The poor kid was a mess.
It was obvious from the moment Jack burst into the room, luckily just in time, and took out the man with the gun pointed toward his partner. He knew Mac had gotten pretty roughed up during his time behind bars, hell some of those bruises were from Jack himself having to keep up their charade, and he had seen the blood on the forest floor when he had found the tire tracks. He was expecting Mac to have added to his list of injuries in the hours between when he had escaped and when Jack found him. He was prepared for him to be hurt.
What he wasn’t prepared for was the way his partner couldn’t even sit up straight in the chair once Jack cut him loose. He wasn’t prepared for Mac’s eyes to be blown wide, more icy blue than white left visible. He definitely wasn’t prepared for his partner, who could never sit still for more than 52 seconds (yes, Jack had timed it) to slump perfectly still in the chair, unmoving. It was a kind of fear Jack had never experienced and he wanted it to fix it. Immediately.
“Okay man, you’re really startin’ to scare me.” Jack said, picking up Mac’s limp hand and feeling the erratically beating pulse. “Seriously what did they give you?” He turned Mac’s arm over, checking his wrist and the crease of his elbow for needle marks. When he didn’t find any on either arm he started checking Mac’s neck for puncture wounds, ignoring the small crowd of officers who had moved into the room, handcuffing the unconscious men lying on the floor. When Mac still didn’t respond Jack took his chin in his hand, attempting to force the young man to meet his eyes. “What did they give you, buddy?”
Mac blinked a few times, beginning to focus on the man in front of him. “Ni… Nitr’gen” Mack wheezed, reaching a shaky hand up to rub at his chest.
“Nitrogen?” Jack asked and Mac gave a sad attempt at a nod, pointing over his shoulder.
Jack stood up, knees popping, and saw the metal canister lying on the floor. He still wasn’t understanding just quite what had happened until he saw the mask attached to the canister. Pure nitrogen. Breathing mask. Drugged out partner struggling to breathe. Shit.
“I need a medic in here. NOW!” Jack screamed as he dropped back down in front of his partner, who was struggling to stand. “Easy, just stay right there.” He said calmly, trying to keep Mac still.
“Outside.” Mac insisted and Jack noticed the panic quickly forming in the younger man’s eyes.
“Please. Can’t…” Mac attempted to take in a shuddering breath. “Can’t breathe.”
Jack looked around the room. The poor kid had been trapped in a maximum security prison for the past six days and then thrown into the trunk of a car and driven out of the country. He had to be feeling pretty claustrophobic right about now. So against his better judgement which was telling him not to let Mac move, he agreed. He moved cautiously, as to not scare the younger man, as he slipped one arm under Mac’s bent knees and the other behind his shoulder blades, fully intending to carry his partner out of the confining room, before Mac stopped him.
“I can walk…” He wheezed, placing a still shaking hand against Jack’s chest in protest. “Just, go slow.”
Angus MacGyver was the only person Jack had ever met that was more stubborn than himself so he knew better than to argue. He gently slung Mac’s arm across his shoulders, helping him stand and then got a solid grip on Mac’s shirt with his free hand incase the younger man stumbled. It took them twice as long as it should have, but they eventually made it outside. Jack stopped on the front steps of the mansion, slowly lowering his partner and sitting down next to him.
Mac, who was leaning heavily against Jack’s shoulder, unable to sit up without support, was still wheezing heavily every time he took a breath. He seemed to have calmed down once he was no longer confined by walls. It wasn’t enough progress for Jack to stop worrying though. He called for a medic again, the sound of his voice causing Mac to flinch.
“Sorry.” He said softly, reaching up and rubbing between Mac’s shoulder blades, trying to alleviate some of the pain his partner was obviously in.
A few moments later a young woman knelt down in front of the two men, dropping a large bag beside him. “You needed a medic?” She asked kindly, trying to meet Mac’s eyes. Jack took it upon himself to explain what was wrong with his partner, knowing Mac didn’t have the energy.
