HEYO! What's up, people? I'm back. It's been a while, I know, but y'know. Life. Pandemic. Mayhem. My cat just being his chaotic self. (Seems minor but has affected a lot of things, honestly).

Anyway! I hope everyone's holding up, and I hope you all enjoy this chapter. As always, my everlasting thanks to Haven126, without whom this would have died a long time ago.

And, eh, this kinda has died a little bit, but oh well. I'm having fun, she's having fun, and the people who have stuck with this certainly don't seem to NOT be having fun, so we're gonna see this through. Enjoy!

Jack wasn't sure how much time had passed when he finally opened his eyes again, but he instantly recognized that he was in a hospital. For a moment, he couldn't remember why, but then it all came rushing back, and he sat up quickly, wincing and then coughing, reaching up to find an oxygen mask over his face.

"Easy, Dalton." A calm, steady voice pulled his attention, and he saw Grant Simmons standing in the doorway.

"Grant," the agent relaxed slightly in his bed, then pulled the mask down when he realized it was muffling his voice, "where am I?"

"LA," Simmons promised, taking a couple steps into the room and folding his arms with a small sigh. "Hospital, obviously. You slept through the whole trip back. You three really scared a lot of people."

"Where are Boze and Mac?" he asked. His voice was rough, and his chest was still a bit tight, so he reluctantly brought the oxygen mask back up, taking a few deep breaths.

"They're fine," the tac agent assured him. "They're doing a bit better than you are, actually; they're both already up and around."

Jack nodded, mulling that over. Then he pulled down the mask again. "Was it Murdoc?"

Simmons was quiet for a second, his jaw tightening before he dipped his head. "It was."

When he didn't elaborate, Jack frowned. "Well?"

The team lead let out a sigh. "We didn't catch him, Jack," he admitted reluctantly. "But we will. We have every available resource on it."

The frown deepened. "And what is it you're not saying?"

"Don't, Jack," Simmons warned wearily. "Just don't. Please."

Jack felt his eyebrows climb. "What happened?"

"Matty will come by and tell you all about it once the docs give you the all clear," Grant told him, dropping his arms and turning to leave. "I'll let them know you're awake."

"Something went wrong, didn't it?" Jack pressed, and Simmons paused in the doorway, not turning around. "Someone got hurt, and I don't mean the three of us."

Simmons neither confirmed nor denied his hunch, and he didn't leave, either. A little more confident, now, Jack looked around, saw the tac agents stationed outside his room, and when he leaned a little more forward, he saw that there were more agents at the end of the hall.

"You've secured the floor," he observed flatly. "Wouldn't do that unless you thought Murdoc was gonna make a play for me or Mac, and you wouldn't think that unless..."

He trailed off, and his heart nearly stopped as his breath froze in his throat. "Where's Riley?"


"Grant, don't—" he broke off when he heard his own voice rising in volume, taking as deep of a breath as he could manage. "Do not try to 'handle' me right now. Where the fuck is Riley?"

Simmons let his breath out through his nose, then reached out and shut the door slowly. He took a moment before he turned back to his long-time friend. "We don't know."

Jack felt ice settle in his chest. "What the fuck do you mean? How can you not know?"

"One of Riley's contacts ID'd the code that was used to spy on us," the team lead explained. "They offered to set up a meet, but we weren't going to bother because we had Murdoc in our sights. But then...we lost Murdoc in the crowd. And Riley realized that since we knew exactly where the bastard was, this was our best shot at getting ahead of him. Murdoc was in Canada and couldn't get to her; it was a now-or-never situation. So, Riley set up the meet with Murdoc's tech guy. She took one agent undercover with her, we had teams on every known exit..." he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "But we lost her, Jack. Our best guess is that the tech guy was still working with Murdoc and he took her to help out his boss. But we'll find her, Jack. Her and that son of a bitch. I can promise you that."

"Which agent?" Jack demanded, trying to keep his anger in check. "What happened to the agent she took with her?"

"It was Ramirez," Simmons supplied.

From Grant's team. No wonder he was so upset.

"As for what happened to him..." here, the tac agent trailed off.

"Is he alive?" Jack prompted.

"Well, yes, but—" Simmons began, only for Jack to cut him off.

"Then where the fuck was he?" Dalton demanded furiously, pausing for a moment as he coughed deep and wet. "Where the fuck was he when that asshole was taking Riley? Where the fuck is he now?"

"Next door, but Jack—"

Jack did not stop to hear what the other agent had to say; he disconnected his heart monitor and IV and threw back the sheets. He was in a hospital-issue snap-on shirt and sweatpants, as well as socks with grips on the bottom, so he didn't hesitate to stand up.

"Jack, stop," Simmons ordered, as if it would help. Jack stormed past him and threw open the door, stepping into the hall, and the tac team lead followed him, grabbing his arm. "Dammit, Dalton, listen to me, he—"

"He was supposed to have her back, Simmons!" Jack snapped, ripping his arm away and coughing again, much to his visible frustration. "He was supposed to protect her! So where the fuck was he?"

"Jack, seriously," Simmons was doing his best both to keep calm and to calm Jack, but Dalton just turned away, reaching for the doorknob of Ricardo's room.

"Jack!" Simmons reached out and grabbed Jack's shoulder, spinning him so they were facing each other. "Would you just stop and listen to me for half a second?!"

The resounding 'no' that Jack felt was conveyed quite well when the former Delta shoved his friend backwards. Simmons, having not set his feet or braced for this, was sent stumbling back into another tac agent, who caught him somewhat clumsily. While they were distracted, Jack turned and threw open Ricardo's door, his mouth open as he prepared to tear the agent a new one.

The words died instantly on his lips.

Ricardo Ramirez didn't exactly look pale in his hospital bed, but his skin had an ashen quality. There were several machines crammed in around him, only one of which Jack could recognize: a ventilator. His IV tree was very crowded, feeding into both his arm and his hand. His partner and roommate, Mark Kyser, had his wheelchair parked at the agent's bedside, facing the door—and Jack—with his service dog Gizmo lying at his side.

"Jesus," Jack muttered to himself before doubling over to cough again. By that time, Simmons had recovered, and he grabbed Jack by the shoulders, pulling him out into the hall and shooting his conscious wounded teammate a tight-lipped smile as he closed the door.

"Jack, c'mon," Simmons grumbled, guiding him back into his own room as he continued coughing. The team lead shooed him back into bed, handing him the oxygen mask, which Jack quickly replaced over his nose and mouth, breathing deeply.

"Now do you wanna listen?" Simmons asked wearily.

"What happened to him?" Jack asked in reply. Ramirez obviously didn't look great, but there was hardly a scratch on him, and nothing to indicate he'd been in a real fight. Knowing him, Jack was sure that had to mean he never got the chance to fight back. "Was he shot?"

