Alan Eppes’ sons had abandoned him. Granted, they’d abandoned him to investigate a plane crash in the mountains, which Alan acknowledged was important. But it was always something with those two – murders, bombings, kidnappings… Alan was surprised at how jaded he’d become about such heinous crimes, but the house had been burglarized! In thirty years, nothing like that had ever happened, not in this neighborhood. Not in this house. And he had two sons who solved crimes – neither one of whom seemed to think much of this one. The police were no help. They weren’t even going to send anyone to take a look, they just told him to make a list of everything that had been stolen and to come to the station to make a report. All right, the most valuable thing that was missing was Alan’s laptop, and everything else could be easily replaced, but it was the principle of the thing.
He puttered uselessly around the kitchen, glaring at the empty space on the counter where the blender had been and absently opening and closing cabinet doors to make sure that the burglars hadn’t also made off with the twenty-year-old dishware. Then he walked through the house, checking and testing every window to make sure they were securely latched before returning to the front door. It was already bolted – he’d locked it after Charlie had left. The kitchen door was locked, too. Alan briefly considered wedging one of the dining room chairs under the knob, but ultimately decided against it. And he felt ashamed to admit it even to himself, but he didn’t even want to go out to check the garage. Not by himself. He trudged up the stairs, hating the fact that his – well, Charlie’s – house had a foreign and unfriendly feeling to it now.
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It was too fucking cold in the mountains, Don decided, and his tired, pre-caffeinated self resented the fact that Colby seemed perfectly comfortable, probably because he was from Idaho and they had things like winters and shit. At least, Colby seemed as comfortable as a person could be in the middle of the wreckage of an airplane that had been carrying five people. David was at the office, providing operational support. Megan was off…somewhere, at the behest of the Department of Justice. It wasn’t just the cold that had soured Don’s mood. It was not having his team working together, the way things should be.
And five bodies apparently weren’t enough – someone had shot the first person to respond to the scene of the crash, a forest ranger who had just happened to be in the area at the time. Poor bastard had ended up with a bullet between the eyes, apparently just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Bob,” Colby called, as they walked uphill through the debris. A tall, dark-haired man wearing an NTSB jacket turned around. “Don Eppes, Bob Tombrello.”
“Hey, Don.” Tombrello shook the agent’s hand. “Good to have you.”
“Yeah, how’s it going,” Don said absently. “So what have we got here?”
“Got a corporate jet carrying five, including the pilot and the co-pilot. They’re all dead.” Tombrello gestured to a roped off area containing sheet-covered remains. The pieces that the response team had been able to find, anyway. “Seat belts don’t do you much good at 270 miles per hour.”
“These passengers were all officers of a company called Aeronomics, a high-tech defense contractor.” Colby explained.
“And what brought it down?” Don rubbed his jaw, looking down at the body of the jet, which was scorched and torn to pieces. The smell of burned fuel and smoke from ongoing small fires was getting to him.
“Little too soon to tell,” said Tombrello. “We just started our investigation.”
“So it’s possible that the plane was knocked out of the sky, like with a bomb or a rocket?” Colby ventured.
“I don’t think so,” came a voice that Don knew all too well. He turned, a truly impressive scowl on his face.
“Yeah, you see, this debris field is too compact. It’s too directed. So I’m pretty sure that the plane was intact when it hit the ground.” Charlie walked up to them, gesturing with a stick he’d picked up. He was wearing his visitor badge, he’d obviously checked in, so Don was denied the opportunity to chew him out over it.
“Charlie, what are you doing here?” Don’s scowl grew deeper. He felt almost the same way he’d felt in high school when he’d be out with his friends, and little Charlie would just turn up, uninvited and almost always unwanted. That feeling brought with it a sense of shame – they weren’t in high school anymore, he knew Charlie just wanted to help – and it did nothing to improve Don’s mood.
Charlie’s eyes were bright with enthusiasm. “Classical mechanics mixed with a dash of Ito-Stratonovich drift integrals. It’s a perfect recipe for putting a crashed plane back together.”
“Okay, slow down, we’re just getting going here. We don’t even know what we’ve got,” Don said, trying to keep his frustration out of his tone.
Charlie looked at his brother in surprise, his brow furrowed in puzzlement. Regardless of how it had happened, the plane was in pieces all around them. He was here to help re-construct it. What was the problem?
“Well, where there’s one Eppes, there’s always two.” That was a familiar voice, and one that Don hadn’t expected. He’d actually hoped not to hear it for a good long while.
“Agent Edgerton.” Charlie turned with a grin.
The sniper glanced briefly at Charlie but didn’t return the greeting. Instead, he handed Tombrello a heavy-looking orange metal box that had obvious signs of damage. “Anybody looking for this?”
“The black box,” Tombrello said, pleased. “How’d you find that?”
“How do I find anything?” Ian said, leveling a measured look at Don.
“Gentlemen, I’ve got to run diagnostics on this. Excuse me, please.” Tombrello moved through them with his prize, heading back to the command tents.
If Don hadn’t been trying to come up with some kind of excuse to send Charlie home, he would have missed the confused and slightly hurt look his brother was directing at Ian. But Charlie seemed to shake himself out of it, and chased after Tombrello and the black box, introducing himself and obviously eager to view the results of the diagnostics.
“Ian, didn’t know you were around.” Don said, forgetting about Charlie as soon as he was out of sight.
“I wasn’t until they found a dead forest ranger,” Ian said, looking over at the white sheet that lay apart from the other bodies. “I’ve done a lot of tracking on this mountain. I’ve already scouted a hundred yard perimeter looking for tracks, signs of encampment.”
“You figure the guy who shot him was living in the area and drawn in by the crash?” Colby asked.
Ian nodded, not missing the fact that Don was trying to casually wander away from the conversation. Before this morning they hadn’t said more than a few words to each other, not since Don had taken a shot that was rightfully Ian’s. “How have you been, Eppes?” Ian raised his voice slightly. “Haven’t talked to you since the Crystal Hoyle caper.”
Don turned back to look at him, his face expressionless. “I’m all right, Ian.” Then he continued in the direction he’d been going, telling himself that he wasn’t running away.
Colby was used to nodding along when Charlie was explaining things. He didn’t think that the mathematician was showing off, exactly, but what Charlie thought Colby would get out of a rapid monologue about his predictive debris field pattern, he had no idea. Especially first thing in the morning. The diagram that Charlie had sketched out looked fine to him, but this was a plane crash. It was normal to have bits and pieces all over the place, and if Charlie said there was a pattern, well, he would know, wouldn’t he? He realized that Charlie had stopped talking.
