A/N: UNDER THE WIRE! Ok, it doesn't count. I'm not DONE. (Shhh, Miles, "I told you so" is not a nice thing to say.) But I have a big update! Yay!
I'm so excited for them to bring the show back tonight. I hope everyone gets to watch and enjoy and discuss in comments. (As usual, I left you guys notes at the end.)
Now let's see how this rescue mission goes.
"Charlie, if my father's here, our best bet is going to be you fading away in the confusion of handing over Miles. It'll be chaos."
Jason's whisper had reached her moments after the door opened. He had been right, this was madness. When they stepped through the door, her uncle was ripped from their grasp, and she and Jason were corralled to a side of the room. For all that he'd protested outside that Miles was their trophy, Jason had known they'd be relegated to a minor role in the official capture.
"Honestly, it's better if they just think it's me. There are too many chances that you'll be recognized, uniform or no," he said under his breath now. The noise in the entry hall was enough that they were able to talk without drawing undue attention.
Charlie glanced nervously at Miles, who was glowering in the center of the room, surrounded by about twenty militiamen of various ranks. They were talking at and about him, taunting the former general with graphic promises of what was in store for a traitor like him. But they weren't touching him.
"What if they hurt M- him?" she whispered back, reluctant to split up and leave Miles undefended.
"They won't, not until he sees General Monroe," Jason said. "Standing orders are alive and unharmed. That should buy us some time."
"But won't they notice if I just leave?" It seemed like a dubious option. It wasn't like she hadn't been seen or given her name. Could they really make it 45 minutes without someone looking for her?
"Watch this," he said with a wink. Jason moved to his left, sidling up to a nervous-looking soldier who hung back a bit from the rest.
"Lieutenant," the man greeted him when Jason made eye contact. "You sure know how to make an entrance."
Jason didn't respond, but shot the man a look Charlie recognized as one her uncle used when he wanted to assert authority. She always thought of it as a "cut the crap, Charlie" look.
"What can I do for you, sir?" the soldier asked, less familiar this time. "We've sent runners for your father and the general, they should get here any minute."
She saw Jason's back go ramrod straight, just as it had when he'd learned that his father was here ahead of them. The general? Monroe was here too? Did that mean they'd just put Miles in real danger?
"Good, I need to brief them on this whole situation," Jason answered after a pause. "But for the moment," he gestured in her direction. "The private helped me keep an eye on the prisoner for part of the walk, but she wasn't expecting to come this far today. Needs a privy, if you've got one."
The soldier looked around Jason at her, and Charlie played along, attempting a pained smile, as if she hadn't made sure to go in the woods before the three of them set off.
"She'd have to have an escort. Not a lot of women here, honestly," the man shrugged. "Most of us use outhouses behind the bunkhouse. Only privy is downstairs near the holding cells. Couple of female prisoners."
Charlie started shifting back and forth, trying to look as uncomfortable as possible. If she could get escorted down to the holding cells, maybe she'd see Danny. At the very least, she'd know how to bring Miles and Jason back when it was time.
"I should really stay here," Jason said as if considering being her escort. The soldier nodded agreement. "What's your name, soldier?"
"Sergeant Fields, sir."
"Sergeant, can I count on you to do the honors?"
Fields looked dubious, so Charlie bounced from one foot to the other, hoping it would pass as someone desperate to use the facilities. After an interminable few seconds, he snapped off a salute to Jason and nodded.
"Suppose I can, sir. Better hurry, private, they'll want you back here right quick." Fields turned toward the far corridor and Charlie had a moment to meet Jason's eyes. Some of her anticipation must have shown on her face, because his eyes darkened with worry.
"Be careful," they both whispered. The corners of his eyes crinkled as he suppressed a smile, and then he nodded in the direction that Fields was moving.
"Better get going. Behave yourself, private." His words were sharp with warning, but it was the softness on his face that sped up her pulse. Well, that and the prospect of going, alone, into the depths of an enemy base.
