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26 December 2011 @ 11:59 pm
Numb3rs/The Unit Fic: Enemy Lines  
Posted to numb3rs_fic
Crossposted to unit_command and n3crossovers


Title: Enemy Lines
Pairing/Characters: Charlie, Mack, Alan, Don, Jonas, Bob, Hector, Charles, Tom, OCs
Rating: PG13
Spoilers: Pilot, UP, Sniper Zero (Numb3rs), First Responders (The Unit)
Summary: Mack and Charlie crash land behind enemy lines while on a scientific mission
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ


"Dad, it's perfectly safe."

"If it was perfectly safe they wouldn't call it a war zone."


Charlie crawled out of the wreckage of the helicopter he'd been flying in mere seconds earlier and surveyed the damage, reeling in shock. Acrid smoke rose from the crumpled metal, sparks flew from the ruined equipment panels. He wasn't sure what hit them, but he could tell there was no way they were getting airborne again. They were grounded, deep behind enemy lines, all alone.

If he got out of this alive, his father was never going to let him consult for the military ever again.

If he got out of this alive...

+

"No plans to insert into enemy territory, no tactical raid, no munitions..." Mack looked up from his classified dossier in the Unit's briefing room. "This looks like a simple recon mission. Why use us for this?"

"Because," Tom explained. "The civilian consultants you will be escorting on the aerial survey mission possess some of the most brilliant minds in the world. Even though the job is simply to accompany them while they research the local terrain for their analysis, we cannot - I repeat - cannot allow them to come to harm. These people are incredibly valuable to the government and we want them to keep working for us. If we don't keep them safe, not only will they refuse to consult with us again, other civilian experts might refuse as well." Tom leaned over the table and stared down the team. "I don't need to remind you men who these consultants are helping us look for, so we are going to do our very best to make this mission totally uneventful for them. I want those civilian consultants to come back from the Middle East telling their spouses the trip was boring as hell."

"One boring field trip." Mack flipped the folder closed. "No problem."

The folder faded into a blur of color as Mack's dream memory slipped away and was replaced by the first sliver of consciousness.

The haze in front of Mack's eyes receded and he finally was able to see blue sky between the billowing gray smoke clouds coming out of the helicopter wreckage.

He put a hand to his forehead and it came back bloody. He tried to force himself to focus, but it took a few seconds longer for his head to clear.

He'd been on a mission. The details were fleeting and fuzzy in his concussed head, but he fought to retrieve them, to fight back to full awareness. He'd been assigned to protect someone...

Consciousness slammed back into him, bringing with it the clarity of memory.

"Dr. Eppes!"

"Over here!"

Mack pulled himself free of the debris that had covered him and made his way around to the other side of the downed chopper.

Charlie was nursing his left arm and had blood smeared all around his neck and jawline.

"How badly are you hurt? Can you walk?"

"I don't know," Charlie answered, obviously shaken up. "I-I haven't tried yet." He started to try to rise and Mack took him by his good arm to help him up. "Thanks," Charlie said. He took a few tentative steps. "Good, I can walk, because I get the feeling we need to get out of here fast."

"That's the understatement of the year," Mack muttered. "Give me a minute to see if I can salvage anything from the helicopter." He pointed to a nearby outcropping of rocks. "Hide between those. It should keep you out of the line of fire if anyone shows up."

Mack kept his rifle out as he scanned the area, waiting until Charlie was safely hidden before turning back to the wreck.

Voluminous clouds of smoke were leading the enemy right to their position like a beacon. It wouldn't be long before the wreck was found, so Mack knew they had to get moving fast.

+

As he rifled through the debris of the helicopter Mack could see the body of the pilot and tried not to let it distract him. The man had likely been dead since the RPG first hit them.

Mack grabbed a first aid kid, his own gear and weapons, a portable radio unit and finally Charlie's bag. He knew that even if they had to destroy the contents rather than carry them with them, he couldn't leave any classified data for the enemy to find.

One look at the shattered and sparking instrument panel told him he didn't need to zero out anything - the crash had destroyed all the electronics beyond repair.

Stepping back out into the brutal midday sun, Mack scanned the area again then brought what he'd found over to the rock shelter where Charlie was waiting.

"The GPS unit got busted in the crash, but I've got the maps of the area," he told Charlie as he handed him some gauze for the gash on his neck. "Knowing where the camp is on the map isn't the problem - it's figuring out where we are so we head in the right direction. I know what quadrant we were in when we got shot at, but with the helo veering off course as we came down? We could be miles away now. If we can find a few landmarks from before we went down we should be able to find our way out of here." He consulted his compass briefly then pointed. "Okay, that way is north..."

"We need to go that way." Charlie pointed to the southeast.

Mack eyed him. "What makes you say that?"

"Because the iron oxide content in the sandstone rises as you approach the area where camp is. Dr. Navim's research told us that. The rocks here are paler, but as you see they shift color as you head southeast. As long as we follow the terrain as it darkens and reddens in color we're heading in the vicinity of the camp."

"Are you sure?"

"Am I not betting my life on it?" Charlie looked him in the eye without even a hint of humor.

"Then let's go," Mack said, nodding with respect.

Before he could step out into the open, Charlie stopped him.

"Shouldn't we, you know, call for help? They should be able to send someone in to help us."

Mack readied his rifle and adjusted the pack on his back.

"Dr. Eppes, I am the person they send in."

+

"What the hell could you do for the military that has to be done behind enemy lines?"

"We're not going to be anywhere near enemy territory, Don!"


