|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2006-02-01 00:02:00
‘You are the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to you. You are neither a friend nor a servant. You have said it yourself. Go away and walk by yourself in all places alike.’ Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories, 1902
Chapter One - Tuesday
There was nowhere else to go. Yet the closer he got to MacGyver’s home, the less certain he was that this was a good idea. MacGyver hadn’t tried to get in touch with him – but then perhaps he hadn’t known the extent of the injuries.
Hadn’t asked. Hadn’t wanted to know.
But there was nowhere else to go. He had no one else. He had thought about phoning, but hadn’t been able to think what he could say. An interstate bus ticket had cost only half the money he’d had left, and he found that he didn’t get very hungry if he sat still. One of the other passengers, noticing that he didn’t leave the bus on rest breaks, had offered him a sandwich and a cup of coffee about halfway through the trip, and he’d accepted, though he hadn’t known what to say to the man beyond a heartfelt thank you.
“Think nothing of it; I’ve been broke myself,” the man had said, and grinned, and gone on to the back of the bus.
How much further? One of Los Angeles’ sudden and powerful February rainstorms was flooding down the windows of the cab; he couldn’t see the streets outside - and, in any case, he had to keep an eye on the meter. It was proving to be a long drive to MacGyver’s address, and he was glad he hadn’t wasted any money on food: he could never have walked all this way. The meter had already eaten up half his remaining cash, and he dreaded running out of money before he reached his destination. Suddenly panicked, he leaned forward and said to the driver, “Stop here.”
“I’ll get out here.”
“This isn’t the address you gave me,” the driver objected.
“This is where I want to get out.”
“Fine.” The driver turned hard right, slid to a halt, and clicked the meter. His passenger paid him to the dollar, stung with shame but afraid to tip. He couldn’t afford to go back by cab, and after twenty or so minutes on foot, he knew he couldn’t walk that far, either. His now-fragile ankles ached. The rain drenched him to the skin. He had a horrible feeling that his backpack wasn’t waterproof, and hoped his camera and the photographs would survive. Great: he was going to arrive looking like a half-drowned rat, and drip all over the floor, assuming MacGyver would let him in.
It stopped raining before he got there. He stood steaming on the sidewalk, looking up at the lit window, realising that there were no more choices.
Someone answered the door: someone who wasn’t MacGyver. A pleasant-looking young woman regarded him with a quizzical smile. He swallowed. “MacGyver?” he tried, not very hopefully. “I’m looking for Angus MacGyver?”
Her eyes widened. “Angus? Is that really – ?” Then, visibly restraining herself, she shook her head. “Well, you’ve got the old address. He moved.”
Some of his despair must have shown, for she hastened to reassure him. “Just across the street and down a ways. See?” She gave him the new street number, and pointed. “Right down there. We swapped.”
Swapped? He wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but it didn’t seem to matter. Unwilling to trust his voice, he nodded his thanks and turned away. It wasn’t a long walk. Just that little bit further.
The second door seemed as forbidding as the first – but the lights here, too, were on. Bracing himself, he knocked. It sounded very quiet and tentative. He counted in his head. What if MacGyver had company? One more knock, slightly louder this time. He counted again. Before he had reached ten, the door jerked open.
MacGyver – clearly MacGyver – stood in the doorway. He looked irritated at first, and then absolutely dumbfounded. “What – ”
“May I come in?” The query was hopeful.
MacGyver stepped back, and his visitor crossed the threshold – to be met by a blow to his jaw that knocked him down. He fell sideways, with a wrench of sick pain in his ankles. Before he was even sure what had happened, MacGyver’s weight descended on his back and he felt his backpack being jerked off him and something being wrapped around his wrists, tying them together behind his back. MacGyver’s weight shifted and the same something was bound around his legs, ankle to knee. Then MacGyver rolled him over and knelt over him, gripping at his jacket, the face that was smiling, friendly, cheerful, in a hundred photographs, snarling at him with fear and rage, “What the hell do you want, Murdoc?”