“Okay, and what do you need from us, Charlie?” Colby asked, hoping that Charlie hadn’t taken offense at his lack of focus.
“Well, I think Amita and I have everything we need,” Charlie said, indicating a stack of site markers, thin plastic orange ribbon, wooden stakes, and an open-reel tape measure. “Just, if you could let evidence response and the NTSB know what we’re doing I’d appreciate it. I don’t want to get yelled at again.”
Colby tried to hold back a snort of amusement. Charlie and the evidence response team did not have the best relationship, largely due to the fact that the mathematician often forgot crime scene protocol when he was focused on something. “Sure thing, Charlie. Here, you should take a radio with you.”
Charlie was about to refuse but then remembered – the forest ranger. Just because no recent sign of the ranger’s killer had been found didn’t mean that the crash site was completely safe. It made sense to have a way to call for back-up, just in case. “Thanks, Colby.”
Ian entered the command tent just as Charlie and Amita were gathering up their supplies. He nodded to Colby and made his way to the coffee without saying a word to anyone.
“Find anything?” Colby asked, taking a sip of his own coffee.
“Got some photographs of some tire tracks that I’m going to take to the office to be printed, and a plaster cast setting as we speak,” Ian said, tearing open two sugar packets and dumping the contents into his black coffee.
In his peripheral vision, Colby saw Charlie looking over at them with narrowed eyes and a frown, but the mathematician left the tent when Amita tugged at his arm. Colby wondered what that was about.
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“Um, hello?” The radio on Colby’s hip crackled to life. Colby winced. One of these day’s he’d have to give Charlie a run-down on proper radio communications. He hit the talk button.
“Charlie, it’s Colby. You doing all right?”
“I’m fine. We’re fine. Everything is fine, except…okay, hold on.” The radio went silent, and Colby started to get a little worried.
The radio buzzed with a second of static and then Colby heard Amita’s voice. “Hey, Colby, it’s Amita. We’re okay, but Charlie found a shoe.”
Colby’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean, he found a shoe?”
“Sorry, he found a shoe…with a foot in it. We wanted to let you guys know…so maybe someone could come pick it up?”
“Oh, shit.” Colby was glad he hadn’t pushed the talk button for that, or he’d have to give himself a lesson in radio protocol. He answered Amita. “I’ll let evidence response know – I think they can collect it and pass it on to the coroner’s office. Is he okay?”
“Oh, sure,” though Amita sounded doubtful. “He just needed to step away for a second.”
“He threw up, didn’t he.” Colby wasn’t surprised.
“Um, yes. Yes he did. But he says he’s fine.”
Colby rolled his eyes. Sure he does. “Amita, could you or Charlie make your way back to command so that you can lead evidence response back to where you found the foot?”
There was some silence, then another crackle of static. “I’m on my way.” Amita said.
Amita was a little out of breath when she made it to the tent. Colby thought that she’d probably jogged the entire way, she’d gotten there so quickly. “Whew! Sorry, just give me a second. It’s not every day you find a body part out in the wild, you know?” Her cheeks were pink from both the exercise and the cold.
Colby chuckled. “Not if you’re a mathematician, at least. It happens a little more often in my line of work.”
Amita led Colby and one of the evidence response team members back to where Charlie was waiting, nervously fiddling with his debris field calculations and shifting his weight from foot to foot. “It’s right there,” he said, gesturing to the ground over to his left. “I managed not to puke on it.”
Colby smirked in acknowledgement of Charlie’s attempt at levity, but the evidence response technician was not amused.
“Did you touch it?” She asked, snapping on a pair of nitrile gloves.
Charlie shook his head, and the technician took photos of the remains before collecting them in a large plastic bag, sealing it and completing part of a chain of custody form. “Got it. I’ll take this down and have it delivered to the coroner.”
“You want to come back to command for a break, Charlie?” Colby asked, noting that the mathematician was looking a little pale.
Charlie shook his head. “No, Amita and I are very nearly finished with the trajectories. Right, Amita?”
“Yeah, we should be finished soon. Hopefully we’ll have a better idea of where to look for the FMC.” Amita smiled at Colby and took the tape measure from Charlie, the two of them heading off to the south to mark out another trajectory.
Ian was back in the tent when Colby returned, and there was a plaster cast of the tire tread sitting on the table, along with some full-page prints of the photos the sniper had taken that morning. He looked up. “How’s the genius couple doing with finding that computer?”
Colby squinted. “You mean Charlie and Amita? Nothing so far. But they’re still working on it.”
Taking a bite of a muffin he’d picked up from the coffee table, Ian beckoned Colby over. “Take a look at this. These tire marks started under some brush. The axle width and the tread block point to a Ford F250 pickup. Doesn’t match any of the emergency vehicles in the area.”
“So you think this might be the killer’s truck?”
“Yeah.” Ian sipped his coffee and pointed to one of the photos. “Look at this.”
Colby picked up the photo and peered closely at it. “What’s that, oil?”
“Yeah. It’s concentrated here.”
“So it was sitting there for a while.” Colby nodded. “Waiting for the plane to crash.”
“Sick as it is, I can see crashing a plane. But why would you want to be there when it comes down?” Ian took another bite out of the muffin.
“So, we found the plane’s flight management computer,” announced Charlie as he walked into the tent and set the object carefully down on the table. Amita was right behind him.
“That’s great, Charlie,” Colby said, moving the computer so that it was more centered. He felt kind of foolish doing it – the thing had obviously survived a literal plane crash, but he didn’t want to take any chances of it getting damaged now that they had it.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.” Charlie swung his bag over his shoulder, setting it on the floor.
“We found it by adjusting the size of the debris field,” Amita explained.
“Sounds like a happy ending.” Ian said, looking up and directing his reply to Amita.
“No, it’s a problem,” Charlie growled. “Here, I’ll show you.” He grabbed Ian’s muffin off the table and hurled it down onto the floor of the tent. Muffin chunks and crumbs went everywhere.
Everyone froze. Charlie had been known to use other people’s food in service of demonstrating mathematical concepts, but he’d destroyed this muffin as though it had offended him personally. Colby’s eyes darted to Ian, watching him warily for a reaction.
It was strange. Ian looked as though he were pissed, but the edges of his mouth were quirking up slightly, like he was trying to hide a smile. The sniper wagged a finger at Charlie. “You shouldn’t come between a man and his fiber.”