Charlie replaced the blood soaked gauze with a fresh handful from the first aid kit. Mack hadn't allowed him much rest time during their hike, but at least they hadn't seen any sign of the enemy so far.

So far.

Despite Mack's obvious skill as a soldier, Charlie knew all it would take was one reasonably close hit from another RPG or a sniper shot - something he was all too familiar with - in order to make Mack's protection moot.

"We should get moving." Mack stood up and started picking up his pack.

"Please," Charlie begged. "Just a few more minutes."

Mack looked at him, clearly recognizing the exhaustion in the smaller man's slouch.

"Dr. Eppes..."

"Charlie," he interrupted. "We've been flying together for three days now; I don't think being on a first name basis is breaking too much protocol. Besides, Sergeant Gerhardt is kind of a mouthful."

Mack gave him a grin. "Fair enough. Call me Mack."

"Okay, Mack." Charlie let out a sigh and got to his feet. "You're right, we should go. It would be selfish of me to put your life at risk by making you hang around while I rest."

"It's not your job to protect me, Charlie. It's my job to protect you." Mack scanned the area outside where they had been hiding during their rest and motioned to Charlie to come out and follow him.

"You're a fellow human being," Charlie reminded him. "Everyone has a duty to keep their fellow man from harm."

"If that were true," Mack said, checking his rifle. "Us soldiers would be out of a job."

+

Mack completed his scan of the gully they were about to head into and turned back to Charlie to let him know they should try to get through the open section as quickly as possible.

He looked sweaty and pale and was holding his left arm to his chest protectively.

"Are you sure you don't want a sling for your arm?" Mack asked.

As if to answer his question, Charlie lost his footing on the rocky ground and had to put out both hands to keep from stumbling. He winced and drew in a quick breath when his left arm was jarred breaking his fall.

"Can't," he muttered, drawing his arm back in again. "Need both arms free."

"Well, there's got to be something. Hold up." Mack put down his pack and started fishing through the first aid kit. He located a splint and a roll of bandages and pulled them out along with some tape.

"A splint won't help," Charlie started, but Mack stopped him.

"Not going to splint it. Move your arms away from your body for a minute."

Charlie complied and Mack began to wrap the rolled bandage around his waist. As Charlie watched in amazement, Mack used the materials to fashion a sort of splint shelf at his waist.

"There. When you don't need it rest your arm on the shelf. It won't help much, but it'll bear the weight of it better than you just holding it in place."

Charlie laid his arm on the shelf and felt the muscle tension in his shoulder begin to relax.

"Thanks."

"No problem."

Mack glanced up at the bloodied wad of gauze at Charlie's neck. "Looks like you're ready for more gauze." When Charlie removed it, Mack saw that the wound was still bleeding freely while his own head wound had closed up after an hour or so. Not wanting to alarm Charlie, he merely handed him more gauze.

"We need to get through this section quickly."

Charlie gazed out at the extensive gully stretched out before them. A brief expression of dismay crossed his expressive features and then disappeared as he set his jaw in determination and faced Mack.

"Then we'd better get moving."

+

On the far end of the gully there was a ghost town filled with ramshackle buildings. Apparently the locals had abandoned it when the war began, but that didn't convince Mack it was entirely empty.

Before they headed in, he pulled Charlie aside behind some rocks. He opened his pack and pulled out a semiautomatic pistol.

"Have you ever fired a gun before?"

Charlie took the gun he was holding out, removed the clip, checked it, slammed it back in and checked to make sure the safety was off.

"My brother's an FBI agent," he said by way of explanation.

Mack nodded, impressed. "There's a good chance all those buildings are empty, but if they're not..." Mack checked his own weapon. "You might need to defend yourself."

"I understand."

"You follow me and whatever I say or signal; you do it without question and without making a sound. Don't stop to wonder why I'm asking, just do it immediately. Everything I do is to try to keep you alive."

"I trust you."

Mack clapped a hand on Charlie's good shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

"Let's go then."

Mack led the way, slowly moving from building to building, signaling to Charlie to join him as he cleared the way. Each time Charlie was out in the open between buildings Mack almost held his breath until he was safely at his side again.

Mack stared down the line of buildings, knowing each one was slowing them down, but also knowing each one could hold a bullet with his - or Charlie's - name on it.

+

"We were told that our geological survey sample quadrants were far from enemy territory."

"Enemy territory changes daily here, Dr. Eppes. But don't worry, we haven't seen any enemy activity in your quadrants."


Once they had gotten almost all the way through the town, Charlie let out a silent breath of relief when he could see the last few buildings before him.

Suddenly a noise came from an upstairs window where a faceless figure quickly retreated out of view.

Charlie froze but Mack quickly grabbed him and they ran behind a shack on the other side of the street.

There was a dark alcove in the shade and Mack pushed him into it, hiding him from view.

There was only room for one person in the shadows so Mack took up a position against the building between the corner and Charlie, weapon at the ready.

The sound of footsteps coming out of the building across the way changed from sharp taps on wood to almost inaudible footfalls on dirt.

Charlie's heart raced; the pain in his neck throbbing and insistent as he fought down his overwhelming panic.

They heard voices, speaking in a foreign language, heading in their direction.

Mack pulled out a large knife, signaled Charlie to stay put and took off silently around the other side of the building.

Charlie desperately wanted to protest at being left alone, but Mack was gone so quickly he didn't get a chance.

Grasping his gun in his increasingly sweaty hands, he held it up, ready to shoot if he had to to survive.

