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The Stuff That Kills You

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This is his fourth visit with Doctor Smith since that almost disastrous mission in Chernobyl. The Doc, being the doctor of everything and nothing, it seems - well, Jack is pretty sure that Smith is some kind of a specialist but he really doesn’t care in what field as long as his bones are properly set and his pills prescribed as needed - is the go-to person for all mission related illnesses and injuries. If it happens on a mission, you go to Doc Smith. Even when it’s something as pesky and annoying as Jack’s allergy to… whatever.

And that’s why he’s here, because of that damn sneezing fit back in Chernobyl. After three appointments and enough blood drawn to make Dracula a happy clam, they still haven’t figured out what Jack was so allergic to. He’s starting to think it might be radioactivity. Ha! Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out how they would test for that? Well, maybe not. He really doesn’t feel like turning into a glowbug.

So, Jack’s sitting there, on the examination table, and he’s getting bored, bored, bored, even more bored by the second. Seriously, didn’t the Doc say he would be with Jack “in a moment”? Is the good doctor playing a game of chicken with him? Does he hope that Jack blinks first and leaves, fed up with waiting?

That thought turns Jack’s boredom into irritation and he starts looking around, trying to find something interesting, anything to kill time with. Even in a doctor’s office there must be something…

And that’s when his eyes land on a pile of files on the doctor’s desk, some thin, some bulging. Files of patients who were here before Jack today that the nurse hasn’t put away yet. Jack looks at the door, then back at the pile of files, then back at the door again… This is wrong, he tells himself, so wrong, so bad, so…

Jack hops off the table and sneaks closer to the desk. He’ll just take a peek. He won’t actually look inside - he’s really not interested in other people’s diseases, thank you very much - he’s just… he’s bored! And it’s the Doc’s own fault, he should’ve known better than to leave Jack waiting so long. He knows very well that Jack tends to get… antsy when bored.

He prods the pile with his finger then he throws a quick look at the door. No Doc Smith. Alright, then. He reads the name on the first file: Deborah… ah, yes, Debbie from Tech Support, she passed him in the doorway. Pretty, pretty smile. The next files says… Robert Dunham? Rob from the Europe branch, right. Then… Horace Longbottom? Seriously? What did the poor guy do to deserve this? And they actually have a Horace working for the Foundation? Who knew? Angus…

Jack freezes. Angus MacGyver. Mac was here today? He had an appointment with Doc Smith? Why? And why didn’t he tell Jack? Not that Jack needs to know every single thing that happens in the kid’s life but this is something they usually tell one another…

“Hey, I have a doctor’s appointment today.”

“Something serious?”

“No, just a regular check-up.”

“Okay.”

… a trip to the doctor’s office is not some secret they need to keep from each other, especially not when it’s Doctor Smith who treats everyone. So, why didn’t Mac say anything, especially when Jack whined about his own appointment today nonstop?

He shouldn’t. Jack shouldn’t do this. He knows he shouldn’t.

Jack pulls Mac’s file out of the pile, not really surprised - actually more concerned - by how thick the thing is. With his conscience’s screams about violation of privacy overruled by genuine worry, Jack opens the file and leafs through it.

He doesn’t understand half the things the various lab reports say - alright, more like 99% of it - but there’s one thing on the very first page that jumps out at him and that thing makes his blood run cold and his heartbeat quicken: radiation poisoning.

Radiation. Poisoning.

Jack asked Mac about radiation before, back in Chernobyl. And Mac told him in no uncertain words that there was no good kind. “Most people who get exposed to too much radiation, they just lose all their hair and die.” That’s what Mac said. People die from this. They die.

They. Die.


“Why didn’t you tell me?”

That’s the first thing that Jack says to Mac an hour later when he barges into Mac’s house and finds him tinkering with his bike in the living room. He stops there, by the couch, and stares down at the kid who’s sitting on the rug, hands greasy and eyes wide with surprise.  He looks… healthy. Pale, sure, but then, when doesn’t Mac look pale? But other than that, he seems healthy.

Mac opens his mouth, probably to ask what Jack’s talking about, but then he notices the tension in Jack’s shoulders, the way Jack keeps squeezing his car keys so hard his knuckles are all white - and he puts two and two together. 

Sighing, Mac drops his hands into his lap and hangs his head for a moment. “How did you find out?” he asks, resigned, when he looks back up again.

Jack waves a hand sharply. “That doesn’t matter. Why didn’t you tell me, Mac? I don’t expect you to share everything with me, I don’t, but–” He shakes his head and breathes out in disbelief, “Radiation poisoning, kid? That stuff kills people!”

