“I am not coming out of that tent with my hair undone.” Michelle replied matter-of-factly.
Jan 1, 2013
Survival of the Fittest ... or not! - 24 FanFic - All audiences
This is another one of my contest submissions.
I really liked working on this story, as it allowed me to work out some frustrations with a few of the characters.
Never mind the timeframe inconsistencies though, I threw in all the characters I like, despite the fact they may not all have been working at CTU at the same time.
I hope you'll enjoy the read.
Survival of the fittest … or not?
His thunderous voice shook the windows and rattled every single person on the floor.
They looked up from their work, fear and worry mixed in their eyes.
Their head of field operations, Jack Bauer, was in his office with the district director, Ryan Chappelle and it was common knowledge those two were worse than cats and dogs. More like sharks and killer whales.
“You have got to be kidding me, Ryan.” Jack bellowed, almost spitting out the man’s name.
Chappelle stood, as usual, with his hands on his hips, a sour look on his face but he remained just about impassive at Jack’s outraged outburst.
“Look, Jack,” he said, his thin lips pinched, “I don’t like the idea of having to spend four days in the middle of nowhere with you any better than you do.”
Jack staggered half a step back, shock and disbelief on his face.
“You’re kidding me, right?” he asked in a whisper.
He was too shocked to speak.
“I’m afraid I’m not.” Ryan sighed, “George Mason and myself have been issued the same orders.”
“Oh, please.” Jack gasped, falling back into his chair.
His eyes ran across the room, looking for support, looking for something to help him.
Maybe he should pinch himself to see if he would wake up.
Instead, he reached for his phone and dialed a number from memory.
“This is agent Bauer, I’d like to speak with director Westwood, please.”
“Thank you for taking my call, sir. Ryan Chappelle just handed me a set of orders, sir, but I have a problem.”
“The problem? Well, the orders include me, Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler, sir, who will run CTU if every single head of department is away on a survival course?”
“Amanda Green?” Jack gasped, “Sir, with all due respect-”
“Agent Bauer.” Westwood interrupted him sharply.
“Sir?” Jack replied quietly.
“You have your orders.”
“Yes, sir.” Jack sighed, dropping the phone back in its cradle and dropping his face in his hands.
This couldn’t be true.
This just couldn’t be true.
He didn’t mind going on one of those things.
He actually loved to go on survival weekends.
But the choice was ridiculous.
Him, Tony, Michelle, Chase, Chloe and Adam.
It didn’t make any sense.
Tony and Chase along with him?
The analyst’s department head?
How was she going to benefit from a survival course?
He had the advantage of being a man, but that was just about all he had going for him.
The guy was a nerd.
And to make it all worse, Chappelle and Mason would be tagging along to babysit them.
How much worse could his life get?
Thankfully, Ryan turned and left.
He wasn’t going to rub anything else in his face.
At least for now.
The soft knock on his door barely filtered through and he didn’t move, head still cradled in his hands, wishing to god the earth could just open up and swallow him already. This was not what he needed.
“Hey, are you a’right?” Tony asked softly, putting his hand on Jack’s shoulder.
“No-hhhh.” Jack whimpered.
Jack looked up, misery painted across his face and he handed the paper Chappelle had given him to Tony.
“That’s what’s wrong.” Jack sighed, dropping his head in his hands again.
“I can’t believe this.” he whispered, repeating it over and over again while Tony read through the document.
“This isn’t so bad,” Tony said lightly, “it’ll be like in the good old days.”
“With Chappelle and Mason holding our hands.” Jack sighed miserably.
“What?” Tony exclaimed.
“They’re coming, too.”
“I wish I could.” Jack whimpered.
It made Tony laugh to see him like that, turned to a whimpering pile of misery by a stupid letter.
“Let me call Division.” Tony said, reaching for the phone.
“I just did, Westwood’s not gonna be budged on this.”
“The one and only.”
“And who’s gonna run CTU while we’re all out dangling from ropes and chopping wood?”
“Oh, fuck that.” Tony spat for the third time.
He was starting to understand how Jack felt.
This place was going to be turned inside out by the time they came back and they would need a month to put it back together again.
But orders were orders.
Especially if they came from director Westwood.
That man was known to be worse than a brick wall.
He was a three feet thick brick wall.
There would be no arguing and if any of them didn’t show up, they’d better have a damn good excuse.
Or Westwood would have their skin.
“I’ll go tell them.” Tony sighed, leaving Jack to rant in his office.
He’d be hell to live with for the next few days and Tony prayed there wouldn’t be any situations.
He went from desk to desk, informing each person on the list of the fact they had to take part in a team-bonding experience in the form of a survival weekend, getting just about the same reactions from everyone except Chase. He was brand new to the team and eager to learn. Eager to spend time with Jack and learn from him.
Their week went by quietly and the day they had to depart drew closer, one agonizing second after another.
Relentlessly drawing closer.
Relentlessly driving Jack closer to the edge.
They were set to meet up at the office and a van would take them there.
The van would not stay.
They would have no way out of there, lest they steal a vehicle or hike their way back to civilization.
The three hour drive would be enough of an ordeal already to begin with.
Jack was in the foulest mood ever, Chase was jumping all over the place in his eagerness to get going, Chloe was pouting and snapping at everyone who came too close to her, Tony and Michelle were getting to know each other a little better and Adam stood yawning from the moment he got there until the moment Chappelle and Mason arrived.
Tony burst out laughing when he saw Chappelle get out of his car.
The man looked ridiculous.
Jack turned at the sound of his laughter and he gasped audibly, slapping his hand against his forehead hard enough to leave an imprint.
“I am not riding in the same van with that clown.” Jack gasped.
The man looked like he just walked away from a national jamboree of some kind.
“I have two lists here,” Ryan said, walking up to the group, ignoring Jack’s remark and Tony’s amusement, “this is the list of people riding in the first van,” he handed it to Jack, “and this is the list of people riding in the second van.” he added, handing the other list to Tony.
It already meant Jack and Tony wouldn’t be in the same van.
It made Jack’s blood boil and Tony could swear he saw steam coming out of his ears.
Jack’s eyes went over the list.
Him, Ryan – of course! – Michelle and Chase.
The other van would hold Tony, Chloe, Adam and George Mason.
“Umm, mister Chappelle?” Michelle called the moment she found out she wasn’t riding with Tony.
“Yes, miss Dessler?” Ryan replied with a hint of aggravation already.
“Could I possibly trade places with Chloe?”
She gave him a dazzling smile which left him staggering on his feet.
“Sure.” Ryan managed with some difficulty.
“Oh, thank you, mister Chappelle.” Michelle cooed, doing a little happy dance.
It meant she had three more hours to get to know Tony a little better.
“There will be no more switching places though.” Ryan warned, cutting Jack off who had been about to ask to swap with Adam.
He pulled out a metal box and called for their attention.
“I want everybody to place their cell phones, PDA’s, GPS systems and weapons in this box.”
He felt the shock in the agents around him.
“It all stays here.”
Jack grumbled something and Ryan turned to look at him.
“All of it, agent Bauer.” he insisted, holding out his hand.
Jack turned and stomped towards his car, pulling out his cellphone and PDA on the way over, stuffing it into the glove compartment. He was not giving his stuff into Ryan’s ‘custody’.
He slammed the door shut, but before he could lock it up, Ryan called out to him.
“Your gun, Jack.”
“Are you sure, Ryan?” Jack asked mockingly, “Who knows, we might run into a pack of wild rabbits. Who would protect you?”
“Very funny, Bauer.” Ryan replied, casting him a lethal look as the others all blurted out laughing or tried to keep from doing so.
“Secure your weapon.”
Jack yanked the door open and rammed his handgun into the central console with an angry growl. This was not going to be a very pleasant trip. He dragged his feet back to the vans and yanked the door open, stating he was riding shotgun.
Once again, Ryan whistled him back.
“Agent Bauer, I think it would be more appropriate to let the ladies get in first.”
He offered his hand to Chloe who took it with a scowl.
She was not enjoying the idea of having to leave her laptop behind for four days.
“Why don’t you load up the gear.” Ryan instructed as he led Chloe past Jack and helped her into the van.
“Fucking monkey.” Jack grumbled between clenched teeth.
He grabbed the bags and rammed them into the back, tossing his on top of the rest of them.
They got in and he made sure to put Chase between himself and Ryan. If he didn’t, one of them wouldn’t be reaching the retreat alive. He checked on the other van before sliding the door shut and noticed Tony and Michelle sitting side by side, Adam having settled back beside Tony and George up front.
“Dammit” he growled before slamming the door into the lock.
He should’ve been riding with Tony.
He slid back in the seat, adjusting his seatbelt, hoping to get some more rest before starting on this ordeal, but Chase was all over him, firing questions at him and Jack felt the looming threat of Chappelle’s retaliation if he didn’t answer them. Chase was the newest member on his team, barely two months on the job and it was Jack’s job to train him and integrate him. Chappelle would have his skin if he told him to piss off. And this was as good a time as any to start getting the kid up to speed.
So he sucked it up and sat up straight, answering Chase’s questions as he fired them relentlessly.
He was out of the car even before it was at a standstill, in dire need of air and space.
He had felt like he was suffocating for the past two hours because Chase wouldn’t let go. His enthusiasm was overwhelming and Jack needed to get away from it for a while. He jumped out and took a deep breath, running his hands through his hair and pulling on his skull, a low growl rumbling through his throat.
Four long days.
Everybody else climbed out of the vehicles and gathered around Chappelle, waiting for instructions.
A few minutes later, three men joined them.
Chappelle shook hands with all three of them and introduced ‘his team’.
“Team” Jack huffed grumpily.
“Is there a problem?” one of the guides asked.
“This isn’t a team,” Jack snarled, “you’ve got field agents, computer geeks and desk jockeys and you expect that to blend?”
“That’s what you’re here for.” the man replied, “Team building.”
“Well I know one building where I would like to take this team.” Jack retorted sarcastically.
The punch to the gut came out of nowhere and he doubled over. Before he could react, a leg sweep threw him down and he felt a tug on his arms. He pulled back, but it was too late to get away, his wrists were tied together already and he cursed loudly. Then he realized his hands were tied behind his left leg. He had been effectively immobilized.
