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03 October 2008 @ 05:07 pm
Numb3rs Fic: Wilderness Bound Part 1  
Written for numb3rsficathon Challenge – Ben Ellis, Albuquerque, Television
Crossposted to numb3rs_slash


Title: Wilderness Bound
Pairing/Characters: Ian/Colby, David/OMC, Don/Robin, Charlie/Amita, Megan, Alan, William Bradford, OCs
Rating: R
Spoilers: Seasons 1-4
Summary: Ian and Colby partner up for a mountain man hunt with dire consequences
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ


Colby's eyes opened slowly to find the sky a blaze of orange-red above him, thin white clouds touched golden at the edges by the sun's fading light.

Furrowing his brow, he attempted to process what had happened, why he was on his back staring up into the beginnings of the sunset.

Towering evergreen trees ringed his resting place on all sides save one, a fifteen-foot ledge cut into the hill above with a sheer drop off, the base of which where he found himself strewn with rocky rubble.

Mountains... Fugitive search operation... Two man teams...

Colby blinked himself back to full consciousness and tried to rise only to fall back to the ground when stabbing pain shot through his left leg as it folded under him, useless.

He glanced around wildly, but the thicket of trees surrounding him was empty and eerily silent.

"Ian!"

+

"Listen up people!"

Colby watched as Don waved the dozens of agents at base camp over to where the topographical maps of local mountain terrain were posted on boards, boards still being actively referenced by a highly caffeinated Charlie and a focused and stern Ian.

When they were all assembled Ian nudged Charlie to pay attention and they halted their efforts long enough to listen in.

"Our team of experts," Don took a second to gesture towards Ian, Charlie and the national forest ranger team, "has prepared a search grid that gives us the best likelihood of finding our fugitives. Now we know Nate Rutger's an experienced outdoorsman and survivalist. If we don't find him he could easily live off the land for months so now's our window of opportunity while he's still on the run and not too far from civilization. Ron Havilcek is injured so Rutger may or may not have abandoned him so he could get away faster. We've got dogs to help with the nearest grids figuring Havilcek hasn't gotten that far, but for the grids furthest out - the ones that we can't reach except by foot? We need agents in top form and with wilderness experience. This may well be a two to three day search so you will be provided with backpacks sufficient to hold you for the duration."

Don stepped back and ceded the floor to Ian.

"There's no cell service out here," Ian began, "so your phones won't work. Might as well leave them here - they'll just weigh you down. Every pound counts so leave behind anything not critical to the search or your survival."

"We are providing you with several devices to aid in communication," Charlie picked up next. "They're low tech, but traditional for wilderness searches: flashlights, mirrors, flares..."

"Just don't use the flares unless it's an emergency," Don cut in. "It may be past fire season, but this is California. Plenty of dry tinder to spark a fire with and we really don't want to turn this into a wildfire rescue mission."

When he stepped back, Ian picked up again.

"You'll be provided with maps, compasses and GPS units. Your goal is to get to your grid square as fast as possible then search it thoroughly. Don't try to search after night falls: the further reaches of the forest have a lot of steep drop offs and narrow footpaths so any night hiking is likely to lead to injuries or worse."

"Two man teams: take turns sleeping while the other is on watch," Don added. "Rutger's body count is up to eleven and I wouldn't put it past him to take out some federal agents if he thought it would keep him from getting caught. So be careful out there..."

"I have a brief questionnaire here..." Charlie held up a clipboard with a small stack of papers on it. "We need to assess everyone's relevant experience with the outdoors before we assign teams so please fill out a form immediately. We'll be running it through my optimizing algorithm and announcing the teams just before you're due to head out."

"Which is in about fifteen minutes so fill out your forms then go get your packs at the supply tent." Don pointed to a large temporary tent nearby. "Meet back here in ten for assignments."

Colby moved forward as Don closed off the meeting with a gesture and waited for his turn with one of the clipboards with David at his side.

"Sorry, Granger, but I think you're going to have to go this one without me," David said, humor in his voice.

"Oh?" Colby replied, arching an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I'm a city boy. I need a really experienced trail guide with me." Colby followed David's gaze to one of the female park rangers, an attractive young woman with long black hair worn in a ponytail down her back. "Preferably her."

Colby chuckled. "Then you'd better bribe Charlie to tweak his algorithm otherwise he's going to hook you up with Bubba over there." He cocked his head towards a male park ranger who was well over six feet tall and built like a pro football player.

David nudged Colby in the ribs. "He's more your speed."

Colby snorted.

"If he's speedy, I'm Pepe le Pew."

David finished filling out the brief form, turned it in and handed the clipboard to Colby.

"You said it! Not me!"

+

Don moved among the agents handing out assignments and Colby watched amused as he paired David up with a park ranger, only not the longhaired woman or the football player. David started laughing with the man as soon as they started talking so it looked like they were going to get along well.

"Granger." Colby turned to find Ian walking towards him, waving a search grid assignment. "Grab your gear. We're heading out."

Colby just blinked at him as something inside his chest did a little flip.

"We?"

"Yeah," Ian said, shouldering his pack. "We're partnered up for this. So let's go."

Colby reached down and grabbed his pack, taking a breath to get himself under control.

"Lead the way."

Colby followed Ian to one of the park ranger SUVs that was driving teams to the drop off points closest to their grids.

"The ride won't help much," Ian said, almost sounding apologetic. "We've got the furthest grid."

Colby let out a little huff of breath in resignation. "I'd expect nothing less."

"You're in decent shape," Ian said with a smirk, giving him a once over that made Colby's temperature rise. "Try to keep up."

The rest of the brief car ride was spent studying the map of their assigned grid.

"I've decided on a route to get us to our grid square. It'll be about six hours of hard walking, but once we arrive we can slow down for the search portion."

Colby shrugged. "Six hours is less than I did in the army, so I'm ready."

"Sure working for the FBI hasn't made you soft, soldier?" Ian teased.

Colby almost choked on the water he was drinking at Ian's uncharacteristic banter.

"I've had my bran muffin this morning," Colby tossed back, feeling brave. "I can handle it."

An unexpected laugh rose up out of Ian and he threw his head back, reveling in it.