Possible radiation poisoning, Jack,” Mac corrects him, wiping his hands into a dirty rag. “Possible. It’s not a sure thing.”

“How can you not be sure about a thing like that?” Jack exclaims. The dread that gripped his heart when he read that report is making him feel irritated, downright angry. With Mac for not telling him. With himself for not noticing. With the world for being so unjust!

Mac gets up slowly. Jack must look truly upset because when Mac answers, his voice sounds very soothing. “While I was disabling the trucks back in Chernobyl, I noticed some of the barrels were cracked. There was something - something! - leaking out of them. I couldn’t check what because I would’ve been spotted. It might’ve been nothing at all,” he adds.

“Or it might’ve been nuclear waste!” Jack snaps. “They weren’t all wearing protective gear for funsies! You were the only one who crawled through that radioactive muck in your civvies!”

Sighing, Mac nods. “Yes, it might’ve been nuclear waste,” he admits. “That’s why I took extra care at the decontamination station the Exfil set up. And why I made an appointment with Doctor Smith the moment we returned home. He ran some tests and he gave me some medication - as a precaution to boost my immune system, just in case.”

Just in case. Just in case, that’s what Jack latches onto. Because if he let his mind run down that road any further - they’re talking about radiation poisoning here, for fuck’s sake! - he would give himself a heart attack.

He makes a conscious effort to calm down. “What did the tests say?” he asks.

Mac smiles at him. “So far so good. No signs of radiation poisoning.”

The tightly wound ball of dread in Jack’s chest unwinds a little. Just a little. “So, that’s it? Everything’s okay? You’re okay?”

Mac hesitates for a second - and Jack’s heart rate shoots back up again - then he admits reluctantly, “Doctor Smith wants to keep a close eye on me in the future - again, just as a precaution, Jack! He wants me to undergo these tests regularly, so that if something changes, we catch it at the earliest stage possible.”

Jack stares at him blankly because he can’t wrap his mind around it. He can’t even begin to think about it. Because what Mac’s saying… It’s not over, is it? It will never be over. If Mac got exposed, it might not kill him today or next month or even next year but… it might still kill him one day.

“What you’re saying is… you might get sick one day? Because of this thing?” Jack whispers. His mouth turns dry. It’s his father all over again.

Mac’s face softens and he takes a step closer. “Jack, people get sick every day, even those who’ve never been to Chernobyl. It might happen to me for reasons other than radiation poisoning - or it might never happen at all,” he says.

Jack waves a hand. “But this-this thing means it’s more likely to happen, right?”

“This thing means I’ll be under watch, Jack, which makes it all the more likely that should something change at all, the doctors will be able to do something about it, alright?” Mac replies, his tone reassuring.

Jack stares at him for a long, long time, fear making his eyes prickle. Because he can’t lose the kid. He just can’t. He won’t! He will not allow it.

“You get checked out regularly. As often as possible, you hear me?” Jack says, his voice a little hoarse.

Mac smiles at him fondly - and his smile makes Jack’s heart hurt a little because it should be him comforting Mac, not the other way around! - and says, “I will.”

“You promise?” Jack insists a little desperately.

“I promise, Jack,” Mac assures him, crossing his chest. “And I promise to take all the medication Doctor Smith prescribed me.”

Jack nods. “And no more nuclear material for you, waste or not!” he adds. “If a mission like that comes our way, we let someone else handle it. You’ll not get anywhere near that stuff ever again. Promise me that!”

“I promise,” Mac says, still smiling at Jack.

And Jack nods again. His chest’s still too tight and his heart’s still racing too fast and his hands are still trembling. But there’s nothing more he can do about that. Just… be there.

“And no more secrets, kid, especially not about stuff like that,” he says quietly.

“I didn’t want you to worry,” Mac replies.

“I worry, Mac. I worry about you every day. That something might happen to you. That I won’t be fast enough or strong enough to protect you. But I need to know if there’s something specific I need to worry about, buddy,” Jack says with deep feeling. “In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss. It means there’s something I’m not taking into account, be it injury - or possible illness. Do you get that?”

“I get it, Jack. I really do,” Mac tells him.

Jack takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Alright, alright. When’s your next appointment?” he asks because if he can make a plan, if he can focus on setting a course of action, then he can do this. It’s the helplessness in the face of something he can do nothing about that eats him alive.

“In three months,” Mac replies truthfully.

Nodding, Jack says, “Then I’ll be there.”

And he means it. If all he can do is be there for Mac, then that’s what he’s going to do. He’ll be there one hundred percent. Let anyone try to stop him!