He shrunk back into the shadows as much as he could, the darkness providing little protection from detection or the intense heat.

Charlie tensed as he heard the voices coming from the street. He could tell they were heading between the buildings and would be in sight in a matter of seconds. He raised his gun and thought of his father and brother back home, praying he'd get a chance to see them again.

The footsteps grew closer and he fought down a primal urge to just bolt, run away as fast as he could.

There were some shuffling sounds and then silence.

Charlie aimed towards the corner of the building and waited, unable to breathe the fear was so intense.

A form stepped out from behind the building and Charlie's finger tightened on the trigger.

It was Mack.

Mack quickly put out his hands, gesturing to Charlie that it was safe now. He was holding a bloody knife in one of them. He signaled to Charlie to wait and when he returned a few minutes later the knife was cleaned and put away.

Charlie understood and was grateful that Mack had kept him from seeing the bodies of the men he'd had to kill.

Once Mack came and got him, they started making their way through the town again, only now Mack kept Charlie closer to him, unwilling to let him get more than a few feet away.

Once they reached the end of the gully, Mack found them a hiding place in the rocks so Charlie could rest.

He sank to the ground - exhausted, emotionally drained and not ready to face the long rocky climb out of the valley towards safety.

+

The climb was steep and the terrain uneven, difficult even for Mack, so he knew it had to be grueling for Charlie.

Mack kept looking back each time he heard the tumble of rocks that signaled Charlie faltering again.

He was barely using the splint shelf at all now, needing his hands to steady himself as he climbed. They had run out of fresh gauze so Mack had resorted to loosely tying a bandanna around the last of it to keep it in place. Now the bandanna was soaked through so badly the collar of Charlie's shirt was also stained a dark rusty red.

The heat hadn't abated much when the sun lowered in the sky, but Mack kept pushing Charlie to drink more water, knowing his loss of blood was putting him at greater risk.

Mack pointed to a large boulder about twenty feet above them. "We'll rest there, okay?" He looked to Charlie for acknowledgment and found him staring back, his face pale and expressionless.

"Okay," he answered tonelessly, then started up again, each step obviously an arduous task.

Mack waited at the boulder and offered Charlie his hand when he got closer. Charlie took it, leaning on it heavily, until he was safely behind the rock.

They sat in the shade without speaking as their breathing returned to normal.

When Charlie tugged at the bandanna and winced, Mack cocked his head at it. "Too tight?"

"No, it's just kind of drying out and sticking to my skin, which makes it worse."

Mack picked up his canteen and unscrewed the top. "Tilt your head back."

Charlie frowned in confusion, but did as Mack asked.

"Back a bit further." Mack put his hand behind Charlie's head so he could lean back safely then poured a little water over the bandanna "That should loosen it up a bit," he said, pulling his hand back once Charlie sat up again.

"Thanks," Charlie said, fingering the bandanna. "That helps."

Mack closed up the canteen and scanned the rise above them with his binoculars.

"I can't see much from this position," Mack complained. "Stay here while I check things out."

Once he was done scanning for the enemy, Mack turned his binoculars on the last quarter mile they had yet to climb. He confirmed, once again, that the route he'd taken was the least harsh on Charlie while still maintaining a fairly direct route out of the area.

When he returned, he saw Charlie slumped against the rock with his eyes closed. As he got closer, he noticed how disturbingly still Charlie was. Worried he'd misjudged how bad Charlie's injuries were, he rushed the final few feet and shook Charlie's good arm lightly.

"Charlie?"

Charlie's eyelids fluttered open slowly and he seemed to be having trouble focusing.

Mack shook him a little harder. "Come on, Charlie. I need you with me."

"I'm here," he mumbled, his speech a little slurred. "Do we have to leave already?"

"I'm sorry, but we have to keep moving."

Charlie stared up at him plaintively, beseeching him wordlessly with the pain in his eyes.

Mack crouched down in front of him. "You can do this. It's not about physical conditioning, it doesn't matter if you're injured or not, this is about the will to live. If you have the strength of character to make it, you can walk out of here, and I know you have that strength in you. Your brother uses it every day as an FBI agent, I'm sure, so you can manage a few more hours if it means you get to see him again, right?"

Charlie nodded and took a deep breath to steel himself. "I can do this," he said, his voice quiet yet determined.

He stood up but before he could take a step he wavered, almost passing out, and Mack had to grab hold of him before his knees gave out on him.

"Easy there. I've got you."

Mack held on to Charlie until he was able to steady himself.

"Do you want some more water?" Mack offered, trying to keep the worry off his face.

Charlie shook his head. "I just want this to be over. I just keep hoping I'll wake up in my bed at home and this will all be just a bad nightmare..." He stopped as he saw Mack's head snap up. "What is it?"

Mack pulled out his binoculars and scanned the gully behind them. He quickly put them away and picked up his pack and Charlie's bag again.

"Charlie..." Mack looked him right in the eyes. "I know this is difficult. I know you didn't sign on for this, but we have to keep going."

Charlie swallowed hard.

"You saw something, didn't you?"

Mack nodded.

"We have to go. Now."

+

Beyond the gully the terrain wasn't all downhill as Mack had hoped. After a brief dip the landscape had gone into a gradual rise leading up to what he hoped was the crest so they could look down and get a better fix on their position.

Despite how poorly Charlie was doing, the adrenaline rush of knowing they were being tracked had given him just enough to get him out of the gully and out of the enemy's sight.

Now he was starting to show serious signs of fatigue and Mack wasn't sure how much more he could push him. He'd had to have lost at least a pint of blood by now and for such a small man that was serious.