"Poisoned," the tac agent corrected. "By the time I got to him, he was in the middle of a seizure. He's damn lucky we got there when we did; any longer and he'd be dead. As it is, he's in a coma. We're not sure he'll pull through."

Jack liked it a lot better when he could hate Ramirez. Now that he couldn't, fear and dread were replacing his anger.

"And what about Riley?" His voice was a bit quiet and more than a bit muffled by the oxygen mask, but he wasn't ready to put it down yet, still breathing deep.

"We're putting everything we have into finding her," Grant promised. "And in the meantime, we're monitoring Mac, so if Murdoc tries to make contact, tries to start his fucked up game, we'll know."

He knew he should hate himself for hoping that happened sooner rather than later; the longer it took Mac to recover, the longer Murdoc had Riley. At the same time, the less Mac was recovered, the higher the chance—

Jack didn't realize he was actually shaking his head until the oxygen hose almost pulled the mask out of his grasp. Simmons wasn't privy to his thoughts, and clearly wasn't sure how to interpret that, so Jack took the mask away for a moment.

"I want to see everything."

Everything turned out to be most of what Jack would have done, if he'd been there. Grant was right; they'd covered all the exits. In fact, it was only a couple hours after Riley vanished without a trace that they actually found the trace, out on the fire escape that Dixon had cleared.

Hinges, to be precise. Hinges that allowed the fire escape to rotate ninety degrees, making it essentially a fire ladder straight across the alleyway into the parking garage. One of the other analysts had then pulled the parking garage cameras, and around the time they figured Riley had been taken—which was before Matty had made the call to storm the building—a nondescript dark navy four-door had pulled out of the garage, right past the Phoenix tac team there to prevent such things, and driven sedately away.

They'd had IR on the satellite coverage, but no one had been watching the alley for a damn drawbridge to cross it from above. And even as the car pulled smoothly out of the garage, and even the car pulled smoothly away, there was only one heat signature, there in the front seat.

"Matty figured the trunk was outfitted with insulation, since we know this guy does a lot of tech smuggling."

Insulation that had hidden his little girl from them. Jesus, she was right back in a trunk with a hacker, and he was right back to not having her back, because—

It was easier to be angry, and if he couldn't be angry at Ramirez, Mac was the next best thing.

Her head was throbbing. That was the only thing Riley noticed upon regaining consciousness, keeping her eyes shut as her skull continued pounding. It took a few seconds for other sensations to register. The first was more pain, this time in her neck and throat. Swallowing hurt, never mind moving her head. She remained still instead, and slowly her brain managed to process more sensations besides pain.

Something beneath her was vaguely soft, cushiony, but it stuck to her bare skin where there was contact, and almost felt like plastic or vinyl. The air was stale and warm, but she could hear a fan and vaguely feel a breeze playing over her skin. Her hair was sticking to her face, and—there was the pain again, this time in her toes.

This time, the pain brought memories with it—uncomfortably vague ones, but memories nevertheless—and she felt adrenaline chill her to the bone. Trying to remain calm, she attempted to brush her hair out of her face only to find that her wrists were bound behind her back, and an attempt at a position change found that her ankles were also bound together.

"Well, good morning!" The voice was cheerful, but it made Riley feel like she might be sick. Slowly, carefully, she pried her eyes open, and her stomach dropped to the floor.


He was sitting at a desk on one of the walls adjacent to her, a box fan blowing at him, accounting for the faint breeze. There was a laptop open in front of him, though when she blinked the sleep from her eyes, she realized that the laptop looked more like her rig than any commercial product.

Maybe it belonged to Brandon, she mused, her stomach tightening. Across the dimly-lit room from her, about fifteen feet away, was the door, but she could tell from here that it was locked, and the odds of her getting past Murdoc were unfavorable to say the least. Other than that, the room was empty. No windows. No other exits. Finally, she settled her eyes back on her captor.

"Yeah, you might feel a little foggy," the man nodded, turning his chair to face her fully. "But that should wear off soon. Unlike our late friend, I won't keep you drugged. Besides, that would ruin all the fun."

Because being tied to a bed is loads of fun, Riley growled silently, confirming that she was indeed on an industrial mattress, the kind you'd find in a summer camp or a cheap dorm. Generally waterproof, though she didn't inspect it closely enough to see if the previous resident had left any bloodstains. With no other options, she simply glared at him.

Murdoc's cheerful smile grew. "Still with the silent treatment?" he asked, sounding amused. "I happen to be a fan, actually. The screaming and crying gets tedious after a while."

She forced herself to clear her sore throat. "...funny, you didn't seem to think so when it was Bozer." Her voice sounded harsh and scratchy, and she managed a swallow.

The psychopath beamed at her. "Well, that was more for the gratification of my audience," he admitted. "I assure you, at the appropriate place and time, you're encouraged to make all the noise you like."

Riley cast another look around the room, more openly, and realized there was a small door on the wall that her bed had been pushed against that she'd previously overlooked. But that was it. No cameras in sight, so whatever Murdoc had planned, this wasn't it.

He was still doing the prep work. Hence the laptop.

"And speaking of young Wilt, how's he holding up?"

Riley let her eyes roll back to a neutral position, which unfortunately put them back on the larger door across the room that she was now quite sure led to the rest of—wherever he had them holed up. You wanna know how Boze is? Go knock on the Phoenix front door and ask him, asshole.

Murdoc made a quiet tutting sound, probably at her expression. "I imagine that was pretty hard for him," he pondered, voice dripping false regret. "I didn't get a chance to ask him the other day, but it was good to see him out in the field again." Then the assassin chuckled. "Literally."

Out in the field near the burning cabin. Hah hah. Riley resolutely stared at a particular whorl on the wood door, thickly covered with faded, flaking beige paint.

Murdoc let about thirty seconds go by, inviting her to speak, then guested out a sigh. "I feel like I really should apologize again for earlier. It was not my intention to place you in that position."

She blinked at him, momentarily outraged, and glared pointedly at the bed she was currently trussed up on. "Yeah, I can see that," she snarked, and he frowned at her.

"Truly," he said, and she wasn't entirely certain he was faking the sincerity. "While I admit I used Brandon's infatuation with you to manipulate him, he was never meant to have you."

She bared her teeth at his turn of phrase. "And speaking of your plans going off the rails, how's that system treating you?"

Murdoc gave her an oddly friendly nod of his head. "As he may have told you, the next exam is a...little more reliant on technology than the previous. And while I'm hardly the Neanderthal I'm sure he painted me..." Here the psychopath trailed off, glancing ruefully at the laptop. "I did expect him to live long enough to at least kick things off."

Riley gave a humorless snort. "Well, if you want me to take a look, you're gonna have to untie me." She wasn't expecting him to do it, so when he simply bobbed his eyebrows in acquiescence and took his feet, she felt herself shrink back into the mattress.

