Mac wakes up to pain and nausea.
The pain’s sharp. The nausea overwhelming. He can’t see out of his left eye. And there seems to be a tube stuck down his throat!
He starts to panic because he has no idea what’s going. What’s happening? Where is he? What–?
Then. “Hey, hey, hey,” a soft voice somewhere to his right and a face swims into his blurry view, looking concerned. A familiar, friendly face.
And it’s as if a switch’s flipped. Seeing Jack there, Mac relaxes, his whole body that started to tense up, making the pain almost blinding, goes limp. Jack’s here. As long as Jack’s here, everything will be just fine.
He sees Jack glance somewhere to the side as he gently squeezes the fingers on Mac’s right hand. “Don’t do that, kid. The machines went all crazy! You almost gave me a heart attack!”
Mac stares at Jack, anchored by the sight of his friend. He wants to ask so many questions but he can’t even form them, his mind’s too dulled with whatever they’re pumping into him, let alone say them aloud. So he just stares.
And Jack stares back and his eyes are full of emotions that he can’t seem to put into words. Finally, he whispers, “It’ll be fine. You will be fine. Just rest, okay?”
Blinking slowly once, twice, Mac allows his one good eye to close, trusting Jack. Always trusting Jack. Jack always has his back, after all.
Still, before unconsciousness claims him again, Mac wonders why he can hear engines, plane engines, in the background. And why Jack has a black eye. He should’ve been on a vacation, after all…
The next time Mac wakes up, he can see out of both of his eyes, thank God! Yes, he still has trouble focusing but at least he can see. And what he sees is a ceiling, white. And then a wall on the right. And then a window. And outside… a tree. A tall tree, lush and very green. Huh. He’s definitely not at the Afghan base, then!
There’s a scrambling and a shuffling and a grunt and then a head pops up in his line of sight and Mac’s lips quirk up into a smile. Jack.
“You awake!” Jack exclaims. His eyes are wide, his cheeks stubbled and he’s in his civilian clothes. How odd.
Mac tries to clear his throat to respond - and he realizes that he can. The tube’s gone and he’s breathing on his own. It’s a relief even though his throat still aches a little. “Y-yeah,” he croaks out.
And that’s when Jack disappears again and as Mac slowly, carefully turns his head a little more to the right, he can see that Jack sank back into his chair and now he’s sitting there with his face in his hands. He looks like he’s… crying?
“Ja-ack?” Mac asks in a raspy voice and furrows his brows.
“Give me a second,” Jack mumbles into his hands.
Mac doesn’t understand what’s happening. His head aches - well, his whole body aches - but the sharp pain and the splitting headache from before are gone. And the bruise he remembers seeing on Jack’s face has faded from almost black to yellow. How long was he unconscious?
When Jack finally lifts his head from his hands, his eyes are red. He was crying!
“Jack?” Mac asks again in a stronger voice. He’s starting to freak out a little. “What…? Whe-ere…?”
Jack scoots closer and reaches out to squeeze Mac’s fingers again. Mac wonders about that for a second because it seems as if Jack’s afraid to touch him anywhere else!
“The doctors weren’t sure you would ever wake up,” Jack explains in a soft voice, filled with overwhelming emotions: dread, relief… joy. “They said you cracked that noggin of yours real bad. But I told them you would be just fine. If they thought one big boom would take Angus MacGyver out, then they didn’t know you at all. And I was right.”
One big–? Mac’s eyes widen. “There was an… explosion!” he blurts out quickly and suddenly, he’s seized with a coughing fit. That makes his whole body hurt a lot more!
“Hey!” Jack chides him. “Would you stop that!”
Then he reaches out for a glass of water and lets Mac take a sip through a straw. Just a small one. The cool water feels like a balm to Mac’s throat.
Mac takes a shallow breath - careful of his ribs - while his mind gallops a mile a minute. He was disarming an IED in an old… warehouse? Factory? He doesn’t remember. He only knows the building was huge. And it served as a… as a… it escapes him now. But there was a bomb and he was disarming it while his unit kept watch. And then…
He looks at Jack fearfully. “Did I… did I screw up? Did the bomb–?”
“No. No, no, nothing like that,” Jack assures him quickly. “It wasn’t your fault. You did an exceptional job on that thing, like always, man. It wasn’t the bomb that exploded.”
Mac frowns again. “Then… what? If not the IED, then…?”
“A missile hit the building. It blew up,” Jack explains, his face and voice grim.
A missile? But… Then Mac’s eyes widen again and his breath quickens. His unit!
“The guys?” he asks, his chest seized with dread.
Sighing, Jack lets his head hang. The pressure on Mac’s fingers tightens. Mac tries to squeeze back but it hurts too much. This is going to be bad, isn’t it?
Finally, Jack responds in a whisper, “Everyone who was inside with you is gone. Grover, Eddie, Little Billy… everyone. You only survived because of that funny bomb suit you had on. And even with that” –he shakes his head– “you had a building dropped on you and you look the part, kid.”
Mac tries to pull air into his lungs but his breath hitches, his throat’s so thick it’s choking him. He blinks hard but tears still leak out of the corners of his eyes. His whole unit. Grover just asked his girlfriend to marry him. And Little Billy became an uncle only a week ago… And now they’re all gone.
