Disclaimer: It's theirs.
A/N: This is actually an idea hatched by something the Rabid Raccoons wrote in their latest story, "High Society". Yes, I realize that means I'm tagging myself...but I'm a very solitary person. Besides, Serialgal is actually responsible for the scene to which I refer: Ch. 37, Alan is describing his youngest son to one of his doctors. The first thing he says is that Charlie is a genius; hence, a plot bunny is born.
The pneumonia had hit Alan hard. He had spent entirely too much of the winter hospitalized, and was only allowed to come home after Charlie made all sorts of arrangements to accommodate his father. Professionals were hired, around the clock at first, and Alan was temporarily moved into the guest room downstairs. Luckily, Winter Break coincided with the worst of it, or Charlie may have taken emergency family leave. As it was, Don did take a week of PTO to move into the Craftsman to help Charlie out at night, after they cut down to day help only. They were dark and terrifying days that were, in retrospect, remembered as one continuous black cloud, and everyone was relieved and thankful that they were coming out the other side.
It was early spring by the time Charlie felt comfortable letting Alan fend for himself. Even then, he called him several times a day -- as did Don -- just to check up on him. Alan finally complained that he couldn't get any rest, what with jumping up to answer the phone every five minutes. After that, Charlie and Don coordinated their calls, and one of them phoned every two hours. Even if Don found himself in the field and unable to make his call, that meant that Alan would not be untended for more than four hours (which seemed a gigantic leap of faith to Charlie, and he agreed somewhat reluctantly).
Charlie had arranged his schedule that semester so that he had several hours free mid-day. In the beginning, when there was still a nurse with Alan in the daytime, Charlie would drive home and spend a quiet lunch hour with his father. As Alan slowly strengthened, Charlie began to stay on campus more. He would use the time to keep up with his CalSci responsibilities, or to crowd in some consulting for one interest or another. By the time the days had warmed, and Alan had insisted that his primary care physician send a note home with him that said he was allowed out into the air again, Charlie would occasionally come to the Craftsman again. Sometimes, he and Alan had lunch together -- often outdoors, near the koi pond. Some days, Alan had enough energy to have a simple picnic ready, and they would drive to a nearby park for a change of scenery. When Charlie began to feel more comfortable, he would even leave Alan there for up to an hour while he went to the bank, or the market, or the pharmacy.
On this day, he had done all three, and had left Alan in the park longer than ever before. He was rushing as he crossed the flat expanse of well-groomed green lawn toward the bench on which he had left his father; it would be a close call, getting back to campus in time for his afternoon class. He was relieved to see Alan right where he had left him, apparently none-the-worse for wear. At least, he was sitting up under his own power; approaching from the rear as he was, Charlie couldn't search his face for the telltale lines of fatigue. He smiled slightly as he drew closer, fairly certain that he wouldn't find any if he could. Alan's body language was more energetic than Charlie had seen in weeks.
Another man sat on the bench, now; a cane rested between them, and Alan was talking with his hands in his usual, expressive way. It did Charlie's beleagured heart good to hear the strength in his voice when he got close enough to catch the conversation.
"That's nice," Alan was saying. "My sons haven't given me grandchildren, yet...but I think they're both getting closer!" He chuckled. "Five grandsons. No wonder you're tired!"
His neighbor huffed a deep, friendly laugh of his own before responding. "You're not kidding! But, I love it. Wouldn't not have those little fellas in my life for the world. Are your sons married, then?"
Alan shook his head. "Not quite; each has a lovely lady friend, long-term. I harbor hope. Don's my oldest." His voice warmed with pride. "He's turned out to be a good man, if I do say so myself. Strong, brave -- he works for the F.B.I. -- yet tender, and becoming more comfortable with that side of himself. A loyal friend, a fine son, and an excellent big brother to Charlie."
"Charlie's your youngest, then," guessed Alan's companion.
Alan nodded. "He's a genius." His benchmate must have smiled, because the tone of Alan's voice became slightly defensive. "He really is! He graduated high school at 13, and went on to Princeton; full-ride. He's studied at MIT, Oxford...he was just promoted, Chair of the Math Division at CalSci University." A low whistle greeted this news, and Charlie, standing stock-still now a few feet behind the bench, heard his father's tone revert to pride. "He's found countless ways that math can help solve crimes; he and his brother work together on that."
Charlie had heard enough, and cleared his throat. "Dad," he greeted. "Sorry I'm late."
He walked around the end of the bench and Alan turned his head to smile at him. "Are you late, son? I didn't notice, I've been so busy bragging." He indicated the elderly gentleman next to him. "This is Daniel James."
Charlie smiled, rather stiffly, and reached to shake the man' s hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. James. Charlie."
Alan's new friend gripped Charlie's hand with surprising force, lifting an eyebrow and grinning. "Ah, the genius himself! Call me Daniel, son. Mr. James was my father."
Charlie held his smile and nodded. "Daniel, then." He glanced at his father. "I'm sorry to rush you, Dad, but I have a class soon."
Alan tried to figure out the slightly pinched, closed expression on Charlie's face, decided he must have a headache, and stood to join him. "That's all right, Charlie." He looked down at Daniel James. "Maybe I'll see you in the park again?"
Mr. James smiled. "I've got a better idea. Didn't you say you enjoy a good game of chess? I'll be here with a board on Wednesday."
Alan looked delighted. "It's a date."
Charlie ran into his class five minutes late. When it was over, he was scheduled to host a study group in his office for overachievers who wanted a little extra attention before midterms. He only had half-an-hour between his class and the group, so he didn't leave campus. Generally, he found something in his office to do; occasionally, he joined Larry or Amita in one of theirs for a shot of tea. Today he just leaned back in his new leather-covered chair, gently twisting it to-and-fro, looking out his new window pensively.