But that had to be why he let her wake up at all. Why he wasn't drugging her, why he was in the room in the first place, and why he would so openly show her technology that he knew she could and would use to escape—

"You've got some lovely bruising on your toes there," Murdoc observed, once he'd paced the four strides between them and was standing at the foot of the twin-sized bed. He tilted his head a little. "They actually match your toenails." His gaze trailed up her legs, which were still quite bare, up across the blood-crusted t-shirt she was still wearing, to meet her eyes. "If you try to attack me again, I'll remove those toenails," he continued, and the temperature of the room dropped about twenty degrees. "And the attached toes. Do we understand one another?"

Her sore throat ached as the muscles constricted, and Riley could only give him a stilted nod, unwilling to trust her voice. He reached a gloved hand into his back pocket and a knife appeared, the blade weirdly dull-looking in the artificial light of the room, and she couldn't help but flinch when strong fingers took hold of the bridge of her right foot.

Murdoc glanced up at her face again, looking almost disappointed. "Do you really think, if that was my intention, I wouldn't have already done it?" He tapped the flat of the blade against her other ankle, earning another jump, and the disappointment turned into an outright frown.

"And have Mac miss out on the show?" she snarled, too angry and too scared to keep silent. "Given your obsession with him, something tells me I'm not your type."

The assassin chuckled, but the sound was cold, and then he brought the knife to the bindings around her ankles—clearly the leftovers from the straps Brandon had used whenever the hell long ago it had been—and sliced cleanly through. It was almost impossible to stay still, and the hand still on the bridge of her foot tightened in warning.

"Rape is the blunt tool of a dull mind," he told her matter-of-factly. "I suppose some would argue you could get creative with it, but in the end, it's simple domination." When Riley managed to keep herself from flinching further, the assassin let her go, and the mattress crinkled loudly as he took a seat on it, again at her hip. Much closer this time than the king-sized bed, close enough that she could actually smell him, faintly, smell the leather gloves and a day's worth of sweat.

Like Brandon's sweat, his sweat and his blood, dried on the side of her face.

"And, in your case, it's completely unnecessary," he continued deliberately. "Night after night, watching you sleep—sometimes in this very t-shirt." His other hand, the one without a knife, fingered the hem of it, and she couldn't fully suppress a shudder. "I didn't even have to touch you. All I had to do was tap a piece of glass."

Weirdly, Riley's wild thoughts suddenly fixated on that detail, and she realized that he must have taken his gloves off to do that, her phone wouldn't have responded to leather-clad fingertips. She managed to twist her lips into something she hoped looked more sarcastic, and less terrified. "Yeah, well, too bad I banished you from our systems a long time ago."

"Did you?" he inquired lightly. "Roll over."

For a second, she thought about giving him a sarcastic woof, but then she realized that he actually expected her to do it. To roll onto her left shoulder, to make the wrists she was currently lying on top of available to him, so he could cut the straps.

To willingly expose her back to him. To obey him. And in doing so, get her hands free. Get something she wanted.

And giving him what he wanted. Dominance.

She lay perfectly still, glaring up at him. The disappointed look was gone from his face, replaced with a calm, intense calculation. Like a sniper, waiting for his opportunity. Patient, intractable. He was going to wait to see what she decided.

And her options were few. She could try to attack him with her legs—bad angle, he'd stop her the way he did before, and she wouldn't be able to prevent him from choking her, or worse, carrying out his threat to cut off her toes. She could lay there and stare at him, which might encourage him to think that she needed another incentive—again with the knife. She could give him what he wanted, make him think she was cowed. She wasn't sure he'd believe her, but it was better than her other two options.

She wasn't obeying him. Even if that's what he thought it was.

She wasn't obeying him. She was just going along until she found her opportunity.

The decision must have crossed her face, or her eyes; she knew the second that he saw it, the flash of victory and pleasure in his own eyes was undisguised. "I said roll over," he repeated softly.

And she clenched her teeth, utterly refusing to let any liquid gather in her eyes, utterly suppressing any lump in her throat, and she did.

She heard him inhale, even over the crinkling of the mattress as she half-turned, giving him the bare minimum of access to her wrists, and instead of bringing the knife to them, instead of cutting the bonds, his fingertips trailed along her right temple, causing her to jump. All he did was gently smooth away the strands of hair that had been irritating her earlier.

"Relax, Riley." It was almost a coo. "I won't tell them."

A thousand retorts flashed across her mind, but Riley didn't trust her voice, and stuck with silence. Maybe he'd think it was defeat.

And I am far from defeated, asshole. Brandon was sure that Mac wasn't going to be able to get her out of this, but if she had her hands free and a rig?

Then she'd be the one bailing his ass out.

Murdoc stroked her hair a few more times, clearly rubbing it in, but she concentrated only on keeping her breathing steady and her eyes dry, and eventually she got what she wanted. The blade was cool as it slid between her wrists, and then the leather was cut. As soon as it was done, she moved to pull her hands in front of her, and again, he stopped her, his fingers like steel on her bicep.

"Before we get to work, I thought you might appreciate an opportunity to get cleaned up," he offered, almost politely. "You'll find everything you need in the restroom. Don't forget our arrangement."

And then his weight disappeared from the mattress, and his fingers trailed off her arm.

Riley turned deliberately, making sure he was several steps away before she swung her legs over the side of the bed, but Murdoc had tucked his knife back into his pocket and retook his seat by the desk as if nothing had happened. He indicated the smaller door with an absent nod, not really even looking at her, and seemed to focus on the screen in front of him.

She damn near picked up the bed and threw it at him.

The small door did indeed lead to a miserable-looking bathroom. The paint in this room was peeling worse, if that was possible, than the bedroom, and it was hardly large enough for the vanity, fifty year old toilet, and shower tub that had been crammed inside. There were a few nods to her comfort, though; through the half-clear, half-opaque shower curtain that still bore fold marks, she could see colorful bottles of shampoo and body wash. A fluffy pink bath towel and loofah were perched on the top of the old toilet tank, and an impressively white garment was folded neatly on the closed lid. There was a toothbrush still in its plastic packaging and a travel sized toothpaste tube in its cardboard carton on the cracked and yellowed vanity. And along the top of the wall on her left, there was a five inch tall, eight inch wide window that she had zero hope of crawling through. It was too caked with dirt to give her a view, other than to tell her it was daytime-ish, and the opening mechanism, when she tried it, was rusted shut.

Riley glanced back out into the bedroom, where Murdoc was still politely keeping his face averted, and noticed that the door opened into the bedroom—meaning she couldn't try to barricade it shut. There was a lock on the flimsy old handle; it had been reversed, so that it locked from the bedroom side.