“You know who I am.” Despite everything, he was nearly laughing. “You know who I am!”
“Yeah, I know who you are!" If possible, MacGyver seemed even angrier.
“I’m sorry,” he managed. “I can tell you’re not exactly pleased to see me – ”
MacGyver laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. “I can’t imagine where you’d get that idea.”
“ – but I need your help, and there isn’t anyone else.”
“And whose fault is that?” MacGyver’s face was more familiar to him than his own, but he had never seen him look like this. “I think I’ve had enough of helping you.”
It was worse than he’d thought. “I know,” he said meekly. “I’m very grateful – but I – ” he swallowed, “ – I hoped you’d – ”
MacGyver let go of him abruptly. His head dropped back against the floor, and he couldn’t see what the other man was doing until the wet backpack landed on his chest.
“If anything’s going to happen when I look in here,” MacGyver said, “you’d better tell me now.”
What could happen? Murdoc shook his head frantically, for the first time really worried for his life. No one from the hospital knew where he’d gone. The only person outside this room who knew that he’d come here was a woman who had probably forgotten him already. There was no one to come looking if he never resurfaced, and the only person he’d thought might care was standing over him, looking at him as if he’d like to kill him.
And he could. He’d handled Murdoc like an expert, and had him bound and helpless at his feet – and all too plainly, that wasn’t enough for him.
“Look – there’s nothing in there except clothes and some money. And a camera and some photos and a notebook,” he added, frantically cataloging his possessions. “You can have the money. And the camera. I’ll just go – will you let me go?”
“Why should I?”
Helplessly, he said, “Because I’m scared.”
MacGyver snorted. He squatted down by Murdoc and unfastened the backpack. “And why do you want me to have the camera?” He began to pull out the items inside, examining each one carefully before tossing it over his shoulder. The wallet was opened and the money spilled on the floor, before getting the same treatment. MacGyver looked angrier and angrier, as if nothing in the backpack was worth his while.
The camera was a good model. There had been two rolls of film with it: one which had already been expended, and which he hoped to get developed, if he ever got it back from the pile into which MacGyver had discarded it. The other roll –
MacGyver was about to open the camera.
“There’s film in there,” Murdoc said.
MacGyver glanced up at him. “Yes.” He pulled the camera open, yanking out the film, and his hands – strong and dexterous – took the rest of the camera apart within minutes, throwing the lens against the wall by Murdoc’s head. It shattered. Murdoc bit his lip. That was his only valuable possession, and MacGyver had destroyed it. What was he going to do to him?
“Still can’t figure out why you wanted me to have it,” MacGyver muttered, tossing the remains to one side and pulling out the next item.
The photographs and the notebook were at the bottom of the backpack, wrapped in his last clean shirt. MacGyver checked the shirt, meticulously – for what, Murdoc could not imagine – and put the photos and the notebook to one side. Then he pushed the backpack off Murdoc and began a thorough search of him: jacket, shirt, pants, even shoes. He wasn’t particularly gentle.
When he’d finished, he stood and looked down at Murdoc. “I don’t believe this,” he said after a while. “What do you want?”
Murdoc swallowed. “I’m sorry. I thought we were - hoped we were friends.”
MacGyver laughed. “Friends?” There was such contempt in his voice, such disgust, that Murdoc cringed. “Tell me exactly what you want, Murdoc, and make it convincing; the only reason I’m not calling the police right now is that Pete might want a piece of you, too.”
Pete? Murdoc shook his head, confused. There was no reference to a Pete or Peter in the notebook, no one but MacGyver in the photographs. As for the police, he would almost have welcomed that: he might be uninvited and unwelcome, but he hadn’t done anything wrong. “I’m sorry,” he began again. “I know you’ve done so much for me already. I just – ”
“Spill it, Murdoc. You know, whining really doesn’t suit you.”