Charlie only shot him a look before crouching down by the mess and gesturing at it. “All right, so that’s the debris field. Now, this looks like it’s just sort of a random mess, but it’s not. See, a debris field’s size and shape is actually governed by variables such as speed, mass, angle of incidence, ground topography… Now, let’s say that this muffin had walnuts in it. Well, then the mess would be much larger, because walnuts weigh more. And extra weight means more mass. More mass translates into greater momentum.” Charlie got to his feet. “Similarly, what we have outside is a debris field that’s much larger than it should be.”
“Larger, because the plane was heavier than the manifest indicated.” Amita added.
“Right, about a thousand pounds heavier,” Charlie said. “All of our predicted trajectories were right on, but the actual distances exceeded our predictions by about fifteen percent across the board. Half a ton of additional weight might account for that.”
“What exactly was this weight?” Colby frowned.
“It has to be what the killer was waiting for,” Ian said. He looked at Charlie, but the mathematician was on his cell phone, calling Don to notify him and Tombrello that the FMC had been recovered.
Finishing his call, Charlie picked up his bag and notebook, then reached for the computer. “Bob said I should take this down the office so that he can open it up.”
Colby raised his eyebrows. “Hey, Charlie, aren’t you forgetting something?” He nodded his head toward the wreckage of the muffin on the floor.
Charlie glanced down, then back up at Colby. His eyes shifted to Ian. “I think you guys can handle that,” he said coolly. He and Amita left the tent.
Ian was feeling good. He always felt good after bringing in a suspect, and he was particularly satisfied with the thought of finally getting somewhere with catching the sicko who had crashed a plane and killed a federal employee just to pick up a scramjet prototype. He hung back to let Colby and David escort Mike Daley to the elevators. He knew he’d scared the shit out of Daley when confronting him at the apartment complex earlier, and he wanted the guy to stew for a bit before he took a crack at interrogating him. He’d let the other agents start taking Daley through the scenic route of the paperwork procedure, then leave him in one of the interview rooms.
The occasion called for coffee, Ian decided, as if that wasn’t his feeling about most situations. He saw Colby and David sitting in the bullpen with Daley, who was still in handcuffs. Ian smirked and took the long way around to stay out of Daley’s line of sight, but stopped short when he saw that Charlie was perched cross-legged on one of the break room tables, leaning against one of the clear glass walls.
Ian nearly turned back but then mentally kicked himself. He wanted coffee. He could brave one curly-haired mathematician to get it. He walked in and started pouring himself a cup of coffee. He knew that Charlie saw him, but the smaller man didn’t look up from his notebook.
“I thought you’d be working on that computer, Professor,” Ian said, leaning back against the counter.
“So you’re talking to me now?” Charlie’s eyes flicked over to him and then back to what he was scribbling. “Bob has the FMC. He hasn’t come back with any results yet.”
“Then what are you working on?” Ian took an experimental sip of his coffee, but it was still too hot to drink comfortably.
“A burglary,” Charlie said shortly. “My house was broken into this week.”
Ian ran his eyes over Charlie, assessing him, concerned in spite of himself. “Everything okay?”
Charlie sighed and rubbed his face. “Nothing was broken, just tossed around. The only stuff taken was my dad’s laptop, the DVD player, a case of imported beer and an old blender. Who steals a blender?”
“You think you’re going to answer that question with math?” Ian smirked.
“No, I think I’m making my dad feel better about this until Don has the time to do something. He’s the cop, after all.” Charlie bent his head back down to his notebook.
Ian blew on his coffee to cool it, then started to head back out towards the bullpen.
“Not talking anymore, then?” Charlie said as Ian neared the table he was sitting on.
“You got something to say?” Ian snapped, irritated.
Charlie continued writing, apparently unbothered by Ian’s tone. “Is there something you want me to say?”
“You could say something like, I don’t know, the fact that you have a girlfriend.” Ian said sarcastically, but keeping his voice low. The last thing he wanted was to draw anyone’s attention to this conversation.
Charlie’s hand stilled on the paper. He didn’t look up. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“That other – Amita. She’s not your girlfriend?”
“No, not for six weeks now.”
Ian nodded, thinking that over. “And what about when I was here in the summer? Was she then?”
Charlie cringed. “Yes,” he said quietly.
“I see.” Ian’s words were clipped.
Charlie glared up at him and hopped off the table. “Amita and I were just starting to give it another shot, literally the day you and Don came to my office. It didn’t work out. But I don’t think that’s the reason that you’ve decided not to talk to me.”
“Oh yeah? Then enlighten me, Professor. Tell me what you think is the reason.” Ian would have crossed his arms in front of his chest to appear a little more intimidating, but he hadn’t put a lid on his coffee cup and he didn’t want to spill it on himself.
Charlie met his eyes. “I think the real reason is that I let you talk to me instead of letting you fuck me.” He left the room, notebook in hand.
Ian stared after him, a strange and unwelcome feeling twisting his gut.
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Charlie just went straight to the garage when he got home, intending to wait until his father retired for the evening before going into the house. He wasn’t up to any questions or further verbal processing of the damn burglary. Charlie loved his house, he’d lived there his entire life, except for the years that he and his mother spent at Princeton, and the two years he’d lived with Susan Berry. But his feelings about the burglary were in proportion to the amount of harm that had been done – the house itself was fine. The people who lived in it were unhurt. The few things that had been taken could be easily replaced. From that perspective, the burglary was a minor thing. And while Charlie respected the fact that his father felt differently, he didn’t want to keep hearing about it. Especially not when his analysis of the crime wasn’t telling him anything different than what the police had said.
He turned on the lights and dumped his bag on the small wicker couch and wandered around the space, looking at the work on his blackboards. Three of them held calculations for his predictive debris field analysis, but that project was over now. What was important was whatever Bob might find on the flight management computer. So Charlie picked up an eraser and carefully cleaned the boards. His work was now recorded on his laptop, anyway, so he could free up the space. As he worked, his mind wandered back to that conversation with Amita, a month and a half ago now.
“Charlie, we’re not even sure if we even want to be together. I don’t know what I want, and you’re ambivalent. Don’t look at me like that, you know it’s true. I think…I think that it’s not a good idea for us to keep dating.”
Charlie had known the truth of that, had known that their relationship was likely hurting Amita’s career, which was unfair and undeserved. The new division chair, Millie Finch, had already made some pointed comments about Amita neglecting her own research in favor of Charlie’s casework for the FBI. And Amita had nearly quit her position as chair of the curriculum committee because of the gossip that was being spread by other members of the faculty. Amita wasn’t timid. If it was bad enough to cause her to consider giving up the chair position, then it was really bad.
But that didn’t mean that it hadn’t hurt for him to hear it.
