Disclaimer: Ownership—Nothing that entails a monetary claim.
Summary: A chance conversation sends Charlie to look up an old friend just when said friend could use one. In the process, he might discover more...
Note: Since Criminal Minds season one aired the Day of the Dead episode in April 2006, I decided that the episodes aired in fall 2005 took place in spring of that year.
"Dad, it's Charlie. Something came up last minute, and I had to fly across the country. I'm sorry I couldn't let you know sooner, but I wanted to be at the airport to get a flight as soon as possible, but I didn't expect to able to get one so quickly… Anyway, I've landed safely at Dulles, and I need contact my friend, and fin—check into a hotel. I'll call in the morning. Please let Don know, and give him my love. I love you. Bye."
A young man of almost thirty quit talking and pressed a button on his cell phone. He was dressed in jeans, blue button-up shirt and a tan jacket with a black laptop bag slung over his head and left shoulder. He sighed and ran a hand through his curly brown hair as he looked around the room. Various people milled about. Charlie looked down to his phone and started dialing another number. Hallway through, the baggage carousel sprang to life, luggage dropping down onto the conveyer. Charlie put the phone in his jeans pocket and snatched up the black bag that tumbled down the slide after the first few pieces. After checking the ID tag to rule out a similar bag, he slung the strap over his left shoulder and strolled through the airport toward the door. Once outside, he leaned against the building's white wall and pulled out his phone again. Keeping in mind an old piece of advice, his brown eyes tried to keep watch for anyone too interested in him as he dialed.
"Hey, Spence, it's…"
"Where's Charlie?" Don Eppes asked after he and his team gathered in his fath—Charlie's—house. He could see Larry and Amita, Charlie's colleagues from CalSci in the living room.
"He's not with you?" his father asked. "He'd said something about wrapping things up at your office."
"We finished an hour after he called," Amita spoke up from where she sat on the couch.
Don absently admired the way the light fell on her silky, black hair and her dark skin. No, he told himself firmly. She's for Chuck. He knew from high school that Charlie reacted poorly when Don dated his crushes. And besides, the Indian woman was a math whiz; that was Charlie's world, not his.
"We ran by CalSci so he could do some work," Amita continued. "I did some research for my thesis and assumed he came here."
Alan Eppes shook his head. "I haven't seen him since morning." He frowned and walked over to the phone. "I'd better call and check on him."
"Chuck probably just lost track of time, Dad," Don tried to calm his father down. However, he worried too, despite knowing the truth of his words. As an FBI agent, he knew of so many things that could happen to ordinary people, and Charlie could be so much more oblivious than the average person...
"I know," his father replied as he pulled the phone out of its charger, "but—Did either of you hear the phone ring?" he asked Larry and Amita.
Both shook their heads. "Why do you ask?" Larry said.
"We have voicemail." Don watched his father run a hand through his wavy, gray hair as he dialed into the mailbox. After a minute, Alan hung up the phone and asked in confusion: "Who the heck does Charlie know in DC?"
"DC?" Larry asked. The red-haired man looked as confused as Don felt. "Charles corresponds with academics all over the world, but I don't recall him mentioning anyone specific in DC."
"Well, he just flew across country to meet some friend. It sounded like a last-minute emergency, though he wasn't too clear. Landed twenty minutes ago, and said he'd call again as he soon as he checked into a hotel."
"A hotel?" Don asked sharply. "He doesn't have a reservation?"
"Apparently not," his father replied sourly. "Though he tried to hide that in his message."
"Damn it, Chuck," Don reached up to massage his temple as one of the headaches only Charlie could produce flared up. He loved his brother, but sometimes he thought the only thing they had in common were a Y chromosome and their hair. And Don kept his cut short enough that it usually did not curl. "It's like ten in DC."
Ian Edgerton hung back as the profilers walked from the Bureau SUVs to the plane. The crisp night air had that mustiness that signaled approaching rain. Too bad the plane would take off long before it arrived; Ian always enjoyed a good downpour, and the wild energy of a thunderstorm would draw out his frustrations. He considered himself a patient man, but when called to help out on a case, Ian felt the need to do something. This time around, he had been unnecessary. By the time he arrived, the BAU team had all ready reached all the conclusions his sniper expertise could provide, and more.
Not that he wanted to have arrived in time for the third shooting's reenactment-a sniper instructor made an obvious choice to role-play an unknown shooter, and Ian liked his head bullet-free.