Gently, Jack wipes his tears with a paper tissue. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I should’ve been there with you. I asked the guys to watch extra good for you while I’m gone. If I hadn’t let the CO nag me into taking a few days off–”
“You would be now dead, too,” Mac croaks out, fiercely glad that Jack wasn’t there when it happened.
Jack drops the wet tissue into the waste bin. “Yeah, well…”
Mac swallows hard. Then again. And again. He wants to let go and cry so badly his chest hurts. And he knows that Jack wouldn’t think any less of him because of it. But… he still has questions.
“Who bombed us? There hadn’t been any missile attacks in the region for weeks now,” Mac says at a loss.
Jack clenches his jaw and the grief in his eyes is replaced with fury. “It was friendly fire, Mac! Would you believe it? It was our own people who shot up that hospital to pieces!”
A hospital! Now Mac remembers. “Friendly fire?” he asks in disbelief. Their side did that? Their missile killed his unit? “Any civilian casualties?” Please, God, no!
A vein starts pulsing in Jack’s jaw. “Several of the patients couldn’t be moved when you ordered an evacuation because of the IED. Some of the staff stayed with them…”
Mac closes his eyes, tears burning behind his eyelids. They were supposed to help people!
For a long while, they both stay quiet, their hearts heavy with pain - and guilt, even though what happened wasn’t their fault.
In the end, Mac takes a shuddery breath and opens his eyes to look at Jack. “How did you find out? About what happened? And how it happened?”
Jack sighs, still holding Mac’s hand in his. “I was about to fly out when I got the call. Don’t worry,” he adds hastily, “I made sure they didn’t call your grandpa. That’s why you gave me your power of attorney, right? To not worry the guy?”
Mac nods gratefully. “Thanks,” he whispers.
Nodding, Jack continues, “I raced back just in time to see them bring you guys in. Christ.” He rubs his eyes as his voice quivers. “So many body bags. When I thought you might actually be in one of them…” He falls silent.
This time, Mac squeezes Jack’s hand hard and to hell with the pain.
After a moment, Jack composes himself. “But then they brought you in, alive but… Jesus, Mac, you looked like minced meat. They rushed you off to the hospital and while I was waiting for news, I heard some guys talking. Apparently, a certain someone fucked up again. They hoped that this time, there would actually be consequences.
“So, I grabbed one of the gossiping grannies and asked him very nicely who the fucker was who shot up that damn hospital! And then I went and had a word with that guy,” Jack finishes fiercely.
Mac’s eyes widen again. “You didn’t–?”
Jack nods resolutely. “You can bet your bruised ass I did. I found him in the officer’s club and beat the living daylights out of him. Threw him out through the window even, plated glass and all. And that’s how I ended in the brig because, as it turned out, that idiot was Major Sanders’ nephew.”
“Jack…” Mac whispers, now really worried for his friend.
But Jack waves his hand airily. “Don’t worry. I wasn’t actually charged with anything, even though Sanders pulled all the strings he could. See, all the officers in that club had it up there with Sanders’ pet. This wasn’t the first time he fucked up - but so far, never this badly. When the MPs came aknockin’, all the guys suddenly suffered a selective amnesia and couldn’t remember a thing about what happened between me and Sanders’ boy in the club.”
Mac sighs in relief.
“But it was suggested to me very strongly that I pack up and move on,” Jack adds grumpily.
Mac’s heart skips a beat. “What?”
“I got honorably discharged, my man,” Jack explains. “Actually, we both did.”
“What?” Mac asks again, now truly shocked. He was discharged? When? Why?
Jack scoots even closer and reaches out with his free hand to run it over Mac’s head, his… bandaged, shaved head. “Mac,” he says kindly. “You might not feel it right now - they’re giving you some really good stuff here - but you have more broken bones in your body than intact ones. And inside, you’re definitely more shaken than stirred. The doctors at the base couldn’t do anything for you, you were that bad off. They had to fly you to Europe.”
Mac’s staring at him, alarmed.
“We’re in Germany, buddy,” Jack continues softly, “and you’ve been unconscious for almost two weeks. You won’t be even walking on your own any time soon, let alone disarming bombs. You’re lucky to be alive, kid.”
“But… but what am I going to do?” Mac asks anxiously. He thought, he planned on staying in the army. Maybe not directly in the field but as an instructor or something like that. What is he going to do now?
Jack smiles, still stroking Mac’s head to calm him down. “First, you’ll get back on your feet. You’ll need a lot of help with that but you’re lucky ‘cause you have me. And then, then we will figure out what to do next, okay? Let’s take it one day at a time. Neither of us has to decide today or tomorrow, or even next week. We’ll come up with something, together. Don’t worry.”
Mac stares him in the eyes and slowly, his heart stops galloping and his chest relaxes. Jack’s right. They’ll figure it out. They, together. “Alright,” he whispers.
Jack’s smile widens. “Great. Because where you go, I go. And I’m not letting you out of my sight again, buddy. So, you just focus on getting well and let Jack take care of everything else, okay?”
Mac smiles a little. “Okay.”
And then his eyes close and he falls asleep again.