“He means the trail’s gone cold,” Cage tells Bozer. “If Mac doesn’t save himself, no one will.”
And Jack adds, not entirely convinced, “He’ll be alright.”
But Mac doesn’t, save himself, that is. He isn’t alright. And hours turn into days turn into weeks…
On the 28th day following Mac’s kidnapping, Jack discovers a box sitting on his threshold when he comes home. It’s a plain white box with no address on it, no post stamps, anything. It’s just sitting there, on the floor in front of his door. It’s a wonder one of his neighbors didn’t steal it.
Jack knows he should call it in. It might be a bomb, it might be anything. But he’s drained after yet another day spent looking for Mac with no result. Matty’s been making noises about putting the search for him on the back burner; with no new leads, they’re just chasing their tail, and their cases have started piling up. Jack refuses to accept that. He’s going to quit the job before he quits looking for his partner.
And so, in the light of that desolation and exhaustion, frustration and anger, he just crouches down in front of the box and gently lifts the paper lid - and with a quiet gasp of horror, he jerks away, sitting down hard on the dirty floor. His pulse is thundering as he stares down, wide-eyed, at the content of the box.
Because there, inside it, there’s a clear plastic box and inside that... a human heart, perfectly preserved.
Breathing harshly and full of dread, Jack reaches out with a trembling hand to pick up the square piece of white paper stuck to the top of the plastic box. It’s a quality paper, thick and cottony to the touch, and on it…
He never stopped believing you would come for him. How does it feel to break his heart?
The heart is Mac’s. It’s the only piece of him they ever get to bury.
Six weeks after Mac’s kidnapped, Jack receives an irritated phone call from Detective Greer.
“Are you running some op I don’t know about in my backyard? Because I just saw your boy downtown, hanging out with Rattling Annie…”
Turns out that Rattling Annie is homeless, has been ever since anyone can remember, a middle-aged woman nicknamed after the rattling old shopping cart she drags everywhere with her, drawing frowns and disapproving looks because of the ruckus her little vehicle makes.
But not today, Jack notices after he races downtown, to where Greer told him to go. No, Annie’s cart isn’t rattling anymore, the cause of the loud noise fixed with a simple, yet ingenious trick, with a couple of shoestrings and a rusty paper clip and nothing more. Jack would recognize that hack anywhere.
“Please, Miss Annie, please!” Jack pleads with the woman, rushing after her as she tries to escape, shuffling down a litter-strewn alley. “I don’t mean you any harm, I swear. I’m just looking for a friend.” He steps in her way and pulls out a photograph of himself and Mac, snapped by Bozer during Mac’s birthday party last year.
He shows her the picture and Annie throws a quick look at it before ducking her head and hunching her shoulders even more, letting her dirty gray hair cover her face. “Don’t know him. Don’t wanna know him.” She gives her cart a push, bumping into Jack’s shins.
But Jack can’t, he won’t let it go. “Miss Annie, please. He’s…” His throat closes up and he has to swallow hard several times to find his voice again. “His name’s Mac and he’s more than a friend. He’s like a brother to me. I love the kid and I’ve been looking for him for weeks now. Please!”
She pauses, peeking at him through her straggly locks. “If you love him that much, how did you lose him, huh? Huh?” she demands, suspicious.
Jack runs his hand over his face. His shoulders slump and he lets his hand with the photograph drop. “I-we had a fight and I got angry and I left. And while I was gone, while I wasn’t looking, a very bad man broke into his house and took him. He took Mac, Miss Annie.” He looks at her pleadingly.
And there must be something about him, maybe all those pent-up emotions and fears and worries found their way into his face, because her expression softens, just a little, and she reaches out her twisted hand for the photograph. Jack gives it to her.
She studies it contemplatively for a long while, the happiness in their faces, the way Jack’s hugging Mac close with one arm thrown around his shoulders. Then she asks, “What was your name again?”
“Jack, Miss Annie. Jack Dalton.”
There’s a pause, then Annie looks up at him and smiles. “He keeps talking in his sleep, that boy, he keeps saying Jack will come for him…”
And Jack heart jumps.
Annie takes him home. Home being an old, abandoned warehouse, home to many of the homeless people around. They live there in their private little nests, surrounded by all their worldly possession. And in one of these nests, Annie’s, Jack finds him. Mac.