When he looked up, it shocked him to see Ryan pushing up, a satisfied grin on his face.
“Ryan, what the hell?” he barked.
“I will not let you disrupt this trip, Jack.” Ryan said calmly, “Either you stop acting like an ass or I will have you locked up in a shed out back … tied up the way you are.”
“Untie me, Ryan.” Jack snarled in response.
If he got his hands on the man, he was going to pay.
“Team building, Jack,” Ryan replied, still as calm as before, “either you accept it or you can spend the next four days in a toolshed.”
Tony took a step forward, meaning to help Jack, but Ryan stopped him.
The warning look on the man’s face enough to make Tony back off.
“You’re always so good at doing everything on your own, Jack,” Ryan said, locking his cold gaze on Jack again, “why don’t you get yourself out of this mess, too.”
Jack held his eyes for a moment, fire ablaze in his.
He couldn’t believe the pencil-neck had gotten the better of him that way.
He never had a chance to react and he had been effectively contained before he even realized what was going on. He knew better than to ask any of the others for help, Ryan wouldn’t let them, so he turned his attention to his hands. His wrists were crossed, so he knew he’d never be able to get them out front. He couldn’t get them over his leg like that. Had he been tied up with handcuffs, he would’ve been able to bring them in front with minimum effort, but this way … no way.
Problem was, he couldn’t see his hands so he had no idea how they were tied up. He tried feeling around for what bound him, but he couldn’t find anything he could use. He couldn’t get up either to find a sharp edge to help him get rid of it.
“Untie me, Ryan.” he said quietly after a moment.
Ryan reached down and with a simple flick of his wrist, untied the bandana he had used to bind Jack’s wrists with. He rolled at once, away from Ryan, and pushed up. They were all glad he didn’t have his gun at this point or it would’ve taken a joint effort to keep him from putting a bullet through Ryan’s skull.
“If you had taken a moment,” Ryan said calmly, squarely meeting Jack’s gaze, “you might have noticed the merit patches on this uniform. I’ve been a scout for over thirty years Jack, from cub to tiger to leader. I didn’t just buy it because I thought it fitted the occasion. If you had taken a moment to look instead of laugh, you might have noticed the knot-tying merit patch and you might have spared yourself the humiliation.”
Jack’s eyes shot fire at him.
“You brought this upon yourself, Jack, I can’t be blamed for your thick-headedness.”
Jack had no idea how to react.
He was pissed off beyond reason and he felt like punching Chappelle’s lights out, but he couldn’t.
The sonofabitch was right.
He had been too pissed off to even think.
Pissed off, because this had been imposed on him.
Pissed off, because of the choice of personnel.
Pissed off, because he had been given no choice.
And pissed off even more because Chappelle and Mason were there.
It had clouded his judgement.
And that was how Chappelle had gotten the better of him.
The paper-shoving, pencil-neck desk jockey had used his anger against him and put him on his knees in front of everybody and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. They all knew Chappelle was right.
He knew Chappelle was right.
Had been right to kick his ass.
It made him look up and take notice.
Take notice of the not-so-predictable pencil-neck.
When he accepted his defeat, he turned to the van and got the gear out, dropping the bags by the side of the car without a word. This trip was going to be pretty tense.
And Chappelle was going to pay.
That much he knew.
He didn’t know how or when yet, but he would pay.
The others got their gear as well and once Chappelle gave the men the go, the vans pulled out again, leaving the eight of them in the care of their three guides. They nodded and turned, heading down a path with the eight of them in their wake. Chase was buzzing around Jack’s ears again but Tony grabbed his arm and pulled him away.
“I think you should leave Jack alone for a little while, Chase.” Tony said quietly.
“Because if you don’t, you’ll hit the bottom of this path well ahead of everybody else.” Tony replied dryly.
Chase swallowed audibly and shifted his gaze from Tony to Jack.
There was something in the hunch of his shoulders and in the determined steps.
“He’ll take your head clean off your shoulders if you get on his nerves now,” Tony continued, “trust me, I know him well enough.”
“Just give him some space,” Michelle pitched in, “he’ll be alright later.”
“Oh … okay.” Chase nodded, keeping his eyes on Jack.
He had no idea what happened earlier, he had found it pretty amusing to watch.
Halfway down the path, Chloe tripped, cursing loudly and much to everybody’s surprise, Jack was the one to help her back to her feet. She dusted herself off, a frown on her brow and thanked him, but when she reached for her bag, Jack stopped her.
“I’ll get that.” he offered, “You’ll have better balance without it.”
“Are you sure?” Chloe asked, a little taken aback.
“Yeah, don’t worry.” Jack replied, throwing her bag over his shoulder along with his own.
He had carried far heavier packs than this.
They reached the camp about twenty minutes later and Chappelle assigned tents. Chloe and Michelle got one, Adam and Tony another, Jack and Chase the third while he shared one with George. The guides had the large one in the middle, it held three people. They were given an hour to settle in and they would start off with a light lunch before setting out on a hike. There would be no intense activity today. Chloe and Adam aired their satisfaction about that little fact and turned to their tents, with Jack dropping Chloe’s bag outside of her tent, getting a quick thanks in return.
He shrugged it off and went to his tent, finding Chase a little worried and jumpy.
“Hey, are you okay?” Chase asked the moment he dropped his bag.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Jack huffed.
“What was that all about anyway?”
“Ryan and I don’t really get along.”
“Because he works by the book.” Jack sighed, “And you’ll learn in due time that out in the field, you can’t apply those rules all the time. Sometimes you have to bend them, sometimes you have to break them. Ryan can’t live with that.”
“I see.” Chase nodded, “So he’s the enemy?” he added in a whisper.
“Yeah,” Jack confirmed, meeting the young man’s sparkling green eyes, “and he’s gonna pay for that.”
“Yeahhhh.” Chase exclaimed, “Show him who’s boss.”
“Unfortunately,” Jack sighed, “he is.”
“You said it.”
He was starting to like the youngster.
If only he could simmer down a little, it would be perfect.
They quickly put their gear away and went outside again, seeing only the guides for now, so they went over to sit with them. A short while later, Tony joined them, followed by a still yawning Adam. Jack wondered if the man was ever going to wake up. Chappelle and Mason joined them a short while later but there was no sign of the girls, so Ryan decided to check on them.
He found them going over the contents of their beauty cases.
He couldn’t believe they brought beauty cases to a survival course.
“Ladies, we’re waiting for you.” he said as gallantly as he possibly could.
“We’ll be right out, mister Chappelle,” Michelle promised, “we’re almost done.”
He nodded and turned, joining the men gathered around the table holding the sandwiches.
“They’re comparing lip gloss.” Ryan sighed, rolling his eyes, causing the assembled male crowd to chuckle and shake their heads.
Women would always be women.
They joined the men almost half an hour later.
“Ladies, there will be no time for make-up sessions or manicure from now on.” one of the guides, Mitch, informed them coldly.
“I am not coming out of that tent with my hair undone.” Michelle replied matter-of-factly.
“Then you’ll have to set your alarm early so you have time to do your hair.” Mitch replied in a mocking tone.
“You are cruel.” Michelle hissed, pointing an angry finger at him.
“That’s what I get paid for.” Mitch chuckled, “Now dig in, we’re almost done already and you haven’t started yet.”
“Do you have tea?” Chloe asked.
“No, we don’t,” Mitch replied, “coffee or water.”
She scowled at him and turned back to her tent, returning seconds later with a teabag.
Even that she had packed.
“You’re kidding me, right?” Jack asked, watching her pour some water in a mug and dip the teabag in.
“I carried teabags down here?”
“I never asked you to.” Chloe replied with a pout, looking around.
“Where’s the microwave oven?”
All three guides gasped, a shocked expression on their faces.
“What?” Chloe asked, oblivious of the absurdity of her question, “How do I heat up my tea?”
“Oh, Chloe, for crying out loud.” Ryan snapped, tearing the mug out of her hands and putting it on the fire.
“When you’re out camping, that’s how.” he said sharply, pointing his hand to the mug on the fire.
“I’m not out camping,” Chloe replied, scowling once more, “I’m on a stupid survival weekend. It won’t bring me anything aside from mosquito bites and bugs in my hair. I hate it and I hate you for making me come.”
She turned and marched back to her tent.
“And I hate you, too.” she snapped as she walked by Jack.
“Hey, what did I do?” Jack asked, taken aback by her hostility, “I don’t even wanna be here myself.”
“I think I’ll leave that to the bugs.” Jack replied in the same breath.
She turned and cast him a murderous look but he ignored her and grabbed another sandwich.
This was really going to be a very tense weekend.
George picked up the sandwich Chloe had chosen and the mug of now steaming water and took it over to the tent, going in after calling out to her. He didn’t want to take anything in the head for walking in on her.
“Hey, Chloe,” he said softly, “I’ve got your tea and your sandwich here.”
She was sat in the far corner, her back turned to the entrance, arms crossed tightly on her chest, a pout and a deep frown on her face. He went over and sat down next to her, putting the mug down because it was damn hot. He put his hand on her shoulder in a comforting gesture.
“Don’t worry about them, Chloe, they don’t understand.”
“Oh, and you do?” she bit instantly.
“Yes, I do. I understand you’re a data analyst and your place is at your desk in front of your computer, analyzing data.”
She looked up at him and saw the understanding in his eyes.
“I don’t want to be here either, but director Westwood put his foot down. He wants every agency to do this at least once a year and two of us have to come along to supervise things. I’d rather be back at Division doing paperwork,” he said quietly, “but I can’t. I have to be here … and so do you. It sucks, I know, but that’s just the way it is. There’s nothing either of us can do about it. Not you, not me, not Jack. Not even Ryan.”
“Well, he seems to be enjoying himself.” Chloe hissed.
“I think he just showed a side of himself nobody knew until today. I had no idea he used to be a scout. Thing is … he’d rather be elsewhere too, trust me.”
“That doesn’t make it any easier.”
“I know, Chloe, believe me … I know. We’ll just have to try our best to get through this thing so we can all go home again and be done with it for a year.”
“I guess.” Chloe sighed.
“Here, have your sandwich.”