Once she was in the bathroom, he could keep her in there as long as he wanted.

More suspicious now, Riley carefully leaned over—one foot still on the threshold of the door—and snagged the white garment laid out for her. It was polyester, about midgrade, and she shook it out and stared at it in confusion.

It was a white nurse's uniform. A Halloween white nurse's uniform, given the almost non-existent length of the skirt and the deep V cut of the bosom, but at least it was higher class than the crap they sold at Party City.

Riley leaned back into the room and glared at Murdoc, silently, until he finally stopped pretending he wasn't paying attention to her, and looked up inquiringly. When he saw she was holding the uniform, he beamed. "I believe you'll find it's your size," he assured her, as if that was her question.

It was not her question, and the fact that he knew her dress size—doubtlessly from hanging out all that time in her closet – disturbed her more than she was willing to admit. She covered it with a sarcastically arched eyebrow. "Sending mixed signals, don't you think?"

The assassin gave her an indulgent smile. "It's less revealing than what you're currently wearing."

Barely. "No."

He blinked. "No?" he echoed, as if truly seeking confirmation.

"No," she repeated flatly. No, she was not going to dress up as a naughty night nurse, and she didn't even want to think about what that implied for Mac's fucked up test.

Murdoc leaned back in the folding chair with a sigh, his lips pursed. "Well," he said, his tone maddeningly reasonable, "either you can put it on, or I can put it on you." He held his hands out in front of him, palm up, and mimed weighing her options, but his eyes were hard and sharp. "I'm sure you can guess my preference. And for the record, dark-eyed and dangerous is my usual type."

Her stomach tightened a little at that information. "Why?" she asked him, finally. "Dude, what the fuck do you want."

Murdoc clapped his hands together, suddenly, and the sound made her flinch. "Right now, I want you to do as you're told," he reminded her, and Riley felt her entire face screw up in disgust.

"Really? It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again?"

Murdoc straight up laughed, seemingly truly amused. "Classic reference, though a little before your time. Did Jack teach you that one?" His eyes seemed to glitter in the dim light coming from the weak overhead fixture, and Riley fought hard not to change her expression at the mention of Jack. Mac had been allowed to bring Jack to Bozer's exam, because he'd been injured, and he was again. Maybe that meant Jack would be allowed again as well.

"It captures the spirit, if not the letter of the request. Well, it's not really a request," he allowed, "since one way or another, when you leave this room, you'll be wearing that uniform...or nothing at all."

Any thoughts she'd been entertaining of ripping the thing to shreds went out the window with that statement. Sure, it wasn't much, but it was hella better than facing whatever Murdoc had cooked up for Mac in her birthday suit. "You know I'm not Mac's type, right?" She shook the garment. "What's the point? This isn't going to do anything for him."

The assassin gave her a coy smile. "We'll see. Now...clean up, and make sure you get all the blood out of your hair. We wouldn't want to give Angus the wrong impression."

She was pretty sure that Murdoc absolutely wanted to give Mac the wrong impression, but it occurred to her skittering brain that she could simply look as if she'd been—been treated that way, or she could actually experience it.

She could obey the command, and get what she wanted—not raped—or she could stand her ground and fight him hand to hand, and pray to a god she only partially believed in that she would win.

Again, appearing cowed seemed the better option. She could have one more moment of rebellion and let him hit her, then maybe actually convince him he'd won before she tried to access the rig. Even if all she could do was sabotage it, give Mac a fighting chance—

Then it was the same as giving herself a fighting chance. No matter how Murdoc dressed her up and showed her off, he wouldn't kill her. At least, not until—

Not until Mac was actually on site. Wherever the 'site' was.

She focused on that. The site. Figure out where she was, what this place was. What kind of test Murdoc was going to put Mac through. Then she'd be able to figure out what she should do.

"Go on. I won't peek," Murdoc encouraged, making a little shooing gesture, and Riley glared at him, one more time, and then looked uncertainly at the garment in her hand. Murdoc sighed and his chair creaked as he started to stand, and her hands fisted in the polyester.

"Fine! Fine," she repeated, a little more quietly, when his eyes flashed in displeasure, and she pulled the door shut behind her more to block the sight of the assassin than anything else. Quickly casting around the bathroom netted her the same results as last time. Nothing in the under vanity cabinet, nothing she could use to try to tie the door shut.

He could come in whenever he wanted.

Hell, he was probably going to just lock her in as soon as he heard the water start. Maybe if she had him in close quarters, she could hit him over the head with the toilet tank lid—

Riley swiped the shower curtain aside with a clatter of old iron rings on the curtain rod, then tried the pitted fixtures, and surprisingly clean water came out of the tub spigot. She let it run, discarding the uniform onto the toilet seat cover and then dropping the towel over it, checking to make sure the tank lid really did come off, and it did. It was that or poke him in the eye with the toothbrush. She had nothing useful on her; outside of her now thoroughly trashed t-shirt, she wasn't even wearing a bra. Riley glanced at the cracked mirror over the vanity, checking her ears, but her hoop earrings from the op were nowhere to be seen.

The op.

It seemed a lifetime ago. By now her team was probably back in LA. Tearing the city apart looking for her, just like they had with Bozer. Hell, all of Phoenix probably was.

Well, most of them. Some, she was sure, would have to be taking care of Ramirez. Telling his family that he was never coming back. Making arrangements for him.

The tears she had so far successfully kept at bay threatened again, and Riley bit her bottom lip and looked upward, trying to keep them in.

A strangely shaped collection of peeling paint chips near the top of the wall caught her attention, and she stared at it for several seconds, forcing her tears back where they belonged, before her sight cleared enough for her to actually see what she was staring at.

A dome. The paint chips had flecked off around a dome.

Riley blinked at it a second, then glanced around before she put a foot up on the cracked vanity and stepped up. It was a dome, in fact it was a fish-eye lens, almost an inch in diameter, and Riley ripped off the paint chips—all perforated, to let in the view—and found that the cinderblock had been drilled out, and an old camera nestled into the hole.

A spycam.

"Oh, fuck no you don't," she snarled at it, actually breaking her thumbnail wedging the damn thing out. When that didn't work, she ducked down and recovered the toothbrush, using the end of it like a prybar, and eventually the wires on the back gave, and the thing popped loose into her hand.

It was nothing like the stuff she'd seen in Brandon's showroom. Hell, it looked a little like old Soviet spy cams from the seventies and eighties. It had clearly been hardwired in, but the back of the device was quite cool, and when she dared to tap the exposed end of the wire, sticking about two inches out of the wall, she didn't get a shock.

No power.

