Road to Recovery
A choked, pained groan was all the warning Jack got when he entered the gym room of the Phoenix Foundation that doubled as the physical therapy center for the injured agents still in treatment at Medical.
The groan was all the warning Jack really needed to let his hair stand on end. Because he knew exactly who that voice belonged to. With a soft clatter his coffee cup hit the floor, making a small mess the agent didn't care about.
With three long strides he reached Mac just in time to catch his young partner before he face-planted to the floor, hurting himself even more than he already was in the process. As it was, Jack couldn't prevent inflicting some pain himself in his effort to catch Mac mid-flight around the chest, undoubtedly jarring his still healing ribs.
"Hey... hey, hey buddy, take it easy, alright? What did we say about you coming here without supervision, eh?" he asked softly, voice tense with frustration and second-hand pain because it hurt seeing Mac in pain like this.
"Not to do it..." the blond replied grumpily, obviously angry with himself and the situation in general.
"That's right!" Jack confirmed, helping Mac back into the wheelchair that was placed only a few steps away. "And why did we tell you not to do it?"
"Because I could hurt myself when I fall..." the younger sounded like a sulky teenager and it made Jack huff softly under his breath when the shot of adrenaline slowly faded away again.
"Another correct answer... so if you know all that, I wonder why are you here? *Alone*? Just imagine I wouldn't have come in when I did, what would you have done then? You could have broken your other arm or worse your neck! Imagine if I had come in five minutes later to find you dead on the floor, when we just got you back barely alive in the first place, Mac!" Jack said silently, plopping on the floor in front of Mac, not even trying to hide the slight tremble in his hands at the mere thought.
Mac inhaled sharply, turning his head to the side, properly chastised by the words without Jack actually chastising him outright. The fear behind the words, in every shake of the older's hands and in the depth of his eyes served as pretty good reminders of what his friends have been through as well.
"I'm sorry, Jack... I didn't think... it's just so frustrating... I feel like I'm stuck in this thing and all I want is to go home again. But every time I feel like I might get anywhere during the therapy sessions, Rick stops me and calls it a day. It's like he doesn't want me to get better." Mac tried to explain somehow.
"Yeah, you see? That's the problem with you, kid, for such a genius you really don't think enough at times..." Jack sighed but then a smile returned to his lips. "Maybe Rick likes you and doesn't want to let you go just yet?" he added in a slightly teasing tone.
"Jack..." Mac groaned in playful annoyance but on the inside he was glad that Jack wasn't truly mad at him. He hated nothing more than disappointing Jack after all.
"Hey don't knock it, it could very well be true, you are a handsome guy, all things considered..." Jack waved his hands exaggeratedly in Mac's direction. It startled a snort out of Mac and that's what Jack was aiming for. "No really, I mean it, just you wait before you know it, he's asking you out..." he grinned. "Now all joking aside, I know it's frustrating and I know you hate staying at Medical, but coming here on your own, risking what progress you already made by being reckless won't bring you home any sooner... on the contrary if you injure yourself more, your stay will be extended. You're smart, you know that. I get it, you want to get out of this wheelchair and back on your feet sooner rather than later. You know that I can relate, Mac but you need to listen more to the doctors, Rick and us, alright? We all have your best interest at heart. Seriously, Bozer would take you home immediately if your house would be the tiniest bit more wheelchair accessible than it is..." he continued more serious again.
"Yeah I know, I've been thinking about that already, when I'm back again, that's going to be the next big project... I mean realistically, now that Bozer not only knows but is an active agent himself and with you and Riley, there is always a chance something like this happens again. It would be better to have at least one place accessible then because both of your apartments aren't any better in that regard."
Jack watched Mac talking about these plans with fond exasperation. The younger probably already had various different ideas how to modify his home in case one of them gets hurt, instead of taking a step back, rest and focus on his own recovery. But okay, that's what Jack was there for.