"You too, Lieutenant," she said, trying to keep her tone even and respectful, while still conveying her fear that the coming meeting was fraught with danger for both Jason and Miles. As she passed him, he casually moved his arm out, brushing hers and catching her hand for half a second. The contact steadied her. She exhaled – trusting him to live through the next few minutes, to keep her uncle alive, to find her again – and walked down the hallway after the retreating sergeant.
Nora was tired. Ever since getting stabbed in Pennsylvania by that misguided rebel, she'd fought to hide the occasional twinge, preferring that Miles focus his worry on any of the other members of their party. There was Charlie, who couldn't walk a mile without finding another hopeless crusade or wandering wide-eyed into a militia trap. Aaron had grown less astonished and grimmer as the distance between them and Chicago had increased. And now they'd picked up Jason Neville, who was probably planning to kill them all and abscond with Charlie for his own nefarious Neville purposes.
Yes, there were many things he needed to worry about that trumped her inability to run for more than a mile without getting winded.
"So listen, I know you wound up stuck with me because, let's face it, they didn't think I'd be helpful inside, but I can help," Aaron insisted from behind her. "Let me help."
She paused in her cataloguing of gear and looked up at him. He towered over her, even if she was on her knees, and she motioned him to the right, out of her light.
"This is a two person job, Aaron," she said shortly. "There will be work for you. Right now, that's to watch for anyone on patrol so we have time to hide all of this before they show up."
He crossed his arms and looked at her for a few beats before nodding. "Fine, yeah, watch for patrols. Cause we all know I'm incredibly good at the soldier stuff." But he shuffled off to do a perimeter check, and Nora smiled. She was starting to suspect that his "I'm just a civilian" protests were mostly to allow the group dynamic to stay stable. He knew what he was doing.
She turned her attention back to the mess of dynamite and rolled up fuse. She'd checked about half of the sticks so far, and it looked like most of them had survived intact despite all these years in hiding. She'd only had to toss three because of damp powder.
As she worked, she listened intently, tracking Aaron's movements around her position, noting the noises of birds and the creaking of the trees in the breeze. Miles may not have a firm plan past getting into that facility, but her part of this show needed to go off without a hitch. He could improvise; she needed to know her lines exactly. They needed a distraction, a big one, and an exit. She would provide both.
Once she'd determined how much dynamite she was working with, Nora separated the delicate sticks of packed powder into three unequal piles. She then wrapped them back in their protective oilskin and placed two piles into her bag, sliding the third into Aaron's.
She was dividing the fuse when he walked back into the clearing.
"Well, I haven't met any soldiers yet, but I have no idea if that's because they're all ninjas like Miles or super soldiers like the kid," he said, keeping his voice low. "You done yet?"
"Only just." Using her knife to make the final split, she shoved one of the balls of fuse into his pack and pocketed the other two.
He looked down at the pack, obviously uneasy.
"You said you wanted to help," she sighed. "Don't quit on me now."
"I just," he began, "I'm not…" She watched him pull his glasses off and rub the sweat off his face. "This isn't exactly my area of expertise."
She stood, gently lifting her pack and sliding it over one shoulder. She'd cradle it in one of her arms for the walk – no sense in jarring loose all her hard work. When she looked over her shoulder he was still standing there, looking down.
"Right, yeah. Coming." He dropped to one knee, and she saw his hand shake as he slowly eased his pack off the ground. When it didn't immediately explode in his face, his shoulders dropped in relief.
"Just try not to hold it upside down," she reminded him with gentle humor before starting off.
They walked east for about 10 minutes, following the memory of the dirt sketches that Miles and young Neville had argued over when settling the details of the plan this morning. She kept to the woods, careful to check any path or clearing before motioning Aaron across. They hadn't seen hide or hair of a soldier, and it was starting to creep her out. Miles in captivity was a really good distraction, apparently.
The man on the other side of the tree took her by surprise. Apparently he felt the same, because he froze in the process of using the tree as his own private necessary. He didn't even have time to refasten his pants before she'd slid her pack to the ground and attacked. She felt the whoosh of air leaving his body as she landed a kick to his stomach, then she grabbed a handful of his hair and used her grip to smash his head against the tree as hard as she could. He slid to the ground, face down, blood trickling from his forehead.
