3x08—Revenge + Catacombs + Le Fantome
There were many ways to define hell.
For Riley Davis, the definition was one word: prison. Limitations of space, spikes of fear, a constant level of awareness. It wasn’t until she was returned to the freedom of a normal existence that she realized Dante had a point: hell had many levels.
Like diffusing 126 IEDs in one day.
She watched Mac’s face as he and Charlie recounted the Day of a Thousand IEDs and wondered how this man—someone no older than she—could compartmentalize what had to have been a terror-drenched day into a mere recounting of fact that could be used to aid in their current situation. Mac’s low voice held a measured patience, one she’d come to associate with the whirring of gears in a mind that worked ten times faster than anyone else. His expression remained stoic, careful.
But his eyes exposed him.
There was a rawness caught in that blue, a sort of innocence that no one who had seen as much death and chaos as Mac had seen should still possess. And yet…he did.
You know how you hack computers? Well, I…hack everything else.
In moments like this, when the odds were against them and the window of opportunity was actively shrinking, the confidence that captured her the day she met MacGyver was exposed as a carefully constructed façade hiding a tangle of impossible options it seemed only he could find a path through. Watching Mac remember Peña’s death, remember that day of IED hell, made Riley want to help clear the path for him.
Having Charlie present almost made up for not having Jack nearby. Almost. The difference being, Charlie was skilled, adept, and the perfect partner to help unveil and possibly outsmart The Ghost. But Jack was Sundance to Mac’s Butch. He was her friend’s balance. And as their day grew more and more complicated, it was becoming increasingly evident that Mac needed that balance as he scrambled for a solution.
I need you to start complaining…or-or tell me a long-winded story that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It…helps me think.
When the tunnel collapsed and they lost track of Mac, Riley felt her heart stutter. She was two seconds from texting Jack—if for nothing else, then to tell her that it was going to be okay—when Matty told them to trust that Mac could take care of himself. Every cell in Riley’s body resisted, conflicting emotions a roar of sound in her head.
He was a professional. He was a kid. He was brilliant. He was always alone. He knew what he was doing. He was anchor-less. He was resilient. He was hurting.
Matty may have been correct about Mac being able to thwart an attack by The Ghost, but Riley doubted the woman was considering how much this mission had twisted Mac up inside. He was emotionally compromised—anyone looking at him could see it. And yet, he was pushing forward without a team, without Charlie, without Jack.
She wasn’t sure if he was going to make it out of this one in one piece, even if he did survive.
Arriving at the safe house without Mac—not knowing what they would find, or how they would deal with it—terrified her. Bozer stuck by her side as they split with Eileen to search the tunnels for any evidence of The Ghost or his bomb. They were almost too late.
She could feel Mac’s tension the minute she and Bozer breached the room. It was like walking into a wall of panic. She took in the sight of her friend before she even saw the body on the ground. His face was smeared with dirt, a livid bruise marking one cheek. His hair stuck up in crazy tufts from the thrust of anxious fingers.
And his eyes.
The look there stabbed right through her.
“What are you guys doing here? Get out!”
His voice trembled. His voice never trembled.
Riley felt the heat from Bozer’s presence near her, reassuring, solid.
“I’m not even sure I can stop this thing.”
She followed his gaze as he skimmed what looked like a giant metal box—almost as tall as Mac and wide enough it would take all three of them to get their arms around it. Mac’s hands shook as they hovered near the large, digital timer. She knew he’d been caught in the blast that sidelined Charlie; she didn’t know how he’d gotten from there to here, nor if he were injured in places she couldn’t see.
But he was clearly rattled.
“Mac,” her voice grabbed his attention, briefly. “We’re not leaving you.”
“That’s right,” Bozer chimed in. “You stay, we stay.”
Mac’s eyes skipped over them and landed on the body, his frame visibly shuddering. He was spiraling, thoughts leaving footprints across his expression.