Still, after each brief rest period Charlie had struggled to his feet and kept going, albeit slower and with more difficulty each time.

When they finally made it to the crest the mountains and valleys below them all seemed equally red in the light of the almost setting sun.

"Well?" Mack asked Charlie. "What does your research say now?"

"I-I can't remember," Charlie mumbled, his body folded protectively over the arm he held close to his chest. "It's on my laptop though."

Mack took the laptop out of Charlie's bag and opened it up.

"We don't have a lot of time."

"No, we don't," Charlie replied. "The indicator says the battery is almost dead on this thing." He winced when he pulled his arm away so he could type faster with both hands. "I only need to find the files for the first day's quadrants since we started close to the camp then expanded the grid from there."

He tapped furiously, cursing under his breath as he urged it on. "Come on, damn it, come on..."

Mack scanned the area with his binoculars, but couldn't find any signs of civilization. He already knew they wouldn't make it down the mountain before nightfall, but if he could solidify their direction now they had a chance of staying on course, even in the dark.

"No, no, no!" Charlie's voice had more than a hint of panic to it.

"What is it?" Mack asked.

"It's telling me it's going to shut itself down in two minutes due to low battery power and I haven't found the right file yet!"

Mack positioned himself behind Charlie so he could look over his shoulder. Satellite images of the quadrants flashed on the screen, but none looked like the view before them.

"There! That's it!" Mack grabbed Charlie's shoulder in excitement. "I recognize the rock formations. He briefly glanced up to confirm. "That quadrant is right there."

Charlie brought up a second document. "I just need to find out where that image falls in the quadrant map and we'll know where it is in relation to camp."

A window popped up on the screen with a thirty second countdown, warning of imminent shutdown.

"Hurry!"

Charlie moved the alert window aside and scanned the quadrant spreadsheet rapidly.

"Quadrant B-6... Found it!"

As Charlie stared at the screen the counter hit zero and the screen went black.

"No!" Mack cried. "The data!"

"Is in my head." Charlie closed the laptop and handed it back to Mack. He shut his eyes and sat in silence for a few seconds. "The first day's search grid started to the north of camp and headed west, covering A3 through A10 and then returning via B10 east to B-3, dropping down through A3 to return to camp." He opened his eyes and scanned the landscape in front of them. "If that is B6 as we both suspect, then we need to head even more south east than we have been to cross through B3 then A3 to get back to camp."

"Agreed. It's still a long way, but it's mostly downhill from here. It'll be harder to move quickly once we lose the daylight..."

"So we have to keep moving, I know."

Charlie let out a deep sigh then stood, accepting Mack's assistance with a weak smile.

Mack checked his compass briefly. "Okay, I've got our heading set." He picked up Charlie's bag and his own pack. "Let's get going."

Charlie took one last look across the rocky peaks and valleys before him.

"You know, when I first got here I thought this looked beautiful." He turned to Mack with an unreadable expression on his face. "But that was before I realized I might die here."

+

"Dr. Eppes, this is Sergeant Gerhardt. He's in charge of your personal protective detail while you're in country."

"Don't worry, Dr. Eppes. I'm here to make sure you get home safe and sound."


Charlie mindlessly put one foot in front of the other, holding on to the strap of Mack's pack so he could lead him over the uneven ground in the darkness.

Every time they stopped to rest now, Charlie became less and less sure he could get up and walk again. Each time he was sure he'd reached the limits of his endurance, yet each time the threat of capture if they stayed in one place too long was enough to keep him moving.

After the sun had gone down, a chilly wind had started to blow down from the north. Mack had pulled all the extra clothing out of his pack and put it on Charlie, but he still felt cold.

Unable to see in the moonless night, Charlie walked with his head hung down and his eyes closed, putting all his focus on staying in motion and following closely in Mack's wake so he didn't stumble.

"Shit!"

Mack stopped short as he swore and Charlie opened his eyes, confused.

Before he could figure out what was going on, Mack had tackled him to the ground and was dragging him behind a low group of rocks.

"What is it?"

Before Mack could respond, Charlie realized he could see Mack. Something had lit up the night sky enough that they could see each other and that meant they could be seen as well.

"Flares."

"Flares?"

Suddenly the sky above them lit up brightly as one of the flares went off almost directly above their position.

"They're trying to find us in the dark with these things. We have to hide." Mack glanced around desperately, but the flatlands they were crossing were mostly scattered with smaller rocks. "Here, move to the side and lay as flat as you can."

Charlie did as he was told and watched as Mack pulled a small shovel from his pack and began to furiously dig a shallow pit just behind the rocks. After a few minutes he put the shovel aside and motioned to Charlie to crawl over.

Charlie slid into the ditch with his back up against the rocks. It was just deep enough that he was completely shielded from view to the north, which was where the flares were apparently being fired from.

He watched as Mack dug a trench for himself as well and settled into it.

"We have to be close," Charlie said. "Why can't we radio for help?"

"Because the second we do they know exactly where we are," Mack explained. "The only way we can use the radio is if we're sure our guys can get to us first and right now, we're not even certain which quadrant we're in. They could still be another twenty miles out while these guys are right on top of us."

"Do we have a chance?" Charlie asked fearfully.

"If they didn't see us after the first flare, yes. It's a big valley and that works in our favor. They wouldn't be risking the attention the flares might bring if they had a clue where to look for us."

"But don't they know where camp is?" Charlie asked, confused. "Wouldn't they assume we'd head there?"