“Do you know how long you were exposed to the toxin?” The medic asked as she dug through her bag. Mac shook his head no. “Never completely lost consciousness though…” Mac wheezed, ending his words with a horrible cough that left Jack’s hands on his shoulders being the only thing keeping the young man from face planting into the Mexican soil.
“That’s good.” The medic assured, seemingly not as concerned by the cough as Jack was. “Then you weren’t given enough to cause any permanent damage. Just some temporary respiratory issues. Anything else I should know about?” Mac shook his head no again.
“Alright. I’m gonna get you started on some oxygen. There’s a plane waiting on the airstrip we flew in from, about twenty miles from here, ready to take the both of you back to Texas.”
“Texas?” Jack asked.
“It’s the first stateside hospital we could find. They’re expecting him.”
Mac was warily eyeing the small canister of oxygen that the medic had set out of her bag, it looked awfully similar to the nitrogen that would surely be plaguing his nightmares for weeks to come. “No hospital.” He insisted as he turned and looked at Jack, pleading eyes in full force. “Just wanna go home.”
“I know ya do,” Jack said sympathetically. “We’ll go home as soon as we get you all fixed up, okay?” Mac closed his eyes and leaned back into Jack’s shoulder in response, to exhausted to bother arguing. He flinched at the low hum of the oxygen being turned on.
“If you can handle this, I’ll go bring a car around for you to take to the airport?” The medic said, handling Jack the mask that was now hooked up to the small blue canister. He nodded his thanks and took the mask.
“Hey kiddo, you awake?” He asked Mac.
“No.” Mac replied.
Jack smiled. That was starting to sound a little more like his Mac. “Well the nice medic lady left us with this oxygen. So, ya know, you can stop sounding like a ninety six year old asthmatic who just ran a marathon. I’m gonna put it on you now, alright?” Jack moved to place the mask on his partner’s face but the second it got close Mac scrambled away from him, breathing heavily and eyes wide with panic again.
“Hey. Hey it’s just me. You’re fine.” Jack soothed, slowing moving closer to the younger man. “It’s just me, alright?” He was pretty sure Mac wasn’t even aware that he was still slowly shaking his head back and forth, protesting the offending mask that was still in Jack’s hand.
“Look you gotta put this on for me.” Jack said, holding out the mask. “It’ll help.” Jack sighed, hating the look of terror and distrust on his partner’s face. “Here.” He took the mask and placed it in Mac’s slightly trembling hand. “You do it. Nobody’s forcing you, nobody’s gonna hurt you. Not anymore. Not while I’m here, right?” Mac nodded. “Then I need you to trust me. You’ll feel better. Promise.”
Mac slowly brought the mask up to his face, flinching when the cold plastic made contact with his skin, but he didn’t move it away. After a few seconds of nontoxic air filling his lungs, he began to calm down and Jack let out a sigh of relief he didn’t know he had been harboring.
Not long after Mac had relaxed, having turned Jack’s shoulder into an improvised pillow, a jeep was pulled up directly in front of the steps. The medic, whose name Jack never had gotten, tossed him the keys.
The ride to the airport was uneventful. Mac rested, Jack drove, and the only sound was the low hum coming from the oxygen canister keeping Mac’s breathing steady.
The plane ride, on the other hand, was a little more stressful. Mac fell asleep almost as soon as he sat down in the plane seat. Nightmares that resulted in the young man waking up screaming four different times and one full-blown panic attack later, they finally landed in Texas. There had been times when Jack had come home from tours overseas and hadn’t been as grateful to be on American soil as he was when that plane finally touched down.
Jack was now sitting beside his partner’s hospital bed, watching the blonde’s chest rise and fall with the help of a nasal cannula. He would be fine, the doctors had assured him, they had said he’d been lucky. Two broken ribs, the typical scrapes and bruises that came with a prison fight, slight dehydration, exhaustion, and exposure to pure nitrogen. That wasn’t what Jack Dalton considered lucky, but he’d take a broken and beaten Mac over no Mac at all any day.