Amita smiled sadly. “You know, Charlie, the last time we started over, you told me this really sweet anecdote about you and your father playing golf. You said that you were trying to work on a character flaw, one that discouraged you from continuing to play because you weren’t immediately good at it. It was a nice story at the time. But I think you left out a pretty important part.”
“What? I did say that I was still terrible at golf.” And, apparently, terrible at relationships as well.
Amita kissed his cheek, smiling a little more genuinely now. “You left out the fact that you actually hate golf.”
Charlie put down the eraser, picked up his chalk holder, and began to write out some expressions from memory. He’d come across an article on synapses and thought it could be relevant to his cognitive emergence work. He tried to put all thoughts of ‘relationship Amita’ out of his mind. They had good working camaraderie now, so much better than it had been when things had been unsettled between them, and certainly a lot better now that she was a full faculty member on the tenure track. Now things were more balanced between them.
His father hadn’t been happy to hear about the break-up. He’d heard him talking to Don when they both thought that Charlie was in the garage.
“I really thought this was it, Donnie.” Charlie had heard his father say from the dining room. Charlie had come in from the garage through the kitchen door, but stopped when he heard voices. “He and Amita have so much in common, if he couldn’t make it work with her, then how is it supposed to happen with anyone else?”
“Dad, give the guy a break. Most relationships end in a break-up, you’re talking like he’s going to be single forever.” Don’s voice held a note of irritation – he’d been on the receiving end of their father’s nagging about his love life plenty of times, and Charlie knew he had little patience for the way Alan tended to maximize the dramatic tragedy of having unattached sons. Who even knew how over-the-top he’d be if he’d had any daughters.
“I had a wife and two kids before I was the age Charlie is now,” Alan grumbled. But Charlie hadn’t waited around to listen to the rest of the conversation. He slipped quietly out the kitchen door and made his way back to the garage.
Charlie’s hand faltered on the blackboard, and he blinked tiredly. He glanced at his watch, seeing that it was late. It was probably safe to head into the house now, but even the prospect of doing so seemed exhausting. He moved his bag and curled up on the wicker couch, hearing the old woven rattan creak as he settled. He wished he had his headphones, or really anything he could use to try to turn his brain off, but he’d left them in the office. Instead he started reciting prime numbers in his head, ruthlessly squashing all errant thoughts and focusing on nothing but the numbers, until finally he drifted off.
Clearing the air with Don had been the right call. After Ian told Don that he had his back with the review board’s inquiry into the Crystal Hoyle case, it was like things had reset and they were back to working together they way that they had before. They played off of each other during Daley’s second interrogation, and now that he knew that Daley had intentionally caused the deaths of five of his coworkers Ian had no reason to hold anything back. Daley was practically in tears, looking to Don to save him, and Ian hadn’t even laid a hand on the guy.
Threatening Daley with disappearing into the custody of Homeland Security was enough to get him to agree to wear a wire to get hard evidence on his drug smuggling buddy Morelos, but he was shaking like a leaf as Colby taped the microphone and wire to his bare chest. Ian knew he was being an asshole when he responded to Daley’s request for a bullet-proof vest with a crack about Morelos always going for the head shot, but seriously. No one was supposed to get hurt after screwing with the altimeter of an airplane? That was bullshit. Daley was after money. He would have known what would happen.
“Hey, relax,” Don said to Daley as he pushed open the door to the war room. “You’ve got the fifth best shot in the country covering your ass.”
“Hey!” Ian objected. “Fourth!” He held up four fingers, smirking as Daley’s eyes grew wide when he saw Ian’s intentionally trembling hand. He gave Daley a cold stare. “You don’t want to ask how I moved up one spot.”
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A perfect downhill head shot, five hundred yards through two truck windows. Fucking downhill through two truck windows.
Number three. Ian would bet on it.
Ian couldn’t help but be proud, and he was feeling punchy. It was a Friday night, he’d finished his paperwork and foisted supervision of the clean-up onto David and Colby (seniority was a son of a bitch), and he didn’t have to be back at Quantico until Monday. And he’d just made a head shot through two truck windows. Downhill.
He went straight from the office to his hotel to take a shower and wash off the day, using that time to do some thinking. He wrapped a towel around his waist and picked his phone up, leisurely clicking through his contacts and pausing when he found the one he was looking for. But he didn’t pause for long.
The phone rang three times. “Hello?” Charlie’s voice had a distracted air and there was noise and laughter in the background.
“Come get a drink with me, Professor.”
There was a sharp intake of breath. “Hang on for a sec.” Then, somewhat muffled. “Millie, that is gross, you ate ice cream off that spoon, I just saw you. Keep playing without me, I need to step outside for a minute.”
“Sounds like quite the party,” Ian said when the background noise quieted down somewhat.
“More like a pretty competitive and unhygienic game of spoons,” Charlie said. “What do you want?”
“I want to have a drink with you. Or more specifically, I want to buy you a drink, because I was kind of being an asshole to you before.”
Charlie was silent for a moment. “Just a drink?”
“Well,” Ian drawled. “I thought we could see where the night takes us.”
Again there was silence, but then a quiet laugh. “All right, tell me where to meet you.”
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“So Don traced the laptop by using the embedded GPS tracker, then he called LAPD and they made an arrest and were able to get it back. The blender was nowhere to be found, though, and the guy and his friends had already drunk all the beer.” Charlie grinned and took a long sip of his mojito. “But I’ll have you know that through my analysis I did manage to narrow down the location of the burglars to L.A., so I was still right. Just right in a very broad sense of the word.”
Ian laughed. “In another six months you would have had them.”
“Only with the right data and some time on CalSci’s supercomputer, which is already at a premium and our new division chair definitely wouldn’t approve of using it to crunch the numbers to find less than fifteen hundred dollars’ worth of stolen property.” Charlie snorted. “The billable supercomputer time would have far exceeded that.”
Toying with the label on his beer bottle, Ian glanced briefly at Charlie before returning his gaze to the way his fingers were tracing the ridges on the brown glass. “You’re right a lot of the time, you know.”
“Frequently,” Charlie acknowledged, his smile dimming a little. “But not always.”
“Well, you were right before. I don’t talk easily to people, Charlie. Not about…not about myself. And a while back I worked a case with Howard Meeks – you remember Meeks?”
Charlie nodded. “AUSA Meeks, yeah. He and Don just took down this construction company that was burying toxic waste next to elementary schools in the county.”
“Right, well, he was on the same case I was after that and he happened to mention Amita… Honestly, I think he was into her.” Ian smiled slightly.