“I wanted to thank you for paying the hospital bill,” Murdoc said carefully. “I wanted to ask you what my name was - and if you knew if I have any savings accounts or something somewhere. I wanted to ask – ” he swallowed, but MacGyver already had a look of outraged disbelief on his face; he might as well go one step further, “ – I wanted to ask if you’d let me stay here. Just till I get myself on my feet.”
“What is this, Murdoc, some kind of amnesia game?” MacGyver kicked him. Hard. “Dammit, how gullible do you think I am?”
Murdoc tried for a smile, hoping humour might soften that rage. “I’m afraid I don’t remember.”
MacGyver kicked him again. “What hospital bill?”
“After the accident.” Murdoc swallowed. In the three months of memory accessible to him, he couldn’t remember ever having been so terrified. “I’m sorry. Clearly I’ve made some terrible mistake. I really didn’t know. Please, if you untie me and let me get my things, I’ll go and I’ll never come near you again – ”
MacGyver kicked him once more, sharply jarring his abused ankles and sending a jolt of pure agony through him. Murdoc screamed. Dimly, he heard MacGyver shouting at him to shut up, and he bit down on his lip, but when MacGyver seemed to be moving to kick him a fourth time, he was unable to prevent a high whimper. “Please don’t – ”
“Shut up. Why did you come here?”
“Because of the notebook. The photos. They’re all I’ve got. And you paid – ” He flinched back as far as he could, which wasn’t very far, as MacGyver knelt down beside him. “I mean, the hospital said you paid. It was your name: Angus MacGyver. So I hoped – ”
MacGyver picked up the notebook and the photographs and retreated to a nearby armchair to look through them. Murdoc fell silent, watching him. The notebook was a kind of diary, a very specialised record: a list, going back a few years, of the days on which he’d seen someone – someone who was obviously important to him. And while the entries were laconic to the point of code, it seemed clear – had seemed clear – that they knew each other well.
The photographs were a more comprehensive record: they went back twelve years at least, each one with a place and date note on the back. It was by comparing the dates and places in the photos with the notes in the book that Murdoc had proved to himself that the focus of the notebook was the boyish, cheerfully-attractive man in the pictures. I was a good photographer. Maybe I still can be.
He lay there and looked at MacGyver, scowling over the notebook, and wished he’d never tried to make contact. He should have known there was something wrong, when the benefactor who’d paid the bill hadn’t told the hospital what his name was, just left him there as “John Doe.” Maybe we never had any kind of relationship. Maybe I was a stalker. Oh, god, I wish he’d just let me go.
“How long have you been carrying these around with you?” MacGyver demanded. His voice was rough with anger.
Murdoc blinked. “Ah – I think about twelve years?” he offered. “All I can really answer for is the last three months, but if the dates on the photos are accurate, they were taken over about that period of time, and in the notebook it looks like I’ve had it for a few years, maybe five or six – ” He realised he was babbling, but he really didn’t like the scowl on MacGyver’s face. “Please – ”
“Shut up,” MacGyver said, and added, illogically, “What do you mean, you can only answer for three months?”
Murdoc lay silent for a long moment. He felt obscurely embarrassed: somehow he had hoped that MacGyver already knew something about it, so he wouldn’t have to explain. “May I ask – ”
“No,” MacGyver snapped. “You’re tied up in my living-room; you can answer my questions. What happened three months ago?”
“I was in a car accident,” Murdoc said humbly. “That’s what they told me at the hospital. They picked me out of the wreck, and… and they fixed me up. More or less.” His thigh bones had mended normally, with no complications. But his ankles, they had said, would probably never be right again. “Only I didn’t remember anything. I don’t even remember the crash, but I saw the car before it was, uh – ” He couldn’t remember the word for it. Sometimes this still happened, though less and less often as time passed. The doctors had told him it would probably keep happening, sporadically, for the rest of his life, particularly if he were stressed. And being afraid for your life is the sort of stress you should probably avoid, John. The voice in his head was vaguely kind, impersonal, like a doctor’s voice… but somewhere behind it was heartless laughter. “Before… before they turned it into a cube, you know – ” Murdoc was struggling for the right word.
