Once the mission debrief is over, they’re all overjoyed to head out; seven whole days stuck in the desert, on the run from the local militia, tend to have that effect on people. Bozer and Riley are already gone, rushed out the moment they were let loose, but when Jack hears Mac speak up, he stops in the doorway and turns back.
Mac’s saying, “I need the day off tomorrow, Matty.”
Their fearless boss looks up from her tablet and lifts her eyebrows. “May I ask why?”
“I have an appointment with Doctor Smith,” Mac informs her.
“Anything I should know about?” Matty asks, her brow now furrowed in concern.
Glancing at Jack, Mac shakes his head. “Just a regular check-up,” he assures her.
And then it hits Jack. Doctor Smith. Mac’s appointment with Doctor Smith.
“When’s your next appointment.”
“In three months.”
Radiation poisoning - even just a “possible” one - is a bitch.
Jack picks Mac up first thing in the morning.
“You really don’t have to come with me,” Mac tells him as he settles down in the passenger seat of Jack’s Shelby Cobra, his lucky car.
“I know,” Jack replies calmly.
“The Doc will do a simple check-up, run some tests,” Mac continues.
“Fine with me,” Jack says, still very calmly.
“He promised to put a rush on them but it’ll still be hours before I get the results,” Mac points out.
Jack looks at him, stating firmly, leaving no room for debate, “I don’t mind, hoss.”
Mac lets out a long, slightly unsteady breath and rubs his palms hard against his jean-clad thighs. “Okay,” he whispers, nodding.
Jack nods back. “Okay,” he answers and starts the car.
The cafeteria in the medical wing of the Phoenix Foundation HQ is big and sunlit - and except for Jack empty. It’s still very early, after all. Jack can’t help but find it creepy anyway, the silent void of the sprawling hall.
He tried to play games on his phone. He read all the inspirational posters decorating the yellow-painted walls. He ate three slices of a chocolate cake, surprisingly good, too. And now he’s standing at the wall of windows, staring down at the half-empty parking lot, with his arms crossed over his chest.
And his mind’s running in circles of what-ifs.
What if it turns out that Mac’s sick? What if they can’t help him? What if-what if he… No. He won’t go there. He mustn’t allow his mind to go there. But his brain just can’t help it. The dreadful thought that Mac might get sick and die put down roots three months ago, when he first found out about what was going on, and he can’t simply dig it out like weed, he can’t stomp it out. It’s always there, this idea, running in circles, chasing its own tail.
Please. Please, don’t…
There’s a sound behind him, soft footsteps, and when he turns around, he sees Mac enter the cafeteria. He looks, well, he doesn’t look any different than when he went in, maybe just a little relieved that it’s done. Now, all they have to do is wait.
“Hungry?” Jack asks as Mac approaches him.
Mac smiles a little. “Starving,” he admits.
Jack smiles back. “The chocolate cake here is good but the other stuff that’s not buddy-buddy with sugar looks rather hinky to me. So, can we get out of here?”
Mac nods. “Yeah, we can leave. The Doc’s going to call my cell when he has the results.”
Blood tests. Results. Jesus…
Jack plasters a big grin on his face and rubs his hands. “Great! Pizza it is, then!”
They eat pizza at their favorite joint, then they head out for a ride. Jack drives north along the coast to the background noise of Willie Nelson’s singing. They don’t talk, both too wrapped up in their own worried thoughts, but the silence between them is not awkward, it’s comfortable, friendly… reassuring.
After some time, Jack realizes that Mac’s fallen asleep in the passenger seat. The fresh breeze and warm sunlight combined with the excellent food and the steady rumble of Jack’s classic car did their magic, just as Jack hoped they would, and soothed Mac’s frazzled nerves, lulling him to sleep.
Because Jack knows Mac. He might not be able to keep up with his brain-bending genius, but when it comes to emotions, Jack can see right through him. And that morning, Jack saw just how anxious Mac was despite what he told Jack three months ago, despite his steady reassurances that all these check-ups and blood tests were simply routine stuff and nothing more. Routine or not, Mac did crawl through possibly radioactive muck in the goddamn Chernobyl, and after all their close calls these past seven years, this time, they just might’ve run out of luck.
There’s the buzz of a cell phone, loud even over Willie Nelson’s voice floating from the radio, and Mac jerks awake. He fumbles in his pocket for a moment and when he finally fishes out his phone and checks the caller ID, he tells Jack a little hoarsely, “It’s Doctor Smith.”
Jack pulls over, and stopping on the shoulder of the sun-baked road, he lets the car idle while Mac gets out to take the call in private. Jack’s not hurt or offended, he knows how it is. Some news are better received with nobody around.
He taps his fingers against the steering wheel to the rhythm of yet another of Willie’s songs, trying hard not to listen to the one-sided conversation happening only a few short feet away. But he can’t help it. His shoulders and neck are so stiff they’re starting to hurt. He needs to know.
And then he hears it, Mac’s joyful response - “Thank you, Doc! Thanks, really. See you in another three months, then. I will!” - and for a second, his whole body turns almost boneless with relief. His throat closes up and he has to blink hard to get himself back under control, quickly before Mac comes back.
Thank God! Thank you. Thank you…
“So, you all good?” Jack manages to ask nonchalantly when Mac returns, bright eyed and with a big smile on his face.
Mac nods. “Passed all the tests with flying colors!” he states happily as he slides into his seat again, clutching his cell phone like a talisman.
Shrugging, Jack says with faked matter-of-factness, “I knew there was nothing to worry about,” and decides to ignore the wry look Mac shoots him. Shifting gears, he sets off again, smoothly joining the traffic.
And when Mac laughs, the sound so cheerful and free it lifts his heart, Jack joins in.