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30 December 2010 @ 11:58 pm
Numb3rs Fic: Mile Mountain Road  
Posted to numb3rs_fic


Title: Mile Mountain Road
Pairing/Characters: Don, Charlie, Alan, Larry, OCs
Rating: PG13
Spoilers: Pilot
Summary: A car accident changes the lives of the Eppes family
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ


Don's eyes opened, squinting as a sharp glint of sunlight on bright metal pierced the veil of darkness that had enveloped him.

Confused, he wondered why his head felt so foggy, why he was having so much trouble waking up.

Then he saw the dashboard of his SUV through the steering wheel his forehead was resting against.

The connections came slowly and painfully in his addled mind.

Car...

Steering Wheel...

Airbag...

Accident?

The realization hit him, clearing some of the cobwebs from his brain, and he sat up abruptly.

Shards of pain exploded in his side and he cried out helplessly as it sliced through him like a blade.

He almost blacked out - the pain was so intense - but he breathed through it, his eyes closed tight in concentration until he could get a hold of himself again.

A light tapping sound came from the driver's side window and he looked up expectantly. Branches of a tree were pressed up against the window, green leaves obscuring the view as one loose branch swayed in the light breeze, causing the noise he had heard.

He was alone.

Alone?

Charlie!

His head swung around to the passenger side of the car, a motion he paid for with another blinding slash of pain.

The seat was empty.

The door was open.

Charlie was gone.

Don yelled until his voice was hoarse, his throat raw from strain, but no one answered.

He struggled to get his seatbelt off him, all the time imagining the worst.

Had Charlie been thrown from the car? Was his body mangled on the road above or lost in the woods where the car had gone off the road?

Glancing in the rearview, the hill they'd gone down looked quite steep. Out the windshield, it appeared the only thing that stopped the SUV's downhill motion had been a huge oak tree, which the front end was currently wrapped around.

By the time Don finally got himself free he was in a near panic.

He knew his legs were injured, but didn't realize how bad until they failed to respond to his efforts to get out of his seat.

He panicked for real this time.

He struggled to climb out over the console since his door was blocked by the tree. He pressed an arm gently against his broken ribs, trying to hold them in place somewhat, but the pain still stole the breath from his lungs.

He tumbled out the passenger side door and found himself on his back staring up at the sunlight filtering through the leafy bower above.

Any other time the sight would have been beautiful.

Right now the woods felt like a prison and his useless legs a ball and chain.

With difficulty, he rolled to his side and surveyed the area.

Nothing.

He couldn't even see the road above, the car had traveled so far into the ravine, but he knew which direction he had to go.

Steeling himself, he began to crawl uphill.

After a grueling ten minutes in which he made only a little progress, he looked back down to where the car remained.

He sucked in a quick breath in surprise.

Not remembering the crash at all, he assumed they had just driven off the road on some hairpin turn and not been able to stop on the steep incline.

The car itself told another story.

The chassis was completely crumpled, the roof and doors caved in.

The SUV had rolled.

A queasy feeling hit him, making his stomach roil with dread.

If Charlie had been thrown from a car in a crash like that...

Don swallowed hard.

He couldn't think about his brother being dead. He just had to keep moving.

As he crawled, Don could see the parts of the hillside ravaged by the passage of the car.

Saplings bent and broken, deep ruts in the earth, bits of metal littering the rocks...

He climbed to the side of the damage in a path that looked fairly clear of foliage.

He pulled his way up, fingers clawing for purchase in the dirt, until he reached a section of flat rock.

Barren of the small plants and ferns that littered the forest floor, the pale rocks stood in stark contrast to their surroundings.

As Don contemplated how best to cross the hard surface something caught his eye.

Blood.

A trail of drops led upwards and as he scrambled forward to see more, he could tell the drops increased in size and number as they went.

Charlie had survived the crash.

He had walked - or crawled - away from it.

So why hadn't he answered when Don called out to him?

Don tried to be heartened by this new proof of survival, but knew there was no way his brother would just leave him there. It had been night when they headed up to the cabin Charlie had rented for them that weekend, so if it was daylight now...

He took a deep breath and pushed down the agony and worry, forcing himself to crawl faster, following the trail of blood.

Past the rocks the blood trail had been harder to follow for a while, the drops lost in the greenery of the forest floor, but Don remembered the basic tracking skills he'd learned at Quantico and tried to see the ground like Ian would.

He found signs of broken twigs and disturbed gravel as he went and hoped that meant he was still on course even though the trail veered in an arc rather than going straight up.

It hit him that even though he was heading towards the path the car had taken down the hill he never intersected it.