MacGyver just watched him. “Go on,” he said at last.
“I didn’t remember anything,” Murdoc repeated. “All I had was in my backpack. They found it in the trunk of the car, I had my camera in it, and a couple of rolls of film, and the notebook and the photos. There was nothing else salvageable. They couldn’t find anything to tell them who I was. Not even a driver’s license.” He swallowed, looking at MacGyver.
“Poetic justice,” MacGyver whispered. He was staring at Murdoc with an expression of – horror? Belief? Murdoc couldn’t understand it, didn’t understand the whispered comment.
“But someone paid the hospital bill. Angus MacGyver. The address was just a bank, they showed me, a Los Angeles branch of the Bank of America, and they didn’t believe the notebook had anything to do with you, but I worked it out – ” He had spent hours over it, figuring out the cryptic notes, cross-correlating the dates with the dates on the photos, making a blind leap of faith that MG (scribbled hastily like a single symbol, often with a circle enclosing it) was Angus MacGyver. “There was a bit of cash, and after you – after Angus MacGyver paid the bill, they let me have it. So I… came here.” He trailed off. This was certainly the man in the photographs, and might be – must be – the MG in the notebook, but he didn’t have to be Angus MacGyver. But Murdoc had checked the phone book, and the woman who lived at A. MacGyver’s address had recognised the name and sent him here. This had to be right. Didn’t it?
“What was the name of the hospital?” MacGyver asked. “And the address?”
“The Anderson Memorial Hospital.” Murdoc gave the address in full. He stumbled over the zip code – he hadn’t had any reason to remember that – but his memory, ironically, seemed to be quite good, as far back as it went.
MacGyver scrawled the information down. “All right,” he said, his tone unexpectedly mild, “I’ll call them. But you understand, Murdoc, I fully expect to find that they did have an accident victim who matches your description, who left there – yesterday?”
“Yes, very early Monday morning,” Murdoc said, anxious to be precise. “I left before breakfast. I wanted to catch the morning bus.”
“You came by bus?” MacGyver asked with apparent fascination. Then his face changed. “Yeah, I bet you did. I wonder what happened to the real crash victim. How thorough are you, Murdoc?”
“I – ” don’t understand, he was going to say, but he saw MacGyver pick up the phone and fell silent, watching with intent hope. Oh, god, please let them convince him. Please let him believe me. Please let him untie me. To add to his other discomforts, he was beginning to need to go to the bathroom.
MacGyver turned out to be an utterly convincing liar. He talked to the hospital at length, introducing himself by another name, and then coming out with a brief but detailed story, explaining his interest in accident victims and amnesiacs. Once he got put through to Doctor Hochen, the side of the conversation that Murdoc could hear soon turned into phatic remarks that clearly substituted for nods and gestures. Hochen was talking a lot, and Murdoc could guess what he was saying.
Eventually – it seemed like a long time – MacGyver finished the conversation, waited a polite instant, and then slammed the phone down. He stood up restlessly and came over to where Murdoc was lying, standing over him with his hands thrust into his pockets. He sighed. “Now what do I do with you?”
“Let me go,” Murdoc said. “Please.”
MacGyver stood looking down at him. He didn’t – Murdoc hoped – look like a man looking at someone he meant to kill. But he looked angry, and frustrated, and he didn’t answer Murdoc: turning on his heel, he headed for the door. He was going out.
“MacGyver – ” Please don’t leave me, he meant to add, but MacGyver turned back, his face contorted with anger again.
“I’m thinking how duct tape would look over your mouth, so shut it!” He went out.