“Thank you, mister Mason.”
“Thank you, George.”
“Hey, if we’re gonna be stuck out in the wilderness for four days, you might as well call me by my first name, we’re not at the office.”
A smile flashed across her face and the scowl dissipated.
She took the sandwich from him, but much to his surprise, she pushed up and grabbed her tea. She went back outside and joined the rest of them again. They were all done eating but they waited patiently while she ate her sandwich quietly. She finished her tea and put the mug on the table with the rest of them, finding Ryan’s eyes a little hesitantly.
“Thank you, mister Chappelle.”
The questioning look on his face was genuine.
“For making my tea.” she added.
“I showed you how to do it,” Ryan replied quietly, “I expect you to make your own from now on.”
“Yes, mister Chappelle.”
He didn’t tell her it was okay to call him by his first name.
The guides quickly cleared away the rest of the food and washed the mugs they had used, then handed each of them a filled flask, after what they set out on their hike.
After about an hour, the guides stopped at the foot of a slope.
“Okay, we’re gonna need volunteers.” Daryl said.
“Who wants to help cook?”
Michelle and Ryan both put their hand up.
“Good. Who wants to do the dishes?”
“You’re hoping to get a volunteer for that?” Jack asked with a smirk, “Keep dreaming.”
“Nobody?” Daryl insisted, ignoring Jack’s remark.
“Okay, have it your way. The last one up that slope is on dishwashing duty.”
Tony and Jack shot away at once, not waiting for anything else.
They were not doing the dishes.
Chase sprinted after them, followed closely by George and Adam.
Michelle and Ryan stayed with the guides since they were going to help cook.
Chloe looked at the men, clambering up the slope and she rolled her eyes.
“I’ll do the dishes.” she sighed.
“You won’t be doing them alone,” Mitch comforted her, “whoever reaches the top last will be doing them along with you.”
She gave him her standard grin-like smile while thinking he was a jerk and turned away from him, pretending to lace her shoes better.
Meanwhile, Chase had caught up with Jack and Tony and they were trying to shove each other down again. Mason was struggling to stay on his feet, and trying to stay away from the fight to keep from tumbling all the way down again. Tony and Jack teamed up on Chase, pouncing him and knocking him off his feet, sending him sliding down the slope after what they helped each other back up and continued, smiles painted on their faces.
This was fun.
They reached the top of the slope together and turned to look at the others.
Chase had lost his momentum and a lot of ground when they knocked him down and it looked like George was going to beat him, while Adam reached the top just then. They both called out to Chase, telling him to get his ass moving, cheering him on. As if the whole thing had been rehearsed, Jack locked his hand around Tony’s wrist who held on to a tree and Jack slid down the slope, holding his hand out to Chase, calling his name sharply. Chase looked up and his hand locked onto Jack’s at once. Jack pulled hard, giving Chase an extra boost, helping him up and beating George by seconds only.
“Looks like you’re doing the dishes, George.” Jack called out smiling, getting patted on the back by Chase and Tony.
“You didn’t think you’d beat the field team, now did you?” Jack asked, patting George on the back in turn.
“You should know better.”
“Very funny, Bauer.” George huffed.
He was breathing hard from the exertion.
“I know, I’m a hoot.” Jack chuckled.
The three of them started down the slope again, not waiting for George, who took a moment to catch his breath.
He knew they wouldn’t leave without him. Adam was making his way down using a bunch of trees and tree trunks, but the others were going down the way they had gone up. They didn’t hurry though and George started after them before they reached the bottom.
He slipped suddenly and lost his footing, sliding down without any means to stop himself.
If he hit the bottom at that speed, he’d break something.
His panicky call warned the three men below him and they turned, assessing the situation in no time. Jack’s eyes found Chase’s as Tony’s arm locked around his waist. Jack knew Tony would be digging in and it would help him stop George from tumbling to his doom. Chase jumped out of the way, staying close enough to catch an arm or a leg should Jack miss or be unable to stop George’s momentum on his own. Jack’s right hand locked on George’s flailing arm the moment he came within reach and he immediately joined his left, locking the other down and he dug his feet in, bracing for impact. He almost dislocated George’s arm but at least he kept him from tumbling any further down. His left foot slipped and he lost his balance, but Tony held him and Chase jumped in as well, locking his arm under Jack’s, the three of them holding onto each other while Jack held onto George.
One of the guides hurried up and helped steady George after what Chase and Tony helped Jack back to his feet and they all made it to the bottom of the slope in one piece. Shaky and in pain on George’s side, but with no broken bones.
“I don’t think you have to worry about their team spirit,” Mitch said to Ryan, “they’re doing just fine.”
“That’s not the problem,” Ryan replied softly, “the problem is they won’t let anybody else play along.”
“Which is why the rest of them are here?”
“I think that might be a challenge seeing how they teamed up against him.”
“Why do you think I volunteered to cook?”
George was a little shook up and Daryl decided to take him back to camp already while the others finished the hike. He could do with a rest and the others wouldn’t reach the camp for another three hours, so they could take that rest before heading back.
They headed out again and Ryan caught up with Jack.
“That was a great reflex there, Jack.” he said lightly, getting Jack’s attention.
“If you hadn’t caught him …”
“Do you remember what you told me earlier, Ryan?” Jack asked coldly, “About looking instead of laughing?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I could say the same,” Jack said, turning to face Ryan, “maybe you should take a good look before you judge, too.” he continued, putting his index finger against Ryan’s chest and pushing hard enough to cause discomfort.
With that, he continued on his way, leaving Ryan to munch on what he had just said.
It practically ensured him of a peaceful remainder of the hike.
It went by uneventfully and they reached the camp finding everything had already been set for dinner. George had recovered from the scare and he and Daryl had set the tables and prepared everything so they would be able to start cooking without delay. Michelle and Ryan washed up quickly and started on the meal, knowing most of them had to be starving and George took a moment to talk to Jack and thank him for stopping his fall.
The meal was more than decent and they all ate to their hunger, complimenting the cooks and getting Michelle to blush a deep shade of red.
She wasn’t used to all the attention and didn’t like being the focal point.
Jack and Tony went up to help Chloe and George with the dishes, despite George’s complaint.
“Hey, many hands make the work lighter, George,” Jack said, slapping the man on the shoulder, “besides, we cheated.”
Their evening went by peacefully and they turned in one after the other, first Chloe and Adam, followed shortly after by George. Tony and Michelle disappeared from view for a moment but Jack and Chase kept the others distracted, given the two new-found friends a little time together. When Tony returned near the campfire, he announced Michelle had turned in as well. They stayed up a little longer, but then, the guides started putting the fire out, which was the signal for all of them to find their beds.
The night would be short and their day long, they needed to get some sleep.
Within half an hour, the campground quieted down as sleep draped its heavy blanket over it.
Jack and Chase were up at the first light and so was Tony, up and ready to go.
Ryan was next out of his tent and he joined the others near the coffee pot, accepting a mug from Joshua, the third guide.
Daryl was trying to rouse Adam while Mitch was getting his ass kicked out of the women’s tent. He tried his luck with George, who grumpily told him to get out without pitching anything at him.
He joined the others, shaking his head.
They had half an hour to wake up, get up and eat something.
Those who weren’t ready, would come in the state they were in, hair done or not.
Tony offered to try the ladies again and nobody even thought of stopping him.
He went in, eliciting a loud insult from Chloe but he withstood her anger and sat down next to Michelle's ‘bed’. It took him a moment, but both women finally realized it was time to get up and he got them out of their sleeping bags without sustaining injury. He left the tent, grinning victoriously. By then George was at the breakfast table as well, rubbing his eyes and Jack and Chase were helping Daryl in his attempts to rouse Adam. The man dragged his butt out of the tent, sleep still on him and he yawned extensively, making Jack cringe. He hoped to god Adam would stop yawning at some point during the day.
Finally, the women joined them as well but there was hardly any time left for them to eat, so Mitch told them to take a sandwich along, they could eat it on the way up.
“Up?” Michelle asked, “Up where?”
“Up there.” Mitch replied, pointing to the top of a steep slope.
They all looked up and Jack saw the steel cable running down. He knew what was waiting and felt his heart skip a beat.
“There’s an obstacle course on the way up and we’ll all come back down by that cable. It’s a thrill ride.”
“Hell, yeah.” Jack confirmed.
He had taken rides like that back in Special Forces and he loved it.
“You familiar with those?” Mitch asked.
The twinkle in Jack’s eyes as he met his told him he was.
“You have something to look forward to then.”
They set out and by the time they reached the first obstacle, the ladies were done with their sandwiches and they could start without any further delay. It became obvious to the guides they had to separate Tony, Jack and Chase if they wanted to get any kind of team building going, so they started enforcing a ‘starting order’ for the obstacles. They made sure to put Adam and one of the women in between Jack and Tony and the other woman and George or Ryan before Chase. On a few, they caught up quickly, bypassing the others because they were faster and more agile on the monkey-course, but when Tony sent Chloe tumbling to the ground, they simmered down a little. From that point on, they started helping the others through, over and across instead of rushing to get to the end of it and going for the thrill. Chase quickly followed suit when he noticed Jack and Tony were no longer making this a Field Operations tryout and the morning went by without further incident, leading them to the top of the hill shortly before noon.
They all geared up for the ride down and much to Jack’s delight, it was a special rig that would take them down. The type that reeled back up and the next one had to wait for it to be back before setting out on the ride. Tony and Chase both agreed Chappelle needed to be taught a little lesson after the trick he pulled on Jack, but they hadn’t had a moment to themselves to discuss it yet. This was where they would give themselves that moment.
Tony maneuvered himself into first position and started down first, his thrilled cry echoing off the mountain as he went.
It put a huge smile on Jack’s face.
He was eager to ride it too.
But for now he had to wait.
They sent Michelle down next.
She was the only one who seemed ready to do it.
Chloe was standing at the far end of the area, close to a tree, shaking like a leaf.
Adam had finally snapped out of his yawning spree when he saw the height and he was breathing fast, trying not to pass out while Ryan was trying to calm him down. George was talking Chloe down, even though he wasn’t eager on taking that ride either. They would all have to go through it.