Riley looked at the device in her hand, noticing the back was held on by two tiny screws, and she had no screwdriver. She hopped off the vanity, intent on smashing the thing to pieces, but something—maybe Mac's voice in her head—made her hesitate, then grab the bath towel. It did an excellent job of muffling the crack as she slammed it against the vanity, and she peeled back the towel to reveal the pieces. The old plastic was brittle and had shattered, exposing the insides of the little camera.

And there was no camera-inside-the-camera. No tiny button-cam. No wi-fi transmitter. Nothing from the twenty-first century had touched this thing until her.

Riley took a deep, shaking breath, and then searched the bathroom from top to bottom. She didn't find any other domes, she even checked under the toilet seat because Brandon was a sick fuck and if he'd set all this up for Murdoc, it seemed like exactly the thing he'd do.

And in all that time, the water was running, and Murdoc didn't come in.

She sank slowly onto the lip of the tub, not realizing how hard she was breathing, how much her hands were shaking until she brought them to her face and covered her mouth. Murdoc was right. He didn't have to come in, he didn't even have to shout through the door. She was still going to get cleaned up and put on that uniform, and she was going to do it as quickly as she could, because as terrified as she was now—

She forced herself to her feet, to step into the tub, and she drew the curtain immediately. It was opaque on the bottom and clear at about chest level, so that whoever was in the shower could see out but had some semblance of privacy, and her bruised toes curled in the cool water that had gathered in the bottom of the tub, from where the drain was slow.

Riley knelt immediately and tried to unscrew it, but she couldn't get the slick metal to cooperate, and in the end she shimmied out of her panties and covered the drain with them. If there was a camera in there, at least it was blocked.

There was no hot water, but the cold water wasn't frigidly cold and it was unbearably stuffy and hot in the tiny bathroom. Once the old showerhead groaned and rattled to life, she still stood there in her now thoroughly soaked t-shirt, too afraid to take it off, that she'd missed a camera and Murdoc was sitting out there watching her. Her hands were almost shaking too hard to grasp the bottle of shampoo, and she'd just checked it for bugs or cameras when it occurred to her that it was her shampoo.

It was literally hers. From her bathroom in her apartment. Which she hadn't been back in since—

And her body wash. And her face wash. Every bottle in that shower was actually hers.

Riley pressed her lips together to keep the sob at least quiet, at least trapped in her chest, and stared up at the old rusty showerhead, the flaking paint, the ceiling.

At the very least, the cold water would hide the evidence.

By the time she shut off the water, she was basically numb. Her broken thumbnail kept snagging in her hair as she quickly toweled off, bringing everything with her into the tub, hiding behind the joke of a shower curtain. Murdoc hadn't bothered to bring her her own underwear, so she quickly rinsed and wrung the only pair she had out in the towel as well and made do. And of course the fucking costume fit her perfectly.

Her bloodied, torn t-shirt she left in the tub.

And Murdoc never came in. He didn't even knock. The bathroom door was too far from the desk in the bedroom for her to reasonably hide the toilet tank cover behind her when she came out, and she couldn't break the mirror without him hearing. She stared at her reflection for a long moment, trying to banish the fear out of her eyes, and then she took as deep a breath as she could, and turned to open the door.

Murdoc was right where she'd left him, and he looked up with a bright smile. "Good news! I think I've figured it out."

Riley made a noncommittal noise, glancing around the room one last time, cataloging everything, and now that she knew what she was looking for, she spotted it.

Another dome, partially obscured under paint, across the room from the bed.

Murdoc followed her gaze. "Oh, you noticed that, did you? I have to say, it's probably for the best this facility was shut down." He gestured to the laptop with a satisfied grin. "Naturally I had Brandon install his own infrastructure. It would hardly do to rely on sixty year old cameras for the money shot."

It was the second turn of phrase Murdoc had taken straight from the porn industry, and she gave him an unamused look. "Well, clearly he wasn't as good as he thought he was. You had no trouble finding that hotel."

The assassin's smile turned a shade colder. "Technology is like any other tool. It doesn't typically have a—a moral code. It does what it's designed to do. It doesn't care who it's pointed at."

Though the analogy was clearly meant to be a gun, there was something else in the room that didn't care what it was pointed at, and Riley gave the hidden camera in the room another uneasy glance. "You put one of his own bugs on him."

Murdoc's smile chilled another five degrees. "Not on him. He'd have found it immediately. Just like your team would have found them immediately."

And they hadn't. He'd put the trackers and bugs on objects each one of them often carried, often took with them as backups—or something they wore frequently but not always, like Bozer's shoes. Murdoc had known that if Brandon bugged out, there were certain things he wouldn't leave behind. The object itself probably didn't matter; she might not have even seen it. And he probably carried enough of his own tech on him at any given time that the sweeps he did were for other people's technology, not his own.

Brandon had built the device Murdoc had used to find and kill him.

Riley dredged up a smirk she didn't really feel. "That's where you're wrong, Murdoc. A good hacker builds a code of ethics into every tool they make."

There was a flicker of true humor, then, across the killer's face. "...perhaps you're right. Or at the very least, some failsafes to ensure the identity of the person operating it."

She almost snorted, and leaned back against the open bathroom door, crossing her arms over her borderline excessive visible cleavage. "Password protection got you down?"

He studied her a long moment. "Sometimes I forget how young you really are," he finally murmured, almost thoughtfully. "I've been doing this longer than you've been alive. I've bypassed countless security systems, some rather formidable, and all without a team of experts at my back. You've come to rely on them too much, Riley. That's why you're here, you know."

Riley fought the urge to straighten, to visibly raise her hackles. "I'm here because a sick fuck has targeted one of the best people I've ever known, apparently for the crime of wounding your ridiculous ego. So don't sit there and pretend this is about teaching me, asshole. It's not a class, and we're not your fucking students. It's about torturing Mac; whatever happens to the rest of us is just icing for you."

Murdoc made a production of leaning back, as if she was a stiff wind that blew him down. "Been saving that up for a while?"

Riley heard herself snort out a laugh, but it wasn't the least bit funny. "I'm not going to help you kill Mac, and I'm not going to help you kill me."

The assassin held up his hands in mock surrender. "I agree to your terms." When she narrowed her eyes, he gave her a somber nod. "I'm not asking you to help me kill him. Well, I mean, that's ridiculous, as if I need help to kill him," he added, almost to himself. "If I wanted him dead, I'd have killed him in his grandfather's garage."

"No, you want to toy with him some more," Riley corrected herself sarcastically. "You can't possibly believe I'm going to help you do that."

"You already have," the psychopath murmured, as if confused. "The pulling away, the lost weight, the clear indications that you doubted his ability to protect you, to prevent this...you don't think you've had an impact on our mutual friend? I can see that his behavior has definitely had an impact on you."

No. This was more of him trying to get her to stop counting on them, to stop trusting that they'd get her out, that Mac was—

You did stop, her brain murmured, quietly, from the back.

