MacGyver thought his friends were insane. Of course, he admitted to himself, if they were insane what was he? Mac sighed as he trailed after the others as they shoved their way through a wall of people heading to yet another store. Mac had a headache. Who goes to the mall to shop two days before Christmas? More to the point, who goes with his friends when they go shopping two days before Christmas. Mac coughed and turned away from a perky clerk who sprayed him with cologne.
"See how much your wife would enjoy…" Mac pushed away from her grimacing. Great, now he smelled like a leathery old boot. Gaudy red foil ribbons and gold glitter decked every wall and ceiling his eyes fell on. Lights bounced off them like a disco ball. Above the grumbling and complaints of the hostile customers, a constant stream of canned Christmas songs blared. All of it was a drill grinding deeper into Mac's head.
"Mac, check this out!" Mac dodged elbows and struggled to stay standing as he cut across endless lines. Finally, he reached an area where gifts were too expensive for most American's to afford and utterly useless. Jack and Bozer were swiping two flashlights made to look like lightsabers. Mac rubbed his forehead.
"4...3...2...1...and…" A glass shelf with decorative boxes shattered on the tile.
"Me? Mac, you saw that, right? I didn't tip it over." Mac rolled his eyes, turned, and left them arguing. He strolled around the tile until he came to the ladies wear section. Mac froze and tried to retreat.
"Mac, you need to help us out!" Riley squawked.
"You're going to listen to Mac about woman's fashion?" Cage asked in her thick Aussie accent. Mac wholeheartedly agreed. Riley caught his arm and dragged him through a forest of racks modeling women's underwear, bras and other things Mac didn't recognize. He felt his face flushing. Riley hauled him to a triplane window. She held up two lacy underwear sets one red, one black. Mac's mouth went dry.
"So what do you think?" Riley asked. Mac itched his forehead.
"I told her the red one was sexy and the black slutty." Cage said crossing her arms. Mac closed his eyes trying to erase the image of Riley in each one.
"I'm going to Hawaii after Christmas to see Kalei...and I want to give him a little something, something…" Riley started.
"But she doesn't want to seem too easy." Cage said. Her tone was stern. Both turned to him.
"So?" They both said in unison.
"Uh...they're both nice...but…" Riley frowned.
"You know, you're right, both are kinda slutty; Cage lets go try the pink and white ones." Mac let out a breath and wiped the sweat off his face. He closed his eyes and shook his head. How did he get roped into this? Everything seemed to go silent for a moment. Rising above the bustle came the one song that he hated to hear, "I'll be home for Christmas." Mac gritted his teeth. Everything was pressing in on him. He felt his heart thud in panic. He shoved people out of the way and retreated to a corner away from the storefront.
Mac leaned on the rail overlooking the lower level. Mac closed his eyes and leaned his head on the railing. Mac liked most holidays. He loved his loved ones gathered in one place, but Christmas was always a mixed bag. This song was a knife in his gut. It was his mother's favorite. One of his most vivid memories of his mother is of the two of them singing it when she was in the hospital. She never came home for Christmas again. Mac stood up and rubbed his eyes. There weren't any tears, yet. This year the nostalgic pain was worse because he hadn't found his father. Mac frowned and shook his head. Since when was he so sentimental.
"Tommy?" Mac half turned. He found himself wrapped in a tight hug. "TOMMY! I've been waiting all week for you." The woman holding him came up to his chest. She had a hunched back and messy fringe of grey hair. He clothes were worn and had holes. Mac wrinkled his nose; she hadn't seen a shower in a long time. Mac felt a pinch on his upper left arm and winced. The woman had inch long dirty nails.
"Um, I'm not Tommy." He said wriggling himself free of her grasp. She looked up at him with wide blue eyes which filled with tears.
"Tommy? What are you…" Mac's jaw clenched as the woman reached out and snagged his leather coat.
"Rita! Leave off of him, now." A security officer yelled. Mac breathed out in relief.
"Roy, look it's Tommy…" Roy smiled at Mac and put his arm across the woman's hunched back.
"I'm sorry about that, Rita always ends up in here somehow." Mac smiled.
"No, it's fine." The man led Rita away. Mac sighed in relief.
"There you are, bud." Mac turned to see Jack hurrying up to him. Mac smiled. Ten minutes. Jack was getting slow in his old age. Jack looked him up and down with worry, "You look like you've been through the ringer, you ok?" Mac managed a smile.
"I just need some fresh air." Jack grinned.