"Oh, this is going to be interesting."

+

"Go ahead. Ask."

Ian was leading the way up a hill two miles into their hike. He'd set a brisk pace, but Colby made sure he never fell more than a few yards behind.

"Ask what?"

"About Afghanistan. I'm sure you're curious." Ian's tone was matter of fact, but friendly.

"Curiosity doesn't trump classified," Colby said regretfully.

"You've got clearance," Ian said.

"That doesn't mean I need to know," Colby countered.

Ian stopped suddenly and Colby had to pull up short in order not to run into him they were going at such a clip.

"For the record," Ian said, looking him in the eye, "I didn't believe it. I knew you had to be deep undercover, not a traitor."

Colby's breath caught in his chest despite how hard he'd been breathing on the climb.

Instead of answering he merely nodded, grateful.

Ian turned back and started hiking again with the same brisk pace.

"So how about you just tell me the rumors and I'll pretend not to tell you if they're true?" he offered.

Colby let out a breath, relieved. "Fair enough." He pondered for a moment. "Khalid Abbas in the motorcade outside Kandahar?"

"A fairly easy shot; anyone could have done that one."

"The sentries at the training camp in Nanghar?"

"A team effort - no one's that fast."

"General Jabbaar?" Colby ventured tentatively.

"Assassination is against US policy, Granger," Ian said, his voice clearly reciting by the book. He followed it with a more normal sounding, "...and a bulletproof car is quite a challenge."

"Wow..." They walked in silence for a few more minutes before Colby thought to ask a question of his own. "Is there anything you want to know? I mean, I'm not sure if anyone cares..."

Again, Ian stopped short.

"When a patriot risks their life? People care. I care." His expression held anger behind it - clearly not directed at Colby, but not restrained enough for the hint of it not to come out. "What we did matters; what we do matters."

Ian turned back, stomping off through the woods, his pace even faster.

Colby fell in behind him, expecting a long bout of silence. The quiet was broken only a minute or two later when Ian spoke again.

"Do you regret it?"

Colby blinked a few times, surprised by the quiet query.

"Every minute of it. I had to lie to my best friends and co-workers, break my mother's heart and almost get killed all because Dwayne Carter pulled me out of a burning humvee in Afghanistan." He paused for a few seconds. "Would I do it again? Absolutely."

When Ian shot him a confused glance over his shoulder, Colby continued.

"I lost two years of my life, but the end result was that a highly placed mole in the DoJ was taken out. The damage Lancer could have done... I don't even want to think of it. So yeah, worth it, but I had to go through hell for it."

"All of us - in the service, in law enforcement - we're expected to sacrifice..." He glanced back at Colby again, respect clear on his face. "Some more than others."

Colby swallowed hard and stared at the ground for the next half-mile or so, just following Ian's footsteps.

+

Ian held out the GPS unit as he walked, checking it against the map coordinates.

"We're making good time, but that hill's in the way. Need a break?"

"Nope, I'm good," Colby said.

"We can stop for a few minutes at the top," Ian continued, putting the map away. "I want to scan the area from that vantage point before we move on."

"Sounds like a plan." Colby adjusted his pack as they began the uphill climb over uneven terrain. "So have you been watching for signs of Rutger as we've been walking?"

"Not overtly no," Ian said. "This isn't our grid and our responsibility is to get to our grid as fast as possible since Rutger has a head start. Besides, we're covering too narrow a band of it at too great a speed for my tracking skills to be much use."

"You sound like Charlie and his probabilities," Colby said with a little chortle.

"Let's just say the good professor and I compared notes before the trip," Ian tossed back. "He's learned to respect my tracking skills and experience and I? I've learned not to call his math voodoo, at least not when he's in earshot."

"Call it whatever you like, it's freaky how well it works."

"It worked on you," Ian offered. "That should be enough to sell you on it."

"Worked on me?" Colby asked, confused.

"The trust metric." Ian glanced back to see the expression on Colby's face. "They didn't tell you about that?"

"No clue," Colby admitted.

Ian turned back and kept walking. "Charlie's math measured how trustworthy you were after... Well, before you were exonerated. He distilled your life down to a number that was supposed to prove how trustworthy you were."

"And he gave this number to Don and the team?"

"He didn't have to," Ian explained. "Charlie said they didn't need it. They already knew. That's why they went to the freighter to get you, not his math."

Colby bit his lip, overwhelmed and glad Ian couldn't see the emotion that had welled up in him unbidden.

The terrain got rougher and they both had to focus on their footing to make it up to the top safely and quickly.

When they finally reached the apex, Colby was relieved that he wasn't the only one breathing heavily.

He sat down with the map while Ian scanned the area with a pair of binoculars.

"How did it come up?" he asked, unable to get the thought out of his head. "I never heard anyone talking about it."

"Charlie asked me to help him refine his equations on it. He said he tested it by running people he knew through it afterwards and found my rating to be anomalous. He wanted to fix it so he came to me to discuss it."

"Anomalous?"

"Yes. He only said my rating was 'unexpected', which I assume means outside of his standard deviation, or in my mind, I'm more trustworthy than the number says I am."

"So Charlie trusts you, but his math doesn't?"

"Essentially."

Colby pondered that for a moment. "I think I can see why. I mean, people don't really know you, do they? In Afghanistan, you were more a myth than a man, some kind of sniper god. Here other agents talk about you like some sort of mystery man who sweeps in and saves the day then disappears, not really talking to much of anyone."

Ian lowered his binoculars for a moment. "A sniper's reputation should be mythical; all that legendary stuff scares people, keeps them from trying to come after you. Few things strike fear into the hearts of criminals like a sharpshooter. The assumption is you might try to go after a sniper, but they're likely to see you coming and take you out. Thus legend equals safety." He turned to Colby. "I'll take my life over a few superficial friends any day of the week."

"What about good friends?"

Ian shouldered his pack and headed off down the other side of the hill leaving Colby to scramble behind him to catch up.

"Those are harder to come by."

+

Six hours in they were hot, sweaty and almost to their grid square.

"Baseball?" Colby asked. They'd been slowly working their way through the normal guy topics with an occasional veer into Ian's specialties of sniping and tracking.

