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Fandom: 24
Characters: Jack Bauer, Carl Benton
Rating: PG-13
Summary: A Delta mission goes very wrong. Pre-S1.
Spoilers: None
Warnings: Some violence, mild swearing.
Challenges: [ profile] 10_hurt_comfort, Injuries table: "Concussion". Also written for [ profile] moofoot, the best Carl a Jack could ask for. :D

Splinters of particleboard stung Jack's cheek as he dove behind the shed, gunfire slamming into the wall next to his head. Ducking his head around the side of the shed, Jack fired off a round of shots with his AK-47. There was sharp yelp from the house; he'd managed to hit someone at least.

It was always the tiny things that fucked up an op, Jack thought. The mission was straightforward--HALO drop into a remote area of the Balkans, three miles from the target's house which also happened to be the storage facility for a large quantity of stolen former Soviet arms that would be on their way to terrorists groups around the world within the week. Get in, place explosives around the property, then blow the place and get the hell out. Intel had been watching the place for a week with sattelite and infra-red; they knew every sentry point, every patrol pattern, every escape route, who was where when. And it had stayed straightforward right until one of the sentries had decided he needed to take a piss as the explosives team were leaving the armoury.

Jack checked his watch: just under three minutes until the charges they'd placed went off and turned everything within a hundred yards of the armoury into a crater. They needed to get out of the blast zone before that happened, but the lack of cover between the house and the woods was proving to be a bit of a problem.

"Team members, what's your your twenty, over," Jack said, making a run for the woods. One by one, his team members counted off, all of them giving their location in the woods and away from the blast zone; all, that was, except for Benton.

"Delta three, do you copy?" Jack asked into his headset, turning north under the cover of the woods and heading for Carl's position. "Delta three, do you copy?"

There was no response and as Jack reached Carl's position, his heart jumped into his throat. Carl was crouched next to the rear wheels of a truck, curled into himself, and in the dim green view of the nightvision goggles Jack couldn't be sure that Carl hadn't been hit.

Suddenly, Carl's head snapped up, looking right at where Jack was hiding, and Jack let out the breath he'd been holding. Carl tapped his earpiece, then draw a finger across his throat. His radio was dead. One more thing to add to this clusterfuck.

Jack tapped his wrist and held up two fingers--two minutes before the charges went off, and Carl was way, way too close even without being next to a truck that would likely explode along with everything else. Quickly, Jack motioned that he'd provide cover fire while Carl retreated.

Carl glanced to Jack's left at where Jack would have to stand to get a line on the shooter; a spot without any cover, except for a shed that wasn't much further from the armoury than the truck was. Looking back at Jack, Carl motioned for him to retreat.

Jack shook his head emphatically--no way was he just leaving Carl there to fend for himself--and ran for the shed before Carl could argue further. He'd go with Jack's plan or put both of them in danger. As he reached the shed, Jack heard another burst of fire, this time directed at him. Motioning for Carl to go, Jack turned and fired at the shooter, seeing Carl run for the woods out of the corner of his eye. Once Carl was clear, Jack stopped firing, making his own dash for the treeline, using the shed to block the shooter's line of sight. No time to check his watch, but he knew this was going to be close, just a little further--

It wasn't far enough.

Jack felt the ground rumble beneath him as he heard the first explosion of the charges they'd placed. The sound of the arms in the armoury exploding wasn't far behind, and he only had a moment to feel the heat from the explosions at his back before he was knocked off his feet, debris slamming into him and turning everything black and silent.

Carl turned his eyes from the first explosion before the goggles whited out from the sudden burst of light. The sound of the explosions still ringing in his ears, he looked back, unable to see for a moment because of the light of the fire, but once his vision cleared it wasn't hard to find Jack. He was face down, a few yards from the trees, and he wasn't moving.

Surging to his feet, it was fear as much as physical conditioning that got Carl to Jack's side in seconds; fear and anger. Jack should have left him the first time he'd told him to, the bloody idiot, the man had a family at home. It made no sense for him to stick his neck out for someone who wasn't married and didn't have children.

As he reached Jack's side, Carl could see his hand clench, see him trying to lift his head.

"Jack? Jack, you stupid bastard, do you hear me?" Carl asked, turning Jack over onto his back.

Jack's goggles were broken along with his radio, but the light of the fire should have been bright enough to recognise Carl's features, if Jack's eyes had been able to focus. Instead, Jack peered up at Carl dazedly for a moment before his gaze wandered, looking around him, obviously trying to remember what was going on.

"Carl, you need to go--" Jack said, his words slurred.

A lump rose in Carl's throat. The op had been planned so they could blame it on one of the target's confederates, but it required that there be no evidence whatsoever of outside involvement; that meant no ammunition not used by the locals, no equipment left behind and no identifible Delta casualties. The target was a fairly prominent politician in the country; the local military would be on the scene soon. The only way he could leave Jack there and not screw the op would be to shoot him and toss his body into the inferno.

That wasn't an option.

"No," Carl said firmly, pulling Jack to his feet and wrapping Jack's arm around his neck. "You can do this, now move it."

Slowly, they stumbled forward; too slowly. If someone in the house had managed to alert authorities to the attack before the explosion, they could have as little as ten minutes to get to the extraction point. Even if they hadn't, the military would probably be onsite in just under twenty. Jack could do little more than stumble forward and with every step he looked more and more lightheaded.

"Carl, this isn't going to work," Jack mumbled.