“I’m not surprised. Amita is an extremely attractive woman,” Charlie said. He grinned suddenly. “I’d mention it to her if I thought Meeks actually stood a chance.”
“But she wasn’t attractive to you?” Ian regretted asking almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth. It wasn’t that Charlie’s face fell – he went carefully blank, which was worse.
“She was.” The mathematician said at last. “But what I learned – or rather, I confirmed an ongoing pattern – is that I –“ He finished off his mojito, tilting his head almost all the way back. “Am a bad boyfriend.”
“Hey, it’s fine. It seems like the kind of thing someone should know about himself. I’m a bad boyfriend.” Charlie waved a hand dismissively, then looked up at Ian. “But I might still be…a good fuck.”
Ian suddenly shifted in his seat, his eyes smoldering. “So. I was a jerk.”
“Little bit, yeah.” Charlie’s mouth quirked into a half smile. “But it’s not like I was entirely blameless here. I did destroy your muffin.”
That surprised Ian into a full laugh. “You did.” He leaned forward and gripped Charlie’s wrist, the tips of his fingers finding a pulse. “That may require some form of retaliation.” He grinned wolfishly when he felt the pulse quicken.
“Oh yeah?” Charlie raised his chin in a challenge, in spite of the color rising in his cheeks. “Do your worst.”
Ian’s worst had Charlie moaning and sweating up against the wall of a hotel room while Ian methodically stripped him of all of his clothing. His head was swimming in the best way – Ian had been on him as soon as they walked through the door, strenuously countering any attempt that Charlie had made to regain any sort of control.
As Ian’s tongue worked its way into his mouth, Charlie dazedly tried to slide his hands up Ian’s shirt, but Ian suddenly pulled him close, so close that Charlie’s hands were trapped between their bodies. Ian’s hand slid up the back of Charlie’s neck to get a handful of curly black hair, using his grip to tilt his head back to expose his throat. Ian gently but insistently raked his teeth under Charlie’s jaw, licking and kissing at the pulse point before reclaiming his mouth.
“Ian –“ Charlie panted, but Ian shushed him.
“Let me, Professor. Just let me.” The sniper maneuvered them both to the bed, letting Charlie fall onto his back and bounce before straddling him, pinning his arms to his sides but not putting any weight on him. Ian lifted his own shirt over his head, tossing it in the general direction of his duffle bag. He leaned down, hovering just over Charlie’s face and smirking when the mathematician tried to rise up and kiss him – but he stayed out of reach for a moment, waiting for him sink back down, huffing in frustration. Only then did Ian close the distance between them, taking Charlie’s mouth as his hands ran through the hair on his chest.
“Stay put,” Ian growled, and got up off the bed. It kind of worked – Charlie didn’t move from where he was, but he did prop himself up on his elbows, watching with wide eyes as Ian stripped off his pants and boxers. Ian suppressed a smile and retrieved a bottle of lube and a condom from his duffle, then returned to the bed. He nudged Charlie into a more centered position, since he’d fallen a little too close to the edge for his liking.
Charlie was breathing hard, hardly resisting when Ian grabbed both of his wrists and pressed them into the mattress above his head. Ian was lowering himself on top of him, again attacking his neck, and then his hips were coming down and they were rubbing against each other, the exquisite friction setting all of his nerves aflame. And then Ian did this – this thing with his legs and suddenly Charlie was well and truly pinned on the bed, unable to move, his legs wide open but somehow he felt completely secure and more turned on than he’d ever been in his life. That was something to think about – later, he decided, as Ian rolled his hips again and Charlie groaned at the sensation.
Ian shifted his grip on Charlie’s wrists, putting them together so that he could hold them with his left hand, idly thinking that it might be worth exploring other ways to keep squirmy math professors in one place while they were being utterly undone. His right hand was busy flicking open the cap on the bottle of lube, turning and squeezing it so that he could spread some over his fingers.
It was awkward, reaching between them to rub slick fingers against Charlie’s rim, but Ian hadn’t missed the full body shudder when Charlie had realized that he couldn’t move unless Ian decided to let him, so it was worth the inconvenience. Ian had intended to work him open slowly anyway. Two fingers in, repeatedly stroking against his prostate had Charlie writhing and letting out the most delicious gasping moans. Ian growled and scissored his fingers, stretching Charlie until he could easily take a third.
“You ready?” Ian asked gruffly.
Charlie nodded frantically. “Please – “
And didn’t Ian like the sound of that. He withdrew his fingers and picked up the condom, tearing the wrapper with his teeth before sheathing himself. He used his free hand to spread the remaining lube and guide himself to the right position, pushing in carefully in spite of the roughness of it all, groaning at the feeling of being squeezed like that, and started to move. Charlie’s legs stayed open, even as Ian made adjustments to gain better leverage for his thrusts.
Ian felt himself getting close as he noticed Charlie’s eyes going unfocused, and he gripped his cock between them, stroking him hard as he kept moving. Charlie wasn’t going to take him by surprise, not this time. And Ian was ready when Charlie inhaled sharply and came, shooting white spurts over both their chests before Ian came as well, burying himself deep and then finishing with a few long, slow thrusts before collapsing, covered in sweat. He relaxed his grip on Charlie’s wrists and took some of his weight on his elbows, gently unwinding his legs to allow Charlie freedom of movement once again.
Charlie didn’t seem quite with it yet, even when Ian patted his cheek, so he got up to dispose of the condom and wet down a couple of washcloths in the bathroom. He lay down next to Charlie in the bed, carefully wiping down his chest until the smaller man suddenly rolled and wrapped his arms around him tightly.
“Oh fuck,” Charlie said breathily. He was trembling slightly, and Ian put his arms around him in turn, holding him close.
“Stay here with me,” Ian whispered, and Charlie nodded against his chest.
Unfamiliar noises roused Charlie, and he blinked the sleep out of his eyes in confusion until he remembered that he wasn’t at home, and the noises he was hearing were other hotel patrons making an obscene racket as they moved through the hallway. There were strong, muscled arms locked around his waist – Charlie was sure that couldn’t be too comfortable but it was hard to care when he was also feeling Ian’s morning wood pressing up against his bare ass. Charlie slid his arm under Ian’s, reaching back behind him to grip his cock and give it a few short, soft strokes.
Ian made a deep, pleased hum and nosed at the back of Charlie’s head, working his way over so that he could nuzzle Charlie’s ear and mouth his neck. “Mmm, here? Or the shower?”
Charlie let out a breath. “Choices, choices.” He weighed his options and made a decision. “Give me a minute to use the bathroom, I’ll start the shower and you can join me.” He made to get out of bed, but Ian’s arms were still firmly circled around his waist. Charlie glared over his shoulder and smacked Ian’s forearm, and the sniper chuckled and loosened his grip.