"My father was a Mets fan so for a while I was as a kid," Ian answered. He'd been surprising Colby the whole hike with his willingness to talk about himself, but this was the first he'd mentioned anything about childhood. "Then I kind of lost track until I ended up in Colorado for the first Rockies season. I kind of liked them. You?"

"Idaho's not really into pro ball that much since we don't have a major league franchise, but we take our local sports pretty seriously. We played little league as kids then played in high school. A bunch of my friends went to college for baseball scholarships - Don too, in case you didn't know." He hesitated for a few seconds, trying to decide whether to dig deeper. "So any little league for you as a kid?"

"I didn't have the kind of white picket fence life that lends itself to baseball and apple pie," Ian said plainly. He raised his eyes to the sky. "Hear that?"

"Rotors." Colby looked up as well. "Helicopter."

They watched until the helicopter passed over them.

"Slow blinking blue light," Ian mused. "That means they caught Havilcek."

"That leaves Rutger," Colby added. "What did Charlie say the likelihood of him being in our square was?"

"6.8 percent," Ian answered.

"Doesn't seem very high."

"Actually it's the highest rating of any of the squares. It only sounds impressive when Charlie says the probability of him being within the grid boundaries is 89.7 percent."

"Seriously?" Colby stared at him for a moment. "Man, just my luck to draw the most likely square."

"Not luck," Ian corrected. "I chose this square myself."

"Yeah, but Charlie's algorithm is how I got assigned to it."

"Actually it's not." Ian stopped and glanced over at Colby. "I picked you." As Colby stood gaping, Ian pulled out the map and compared the GPS to it.

"You picked me?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because I needed a good partner for this mission."

"But you could have had anyone."

"That's right."

Colby fell silent, amazed.

"We're right at the border of our square." Ian looked up at Colby, his expression making it clear they were back to business. "It's time to start searching."

+

It became readily apparent to Colby when they began their search why Charlie had rated this grid square so highly and why Ian had chosen it for himself. In this part of the forest large areas were solid rock, bereft of trees and riddled with small avalanches and tiny caves perfect to hide in. It was also the furthest of all the grid squares. Past this came the river and even an experienced mountain man like Rutger would have to be suicidal to attempt to swim across its rapids.

The hot afternoon sun they'd hiked in had finally given way to a cooler evening and the shadows grew longer on every boulder: more darkness for someone to hide in.

"We're losing the sun," Ian complained. "Damn it! I wanted to get more of this square done before nightfall."

"Not much we can do about that unless you want to do night recon."

As if to punctuate what a bad idea that was Colby's boot slipped on some loose gravel on the steep rocky path and he had to quickly adjust his footing to keep from falling.

"No, as much as I'd like to nab Rutger today it's not worth breaking our necks over. He knows this area's too unstable to go walking around at night. He'll stay put in the dark so we can too."

They continued searching until the sunset crept up on them. Ian took out the map and referred back to it.

"There was a good campsite about fifteen minutes back where we can settle down for the night."

"You want to go back?" Colby asked. "We'll lose a half hour for it."

"Yes, but I'd prefer to sleep somewhere I know for sure Rutger isn't."

"Point taken. Lead the way."

Ian gave him an appraising look. "How about you lead for once? If I show you where on the map think you can get us there?"

Colby shrugged casually. "Sure."

Ian held up the map and pointed to a location on it. "Do you remember this area?"

"Yeah. That would be a good campsite."

He nodded and started walking only to have Ian hold out the map and compass.

"Don't you want these?"

Colby shook his head.

"Don't need them. I know where I'm going."

Ian put the map and compass away. "If you can find that spot from memory I'll be impressed."

"One thing you should know about me," Colby said over his shoulder as Ian followed. "I'm not one to brag or overinflate my abilities. If I say I can do something? I can do it."

+

When they arrived exactly at Ian's desired location Colby got a nod of respect from Ian, the simple acknowledgment filling him with pride.

They set about unpacking their bags and setting up their campsite, finishing up just as the last licks of the flaming sunset kissed the mountaintops goodnight.

"We've got a lot of hours to kill before first light. Which sleep shift do you want? First or second?" Ian asked.

"Second, if that's okay with you," Colby said. He looked a little embarrassed. "I have to admit that being out of the army this long I've started losing the ability to sleep anywhere anytime."

"Understandable," Ian said. "You've got more of a day job type schedule than I do. I still go two days without sleep at times and have to make up for it later. Between sleeping in my SUV, outdoors and in crappy motels I'm still able to crash on demand whenever I need to."

Colby rummaged in his pack and pulled out his food rations. "Energy bar, energy bar, energy bar. Hmm... Tough decision."

Ian reached into his pack and tossed Colby a ziploc bag of beef jerky. "Try this. You seem like the carnivore type."

Colby accepted it with a grateful nod. "Thanks. Being raised in meat and potatoes country it's hard to think of these piddly little bars as an actual meal." He opened the plastic bag and tore off a bite with his teeth.

"I travel prepared," Ian said. "I keep a bear proof case in the back of my SUV for road food. Never know where you're going to end up and for how long and I'm not one for eating out of gas station convenience stores - jerky not withstanding," he added with a playful smirk.

"Actually this stuff's really good."

"Thanks. Made it myself."

"You made this?" Colby stared at him in disbelief.

Ian settled his back against a boulder, relaxing, his features becoming indistinct in the darkness. "My brother has a ranch. I have a cabin there I go to when I'm not at Quantico or out on a case. I help out when he's ready to slaughter a cow and I end up with a ton of jerky and steak better than any restaurant."

"I always wondered," Colby mused.

"How good fresh steak could be?" Ian mocked.

"Ha! No," Colby said. "That I know. I meant where you went when you weren't, you know, with us... Working."

"Ah... Mostly I'm teaching at Quantico," Ian explained. "But when the Academy's not in session and I have a break between cases I either travel or catch up on my sleep at the cabin."

"I guess I wondered what state it was in," Colby admitted.

"New Mexico."

"Really?" Colby cocked his head to the side. "Does that mean you knew Don from before? From Albuquerque?"