"Really?" Her actual voice wasn't as strong as she wanted it, so she unfolded her arms and cracked her knuckles. "You know what? You're right. You got me. How about I help you with that laptop, and you let me go on my merry way."

The killer laughed in delight. "Just because you don't believe Angus can save you doesn't mean that you're willing to abandon him," he chided. "Besides, what I'm asking you to do is the opposite, isn't it? Getting a sneak peek at what's coming? If he dies because a door won't open after I've added the gas, well..." Murdoc gusted out a dramatic sigh. "That will be a tragedy on several levels. A terrible and frankly embarrassing end for Angus, and a completely preventable one, if only you hadn't refused to save him."

She couldn't deny that she wanted to know what was going to happen. That not knowing was terrifying. But she also couldn't believe he'd simply show her. This was clearly and obviously a trick, and one she couldn't yet see the purpose of.

Then again, refusing was likely to end just as badly as cooperating, and she'd bet her life that he had more weapons on him than one knife in his back pocket. Even if it was a trick, it was just to get her hopes up, if she learned something about the site, about any of it—

Riley decided to call his bluff, and after gathering up her courage, she pushed off the open bathroom door and approached him. The assassin rewarded her with a big smile.

"I knew your curiosity would win out. It's one of your most endearing traits, you know."

"Here I thought it was my charming personality," she snapped, and reached out to turn the rig towards herself. He stopped her with one click of his tongue.

"Miss Davis...do you really think I'm going to let you have the keyboard?" Though he was seated and she was standing on the other side of the desk, his proximity was as intimidating as if he'd been towering over her.

"Do you really think I'm going to tell you every keystroke?" she shot back, trying to hide the sudden feeling of panic in her stomach. "We'll be here all month. More than enough time for them to find me." And if she got in a dig to prove that she wasn't going to give up on Phoenix, on teammates, all the better.

"I know exactly how good you are on a keyboard," Murdoc reminded her, and she felt her teeth clench at yet another very intentional turn of phrase. "How about you come sit here next to me and we'll see how it goes."

She would have rolled her eyes if they weren't fixed on him, on every motion as he casually reached around to the other side of the desk, nearest the wall, and produced a previously invisible second folding chair. He did nothing more alarming with it than unfold it and place it beside him, much closer than she wanted to get, and when he had it where he wanted it, he patted the seat invitingly.

Still trying to assert control.

This was it. This was the part where she could rebel, let him 'win,' and maybe, just maybe actually convince him that she was too scared to try anything else. But the look on his face, the barely veiled smile around his eyes—

He was enjoying this. He wanted her to refuse.

And if she had to pull a WWF move and take him out with a folding chair, well, that seemed pretty fucking fitting.

So she did come around the desk, reluctantly, and got her first good look at the computer screen.

It was definitely set up like an operational dashboard. She saw a series of tabs, each one a physical location, and each one contained several camera views as well as representations of toggle knobs and sliders, like on a mixing board in a recording studio. Motion caught her eye, and Riley watched someone wearing a hospital gown shuffle across the intersection of a couple long, dingy hallways. Though it was in color, it had an odd yellowish tinge to the picture, either a gel on the camera lens itself, or a software filter.

A filter that made it look kinda like—

Riley stared at it a moment, and then Murdoc tapped a few keys—much more assuredly than Jack would have, lending credit to his boast that he at least had some level of competency in the technical space—and brought up another screen, this one more command line than graphical.

She had no hope of reading it without getting closer. Without sitting next to him.

"I've figured out the basics, more or less," Murdoc began, both enjoying and trying to pretend he wasn't aware of her reluctance, "but there's some automation that's been set up and it would be a shame if I accidentally interfered with it."

Code that would tell her the trigger and the resulting actions, as well as the timing of those actions. Potentially tell her about traps built in, something she could use to warn Mac or even trigger herself, knowing exactly what error code she'd have to produce to stop the automation in its tracks.

Riley forced her legs to bend, and she sat, stiltedly, on the edge of the cold, uncomfortable chair. She absorbed the first half of the code without really reading it, identifying only the important bits—systems being called, that one was clearly Linux-based, the next was industrial, like she'd expect to see in a water treatment plant or automated boiler room—and she leaned in a little closer, speed-reading the next few lines. Maybe a commercial laundromat?

Murdoc sat back, giving her space, and Riley shot him a quick glare out of the corner of her eye. "What exactly are you asking me to do with this?"

"Just look at it," he murmured, settling casually further into his chair as if it no longer interested him.

The screen blinked, as if someone had just changed the aspect ratio, and then the entire page of code drifted down the screen in a very Matrix-esque effect. Riley leaned back abruptly, almost expecting the laptop to explode, but instead the screen went dark, and a slow clap came from the built-in speakers.

"Welcome, Artemis. I see you've found my little easter egg."

The voice was unmistakably the late R34mer22. Murdoc's hacker. She glanced at the killer in alarm, and he gave her a small, satisfied smile.

"I tried to unlock it while you were sleeping, but the facial recognition software was too smart for that."

A failsafe. To ensure the application knew who was running it.

The password Murdoc needed wasn't a password at all. It was her. Her face, proof that she was really there and Brandon was really going to get whatever payment he'd been promised.

Her. In a goddamn nurse's uniform.

Brandon didn't know that Murdoc was going to steal his thunder—or his life—and continued speaking over his ex employer. "You think you've just found a back door into the system and you'll be able to engineer a quick save, or maybe shut me down. Unfortunately," and here the hacker scoffed, obviously enjoying himself, "I put this little opportunity here just for you. This rig has one purpose and one only—to kick us off. First move was yours, Artemis. Enjoy the show."

"Originally," Murdoc continued, as Riley just stared at Brandon's smug face, "you were going to wake up in here alone, find a way to escape, and break into an office to find this laptop. You could try to assist Angus from there, but you wouldn't be in the middle of the action. I even let Brandon choose your stand-in."

She blinked, and the laptop reset its aspect ratio, back to the lines of code she'd seen before. Code she now knew wasn't real. It couldn't be. There was no way they'd give her the keys to Mac's test.

"He must have realized from the first two examinations that I had lied to him, and would never permit you not to be in actual danger. There's no point to these simulations if there aren't real consequences, after all."

Riley stared at the screen, no longer even trying to see it. "...so he set this up to screw you. If you didn't hold up your end of the deal, and keep me safe—"

"Then no one would get to play with the toys at all," Murdoc finished, then gusted out a sigh. "Thank you for your help, Riley. I couldn't have done it without you."

She knew he was moving before he actually moved, she knew now that her part was done and Murdoc needed her out of the way, needed to move her to where he wanted her, and Riley grabbed the edge of the desk and bolted away from him. The chair went flying out from under her, creating an obstacle, and she managed to get halfway around the desk before Murdoc's fingers caught her hair. It was still loose and damp from the shower, a perfect handle, and he yanked down hard, slamming the side of her head into the desk surface.