"The others are checking out, why don't we go out to the car?" Mac let out a long breath of relief. Jack grabbed his arm. Mac never knew how the Delta did it, but when he wanted to Jack knifed through crowds as if they weren't there. Mac stumbled after his friend. He was hot, sweaty and his head was pulsing with a headache that got worse with every sound. By the time they reached the GTO, Mac felt nauseous and dizzy.
Jack looked at him worried taking the kid's arm and pulled him to the side of the car. Mac leaned against the vehicle; head ducked taking deep breaths. He looked up at Jack and smiled.
"Whew, thank's that was a little too much." Jack patted him on the shoulder. After they were sitting in the car a few minutes, Jack's impatience began to show.
"What the hell is taking them so long?"
"Did you see those lines?"
"Yeah, I guess." Mac chuckled and looked at Jack.
"So who ended up buying the pretty boxes?" Jack shot him a sour look.
"Go ahead and laugh, bud. But those are going to be the only gifts you're gonna get for every holiday for the next ten years from both of us." Mac laughed, "And where the hell are the girls." Mac raised an eyebrow.
"I wouldn't call them girls if you ever want to have children," Mac said picturing Cage's reaction. Jack winced probably picturing the same thing, "but to answer your question the last time I saw them they were looking at lacy underwear." The minute he said it, Mac knew he'd said exactly the wrong thing. He rubbed his forehead.
"Underwear, huh? I wonder what Cage would…"
"STOP!" Mac said holding up a hand.
"They were looking for Riley." Jack sat up his face sharpened with protective irritation.
"Why would Riley need…"
"She's going to be going to Hawaii after the holidays." Mac tried to cut off Jack's meltdown. Jack's face began to redden.
"Kalei." He growled the name like it was a dirty swear.
"Look, Riley's a grown woman. She…"
"What was she looking at? Something pretty and classy right?"
"It was Cage's idea, wasn't it? I'm gonna have a little talk with that missy. She could be a bad influence on Riley…" Mac tuned out Jack's long rant and stared out the window.
People looked happier leaving. It's like they became human again when they escaped the rat cage of the mall. Mac found himself watching a couple walking with three children. The youngest two held their parent's hands and hopped with excitement. An older boy strolled behind the other four. He glanced over at Mac. When his parents weren't looking, he grinned and skipped a step or two. Mac found himself wondering what it was like to belong to a family like that. The kids waking up early, running to the tree, and tearing into the wrapped gifts knowing Santa brought them just for him. Mac sighed. The familiar ache wasn't as bad as it had been when he was younger, but it was still there. Mac had accepted a long time ago it always would be. Would it go away when he found his Dad? Mac's heart sped up as it still did when he thought about seeing his Dad for the first time in...well, a long time.
"Mac?" Jack asked. Mac turned to him, "Are you ok?" Mac smiled.
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" Jack rolled his eyes. Before he could say a word, the hum of Riley and Cage's voice drew close. Riley tapped on the window. Jack huffed, his look saying they weren't done talking about this. Mac rolled his eyes and pulled his jacket closer. It was close to 70 degrees but the night had a misty cold fog. Mac found his teeth chattering even as he sweated. Bozer came running out holding four bags. He and Jack started arguing as they stowed all the bags in the trunk. Mac groaned and rubbed his sweaty head. His headache felt like Mrs. Santa Clause was stabbing it with knitting needles. His four friends seemed to explode into the car, all talking at once. Mac rubbed his temple and wanted to sleep. He glanced at his watch surprised. It felt like it should be past midnight, but they'd only been in the mall for two hours. It was barely eight.
"What do you think, Mac?" Mac looked over to Jack squinting in pain. Jack frowned with worry.
"I think we should go to Umami's," Bozer said.
"I vote for Tommy's," Riley said. Mac rubbed his forehead. The thought of eating made his gut flip-flop.
"Anything's fine." He said. Mac frowned, when did his voice become hoarse? He cleared his throat surprised at how much it hurt. Before he could say another word, Jack's hand brushed his forehead. Mac slapped it and glared at Jack. Jack scowled.
"You coming down with something?" Jack asked sternly. Mac rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"Maybe food will help." Cage offered. Mac held out a hand saying "see." Jack gave him one last cautious look then turned on the car. Mac tuned out the chatter. He stared out the window. His smile was sad as he studied the lights and decorations as they passed. His house was already decked out with lights and tree. Somehow seeing other lights out in the mist made him feel sad; it was something he never understood.
"Pastrami for Christmas?" Cage asked with disbelief. Mac smiled.