"Actually we met when he was teaching tactical at Quantico, but we worked a case in New Mexico just after he took over the field office. Spree killer. Guy sniped his way from Texas to Arizona. Don was the lead for the investigation into the deaths in his state, but I was mostly working with the SAC in charge of the multi-state effort."

"But you caught him, right?" Colby asked.

"Caught, yes. Captured? Not exactly, unless you consider a body bag custody." When Colby didn't respond Ian continued, his tone solemn in the blackness of the night. "I never want to take a life. I take no joy in that aspect of my work. But I will end a life if doing so will save others."

"That's how I feel about it too," Colby agreed, equally serious. "I've taken my fair share of shots during my time in the Bureau and some of them ended up fatal. I never like how it feels afterwards, but I figure it's better than feeling nothing."

"The time to start worrying is when a human life means nothing to you," Ian echoed. "And since my life means something to me," he added, his tone lightening up as he got into his sleeping bag, "you better keep your ass awake and alert while I'm out."

"Don't worry," Colby said. "You can trust me."

"I know," Ian said, turning over in his bag and settling in. "That's why I chose you."

+

Colby checked his watch and found that it was finally 1AM. He'd been bored on watch for hours and found himself missing Ian's company. He'd never imagined getting to spend this much one on one time with the man his company had all revered in Afghanistan and been shocked beyond words that Ian had turned out to be so accessible, open and even friendly.

Charlie and Don had always had good things to say about Ian, but Colby had assumed them to be professional. Now he'd seen a whole other side to the sniper and found himself wondering just how many people got to see him like this: human.

Only now he had to wake the sniper up from a dead sleep.

Belatedly he realized he should have asked Ian the safest way to wake him up.

He was exhausted so he couldn't put it off. The hours of hiking, much of it in blazing sun, had drained him and he needed the few hours of sleep he'd get before they started the search again at dawn.

He crouched down next to Ian in his sleeping bag and put a cautious hand on his shoulder, shaking him lightly.

Even though he was expecting something, what happened next came in such a flash he relied only on instinct and training.

Ian's hand shot out of the bag, latched onto his wrist with a vise like grip and he rolled, pulling Colby down and pinning him on the ground beneath him. Colby, to his credit, managed to grab Ian's other hand - the one that held a large bowie knife - and keep it away from his throat.

"Ian! It's me! Colby!"

Ian blinked in the pitch black, but immediately relaxed his hold on Colby. Colby could feel Ian's weight on top of him, pinning him down and tried hard not to let his mind go places it had no business going.

"Sorry," Ian muttered slipping off him and putting his knife back under his makeshift pillow. "I'm not used to having someone shake me awake."

"Hey, if I could have packed a ten foot pole..." Colby joked lamely.

Ian stretched, put his boots back on and folded up his sleeping bag. He laid it beside a boulder and made himself comfortable sitting on it, checking his gun before settling it on his lap.

"I'm good. You can go to sleep now."

"Not anymore," Colby said ruefully. "A bit too much adrenaline in my system for that now."

"Sorry." Ian really did sound penitent.

"It's all right. I bounce back fast." Colby put his service weapon away and started unlacing his boots. "For the record, how do you like to be woken up?" There was a quiet chuckle in the darkness and Colby was glad for the cover of night to hide his blush. "Let me rephrase that: how should I have woken you up to not get attacked?"

"Well, first: don't be within arm's reach," Ian said. "Second: don't be armed. Third: say your name immediately so I know whether it's friend or foe right off the bat. As far as how? Throw something at me, I guess. Then pretty much just stand back. Kevlar's optional," he added with another chuckle.

"I'll keep that in mind," Colby said wryly. "In fact I think adding it to the curriculum at Quantico wouldn't be a bad idea: how to wake a man who's considered a lethal weapon and live to tell about it."

Ian's laugh was genuine. "Good one. Now get your sorry ass to sleep. No complaining tomorrow about not getting enough rest."

Colby got into his sleeping bag and laid there, the silhouette of Ian in the scant moonlight a few feet away both eerie and comforting at the same time.

After a few minutes the fight or flight chemical reaction faded and his eyes began to droop.

"Ian?" he mumbled, remembering something.

"Yes?"

"I went to the nationals for wrestling in college."

"And you're telling me this because?"

"Maybe it's not such a good idea to shake me awake either."

Ian laughed. "Go to sleep, Granger. I'm sure I can come up with a ten foot pole by dawn."

+

Colby woke to the feeling of a bug crawling on his arm and swatted it away, mildly annoyed, only to have the feeling return. He peeked out through eye slits to find it was a twig brushing against his forearm. His eyes followed the twig to the hand holding it: Ian.

"I don't think that twig is a regulation ten feet," he muttered, still good-natured despite realizing he'd be expected to get up long before his body was done resting.

"No, but I utilized Charlie's metrics to assess exactly how many inches the twig had to be, taking into consideration your size, mass, skill level and how pissed off you might be at being woken up and the answer was 42 inches."

"Very scientific," Colby scoffed. "I call bullshit."

Ian chuckled and tossed the twig aside. "Yeah, but at least it was funnier than Charlie's real math."

"Hey, I wouldn't be the first one to choose getting poked with a sharp stick over listening to Charlie explain how Fermat's last theorem is going to inform his Bayesian filter when analyzing fraud conspiracy social networks."

"To your credit," Ian said, impressed, "that didn't sound like you made it up."

Colby sat up and reached for his boots to put them on. "Honestly, I'm afraid to let Don or Charlie know just how much math I remember from college. I'll get stuck on Cal Sci detail and never get back out in the field," he joshed. "I know a lot of the terms, but how Charlie applies them?" He made a hand gesture mimicking something flying over his head. "I figure if Larry's impressed and Amita can barely keep up, what hope do I have of understanding Charlie, really?" Once his boots were on, he went to work rolling up his sleeping bag. "So breakfast... Energy bar, energy bar or energy bar?" He turned and caught what Ian threw him just in time. He looked down and let out a laugh at what was in his hands. "Have bran muffins will travel?"

"Just be glad I didn't ask you to carry the extra food," Ian retorted. "I'm packed. As soon as you're ready..."