"Yeah that sounds like an idea I can get behind and when the time comes count me in to help but, buddy, for now you need to concentrate on getting better. Because, I'm pretty sure Rick only ends your sessions when he feels it's the right time. It might feel to you like you're not making any progress but you do, Mac. It's obvious for anyone who's looking and that certainly wouldn't be the case if you overdo it with your going it alone. I know how you feel, you know that better than most and I'm not telling you to stop entirely, all I'm asking is to call someone... call me, Mac. I'm always here for you to help, even if it's just by giving you a pep talk while you do your exercises and keeping an eye out. Point is, don't do it alone, let someone be there to catch you when you stumble. That's what's family for, okay? I know you do have a ton of issues with that but one of these days you'll get it in that thick skull of yours that neither of us is going to leave because the road's getting a little rocky. Bozer, Riley and me, we're in this for the long haul! Just like you would be if our roles were reversed."
Mac sighed softly. Everything Jack said was true, that didn't make it any easier for the blond to accept his fate however. The way he had been raised, he had to learn very early on to be independant. Being pretty much helpless like he was after his accident didn't sit right with him.
The main problem was his still healing ribs and his dislocated shoulder. They had set that without much trouble but it hadn't healed enough for him to be able to use crutches which he needed since he wasn't allowed to put much weight on his leg yet. For the past weeks since they had relocated him to Phoenix Medical, Rick, his physical therapist, had worked on rebuilding and maintaining his muscles in the leg and very short walking excercises between parallel bars where he could hold himself a bit without straining his shoulder the way crutches would do, just so Mac could get a feel for walking again. To the blond it felt like he needed to learn how to walk all over again and he hated it. And he knew that Jack knew that too, understood probably better than anyone what he was going through.
"Yeah alright, I won't do it again. I'm sorry, Jack."
The older watched Mac for a moment, then smiled and got back on his feet.
"It's all good, kid." he gently ruffled the blond hair that was getting longer again.
"Will you help me one more time?" Mac asked a moment later while he had watched Jack pick up his fallen coffee cup and wipe up the spill on the floor.
Jack raised an eyebrow.
"It's good that you ask but I have to say 'no' for now, buddy, because I know for a fact that you have another session with Rick in an hour and you don't really want to spend all your energy before already, do you?"
The blond groaned.
"Sometimes I hate it when you're the reasonable one... Fine..."
Jack laughed at that.
"You know it, Mac. Let's not make that a regular thing, eh? Come on, let's get out of here, a bit of fresh air will do you good before therapy. Bozer made cupcakes, your favourite, and they are waiting in the car."
He watched a small but nonetheless happy smile appear on the blond's lips as he grabbed the handles and pushed him out of the gym area.
"Looking good, Mac. Three more, okay?" Rick said, closely observing the movements of his patient. It wasn't a lot of weight they were using to train the muscles in Mac's legs but it was obvious that the blond was exhausted by the excercise, pushing through by sheer stubbornness at this point. Rick, as a professional, didn't like that if he was being honest. He'd rather Mac -and his other patients as well- would take a bit more time to recover slowly but they were all agents, itching to get back in the field, Mac more than anyone. It was a fact of the job he had to get used to when he first started at Phoenix Medical. "And one last time, you can do it. Slowly... perfect! Well done, Mac, you're getting there!"
The blond panted softly, working to get his breath under control again. "Doesn't feel like it to me, though."
"That's because you're working yourself to the bone here, Mac. It's not like I don't know about your extra curricular training sessions. I know Doc okay-ed it but I'm not happy with them, you know that. If you took the time to gather your energy between sessions better, your therapy would be more effective." The dark haired man crossed his arms in front of his chest. Rick was a handful of years younger than Jack and Mac sometimes wondered if this particular brand of disapproving look he was levelled with now, was a generation thing those two had in common.
"And what's worse, I know you're smart, I know you know that and you're pushing yourself still." he sighed.
"What can I say, knowing something isn't everything. But really, you want to have this argument again?" Mac huffed when he finally was breathing normally again, wiping a small towel over his sweaty face.
"Not really, no... you're proving your pig-headedness everyday, I know a lost cause when I see one. Just make sure you're not collapsing from exhaustion at some point, alright?" The older said, holding out his hand for Mac to grab to help him back into the wheelchair next to the equipment.
"Is he giving you a hard time, again? Don't worry, we'll keep an eye on him. We'll make sure this idiot won't overdo it." Bozer called from the doorway where Riley and he just entered, catching the end of Rick's sentence.