Still, his arrival time left him with little to do than act as a potential counter-sniper. Ian did a little to help out with the grunt work, but before long the team stumbled across their shooter. Literally. The unknown subject—a nurse named Phillip Dowd—had spotted the FBI presence and grabbed his rifle, concealing it under a lab coat. He sucker-punched one of the BAU, a Dr. Spencer Reid, with the rifle butt and took everyone in the emergency waiting room hostage, including BAU team leader Aaron Hotchner. The location precluded a sniper attack, and Ian could only stand aside as the local SWAT prepared to storm, his offer of assistance rebuffed.
In the end, the two profilers took Dowd down before the locals could do squat, either.
Ian gazed silently at Hotchner's back. He had worked with the stern man when he was in charge of a Seattle investigation team and member of SWAT. Ian would not have thought the man capable of relating civilly with someone like Dowd. Yet he somehow manipulated Dowd into moving all the civilians out of the line of fire and then secured permission to repeatedly kick Reid. That allowed Reid to grab Hotchner's backup piece out of its ankle holster and plant a shot in the center of Dowd's forehead. Hotchner's scumbag act had the civilian hostages still showing fear of him, even after Reid's loud explanation to the local officers.
Frowning, Ian turned his attention to Reid. The youngest profiler on the BAU team, Reid had chin-length, mousy-brown hair with loose curls, and a scrawny build. He walked and talked with a demeanor that telegraphed a lack of confidence. All said, the kid looked more suited to academia.
Ian was pulled from his musings when Reid's phone rang. "Hello," Reid answered. "Charlie!" he exclaimed, no longer sounding exhausted. "Because only two people in the world call me Spence, and you're not female. Or about to board a plane with me, for that matter..."
Ian choked back laughter and paid closer attention to the young doctor's conversation. It would not eliminate his frustration, but any amusement he could wring from the situation would help. Around him, he noticed the other agents were also interested in Reid's conversation.
"No, we have time before lift-off. And I know for a fact that all the phones the team uses work on frequencies that won't interfere with our navigation equipment. Not that a cell connection would be that stable past lift-off, and it's still an FCC violation… No clue… Yeah, I live there. I don't stay in the hotels. Hold on," Reid shifted the phone so the mouthpiece hung down over his throat. "Some of you guys have families, right? Do you know of decent hotels that're unlikely to be full for—What was the convention again?" Reid asked into the phone. "That's that big a draw…? No, I just didn't realize that it was that popular… Yeah, I know. Anyway, nobody's saying anything. If you don't want to be stuck calling every decently rated place, maybe you should just come up Monday… Oh. When do you…? Oh... I can see why you wouldn't want to make those calls in a crowded—Wait, where are you now…? I'm not sure that's safer… Just because no one looks like they're listening, or sticking around… Look, quit leaning against the building and go back inside; get something from concessions. With current weather patterns, our flight should take approximately seventy-three minutes. It'll take some time to get to your location, but it shouldn't be that much longer. You can use my spare room tonight, and we'll figure out the rest tomorrow... Yeah, but I think in this case you were hoping to... Don't worry... I want to discuss that last set of equations with you, anyway... It depends on my workload, and what you want to do in town."
They reached the stairs leading up to their plane, and the group filed into a line to climb up. Distracted by his conversation, Reid bumped into Derek Morgan. "Sorry," Reid muttered to the muscular black man. "Look, Charlie, we're at the plane and people are staring, so I'd better get off. What exit are you by?" Reid followed Morgan up the steps. "Okay. Stay there, and I'll see you in a couple of hours... Goodbye."
"So who was that?" Morgan asked as soon as Reid pocketed his phone.
"A friend." Reid replied as he followed Morgan into the plane.
"That we've never heard of," Morgan replied. "Come to think of it, we've never heard of you having any friends."
"Morgan!" the blonde woman—Jareau, if Ian remembered correctly—hissed. Behind him, Ian could feel Elle Greenaway's eyes burning a hole into Morgan. One did not have to be a profiler to see that the women on the team were protective of their whiz kid.
"What? You're not curious?" Morgan protested as Ian found himself a seat. "Come on, kid: spill."
"Spill what?" Reid asked seriously before a covert smirk crossed his face.
"He's a guy I went to MIT with."
"I don't remember MIT on your resume," Hotchner commented.
"I was still CalSci's student. I participated in an exchange program to join a specific project related to my engineering thesis. Charlie was there working on his physics dissertation. Anyway, we've kept in touch."
"Have you seen him at all since MIT?" Jason Gideon asked as he sat down in front of a chessboard, inviting Reid to play with a wave of his hand. Ian studied the older man's face. The glint in those brown eyes spoke of fatherly concern. Ian could not blame him: the young prodigy seemed even younger in terms of his social development. An older student may well have wanted to take advantage of that. On the other hand, it could just be someone who liked discussing physics and engineering with a younger colleague. Or mentor him.
