It took all of Jack's willpower to focus on the task at hand - going over the blueprints of a facility possibly being used by Kovac - instead of thinking about how it was the day of his weekly Skype call with Mac. The men and women around him could all tell that he was distracted, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. At least most of them understood by that point that there was nothing in the world that would keep Jack from his kid, top secret missions to find undead terrorists be damned.
Jack kept looking at the clock, willing the hours to fly by faster so he could see Mac. He missed the kid so much. No matter how many missions he did with Delta, the CIA, the Army, DXS, and the Phoenix, this would always go down as the most difficult. Being away from his kid took a toll on him that none of those other missions had. Not knowing if Mac was safe was as nerve-wracking as not knowing where Kovac was. All he knew was that they'd all been doxxed. Being away on a top secret mission, Jack was pretty safe, but back in LA, Mac could be in danger. They all could be, aside from Desi. She was a stress inducer too. Jack didn't trust anyone to protect Mac like himself, but he knew that Desi was the next best thing. But in terms of being a friend and giving Mac that emotional support that he needed, Desi wasn't going to be that at all. Of course, Mac had mentioned that they'd made progress, and she didn't seem to hate him anymore or treat him like a burden, but they weren't exactly friends yet. Jack was just grateful that Bozer hadn't yet moved in with Leanna. As much as he loved the couple, Jack couldn't bear the thought of Mac being left alone in that house while he's on the other side of the world.
These were the thoughts that no matter how hard he tried, Jack couldn't get out of his head, until finally, it was time to see his kid. He set everything up and sat down with a bottle of water, a broad smile on his face.
"Hey, buddy!" he exclaimed the moment Mac's face appeared. But something was wrong. Mac looked happy, but he didn't look like an overexcited puppy like he always did on their weekly calls. He looked a lot more like Jack told a pun that he actually found vaguely amusing for once.
"Hey, Jack," he said, a small smile on his face. His eyes weren't lighting up like they usually did. He looked tired. Very tired.
"Are you okay?" Jack immediately asked, his mood changing as suddenly as the weather. He leaned forward in his seat, as if it would give him a better view of Mac through the screen. It didn't.
"Yeah," Mac replied with a sigh. "I'm fine. How are things with you?" He looked down for a second before looking hesitantly back up at Jack, and asking quietly, "do you know when you're coming home yet?"
Jack's heart broke. He closed his eyes to fight back tears. He missed this kid so damn much and clearly the feeling was mutual. Jack would give anything to be able to go home, back to Mac, but he had to stop Kovac. As long as Kovac was around, Mac was in danger. Because Kovac hated Jack, and if he ever found out that the way to get to Jack was Mac, then Mac was in real, real danger. Jack just couldn't let that happen. Not if he could help it.
"Not yet, kiddo, I'm sorry," Jack said, giving Mac a sad smile. "We're makin' real progress though. I promise I'll be home to you as soon as I can." Jack could see Mac nod through the screen, and heard a soft sigh. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked again.
"Yeah, it's just..." he trailed off, and wouldn't meet Jack's eyes. "My dad was kind of ignoring me again, and I could tell he was hiding something." He looked up and made brief eye contact with Jack before continuing with a sardonic smile. "Turns out the thing he was hiding was cancer." Mac shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "He wouldn't elaborate on what kind, and it took Bozer doing some heavy snooping to even figure out that he was sick." He dropped his head again, hiding his face from Jack, but Jack could tell the kid was fighting tears.
"I'm so sorry," Jack softly replied. And he really was sorry, for Mac at least. He'd lost his mother to cancer at such a young age, and now his father had it too. It didn't matter that Jack still hated James' guts, and he was only slightly ashamed to say that he didn't really feel all that sorry for the man, but his incredible son who'd been more Jack's than James' since the kid was nineteen. Jack felt so, so sorry for him. Dirtbag or not, James was finally in Mac's life again, and the kid was probably going to lose him to the same thing that took his mother. "You know that if I could get on a plane right now and be there with you through this, I would, and I'm so sorry that I can't."
"It's okay, Jack, I get it. You have to get Kovac to protect me, I know," Mac said, but he didn't sound all that convinced. That was the worst part of this whole mission. He had to leave Mac behind in order to complete it, and that brought up all of the kid's insecurities that Jack didn't really care, that he was going to not come back to him. Despite the distance, Jack did everything he could to assure Mac that that wasn't the case, that he was only doing this because of how much he loved the kid, but there wasn't much else he could do. He'd been counting on Bozer and Riley and Leanna and Matty to be there for the kid, but none of them were him. That's not to say they couldn't help him and keep him steady, but they just weren't him.
"That's the damn truth, bud," Jack affirmed, nodding. There wasn't much he could do to prove it to Mac, but he would try.