"Literally caught with his pants down," Aaron said when he'd recovered his composure. Nora glared and shushed him, fighting to catch her breath. They were too close to the road now, to the first of their targets. She stripped the soldier's boot laces and used them to tie his hands, and then she and Aaron dragged him further into the forest. Hopefully, the blow to the head and the distance from the road would leave him disoriented and less able to return and sound the alarm.
The confrontation had slowed them down, and she felt the urgency of a slip in schedule keenly.
"Are you ready for this?" she asked him one more time. "Do it all exactly as I explained."
Aaron didn't bother to answer, but met her gaze, the grim set to his mouth telling her enough. He would take this seriously.
It was time to blow a few holes in Monroe's base.
Rachel sat, her knees pulled to her chest and her head resting on them, just listening to the sounds of the makeshift prison. She'd been carefully searched when they'd put her in her cell, as she'd known she would be when Bass suddenly announced the change in plan. No one in this place trusted her. The only reason she was still alive was that she'd killed Bradley Jaffe.
It sat heavily on her heart, more so than the other lives she had ended since the blackout. Jaffe had been a friend, a colleague, and his will to resist had been broken only because she had given Bass enough information to find his daughter.
He hadn't deserved death.
But there had been no other options. If he had completed the amplifier without building the failsafe, as she had planned, his daughter might have been safe, but thousands of other children would die screaming.
Still, she hadn't yet been able to get her hands clean of his blood. Rachel knew she had acted as she must, but her soul felt dirty, and she wept for him when she was alone at night.
With deliberate care, she pulled her mind away from the yawning emptiness that contemplating Bradley or Ben created inside of her.
Monroe did not trust her. His soldiers did not trust her. So her key would have been discovered if she'd held onto it. Slipping it into Danny's pocket had been an impulse, as its discovery would have set her planning back by months. Now, though, she was coming to regret the decision.
She barely knew her son. Oh, she loved him unreservedly and would do anything to rescue him from the situation in which he found himself, but she didn't know him. She couldn't predict his moods, check his impulses or pacify his fears because all of those were utterly foreign to her. She'd left him little more than a baby, clinging to his sister's hand. Now he was a man grown, with a boy's gentleness in his eyes.
If Miles was really here… Rachel shivered, unwilling to follow that train of thought. Miles had made his choices, and was of no concern to her anymore. He did not figure into her plan.
Rachel prayed that at some point in his childhood her son had acquired a small measure of his father's ability to read her mind. He was going to need it.
Miles watched Charlie hurry off down a corridor with considerable relief. She'd met Tom Neville too many times, in too many high intensity situations, to safely play the innocent bystander around him. He wasn't sorry she'd miss meeting Bass, either. His best friend had already done quite a number on the Matheson family.
He glanced to the left, seeing Jason leaning against the wall expectantly. The large bag was at his feet, Miles' sword and the kid's arrows tucked inside along with a few extra knives in case Charlie or his nephew needed to be armed. God, he hoped the young sonofabitch understood how much his performance in the next few minutes would mean. He needed to be amazing.
"Looking a little green around the gills, Matheson," someone taunted him from the right.
"I think the general's feeling a bit outnumbered," another man called.
"We should give 'im a real nice militia welcome."
And then sharp steps were ringing down a hallway – not, he noticed, the one that Charlie had just taken – and the hair on Miles' neck was standing on end. Bass always did like to make an entrance.
"Soldiers, let's give our prodigal some air," Bass was saying, as a path opened in the ring of men to let him approach. Their eyes met, and the warmth and welcome in his former friend's shockingly blue gaze stunned Miles. What was Bass playing at? Where were the threats and the firing squad?
Instead, he held out his hand and gestured for Miles to follow.
"Come, old friend, let's take a walk."