Reid shook his head. "It'll be nice catching up face-to-face."
"Your time at MIT would have been nearly ten years ago—"
"No," Reid interrupted Gideon. "It was—"
"The exact number doesn't matter," Gideon made his opening move. "It's just that it's a long time for someone to call and ask to stay with you."
"He didn't ask; I offered." Reid started his game.
"So I heard," Gideon moved his knight. "Is everything all right with him? It sounded like he took off in a hurry."
"Frighteningly so, considering the time between his ticket purchase and lift-off. You'd think today's security requirements would take longer."
"What was his rush?"
"He just decided that he needed to take a vacation, and asked for the first flight to DC the ticket agent could book him on. He's done impulse trips before."
Ian slipped his sketchbook out of his bag. "You were right," Reid said to Gideon. "You don't need a gun to kill someone." Ian blinked at the abrupt chance of topic as Reid paused a moment. "But it helps."
Ian smiled; he appreciated the sentiment.
"Thanks again for the ride," Spencer said as they walked into the airport. "You didn't have to do this."
"It's okay," Jennifer 'JJ' Jareau replied. "It's not that far away, and I don't mind. Besides, after your day, you shouldn't have to deal with cabs." And she wanted to meet Spencer's friend. While he had told her a few things about Charlie waiting for the Redskins game a few weeks ago, she remained as curious as the rest of the BAU. She just was not as overly concerned as Gideon. True, the socially reserved Spencer did not make friends easily, but she trusted his judgment in people.
They made their way to the nearest food court. A handful of people sat scattered at various tables. Spencer bit his lip as he looked around. "There he is," he pointed to a booth in the corner. Sitting with his back against the wall, Charlie had his feet propped up on the black suitcase on the other end of the bench. A soft briefcase or laptop case sat on his lab, strap slung over his shoulder and chest the way Spencer carried his tan messenger bag. A stack of papers sat on the case, the top one had a couple pages turned over. The end of a red pen tapped on the paper, in sync with the bobbing of Charlie's curly head and the tapping of his right foot. As JJ and Spencer started walking to the table, Charlie abruptly flipped the pen over and marked something on the paper. Then he reached for the coffee cup on the table next to him. As he took a sip from the cup, he glanced around the area. He looked back down at the paper. A split second later, his head popped up.
"Spence!" Charlie abruptly pulled earbuds out of his ears. He hastily capped his pen and shoved the stack of papers back into a folder which he shoved into the case, along with what looked like an iPod. By the time JJ and Spencer reached him, he had zipped up the case and had turned to slide out of the booth. He grabbed his suitcase, stood and, when he looked up, blurted, "What happened?"
Spencer looked puzzled, and Charlie gestured at Spencer's face. In the past few hours, a large, blue and purple bruise had blossomed on Spencer's left cheekbone from where Dowd had hit him. Personally, JJ thought it looked more painful than Spencer claimed. "Oh. I got blitzed with the butt of a rifle. It was a long day." He quickly turned to JJ. "Jennifer Jareau, Charlie Eppes," he said while gesturing at each of them.
Charlie smiled at her and shook her hand. "JJ, right?" JJ nodded. "Pleased to meet you. I've heard good things from Spence."
"Likewise," JJ replied as she shook Charlie's hand. "Spence doesn't speak highly of many people from his school days."
Charlie chuckled. "Neither do I. But he speaks very highly of everyone on your team."
JJ blinked in surprise and glanced over at Spencer. "Thanks," she replied, feeling flattered. "It's a great group of people to work with. So, what brings you to Washington?"
Charlie looked sheepish. "Spring Break started Thursday, and I realized I need a break from more than just teaching. I just didn't expect the city to be so popular this weekend."
"Speaking of which, I thought grading was why they invented TAs." Spencer sounded amused.
Charlie scowled. "Usually. But this was a paper, not an exam with right or wrong answers to problems."
"Not your favorite part of the job, Professor?" JJ asked as they turned to leave the airport.
"Charlie. And no. I prefer the teaching to the testing. Though all things considered, it could be worse."
"Evaluation or recruitment?"
Aaron Hotchner looked up from his paperwork on the Dowd case. The rest of the BAU had all ready gone their separate ways. Reid took off with JJ to fetch his mystery friend from Dulles. Morgan had left shortly after, though Elle and Gideon stayed to finish their own paperwork before they left. Aaron had assumed the sniper had gone off on his own.