The guides were too busy gearing everybody up and securing them to put much effort into convincing them for the time being, so they let Michelle go down after Tony. Jack didn’t mind, given the way those two were acting, Michelle probably wouldn’t rat on them even if she overheard their plan.
Chase would go next and Jack prayed to god they would turn their attention to the others soon so he could carry out his plan. Once Chase was ready, Jack took his position, meeting Chase’s eyes. Chase nodded and locked his hands tightly on the metal bar while Jack readied the safety strap. Jack nodded when he was set and Chase set out. Two runs were minimal preparation, but Jack trusted his own judgement and his gut more than anything else and he took two quick steps before jumping after Chase. The one-and-a-half second free fall tied a knot in his stomach as it always did but then his hands locked onto the metal bar and his legs wrapped around Chase’s waist, securing the both of them while he quickly locked the safety strap onto the metal bar as well. The screams above and behind were panicky and angry, but the grin on his face would not be wiped away as the metal ‘cart’ sped down along the thick cable, bringing them to an open area below at high speed.
Twenty feet out, the brakes came on, slowing them down enough to avoid injury at the end of the ride.
Two other guides were waiting for them and they came at Jack before he had a chance to untie the strap. When the first one shoved him hard enough to throw him off balance, his safety strap held him up and he retaliated with a kick to the man’s legs. Tony and Chase were there to back him up and under the angry intensity of three Federal agents, the men backed off.
While the cart slowly went up on the cable again, the three men stuck their heads together and Jack explained the plan he came up with. Michelle listened in and offered her help at once. Jack scrutinized her for a long moment, wondering how much he could count on her to keep their plan a secret, but when he met Tony’s eyes, he knew everything would be alright, so he accepted her offer. With her help, it just couldn’t go wrong.
All he had to do now, was survive the reprimand he was sure he’d be getting from Chappelle and keep a low profile for the rest of the day. Chappelle would be in for a bit of a surprise later tonight.
Minutes later, Chappelle was in his face as he had come down right away.
“Special Forces, Ryan,” Jack barked suddenly, cutting his tirade off, “fifteen years of them. I know this equipment and I know that thing can carry twice that weight.”
“You could’ve killed yourself.” Ryan snapped back, enraged at Jack’s stunt.
“So? I’m sure that would’ve been very convenient for you.” Jack snapped back, shutting Ryan up.
“I know what I’m doing, Ryan, I did shit like this for a living for fifteen years.”
Ryan was at loss for words and he decided to let it rest for the time being.
Jack’s remark about his death being convenient had gone down the wrong way and he needed to think about that first. It wasn’t something that could be easily dismissed and if that was how Jack thought he felt about him, it was something that needed to be addressed correctly. There was no way to build anything on shaky foundations.
With a lot of convincing from the guides, Adam, Chloe and George each took the ride with one of them, proving to Ryan the cart could carry the combined weight without a problem and they settled down for a quick lunch. The guides had left it up to Ryan to talk to Jack, especially given his reaction towards the others.
After lunch, they went on another hike, taking them deep into the mountains and leading them back to their camp only hours later.
“Okay, folks,” Mitch said, “we’re not gonna make you catch your own food, but tonight you’ll cook it yourself. Everything you need has been provided and we’ve explained how to proceed, so get cracking and build those fires.”
“What?” Chloe snapped, “You except me to build a fire? You can ask me to build a computer from scratch, but how am I supposed to build a fire?”
“We showed you how to do it.” Joshua cut in, hoping to keep Chloe from getting hysterical.
“And I’m supposed to know just from what you told us?”
“You would if you had paid attention to what we told you.”
“I’m a computer analyst,” Chloe snapped, turning to Chappelle with a scowl, “I am not building a fire like some … some … cave woman.”
She turned and stomped away, retreating into her tent, followed moments later by Michelle who was equally dismayed at having to cook her own food.
“Women.” Ryan exclaimed, throwing his hands up in surrender.
“I hate to say ‘I told you so’, Ryan,” Jack said quietly, “but I did.”
“Why don’t you try to talk the women into giving it a try instead of saying ‘I told you so’.” Daryl suggested coldly.
Jack met his eyes squarely.
“There are two very simple reasons for that,” Jack replied calmly, “a, they’re right and b, I like my head where it is right now.”
“I’ll talk to them.” Tony suggested, turning before anybody could stop him.
He was a little too eager to spend time with Michelle.
He announced his arrival and went into their tent, sitting down next to her.
“Chappelle’s beginning to regret this.” he chuckled.
“He should.” Chloe snapped angrily, “Who does he think we are?”
“Well, this wasn’t his decision you know, I guess he’s just trying to make the best out of a bad situation … why don’t we all try that? Why don’t you both pick someone to help you with your fire?”
“They’ll never let us.” Michelle sighed.
“Why not? We’re supposed to be working on our team spirit, aren’t we? What better way to show we can work as a team than to ask for help on something you don’t know?”
“Think about it and decide what you want to do, but I think Chappelle would like to see you come out of this tent again before this weekend is over.”
Ten minutes later, both women emerged again and cast a look around the area.
George and Ryan were stood next to a nicely burning fire, Adam had stretched out on the ground and he was watching Tony as he tried to get his fire started and Jack and Chase were done too. They were sat on the ground next to it, checking the food the guides had handed out moments ago. Michelle went over to Tony and Adam and she sat down with them without a word, but granting Tony a dazzling smile, while Chloe went over to Jack and Chase, ignoring Chappelle’s inquiring gaze altogether.
“Hey.” she huffed, stopping two feet away from them.
They looked up at her and she suddenly felt awkward.
“Would you mind if I used your fire?” she dared quietly.
“Not at all.” Chase replied at once, sitting up and pointing to the spot next to him.
“You can use our fire on one condition.” Jack said before she could sit down.
She stopped moving and met his eyes again.
“Don’t ever tell me you hate me again.” he chuckled.
She made an ugly face at him and sat down.
Minutes later, the guides came to check on their progress but when they reached Jack’s handiwork, one of them kicked dirt onto the fire, almost smothering it, causing both Jack and Chase to snap at him.
“Your fire isn’t secure, put it out.” Joshua snarled and Jack could tell this was his way of getting back at him for the stunt earlier that day.
“I’ll put it out when we’re done with it.” Jack replied coldly, his tone of voice and eyes conveying his message.
“It’s not safe,” Joshua insisted, “put it out now or I will.”
“If you put out this fire, I’ll put out your lights.” Jack replied in the same tone of voice.
When Mitch started gathering up more dirt to kick onto the fire, Jack got up and shoved him away.
“That fire is as safe as Ryan’s, we’re not going anywhere and it’s not likely to set anything off, so get your thumb out of your ass already and get over what happened. I knew perfectly well what I was doing.”
“You put your and your colleague’s life on the line with that stunt.” Mitch snapped.
“I put nobody’s life on the line except my own,” Jack snapped back, “and if I want to put my life on the line, that’s my call. Now get the hell out of my face before I put the three of you out of your misery.”
“That fire is not safe.” Mitch insisted.
“It isn’t?” Jack asked mockingly, “Well why don’t you tell me what’s wrong with it.” he continued, stepping out of the man’s way and waving his arm towards the fire, “If you try to kick any more dirt into it, you’ll live to regret it.” he added menacingly.
“You’re supposed to put rocks around it to keep the fire contained.” Mitch started.
“That’s when you want to be able to leave the fire,” Jack countered, “I don’t intend to leave it.”
“You’re always supposed to make sure your fire is contained.”
“It is contained,” Jack replied, “I’m standing right next to it and it’s not going anywhere without me noticing.”
“Which may already be too late.”
“How long do you think it will take me to pour a cup of water onto it if anything happens?” Jack asked calmly.
“I’m not sure you guys followed the conversation I had with Ryan earlier, but I was in Special Forces for fifteen years … I’ve probably built more fires than the three of you put together. Fires that were big enough to keep me warm but small enough to remain undetected by the enemy … can you build a fire that will remain undetected in the dead of night?”
It did the trick and they backed off, allowing Jack, Chase and Chloe to cook their meal in peace, which turned out to be more fun than anyone had anticipated.
After dinner, the guides gathered everybody around the large fire they had made in the middle of the camp and Jack and Chase made a point of kicking exaggerated amounts of dirt onto theirs. Smirking, they joined the others and sat down.
“I don’t think it’s gonna flare up again.” Jack stated calmly, causing an almost general fit of laughter.
The guides, Chappelle and Adam were the only ones not to laugh at it.
Ryan was too pissed off, Adam too uninterested in the whole thing and the guides too hurt in their pride.
“If you’re such a bushwhacker,” Joshua started sharply, “why don’t you dazzle us with your knowledge then.”
“Knowledge of what?” Jack asked, his interest peaking at once.
This could get interesting.
Mitch pulled a large poster out from behind them and pointed to the first plant depicted on it.
“Why don’t you tell us if this is eatable or not?”
“Nope.” Jack replied without hesitation.
“Anybody else want to play?” Joshua asked.
Tony and Ryan joined in.
The challenge was on.
Tony got the first five or so right, but then it was between Ryan and Jack, who both proved to know a lot more about it than anybody would’ve thought. After they had gone over the first batch, they were still tied and Joshua pulled out another poster. This was about a different set of plants and herbs and the question was if the plant had any kind of healing power. Jack and Ryan were each other’s match for the longest time, but then Ryan bombed and Jack slapped him on the shoulder before the guides could respond.
“If you try putting that on an open wound, you’ll be howling at the moon all night.”
“He’s right,” Mitch confirmed, “this is extremely irritating to the skin.”
Jack got the next one right as well and was declared winner.
Much to Ryan’s dismay.
He never would’ve thought Jack knew so much.
It was getting late though and the guides suggested calling it a night. They all needed some rest.
Jack winked to Michelle and she smiled back at him, acknowledging the signal.
All they had to do now, was wait for the perfect time to strike.
Tony joined Michelle near her tent and they stood talking while Chloe got ready for the night. When she was in her sleeping bag, she called out to Michelle to let her know she was ‘decent’ and Michelle went in as well, waiting for the right time.
Tony went into his tent, finding Adam conveniently asleep already.
That only made things easier.