"Just because we flew out of that camp doesn't mean it's the only one out here. The United States Military has a serious presence in this area. Unfortunately that doesn't mean the enemy plays nice with us. They know these mountains better than anyone and if they don't want to be found..."

"You bring in people like me to help find them," Charlie finished. "You know," he said quietly. "I was the one who stressed how important it was for us to see the area in person rather than just work from satellite images. If anyone gets hurt as a result of that decision..."

"Don't think like that," Mack told him. "Thousands of people could die if you don't do a good enough job. We all take risks for the greater good." Charlie heard Mack let out a soft sigh. "I'm just sorry that you were put at risk because we didn't do a good enough job protecting you."

Before Charlie could protest, Mack signaled him to be quiet.

Charlie lay tensed and afraid in the ditch, listening as a sound in the distance came closer.

As it approached, he realized it was a vehicle.

Charlie could see Mack check his rifle and pull several grenades from his pack. He nodded to Charlie, glancing at the gun in his waistband to let him know he should have it ready.

Charlie's arms felt like lead as he held the gun in front of himself, waiting.

A jeep with four men in it passed by them about a hundred feet away. Charlie lay perfectly still as the flare above them began to fade, praying the jeep wouldn't turn around and see them.

The jeep went quite a distance away before looping back to return on the other side of them. As the jeep's headlights approached, Charlie found he couldn't breathe, he was paralyzed: muscles spasming as he held the heavy pistol beyond his weakened body's ability to perform, yet unable to move.

The jeep passed so close to them Charlie could hear the voices of the men inside, foreign words spoken with thick accents.

He lowered his gun as he saw Mack lower his own in the fading light.

"They're gone, but they might be back," Mack whispered. "It's going to be a while before we can consider walking out in the open again, so rest while you can."

Charlie looked at him, torn.

"Don't worry," Mack told him. "I'll keep an eye on you. You'll be okay."

"If I close my eyes," he said, choking down the fear that threatened to overwhelm him. "Can you promise me I'll wake up again?"

"Charlie," Mack said gently. "Like all the soldiers in my unit, I have field medic training. I can promise you, promise you," he repeated, putting emphasis on his words, "that if you rest now you will wake up again."

Charlie bit his lip, trying to fight back the tears he'd been keeping at bay for hours, and nodded to Mack in acknowledgment.

Even still, it took a while before he felt brave enough to finally close his eyes.

+

"Charlie... Charlie..."

Mack shook Charlie to wake him, feeling relieved when he finally responded.

"What the... Where am I?" Charlie muttered in confusion.

"You're with Sergeant Mack Gerhardt in the desert. Our helicopter crashed. Do you remember?" After a few seconds of silence Mack nudged Charlie again. "Charlie?"

"Yeah..." came a small voice out of the pitch black. "Sorry, it took a minute to realize that this is the reality and not the nightmare."

"I hear you," Mack said kindly.

"How long was I out?"

"Almost two hours. The enemy patrols stopped about forty minutes ago, but I wanted to be sure they were out of the area before we started moving again. Are you ready?"

"Do I have a choice?" Charlie grumbled tiredly as Mack got to his feet, putting out his hand to help Charlie up.

Charlie accepted the hand and rose only to waver then collapse - Mack barely catching him in time.

He lowered the disturbingly light frame in his arms to the ground, checking for a pulse. It was there - weak, but steady. He put a hand to Charlie's neck where it had been injured and found the bandanna and Charlie's collar still soaked wet with blood. Checking beneath it was clear it had been flowing freely the whole time. It was a wonder the little professor had made it this far. Clearly the Eppes men were made of stronger stuff, but even they had limits.

"Charlie? Charlie?"

With an exasperated breath Mack opened up the first aid kit. Keeping his watch on the area around him, Mack pulled out the needles and tubing needed for a field transfusion. He silently gave thanks for having Type O negative blood that could be donated to anyone and worked quickly to make the connection.

Watching the time, he tuned the radio in at the set communications window and waited for a blind transmission. The last message had been from the base letting him know there was too much anti-aircraft fire to send air support and to make their way back to base, watching for patrols out looking for them.

This time around the message was from Jonas. That alone boosted Mack's confidence, but the message wasn't heartening. Both local bases were under attack so he advised veering west a little as they traveled south so they'd wind up between the two bases - the only area where there wasn't currently shelling and active machine gun fire.

Jonas had taken command of the search party and would be focusing his efforts in the area between where he'd suggested Mack travel and the logical direct route Mack was already on. If he showed up anywhere between those points Jonas or another member the team or someone under Jonas' command would find them and bring them in.

Mack watched his life's blood drain from him, feeling it draining his waning reserves of energy along with it. The transfusion would keep Charlie alive, but it wasn't likely he'd walk out of this standing on his own two feet by the time it was done.

But Mack stood by his promise: he would get Charlie back, even if it wasn't without a scratch.

+

First aid gear put away, Mack tried again to wake Charlie. This time it took longer to roust him and Charlie woke nearly as disconcerted as the first time.

"What happened?"

"You passed out. You've lost a lot of blood." Mack watched as Charlie's hand went to his blood-soaked bandana. "We have to get you out of here." Mack slung Charlie's arm over his neck. "I'm going to help you stand real slow now. Just try to stay with me."

Achingly slow, Mack lifted Charlie to his feet. Once he was standing, Mack stayed still while Charlie stabilized.

"I think I'm okay now," Charlie said quietly.

Mack let go of him, staying close just in case.