“Eileen…killed The Ghost,” he stammered, memories wrapping around his words until they sounded strangled, suffocated. “He was her father…. I…I didn’t know she was gonna do it until she did it,” he looked up at them and Riley felt an invisible hand of fear close around her throat. “When he fell, his dead-man switch armed the bomb.”
Riley didn’t know a thing about bombs—but she did know her friend.
“Can you disarm it?”
Mac was shaking his head before she’d finished her question. “No…the thing is too heavy. I can’t…I can’t lift it,” his voice shook as his words picked up speed, panic bleeding from him, erecting roadblocks in that brilliant mind. “The components are underneath. He put them there. It’s too heavy…,” he moved around the large block in the center of the room, his hands hovering, uncertain. “I can’t lift it. No,” he shook his head, “I can’t…I can’t do it.”
“Hey,” Riley tried to break in, stepping forward. God, she wanted Jack there. “Hey!”
“It’s actually impossible,” Mac rambled, bringing his shaking hands up to his hair. “It’s impossible!”
“Hey,” she tried again, this time stepping up into his space, hands grabbing for his arms. She could feel him tremble beneath her fingers. What would Jack do? What would he say?
Center him. Remind him who he is. Get him working the problem.
“Hey, you always say emotions are more dangerous than the bomb at your feet,” she tightened her grip, drawing his eyes, the blue there standing out against the burned red of fear. “You can do this. You need to focus.”
Mac blinked. He looked at her, then his eyes darted over her shoulder and around the room. And she marveled at how quickly clarity returned.
“Actually, I have an idea.”
She offered him a tremulous smile. “Of course, you do.”
He was a flurry of motion she couldn’t track. She felt Bozer mimic her posture and position, just staying out of Mac’s way as he rigged up what appeared to be a pully system in a gamble for their lives. He made them part of the solution, positioning them and handing them ropes, trusting them to trust him.
“All right, now it’s just mechanical advantage and simple physics,” Mac said, his voice regressing to the mean, leveling out and balancing now that he was back in familiar territory of resolution. “You guys pull, I’ll sneak under and disarm it.”
Riley tried not to whimper at the realization that the only thing that kept Mac from being crushed by the weight of the massive bomb was the strength of his friends.
“Yup,” Bozer replied for both.
They lifted and he slid beneath until all that was visible were his legs, bent slightly, heels digging into the cement as though to brace himself. She could hear him mumbling to himself, as though walking through the connections of the wires, toggles, switches. For a moment, she wondered if he was talking to them—it sounded like a one-sided conversation, but she couldn’t make out the words.
The tarp began to rip.
She met Bozer’s eyes. His grip was solid, steady, but the tension was clear in the lines on his face. She knew hers reflected much of the same.
“Mac, we’re running out of time,” Bozer warned him.
“We have 58 seconds, according to the countdown,” Mac replied, his voice muffled by his position.
“Yeah,” Riley tightened her grip, “according to the tarp, we have less.”
“Oh, great,” Mac muttered, and Riley exhaled slowly, trying to keep her grip steady.
The tarp ripped further.
“Oh, I got it!” Mac called from beneath the bomb. “I got it.”
He rolled free, tucking into his side and jerking his head clear just as the tarp ripped too much for their pulley system to save. The bomb dropped to the ground, yanking Riley and Bozer forward. For one moment, no one moved.
No one so much as breathed.
And then Mac’s exhale echoed in the silence.
Riley met Bozer’s eyes briefly, then turned to look toward where Mac shoved himself upright against the side of the heavy metal box, his legs pulled up to his chest, elbows on his knees, fingers tangled in a white-knuckled grip on his hair. His eyes were trained on the body lying within arm’s reach of his position.
There were many ways to define hell, Riley recognized.
Like being confronted with the person who had inflicted personal terror multiple times in one lifetime, and then watching him die. Or being expected to—no, counted on—to solve an impossible problem, to save innocents once again no matter the forces against you. Or having to do it all without the one person who always had your back offering reassurance.
“He’s gone, Mac,” Riley said quietly. “It’s over.”