He set to camouflaging himself, wearing a dark shirt and smudging his face and hands to remain inconspicuous. He knew Jack and Chase would be doing the same. Almost half an hour later, a single beam of light played on the side of his tent. It was Jack’s signal and he got up quietly. Adam was snoring softly but he preferred to be safe rather than sorry and stayed as quiet as possible. He met Jack and Chase behind his tent and they hurried across, coming up behind Ryan and George’s tent while Michelle went up to the front. Jack nodded to her and she leaned close to the flap, calling George’s name softly.
He didn’t respond until the third time she called, but when he did, he got up and went over to her, telling her to be quiet because Ryan was already asleep. Michelle played her part to perfection and George followed her out of the tent to keep from waking Ryan up, leaving Jack, Chase and Tony with a clear path. They snuck in and quickly snatched Ryan up. Jack’s hand clasped tightly over his mouth and by the time he realized what was going on, Tony had already tied one of his own bandana’s over his eyes, blinding him. They rolled him on his stomach and while Jack made sure he stayed quiet, Tony and Chase tied his hands and feet together. They rolled him back and Tony and Jack picked him up while Chase stuffed his sleeping bag with two pillows and some sheets. He hurried after them and caught up before they reached the edge of the campground.
The three of them disappeared into the woods with their ‘prisoner’ and only when they were at a safe distance, did they stop to gag him. Tony untied the blindfold and when Jack pulled his hand away, Tony tied the bandana in place, cutting off Ryan’s cry before it could carry anywhere and draw attention. Jack turned him around and lifted him onto his shoulder without wasting any more time. They had to move quickly and hope George would be fooled by the dummy filling until morning.
They reached a small clearing and Jack put Ryan down, letting him lean back against a tree. He held onto him while Tony and Chase draped a blanket around him and tied him to the tree, ropes running across his chest and more across his legs.
“You have a knot-tying patch,” Jack hissed softly, “let’s see if you have a knot-untying one as well.”
He tapped Ryan on the cheek and turned away, a grin on his face.
Chase and Tony joined him after saluting Ryan and they all went back to camp, finally getting between the sheets.
Michelle was already in bed and so was George.
Nobody had been alerted.
Ryan would sleep out tonight.
Tony had no problem sneaking into bed next to a snoring Adam and they all went to sleep with a smile on their face.
Revenge was, after all, a dish best served cold.
And as a team.
“Talk about teamwork.” Jack chuckled softly.
He and Chase didn’t get much sleep that night, they were too busy mocking Ryan.
They were still up at first light, even though they were a little less ‘fresh’ than the previous day.
Tony and Adam emerged from their tent together, which surprised most of them. It actually seemed like Adam was awake today. George joined them too and so did Michelle. It came as a surprise when George said Ryan was still sound asleep.
“Maybe he had trouble digesting his defeat.” Tony chuckled to which they all laughed.
Mitch went over to wake him up but came back with the ‘devastating’ news he was gone.
“His sleeping bag was stuffed with these.” he said, brandishing the sheets, “What the hell happened?”
He went straight up to Jack.
“What did you do to him?”
It made Jack laugh.
“Where is he?” Mitch demanded.
“He’s a little tied up.” Jack chuckled.
“Hey, quit fucking around.” Daryl snapped angrily, “Where is he?”
Jack continued his game even though the guides were getting really pissed off.
Nobody else was and Jack knew he had his ‘team’ to back him up if those idiots tried anything on him.
“Go get him.” Mitch commanded.
“Why don’t you go get him yourself,” Jack replied coldly, “I honestly feel a lot better without him.”
“You fuck.” Daryl snarled.
“You know what they say about revenge, don’t you?” Jack said calmly, “One hundred feet … that a way.”
The three of them ran off at once.
They came back minutes later, supporting a slightly limping Chappelle.
The amusement in Jack’s eyes was just about the last thing he needed and it was reflected in Chase’s and Tony’s eyes which only made it worse. Jack had gotten back at him and he had done it with his team. He caught Michelle’s smile and knew she had been in on it and he wisely decided against saying anything at all. He was stiff and a little sore, but thanks to the blanket they had draped around him, he hadn’t gotten too cold. Nothing a good cup of coffee couldn’t take care of.
Much to everybody’s surprise, he waved away Daryl’s suggestion to stay at the camp.
Jack had gotten even and he made no more trouble, treating Ryan no differently from the others throughout their second pass at the obstacle course. This time however, they didn’t go back to the thrill ride, they went to a different face of the mountain where they all geared up, preparing to repel down.
Each guide would repel down with two of their group, one with no or limited experience and another with some experience.
Once more, the field operatives stood out, but Ryan took a spot on the ‘experienced’ line, and so did George. He had climbed indoor for years. It only left Adam, Chloe and Michelle, which worked out perfectly. Tony made sure to stay with Michelle and Chase stayed with Chloe, which left a choice between Jack, Ryan and George to descend with Adam and the third guide.
George took the spot, leaving Ryan and Jack to descend together.
They didn’t seem to mind.
The first ones to set out were Chase, Chloe and Daryl.
When they were down, the next group set out, sending George, Adam and Joshua down.
While they descended, Mitch explained the reeling system they were secured with to Jack and Ryan.
Jack knew it well but he wisely let Mitch explain it. Ryan didn’t seem all too confident.
They had a safety system which had been set to five feet, which meant they couldn’t descend more than five feet at once. Jack knew it could be turned off and if he got bored along the way, he would, but for now, he left it.
They got word the others were down and got into position.
Jack noticed Ryan’s trembling hand when he picked up the rope.
“Are you okay, Ryan?” he asked quietly, not wanting to alert anyone just yet.
Ryan met his eyes and Jack could see the hesitation.
“I’m a little rusty on this.” Ryan admitted.
“Would you prefer to stay with Mitch?”
“No, that’s alright.”
“Are you sure?”
Ryan nodded slowly.
“Okay, there’s no rush, we’ll take it slow.”
This time, he nodded a little more convincingly.
Jack kept a close eye on Ryan as he eased over the edge.
He really wasn’t all too sure of himself and his movements were halting and hesitant while Jack sat back confidently in his harness. He took it slow, staying two feet below Ryan and going at the same sluggish pace for the time being. He hoped to god Ryan would get his feel for it soon so they could speed up a little, he didn’t feel like walking down the damn mountain.
Thankfully, Ryan did get the feel for it.
A few minutes into it, he dared a first shy jump, taking him only two feet down, bringing him alongside Jack who waited for him.
“Are you good to go?” he asked when Ryan looked at him.
“Yeah, I’m good.” Ryan replied, the sparkle in his eye Jack had been waiting for.
“Don’t overdo it, though.”
“Don’t worry, I just needed to remember how it felt.” Ryan said, looking down at the void beneath them.
“Yeah, it is pretty impressive when you’re not used to it.”
“I guess you’ve seen your share of things in Special Forces.”
“That’s right,” Jack confirmed, “and that’s not something one can easily forget.”
“Let’s get off this mountain, shall we?”
“That might be a good idea.” Ryan chuckled.
He pushed off and went down the maximum five feet this time with Jack watching him from above, a grin on his face. Little did he know his next move was going to be a life-saver. With a flick of his thumb, he disengaged the system lock on his harness, enabling him to take bigger leaps down the face of the mountain. He would let Ryan get ahead now that he was more confident about what he was doing again and catch up to him. He kept an eye on Ryan though, making sure the man was okay before he set off. If he was in mid-air, he wouldn’t be able to respond to a problem.
But Ryan took another leap and then a third, so Jack turned his attention back to himself, checking his rope and his footing before setting off. Those few seconds made the difference. He still had his feet solidly planted on the mountainside when a sharp cry sounded from beneath. His head whipped around and much to his horror, he saw Ryan falling. For some reason his safety didn’t engage and his fall wasn’t stopped after five feet. He had most probably lost his balance because he had his back turned to the mountain and tumbled down at high speed until a protruding rock snatched his harness, stopping his free fall in an instant. By then Jack was already flying down the mountainside himself, having released the grip on the rope the very moment he saw Ryan falling. The chances of him catching up were minimal but he had to try, regardless of his own safety, he couldn’t let Ryan tumble to his death without trying something.
Ryan’s harness had caught on a rock, but Jack knew he didn’t have much time to get there, either the harness or the rock would succumb under Ryan’s weight. It was already a small miracle it hadn’t given under the weight or momentum.
He called out to Ryan, trying to establish beforehand if the man was conscious or not.
He looked up in response to Jack’s calls just as he reached him.
Jack quickly engaged the lock on his gear, keeping him in place and he reached out to Ryan. Hand on his cheek he made eye contact with him. His eyes were a little foggy and there was blood on his left eyebrow.
“Ryan, can you hear me?”
“Are you hurt?”
He shook his head.
“Okay, let me get this first.” Jack said, reaching for the safety on Ryan’s gear and engaging it manually.
Hopefully it would keep him from falling any further down if anything happened.
But then again, he had no idea if the system was faulty or not.
Maybe Ryan had disengaged it just like him, maybe it malfunctioned.
“Ryan, are you with me?” Jack asked, searching Ryan’s eyes again.
A slow nod.
“Okay, I’m gonna secure you to my harness and take you down … do you understand me?”
“Good. Tell me if I’m hurting you, okay.”
He grabbed Ryan’s harness and pulled on it.
He had to lift him up far enough to get the harness off the rock it had caught on.
Ryan groaned in response, but he too knew Jack couldn’t stop now.
Jack heard someone call his name and when he looked up, he saw Mitch repelling down at high speed, coming to his aid, so he decided to wait for the man. With Ryan half unconscious, he might not be able to maneuver him into position to secure him to his own harness.
“Just hang in there, Ryan, Mitch is on his way to help.”
Ryan barely responded, so Jack tapped his cheek again to wake him up.
“Don’t pass out on me, Ryan. I need you to stay awake, alright.”
Ryan’s eyes lighted up a little and he nodded once more.
Mitch reached them and like Jack, engaged the lock on his system.
“I don’t know, he must’ve slipped or lost his balance, I didn’t see it,” Jack explained, “help me secure him to my harness, I’ll take him down.”