"Here... Drink some water." He put the canteen into Charlie's hands and waited as he drank. "I have a fix on a route for us. I was able to see a little of the landscape when the flares were going off so I'm going to take us a little off course so the terrain will be easier on you."

"Doesn't that put us at greater risk?" Charlie asked, handing the canteen back. "We'd be out in the open longer and we risk missing the camp."

Mack held off on answering right away. Charlie didn't need to know the two nearest bases were currently under attack. Panic didn't help anything. "We don't have to head in a perfect line to the camp. Trust me, if anyone gets even remotely in the vicinity of the camp the sentries will know about it. Besides, you have to understand that there are patrols out looking for us. We only need to run into one."

"As long as it's our guys," Charlie said ruefully.

Mack picked up the gear so they could start walking again.

"It's my guys out looking for us now," Mack told him with confidence. "Even if you've got the whole damn Army looking for you? These are the Army Rangers who'll actually find you."

+

"General? Wouldn't it be wise if us consultants were, you know, armed while we're out on survey? Just in case."

"Dr. Eppes, you're overreacting! You're under the protection of the United States Army. We won't let anything happen to you."


They heard the sounds before they saw anything, almost over the last ridge when the sky lit up with signs of warfare.

Charlie shrank against the rock Mack pulled him down behind, fighting off the enticing pull of unconsciousness that had been haunting him for miles.

"Stay put," Mack warned him. "And keep your gun out until I get back."

Charlie swallowed hard. "What do I do if you don't come back?" he asked, his voice tremulous.

"I always come back," Mack assured him.

Charlie clutched the gun tight, fear blazing anew in his chest, adrenaline - weakened by overuse - still jolting his nerve endings even after half a day.

Mack appeared before him and Charlie realized he had no idea how long he'd been gone.

"We're stuck aren't we?" he asked, forlorn. "People with guns on both sides of us now - behind us and in front of us?"

"When you think forward and backward are the only ways to go?" Mack told him. "Start thinking diagonally." He pointed at a tangent to where they'd been traveling. "I know my team. If our original rendezvous was compromised - and it has been, I can see that from the top of the ridge - they'd pick a location based on our protocols and I can see where they'd pick. We just need to get over this ridge and stay far enough north to avoid the shelling."

Charlie just looked up at him, tears welling unbidden in his eyes as the pain and weakness sapped the last of his strength. "I don't know if I can make it." His voice cracked as his throat tightened. "I just don't have anything left. I'm sorry."

Mack crouched down close enough that he could see his face in the scant moonlight.

"Charlie, you've already gone farther and fought harder than most soldiers would have in your place. And I promise you, it won't be for nothing. I'm getting you out of here if I have to carry you the rest of the way myself. I am not leaving you behind, do you hear me?"

Mack reached a hand into the scruff at the back of his neck and gave him an encouraging little shake and Charlie let his head fall forward, tears finally falling at the memory of his brother doing the very same gesture to support him.

"I don't want to let you down," Charlie finally choked out.

"You haven't," Mack assured him. "Your assessment of the mineral content in the rocks, your memory of the survey data... Those things helped save us. When we get out of here? It's because both of us made it happen." He shifted his hand to Charlie's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "So what do you say you and I go find my team and get the hell out of here?"

Charlie steeled himself for one last push, the mental images of his brother and father and even his late mother driving him forward. With Mack's help he got to his feet, steadied himself and wrapped his hand around the backpack strap he used to follow behind Mack safely.

"I'm ready. Lead the way."

+

The shelling grew closer as Mack led Charlie over the ridge and down towards the valley where the two Army base camps were situated miles apart. Once over the ridge he uncovered the infrared reflective patches built into the sleeves of his uniform. The patches would glow brightly in night vision goggles and now that they were over the ridge the odds were that Jonas and the rest of the Unit would be the ones spotting him, not the enemy.

It was hard to tell if the troop movements were warranting the shift in aim or if the mortars were being aimed away from the main action hoping to stop them. Still, Charlie could only walk so fast and at the rate he was stumbling behind Mack he wouldn't last much longer.

A near miss showered them with rock debris from above and Mack heard a fearful yelp from Charlie behind him.

"Make sure you hold on!" Mack told him. "We've just got to clear..." A deafening explosion enveloped them both, knocking them from their feet and pelting them with rock debris as they tumbled down the hillside - Mack trying as best he could to wrap himself around Charlie to cushion his fall.

They slid to a halt finally, half buried in gravel and dirt, and Mack quickly checked Charlie's vitals. Pulse and breath were faint and, with a sinking certainty, Mack realized this time he wasn't going to be able to return Charlie to consciousness with just a strong shake and some patience.

Gathering up the professor's small frame in his arms, Mack struggled to his feet, feeling a slicing pain and dampness along his leg that had to mean shrapnel wounds.

He staggered, but got his feet under him and set off down the hill.

Gritting his teeth at the pain, each step was a mission - one he refused to fail.

+

Mack had tuned his radio to the frequency he knew Jonas would be on and tuned his ear for any sound that it might come to life.

When it squelched and Jonas' voice came across it, Mack felt a surge of relief go through him. His team would come for him; this he firmly believed in.

"Dirtdiver! We have a visual. Please confirm."

Mack laid Charlie down carefully then proceeded to cover up and uncover his infrared patches so the Unit team member viewing them would recognize it as their own personal code to identify each other even if someone got a hold of their uniforms and pretended to be them.

"Confirmation received." Jonas voice was as strong and assured as ever. "Sit tight, Dirtdiver. We're on our way to you. Snakedoctor out."