She came across him in the sewers, Annie did. He was filthy and wet and totally out of it, with a bad, bleeding wound on his head. She thought he probably tried climbing out through one of the manholes but a car must’ve clipped him and he fell back down again. Nobody came looking for him, Annie waited with him, so she took him home.
That’s what Annie told him on their way here. That she took Mac in and she watched over him but even when he came to, he didn’t make much sense. He remembered little, his memories were all jumbled up, and his head hurt badly. Annie didn’t know what to do, so she took care of him. Because that’s what they do down here, they take care of each other. And in his moments of clarity, he fixed her cart and One-Eyed Bobby’s cane and Ruby Rue’s doll in return.
“He’s a good boy…” Annie whispers.
“Yeah, he is, Miss Annie,” Jack agrees, all choked up, as he crouches down by the nest of blankets and pushes them aside to reveal…
Mac. Filthy and with a straggly stubble - the kid will never grow a proper beard, Jack knows - thin and pale and with an ugly, barely healed wound, running from his temple into his blood-matted hair above his right ear. He’s curled up on his side, deep asleep, the dark purple smudges below his eyes making him look exhausted.
Blinking hard to push back tears, Jack reaches out with a shaking hand and runs his fingers gently over Mac’s head, stroking his hair. He found him. Jack really found him.
Mac’s eyelashes flutter and he opens his eyes, looking up at Jack - and Jack holds his breath. For a very long time, the kid’s gaze remains unfocused, but then it clears and a slow smile spreads across his face. “Jack,” he croaks out, leaning into his touch. “I knew you would come.”
And this time, Jack can’t fight back his tears. “Always,” he whispers.
They never figure out what happened to him, they never hear of him again.
They find Mac completely by accident, nine months after he was kidnapped. It’s Riley’s face recognition software that she set up to run 24-7, looking for either Murdoc or Mac, checking every feed on the internet. And it finds Mac walking down the street in Portland, just like that. In Portland!
They fly over there, Jack and Matty - Mac’s her agent and she feels responsible for him - overjoyed yet confused, while Riley tracks Mac to a beautiful residential home, all red brick and thick trees. And when they ring the doorbell, he comes and opens the door with a polite smile and a curious, “Yes?”
The thing is, he doesn’t recognize them. At all.
“My name’s Gus Webber, I’m a high school teacher from Wisconsin,” Mac tells them impatiently for the third time while they sit around the tastefully decorated living room, staring at him in disbelief. “My husband’s name is Dennis. I was hurt in a car accident six months ago and I lost my memory. But I sure as hell know I’m not that-that MacGyver guy you’re talking about!”
They look at each other, and then Matty says carefully, “I’m Matilda Webber.” When Mac’s frown, she nods firmly. “Yes, Webber, the real Webber here. And you’re Angus MacGyver. You’re not a high school teacher and you’re not from Wisconsin. You work for the Phoenix Foundation and you’re from California. You’re a spy and nine months ago, an international assassin whom we only know as Murdoc kidnapped you from your home.”
Something flickers through Mac’s face and his left eye twitches, but then he laughs out loud. “You realize how ridiculous that sounds? Me, a spy? I teach physics! Or, I taught physics before the accident,” he corrects himself. There’s a pause, then he continues, “I was hurt in a car accident six months ago and I lost my memory. Since then, I’ve been staying at home, recovering.”
Jack sits forward and pulls out his cellphone. “No, that’s not true. You are Angus MacGyver and this man kidnapped you!” He shows him the picture of Murdoc on his phone.
Another flicker of something in Mac’s face, another twitch, this time harder. Mac lifts his hand to his forehead for a second. “No, you are wrong. You’re mistaken. That’s a lie. My name’s Gus Webber, I’m a highschool teacher from Wisconsin. My husband’s name is Dennis… That,” he points at Jack’s cell phone, “that’s Dennis. That’s my husband.”
He gets up, his breathing now a little quick, and walks over to the window, to the little table there. He picks up a framed photo from the table and brings it back to show it to them, a little desperately, a little pleadingly now. “See? That’s me, me and my husband.”