“Joshua is calling for a chopper,” Mitch said, “we’ll have to sit tight-”
“Help me secure him to my harness,” Jack interrupted him, “I’ll get him down.”
“Are you forgetting where I’m coming from?” Jack interrupted him once more.
“Help me secure him.”
Mitch nodded quickly, the harsh tone of voice having snapped him out of it.
“Ryan, we’re gonna get you out of here, okay.”
“I’m gonna need you to help us out. I want you to hold on to me until Mitch can secure your harness to mine … can you do that?”
“Yes.” Ryan replied in a loud whisper.
His eyes brightened up even more and Jack turned his back to him, feeling the man’s arms wrap around him almost at once.
He reached around with his left hand, getting a hold of Ryan’s harness while locking his right hand on Ryan’s right wrist. Mitch quickly secured Ryan’s harness to Jack’s and used a rope to tie them together, making sure Ryan couldn’t fall even if he lost his grip and the harness failed them. He tapped Jack on the shoulder and released the rope from Ryan’s gear.
“Ryan, I need you to stay awake alright.”
“Good, I’m gonna take you down, now. Are you ready?”
“Okay, let’s go.” Jack said, pushing off and descending a few feet at a time.
He easily caught their weight and steadied himself before pushing off again, taking it slow but staying on the safe side. If he had an accident now, they were more than likely both gonna tumble to their deaths.
Mitch paced him and reached out every so often to help steady him even though Jack didn’t need the help. He wasn’t going to refuse it either. Not now. Not with Ryan’s life depending on him. He kept talking to Ryan, getting faint responses out of the man, keeping him awake and alert. It took them a while to reach the bottom, but help was there the moment Jack put his feet down on the ground. The guides untied Ryan and eased him down on a blanket they had prepared. The chopper was only a few minutes out, it wouldn’t be long now.
Jack crouched down beside him and got his attention, still keeping him alert.
“Ryan, do you know where you are?”
“In hell?” Ryan asked faintly.
“That’s right.” Jack chuckled, “Do you know what day it is?”
“A good one to die?”
“I don’t think I’ll agree with you on that. Do you know who I am?”
“My worst nightmare?”
“That I am,” Jack chuckled, “you’ll be just fine.” he added, tapping Ryan’s shoulder.
“Thank you.” Ryan said, holding his hand out to Jack.
“Personal differences don’t matter in a situation like that, Ryan,” Jack replied, taking Ryan’s, “all that matters is a human life, regardless of who it is.”
“I guess you were right, too.” Ryan said quietly, referring to when Jack had told him he should try to look before judging.
“And I guess this trip wasn’t such a bad idea after all.”
The chopper set down a good fifty feet away and the medics ran over to them so Jack pushed up and got out of their way, giving them a clear path to their patient. In a reflex, he looked up at the mountain and his eyes caught Tony and Michelle coming down at a slow but steady pace and he kept his eyes on them. There was nothing he could do from down there if anything went wrong, but for some reason, he felt better keeping an eye on them.
They reached the bottom without incident though and Michelle fell into Tony’s arms the moment their feet touched the ground. Jack had no idea which emotion had caused it, but it didn’t matter. Those two were getting along really well and the hug could be warranted by a million reasons. Nobody would ask questions, especially not him.
When he finally turned back, it surprised him to see the medics still there and Ryan sitting up on the blanket.
“Hey, are you okay?” he asked, going back over.
“Yes, I’m fine.” Ryan replied.
“Don’t you think you should get yourself checked out?”
“I’m fine, Jack, I slipped and hit my head.”
“And you tumbled down half the damn mountain before your harness caught on that rock.”
“I’m alright,” Ryan insisted, meeting his eyes, “honest.”
“Tell me something,” Jack started, crouching down again, “did you disengage the safety?”
Ryan’s face turned pale when he shook his head.
His gear had malfunctioned.
If it hadn’t been for that rock, he would’ve crashed to his death.
Knowing Ryan the way Jack knew him, this would hurt.
But not now.
For now, the weekend wasn’t over.
Ryan pushed up and so did Jack, getting out of his way.
He would be keeping a close eye on the man for the rest of the day.
The guides changed the plans for the afternoon and decided to take them on the more relaxing kayaking trip rather than the demanding mountain bike excursion they had planned. But that wasn’t until after lunch, for which they returned to camp. The short hike to the starting point left them with enough time to digest and once they got there, the guides gave them a choice, solo or duo boats. They all went for the solo kayaks. That way, they could go at their own pace.
The first half hour went by at a leisurely pace, but then Chase caught the silly bug and he started splashing whoever came near him, starting with Michelle who shrieked in surprise as a splash of cold water caught her across the back. Everyone turned to look and quickly assessed the situation seeing Chase’s stupid grin and Michelle’s soaked top. Michelle tried to return the favor but her aim was off and instead, she sprayed Jack and George. Jack returned ‘fire’ at once, spraying both Michelle and Chase which resulted in retaliation from Chase and Tony. George hurried out of the battlefield, hoping to stay as dry as humanly possible in a kayak. Chase rammed Jack’s kayak but Jack used his expertise and tipped him over, sending the young man swimming. Dripping wet, but with an ear-to-ear grin, Chase tipped his kayak back and clambered back into it.
This was war.
Michelle got her revenge though and he took another splash of water before he could get back at Jack. Tony went around the fighting pack and maneuvered his kayak alongside Michelle’s, intent on shielding her from Chase’s madness, but she wouldn’t have any of it and sprayed him too.
Chloe got caught in the fight between Jack and Chase when Chase rammed Jack’s kayak and he tumbled onto Chloe’s, nearly tipping her over and getting smacked over the head because of it. He retaliated with his paddle, splashing her too.
Ryan and Mitch attempted to restore order while George and Adam quietly continued on their way, but the rest of them ganged up on the ‘peacekeepers’, tipping both of them and sending them into the cold river.
Now, the fight was really on and the guides got into it as well.
Within ten minutes, everybody who hadn’t gotten away in time was soaked and they had all taken at least one swim already. All except Jack who managed to counter each attack and keep his boat afloat. When the individual strikes against him didn’t have the desired result, Ryan called a global strike and they all turned against him at once. It left him with only one option … get the hell out of there. Not that it mattered really, he was soaking wet anyway, but he was the only one ‘left standing’ and he wanted to keep it that way, so he dug his paddles deep and put his heart into it, trying to get away from them.
The race was on.
He had a small lead but Chase, Ryan and Mitch were hot on his tail and he couldn’t afford to stop paddling, he would never be able to tip all three of them at once. The racing group shot past George and Adam, spraying them after all, despite their attempt to stay out of the fight. Joshua and Daryl were coming up close behind the four in front while Chloe, Michelle and Tony were taking it slowly, letting the others have fun while they relaxed again. When they caught up with Adam and George, Tony got a hold of Michelle’s kayak and held her back.
He had plans.
She met his eyes and understood at once.
They continued at a slow pace, not making it obvious at once what they were planning, but they let the others get ahead, giving themselves some privacy. Meanwhile, Chase and Ryan had caught up with Jack and Ryan knocked Jack’s paddle out of his hands with a lucky shot. He steered his own kayak out of the way, giving Chase a clear shot at tipping Jack without risk. Without his paddle, he couldn’t keep his boat in balance and he finally took a plunge into the river as well, but he dove deeper and came up under Ryan’s boat unseen, tipping him without warning and getting instant revenge. He clambered back into his own kayak and accepted his paddle back from Joshua who had picked it up on the way. They waited for Ryan to be ‘back in the saddle’, too and continued on their way, the silliness now having been washed away.
They took it slow, giving the others a chance at catching up with them but when they did, Ryan and Jack both noticed Tony and Michelle were missing.
“Where are the others?” Ryan asked at once.
George turned around, checking the river behind him.
“They were coming up behind us,” he replied, turning back, “I’m sure they’ll catch up.”
“Do you want to wait for them?” Mitch asked at once.
“I’ll go check,” Jack pitched in, “you guys go on ahead, we’ll catch up.”
Ryan and Mitch agreed and Jack steered his kayak away from them, paddling quickly but with no intention of finding Tony and Michelle. He had a good idea of what they were doing, and he wasn’t planning on interrupting them. As soon as he was out of sight, he would find a spot to set foot down and he would wait for Tony and Michelle to get there, then the three of them could catch up with the rest of the group. He found a quiet spot and stranded his kayak after what he put the paddle into it and dove into the river. The water was cold but not dangerously so and he loved a good swim, so he kept himself warm and busy waiting for the others. He kept swimming back and forth until he heard voices. He checked his watch. He had been swimming for about half an hour.
He hurried over to his kayak and pulled it afloat again, clambered in and joined Tony and Michelle who were surprised to see him there.
“So, did you guys have fun?” Jack asked with a grin.
“Bite me.” Tony chuckled.
“Mitch wanted to wait for you guys, but I told them I’d check on you,” Jack explained, “I had a pretty good idea what you two were doing, and I didn’t think you’d appreciate having an audience.”
It made Michelle blush and Tony dipped his head with a grin.
“I told them we’d catch up with them, but we’re gonna have to hurry.”
“Why’s that?” Tony asked.
“I’ve been waiting here for over half an hour, they might be getting worried.”
“We didn’t really see the time.” Michelle admitted.
“I guess you didn’t really check the time either.” Jack chuckled.
“Are you gonna write us up on it?” Michelle dared quietly.
“On what? On wanting to spend some time alone?”
She met his eyes.
She didn’t dare believe it.
“Come on, let’s catch up before they send the marines to look for us.” Jack joked, digging his paddle in.
“Did they get you?” Tony asked.
“Yeah,” Jack sighed, “Ryan and Chase teamed up on me.”
“Chappelle got you?” Tony exclaimed.
“Yeah, that little skunk is full of surprises.” Jack chuckled, “He knocked my paddle right out of my hands and Chase had no trouble tipping me after that.”
“Did you get back at him?”
“He took another swim.” Jack replied with a grin.
“He really is full of surprises, isn’t he?” Tony asked more seriously now.
“Who would’ve thought.”
“I never would’ve figured he could do anything but piss people off and wave his rulebook around, that’s for sure.” Jack agreed.
“I guess he made all of us rethink our opinion on him.”