The moon came out from behind the clouds and while it was faint it illuminated the countryside enough that Mack could see he was on the lower portion of the ridge, probably because they'd fallen farther than he realized.

The sound of a Humvee approaching filled him with relief, especially as the shapes of Jonas and Hector became clear as the vehicle approached.

"Hang in there, Charlie," Mack breathed, holding the limp body in his arms tightly. "You're almost home."

The Humvee stopped and Jonas jumped out, leaving Hector behind the wheel.

"We need to get out of here and fast," Jonas explained, holding his arms out for Charlie.

"I've got him," Mack said, rising carefully and carrying Charlie to the Humvee himself, letting Jonas help them both into the back seat before they peeled out, heading into the desert.

"Which base are we going to?" Mack asked, noting that their route wasn't towards either base. "He needs a medic now or we're going to lose him."

"Figured time would be of the essence," Jonas told him, gesturing through the front windshield. "So we arranged some faster transportation."

The Humvee came to an abrupt halt and Mack could see a helicopter warming up before them.

Jonas helped Mack out of the vehicle, clearly no longer trying to take Charlie from him, and they made their way to where Bob was flipping switches, preparing to take off.

"One air ambulance," Bob said, gesturing them to the medical team waiting in the back with a gurney ready to accept Charlie. "Let them get started and we'll be at the hospital's helipad in four minutes."

Mack laid Charlie down and immediately the medics swarmed over him, bandaging his neck wound and inserting an IV.

"Take care of him," Mack told them, then let Jonas guide him to a seat as the helicopter took to the air, bringing them to safety - finally.

+

"Be grateful, Dr. Eppes. You could have died out there. It's a miracle you managed to travel that far in your condition."

"It wasn't a miracle. It was just one soldier willing to do whatever it took to get me out alive, that's all. "


Hospitals looked pretty much the same so Charlie didn't see much difference in the Army hospital in Afghanistan and the one in Germany, especially since everyone spoke English to him.

He'd been debriefed not long after he woke the next day, still weak from blood loss and his ordeal, but all they'd been able to tell him was that his escort, Sergeant Gerhardt, had been the one to bring him in. No word on Mack's condition at all. Even though he had no memory of anything save an explosion he was convinced something had to have happened during the shelling for Mack not to come see him afterward.

"Dr. Eppes? How about a little sunshine?"

Charlie looked up to find a short man of indeterminate ethnicity, with hair curlier and darker than his own and a real beard versus his now fairly lengthy stubble, brandishing a wheelchair. He wasn't dressed like a hospital orderly, but somehow inspired confidence enough for Charlie to put aside his math journal and shift from his bed to the wheelchair.

"Sure, why not? I've been cooped up here for days."

The man wheeled him out into a lovely garden patio area and set him up near a wooden bench beside an arbor.

Once he retreated the door closed behind him then opened again almost right away, revealing another patient - one getting around by leaning lightly on a cane.

It took Charlie a second to realize he recognized the man.

"Mack!"

"Hey there, Professor!" Mack said, affection clear in his tone as he hobbled over to the bench and sat down. "Hope you don't mind me stealing you away to check in on you."

"Mind?" Charlie was almost speechless, he was so flustered. "I've been asking and asking about you - if you were all right - and no one would tell me anything!"

"I'm good. Just a little scraped up. And what we do?" Mack shrugged. "We're supposed to just do it and disappear - no names, no glory, just getting the job done."

"It shouldn't be like that," Charlie said, suddenly solemn. "You guys should be touted as heroes after every mission like that. You saved my life! You kept classified data from falling into enemy hands even though our helicopter was shot down! That deserves a medal in my book."

Mack managed a little grimace. "Yeah, but the less people know about us? The safer we are. And more importantly, the safer our families are. I mean, you only got to know my name because this wasn't supposed to be a real mission, but since it ended up that way..."

"I've been properly debriefed," Charlie interjected. "I understand all names stay classified."

"Thank you." Mack nodded his head. "I mean, we're not even supposed to know each other so even this little meeting had to be arranged with a bit of subterfuge."

Charlie grinned. "The guy who came for me with the wheelchair? One of yours?"

"No comment," Mack answered, grinning as well.

He produced a newspaper clipping out of his pocket and handed it over to Charlie who accepted it with his uninjured arm, glancing at the headline: 'Al Queda Desert Stronghold Routed by Army Forces.' A quick scan of the text revealed it was in the area where they'd been doing their survey. "Was this during?"

"Because of," Mack amended. "What the articles doesn't say - can't say - is that the Army used the results of the scientists' findings to locate that stronghold and capture the terrorists there. They can't reveal your involvement because they fully intend on using those findings to keep looking."

"So like your unit, it's safer for everyone if we don't get recognition for our work," Charlie said, nodding.

"War is sacrifice," Mack said. "And I'm happy to stay anonymous if it means I can stay alive and keep coming home to the wife and kids."

"Well, if I should come across any college students in the future with a particular last name I'll be sure to give them extra time and attention."

Mack huffed out a little chuckle. "If - and that's a big if - you get one of us as a student I can tell you now: my wife will demand the extra time and attention whether you want to give it up or not and my daughters?" He smiled thoughtfully, clearly proud. "They'd be worth your time."

Charlie sat back in the warm sun, his last worry soothed, his last painful memory fading.

"Of that? I am completely certain."

=
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on December 31st, 2011 11:32 pm (UTC)
Confession
OMG Where do I even begin with this fic?

To begin at the beginning, I started this fic in September... of 2006. Yeah, long time. I actually finished a first draft in March of 2010.