Charlie was a genius; of course he would retrace the car's path to be assured of getting back to the road.

Unfortunately this made the distance longer and Don's strength was ebbing.

When he came to the next rocky section, the blood trail was visible again.

As was a bloody handprint on one of the rocks.

There was a pool of blood at the base of the rock.

Charlie must have rested there, weary from blood loss.

By the time he crossed the rocky portion the blood trail was impossible to miss, spotting the leaves before him with alarming regularity.

As Don climbed, the signs became more obvious.

Anxious, he pushed himself too hard and slipped, crashing down onto his side with a painful yelp.

The forest grew dark around him for a few seconds and he struggled to maintain consciousness.

His vision cleared and he allowed himself a brief moment of rest.

He could see the way ahead was going to be harder.

There were no clear areas left. He was going to have to maneuver around bushes and rocky outcroppings.

He wished he could see further ahead, knowing that Charlie could be just a matter of feet away, but there was no way he could rise up enough to see over the brush.

He put his head down and focused on each precious foot he moved forward, turning his face away from the prickly chaparral as he rolled himself over and through the sun baked bushes.

So intent was his resolve to get past this obstacle he found himself almost surprised once he was past the last of the bushes and onto a stretch of rocky gravel.

Lifting his head, his heart seized in his chest as he caught sight of the motionless body of his brother mere feet away.

"Charlie!"

A fresh burst of adrenaline fueled his frantic crawl and kept him conscious though oblivion beckoned in response to the excruciating pain.

Charlie lay on his back, right hand limp at his side, his left settled on his stomach and wrapped around a baseball sized rock. The side of his head was an angry red smear of still flowing blood: the source of the trail he'd followed.

"Charlie?" He shook Charlie as gently as he dared, chilled at the lack of response. His fingers gravitated naturally to his neck for a pulse despite seeing the subtle rise and fall of breathing. "Come on, buddy. Come back to me."

Nothing.

Don was alarmed to find a sizable puddle of blood from Charlie's head wound on the ground. With all he'd lost, stemming the bleeding was critical.

Ready for a weekend of hiking, Charlie had changed out of his sport coat and dress shirt after work and changed into a t-shirt, tying a flannel button up shirt around his waist almost as an afterthought.

Making a quick decision, Don untied the shirt and tugged it out from under his brother. He folded it up thick and pressed it against the gash, holding it in place with as much force as he could muster.

"Come on, buddy. Please... Time to wake up now."

He waited and watched, but there was no sign that Charlie would waken.

Exhausted, he laid his forehead on his brother's shoulder, reserving what strength he had left to maintain pressure on the wound.

He wasn't sure if he blacked out for a while or not, but he found himself jostled by a slight movement beneath him.

"Charlie?"

He lifted his head to find Charlie's eyes fluttering

"Don?"

"Yeah, buddy. I'm right here."

"Tried... You hurt..." Charlie seemed to have great difficulty getting any words out and he could barely keep his eyes open as he turned to look at his brother. "Tried..." His eyes fell closed again.

"Charlie?" Don cupped his brother's face in his hand, chilled by the coolness he felt there. "Come on, buddy. Stay with me!"

Charlie's lips moved for one more word, more breath than voice.

"Sorry..."

"No..." Don shook Charlie, desperate to roust him, but got no response.

Knowing he had precious little time left, he lifted himself up as best he could to see what lay between him and the road.

They were close - about twelve to fifteen feet, but there was a large concrete barrier between them and the roadway - tall enough that it would be hard to get over and solid so no one would see them through it.

He searched for options, vacillating between leaving Charlie and making a stab for the road and keeping pressure on the gash to stem the blood loss.

As he debated, his heart leaped in his chest at the sound of a car coming on the road above. Help was what they needed, and badly, but there was no way Don could make it over the concrete wall between them and the asphalt.

He needed some way to signal them and in a flash his mind and eye came to the same answer at once: the rock Charlie had had in his hand when Don found him.

Grabbing it, Don shifted as best he could to get his right arm in throwing position from the ground and waited for the car to approach. Just as he was preparing to throw, he heard a thump and the car braking hard, tires squealing.

"What the hell?"

The man's voice was loud in his anger; he either had the window rolled down or had gotten out of the car. Now was his chance.

Don threw the rock towards the sound of the man's voice with everything he had left, watching it sail in an arc towards the pavement as a blinding stab of pain stole his breath, stole his sight - the rock fading into blackness as long denied oblivion finally claimed him, and finally stole his consciousness.

The last thing he heard was the man's voice and he knew he could rest now.