Her feet flew out from under her, and Riley gasped, trying to blink the spots out of her vision. She grabbed the desk, trying to get leverage, but by then he'd looped it and shoved her body into the unyielding wood, hard. Her right hand went up to her hair, trying to pry his off, and her left scrabbled on the surface of the desk, knocking objects aside, searching for something, a pen, anything she could use as a weapon—

"Careful," he breathed into her ear as she dug her nails into his leather glove. "Don't forget about those little piggies, or I'll send all five to market." He tightened his grip on her hair and scalp as he said it, and she gasped again, unable to stop a whimper at the stinging pain. Her searching left fingers were flattened by a fist coming down on top of them, making her cry out, and then he grabbed her left wrist and yanked it behind her, shoving her down into the desk for a third time.

"Shhhh," he soothed, even as she tried unsuccessfully to wrench herself out of his grip. "Just relax." The hand in her hair picked up and slammed her head against the desk again, stunning her, and as he dragged her off the desk and away, she saw the laptop had tumbled to the ground, and there on its power supply was a small black knob, almost like one of Brandon's little cameras.

Matty's head turned when she heard the War Room door open, and she was not at all surprised to see Mac and Bozer walk in, turning her attention back to the big screen.

"You both cleared?" she asked evenly.

"To leave the hospital? Yes," Bozer confirmed.

"Field work is a bit more up in the air," Mac admitted begrudgingly. Matty just nodded; of course, she knew the answer already, but hearing that they didn't even try to lie to her was a little more encouraging.

"Any news?" the blond agent asked hopefully, searching the big screen for some kind of clue.

"Nothing yet," Matty grumbled, frowning. "As much as I would like to believe otherwise, though, I think we might have to accept that Murdoc has made it back to the States by now."

"Which means I'm gonna be up, soon," Mac concluded sullenly, leaning down and picking up a paperclip from the bowl on the table, his fingers getting to work automatically.

"Hey, we don't know that," Bozer scolded his friend. "There's no way he could have gone through any official checkpoints without us knowing about it, so he's at least as delayed as we were. We could still find her before this kicks off."

As if in agreement with Bozer's words, the tablet in Matty's hands trilled urgently, pulling all three pairs of eyes to its screen. The director looked down, quickly reading and processing the information, feeling her eyebrows creep upwards in surprise.

"What?" Mac prompted, just the tiniest inflection of hope in his voice.

"Don't get excited," Matty warned. "We didn't find where Murdoc is keeping her. But we did find where she went after the meeting with R34mer22."

Before either could ask questions, the director beamed the images in the file she'd received up to the big screen. They were crime scene photos, most centered around the bed in the honeymoon suite of a five-star hotel about twenty miles from the electronics store.

"LAPD were called by staff at the Grand Plaza when their cleaning crew found this in the bedroom of the honeymoon suite," Matty explained. The photos showed half a set of wrist and ankle restraints amongst the sheets, a tray of breakfast half tossed on the ground and the bed, the sheets themselves askew and barely hanging onto the bed, and most alarmingly, blood. There were bloodstains on the sheets and the headboard, and when Mac took a step closer to the screen, Matty knew he'd spotted the skull fragments among them.

"No body?" he asked, his voice tight and tense.

"No," Webber denied. "Just the blood."

"How did it get on our radar?" Bozer questioned, his arms folded tightly over his chest as he worked hard to keep the distress from his expression. "Is...is the blood—?"

"Not hers," Matty promised, watching both him and Mac relax just a fraction. "But her fingerprints and DNA were found at the scene."

"Which means we can probably guess whose blood that is," Bozer concluded grimly.

"But why?" Mac's face was set in a frown. "Based on the restraints and lack thereof, I'm thinking Murdoc used them to keep her restrained, but why take her there in the first place? Why kill his partner? Why leave any evidence behind? If he was going to leave evidence behind, why take the body? This doesn't make sense."

"Does he ever?" Bozer scoffed. "Trying to understand that bastard's logic might be a losing battle, man."

"Whatever his reasons, it's pretty clear he's back in the States," Matty glared at the screen, as if trying to force it to reveal some hidden secret. "It's a long shot, but maybe we can get something useful from the hotel cameras..." she was already tapping away at the tablet screen, assigning the task to one of the other analysts, as she spoke. "In the meantime, does either of you have a status on Dalton?"

She could find that out herself, and very easily, of course, but if they had the information, it would save time.

Mac tensed up just slightly at the mention of his partner, and the director frowned internally. After a beat or two of silence, Bozer must have realized that his best friend wasn't going to answer, so he took over, clearing his throat.

"He's awake, but they're probably going to keep him for another day at least," he reported.

"Which might be a problem if you're allowed a partner again," Matty murmured at least half to herself, looking off thoughtfully. Mac offered something between a scoff and a nervous, humorless laugh.

"Don't know that Jack would be my first choice at the moment," he admitted, looking both wounded and angry. Matty fixed him with an even look.

"As much of a pain as he is, Dalton is your partner and one of our best agents," she reminded him, her voice a little cold. "Are you telling me that you don't think you two can work together anymore?"

"Matty, that's not what I'm saying." The blond man sounded tired and not at all convincing when he spoke, and the director raised an eyebrow.

"Because if you want a new partner, I can make that happen," she promised. "Do you want a new partner?"

She expected him to shut her down immediately, and refused to show her surprise and borderline horror when Mac didn't instantly refuse. There was a beat or two of silence—truly contemplative silence—before he let out a weary, somewhat defeated sigh.

"No," he refused at last.

"Alright, that's it," Bozer huffed, "what the fuck is going on with you two? What the hell happened that you two can't just get over?"

"Boze, not this again," Mac attempted to brush his best friend off, but this time, Bozer was not having it.

"No, you know what? Not this time," he snapped, causing Mac to look at him in surprise. "Whether you like it or not, whether you and Jack pull your heads out of your asses and work together is our business, too! It affects us! It affects Riley! I'm done tiptoeing—what the fuck happened between you two?"

"Honestly, Boze, I think that's a question you need to ask Jack," Mac responded with a tightening jaw. "He's the one with the problem."

"That's bullshit and you know it," Bozer frowned. "C'mon, Mac; this is ridiculous. Whatever it is, it can't be worth tearing the team apart!"

"You don't know what he said!" Mac snapped, wincing slightly at the strain on his voice. "Or what he did! And frankly, Boze, it's none of your damn business! If Jack wants to apologize, great; until then, back off!"