"Bozer, Riley. Hey! Ha, not more than usual but I'll hold you to it. Just remind him that he's making progress, yeah?" Rick grinned at the other two young agents who he knew were his only allies in his endeavour to slow Mac's therapy to a reasonable level. God knew, Dalton wasn't any help. "Okay, I'll leave you three to it then. I'll see you tomorrow, Mac."
"Yep, see you, Rick. And thanks, okay?" Mac waved after his therapist who just snorted softly.
"So..." Bozer rounded on his blond friend. "You at it again?" he asked, knowing the answer already.
"Mac, seriously. This sucks big time but why don't you listen to Rick for once?" Riley also asked curiously. They too had this conversation several times over the past weeks but she still had to get an answer she could understand.
"Hey, it's not like I *don't* listen to him, okay? I just like to... move things along a bit faster." Mac grumbled, not really in the mood.
"Yeah, that's not how recovery and healing works, bro..." Bozer sighed. "You're doing good, okay? Give it another week or two and you can go home. I gather, you're done here, right? Then let's go back to your room. Riley brought the new season of 'Games of Thrones' to watch."
Mac looked for a moment like he wanted to disagree but another look at his friends shut him up for now. He could take a break alright, he could come back again when Jack came to visit later. That promise at least he did keep, not to train alone anymore.
Back in his room, they settled comfortably around his bed, Riley's laptop on the bed table in front of them. Mac didn't even make it halfway through the first episode before he fell asleep much to the amusement and concern of his friends. That more than anything told them how exhausted Mac had to be by the whole situation and his own pushing of his limits.
They let him sleep and continued to watch.
"Hey, you guys hun-" Jack came into the room just when they started on the third episode, quickly getting shushed by Riley. The older one's eyes fell on Mac, who hadn't moved an inch despite Jack's loud voice, much less awoken.
He studied the picture for a bit.
"Going on two hours now..." Bozer sighed, turning his gaze from Jack to his friend next to him. Riley quickly paused the episode.
"He had a session with Rick before, right?" Jack assumed, falling down on the last free chair in the room. He didn't really need confirmation it was obvious in a way. Just like Riley's intense gaze was obvious. It had gradually developed over the past few days and Jack expected Riley to break soon with whatever was going on in her head. He knew his girl and he also knew that she was fiercely protective of her own. It warmed his heart everytime he realised that Mac had made it into that circle without really trying as far as he knew.
"He was arguing with him again, when we got there." Bozer confirmed his inquiry anyway. "He says Mac's making progress but the way I understand it, it's not as much as he could make if he wouldn't spend all his energy all the time. I mean..."
"Why, Jack?" Riley asked, voice surprisingly soft as she checked if Mac was still asleep.
"Excuse me? Why what, Riles?" the older feigned ignorance of what she meant.
"Why are you helping him? Why do you support him when he's clearly unreasonable in this case? I don't get it and so far neither of you was able to explain it to me. Usually you're the first one to hold him back, force him to slow down and take it easy... why not this time?" the young woman wanted to know, pinning Jack with her eyes in a way he very well remembered from her mother.
Jack licked his bottom lip, sighing softly. They had been dancing around that topic ever since they had arrived back in LA. Mac never said anything because it wasn't necessarily his story to tell and Jack didn't mention it because... well he didn't relish the memories. He couldn't stop them of course, not with Mac in this situation but until now he had ignored them well enough.
"You're right... I can see how that's difficult to understand... The thing is, I get it, the way he's thinking... that might not always be the case but right now? I do..."
Neither of the two younger were satisfied with that answer but Jack stopped them with a quick gesture. He leaned forward and quickly unlaced his left boot, pulling off his sock and rolled up the pant leg. He turned a bit in his chair so Riley and Bozer were able to see better the parallel pink lines that started about five inches above his ankle and stretched down to the heel. Both of them probably had seen the scars before but it generally was an unspoken rule not to ask about them.