Jack himself had almost fallen asleep when he was startled by his cell phone ringing. He answered it without looking at the screen, too busy checking to make sure it hadn’t woken up Mac.
“Hey, what floor is he on? I’m downstairs.” Riley asked.
Jack sighed, he should have known better than trying to convince her she didn’t need to come check up on them. “Fourth.” He answered. “I’ll come meet ya, they’re not allowing anyone in to see him unless they have my approval.”
He hung up the phone and slipped it back in his pocket. “I’ll be right back.” He assured his still sleeping friend, as he exited the room.
“Jack!” He heard Riley’s voice call from the opening elevator doors. He smiled when he saw the young woman running toward him, a little caught off guard when she threw her arms around him in a hug. Caught off guard even more when he saw that Riley wasn’t alone. Patricia Thornton walked down the hallway towards him.
After hello’s had been said and both women had been reassured that Mac was going to be fine Jack nodded towards Mac’s room.
“He's still sleepin’ Ri, they gave him somethin’’ for the pain and it knocked him out but if you wanna go on in and sit with him ya can.” Both women started towards the room but Jack stopped the elder with a hand on her shoulder. “You and me, we're gonna go have a little talk.”
They walked down the hallway in silence, the only sounds they made came from Patricia's heels, until Jack determined that they were far enough away from Mac's room for Riley to overhear. He turned, arms folded across his broad chest, the look on his face left no doubt about what this conversation was going to be about. He only got that protective over one thing: Mac.
“Don't start with me, Jack.” Patricia warned. “He knew the risk. I'm sorry he got hurt, I truly am. I wouldn't have hopped on a plane and flown down here if I wasn't worried about him, but it's part of the job.”
“You should have pulled him out.” Jack answered, his voice what could only be described as scary calm. “The second you found out that Riley couldn’t hack into their system you should have aborted mission. It was too risky.”
“He did what he was supposed to do. What he was hired to do. And a lot of bad men are behind bars because of it.” Patricia countered.
“Yeah. And one really great kid is lying in there in a hospital bed, bruised, and beaten, and exhausted, and fighting for every breath he takes because we failed him. You, me, that stupid prison we put him in, we failed him.” Then quieter, “I failed him.”
“No. I’m not done.” Jack continued. “I know you were just doing your job. You put the mission first, even before the people carrying it out. That’s what you’re trained to do. I respect you for that, God knows I could never do it. But my job, Patty, is to watch over that kid in there.” He pointed back towards Mac’s room. “HE is my job. Taking care of him, minimizing threats, making sure he comes home in one piece, that’s what you hired me to do. When he’s in danger it’s up to me to get him out.”
“You did your job, Jack. You brought him home.” Thornton said softly.
“No. My job is to bring him home safe. Screw the priority mission, MY mission was to keep him safe and I failed at that. Because I wasn’t given the tools I needed to keep my partner out of harm’s way. He’s hurt because I couldn’t do my job. And that’s on you.”
“You agreed with me! You loved this plan from the moment I brought it up! Riley was the one with doubts! And when she was practically begging me to get Mac out of there it was you, YOU, Jack Dalton, who said he could do it on his own.” Patricia argued, her voice climbing.
“No. I was all for it when I thought Riley could just unlock some doors for us and let Mac and that creep walk out. I wanted you to cancel the job the second you told me that he was in there without help. But by the time you considered it, after he had been stuck in that hell hole for four days, he was in too deep. You made a bad call and we should have listened to Riley to begin with.”
“What do you want, Jack?” The woman asked. “For me to say that I was wrong, that I screwed up? An apology? This has been a long week for me too so just tell me what you want so I can go check on my agent and get back to cleaning up this mess.”
“I want to tell you that this isn’t going to happen again. I understand that in this line of work people are going to get hurt. I’m not an idiot. But mark my words, Mac will NEVER get hurt again because I didn’t have what I needed to keep him safe. If you ever put me in that position again Patty, I’m out. I’m done. I’m not gonna stand by and watch him get himself killed because you gave the order to not intervene. Good luck finding anybody else who cares about that kid half as much as I do.”