Carl didn't stop. "I'm not leaving you here. I'm not telling Teri that something happened to you. You're going home if I have to carry you every step of the way."

"You're going to miss the extraction window--"

"Then I will find another way out, Captain, now shut up." In one swift motion, Carl crouched down and picked Jack up, carrying him over his shoulders, pack and all. They'd travelled light, particularly once the explosives had been placed, but Carl was still bent nearly in half by the weight.

Moving forward as fast as he dared, Carl focussed on getting them toward the extraction point as quickly as was safe. He couldn't afford to trip on a rock or tree root and send them both sprawling.

"Just stay with me, Jack," Carl said, scrambling down a small ravine. "We're almost there. Just a few hundred yards down this ravine." Splashing through the shallow creek, Carl glanced up, looking for any sight of the truck that would get them to the chopper that would airlift them out.

Jack didn't make any reply, his grip on Carl's shirt having gone slack some minutes earlier. There could be a number of things that could kill Jack before they reached safety: organ damage, internal bleeding, bleeding inside the skull. Carl tried not to think about any of them.

Glancing up again, Carl spotted the road that crossed the ravine, the truck hidden under the cover of the trees next to it. Nearly limp with relief, Carl called on every energy reserve he still had, trying to get them to the truck just a little faster. Two of the team members ran to meet him, pulling Jack off his shoulders, one of them carrying Jack the rest of the way while the other pulled Carl toward the truck. Off in the distance, he could hear the sound of helicopter rotors approaching, and fast.

Carl dove into the back of the truck, as one of the team members banged on the partition and the driver quickly pulled them onto the road. They were almost in the clear.

Pulling off his goggles and his headset, Carl looked around at the team, checking that they were all there and unhurt. All of them were all right, except for Jack, who didn't so much as twitch as the team medic checked his pupils.

Carl reached over and grabbed Jack's hand. Some of them were closer to safety than others.

The fuzziness was getting familiar; Jack wasn't entirely sure where one cloudy, half-dreamlike state began and another ended. He had the feeling he'd been floating in and out for a while, and he didn't feel in any rush to leave it, either.

Slowly, however, some of the fog began to clear enough that he was vaguely aware of voices nearby, of a steady beeping and of a light from somewhere above him. Half-opening his eyes for a moment, he squinted at the intensity of the light before closing them again. A dull throbbing echoed somewhere in his head; the light made it worse.

"Too bright?" a voice asked from his left. There was the click of a couple switches, and the light dimmed to a soft glow.

Opening his eyes again, Jack turned his head slightly to see who was sitting next to him; slightly, because when he moved, the throbbing in his head intensified and his stomach began to dip unnervingly. His vision blurred for a moment, then cleared, and he could make out the face of the person nearby.

"Carl?" he asked, his voice coming out more quiet and raspy than he'd expected.

"Yeah, I'm here. And you're pretty fucking lucky that you are, too."

"Where is this?" Jack asked, turning his head to look around. He closed his eyes as the room spun in front of them. Too fast.

"Landstuhl. You were airlifted here after we were extracted; Donaldson was worried as you weren't responding much. Turns out you had swelling building up in your skull thanks to the explosion. Not that you likely remember much of it."

Jack thought a moment, then shook his head, slowly. They'd been on a mission, he knew that much, and he could remember a lot of the background. Remembered approaching a house, then brief flashes: firing at someone in the house, Carl supporting him as they tried to run through the woods. "Has anyone told Teri?" he asked, opening his eyes again.

"She's been told that you were injured during the mission, that you had a bad concussion. Once they started relieving the swelling, you started to come around a bit and they decided she didn't need to fly here as you'll be going home on a medical flight tomorrow or the day after." Carl's expression turned stern. "Though you probably should have thought of her when you were running after me. What the fuck were you thinking, Jack?"

"I couldn't leave you there," Jack said, closing his eyes again. He was going to throw up soon if the world didn't stop moving every time he opened his eyes.

"Yes you bloody well could. I was close enough that we wouldn't have to worry about identification, and if anything happened to me, no one would miss me."

"I would," Jack said, opening his eyes for a moment to give Carl as fierce a look as he could at the moment. He had a feeling it wouldn't have scared off a toddler. "Teri knows generally what my job entails. I'm not the only guy with a family. Besides, you didn't leave me."

Carl sighed, shifting in his chair. "Leave no man behind, yeah?" Carl said, finally.

Jack cracked his eyes open, not only grateful that the room wasn't spinning quite so much.

"Yeah." He held out his hand, and with a brief, grim smile, Carl shook it.

"Get some sleep, Jack," Carl said as he got to his feet, "I figure it's still the middle of the night in California, and you're going to want to call Teri in a few hours. You've got to sound better then than you do now if you don't want to worry her. I'll be getting myself some coffee."

"'Kay. And Carl?" Carl stopped, nearly at the door. "Thanks. I owe you one."

This time Carl's smile was a little more genuine. "Actually, I figure we're about even, yeah?"

"Yeah, we are."

Carl nodded, then headed out of the room.

Closing his eyes again, Jack tried to ignore the throbbing in his head and settle back to sleep, particularly as he wasn't likely to be allowed to sleep very long. If he slept too long, if they couldn't wake him up, it was a bad sign.

Carl would be back in a few minutes, though, Jack knew Carl would wake him every hour on the dot. There weren't a lot of guarantees in Jack's life, but he knew that Carl always had his back.
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