Bozer bristled with frustration and opened his mouth to speak again, but they were interrupted by the sound of Mac's phone ringing. The blond agent stiffened visibly, and Bozer's face fell in dismay as his friend pulled the device from his pocket. Matty glimpsed the screen as he did so, and as soon as she saw the word "restricted" on the screen, she was sending out a mass message to the techs, telling them to do whatever they had to do to track that call. Mac took a quiet breath, then answered and cleared his throat as he put it on speaker.


"Oh, good," Murdoc didn't waste time with pleasantries. "You're awake. I worried I might have called too early. How are you feeling, Angus?"

He actually sounded like he cared, if you didn't catch the malice under the words. All three of them, of course, caught it instantly.

"Can we please skip the buildup?" Mac rolled his eyes. "What is it you want me to do?"

"Now, MacGyver, I thought we had a discussion about not being such a killjoy." Murdoc chuckled through the words, but his tone was acidic, and Mac's jaw tightened. "You wanna try that again?"

"Not particularly," Mac replied, causing both Matty and Bozer to look at him in slight alarm.

"Wow, I wasn't aware that Miss Davis meant so little to you."

"I have no proof she's even alive," Mac growled, taking a second to fight back a cough. "You've killed at least one person since Lara already, and it's not like you wouldn't make me complete a whole 'exam' just to 'reward' me with her dead body."

To their surprise, Murdoc laughed.

"I suppose you're not wrong," he allowed. There was a slight pause, and then Mac's phone buzzed. It was a new email with a link, and after Matty had the techs confirm that it was harmless, he tapped the link.

Just as with Matty's exam, the link produced camera feeds. Three of them, to be exact. When Mac beamed them up to the big screen, they saw that it was three different angles of the same room. Room was a strong word, though; it was a prison cell. One of the angles could see bars taking up a whole wall. It was dimly lit, small, dirty, and contained only a thin—though oddly clean—mattress on the floor in the corner and a toilet.

Well, that and Riley.

The analyst was sitting on the mattress, her back pressed into the corner and knees pulled tight to her chest. Her head was down, and she wasn't moving an inch. She didn't appear injured, though—at least there was no blood visible on her bare arms and legs, or the white...whatever she was wearing.

"Not sure what exactly this proves," Mac frowned. "She's not moving. Even if she was, how do I know if this is live?"

"Oh, MacGyver, don't you trust me?" They could practically hear the smirk in the killer's voice. "I'm hurt."

"Sure you are," Mac scoffed. Murdoc continued like he hadn't said anything.

"But, I do see your point. She is holding very still. I'll see if I can't get her to move."

Matty's stomach clenched, almost not wanting to know how he'd do that, but all three of them kept their eyes fixed on the screen. There was no sound to accompany the video, but they assumed there had to be some kind of noise made, because Riley jumped, her head jolting upright and eyes fixed on the bars across from her.

"Well, it was movement, I guess," Murdoc mumbled. "Good enough for you? I can probably get a little more out of her, but you might find my methods on that cruel."

"No," the blond agent said quickly. "It's fine."

"Good," Riley's captor approved. "So, I take it you found the hotel room, then? You wouldn't believe what I walked into, MacGyver; I think you might actually thank me for breaking that up. Riley certainly did—or, she came around, at least."

"Goddammit, Murdoc, would you just stop bullshitting and get to the point?" Mac demanded, moments before his attempts to suppress his coughs finally failed. He doubled over, coughing deep and wet coughs into his left elbow for several seconds before he got control again, gasping slightly to catch his breath and grimacing.

On the phone, Murdoc clicked his tongue. "You don't sound so good, Angus," he commented. "I'm thinking maybe you should rest up for a bit longer. You may have been an absolute nightmare student as of late, but I'm still not trying to fail you, after all."


"Go ahead and get another breathing treatment and we'll pick this up in the morning. Goodbye, now."

He hung up before Mac could stop him, and as the camera feeds winked out with him, the blond agent let out a weary breath.

"I take it they couldn't track him down?" he asked quietly, not looking at them. Matty pressed her lips together, looking down at the tablet in her hands and praying it would say otherwise.

Her prayers went unanswered as her analysts confirmed they hadn't managed to pin the call down.

"No," she reported evenly. Then her voice softened a bit. "Sorry, Mac."

And she was sorry. This never should have happened. She should have stuck to her guns and refused to let Riley leave Phoenix. She should have known better. If she had, Ramirez wouldn't be in a coma, Riley wouldn't have been taken, and Mac wouldn't have to go through with another one of Murdoc's sick games. She'd already let Bozer down, and now it was happening all over again.

But blaming herself did nothing to help her team, so Matty pressed on.

"Listen, blondie, I don't know what's going on between you and Dalton—"

"Matty, I'm really not in the mood for a lecture right—"

"—and I don't care," she continued, silencing her agent as he stared at her in shock. "You two can get all the couple's counseling you need when Riley is safe. Until then, I just need to know one thing, and I need you to tell me the truth."

MacGyver blinked at her, then nodded somewhat warily.

"If Murdoc allows you to bring a partner again, can I trust you and Dalton to work together, or should I have someone else on standby?"

It should have been such an easy question, but Mac paused, seriously considering his answer, and while Matty worked hard to hide her dismay at this, Bozer's was written all over his face. Finally, Mac let out a quiet breath.

"I think that regardless of how we feel about each other, no one would go to greater lengths to get Riley home than Jack," he concluded, finally meeting her eyes. Matty studied him for a moment.

"You trust him to listen to you?" she pressed.

"For her? Absolutely."

"And you trust him to save you, too, if it comes to it?"

Another easy answer that Mac dwelled on, making Matty's stomach churn. It took at least fifteen seconds for Mac to reply.

"I trust him to do whatever it takes to get her out safely."

Matty frowned. It didn't really answer the question. "Mac, I don't think I have to tell you that if you and Jack don't trust each other completely, this isn't going to go well. If you half expect him to throw you to the wolves, you won't be focused on whatever Murdoc puts in front of you. So I'm going to ask again: Can you trust your partner?"

"I trust him enough to get the job done," Mac replied dismissively. "Now, I think I'll see about that breathing treatment Murdoc mentioned. Unless you need me for something else...?"

It was clearly, obviously an excuse, but Matty could hardly tell him to refuse necessary medical treatment and he knew it, so after a few seconds, she nodded stiffly.

"Fine," she agreed. "Bozer, go with him; you need another treatment, too."

The hidden assignment was obvious enough that Mac's jaw set, and Bozer nodded dutifully before they both left the War Room.

Leaving Matty alone with the screens and the terrifying idea that she was already too late.

Dun dun dun. Here we go, y'all. We're about to dive into the exam itself, so everyone strap in and don't forget your power ups.

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed, and please don't forget to review! I haven't heard from you guys much in the recent installments. I miss you. Let me know what you think and how you guys are doing. See you next time, and remember, power ups!