Ah. So the threats and firing squad were coming, but Bass wanted to talk first. The odds would be better, Miles knew, away from this crowd. He and the kid could probably take about half of them down no sweat, but there would be sweat (and likely blood) to get through the rest. He nodded once. He didn't trust himself to speak yet – he would undoubtedly say something nasty that would end this friendly charade. And his job was to buy everyone else time, at least for now.
"Sir, you should not go alone."
Both Bass and Miles looked over at Tom Neville, who was standing a few feet to the left. Bass grimaced.
"No, of course not, please join us. Choose two men as guards, and, is that your son over there? By all means, bring him as well."
Neville, who Miles could see was now ranked Major, nodded and moved efficiently, selecting the other two men and giving instructions to Jason. The kid slung his bag over his arm and fell into step at the back of the group.
The rest of the crowd was dispersing, realizing perhaps that their commanding officer would soon start questioning why half his force was lingering here and not at their posts. I hope that was enough time, Nora.
The two guards took his arms, bound behind him, and Bass nodded in the direction that Charlie had vanished not three minutes earlier.
"Shall we?" He was all charm, smiles, the benevolent leader. "We have ever so much to talk about."
With a shove from behind, Miles started moving.
Danny was sure his mother had given him the key for a reason. He had no idea what that reason might be, but he knew it must exist. If he'd learned anything since meeting her again, it was that she was the single smartest person he'd ever known. Maybe aside from Maggie, but Maggie was a doctor and she had to be smart to do her job. His mother was a scientist, someone who could build machines and create plans. And somehow, he was going to figure this one out.
He turned the key over in his pocket, ever so slowly so he wouldn't accidentally let it slip out into view, and thought as hard as he ever had.
We're both in cells right now. So if he used it now, he'd have to fight the guards, and free his mother, and then find Charlie and escape through all the soldiers. Probably not the plan.
General Monroe had said he'd come and get her soon. But Danny didn't know where she normally stayed, so if he waited to use the key until after Monroe had come and gone, he'd lose her and her guidance. And his chances of finding Charlie in this maze on his own were not good.
Shift change wasn't for another few hours, and the guards never took breaks for anything. If she had someone helping her, maybe there'd be some kind of distraction, but then why would she have needed to give him a key? Why not keep it herself since she knew the plan?
He sighed, and the guard leaning on the wall outside his cage glared at him and hit the bars with his gun.
"Shut up in there."
Maybe, if he could get her attention, she would have a chance to say something to clue him in. Danny stood up and walked to the bars.
The guard growled and crossed his arms. "I'm damn tempted, you little punk. But orders are orders. No one in or out until the general gives the all clear."
That caught Danny's attention.
"You can't come in? Not even to punish me for misbehaving?" He raised his voice to make sure it echoed down the room.
"Oh, don't worry, I'll make it up to you after the fact."
"But we could break so many rules in the meantime," Danny smirked. "We could have an entire conversation and you couldn't do anything to stop us."
There. Maybe that would be hint enough.
"He's got a point, you know." His mother's voice rang through the room, and Danny saw the guard's face convulse with the need to somehow put a stop to this without disobeying his orders.
"What's going on down there?" The guard stationed at the far end of the room, closest to the door, was moving toward them.
"These idiots think they can have a bit of fun at my expense."
"You did just tell us that you weren't allowed to open the doors," his mother sounded amused.
"You told them WHAT?" Oh, that guard did not sound nearly as entertained.
"Oh, give it a rest, Smithers. I'll just give the kid a good beating later."
The door guard had nearly reached them now. Danny was as close as he could get to the bars while maintaining enough distance to evade a hand if the guard lost his patience and decided to grab for his head.
"And I am looking forward to that," he said cheerfully to the two men glowering on the other side of his cage. "But for now, let's all have a nice talk."
Both guards yelled it at the same time. They were all the way at his end of the room now. Surely that could mean something! The door was unguarded – but he still had to get through two armed men.
"Make me," he taunted again. He could feel his heart pumping, if nothing else, he'd really like to hit someone.
"I could just shoot the idiot," the door guard, Smithers, said.
But there was a sudden clanging at the end of the corridor, and the door flew inward, hitting the wall hard.