“I think I made him rethink his opinion, too,” Jack replied, “now I can only hope he’s gonna be a little less uptight and stop making our work even more difficult than it already is.”
They paddled on and caught up with the others who had stopped, wondering where they were.
“Look what I found.” Jack called out the moment he spotted the group, “A couple of stray cats.”
“What took you guys?” Ryan asked.
“Nature.” Tony called back, hoping nobody would give them a hard time over it.
Michelle blushed slightly and Jack chuckled which made Mitch, Joshua and Ryan smile too. They understood it the way Tony meant it. The others didn’t care. They continued on their way and after almost four hours, they reached their destination. They stranded all the kayaks and gathered on the small field in front of the buildings. Much to their surprise, a barbecue awaited them. There would be no ‘cooking your own meal’ tonight.
Another surprise awaited them after the meal.
They had to hike back to camp.
It would take them a few hours, which meant they wouldn’t reach it until well after nightfall.
Mitch divided the group in two, handing them a map, a compass and four flashlights, informing them the guides would set out first. They weren’t participating and would be waiting at the camp. The team who got there first, would be ‘free’ until lunch.
George, Adam, Chase and Ryan were on one team.
Jack, Tony, Chloe and Michelle on the other.
It bugged Jack a little to have both women on his team, but he was sure he and Tony would be able to make up for it and they accepted the challenge.
The guides took off one hour before they could, so they all settled back and enjoyed the evening a while longer.
Chase and Ryan were going over the map already, studying their route and going over the possibilities. Jack and Tony didn’t need the map, they had a compass and knew the coordinates for their camp, they would get there without a map. It was the challenge they had set for themselves. It would be nice to be out with Tony again, even though the women would be there as well and this wasn’t a situation they were going into, it was still a nice prospect. They hadn’t done much together since Tony had been promoted to Director of CTU. He didn’t go out into the field much anymore.
This was an ideal opportunity to reestablish the connection.
When they set out, Ryan took his team down the path the guides had taken, but Jack and Tony took the ladies in a straight line towards the camp, using the compass as their sole guidance. It forced them to pull monkey tricks a few times, but while the others were following a winding path, they went straight for their target. Their strategy slowed them down when nightfall draped its darkness over the area, the flashlights only provided them with minimum light and it made Jack wish he had a few flares. But even without flares, they made good time. Chloe complained the most, but that was because of all the bugs, most of them drawn to the beam of light in her hand. She got bitten a few times and on each occasion, her curses were loud and explicit, which made the others laugh, but when they reached a small creek, Jack called her over to him.
“Hold still for a minute,” he instructed, stooping down and collecting some mud, “this is gonna keep the bugs away from you.”
“Are you serious?” Chloe gasped, taking a step back.
“You can choose between some mud or getting eaten alive by those bugs,” Jack said quietly, “it’s your choice, Chloe.”
“Fine.” Chloe sighed, allowing Jack to cover her skin with mud.
Tony came over to help.
“Look at it this way, Chloe,” Tony chuckled at a certain point, “under different circumstances, you’d be paying for this.”
“Bite me, Tony.” Chloe snapped angrily.
“I’m not as crazy as those bugs.” Tony chuckled, jumping out of the way in the nick of time and avoiding the punch.
They continued on their way and Chloe was no longer ‘bugged’.
Thanks to Jack’s straightforward approach and his and Tony’s experience, they reached the camp only shortly after the guides who were surprised to see them there already. Joshua called down to check if they had cheated, but he got confirmation both teams had left at the same time, one hour after them as instructed.
It meant they won the challenge and were free to spend their morning as they saw fit.
To the ladies, it meant they could sleep in.
To Tony and Jack, it meant something different altogether.
Chloe washed the mud off and treated her bites after what the ladies turned in.
Tony and Jack waited it out a little longer, but the exertion, the fun and the big meal they’d had, made the day a long one and they hit the sack before the others got there. It ended up being the right call, it took Ryan’s team another two hours to get there.
They had a very short night ahead of them and turned in at once.
Jack was up along with the others and had breakfast with them, noticing the bloodshot eyes on the others. A quick wink from Joshua told him what he needed to know. After breakfast, he hit the obstacle course again, taking it the way it had to be taken. He reached the top and entered the shed the guides kept the climbing gear in. He picked his gear and checked it, making sure he wasn’t going to gear up with faulty equipment. Once he was ready, he started the climb, going down the mountainside again, but climbing it instead of repelling down.
He needed some time to himself.
He’d been stuck there for two days with the same people already and he needed a break.
Him and the rock.
No more, no less.
He fucked up on this, he was a dead man.
It forced him to let everything go and focus.
Focus on the rock.
Focus on where he put his hands and feet.
It screwed his head back on.
Ten minutes into it, he felt the sweat break out on his forehead.
Fifteen minutes later, he was sweating like a horse.
He reached the bottom of the mountain almost two hours later, sweat gushing down his body, his shirt soaked and caked with dirt and dust, his pants covered in dust, muscles trembling from the exertion, chest heaving and heart pounding furiously.
It was the kind of exhaustion he loved.
The kind of pain that told him he was still very much alive.
He looked up at the mountain, looking up at the distance he had just covered, the demon he had just vanquished.
A satisfied grin on his face, he turned away and headed back up to camp.
Once his body settled down again, he picked up the pace and jogged back, reaching the camp just as the others were starting to wonder where he was. Ryan’s losing team was back from their morning ‘excursion’ and they were about to start on lunch, but nobody knew where he had disappeared to and the guides were starting to worry.
Chloe saw him first and she called out to the others, causing a general sigh of relief.
Mitch noticed the gear on him and when he met Jack’s eyes, he got confirmation of what he expected.
The lunatic had gone to climb the wall on his own. He shook his head and turned his attention back to lunch.
Jack changed out of his shirt and washed up before joining the rest of them, feeling completely at peace with himself and the mountain all around him. Nothing was going to upset him today, that much was certain.
Sometime during lunch, a truck pulled up. It was loaded with mountain bikes and a case filled with helmets.
The men unloaded the truck and left, they would be back in the evening to pick the bikes up.
After lunch, they all picked their bike and adjusted the saddle where necessary. Helmets were handed out and adjusted as well, after what the flasks were filled and passed around. Mitch offered a choice between an expert route or what he referred to as the ‘kiddy track’, but the choice only caused a heated discussion. Michelle and Chloe wanted to take the easy route, while everybody else wanted to take the expert route.
“You know what,” Jack pitched in after a while, “why don’t I take the ladies on the kiddy track and the rest of you can knock yourselves out on the other one.”
All eyes locked on him, some thankful but most in disbelief.
“I already had my exercise,” Jack stated, “I don’t mind taking the easy route.”
Once more, Jack came up with the golden path down the middle and his offer was accepted, cheered on even.
Mitch gave him a map and once everybody was ready, they set out. The large group heading for a tough ride, while Jack took ‘his’ ladies down a ‘soft’ track. It was still hard enough. Michelle was used to riding a bike and she had the least trouble with the dirt track, so Jack stayed close to Chloe who was struggling to keep her balance more often than not. He tried to keep the atmosphere light, but Chloe was showing serious signs of withdrawal and he called it quits after about an hour.
“Why don’t we cut our losses,” Jack said, stopping at a clearing, “I don’t think there’s any use in going any further.”
“I don’t want to spoil-”
“Spoil what, Chloe?” Jack asked, interrupting her, “The fun?”
She met his eyes hesitantly.
“You’re not having fun and neither is Michelle, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind getting off that bike.”
“You got that right.” Michelle huffed.
“I don’t feel like this either, so why don’t we just call it quits and soak up some sun.”
“Are you serious?” Chloe dared to ask.
She couldn’t imagine for half a minute Jack would let them ease up on this trip from hell.
“Chloe, I spent two hours climbing down a mountain this morning, I’ve had my share for the day. Besides, I don’t like to ride a bike, I prefer motorized rides.”
They dropped the bikes to the side and stretched out on the grass, literally soaking up the sun.
“I wish Tony was here.” Michelle sighed after a moment.
She realized her mistake the moment she said it and bit her lip.
“Yeah, me too,” Jack agreed, “that way we could play the cards.”
They all chuckled at it and he pushed up onto his elbow.
“You’re really getting along, aren’t you?”
“He’s a nice guy.” Michelle replied evasively.
“Yeah, tell me about it.” Jack agreed, “He’s a good guy, Michelle,” he added more seriously suddenly, “I don’t want to see him get hurt again.”
She sat up and shielded her eyes from the sun, meeting his.
“Don’t play with his feelings or you will find out how terrifying I can truly be.”
She could tell from his eyes alone that she would not like it if she had to find that out.
“I never play with feelings, you can rest assured.”
“He’s a dear friend and I owe him my life, I won’t stand by and watch him get hurt again.” Jack insisted before lying down again.
He had made his point, now it was up to Michelle to assimilate the information and use it at her own discretion.
He wouldn’t stand by and watch another woman tear up Tony’s heart the way Nina had.
And she had done it to the both of them.
It was what had brought them together.
It was how they had found each other.
Their friendship had built steadily from that day on.
He wasn’t going to let another woman stab him through the heart.
The blaring sun had a soothing effect though and he slowly slipped away from the waking world.
Michelle and Chloe were equally affected by the warmth and pretty soon, they were all slumbering. Thankfully, the sun moved across the sky and after a while, the trees blocked its most intense rays, keeping the three of them from getting a sunstroke. Jack woke first and he sat up, checking the time at once. They had been resting for little over two hours and he didn’t think the others would be back at camp yet, so there was no rush. He retrieved his flask and drank some, watching the two women sleep peacefully. It put a smile on his face and he leaned back against a tree, allowing memories of better days to sweep him up and take him back there. Back to times he had watched Teri sleep. Back to times his heart was still in one piece and not ripped apart the way it was now. He came back to the present time when one of the women sneezed and when he opened his eyes, he saw Chloe sitting up, rubbing her nose. Michelle was also waking up slowly. They would be able to head back soon.
But again, there was no rush.
They ended up walking it back instead of riding and still made it back to camp before the others did.
Jack put the three bikes against a tree and hung the helmets from the handlebars, that way, they could be easily loaded onto the truck when it came back for them. He felt good. Relaxed and at peace with himself and the situation.