"Yeah," Mac muttered. "Yeah, I know." He looked down at the keyboard, away from the screen and Jack's gaze.
"But that's not all, is it," Jack continued, more as a statement than a question. He'd known this kid for a long time now, and could tell when he hadn't completely gotten everything off his chest yet. So he sat there, waiting for Mac to meet his gaze again and say what else was bothering him.
"Well..." Mac started, quickly trailing off with a sigh. "I guess I just don't feel like how I thought I would, and that feels wrong," he quietly finished with a small shrug.
"What feels wrong, kiddo? How you feel about James bein' sick?" Jack couldn't even bring himself to call James the kid's dad. Biological father or not, James hadn't been that kid's dad in a very long time.
"Maybe it just hasn't really hit me yet, but I don't feel as upset as I should. When Mom got sick, I was completely devastated, but now, I don't know." Mac took a breath before continuing. "I guess I just feel more resigned than anything else. I know I should feel worse than I do, and knowing that I don't feel worse makes me feel worse, and then I feel even worse because I'm feeling worse for the wrong reasons and-"
"Hey, hey, slow down there," Jack interrupted, keeping his tone light despite the heaviness in his heart. Mac shouldn't have to feel this way, he shouldn't have to feel like crap for not being completely broken by the news that his piece of crap father that abandoned him has cancer. Yes, the man was his father, but from what Jack knew, he had been borderline emotionally abusive after Mac's mom passed, and even now, Jack would still consider the man's manipulative tactics that he still used on the kid to be borderline abusive. He didn't want to overstep as a helicopter parent, but it was just so hard to let Mac be used by that man who still had done nothing to prove that he loved the kid at all. "You have nothin' to feel sorry for, okay? Absolutely nothin'," Jack stressed.
"I don't know, Jack, he's my dad and I don't-"
"It doesn't matter," Jack interrupted again. "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. You know that's the full saying, you're the one who told me, so I know you know it, and you know it's true. Him being your father means nothing when he's treated you as terribly as he has." He was done holding his tongue about it. Mac needed to realize that he didn't have to prove anything to James. That man shouldn't have a hold on the kid anymore. He didn't even deserve to have Mac in his life. "It's okay to feel conflicted about this when he hasn't ever treated you like a father should treat his son." Jack knew he was being a little harsh, but James deserved those harsh words. Mac didn't. Mac didn't deserve anything that James had put him through.
"I don't know," Mac repeated. "Maybe you're right, but I don't know." He shrugged, but quickly wiped at the tears in his eyes, causing Jack's heart to break once again.
"I know this is hard, kid, and I'm so sorry that I'm not there. All I wanna do is be there to hold you right now and I'm so sorry that I can't," he said, shaking his head. He was being serious, but hoped to make Mac smile too. It worked. The kid gave the tiniest of grins, but Jack would take it.
"I know you would."
Jack took that small grin and turned it into an even larger one as he began to regale Mac with some of the more hilarious things that had happened while he'd been on the hunt for Kovac. Some of the stories were actually completed made up, just to make the kid smile. If Mac noticed, he didn't say anything. But it didn't matter anyway. All that mattered was Mac's smile. As long as Jack kept his kid smiling, everything was good in the world.
That's how they spent the rest of their Skype call. Jack just did everything he could to make Mac smile, and it worked. He could see the tension fall away, and saw as Mac's smile became more and more natural, until finally, it really looked like things were normal. Jack would say something ridiculous, and Mac's smile would light up Jack's world. He knew the kid was oblivious to it, but Jack saw the way that so many women swooned at that smile, and it was easy to see why. Mac's smile really did light up the whole town.
But that didn't make the goodbye any easier. Mac still fell quiet, and sad, and Jack would just look at him with a sad smile on his face, and tell the kid how much he loved him. And he really did love him. Jack loved him so, so much. He made sure to tell the kid that too, and tell him how much he couldn't wait to go home and be with him.
Once Jack's allotted time to call his kid was over, he closed the laptop, but remained silent. No matter what smiles he put on, his heart was still breaking. Mac was over there, suffering still because of James. He shouldn't have to feel guilty about not being quite as broken by the news of his father's cancer as he thinks he should have been. None of this was fair.
Jack ran a hand over his face and leaned back in the chair. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, leaning his head back even more. Getting over emotional about it wasn't going to help. It hurt being away from Mac. Within sixty-four days of meeting that boy, Jack's entire existence became about protecting him, loving him, and keeping him safe. Jack knew he was doing the right thing by hunting Kovac down, but that didn't make being away from Mac hurt any less.
But eventually, he would be back. He would be back in LA and he would be back with Mac, his home. He would be protecting his kid and holding onto him and keeping him safe. Oh, how he longed for that day.