"Five minutes," Colby said before wolfing down the muffin, following it with a long drink of water.

"Or less if you eat that fast," Ian said with a chortle. "Remind me to not get between you and a buffet table."

Colby stretched out his broad shoulders. "Long as you don't resort to growing boy jokes..."

Four minutes later, they were packed and headed back. The fifteen minutes to regain their last location flew by and they switched into search mode. Intense and silent they worked their way through the boulder strewn rocky hills, weapons drawn, communicating through hand signals.

Once they finished thoroughly searching a large hill area Ian beckoned to Colby to withdraw back to the relative safety of a previously searched area.

He pulled out the map and showed Colby their grid square. "We've covered all of this, so next up is the section between here and the river. It's some of the most difficult terrain so I think we should rest briefly before we tackle it. In my estimation it's the most likely position for Rutger to set up camp in."

"Why's that?" Colby asked.

"Rutger doesn't want to stay in these woods. He has to know we're out searching for him, but he's worked his way into a corner. The way the river curves here, we've got him bounded on all sides. His only way out is to cross the river. To cross the river he needs a boat so he'll find a spot he can watch for white water rafts coming down the way. Once he sees one he can flag them down under the pretense of an emergency and take the boat from them by force."

Colby nodded thoughtfully. "That sounds exactly like what he'd do."

"If he does that?" Ian shook his head warningly. "He's gone. He may not know this part of the state, but once he gets across it wouldn't be hard to find a car on a lonely road, get them to stop and carjack it. Even if he stays in the mountains the Sierra Nevadas are just too vast for us to search and have any hope of finding him."

"So we break for lunch then hit that last hill facing the river," Colby said, nodding. "Got any more surprises in your pack? I'd kill for a cheeseburger."

"Dream on, soldier." Ian moved to the shady side of a large bolder and slipped his pack off, sitting beside it.

Colby followed suit, taking a long drink from his canteen. While he did another bag of jerky landed in his lap.

"Thanks."

"That's the teriyaki," Ian said, cocking his head towards it. "Probably the best batch I've made in years."

Colby took a bite and chewed appreciatively. "It's really good," he said around a mouthful. "But I feel bad. I don't have anything to offer in return."

Ian seemed to think that over for a moment. "Just make sure I don't get shot. That'll do."

+

If the terrain had been difficult before, now it was truly challenging. Colby found himself wishing for rock climbing gear more than once and the leaps they had to make over gaps in the rock were tense affairs for both of them.

He followed more closely now; both he and Ian had repeatedly had to throw out a hand to steady themselves so being arm's distance apart made sense for safety even though it made them an easier target if Rutger got them in his sights.

At each cave-like opening and around every large boulder they held their weapons close, nodded to each other then cleared it in tandem. It was time consuming, given how many hiding places there were, but knowing that an armed felon could be just on the other side was a powerful motivator for patience.

Once they worked their way around the river facing side of the hill on the lowest tier - the one Ian felt was the most likely area for boat spotting - Ian pulled Colby aside and they surveyed the upper part of the hill together.

"There's no easy way to do this and we're risking running out of daylight," Ian stated. "We're going to have to climb up to the next tier, but it looks like there are ledges to walk around on at least."

"Do you really think Rutger would climb up there?"

Ian scanned the area. "I admit it's less likely, but if he's trying to evade detection? He would pick an area hard to reach." He turned to face Colby. "Doesn't matter what I think. It's in our square. We search it."

They worked out a system: Ian climbed up unencumbered and lowered a rope down. Colby tied each pack in turn to the rope and Ian hauled them up. Finally Colby climbed up and joined him, his fingers protesting at the small handholds in the rock.

On the second tier they were about twenty feet off the ground and the danger of slipping and falling escalated. Ian moved slower, more cautiously and Colby kept a hand out, close to Ian's back, ready to grab on if he or Ian should show signs of slipping.

They cleared a few small caves and a half dozen hiding places before they came back around to the opposite side of the hill, facing away from the river.

"It's looking less and less likely he's up here," Colby said.

"Maybe. We're not done yet," Ian cautioned. "He didn't stay free all this time by doing what was expected."

Colby turned to look back towards the river and felt his footing start to give way underneath him.

His arms went out, flailing for balance, striking Ian on the back accidentally given their close proximity.

Just as he felt a sickening drop in his stomach that iron grip was back, latching on to his wrist and keeping him from sliding down the steep hill.

Ian grabbed his shirt with his other hand and hauled him back up, both of them sharing the same small ledge since the area Colby had been standing on was now gone, a mere rockslide remaining.

Colby's heart beat loud in his chest as Ian held onto him, their bodies so close they were almost touching.

"You good?" Ian asked, worried.

"Give me a second." Colby didn't trust his feet and took a second to both make sure he was steady and to recover from the sensation of having Ian so close to him. He'd long admitted to himself a fascination with Ian, but the extended proximity to him - and the physical closeness - had done nothing but peak his latent interest. "I think I'm on solid ground now," he said, hoping it was true.

Ian let go of him reluctantly. "Let's work on getting out of this area. It's too unstable."

Ian leaped over to the next ledge and since it was so small Colby had to wait for him to make the next jump before there was enough room for him.

A few yards after there was a big enough area for them to both to fit comfortably.

Ian stopped there and took off his pack. "I want to check the map. See what our options are."

Colby tossed his pack aside as well, grateful for the respite.

As Ian studied the map, Colby borrowed the binoculars and scanned the area.

A loud crack caught his ear followed by an ominous rumble.

Then the rock shelf under his feet gave out from under him and he was falling, nothing under him but air as he screamed.

+

Once the initial daze of returning to consciousness after the fall passed, Colby's thoughts flew to Ian. Not thinking, he attempted to bolt up only to be brought down by shards of pain ricocheting up his leg and into his pounding head.

He looked around frantically, but saw only trees and rocky rubble.

"Ian!" he yelled. Silence was his only response.

Crawling and dragging his damaged left leg behind him he struggled to get to the other side of the rocks, hoping Ian was behind them, not beneath them.

His first glimpse was a hand, limp and laying across a smattering of stones. Moving closer he found Ian lying on his side behind a group of boulders, partially covered with rocky debris.