"I am here to be evaluated or did someone get the idea that a past interest in psychology makes me interested in profiling?" Edgerton's question left Aaron more puzzled.
"What do you mean?"
Edgerton gave him a sour look. "I didn't request assignment to your Des Plaines case, and you certainly didn't need or want my presence. Yet, I have been instructed to continue 'assisting' your team until further notice. Obviously someone thinks they're clever."
Aaron frowned as he set his pen down. "I thought you had the luxury of choosing your own cases."
"So do you, but there's always limitations and the occasional hot potato that the higher ups insist on. With my medical status still in question, my choice of cases is limited."
Now that he mentioned it, the notice Aaron received on Edgerton's arrival had said something about restricted field duty. Aaron tilted his head and studied the other man. Tall, tanned and broad-shouldered, with dark hair and eyes that suggested Asian or Native American heritage, Ian Edgerton looked healthy. Though he seemed tired—Had since that afternoon—and had not eaten much when the team grabbed dinner.
"You really don't know anything?" Edgerton asked.
"No. But I'll find out what's going on." Aaron closed his folder. "Would you be interested in profiling?"
Edgerton shrugged. "All of us need to be able to read people and put ourselves in the suspect's head to some degree, or we're useless to the bureau. But the type of cases your team deals with… What you see every day… It's needed, but I don't know how you can do it."
"Not everyone can. Just like not everyone's suited for sniping." Aaron handed Edgerton a pad and pen. "We brief new cases weekdays at ten am when we're not in the field, but can be called in at any time. Give me your cell number and I'll call you if something comes up tomorrow." He frowned and glanced at the clock. "Today, and I'll try to get some answers on your assignment Monday."
"So will I."
"That's... rough," Charlie said awkwardly as Spencer poured him a cup of black coffee. "I know that you did what you had to, but to kill someone…"
"I know," Spencer replied as he grabbed a can of sprite. He sat down across from Charlie. In middle of the round table sat a small pizza. The edge next to the wall had a stack of literary and scientific journals. "I know I'll feel something eventually, but all I feel now is glad that I actually made my shot."
Charlie blinked as he thought about it. "Yeah, I guess people dying if you miss ramps up the pressure."
"Especially since I'm not a good shot on a great day," Spencer admitted as he grabbed a slice of their late-night snack. "Actually, I failed my requalification this week." He paused and turned to the clock over the oven. "I didn't think I could make the shot, but I knew I had to, if didn't want Hotch—And likely other hostages—to die. That terrified me more than when Dowd pointed that rifle between my eyes."
"You made it because you had to." Charlie blew on his coffee to cool it. "Fear's a powerful motivator."
"Fear's a powerful source of adrenaline. Adrenaline makes it harder to keep your hands steady."
"But you did it. I doubt I could." Charlie picked a piece of onion off the top of his pizza slice, and popped it into his mouth.
"Considering you've never held a gun, no, you couldn't."
"I meant kill someone," Charlie started picking mushrooms off his slice. "If I were in a spot where I had to kill to protect myself or others... I'm afraid I might lose my nerve. I don't think I could live with myself if I allowed others to die—Granted, I'd probabilistically have been killed too, but if I wouldn't have been, but one or more others had—I couldn't ever forgive myself. Though... Look, what I'd do isn't important next to what you did do, and if it's something that's hard hypothetically, I'm sure I can't begin to imagine what it's like in real life, but you did the right thing." Charlie tossed the entire slice's worth of mushrooms into his mouth and hoped that despite his nervous babbling, Spencer had gotten his point. And that it was helpful.
Or at least did not rub salt into his wounds.
"'I did the necessary thing.'," Spencer said softly, softly staring at a scratch on the tabletop. "'That is not always the same as the right thing.'" Spencer looked up, and gave Charlie a ghost of a smile. "Babylon 5, season one, episode twenty-two, 'The Quality of Mercy'. This terminally ill doctor found an alien device an extinct race had used to execute criminals by draining their 'life energy' to cure terminal illnesses. She wanted to find a way to adapt it to use small amounts of donated energy without harming the donors, but an escaped serial killer took her daughter hostage to force her to treat his wounds. The doctor realized he planned to kill them both and used it to kill him with her disease. The doctor's view of what she'd done struck me as odd at the time, but now that I've had to do the necessary thing... I think I like the sentiment."
Charlie frowned thoughtfully as he picked up the remains of his slice and took a bite. "You don't agree?" Spencer asked.
Charlie shrugged and swallowed. "I've never thought about it like that. In a case like this, I guess I figured the right thing was to do what's necessary."