They take a look at the picture and they both feel a chill run up their spines. It’s a photograph of Mac and Murdoc, sitting together on a wooden swing in the warm afternoon light. Mac’s relaxed and smiling, leaning back against Murdoc who’s hugging him from behind, holding him tight. It would be a heartwarming picture if not for the predatory look in Murdoc’s eyes that not even his smile can cover up.
“Mac…” Jack says softly, looking up. “Mac, I swear to you, on my father’s grave, that this” –he waves the framed photo– “is not real. You are Angus MacGyver, a spy, and this guy is a dangerous sociopath who’s been after you for months. He tried to kill you more than once. I don’t know what his game is but, whatever you think you know about your life, it’s a lie.”
Mac’s now standing there, by the couch in front of them, visibly trembling. His face’s pale, almost gray, and he’s shaking his head adamantly. Then his left eye twitches again and he rubs at it hard with the heel of his palm. “No. No, you have it wrong. My name’s Gus Webber, I’m a highschool teacher from Wisconsin. My husband’s name is Dennis. I was hurt in a car accident six months ago and I lost my memory…”
The same words, the same phrase, over and over again. Both Jack and Matty notice, exchanging looks, but Mac doesn’t seem to. Brainwashing at its best.
“I’m sorry but it’s not true, Mac,” Matty says kindly.
Then Mac’s trembling abruptly stops and he stares at them, looking completely lost. “Jack?” he whispers brokenly before his knees give out and he sinks to the floor, unconscious.
“How do we fix him, Matty?” Jack asks softly, his voice desperate, as he stares at Mac, lying in the hospital bed, still unconscious. He has yet to wake up.
She sighs. “I saw his toxicology report. Murdoc pumped him so full of drugs that it’s a wonder he was able to function properly. The doctors hope that once they flush the drugs out of his system, he’ll start to recover. And we have people who specialize in this, in brainwashing. He’s going to get the best help.”
Jack leans against the foot of the bed, gripping the metal frame hard. “But how do you come back from something like that? I went through the house with our techs. It’s not just a front. It’s a real home, with a kitchen and a swing on the back porch…” He pauses. “Bedroom.”
They fall silent for a moment, the implications of that hitting them both hard.
“We got Mac away from him and that’s the most important thing,” Matty says in the end. “We left our people at the house in case Murdoc returns but…” She shakes her head. “I don’t believe he will. We found surveillance system inside and around the house. He must’ve monitored Mac 24-7 whenever he left him alone so he must know by now that we found him…”
A moment later, her suspicion is confirmed. The door opens and a confused looking nurse walks in, carrying a long slim box. “This was left at the nurse’s station for… him.” She points at Mac.
Matty frowns. “I thought we asked you to keep his presence here secret,” she tells her sternly.
The nurse swallows. “We did. This wing has restricted access. I have no idea how anyone could know, how anyone could get in and leave this behind…”
Jack grabs the box out of her hands and opens it while the nurse quickly leaves the room. Inside the box, there’s a single long-stemmed red rose and a beautiful handwritten card, saying, “Get well soon. Love, Dennis.”
With a growl, Jack crumples the card, the box and the rose inside. “I’ll kill him, Matty,” he grits out. “I swear to you, I’ll kill the psycho if it’s the last thing I do.”
And they both look at Mac who’s lying there unconscious, unmoving, unaware.
At 5.37 am, thirty-two days after Mac’s kidnapping, Jack’s cell phone buzzes, waking him up. An incoming message from Bozer.
COME TO MY HOUSE. NOW!!!
Realizing that Bozer knows very well what an upheaval such a message would cause, Jack doesn’t hesitate a second. He throws some clothes on and drives. Still, when he arrives at Mac and Bozer’s house, Matty and Riley are already there.
Barging in, Jack calls out, “Bozer? What’s going on?”
“In Mac’s bedroom!” comes the answer.
Jack follows Bozer’s voice, rushing in - and then he stops short and stares, just like everybody else in the room. Because right there, in the bed, tucked in snuggly, lies Mac. He’s fast asleep and his chest is rising and falling in a steady rhythm. He’s rather pale, his wrists are abraded from restraints and there’re visible needle marks on both of his arms but otherwise, he seems okay.
And on the wall above the bed, there’s a message written in bold red letters: DONE PLAYING FOR NOW.
“Sonuvabitch,” Jack whispers.