He wasn't moving.

"Oh god," Colby breathed. "Don't be dead, don't be dead..."

He wove his hand between the rocks to reach Ian's neck, seeking a pulse. After painful seconds of uncertainty, he found an artery and a faint but steady pulse.

Colby laid his head down on the ground, closing his eyes long enough for a brief mumbled thanks. When he opened his eyes he noticed his fingers had come away red: blood.

Working as fast as he could from his awkward position, Colby cleared away the rocks covering Ian. His black hair was matted down with blood near the temple and it had flowed down to his neck leaving his swarthy skin a mottled dark red mixed with the dirt that coated both of them.

"Ian! Can you hear me?" The stillness of his partner's form chilled him and he realized that with the sun setting soon the cold night was approaching. They needed help and they needed their gear.

Reluctantly he left Ian to search for their packs. He found one quickly, but unfortunately it was crushed under one of the larger boulders and there was no way he could get to it. The search for the second wore him out, so much so he had to stop and rest. He clearly had a concussion and the pain in his broken leg was overwhelming.

He finally located the remaining pack and slowly dragged it back over to where Ian lay, frighteningly pale.

Colby tugged the sleeping bag out, unzipped it and tucked it around Ian as best he could, afraid to move him too much.

He went through the pack and discovered it was his not Ian's. That meant the GPS unit was a loss. Rummaging through the pack, he pushed aside the mirror - too late in the day to catch any light to reflect - and pulled out the flashlight and set it aside - it was still too light out for it to be easily seen.

Then he found the flare gun. Between them they had two flares, but since Ian's pack was crushed, their rescue relied on one single flare.

A tiny sound caught his attention and he turned to find Ian wincing and making noises of protest.

"Ian? It's Colby. Can you hear me?"

Ian's eyes fluttered open with difficulty and it seemed to take him a while to focus on Colby's face.

"What..."

"Landslide. We fell about fifteen feet or so. We both lost consciousness so I'm not sure how long ago it happened, but it's getting dark."

Ian's face screwed up in a grimace.

"Hurts... Bad... Broken..."

"Just stay with me," Colby urged. "I've got the flare gun. I'm going to get us some help."

"Wait," Ian managed. "Helicopter."

Blinking Colby realized they hadn't seen it all day. "I thought they were going to have it do two passes: midday and just before dusk."

"Must have missed..." Ian said. "When we were by the river."

"We might have missed the evening pass as well while we were out cold," Colby mused, worried. "In that case I'm concerned I'll make it harder for them to find us if I wait too long."

"Don't want to make it easy for Rutger to find us," Ian reminded him.

Colby drew a shuddering breath. They were trapped here - easy targets if Rutger found them. If he got to them first? They'd be dead or best case scenario, hostages.

"I can't do nothing, Ian. You're bleeding and you could have internal bleeding as well. We need help."

"Can you hike out?" Ian asked.

Colby shook his head regretfully. "My leg is busted. I can't even stand up."

Ian's eyes fell closed and for a moment Colby thought he'd lost him.

"Trust me. Just wait a while. The helicopter will come."

Colby looked at the flare gun then back at Ian's face. He was resting but the tension of pain was clear in the lines of his face.

"Okay. I trust you. I'll wait."

+

Colby was attempting to get water into Ian's mouth with the canteen when he heard them in the distance: rotors.

"You were right, Ian!" Colby said excitedly. "They're coming!"

"Don't aim the flare gun straight up," Ian warned. "We don't want to broadcast our exact location to Rutger and the FBI will send a big enough rescue team to find us anywhere in the area."

"I've got it. I'm just waiting until they're a little closer."

Colby propped himself up as best he could, gritting his teeth at the excruciating pain in his leg.

He raised his hand, checked his aim and waited until the helicopter was about to pass them to pull the trigger.

Nothing happened.

"The gun's jammed!" Colby exclaimed. "It must have gotten busted in the fall!"

Grabbing the flashlight, he shined it on the gun to find the metal crimped with damage. He fumbled in his pants for his pocketknife and pulled out a thin blade from it. Using the knife, he attempted to straighten the bent portions.

The helicopter did a wide U-turn at the river and turned to head back to base camp.

"No, no, no..." Colby muttered under his breath, working as fast as he could as the helicopter passed over them once again. "Work! Damn it!" He aimed the gun into the air and fired.

The long arc of a flare shot up into the dusky beginnings of night.

"Did you get it in time? Do you think they saw it?"

"I don't know," Colby said honestly, sinking back to lay face down, not wanting Ian to see the disappointment on his face. "I hope so."

When Colby came to again he had the same sense of confusion as before, wondering where he was in the darkness. The sun had set and a cool wind had begun to wind its way through the hills and valleys between the mountains. Colby zipped up his jacket and looked to Ian, shining the flashlight shielded just enough to see him.

His eyes were closed and his face placid. Colby's hands sought and found his pulse, finding that reassurance comforting even though he worried they might not last the night if no one came. As troubling as it was for Ian to keep losing consciousness at least he wasn't feeling any pain while he was out.

Colby moved the remaining rocks between him and Ian and huddled up as close as he could to his sleeping bag clad form. He carefully put an arm around Ian's shoulder and laid his head down, closing his eyes and hoping the darkness would be enough to hide them from Rutger's eyes, but not from their friends.

+

A crackling sound met Colby's ears as he struggled to come back to awareness. He listened more closely and heard a twig breaking in the forest, not far away.

Trying not to move much he felt his jacket for his gun and found it still in his inside pocket. Quietly he unzipped the zipper and eased the gun out. Once he had it secure he reached for the flashlight with his other hand.

With difficulty he rolled on his side so his body would shield Ian's if it was Rutger and he fired on them. Moving his leg hurt so bad he almost blacked out and had to fumble to keep his gun in his grip, dropping the flashlight to the dense grass beneath.

He found it easily and steeled himself once he was in position. Waiting, he aimed the gun and the flashlight towards where he thought the sound had come from and held them in position until he heard another crack.

He flicked the light on, gun at the ready, only to find a startled deer that stared at him for a split second then bolted into the woods, leaving only a flash of white behind him.