It was amazing how a quiet day in the outdoors could have such a deep effect on him.
The rest of the gang reached the camp, soaking wet, exhausted and ‘dented’ almost an hour after they had gotten back.
Adam had crashed his bike and sported a bandage on his head and arm and Joshua had also taken a bad fall, proving it wasn’t enough to be experienced, you had to be alert as well. The injuries were not too serious though and it wouldn’t keep them from continuing this weekend.
They quickly prepared everything for dinner and enjoyed a quiet meal. Most of them were exhausted from the afternoon on a bike and they turned in early, tomorrow was another day. Jack had rested in the afternoon and didn’t feel tired enough to go to bed yet and he got a flashlight and compass out of his bag after what he headed off into the woods on his own again.
Two hours later, Mitch and Daryl started wondering where he had gone to.
They didn’t think he was crazy enough to climb down the mountain on his own again, not in the middle of the night anyway.
Then again, they didn’t know him.
He wasn’t back and Mitch decided to ask Ryan.
He went into the tent and quietly woke Ryan up.
“Jack’s still not back, he’s been gone for three hours,” Mitch explained softly, “what do you think we should do?”
“Leave him be, he can take care of himself.” Ryan replied sleepily.
Right now, he couldn’t care less about Jack Bauer.
“What if he had an accident?”
“He’ll take care of himself.” Ryan repeated grumpily.
“What would Jack do if it were you out there?” Mitch insisted.
“He’d turn around and go back to sleep.” Ryan snapped, “Do what you want, I’m not worried about him.”
“Fine.” Mitch sighed.
He left, shaking his head.
He would’ve expected a little more interest coming from Ryan after Jack had saved his life.
Then he thought of something and went into Jack’s tent, waking Chase up with the same information.
Chase jumped up at once and pulled his boots on after what he hurried over to Tony’s tent to wake him up too.
The four of them could cover more ground and Joshua could stay at the camp in case Jack came back before they found him.
They headed into the woods and followed the direction Jack had taken, but he could’ve gone anywhere after that and they spread out as much as they dared, making sure to keep visual contact with each other.
It was Chase who spotted a light and he called out to the others first, pointing ahead before running off towards the point of interest. It was Jack’s flashlight alright, but Jack was nowhere to be seen, so they checked the area until Mitch cursed under his breath. He had found signs of a struggle … and blood.
Tony called out to Jack, his voice tearing through the silent night.
He called again.
But the night didn’t respond.
And neither did Jack.
They followed the tracks, listening intently and alert to their surroundings until they spotted him. Tony shot past Mitch who tried to stop him but couldn’t. Tony called out again as he jumped a fallen tree and fell to his knees next to Jack, hands on his shoulders, his touch greeted by a low grunt.
At least he was alive.
“Jack?” Tony called quietly now.
“Can you hear me?”
“Are you hurt?”
Tony moved his hand and came across a wet and sticky portion. The others reached them and their lights played over Jack’s body, revealing a set of gashes on the left side of his back, clear across his shoulder blade. Tony gasped at the sight of it and his right hand tightened on Jack’s arm.
“Hit my head.”
He kept his eyes closed as a beam of light shone into his face, revealing another cut on his brow.
“What happened?” Tony asked quietly.
“I ran into bigger and badder than myself.” Jack replied in a whisper.
“Let’s get you back to camp.”
They carefully lifted him off the ground and Tony and Chase took it upon themselves to carry him.
“What did that to you?” Chase asked quietly.
He didn’t know if Jack would answer it, but they had to keep him conscious.
“A bear.” Jack replied under his breath, “Sucker was on top of me before I saw it.”
“Did it have a white snout?” Mitch asked.
Chase was about to say something, but Jack confirmed it.
He did have time to see it.
“We’ll have to call it in.” Mitch said to Daryl.
“Has it attacked others?”
“It’s been spotted three times near camps in the past few weeks and it attacked one of them in the dead of night, injuring two of the campers.”
“You could’ve warned us about it.” Tony snapped.
“It didn’t happen anywhere near here,” Mitch replied defensively, “we wouldn’t have let you hike back last night if there had been any kind of danger. That’s why we have to call it in, let the Rangers know it came this way.”
“Do you have any weapons?” Jack asked.
“No, we don’t,” Mitch replied, “only flares.”
“I could put it out of action with a flare.” Jack huffed, “Sonofabitch.”
“Are you okay?” Tony asked, sensing Jack was more aggravated than injured.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Jack replied, but they didn’t let go of him.
He was more aggravated than injured.
The damn thing had jumped him out of nowhere and lashed out without warning but he had managed to twist far enough away to limit the damage. He had rolled twice to stay out of its reach after what he had sprinted through the woods blindly because he lost his flashlight in the attack. He ran face first into a branch, which had sent him tumbling to the ground but he had bitten the pain and dizziness back and scrambled to his feet. A nearby tree had brought salvation and he had clambered up and out of the bear’s reach. It had tried to get to him and tumbled down the tree a few times, disrupting the area where they had found him. After a while, the bear had gotten tired of the game and left but Jack had waited before climbing out of the tree to make sure it had actually gone away. Thing was, he climbed out of the tree but tripped and knocked himself silly again, otherwise, he would’ve made it back to camp on his own steam. That was why he was pissed off. That and the fact Ryan had made him leave his weapon at CTU. He would’ve plugged that stupid pile of fur otherwise.
They got back to camp and Tony quickly dressed Jack’s wound. He wouldn’t let the guides anywhere near him so Mitch retreated back to their tent and called the Rangers’ station, letting them know the bear they had been looking for was in their area and had attacked someone else. They promised to send a few patrols their way and suggested they keep a close eye on things for the night.
In the meantime, Tony had finished dressing Jack’s wounds after what Jack had taken a painkiller and turned in for the night. He’d had his share of excitement for the day now. The others turned in too and the rest of the night went by peacefully. There were no unannounced visits of any kind.
Mitch brought the situation up at breakfast, taking an obvious shot at Ryan for not reacting to Jack’s absence, but Jack told him to keep his opinion to himself, bluntly and without blinking. Ryan felt bad enough about himself having seen the bandage on Jack’s head. Something had happened, but it was something they would settle in private. Mitch had no business dragging the others into it. They set out for the day’s hike, but Jack made sure the guides were packing flares. Just in case.
They came across two Rangers at a certain point but they hadn’t seen the bear and they continued on their hike.
Shortly after noon, they ran into more Rangers.
And the bear.
The Rangers were in pursuit, chasing after the bear as it tried to get away from the danger.
Shots rang out and shouts were heard.
One of the Rangers instructed them to stay put and stayed with them in case the bear doubled back towards them. Jack didn’t stay put, he had a bone to pick with that pile of fur and he tagged along with the Rangers, ignoring everybody’s remarks.
“You want it dead or not?” Jack asked one of the men.
“Yes.” the Ranger replied.
“Then give me that rifle.”
“Give me the damn rifle, I’ll put it down.”
“Watch me.” Jack snarled ripping the rifle out of the man’s hands.
He slung it over his shoulder, clambered up in a tree from which he had a clear view on the path below and slung the rifle off his shoulder again. He took careful aim while the Rangers waited to see what would happen.
The single shot cracked loudly through the quiet forest.
They gawked seeing the bear tumble over its own feet and slam into a tree. Jack kept the crosshairs on it for a moment, aimed between the animal’s eyes.
“Are you sure you want it dead?” he called without moving a muscle.
“Yes.” came a collective answer.
He pulled the trigger again, lowered the rifle and handed it to the Ranger he had taken it from, then climbed down again.
They all stood gawking at him.
“Thank Uncle Sam for the excellent training.” Jack said with a wink before jogging back to the gang, a grin on his face.
It seemed to come from everyone at once.
“It’s not gonna be attacking anyone anymore.” Jack stated triumphantly, “The sucker messed with the wrong beret.”
“What color?” Joshua asked.
“Black.” Jack stated proudly.
These guys had no idea who they had been pushing around all weekend.
They continued on their hike, leaving it to the Rangers to deal with the dead bear and they ended up back at camp in the early evening. They enjoyed their last meal and spent a quiet evening, filling it with light conversation on general topics. They turned in at a responsible hour given the fact the vans would be picking them up in the morning and they could all do with some rest after the long hike.
Breakfast was hectic.
They were all anxious to get going and once the vans got there, nothing could stop them. Bags were thrown into the back and they all piled into the vehicles in no particular order, even though Tony and Michelle made sure to ride in the same one. Chase stayed with Chloe while Jack made a run for the one Tony was climbing into, jumping in to ride shotgun this time around. Adam hopped in after Michelle and slammed the door shut.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.” he said coldly.
It was the most they’d heard him speak all weekend.
The vans hit the road and took them back to CTU.
Ryan opened the trunk of his car and unlocked the case containing all their stuff and Chloe was the first in there, getting her laptop out and hurrying over to her own car. She got in and fired up the laptop at once, sighing in relief when the screen lit up and requested a password. Her fingers tapped the keys and a smile folded over her face.
After a very long weekend, she was finally whole again.
The first thing she did was check her mail and her fingers flew over the keyboard as she typed a reply to one of the messages.
The weekend had been long for all of them, but Chloe was practically ecstatic to see her laptop again.
It felt damn good to Jack to strap his gun to his belt, but he hadn’t been too lost without it. Chloe’s world was coming together again now that she had her keyboard within reach.
Ryan came up to him but Jack stopped him from saying anything.
“Not here, not now, Ryan,” he said calmly, “let’s hold on to this truce for one more day.”
Ryan nodded and turned back to the others.
“Work starts tomorrow at the usual time ladies and gentlemen, you can take the rest of the day off to reflect on the weekend.”
They all nodded, appreciating the gesture.
“As shall I.” Chappelle added quietly.
He knew Jack had heard him, that had been the idea.
But Jack didn’t respond to it.
They both had a lot to think about and once they had, they would need to have a very long talk.
Only then would they know what exactly this weekend had brought them.
He went back to his car, checked the trunk to make sure nobody had left anything, closed it and drove off.
As did everybody else.
They had all survived the survival weekend.