Spencer chuckled. "Whatever happened to 'it doesn't matter what anyone else does, it's never okay to kill'?"
Charlie grimaced at the reminder of one of his more foolish pronouncements. "Aside from the fact that you know that didn't come out as intended... If we were to speak hyperidealistically, I'd still say... Well, I'd make it less stupid sounding, but we're both too realistic to think that the world could ever come close to ideal."
"That'd be too boring, anyway," Spencer muttered. He sighed and snagged another slice of pizza. "What's bothering you?"
Spencer tilted his head and gave Charlie a look that reminded him of his own mother. "Charlie, you haven't done impulse vacations since before you broke up with Susan. And even then, you made sure you had lodging before you left."
"Well, I'm long overdue then, aren't I? And if I'd stayed in practice, I'd have specified the earliest flight that'd give me time to make lodging arrangements." Spencer continued staring. Charlie sighed. "I just needed a break. A chance to de-stress and think some things through... It seems a bit petty to be fussing about after your day."
"Good. I'd love to focus on the petty instead of my day."
Charlie studied Spencer through narrowed eyes. He could not tell whether his friend truly meant that, but the FBI agent clearly intended to get the story. "I've all ready told you. Sort of. My dad's still pushing the idea of my dating Amita, despite being her thesis adviser. I just can't get him to understand that breaking that rule is a serious thing, but I thought I'd learned to ignore it. Then today, Amita and I are leaving after I've helped Don with a case, and Don decides to come up and be all big brotherly 'hurry up and ask her out, or someone just might steal her away'. It was exasperating, yet I nearly cracked up at the way he played like hewasn't interested in her himself. Then I realized that the conversation he interrupted might have sounded like I was about to ask her out and wanted to deck him." Charlie tore the crust off the remains of his pizza and began shredding it. "Then—"
"Why did Don think you were about to ask her out?"
"I don't knowthat he did, but he has gone out of his way to cut me off and snag the girl before…" Charlie sighed, and downed half the crumbs, chasing them with half the coffee. "I was thanking her for her help over the past couple of weeks, and started to ask if she wanted to come to a little party to celebrate my buying the house when Don cut me off. I invited Larry and Don's team as well. I finally asked Amita as she was driving me back to CalSci, and she seemed a little… odd as I started up the conversation again, which made me realize how it could have looked. Anyway, I set about working on some projects, determined to clear my mind before the party, when Watkins showed up. He mentioned Amita and reminded me of the policy against relationships with students. I assured him that there was no relationship, and if Amita thought I was pursuing one, it was a misunderstanding. He said she hadn't made any complaints, but that 'people' are talking." Charlie growled and snatched another slice of pizza.
"It got me wondering," he continued as he started plucking mushrooms, "if I was putting out signals that I was interested in her. I needed time to think without Don and Dad pushing."
"Are you interested?" Spencer studied Charlie's face as he waited for a response.
"I don't know," Charlie sighed. "I mean, she is kind of hot—"
Spencer snorted. "'Kind of hot'? I've seen pictures, remember?"
"You don't think she's hot?"
"Charlie, she's extremely hot. So are plenty of women in LA that won't trash your career." Spencer took a quick sip of his sprite. "Men too, I'm sure," he added.
Charlie leaned back in his chair and stared at Spencer's ceiling, a seventies-era popcorn number. "I don't make close friends that easily, and we get along really well when we work together. I suppose I've thought maybe when she's no longer my student… But she's more likely to get a job across the country than in LA..." Charlie closed his eyes and shook his head. "I don't even know if she's interested. Don and Dad seem to think so, but it's not like I can ask without being completely inappropriate.
"And I can't expect her to wait until she's completed her doctorate," Charlie continued. "Something so tenuous as maybe a possibility some unspecified day... if I had a shot at something more tangible, I'd take it. And, well, she is hot. She's going to have shots." He sighed and closed his eyes.
"So will you," Spencer said firmly. "And if there's one thing I learned at CalSci, it's that its students love to gossip about their professors. Odds are Watkins was just making sure they were only rumors. The worst thing you can do is act like you're trying to hide something."
"And if he really thinks something's there?"
"You're fully tenured. The administration needs proof to fire you." Spencer tossed his napkin onto his plate and leaned back in his chair. "But if you pursue her too soon after Ramanujan gets her doctorate, it may be seen as proof of a prior relationship. And... She'll always be your former student. A subsequent relationship may not do either of you any favors."
Charlie bit his lips thoughtfully. "There is that," he conceded.