He wasn’t away for long, but every minute felt like an hour. Murdoc strained his head around to keep the door in view. Thoughts flowed through his head. If I scream someone will come and he’ll be angry, turned rapidly into If I scream will anyone come? I didn’t see anyone nearby, and had just arrived at I can wait an hour before I scream, nothing’s really hurting yet, an hour, an hour – when MacGyver walked back in through the door.
He entered cautiously, as if he expected someone to have broken in while he was away and to be waiting for him behind the door. Even past the staggering relief of seeing him again after – ten minutes? couldn’t be more – Murdoc saw him move with photographer’s eyes. He wanted to freeze each edged moment, as MacGyver slid into his own home with silent, cautious grace.
“Still here?” The tone was harsh and mocking. “You must be enjoying this more than I thought. Or is it just my company you can’t bear to leave?”
Murdoc shrank into himself, relief overcome by confusion and fear. “I don’t...” he began, but fell silent, remembering the threat to gag him. Why duct tape? he wondered shakily. And why did MacGyver’s extraordinary good looks – already familiar to him from the photographs – constantly catch him off guard?
Although the question was growled in no friendly tone, it gave him tacit permission to speak, and Murdoc seized it gratefully. “I’m still tied up. How could I leave?”
“Yeah, right.” MacGyver snorted. “Like that’s ever stopped you before.”
Before? Murdoc wanted badly to ask for details, but he didn’t quite dare. Instead, he ventured, “I came because you’re the only person who knows me. Anyway, the only one I know how to find. I came.…” His voice dropped as MacGyver only stared coldly at him, but he couldn’t quite hold back the words. “I came because I needed your help.” There was no point trying to run away from it. “I still do.”
“Help,” MacGyver murmured. He snorted again. “To do what?”
Murdoc swallowed. He’d already told MacGyver, and that had made the other man explode with frightening physical rage. “I – ”
“Oh, that’s right,” MacGyver said, sarcastically. “You wanted to stay here.” This time, at least, he didn’t kick Murdoc.
“Could you untie me? Please? I promise – ”
MacGyver pulled a Swiss Army knife out of his pocket, turning it over in his hand thoughtfully, opening the longest blade with one practiced flick of his thumb. “Oh, this’ll be good. What do you want to promise now?”
“Anything,” Murdoc said. It came out as the flat truth. He was trying to look trustworthy, but the knife in MacGyver’s hand was making him very nervous.
“I’m going to let you up,” MacGyver said. He shoved Murdoc, rolling him over onto his face, and Murdoc felt the knife cutting at whatever was tying his feet and then his hands. The relief of being loose again was unspeakable. He lay still, face down, waiting to be told what to do next, not quite daring to say, “Thank you.”
“You’re soaked,” MacGyver said. He sounded startled, as if he hadn’t noticed before. “Do you want to change?”
“Yes. Please,” Murdoc added. He didn’t have another pair of jeans, but there should still be a dry pair of socks and a clean shirt in his backpack. “May I get up?”
“Sure.” Once again, MacGyver sounded surprised.
Murdoc turned over and sat up. He wasn’t sure his ankles would bear his weight. All his possessions were in an untidy pile on the floor by the sofa. With a cautious glance up at MacGyver, he maneuvered himself across the floor to the pile, and began to sort through his gear. The photographs were gone, and so was the notebook, and the camera was a shattered wreck on the other side of the room. But his extra shirt, though crumpled, was still adequately clean and fairly dry. His socks and undershorts were scattered; methodically, Murdoc put each pair of socks back together and rolled it up into a ball. His wallet lay emptied where MacGyver had dropped it, but the dollars and change were loose on the floor. Murdoc scooped up what he could reach, tucking it back in the wallet, and was about to scoot himself further over to get the rest, when MacGyver stepped in. He picked up three bills and a handful of change, and – looking as if it amused him, despite himself – dropped the money in Murdoc’s lap. “If you want to take a shower, I suppose I can lend you a towel. Don’t worry: if I find any more money floating around, I’ll let you have it.”