"This is the reason why I get it. It's one of those things I usually don't talk about so listen carefully, alright? You know that when Mac and I first met in the Sandbox and I was made his Overwatch, we didn't get along all that well. It took us quite a bit of time to get to the point where we are now. Trust is a big factor in the work we do but even more so back there. We told you how I ended up signing up for another tour because I didn't trust anyone else to watch his back the way I did at this point. And I know what you're going to say, Riles, I admit I do have trust and control issues in that regard, thank you very much. Point is, what we left out in the story was that since I re-signed later than him, I ended up staying longer than Mac instead of the other way around. I still had a little over two months more to go when he left. It sucked and it might have been one of the few times since that beginning that Mac and I properly fought because he was pissed about that fact. Let's face it, his trust and control issues are just as bad." Jack chuckled at that, stuck in the memory.
"Anyway, he got on that flight home and I got back to work. I didn't get assigned a new, regular EOD to watch but was made back-up wherever I was needed. Suited me just fine, you know? It all worked out alright. In the end, it's the EOD guys who are in a lot more danger than us watching over them, usually. I had just started my final week when something went wrong. I went out with another team in a high risk area with several IED calls. We did our job, you know? The kid disarming the bombs couldn't have done anything if he tried, as much as we'd like it at times, you can't be at two places at once. So we were watching him from two angles disarming a pretty big load when a second one went off close by. We never found out if the two had been connected or something, might as well have been that by disarming the one the other was triggered as a somewhat fail safe or something. Anyway the explosion in the alley was big enough to bring down the buildings left and right from it and as luck would have it, I was on the roof of one of them." Jack stopped himself for a moment, he still remembered the feeling of the building giving way underneath him. It literally was like someone pulled the floor from underneath him.
"Shit, Jack..." Bozer whispered tonelessly and with wide eyes that matched Riley's at that confession.
"You can say that... all things considered I actually was lucky. I had set up on the roof instead of somewhere inside the building where it would have been at least a bit cooler. Had I been inside, I would have been screwed, this way the building crumpled underneath me and I got off relatively easy. Bumps, bruises and scratches were the extend of it aside from this..." he nodded at his own foot. "I went down with the building and my foot got crushed between two blocks. They got me out and immediately flew me to a hospital. They later told me that the surgery lasted several hours because the bones in my foot resembled a jigsaw puzzle they had to piece together and pin in place with plates and screws and everything to help them heal."
"So it was you..." Bozer interrupted Jack's story thoughtfully. "Mac never talked about it later, never mentioned any names and it didn't occur to me before but I remember how I got back from work one afternoon, not long after he returned home, to find him completely out of it. It took me forever to get through to him enough to find out that someone had called him to inform him that someone of his team back there had been caught in an explosion but they didn't have more information yet. I sat with him most of that night until his phone rang again and he all but dropped dead on me with exhaustion and relief after getting good news. I had put him to bed and we never really spoke about it again after." he explained.
"Huh... that kid, he never mentioned that to me... but you're right, Boze, that probably was me then. Well after that initial surgery I got relocated to the States to another hospital. A good five weeks after, I went into surgery again to remove all the extra bits and pieces. The bone had healed enough to hold together on it's own and had to heal completely without the support. That's when I was relocated the final time back here to LA. You see, Mac and I, before we separated, we made plans about working together, we already got the position at the DXS if we wanted it but this thing threw a serious wrench into that plan because despite the successful surgeries and the docs' optimism, they weren't entirely sure if I could regain full use of that foot. That would have meant no running and well... you see how *that's* a big no in this line of work. I was pissed and frustrated one day and ready to give up the next. It wasn't pretty, I can assure you but Mac... he stayed with me and helped me, worked on getting me back on track despite the cautioning of everyone else... he saw how much I wanted out of that hospital and back in the field..."
"So he did for you, what you're doing for him now..." Riley finished for the older, a whole bunch of emotions warring in her eyes after listening to Jack's story.
The older sighed, started to put his boot back on and nodded.
"Essentially, yes... I get it, the need to push yourself, to get out and prove everyone that you still can be a full functioning field agent instead of a somewhat crippled charity case. And it's not like I don't know that he will be back on his feet just as fast if he would take it a little easier, rest more, the same way he knew it back then. But that's not who we are... for one, there is this need to be useful, to constantly do something, that's even more important for Mac, we all know that he just can't do 'relaxed' while there probably is someone who needs help somewhere. But more importantly I think -mind you that's just my theory, luckily I didn't have to see if that translate into real life as well- it's for our own peace of mind. Imagine something like this happening to you and it ends your career, realistically wouldn't you always wonder if you could have changed the outcome if you just pushed yourself a little bit more? That's the kind of 'what if' scenario that can cost people like us our sanity and that's exactly what we're trying to prevent. He's pushing himself to be able to forgive himself in case something goes wrong. To know, there literally wasn't anything more he could have done. With that conviction only Mac could be able to move on at some point. Just like I would have been able to move on from this life back then. But only then."