Colby flicked the flashlight off again and let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

Certain the forest was empty again, he turned his attention back to Ian. His pulse was still steady but slower and Colby's heart clenched in his chest with worry.

He wasn't deluded enough to think he meant anything to Ian, but he'd come to feel a sort of connection to him during their time together and he'd never forgive himself if choosing him as a partner was the decision that cost Ian his life.

"Granger?" Ian's voice was unfamiliar drained of his normal confidence.

"I'm right here." Colby covered the flashlight with his hand and turned it on long enough for the dim light to reveal his face to Ian then shut it off.

"Not here yet," Ian said, more a statement than a question.

"Well, we are a good six hour plus hike from base camp and that's during the day," Colby reminded him. "It's going to take a while, especially after dark." He paused, assessing Ian's appearance. "You should try to drink some water at least. Eat something if you can. You've lost blood. You need to keep your strength up."

"Energy bar, energy bar, energy bar?" Ian tried to joke, clearly straining against the pain.

"For once? I appreciate them, since we both could use some energy to get through this." Colby fished around in the pack briefly with the dimmed flashlight and pulled out two energy bars. He broke one into small pieces by feel rather than sight, not wanting to use the flashlight, even dimmed, more than necessary. "I'm going to feed this to you so tell me if I go too fast, let me know if the pieces are too big and no bitching about how you don't like cranberry apple flavor."

Ian managed a weak smile. "Such service," he joshed back. "I'll have to remember to leave a big tip."

Colby put a piece of energy bar between Ian's lips, a rush of unexpected attraction going through him at the intimacy of the gesture. He bit off a piece of his own and chewed it, exerting his control to keep his mind from wandering to pleasant places when he needed to focus on their survival.

He got through his bar much faster than Ian so he spent a while patiently waiting between pieces, each brush of Ian's lips against his fingertips sending a new jolt through him.

"Can I do anything else for you?" Colby asked after finishing up the energy bar and giving him another drink of water.

"Stay close," Ian mumbled, eyes drifting closed. "Warmer when you're close."

Colby put the pack aside, put his gun and the flashlight in his pockets and moved in to lie beside Ian, close enough his warm breath ghosted over Ian's face and vice versa.

"We'll get out of this," Colby said quietly, hoping he sounded more confident than he was.

"Yeah..." Ian's voice wasn't much more than a whisper. "Can't let the mountains get the best of me..."

And then he fell silent.

+

With Colby's watch cracked in the fall, time started to lose meaning in the darkness. It wasn't worth risking hurting Ian trying to dig out his wrist from underneath the sleeping bag so Colby watched the moon rise over the trees and traverse its way across the sky.

He found himself wondering about Larry and what it must have been like to see the moon from Earth orbit. He wondered if this would be the last night Ian would ever see. Mostly he asked himself if there was anything he could do to help Ian.

Most of his ideas were vetoed since attracting attention to them potentially attracted attention from Rutger. It was too dangerous to risk him finding them. Ian was incapacitated and Colby wasn't much better off, crippled and drifting in and out of consciousness at random times.

Still, the woods were painfully silent and the helicopter never returned. He began to wonder just how long they'd have to wait before Don decided to send someone looking for them. They'd thought the search would be two to three days and given they were a six hour plus walk out would they wait until the fourth or fifth day to finally send reinforcements?

The helicopter hadn't been flashing any lights when it passed over: no new captures. If they'd only found Rutger Colby could have been free to light fires, flash lights and scream to the heavens for help. Only instead, Ian lay unprotected and cold and Colby felt like a failure for not being able to do more to get them out of this situation.

Colby laid a hand against Ian's cheek and found his skin to be startlingly cold despite the fairly temperate night. He hadn't regained consciousness for hours now and Colby feared he'd succumbed to internal bleeding or worse.

It would be safer to wait until dawn, but dawn could be too late.

With one last look at Ian, Colby moved the pack close enough that Ian could reach it if Colby never returned then started crawling.

He used the flashlight, dimmed by his hand over it, to check his route then headed towards the hill. He needed high ground to be seen. It was the only way. As long as he got far enough away from Ian before using the flashlight to signal for help Colby figured the risk was acceptable - at least better than Ian dying from lack of medical care.

Rutger might get him, but help would come in time to save Ian.

The drop off was too sheer where they'd fallen so he had to go around the side of the hill, a longer trip, but he'd been in worse places.

If the freighter didn't kill him, this hill sure as hell wasn't going to.

Despite his determination, Colby blacked out periodically, either from the concussion or the intense pain so it took a while to get above the tree level.

He found himself a decent sized boulder to hide behind, checked the compass and aimed his flashlight in the direction of base camp.

S-O-S he flashed in Morse code, pausing between each message to listen for sounds in the forest, praying none were Rutger.

He watched, drained of energy, hoping to catch a glimmer of a light in response. As he stared into the moonlit night, his vision dimmed and his body failed. He struggled to stay upright, to hide behind the boulder in case Rutger should come, but he felt himself slide down, unable to stop gravity from claiming him.

He imagined he heard rotors in the distance, but it was just the blood rushing in his ears as unconsciousness - put off for far too long - finally claimed him for good.

+
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on October 4th, 2008 12:09 am (UTC)
Confession
Please see Part 3 for Confession post.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais
ladygray99: Colbyladygray99 on October 4th, 2008 01:13 am (UTC)
OH I like this. I do like it when you go for long fics. it'll be interesting to see how this turns out.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 4th, 2008 09:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! This year very much seems to be about long fic for me. I've got two other super long pieces done except for beta pretty much, but save Vice this is the first fic I've published that needs more than 2 posts to fit on my LJ.

The plan is to post this three days in a row so I hope you like the rest of it!
Dani: Colby look downumbralillium on October 4th, 2008 01:39 am (UTC)
EEP! *bites nails and waits impatiently for the next part*
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 4th, 2008 09:56 am (UTC)
Hee! I hoped you'd like it. It's not Charlie/Colby like so many people seem to want, but it's chock full of good Colby IMHO.