"I'd offer him a penny for his thoughts," Larry confided to Don, "but I'm afraid that in this recession, I cannot afford to throw my money around."
The sound of Don's laughter jerked Charlie from his reverie, and he glanced up at his brother and his best friend guiltily. "Hi," he said awkwardly.
Don laughed again. "Lookin' a little lost there, Buddy. About to spit out another Eppes Convergence?"
Larry smiled, but Charlie frowned. "No," he responded crossly. "What do you want? I think I have...something. Soon."
Larry's smile faltered and he lifted a hand in peace. "I merely came to offer you some afternoon sustenance. I met Don in the hallway."
Don tilted his head slightly and narrowed his eyes, studying Charlie. "I was just in the neighborhood." He reached into his pocket and withdrew a twenty-dollar-bill. "It's payday; thought I might as well pay you back before you started charging interest. Everything ok?" His brow furrowed in worry. "Dad?" he added urgently.
Charlie shook his head quickly, picking up the money and dropping it on the desk again. "He's fine," he assured Don. "He's good." His eyes strayed to the expansive leather couch and then back to his visitors. "Do me a favor," he said. Both Don and Larry affirmed that they would, and Charlie finished his instructions. "Don't think. Just tell me the first word that comes to mind." Don and Larry nodded, and Charlie leaned back in his chair again, elbows resting on the arms, fingers tented around chin-level. "Describe me," he ordered.
"Geek," Don said immediately, and Larry grinned.
"My choice of word would have been 'brilliant' ", he said, "but I believe Don means virtually the same thing."
"What he said," Don agreed."What's this all about, anyway?"
Charlie smiled sadly as he leaned forward to pick up the bill again. "Nothing," he answered morosely. "Thanks for the money."
Amita smiled tenderly at Charlie as she passed a container of Chinese takeout, touching his fingers lightly. "You look tired," she noted gently. "Are you getting enough sleep?" Charlie nodded silently, pushing fried rice around on his plate, and she pushed a little harder. "Alan is going to be fine, you know. He's much stronger, even up to having the book club meet here tonight."
Charlie nodded again, smiling faintly this time. "Who would have thought a bunch of little old ladies could be so rowdy?" he said. "They're all tucked away in the solarium and I can still hear them laughing."
Amita smiled and shook her head a little before looking back at her plate and spearing a chunk of tofu. "They're not all little old women," she chided gently. "Besides, they're his friends, and they've missed him. So they're a little celebratory."
"Either that, or I've got to get my hands on that book," Charlie muttered. She laughed, completely unprepared for him to turn serious again. He pushed his still-full plate away and leaned forward to brush the hair back from her temple. "Amita."
Startled, she dropped her fork. "What?" she frowned.
"Pretend I'm somebody else, someone who has never met your boyfriend."
She blushed prettily. "That's a favorite fantasy of yours, isn't it? Shouldn't we save this for the bedroom?"
Now he reddened to the roots of his hair and leaned back a little. "Maybe," he mumbled, and then coughed to clear his throat. "But no, this time, I want you to describe me; to me...I mean, him....how would you describe me to someone who's never met me?"
Amita looked at him for a moment, and could tell that he was serious. "Well," she answered hesitantly, "I would say that your mind is limitless, that...."
Charlie sighed loudly and pushed back his chair to stand. "That's enough," he interrupted. "Just never mind."
Amita reached out to hold him in place with a hand on his arm. "What just happened?" she asked. "We were having a perfectly nice dinner!"
Charlie scowled at her hand. "That's all I am," he complained. "My mind is all anyone sees. Dad, Don, you, Larry....I might as well be an encyclopedia!"
Amita refused to be sucked into his black hole, and defended her position. "Charlie," she said firmly, "I don't know what's got you all in a tither, but face it: Your genius is pretty overwhelming. It's guided your life since you were 8 years old, you said so yourself. Of course when we think of Charlie, we think of that."
He shook her hand off his arm and crossed it over his chest with the other one. "Wonderful," he grumbled bitterly.
Amita mimicked his posture, crossing her own arms under her bosom. "You didn't let me finish," she pointed out. "Yes, your mind is the first thing people notice; to not mention your genius would be akin to ignoring a total eclipse, or a sun flare. Like it or not, the ways in which your mind works go a long way toward defining you." She leaned forward, dropping her arms. "But not singularly. I would tell this stranger that your mind is limitless, and so is your heart. Sure, I was attracted to your intelligence; some girls go for a guy who looks great in a Speedo, but that's not the first thing I see. After the initial attraction, when I got to know you, I discovered that not only could you completely stimulate and exite me intellecually -- you've got no reason to be ashamed in that Speedo, either." Charlie blushed again, but she went on. "And the hair -- God, the hair, Charlie!"
Charlie was starting to look apoplectic, so Amita took pity upon him. "Seriously, when I got to truly know you, I was attracted to so much more than your mind. You're funny, tender, caring, sensitive, full of surprises. You make me laugh, you fill me with admiration, you touch me more deeply than anyone ever has. So. I would tell this person who has never met you, that he is missing something truly remarkable."
Charlie's own eyes grew dark as he leaned forward to kiss Amita, framing her face in his hands. The kiss lasted several seconds, and left them both breathless. "Thank-you," he whispered, when he could speak again. "You're pretty remarkable yourself."
Amita smiled and brushed at a low-flying curl. "Now, about that Speedo," she murmured, and leaned in for another kiss. "Comeer, my little furball."