Embarrassed, Murdoc closed his wallet, and wished he could afford to say, “Don’t worry about it.” He was ashamed that MacGyver should see how pitifully meager his resources were, particularly as MacGyver seemed to think it was funny. “Thank you,” he said very quietly. “I’d like – to – ” He swallowed. “Thank you.” Even if MacGyver planned to kick him out immediately afterwards, at least he’d be warmer and dryer. He used the arm of the sofa to get to his feet, and saw MacGyver watching him with raised eyebrows, as if the other man didn’t believe the appearance of effort. He bent his head, avoiding that skeptical gaze, and picked up his shirt and underwear.
“I suppose you don’t know where the bathroom is?” MacGyver asked.
Murdoc shook his head, tiredly, and followed MacGyver’s gesture. He was only briefly startled when he opened the door and found a closet with a vacuum cleaner, a couple of brooms, and a lot of tools hung neatly on hooks.
When he turned back, he expected to see MacGyver smiling, but instead the other man was looking at him with a serious frown: not angry, but puzzled. Without a word, MacGyver crossed the room and opened another door. Through it Murdoc could see tiles and the corner of a bath.
The door didn’t lock, but Murdoc was too relieved to be alone for an instant to care. He used the toilet, and undressed himself, hanging his jeans over the empty towel rack. They might dry a little there. MacGyver didn’t believe him. Murdoc turned the shower on as hot as he could bear, and stepped underneath it, lifting his face to be beaten by the water, closing his eyes against it. MacGyver didn’t believe Murdoc couldn’t remember.
How could you test for lack of memory? The water streamed down his face; he had to duck his head and turn his shoulders to the hard thrum. You couldn’t. The doctors and the other medical staff at the hospital had believed he didn’t remember, but then they’d seen him just out of the car wreck. They had thought it would wear off in time, and had been startled when it hadn’t. But they hadn’t believed he was faking it. MacGyver did. And that disbelief unsettled Murdoc to a surprising degree. The hot rain felt good on his cold skin: he would have liked to sit down under it, give his ankles a rest, curl up and never come out, but he was afraid.
How to prove I don’t remember anything? Murdoc leaned against the glass door of the shower, feeling water on his back, closing his eyes against the heat and the steam. Had he ever showered in this bathroom before, before the thing had happened – whatever it was – that had made MacGyver... hate him? The face in the photographs didn’t look like a man who hated easily, but clearly MacGyver hated him now.
“Are you steaming yourself in there, or boiling?” MacGyver asked, suddenly, inches away and only the other side of the glass door. Murdoc jerked back and the door opened. Instinctively, not wanting to get water all over the floor, Murdoc hit the shower control and the water stopped, and he found himself facing MacGyver, who – thank god – looked merely amused.
“Here,” MacGyver said, and handed him a towel.
Murdoc took it and wrapped it around himself, stepping out of the shower and seeing, resigned, that the amusement was fading from MacGyver’s face. Then he realised that MacGyver’s eyes were tracing the white lines the scars made up and down his torso, and that when MacGyver looked at him like that it was not at all like the impersonal examination of the hospital staff, the only people he could remember having seen him naked. He tried to pull the towel further up, to cover the worst of the jagged marks over his stomach, but MacGyver went on looking, taking a step back as if to see all of him, and Murdoc nearly backed into the shower and started it again in order to hide himself in the steam.
But if he did, what would MacGyver do? Murdoc held himself still. The worst of the recent scars were on his right leg below the knee; he saw MacGyver turn his gaze there, and ducked his head, looking down at the floor, and waited. A lot of the scars were old, the doctors had told him: years old, some of them, but not all. He wondered if MacGyver remembered them, if MacGyver could tell him how he’d come to be so marked: if MacGyver were wondering about the more recent scars, the ones that dated from three months ago or the ones that were only two or three years old. He’d had a lot of broken bones in the past, though they all seemed to have healed with no trouble, and he’d had plastic surgery on his face, to cover burn scars, one of the doctors thought. He was damaged, and MacGyver’s stare was a reminder. His ankles hurt.