And then I sat on it.

I knew it needed work, but as I was from the start I felt daunted by the military details, afraid to get them wrong.

So I kept calling in experts - several of them in fact. It took that many votes of confidence (and edits) to get me to finally think this fic *might* be ready for publication.

Well, that and the calendar ending telling me I had only a few days if I wanted this published in 2011. /sigh/

Originally this was to be a slash fic, but the muse had other ideas. Feel free to read with slash goggles on, but it's gen all the way through. Oh well. (Okay technically there's a hint of het at the end when Tiffy is mentioned along with the girls, but I wasn't about to change this from gen to het over that alone.)

FWIW One major thing holding this fic back for ages was lack of an ending. I had this great tense tale going and then no way to get them out of it. I'd be lost without my military betas. With their feedback I came up with a way to postpone the rescue and keep the danger level high without making the Mack or military searching for them look at all inept. To be fair, I still broke with their advice at times to create a more dramatic situation (like with the flare guns and the lack of air support like drones out looking for them), so any and all errors are most certainly mine.

Very special thanks to First Readers csichick_2 and melissima, betas t_vo0810 and dizzydrea and my three miltary betas/Army experts t_vo0810's brother, Sergeant Dale from The Unit fandom and LJer luminous_mortal for their assistance with this fic.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais
ALEOaleo_70 on December 31st, 2011 11:58 pm (UTC)
Even though I haven't watched much of The Unit (except maybe one or two early eps) or know very little about military protocols I enjoyed this. You kept the tension up all the way through.

Based on your notes I'd have to say I'm glad you left out the slash elements, it would have detracted from the rest of the story and would have seemed odd given the somewhat more urgent things on their minds.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on January 1st, 2012 12:18 am (UTC)
Wow, that was fast! And thank you for taking the time to read this long crossover! (It's nice to have someone like you in the fandom who appreciates crossovers!)

I think not going slash was the right call. I figure slashers can imagine the slash without my help. ;-)

I worked really hard on the tension so I'm thrilled that you think I managed to keep it going the whole time. That's great!

Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment.

Happy New Year!
msgrahamcrackermsgrahamcracker on January 1st, 2012 01:18 am (UTC)
What a wonderful New Year's gift! I loved the action and excitement and heroics. I am a bigger fan of Numb3rs than of The Unit, but I recognized Mack and Jonas and Hector, and I have to say, I loved the fact that you put Mack with Charlie - Mack, as in the actor Max Martini, who also played Agent Billy Cooper on Numb3rs. A double crossover!

Mack's stoic heroism and Charlie's stubborn determination was a joy to read. Thank you and Happy New Year.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on January 1st, 2012 01:34 am (UTC)
Oh, yay! Someone else who knows the Unit enough for this to make sense! Excellent!

And yes, my roomie melissima is a huge Max Martini fan so I try to write him in all his incarnations to make her happy. :-)

Thank you so much for the gift of reading and commenting on this fic. It makes me so pleased when people give my long fic a try, especially gen and crossovers.
melissima: Charlie' shy smile  <lj user=darkangel41melissima on January 1st, 2012 04:55 am (UTC)
Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!!!!

I envy your facility at maintaining tension and building it to crescendo. I was (of course) riveted at word one here, but this is quite a ripping yarn and I would proudly rec it to anybody on excitement alone.

"Charlie, you've already gone farther and fought harder than most soldiers would have in your place. And I promise you, it won't be for nothing. I'm getting you out of here if I have to carry you the rest of the way myself. I am not leaving you behind, do you hear me?"

Mack reached a hand into the scruff at the back of his neck and gave him an encouraging little shake and Charlie let his head fall forward, tears finally falling at the memory of his brother doing the very same gesture to support him.

"I don't want to let you down," Charlie finally choked out.

"You haven't," Mack assured him. "Your assessment of the mineral content in the rocks, your memory of the survey data... Those things helped save us. When we get out of here? It's because both of us made it happen." He shifted his hand to Charlie's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "So what do you say you and I go find my team and get the hell out of here?"

Charlie steeled himself for one last push, the mental images of his brother and father and even his late mother driving him forward. With Mack's help he got to his feet, steadied himself and wrapped his hand around the backpack strap he used to follow behind Mack safely.

"I'm ready. Lead the way."


I love that section, from the pep talk to the little shake we've all seen Charlie receive from Don, to Our Favorite Professor's grit and determination it's a perfect storm of awesome. /happy sigh./

Thank you so much for writing this. It's a treasure.
fyreflyfyrefly101 on January 1st, 2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
Awesome. Action and adventure, not the mention the brilliance of the cross-over character(s). I thoroughly enjoyed this, and appreciate the time you took to get the military details into it.

I've missed the weekly dose of new N3 episodes, and though this didn't have the entirety of the team, it definitely went towards filling that hole. Charlie and Mack in the wilds of Afghan - what a brilliant start to the new year! Thank you!
aka DevilWoman, the Thrower of (plot)Bunniesjebbypal on January 2nd, 2012 08:59 pm (UTC)
Oh great job. You really captured the intensity of the unit eps while incorporating Charlie in. Loved it
draoichtanghra on January 4th, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC)
Well done, Emma! This was brilliant, and while I'm normally a slash girl (and a big fan of your Billy/Charlie stories) and would love to see Mack/Charlie, this works as it is. And while I don't think that your fans would be too happy if all your stories took so long to come to fruition, this one was worth the wait, although not actually knowing what we were waiting for may have helped!

Thank you.

magic