Thanks for taking the time to read!
Cynthia: Ian Show Love by scots_rock1trackmind on October 4th, 2008 09:24 am (UTC)
Oh very nice! I really like this. It's nice seeing the human side of Ian.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 4th, 2008 09:58 am (UTC)
Thanks! Ian gets a lot more human in the rest of the fic. If you liked his sense of humor in tonight's episode and in this fic there's a lot more of it coming!

Perfect icon again!
buffyangel68 on October 4th, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC)
Ooooh...
No! Colby, hang on! Ian needs you! (Wants you can wait 'till you're both healed up. I just hope we get to read that too, lol)

This was amazing! So well done, dearest. You've got me dancing on pins and needles waiting for part two! Excellent work.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 4th, 2008 07:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Ooooh...
I think there might be some wanting later... And perhaps some having... /nods/ /winks/

Thanks for taking the time to read such a long fic!
fredbassettfredbassett on October 4th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)
Good story. Nice to see one of your longer fics again.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 4th, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)
Hey there! Long time no chat! I've missed you. Been off LJ a lot myself but wondered what was up with you.

I have this weird idea that longer fic are viewed with a bit of dread, so it's really nice to know people actually want to read my multi-part behemoths. Thank you. :-)
fredbassettfredbassett on October 5th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
HI! I've been around, but still very immersed in Primeval as usual. I haven't been reading quite so many drabbles recently, although I seem to have written quite a lot, but I do like a nice sized fic to immerse myself in. We seem to have a collective tendency towards multi-part Epic Series in Primeval, and to be honest, I find them far more satisfying than 200 - 300 word stuff, although I do like the pure 100 word drabbles as they have to be far more focussed. I'd like to see more longer stuff in Numb3rs not less.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 5th, 2008 10:22 am (UTC)
I've been out of the Primeval habit for a while. I thought perhaps you were abroad or something.

I've got two other novellas in the wings so expect a super long Don/Charlie and a super long Billy/Charlie before the end of the year. That and a long Don/Charlie Series a la NOO where each fic is about 3 pages, but there's more than a dozen fic in the series all together.

I rarely have patience for long fic these days so I rarely read it unless it comes highly recommended. This fic? Was my own private anomaly. 31K in 7 days? /blinks/ Yeah, don't expect that to happen again any time soon!

Glad to see you though!
callisto24: trusthimcallisto24 on October 4th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
Love it. I hadn't seen an Ian/Colby pairing before and wasn't sure if I liked it. But you wrote it perfectly. They are great together. Thank you! :)
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 4th, 2008 07:21 pm (UTC)
Really? I have a previous Ian/Colby not unlike this one, only it's Colby who is whumped hard and it's nowhere near as long. /grins/

If you like this one, then you will probably like Air as well.

The next two parts should be up today and tomorrow if all goes according to plan.

Thanks for giving such a long fic a chance!
callisto24: will stevenscallisto24 on October 5th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC)
Hehe... cool. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out at once. :) I'm trying to read as much Ian-storys as possible. But probably I miss some of them.

Great stuff. I'm really looking forward to the next part. :)
Abbie Strehlow: BlueRocks_calendaeknotted_rose on October 4th, 2008 05:45 pm (UTC)
Yay! This is lovely. Thanks so much for sharing! And Ian! Colby! *hearts*
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 4th, 2008 07:23 pm (UTC)
Oh thank you, hon!

I enjoyed writing Ian/Colby so much in Air that I thought it might be nice to revisit the pairing for the ficathon. I just had no idea it would a) be so much like Air and b) so much loooooonger!

Glad you are enjoying it though!
rubynye: Honor (I lost the attribution)rubynye on October 6th, 2008 06:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, *wow*. This is dramatic and utterly awesome. And I must say, I love the way Ian appreciates Colby, who deserves some praise, poor guy.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on October 6th, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I figured it would be awesome if Colby got some props from one of his Army idols for his patriotism and sacrifice. The general public will never know what he had to endure to ensure their safety and freedom, so when people in the know show their respect? That's his reward.
Icarus Iso: Lou Diamond Phillipsicarus_iso on October 7th, 2008 09:11 am (UTC)
IAN!! *goes into a panic*

Loving the long fic, and the Ian/Colby. The whole 'waking up with a stick' scene had me rolling with laughter.
laura_trekkielaura_trekkie on January 21st, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)
Oh boys! Not much fun for them, despite all the talking they've done. Still, it makes for dramatic reading! Has Colby done enough? Is Rutger still around, maybe planning to take out a few feds?

Laura.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on January 28th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
FYI it's such a treat to have someone comment in parts on multi-part fic. (Please note I do not expect you to do that should you read Vice! It's in way too many parts! LOL)

I liked the idea of Rutger looming. It made Colby have to be careful and it almost hurt me knowing that he didn't have to be and it made it so much harder because it made them suffer more than they should have had to.

/pets boys/

Thanks for reading and commenting!
fyreflyfyrefly101 on February 13th, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
Eeep! This is awesome. And cliff-hanger-y (thankfully, the next part is already here). But I love the relationship between Ian and Colby, I think you've got it down perfectly, the interaction and banter. So, on to the next part!
devon99 on May 5th, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
Sweetie, this is fabulous!! Of course it is. I loved them just chatting, slowly opening up and learning about each other and then squeee!!! Landslide!!
Honestly, I think you are going to convert me to yet another pairing!!

I'll read the next part tomorrow x
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on May 5th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
Yay! Even if you don't convert to Ian/Colby (which is fine) I thought that it's a good solid tale that you would enjoy regardless of pairing. I really thought this one turned out well. I'm so glad you're giving it a chance! Thank you! ♥
lilacs_roseslilacs_roses on December 12th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
I was looking for some inspiration for a fic I'm doing for the New Year challenge and found this.

Wow... I can't believe I haven't read or come across this before, although I think I've heard the title referenced a time or two.

As with most everyone else, I loved the build up of the entire storyline. There was just a seemingly wonderful balance of UST/angst/guilt and etc. and the 'mortal danger' or whatever was just fantastic!!

I love Ian and his family in this a lot. Enjoyed seeing something AU like this :)

Since I found the story only a handful of days ago, I've read it twice and I can already tell you, it will definitely be one of my favorites.