“May I get dressed now?” he asked awkwardly, not looking up.
“Yeah, of course you can,” MacGyver said. There was a thread of exasperation in his voice, but it was as if he were clinging to it. “Yeah.”
Murdoc glanced up, startled by the shocky tone in MacGyver’s voice, and saw the other man was hanging onto the towel rack, almost holding himself up by it. He nearly asked, “Are you all right?” but a moment later MacGyver straightened himself, letting go of the rail and the wet jeans which covered it, scrubbing his hands down his own jeans to dry them. He glanced at the contents of the rail, and said, this time sounding really exasperated, “You can’t wear those.” He pulled the sodden jeans off the rail as he spoke. “I’ll lend you a pair.”
“I don’t think they’ll fit,” Murdoc whispered, but MacGyver was already out the door.
Murdoc was mostly dry, and had his shirt and shorts on, before MacGyver came back. The jeans he brought were several inches too long in the legs, and sagged uncomfortably around the waist, but they were dry. MacGyver hadn’t included a belt with the loan.
“I put your jeans in the dryer,” MacGyver said. “And I ordered a couple of pizzas; do you want one?”
Murdoc couldn’t remember whether he liked pizza or not, but he didn’t care. “Yes. Please.” In the living-room, he wondered whether MacGyver was going to tie him up again, but the other man showed no sign of wanting to do so. “May I have my backpack?” he asked cautiously. There was no sign of anything that belonged to him in the living-room: even the remains of the camera had been cleared up.
“Later,” MacGyver said. “Sit down.” He gestured at an armchair, quite a way across the room from the sofa, where he sat, and watched Murdoc, and didn’t say anything.
The pizzas arrived: one vegetarian, and one with pepperoni. MacGyver ate about half the former, washing it down with a large glass of milk. Murdoc finished all of the latter, only managing even to slow down once he had three large slices in his stomach. MacGyver frowned at him, and asked, “Want some of mine?”
MacGyver put his pizza box down on the floor and slid it over to Murdoc with the toe of one foot. Murdoc scooped it up and managed two more slices before he finally felt full. He wouldn’t have minded a glass of milk, but MacGyver didn’t offer him any.
MacGyver had let him shower, fed him, and was now about to throw him out. Murdoc was so certain of it that it was a moment before he realised MacGyver was standing by the door. “Come on.”
Although uncomfortable in the borrowed jeans, and missing his backpack, Murdoc went obediently ahead of MacGyver down the stairs into the garage. There were two cars parked there, and some gym equipment stacked at the back. MacGyver hesitated at the foot of the stairs, looking at Murdoc thoughtfully. “Drop the jeans.”
“Undo them,” MacGyver said, as if saying something perfectly normal, “and push them down to your ankles.”
Dry-mouthed, Murdoc fumbled with the fastening. The air felt cold on his bare legs.
“Turn around and lean up against the car. Now just stay there.”
Murdoc was shivering. He couldn’t see MacGyver, and the other man moved quietly. Behind him a door opened and closed. How long do I have to stay like this?
His jeans – dry, if no cleaner – landed on the car roof where he was leaning. “Put them on,” MacGyver said brusquely.
While Murdoc was struggling into his own jeans, he saw his backpack – no longer empty – arrive at his feet. At a peremptory gesture, Murdoc climbed into the passenger seat of the jeep, not daring to ask where they were going. Back to the bus station? They headed in that general direction at first, and then MacGyver turned onto the freeway, and they were heading out of Los Angeles, into the dusk.
“I told Pete,” MacGyver said at last, after nearly an hour’s silence. The scowl was back on his face. “He thinks I’m crazy. So do I…. You know where we’re going.”
Murdoc shook his head.