"Honey, grab my cell phone and call 911! There are people down here! They look hurt! And oh my god! Their car rolled... Get an ambulance!"

+

Hushed noises in the distance lured Don towards wakefulness even though his drug hazy mind tugged at him with the promise of more blissful sleep.

The bed didn't feel like his bed, these sheets weren't his sheets. This wasn't his pillow.

He tried to concentrate, make the noises sharpen, become more distinct.

Voices...

Beeping...

Machinery...

Hospital?

He fought a battle with his eyelids, which obstinately refused to open for a while, but once he was able to look around him he found Larry sitting beside his hospital bed.

"Don..." Larry gripped his arm, looking intensely relieved.

Don glanced around the room, but there was no one else there.

He opened his mouth to speak, but his throat felt raw, dry, disused and he coughed instead of getting words out, the motion sending jolts of pain through him despite the painkillers he clearly had in his system.

"Here..." Larry picked up a cup of ice chips, shaking a few into Don's mouth for him and giving him a break before giving him more.

"What happened?" he forced out. "And where's my dad?"

"Your father has been here, I promise," Larry said solemnly, "but right now he's with Charlie."

Don's eyes flew open as memory returned to him.

"Charlie!"

Larry put a gentle hand on Don's shoulder, urging him back down.

"You have to lie still. The doctor said you mustn't move."

"Where is he? How is he? Is he okay?"

Larry kept his hand on Don's shoulder, a calming touch despite the furrows of concern on the older man's forehead.

"Charles was in critical condition when they brought him in, as were you. He sustained a skull fracture in the accident and the doctors decided to induce a coma in hopes of bringing the swelling in his brain down."

"Oh, god..." Don forced himself to breathe through his panicked response.

"Try to rest," Larry told him. "I know your father would want to know you're awake, so I'm going to take my leave - albeit reluctantly - to fetch him for you."

With a final squeeze of his arm, Larry turned to go.

"Larry?"

"Yes, Don?"

"Find out how Charlie's doing for me? I mean, right now. Anything new, anything more they might know."

Larry just nodded rather than protest the futility of the request.

"I shall endeavor to do so."

It seemed like Don only had a few seconds to close his eyes before the door burst open and his father barreled in.

"Donnie!"

Despite his urgency, his father embraced him carefully, holding his son's head to his chest as Don did his best to return the soothing embrace. Few things in life made him feel like a little boy like his father showing his love, taking care of him, and Don desperately wanted to let go right now.

He felt his father kiss the top of his head, clutching him close.

"I thought I was going to lose you both..."

"I'm sorry, Dad... I'm sorry." When his father finally pulled back, Don's eyes were watery with grief. "Larry said Charlie..."

Alan put up a hand to stop him.

"Whatever happened to your brother was not your fault. You were both hurt in that accident and there's nothing - nothing do you hear me - that you could say to make me believe that you didn't do everything in your power to avoid it and to get help afterwards. So don't even try. I won't hear it."

Don tried but couldn't even force a smile at that.

"Is he going to be okay?"

"Larry's going to look for the doctors now, but you know as well as I do: your brother's a fighter, a stubborn Eppes like you are. If there's a way through this, he'll find it. Same as you."

Don's forehead creased as he thought back to the ravine.

"I think I broke some ribs and... And my legs... I couldn't get them to work."

A tiny noise of anguish escaped his father's lips before it was quelled by him clapping a hand over his mouth.

"I'll go get the doctor," he said hastily.

"Dad? What happened?"

Alan paused at the door, seemingly unable to face his son.

"It's all very unclear, you know with these doctors, what might happen. But they told me, when they brought you in? There were signs of spinal cord trauma."

Don's breath caught in his chest. His head spun, lightheadedness making his vision twist and blur.

The door opened abruptly and Alan had to step back quickly as a doctor entered followed by Larry who just gestured to Alan that he'd wait in the hall.

"I'm Doctor Khalid. I'd like to ask you a few questions. Do you feel up to answering?"

Speechless, it took Don a moment to even nod in response.

"Good. Can you tell me your name?"

"Don Eppes."

"What day is it today?"

"It was Friday the 12th when the accident happened, so I'm guessing this is Saturday the 13th."

"Correct. What do you remember about the accident?"

"I woke up behind the wheel in a ravine, crashed into a tree. I guess the SUV went off the road and rolled." Don saw his father press his hand over his mouth again, his whole body cringing at the recounting of the accident. "My head hurt, my ribs felt like they'd been broken and when I tried to get out of the car my legs wouldn't respond." Don looked up at the doctor in earnest. "Please do not tell me I'm paralyzed."