“Jack you’re a part of this team, it doesn’t work without you. I’m sorry you were put in this position but you're a part of this team, it doesn't work without you. I'm sorry you were put in this position but I would never intentionally ask you to…” Patricia’s words stopped short as she was interrupted by Riley’s voice.
“Hey, Jack? We need you in here!”
“He awake?” Jack asked as he quickly turned and jogged down the hallway.
“Not exactly…” Riley replied. She had enough sense to step out of the man’s way as he barrelled through the doorway, knowing better than to get in between Jack and his partner.
“He was fine.” Riley insisted. “But then he started moving, I thought he was just waking up but he won’t answer me and…”
“Nightmare.” Jack answered, moving cautiously toward the bed.
“He kept asking for you.” Riley said quietly.
“He’ll be alright.” Jack assured her as he placed a gentle hand on Mac’s shoulder as the younger man’s body was wracked by a harsh shudder.
Mac seemed to have calmed down since Jack had entered the room, but it seemed that only seconds passed before Mac started tossing and turning in his hospital bed again. His hand coming up, trying to pull the nasal cannula from his face only to find his arm stopped by the iv’s he was hooked up to. The restriction seemed to be the final trigger because his struggle turned into full-out panic. Riley wasn’t close enough to hear everything the blonde man was saying but she made out “Jack, hurry, and please.”
Jack felt like he had been punched in the gut.
“Hey buddy, it’s okay…” He said softly as he took Mac’s struggling hand into his own to keep him from pulling out the iv tubes. “I’m right here. You’re safe now.” Jack turned his head to see Riley, standing hesitantly between the doorway and bed.
“Hey, Ri? Why don’t you go let Patty know what’s goin’ on?” Jack suggested, knowing that Mac wouldn’t want an audience when he finally regained consciousness.
Riley, glad to have something to do, nodded as she left the room.
“Mac, I need you to wake up for me.” Jack said gently, hoping that his voice would be enough to wake the younger man up. It wasn’t.
Jack sighed, hating to resort to this tactic but not seeing any other option, barked loudly “Macgyver! On your feet! Now!” It worked.
“Mac’s eyes flew open and looked around, finally calming once they landed on Jack’s face.
“Easy, buddy. You’re okay, I gotcha.” Jack soothed, all traces of Agent Dalton gone from his voice.
“Sorry.” Mac apologized sheepishly. “Another nightmare.”
“Hey, after the week you went through? You’re allowed to have some nightmares.” Jack assured. “Wanna talk about it?”
Mac shook his head no vigorously. “There is something you can do for me though.” Mac said.
“Anything. Just name it.”
“There was a guy. In prison. I don’t know his name but he helped me out, I couldn’t have gotten out of there without him. He has asthma and has a hard time getting his meds. Could you have Riley find out what kind of inhalers he uses and get me a box of them to send to him?”
“Sure. We can do that.” Jack reached up and brushed a lock of blonde hair away from Mac’s face. “I’ll work on that, you go back to sleep.”
“K…” Mac said around a yawn. “Cause not being able to breathe sucks.”
Jack laughed, smiling fondly down at his partner. “Night, Mac.”
Jack took the younger man’s silence to mean that he was already asleep but a few moments later he heard a voice come from the bed. “Hey, Jack?”
Mac smiled. “Thanks for staying here with me.”
“Where else would I be?” Jack replied.
“You’re just always here when I need you. Didn’t know if I’ve ever thanked you for that.” Mac said, struggling to keep his eyes open against the pull of sleep.
“It’s my job.” Jack said, hoping the younger man couldn’t see the shine in the corners of his eyes.
Mac smiled before finally closing his eyes and giving in to sleep, knowing that he was safe and sound with Jack protecting him.
Jack knew he never would be able to forgive those men for what they had done to his partner in that house. But hearing Mac’s words just then, made him forgive himself.