"…not the privy, Private!" someone yelled from the hallway.
There were a few thuds, and a groan, and then a female voice said, "Sorry, Sergeant."
But Danny knew that voice. He'd heard it every day for the entirety of his life, until the day his father died.
There was the sound of something being dragged, and then the door slid shut.
"Sorry, can you help me?" his sister yelled to the frozen guards. "He's not moving! Something's wrong. He was just showing me to the privy."
"You can't be in here, soldier," Smithers yelled, hurrying back down the hallway. The other guard hesitated, not wanting to leave his post.
"I know, and I'm really very sorry," Charlie said. "But I don't know what else to do."
A gunshot rang out, and Danny's heart stopped.
"Smithers!" The guard broke post and ran toward the door.
"Now, Danny!" his mother's voice shocked him back into action, and Danny dove for the locked cell door, reaching his hand around and shoving the key into the slot. It turned smoothly and he felt the bolts slide free. His cage unlocked, he stepped out into the corridor in time to see the guard turn back to look at him, his gun raised. Then Charlie lifted a pistol and fired, hitting the guard in the back and dropping him where he stood.
She looked terrified and brave and it was so good to see his big sister standing there.
"Charlie!" he yelled, grinning. She grinned right back and started toward him, stepping around the three bloody militiamen.
They hugged, and Danny wondered how he'd never noticed that his big sister had gotten smaller than him. Then she tugged at his arm.
"We have to go, they'll be checking here soon."
"Yeah, sure, let me just let everyone else out," he said, turning back to his cell door to remove the key.
"No, Danny, there's no time. I'm sorry, we can't help everyone," she said, pulling at his arm again. "Just us, we have to go NOW."
And then it hit him, that she didn't know, and he grinned again.
"Charlie, we can't leave our mom behind."
She froze and then spun to look at him. "What are you talking about?"
Danny hurried to open her door, and Rachel stepped out slowly. He moved down the hall to Eve's cell. Charlie stood and stared.
"Oh god, you're all grown up too." He looked back and saw his mother reach out and brush at a scrape on his sister's face. "Look at you."
"You don't have to bring me," Eve whispered through her bars. "I heard what she said. You can't help everyone."
"Of course we can," he said with a smile, seeing her face clearly for the first time. "We Mathesons are very helpful people." He slid the lock clear and opened her cell.
A/N: Whew. Alas, poor Smithers, I knew him well.
So what did you think? Let me know. There's probably one or two chapters left in this. Sorry if my Monroe didn't have the right feel – I couldn't come up with a way to better the scene in the show, so I'm skirting around the edges a bit. Coming soon: everything blows up. In every way.
Kiwiflea: Tonight! I haven't seen the Paley center session, but I will go look that up now that I FINALLY have this chapter done. Jason's a smart one, sending Charlie away from all those soldiers who might catch her out. But I let her kick a little butt – I feel like she DID walk all the way from Chicago to Philly, she deserved it.
Becc-gallanter: Thanks so much! Rescue mission: commenced. I won't be satisfied until there are explosions, however.
Sportygirl23: Miles has really been missing a second-in-command that he didn't previously date, I think. Let's hope Jason and Danny can live up to expectations.
KatWolfie63: Thanks so much! I get super happy when I get a review, so the email happiness is mutual. I've been getting the ad for tonight's ep on my phone after playing games, and I always watch the whole thing. I'm super excited to see Rachel be badass.
Kotero: Well, she hasn't been discovered yet. But we all know she doesn't know the meaning of a "trouble-free" mission. Miles, oh Miles. He is going to have to be creative, I think.
Judith74: Thanks so much, and welcome! I dunno about amazing, but we have a lot of fun, and I'm certainly enjoying throwing characters together and making them talk about things. :)
Boasamishipper: I don't get to complain about late reviews since I string out the chapter posts so far… but this was a chapter 6 review! I hope you found chapter 7! Yes, that Rachel/Neville scene is still one of my favorites from this story.
Livelovemusic96: Thanks so much! Hope you liked the later chapters too. :)