Mac nodded. “Yeah,” he choked out. She could see his body trembling. “Yeah,” he repeated in a whisper.
She made her way carefully around the now-dead bomb, kneeling in front of Mac. Gently, she rested her fingers on his narrow wrists, wanting to ease the hold he had on his hair, wanting him to uncurl, wanting him to exude that confidence she’d seen when she first met him.
Wanting him to be Mac.
Super-human, able to solve all manner of problems, undeterred by fear or doubt.
“You okay?” she asked, softening her voice, hoping to draw him out.
He wasn’t. Anyone with eyes could see that.
“He hurt Charlie,” Mac said in a low voice. “Tried to kill Jack. Twice.” A strangled sob slipped out between his words. “He killed Peña.”
“He can’t hurt anyone anymore,” Riley said, choosing not to draw attention to the fact that Mac completely left himself off that list.
“It was supposed to be me,” he whispered, and she knew if she could see his eyes in this moment, it would break something inside her. “He made it for me.”
Unsure exactly what he was referring to, Riley simply shook her head. “It’s okay,” she soothed.
Mac uttered a low groan, as though trying to stifle a lifetime of tears, and Riley saw his fists tremble in their grip of his hair. She rested one hand over his, softly shhhing him, needing him to never make that sound again. If loss had a sound, that would be it.
She exhaled slowly, unconsciously encouraging Mac to match her breathing. Slowly, as if his hands were made of stone, Mac released his hair, adrenaline bleeding from him and turning his arms limp in her hands. She scooted forward, sliding her hands from his wrists to his shoulders.
“Hey,” she tried.
He wasn’t looking at her. He wasn’t looking at much of anything. She moved one hand to his face, startled at how cold his skin was as she cupped his jaw.
“Mac, hey,” she repeated softly. He tracked to her voice then, his blue eyes wide and glazed. “You beat him. We’re okay. All of us.”
He nodded shakily, eyes beginning to clear. She wanted to hug him, to hold him tight until that broken look left his eyes. But hers weren’t the arms that would put him back together again.
“Want to call Jack?” she asked softly.
Swallowing hard, Mac stared at her for several heartbeats, a personal war raging in his eyes. He wanted to, she could tell. He needed to. But instead, he shook his head.
“You sure?” Bozer spoke up from behind them. “He’s gonna flip when—”
“No,” Mac stated, the tremble gone from his voice. “I got this.”
He pulled free of Riley’s hands, pushing shakily to his feet. Once upright, the adrenaline dump caught up with him—and most likely the bruises and concussion he was no doubt nursing as a result of being trapped in an explosion and cave-in—and he wavered on his feet, instinctively reaching out to balance himself with the large, metal box containing the bomb. He blinked hard, as though fighting to bring the world into focus.
“Mac….” Riley whispered.
“I can do this…,” he muttered, swallowing hard. He lifted his chin, pulling in a slow breath. “I don’t…I can’t need….”
Shaking his head as though hoping the words he was searching for would fall loose, he glanced over at Bozer. “We’ll tell him later. There’s nothing he can do now anyway.”
Bozer reached down and offered Riley a hand up. She frowned at the determined set of Mac’s jaw, the way his eyes hardened and narrowed as he took in the room once again, gaze skimming across The Ghost’s body.
“Mac, it’s okay to need a touchstone, you know.”
His eyes cut over to her. “I’m good,” he said, decisively, as though working to convince himself. “You said it yourself: it’s over. We don’t need to worry Jack for no good reason.”
No good reason. Riley frowned. Mac was a good reason. The trauma he’d experienced was a good enough reason to connect with his friend and partner.
Mac compartmentalizes his feelings better than anyone I know….
Swallowing her protest, she nodded and followed Mac and Bozer out of the small room, knowing that Mac would continue to beat the odds, find the impossible solution, track a path through a tangle of possibilities, and pull off the impossible.
No matter what it did to his emotions.
No matter how many pieces of him broke inside.