"Wow... I never thought about it like this but it makes sense... man, now I kind of feel like a jerk for being on his case to take it easy all the time..." Bozer murmured.
Riley silently got to her feet, closing the distance between her and Jack and hugged the older man tightly.
"Thanks for telling us. For explaining all this in a way I can understand." she said, knowing full well that it hadn't been easy for Jack either.
"You're welcome, kiddo. I probably should have explained all this a lot earlier already. And Bozer, don't beat yourself up about it. You did nothing wrong here. From a rational point of view, both of you were completely right, it's just the big brain over there, that works a little differently from everyone else." Jack tried to reassure them.
"Yeah, anyway, knowing this, I will try to support him more even if it is kind of painful to see him like that." the younger man smiled with new determination.
"Yeah me too. I do understand him better now and it's probably better if we all keep an eye on him." Riley agreed, returning to her own chair.
Jack just smiled at that. Mac will be glad, even if Rick probably will curse them all now. It was worth it to revisit one of his least favourite memories for this outcome.
"What have you guys been doing anyway when I got here?" he changed the topic.
"Watching 'Game of Thrones'..." Bozer replied, pulling his chair a bit to the side, so Jack could settle his own next to him.
They were just about wrapping up that episode when Mac startled awake on the bed. Jack actually had been surprised that his partner hadn't woken up during his conversation with Riley and Bozer.
"Hey there, sleeping beauty..." Jack chuckled softly, when Mac frowned first at them and then at the screen.
"You seriously are on episode four already?" the blond said, easily calculating how long he had been sleeping.
"Yeah well, we didn't want to disturb you... I'll copy them for you to watch later, okay?" Riley grinned, poking Mac's arm.
"Yeah fine, thanks Riley..." he sat up more and now that Mac was awake again, he instantly became restless as well.
Jack caught his eye, easily understanding him.
"You want to get out of here?" he wanted to know.
Mac quickly looked at Riley and Bozer, mentally preparing himself for their disapproval of going back to the gym again but nodded sheepishly.
"Yeah, I'd like that!"
"Alright, then let's do this!" Jack got to his feet, pulling the wheelchair up to the bed.
"I'll join you in a minute when I finish the copy, yeah?" was all Riley said while typing on her computer, startling Mac, who nodded as Bozer pushed him out of the room again.
"Alright, bud... easy does it, one step at a time..." Jack encouraged Mac moments later, standing on one end of the parallel bars while Bozer took his place on the other end.
"You can do this!" his friend added behind him.
Mac looked at Jack in confusion but the older just smiled at him and just like that the blond understood what must have happened while he had been asleep. 'Thanks.' he mouthed at the older, slowly starting his way along the bars.
"Looking good, blondie. Continue like this and I have my top team back in no time! I like that." Matty's voice surprised them all from the doorway.
"Thanks, Matty." Mac huffed, out of breath as he turned around to work his way back towards Bozer who smiled at his friend with two thumbs up.
"How about we order some celebration pizza later when you finish up here? I'm stuck here for a while longer because of some stupid phone conference anyway." the small woman suggested.
"You buying, Matty?" Jack smirked.
"The Phoenix Foundation is buying in this case, if Oversight chooses to accept phone conferences for midnight just to conveniently having to miss them on short notice, they very well can pay for a couple of pizzas." she deadpanned, making them all laugh.
"Very true. Very true indeed. We'll call you when we return to Mac's room!" Jack grinned.
Mac's road to recovery still took some time, even after Jack's talk with the others. But with the support of his whole family, it became easier with every passing day. The blond was still exhausted and just as predicted, Rick cursed them all when he realised that he had lost the last voices of reason in his corner but in the end it paid off.
His shoulder had healed enough two weeks later for him to use crutches around the house so Mac could finally return to his own home. That alone made him feel so much better already and the rest of his recovery became easier still. All thanks to his understanding family.