“Sure you do, or you’d have asked sooner.” MacGyver shrugged. “If you’re planning to pull one of your stunts, Pete’s expecting to hear from me, and if he doesn’t, he’ll have the Highway Patrol out after you. He knows where we’re going and he knows what route I’m taking. Just so you know.”
He fell silent again. Murdoc kept quiet, watching the road signs and thinking hard. He wished he could remember who Pete was, but mainly he was relieved: MacGyver didn’t plan to throw him out. Not yet.
He recognised the road signs, one after another. “The hospital,” he said out loud, suddenly. “You’re taking me back to the hospital.”
MacGyver took his eyes off the road for a second to look at him. “Yeah,” he said, sounding faintly satisfied. “I thought about getting Jack to courier some photos up, and I thought about going up myself to check it out without you – but this way I’ll find out what’s going on without putting anyone else at risk.”
Murdoc shut his mouth without asking any one of a thousand questions, remembering (and still unnerved by) MacGyver’s earlier threat to gag him. While struggling out of his wet clothes, he’d realised that MacGyver had used duct tape to tie him; he didn’t want to provoke the man into taking stronger measures. The heavy tape would make an airtight seal over his mouth, and would likely take skin with it when removed – something Murdoc had no desire to experience firsthand. In any case, what he wanted most to know was whether MacGyver meant to let him go, once he’d discovered his story was true, and there was no point asking that. He’d find out soon enough.
They stopped at a motel, later, hours later. Murdoc was nearly asleep, drowsing in his seat, but he woke with a start when MacGyver snapped at him. There was one double bed, not a large one, and a couch that doubled as a child’s bed. Murdoc used the bathroom, brushed his teeth – MacGyver had put toothpaste and a clean toothbrush in his backpack, he discovered, astonished and delighted – and came out, only to be snagged by MacGyver and marched across to the couch.
It was almost a relief, and almost a disappointment, but on the whole, more relief than disappointment. Almost willingly, Murdoc kicked off his jeans and sat down on the couch, expecting MacGyver to tie him up for the night, and – for the moment, at least – beyond minding. “You don’t have to worry,” he began to assure MacGyver cheerfully, meaning to add that he was grateful for the toothbrush.
“Shut up,” MacGyver snapped, as if Murdoc’s cheerfulness grated on him. He pulled out a roll of duct tape, and Murdoc flinched back in panic at the sight, hastily covering his mouth with his hands. As MacGyver reached for him, he shook his head, frantically trying to indicate that he wouldn’t say another word, but MacGyver showed no sign of relenting. After a moment’s struggle, Murdoc went limp, realising the futility of putting up a fight, and allowed the other man to pull his hands away.
What followed, thankfully, was not quite what he’d expected. The duct tape went around his wrists, and was wrapped around his arms, tying them together in front of him. MacGyver hobbled his ankles with more duct tape, and then tossed the roll onto the bed, evidently willing – this time – to forgo the gag. Murdoc turned onto his side and clenched his jaw. Having escaped a gag once, he didn’t want to risk it again, but it was hard to be quiet when he was near tears of relief. MacGyver even put a blanket over him; Murdoc was more comfortable than he’d been last night, sleeping in the Greyhound bus. He heard MacGyver moving around, and presently the other man got into bed. He made a quick phone call (“Pete? It’s me. Just checking in. No, no problems”) and then the light went out, leaving Murdoc alone in the dark.
But not alone. He could hear MacGyver breathing, hear the soft shifting and turning of another person in the dark, not far away. It was unlike a ward, and unlike the Greyhound bus, and unlike the ICU, which was the last time he could remember going to sleep with just one other person in the room. It was oddly, unexpectedly soothing. Though wistfully aware of the irony, Murdoc let himself enjoy the shadow of MacGyver’s presence. He just hoped he wouldn’t dream.
It would be nice to be MacGyver, he reflected drowsily. Nice to be able to call someone who recognised your voice, who wanted to know how you were. Angus? It’s me. Just checking in. How are you? I’m fine. Fine. Fine....