

"Huh," Charlie said, lying back. "You know me pretty well."

Amita grinned to herself, settling her head against his shoulder. Getting up could wait. "Wouldn't have you any other way."