The shower had only been running for a minute or two before the curtain was pulled back and Ian stepped inside. His eyes raked up and down Charlie’s body appreciatively before reaching out and tugging him close. He lifted one of Charlie’s hands up, frowning slightly at the faint bruising around the wrist. “Sorry about that.”
Charlie laughed. “Don’t be. I liked it.” He reached up and brought Ian’s face down to meet his, sliding his other hand around to squeeze Ian’s ass. He felt Ian smile against his lips.
“Maybe we could do that again sometime, Professor.”
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” Charlie said, letting Ian move him around so that he could get fully under the spray of the shower. The sniper ducked his head, getting his hair thoroughly wet and then shaking like a dog, grinning like only a morning person could at this hour.
Ian looked at Charlie, sizing him up, then around the bathtub speculatively. “Not sure about the logistics here.”
Charlie raised an eyebrow. “Looks like we’ll have to improvise.” He lowered himself to his knees, making a mental note not to dawdle since the surface of the tub was a little too hard for comfort. He gripped Ian’s hips with both hands and took the head of his cock in his mouth, working his tongue along the underside firmly before hollowing his cheeks and taking it deeper.
Sucking in a breath, Ian tried to card his fingers through Charlie’s hair, but soaking wet curls were not so easy to part. His hand moved lower, under Charlie’s chin. “Can I see those eyes?”
Charlie dug his fingers into Ian’s hips, gave a slight shake of his head and hummed a refusal, hoping to distract Ian by bobbing his head in earnest. It was working, if the noises he was hearing were any indication. Charlie felt Ian’s hand grip his wrist in warning, and he ignored it, increasing the suction until Ian’s hips jerked forward as he came. Charlie swallowed reflexively, before pulling off with a cough. He kissed and then nipped Ian’s thigh before getting back to his feet, still holding onto Ian’s hips.
“Not a bad way to start the day.” Ian murmured, backing Charlie against the tiled wall. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Ian’s idea of clean-up was remarkably inefficient, but Charlie rapidly became a fan as Ian used some of the hotel body soap to slick his hands and run them all over, paying special attention to all of the sensitive spots he remembered from Sibley. He was pretty sure he’d discovered some new ones this time around, too. While running his fingers through Charlie’s hair was not an option, Ian was still able get a decent grip. He kissed the smaller man deeply as he started to jerk him off, swallowing Charlie’s moans as he moved his hand faster.
Charlie broke off the kiss and pressed his forehead into Ian’s shoulder. “Right there,” he rasped. “Just like that.”
Ian smirked and continued twisting his wrist at the end of his strokes, and it wasn’t long before Charlie gave a shuddering gasp and came in his hand.
There were a variety of intentional bumps and touches and brushings against each other as first Charlie, then Ian washed their hair. Charlie hopped out as soon as he was rinsed, drying off quickly so that he could throw on the previous day’s clothes and run down to his car to grab the small bag he’d packed after Ian called…just in case.
“Why didn’t you bring it up last night?” Ian asked with raised eyebrows, a white towel hugging his hips.
“I don’t know if you remember,” Charlie said, pulling out a fresh pair of boxers, jeans and a Henley. “But someone, and I’m not naming names, was sucking my earlobe at the time. It was very distracting.” He dressed quickly. “Besides…I wasn’t sure if you’d want me to stay. I wasn’t sure that it was part of…whatever this is.”
Ian retrieved some fresh clothes out of his own bag, dropping the towel to the floor, completely unconcerned about his nakedness. “I’m glad you did. I was thinking...hey, Charlie.” Ian snapped his fingers, getting Charlie’s attention.
Charlie jerked his head upward, mortified to be caught staring, but not really sorry for doing so. “What?”
“I’ve got nowhere to be today, and my flight to Virginia doesn’t leave until late tomorrow afternoon. What do you say we go up to the outdoor range today?”
“Really?” Charlie thought it over. “Yeah, let’s do it.”
They stopped for a late breakfast at a diner that was on the way to the range, and when the server brought the side of pancakes that Charlie had tried to decline as part of his meal, the mathematician pushed them across the table toward Ian. “Feel free. I won’t eat them.”
Ian shrugged and snagged a pancake with his fork, moving it onto his plate. “Too much food?”
“Just never liked pancakes. And yeah, too much food.” Charlie munched on some bacon.
“Well, this one’s on me, Professor. As I recall you paid for breakfast last time.” Ian took a long sip of his coffee. It wasn’t half bad, either, for diner brew. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” Charlie wasn’t looking at him. He had grabbed one of the spare straws on the table and was carefully pushing the paper wrapper towards one end of the straw, compressing it in tight, tiny folds before pushing the crumpled wrapper off the straw entirely. He then used the straw to pipette a few drops of water onto the wrapper, and the paper began to expand, twisting and growing like a worm. Charlie grinned up at Ian. “Do you know why it does that?”
Ian snorted. “I bet you’re going to tell me.”
“Capillary action, cohesion, and adhesion. The water travels through the paper via capillary action, and the adhesive property of the water, the attraction between water molecules and the molecules making up the paper, causes the paper to straighten out. I spent a lot of time working on fluid dynamics.” Charlie used his napkin to clean up the soggy wrapper. “The same forces that make the paper worm wiggle are foundational for life as we know it. On this planet, anyway.” Charlie looked up to see Ian staring at him. “What – oh! You had a question?”
“Yeah.” Ian hid his amusement. “I’ve been out this way a few times for work. What would you think about me swinging through L.A. on purpose? Not for work.”
Charlie swallowed and gripped the edge of the table, trying to keep his hands still.
“I can’t deliver consistency or predictability,” Ian said. “I generally get to choose my own cases and I’m a senior instructor. The FBI tries to compensate for my irregular hours by letting me take a breather between cases, outside of the academy schedule. So it would be spontaneous. Short notice.”
“Spontaneous but more frequent,” Charlie said. “You’d want that?”
Ian set his coffee cup down, looking Charlie in the eyes. “I wouldn’t mention it if I didn’t.”
“Okay.” Charlie’s hands moved closer together, and he couldn’t stop two of his fingers from drumming softly on the table. “Then I need to ask something.”
“I can do spontaneous. I think I’d like that, actually. But…” Charlie paused for a moment, trying to figure out how to say his piece. “I can’t… If there’s a problem you have to tell me. No – no silent treatment. If I do something wrong, just tell me. If you need some space, just tell me. If you never want to see me again, just tell me. You can’t just freeze me out or ignore me. Okay?”