"It's too early for me to say what your prognosis is, but I can tell you you need to stay immobile while your spine heals. When you were brought in there was a great deal of swelling and trauma to the spinal cord - not uncommon in rollover accidents. We've put you on a drug regimen designed to reduce the swelling and pressure, but any movement might exacerbate your injury."

"Okay, so I won't move. But how are you going to keep me from moving when I'm sleeping?"

The doctor pulled down the covers to show Don that his legs had been strapped to the sides of the bed to prevent movement.

"I need to do a few quick tests. Tell me what you feel." The doctor moved to the foot of the bed, lifted up the covers so Don couldn't see his feet and reached beneath.

There was a moment of sheer terror when Don felt nothing, but then he felt a prickling sensation up the arch of his right foot.

"Hey! That felt weird! You ran something kind of sharp up my right arch."

Don heard his father let out a breath across the room and it wasn't until that point that he realized he'd kind of been holding his breath as well.

He made a face then broke out in to a smile. "You just poked my left heel."

The doctor nodded, looking pleased. "All good signs. Now can you try wiggling your toes for me?"

Don held his breath again, willing his mind to make his toes move.

"Are they moving? Please tell me they're moving."

This time his father answered, almost in tears out of joy.

"Yes, they're moving. You can move. You're going to be okay..."

Don let his head fall back to the pillow in relief.

He had the hope he needed. What he needed now was hope for Charlie.

+

Three painful days he had to wait before the doctors approved him for even a short visit to Charlie in the ICU, not willing to risk his spine by having him sit in a wheelchair.

A nurse rolled him in, warning in a quiet voice he only had a few minutes before departing, leaving him alone with Charlie - the first time he'd seen him since the accident.

He'd never seen his brother look so pale. Years they'd spent playing in the sun as kids and Charlie had always tanned so easily. Even his decades in academia hadn't fully robbed him of the soft golden tint of his olive skin - the skin he inherited from their father, while Don had wound up with his mother's paler tone.

But now? Despite the blood transfusions, Charlie looked wan, ashen, deathly. Don shook off the thought, but couldn't stop how haunted he was by how close Charlie had come to dying out in that ravine.

He reached out to brush a stray curl away from his brother's face, wincing as even that slight motion spiked the pain in his ribs. The wheelchair was too low for him to see well, but as long as he could watch Charlie's chest rise and fall with each life-giving breath and hold onto his hand - feeling his pulse strong and steady under his fingertips - he could rest a little.

Within a matter of days the doctors moved Don into their rehabilitation wing, farther away from Charlie, but he still demanded his twice daily visits even if they took most of the rest of the day for him to recover from.

Visitors kept him busy, kept him entertained. His father was a near constant presence and his team from the FBI, after their initial visit, descended en masse on the following weekend. Megan would sometimes come with Larry in the evenings as well. Don wasn't sure who was bolstering who in that relationship - they both seemed so distraught by the double tragedy - but he was glad they had each other.

His father kept him updated on Charlie's condition as well as the doctors: he'd been taken off the drugs to induce coma, the swelling was down, his bloodwork had finally stabilized... But never the news that he had woken.

The most enlightening visit had come from a couple Don had never met before. The man introduced himself as Ed Braunstein, the shy woman with him as his wife, Christine. Alan had tracked them down via the police reports: they were the couple whose car Don had thrown a rock at for help, the people who found them. Don couldn't thank them profusely enough, but Ed wouldn't accept his thanks. He admitted, at his wife's gentle prodding, that he'd lost his temper at all the other rocks and would have missed the signs that anyone had gone off the road - despite the mangled guard rail mere yards away - because he was so angry. It was only Don throwing the rock at them while they were stopped that got him to pay attention.

When he mentioned the other rocks Don was confused and asked what other rocks. Apparently the reason they stopped in the first place, and why Ed got out of the car swearing, was the road was covered with baseball sized rocks, one of which they'd run over before they could stop.

The rock in Charlie's hand... Don realized now that Charlie had been the one to throw those rocks, he was the reason the car had stopped in the first place.

He was pensive for a long time after the Braunsteins left, marveling over the events that led to their rescue. If Charlie hadn't been there to seek Don was sure he'd never have climbed all the way up the hill - only his drive to find his brother kept him going through the pain. Charlie must have felt the same, like it was all on him to get help to save Don. If Charlie had merely thrown the rocks then passed out people would have cursed, like Ed, then continued on. But since Don was there to throw the final rock, Charlie's efforts weren't in vain.

+
The doctors, encouraged by Charlie's improving vital signs and Don's progress as well, approved longer visits for him and Don took advantage of them despite how uncomfortable it was to sit up for long periods.