"It's a secret family recipe. It took me a long time to perfect it, didn't it Mac?" Mac chuckled remembering some of the more interesting experiments he'd had to endure over the years. Jack piped up before Mac said anything.
"It's not bad, but you can't beat my Nana Beth's turkey with all the fixings."
"My Mom and I always went out to a restaurant then we'd drive around to see the lights." Riley's voice had a light, dreamy quality to it.
"What about you, Cage?" Bozer asked, "What do you do in the land down under?"
"It's not too different from here actually; only it's at the beginning of the summer there. Instead of reindeer, we have bilbies and koalas." Cage replied shrugging. They were quiet a long minute. Cage leaned forward, "What about you, Mac? Did you have any traditions?" Mac's jaw flinched, and he didn't turn from the window.
"No, not really. Not until I moved in with Bozer." There was an awkward pause. Mac cleared his throat which felt raw and open, "It's ok, Mama Bozer more than made up for any Christmases I missed."
"And how," Bozer gushed,"She adopted him, and made him her favorite."
"Boze…" Mac began.
"Don't I know it! You should see how he has Nana Beth wrapped around his little finger." Mac rolled his eyes and smiled.
"I think it's the whole Oliver Twist effect," Bozer said laughing. Mac shook his head and rubbed his temples. Jack frowned. Mac looked up and raised his eyebrow. Mac could almost hear Jack growl across the car.
"Oliver Twist effect?" Cage asked.
"Yeah, you know folks taking in the poor orphan because he's lost and cold and abandoned like a puppy on the streets." Mac stared at his hands wishing they'd change the subject.
"Wouldn't it be more like Tiny Tim? You know to bring in the broken bird and fix him?" Riley asked. Mac turned to look out the window trying to keep his face neutral. Pity, that's what they meant. Mac was always grateful and accepted the hospitality gladly. He'd try to help his hosts around the house or by fixing things. No matter how welcoming the family was or how much he was considered part of the family, Mac always felt like an outsider looking in.
"Look, we're here," Jack said sharply cutting off the conversation. The three in the back seat looked up surprised. Jack glared at them through the rearview mirror.
"Mac, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…" Cage started. Mac waved a hand without facing them.
"No, it's fine." He said. Everyone stared at him. Mac's voice was hoarse as if he'd been screaming six hours in a row.
"Mac, you sound terrible," Riley said.
"Maybe we should go home?" Mac sighed and opened his door after Jack parked the car.
"I thought you were hungry." He challenged. They followed him into the restaurant. The diner had a warm familiarity. Mac rubbed his forehead. How did they end up here instead of a burger place? Mac mentally shrugged. He felt like a fog was slowly curling around his brain. He was probably getting a cold or flu. Mac scowled. He hated being sick. Mac slid into the horseshoe table beside Jack. He ordered hot tea and pulled his jacket closer. He felt like ice packed his bones.
"Tea?" Jack asked with concern. Mac shot him a quick glare but didn't say anything. He itched his left arm. Mac studied the menu. He ordered a bowl of minestrone. Again Jack studied him with worry. Mac sipped his water ignoring his partner. He just wanted to go home and sleep. The others chatted softly over dinner. Mac took a couple of spoonfuls of soup then spent the rest of the time sipping his tea and stirring the soup. He could tell Jack wasn't fooled. When the waitress left the ticket on his side of the table, Mac bounced up.
"My treat!" He said as he almost ran to the cash register. He felt claustrophobic. After he paid, he went outside to stand in the more cooling damp air. Mac leaned his head back and took deep breaths. He was hot and cold at the same time. Mac breathed better without the others hovering.
Mac jumped into the car as soon as Jack unlocked it. Jack dropped Riley off and helped her with her packages. She shot a worried look at Mac. Mac smiled and waved. He yawned itching his left arm as they pulled up to Mac and Bozer's house. Mac strolled into the house as Bozer argued over the boxes they'd had to buy. Mac slid out of his jacket and started to shiver. Mac changed into sweats and a T with a hoodie. Mac bent to pick up the clothes and found himself clinging to the dresser as the world started spinning. He dropped the clothes and held his stomach feeling it cramp. Mac tried to call out, but couldn't take in a big enough breath. He felt fear throb with his rapid heartbeat. The door opened.
"Jack…" Mac gasped in relief. Jack stared at Mac in surprise. Mac cried out and fell to one knee curling over his abdomen.
"Mac, what's wrong? You going to be sick?"
"D...dunno...hurts." Mac wheezed. He closed his eyes as everything twirled, "Jack!" He squeaked in panic.
"Easy, kiddo…" The rest of what the older man was lost in a wave of blackness.