Ian felt a sharp twinge of discomfort – well, more like guilt. An actual apology – not just buying a drink or a mere acknowledgement of behavior – had not passed his lips, not during the entire time at the bar last night. And not any time today.
“I have to put up with that from Don, because he’s my brother and the only one I’ve got. Even my dad sometimes... But I can’t – I won’t – with this.” Charlie was looking down at his hands now.
“I get it, Charlie. I won’t do that again. Sorry about before.”
“Okay.” Charlie smiled. “Spontaneous it is, then.”
Don had shown Charlie how to do a lot of things growing up, and while Charlie was always confident in his expertise in math and science, he had almost a lifelong trust in Don as an authority on everything else. So it was with a little guilt that Charlie acknowledged to himself that Ian was a much better teacher than Don when it came to firing a rifle. Ian didn’t rush Charlie, and he didn’t make it feel as though Charlie was wasting anyone’s time. His corrections were concise and he took the time to point out what Charlie was doing right.
Ian was having Charlie use the empty lung technique, just as Don had, but they had the time for Charlie to try it more than once. Ian had his sight and was acting as a spotter for Charlie, and Charlie was aiming at stationary targets – five to a sheet, at five hundred and eight hundred yards.
“You’re using too much of your finger, Charlie, and it’s pulling your aim slightly to the right each time.” Ian put the safety on and moved Charlie’s hand until just the pad of the very tip of his index finger was touching the trigger. “That’s all you need. You don’t choke that high up on your trigger finger on a rifle, and even that extra knuckle makes a big difference at these distances. Don’t forget to take the safety off before you’re ready to fire again.”
Charlie put his eye back up to the sight and removed the safety, consciously trying to regulate his breathing, in and out by slow counts of three. He squeezed the trigger.
Ian checked his shot, and grinned. “Good shot, Professor. Go ahead, take a look.”
Through the sight Charlie could see the bullet hole just off-center in the middle target at eight hundred yards. He turned and grinned up at Ian. “I can’t believe I did that.”
“I bet I could get you fairly proficient with handguns if you’d like to try that sometime.”
Charlie looked as though he was actually considering it. “Maybe. Sometime.”
After Charlie had had enough, Ian took a few shots at a thousand yards, his placements all dead center. That wasn’t anything unexpected – it was a great day for shooting, really favorable conditions. And this was a level range, nothing too tricky. Nothing like shooting through a truck. Downhill.
Ian put an arm around Charlie as they exited the range and made their way back to the parking lot. This thing with Charlie, whatever it was, if these were dates then this had been a pretty good one. He stowed his rifle in its soft case in the back seat of the rental truck, then pulled Charlie forward against the side of the vehicle. He braced his hands on either side of Charlie’s head, smirking when the mathematician ran his hands up his sides.
“This was fun. You’re a decent shot, Professor.”
“I think it was the teacher,” Charlie said seriously. “I didn’t do nearly so well the first time.”
That was…a sweet thing to say, so Ian leaned in and kissed him, the two of them exploring each other’s mouths unhurriedly. That is, until Charlie’s grip tightened on Ian’s shirt and he broke off the kiss, staring off to the side in horror.
“Charlie?!” Came an incredulous voice.
Ian turned to see Colby Granger, a rifle case over his shoulder, looking as though he’d been frozen in his tracks on his way into the range. The agent’s green eyes darted back and forth between Charlie and Ian, his mouth hanging open. Ian would have laughed if he hadn’t sensed how agitated Charlie was.
Charlie suddenly lunged at Colby, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him close to the truck and out of the open traffic lane of the parking lot. It wasn’t real privacy, but it made Charlie feel better that they weren’t so visible. “I – Colby, I – please don’t tell Don.” Charlie’s dark eyes were huge and worried.
“So…” Colby quailed under the look that Ian was giving him, but continued anyway. “You guys are, like, together.” A couple of things that he’d wondered about at the site of the plane crash suddenly clicked into place.
“Don doesn’t…Don doesn’t know. About me. Or Ian. Or, well, me and Ian. Colby, don’t tell him. Please.”
Colby’s face softened. “Hey, Charlie, I get it. If this is a private thing then I’m not going to ruin that for you. I’m just…I’m just surprised, because you and Amita…”
“Liking women doesn’t mean I can’t also like men,” Charlie said stiffly.
Colby held his hands up, trying to project some calm. “You don’t owe me an explanation, and I’ll keep my mouth shut, Charlie. Believe me, I know how to keep secrets. You just have to promise one thing.”
Charlie’s stomach dropped. “What?”
Colby grinned. “Just promise me that David is the last to know about this, once you get to the point where you’re telling people. Man, I can’t believe I’m finally the one who knows first.”
“That’s it?” Charlie blinked.
“Yeah, Charlie, of course. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone unless you tell me it’s okay. But...” Colby hesitated. “I really think that telling Don might not be as big a deal as you think it will be.”
“Okay.” Charlie felt like he could breathe again. “Okay. Thanks, Colby.”
Ian reached out and gave Charlie a one-armed hug. “We’d better get going, right? Go ahead and get in, I’ll be right behind you.”
Charlie gave Ian a slightly suspicious look, but made his way around the truck to get in on the passenger side. Ian waited until the door had closed before turning to Colby and giving him a wide, friendly grin which showed all his teeth.
“If I hear anything about this from Charlie or the folks in the L.A. office, I’ll know where it came from. Have a good day on the range, Granger.”
“Uh, yeah, thanks,” Colby said, backing away. Ian watched him walk quickly toward the entrance, but not too quickly. Colby was a former Army Ranger, after all, and he had some pride.
The evening had turned out to be almost domestic by Ian’s standards, as Charlie directed them to a Thai restaurant that was one of his favorites. They picked up orders to go so that they could park and eat in Runyon Canyon Park with a view of the city lights. City lights and a disgusting amount of smog, but that’s L.A.
Laying on the hood of the truck next to Ian, his back resting against the windshield, Charlie looked up into the sky, searching even though he knew that the space station wasn’t due over the city that night, and the sky was too hazy to see it anyway. But these days 240 miles straight overhead was the closest he could physically get to Larry, and he missed his best friend.
“We should go to the Griffith Observatory sometime,” he mused aloud. “You can get great views from there, too, and they usually have telescopes set up for public viewing.”
“You’re the expert, Professor. An educational field trip might be interesting.”
Charlie laughed. “Oh, like the gun range isn’t educational? Maybe not for you, but I feel like I learned a lot today.”