All the pain disappeared when Don saw Charlie finally stir.

Excited, he forced himself to sit on the edge of his wheelchair, hiding his grimace at the pain knowing it was the best way for Charlie to see him.

"Don..."

His name on his brother's lips was not much more than a whisper.

"I'm right here, Buddy," he urged. "Come on back. It's time to come back now."

Charlie's eyelids fluttered and after an interminable wait, finally opened.

"Hospital?"

"Yeah."

"We got out."

"Yeah, thanks to you."

Charlie's forehead creased in confusion.

"But how?"

"Doesn't matter," Don told him, squeezing his hand. "But you saved us both. We got out of there alive thanks to you. It's all over."

Charlie propped himself up a little, pulling his hand away to tap on Don's wheelchair.

"Not over," he mumbled woefully. "Still hurt..."

Don grasped his wandering hand and forced Charlie's attention back on him.

"Charlie, I'm going to be fine. You're going to be fine. It's just going to take some time to recover, okay?" When Charlie nodded, he continued. "We're going to go through this together, you and I. Whatever it takes to get you back up and running, I'm there with you."

"What if..." Charlie's eyes welled up as his gaze returned to the wheelchair. "No more running?"

Don laid his forehead on their clasped hands, not fully prepared for his brother to voice the doubts he himself struggled with already. Gripping Charlie's hand tight, he brightened his expression and raised his face again.

"You know what? Whatever happens... We're in this together. Okay?"

Charlie offered him a weak smile, but to Don it was like finally having him back.

"Together," he echoed. "No matter what."

=
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on January 1st, 2011 07:52 am (UTC)
Confession
Oh, this is one of my ancient partials! Anyone remember those? I slayed so many of them using ficfinishing that it felt like almost none were left (which is true), but this boat anchor from 4/07 still remained. I signed up to finish it way back in 2/09, but it was at that point that it hit me: this isn't a story, it's a freaking PROLOGUE! /headdesk/ Seriously, muse! Why me? The last thing I needed was an epic novel length saga about Don and Charlie going through a long painful rehabilitation. So I tabled it. Again.

I only dragged it out again recently when I realized I had one open slot to publish N3 fic in for the year and I needed one to hit 105. I figured if this is going to be a prologue only I might as well cap it off and call it good for now.

Yes, I harbor a secret hope that I never pick up this story to turn it into a series (thus me not listing a series in the headers), but that's not usually my decision. I have so many other series I didn't find time for this year: Last Call, SHH and U is for Undercover. I feel bad I wrote so little long fic and that this is one of those rare longer pieces and it's not that good. /sigh/ At least it's out and over with, posted on a day when almost no one will notice. (West Wing reference!)

To be fair, I ignored all advice from my medical beta and never sent a final copy for SPaG beta to T or Mel to review. I just wanted to get rid of this thing and once I saw an opening, I threw a few sentences on the end to close it off, tossed together some headers and posted. Forgive the lack of quality, but even I have some bastard stepchildren I wish I could disown.

Very special thanks to First Reader babs_sg1, betas melissima and t_vo0810 and medical beta riverotter1951 for their assistance with this fic.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais

Edited at 2011-01-01 10:06 pm (UTC)
rubynye: Back to Back (Numb3rs)rubynye on January 1st, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
Together no matter what!

Oh, Emma, this was GRIPPING. Don's determination, Charlie's planning, the way the story unfurled... oh, *eee*!
(Deleted comment)
ladygray99ladygray99 on January 2nd, 2011 09:17 am (UTC)
I rather liked this. I wouldn't mind it becoming a series but I also think it stands comfortably on its own.
Candi: Don and Dad Chessmustangcandi on January 2nd, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC)
YAY! I'm so glad you finished this!

Very poignant. I'm not usually up for such angst but I thoroughly enjoyed this. Poor kids. *hugs them*
devon99 on January 2nd, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, I loved this, although I do admit that I did slip on my slash tinted glasses at the end.

Fab stuff:)
melissima: eppes hugmelissima on January 3rd, 2011 11:05 pm (UTC)
BOYS!

I admit I want more of this, but if your muse never gets around to it I can live with that. I *love* tough Charlie crawling up there to throw rocks, I love the grit and self-doubt Don goes through on his own way up the hill, and I love the long, slow process of Don realizing they both rescued each other.

Those things are worth the price of admission, so to speak, as a fic or as a series.



Brava!
msgrahamcrackermsgrahamcracker on January 4th, 2011 01:46 am (UTC)
Wow. Intense, emotional, dramatic, full of angst and brotherly devotion. I loved it. More would be awesome.