Ian considered that. “Never thought I would ever get to teach a genius anything.”
“You know, the word ‘genius’ doesn’t really mean a whole lot in terms of general ability. People who get the term applied to them typically only excel in one or two things, and that’s certainly true in my case. Although if you recall, I am also an excellent basketball player.”
Ian huffed a laugh. “All right, you can try to downplay it if you want, but it’s still voodoo to me.”
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They had slow, lazy sex back at the hotel room, lying on their sides with Charlie’s leg hitched up and held in place by Ian as he fucked into him from behind. Charlie was twisted slightly so that he could reach back and grip Ian’s hair as they kissed, but the angle became too difficult to maintain when Ian switched from rolling and swiveling his hips to harder, faster thrusts.
Ian grabbed Charlie’s hand and moved it to his hitched-up leg. “Here, hold this for a minute.” With his hand now free, he was able to slide his fingers around Charlie’s cock, moving it in time with his thrusts. Charlie groaned and tilted his head back onto Ian’s shoulder, rocking his own hips back and forth for additional stimulation.
They came almost at the same time and in no hurry to untangle themselves, and Ian was almost asleep when Charlie finally got up and headed into the bathroom. Ian grumbled a bit but accepted the towel Charlie offered him and disposed of the condom before settling back down in bed. He threw an arm over the mathematician when he joined him under the sheets, drifting off easily.
Ian was jolted out of a peaceful sleep by a whimpering cry, quiet but enough for Ian’s instincts to wake him. He reflexively tightened his arm around the body next to him. “Charlie?” And was surprised when Charlie jerked away and fell off the edge of the bed. Ian heard a muffled thump and some shuffling.
Baffled, Ian turned and switched on the closest bedside lamp. Charlie was on his knees, casting about for the jeans he’d been wearing. His hands were shaking and he was panting hard, but he managed to retrieve his cell phone from the pocket and flip it open.
“Charlie – “ Ian started, but Charlie shook his head without looking at him. The mathematician grabbed the remote control for the hotel TV set and turned it on, still on his knees but now leaning against the bed, flipping through channels. He lingered on the 24-hour news channels, watching each for a couple of minutes and scanning the chyrons before moving on to the next one. He kept alternating his attention between the TV and his cell phone, seemingly oblivious to Ian’s concern.
Ian thought he had a handle on what was going on, now. He’d seen similar behavior during his time in the service, from soldiers who had seen or experienced too much and were reliving it. He eased himself off the bed and got down on the floor next to Charlie, careful not to touch him. “Talk to me, Charlie.”
“It would be on the news,” Charlie mumbled, keeping his face turned away.
“Catastrophic rapid decompression. It would be on the news, only – only it’s not.” Charlie squeezed his eyes shut and put his head in his hands. “I thought it was real, but there are no calls, and it’s not on the news.”
“Decompression of what, Charlie?”
“The space station,” Charlie’s voice shook as he answered. “Larry’s on it right now, and I thought – I thought it was real.”
Ian remembered meeting Larry Fleinhardt during the Crystal Hoyle case – he was the little guy dating Megan Reeves. “Nightmare?” he asked.
Charlie nodded. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have stayed. I thought it would be okay, I haven’t had one in a while.” He let out a shuddering breath. “I guess I was due.”
“Is it okay if I touch you?”
“I should just go…” Charlie finally lifted his head out of his hands, but he kept his eyes on the floor.
“Not like this,” Ian said firmly. “You don’t have to go, Charlie. Can I touch you?”
At Charlie’s short nod, Ian scooted closer and put an arm around him. “These are a regular thing for you?”
“I…I don’t really want to talk about it. I’m sorry I woke you.”
“It’s okay, Charlie, it’s fine. Let me help you up.” Ian got to his feet and reached out a hand to Charlie. But he noticed something on the hand that Charlie extended to him. “Charlie, are you bleeding?”
“What?” Charlie turned his hand around, seeing a small smear of blood on his palm. “I don’t know where this came from.”
“Hold tight, I’ll be right back.” Ian retrieved a washcloth from the bathroom and wet it down, then leaned down and carefully worked his fingers through Charlie’s hair. He found a section matted with a little blood, and Charlie hissed slightly when Ian pressed the washcloth to the cut. “I think you probably hit your head on the table. How are you feeling?”
Charlie shrugged. “Just fine, it’s not like I’m naked on the floor at three in the morning, having completely embarrassed myself in front of you, or anything.”
Ian chuckled. “For the record, Professor, I’m naked, too. Come on, come back to bed with me.”
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Charlie checked the news again in the morning, and Ian didn’t comment on it. He’d come to bed willingly, but Ian was sure he hadn’t slept at all afterward. They didn’t say much as they packed their respective bags, but it was an easy quiet without any tension or awkwardness. Almost the whole weekend had been like that, actually.
And that was new for Charlie. The prospect of being spontaneous didn’t carry the same pressure he’d felt when he’d tried to have a relationship with Amita, and he was trying to determine why that was the case. Perhaps it was because spontaneity provided fewer opportunities to disappoint. That was probably it, and it was strange because it was almost exactly the opposite of the type of rigidly scheduled relationship that Larry and Megan had. Charlie had admired the concept for its efficiency and was surprised at how well it seemed to work.
His cell phone buzzed in his pocket, and he snatched it hurriedly. “Hello? Dad, hi. No, nothing’s wrong, why –? Something came up, that’s all, I did leave a note. I’ll be back home today.” Charlie glanced at Ian and rolled his eyes. “Sure, I will. Thanks for making a list for me. Okay, gotta go. Bye, Dad.”
Charlie hung up the phone. “I’m actually surprised it took him this long, he’s getting much better.”
Ian raised his eyebrows. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“You have no idea,” Charlie gave a small smile. “I need to pick up some things at CalSci before I get home. There are some PhD candidate applications that I need to review by tomorrow.”
“I suppose I should let you get back to professor-ing.” Ian smirked. “And just so you know, Charlie, there’s no expectation for you to have to drop everything for this. I’ll try to give you as much notice as possible, but if it doesn’t work for you, I won’t come out.”
“Ah, spontaneous, and optional. I like it.” Charlie sidled up to Ian, reaching up to cross his wrists behind his neck. “Using the phone can also be spontaneous, and is not restricted to when you’re physically in L.A.” He rose up on his toes and gave Ian a kiss, which the sniper returned enthusiastically.
“Check out’s not for another hour,” Ian suggested. “Though I think I heard someone say once that time is relative.”
“I’d be willing to test that theory.” Charlie grinned, and pulled Ian in for another kiss.