Cold Turkey

By Rocket

Episode 9.17

Part One

 

Wednesday 20th December


Nikki pulled another length of tinsel out of the cardboard box, humming along to ‘Silent Night’ playing on the radio. Disentangling the tinsel from a holly wreath, she dragged a chair to the corner of the room and stood on it to fasten the tinsel to the doorframe. She stretched up on tiptoes, pushing a tack into the wood, with the tail of the tinsel draped over her shoulder. She turned to view the room, pleased with the tree and the decorations looping across the ceiling. She glanced into the kitchen as the oven timer pinged, stepped down off the chair and opened the oven door. She had just set down a tray of cookies when the telephone rang.

“Hello?” Nikki pulled off her oven glove, dumped it on the counter and shifted a box of fairy lights off the couch. “Yes, this is Miss Carpenter, how can I…” She sat down, the colour draining from her face. “What do you mean, gone?” She shook her head, eyes widening as she listened to the voice on the phone. “And you don’t know… You mean you just let him leave?!” Her voice grew loud, harsh against the gentle music in the apartment. “I know it’s not a prison, but…” She took a deep breath, trying to stay calm. “Did he say where he was going? I see, and you have no idea where he could be?” She bit back a curse. “Thank you for letting me know.” The caller hung up, leaving Nikki staring at the phone. She replaced the receiver, put a shaking hand to her mouth, then buried her head in her hands and cried.

 

Thursday 21st December


“Is there anyone here who DOES have a Christmas tree?” Willis set down his lunch tray, looking around the Phoenix Foundation canteen table. “Seeley?”

“Nope. Mozart climbs it and eats the pine needles. Then he throws up.” Seeley took a swig of coffee.

“How about you, Mac?” Willis sat down, puncturing his juice box with the straw.

“Not so much.” MacGyver swallowed a mouthful of beans. “I’m not really a Christmas kind of guy. Santa Luisa Mission have one though, and I’m spending Christmas day there, so it sorta counts.” He shrugged.

“Are you helping out this year too?” Helen laid her fork down and wiped her mouth with her napkin.

“That’s right.” MacGyver forked in some more beans, chewed and swallowed. “They run a soup kitchen all day and Doc said he could use an extra pair of hands. Sam’s going to help too.”

“That sounds lovely.” Helen smiled and turned to Willis. “And to answer your question, yes – I do have a Christmas tree.”

“Finally!” Willis grinned, then turned to Nikki. “So, which are you, Nikki – Elf or Grinch?” He blinked, surprised at her answering glare.

“Just leave it, Willis!” Nikki stood up, leaving her untouched lunch tray behind.

“Wow… Grinch.” Willis watched her go.

“Definitely Grinch.” Seeley took another bite of meatloaf, watching the canteen doors swing shut.

“Yeah. Except usually, she’s an elf…” MacGyver frowned, picking up his empty tray and setting off after her.

By the time he’d returned his tray and fought his way through the lunchtime crowd back to Nikki’s office, she’d already left for her afternoon’ assignment.

 

Friday 22nd December


“What’s going on with her?” Willis glanced at his watch as Nikki stowed her bag under her desk and sat down. “She was late yesterday as well.” He glanced across at MacGyver, his expression worried.

“I don’t know.” MacGyver watched Nikki boot up her computer, the screen-light darkening the shadows under her eyes. She rubbed a hand across her forehead, frowning as though she had a headache and sighed.

“I asked her yesterday if she was OK, and she almost took my head off!” Willis shook his head. “I mean, she’s pretty fierce even on a good day, but just lately? Nuh-uh!” He shook his head again and ducked back behind his computer as Nikki looked their way.

“Huh.” MacGyver watched as Nikki pulled a strand of tinsel off her monitor, wadded it up and threw it in the bin. She typed for a moment, her fingers hitting the keys hard, then frowned at her work and erased it. MacGyver rose and went to the break room. He poured a mug of coffee and placed a doughnut on a napkin, carrying both back into the office and putting them down on Nikki’s desk.

“You looked like you could use some breakfast.” He smiled down at her, trying to hide his shock. Up close, Nikki looked bad. Her eyes were red rimmed, her face pale. Fatigue painted dark smudges under her eyes and her clothes were rumpled.

“This doesn’t look like your idea of a good breakfast!” Nikki smiled as she picked up the doughnut, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.

“Well, you also looked like you could use the sugar.” MacGyver shrugged, waving a hand towards the coffee. “And the caffeine. Are you OK?”

“Fine.” Nikki looked down at the doughnut in her hand, setting it aside. “Just tired.”

“Yeah, all that Christmas preparation can really take it out of you…” MacGyver watched Nikki glance at the tinsel in the bin and sigh.

“Mac, I get what you’re doing, and it’s good of you to be concerned.” Nikki looked up, meeting his worried gaze. “But I really am fine. I’ve just got a lot on at the moment.”

“Work stuff?” MacGyver looked at the cluttered desk, spotting a report which should have been handed in two days ago.

“Home stuff.” Nikki’s voice was quiet. MacGyver frowned, recalling that Nikki lived alone. Perhaps Christmas was especially difficult this year, missing a husband who should have been there celebrating it with her…

“Nikki, if you want you can spend Christmas with us.” MacGyver stopped, unsure of what to say next. Nikki opened her mouth to reply, then her eyes filled with tears and she looked down, shaking her head.

“No.” Her voice was quiet. “Thank you, but no. I’ve got things I have to do.” When she looked back up at him, the tears had gone.

“OK, if you’re sure…” MacGyver waited until Nikki nodded and then drifted back to his desk. Willis caught his eye and shrugged.

* * * *
 

“Merry Christmas, everyone! Pete picked up his briefcase, waved to the Phoenix staff still in the office and then left, leaning on his driver’s arm as they walked down the icy front steps. MacGyver glanced across the nearly empty office as he shrugged into his jacket, seeing Nikki still at her desk.

“C’mon Nikki, this will all still be here after the weekend. No-one’s going to sweat an unfinished site report now!” He waited, hands in pockets, until she looked up at him and nodded.

“I guess you’re right.” Nikki sighed and shut down her computer. Checking her cell phone, she put on her coat and dropped it into her pocket.

“You expecting a call?” MacGyver held the door and then followed her through.

“Kind of.” Nikki pulled her coat tighter around her as a cold gust of wind blew. In the sodium lights of the car park, she looked grey and worn.

“Nikki, seriously – what’s wrong?” MacGyver stood in front of her.

“Nothing. Excuse me, please.” Nikki stepped to the side, but MacGyver stepped too, preventing her from walking away. “Mac, get out of my way!” Nikki’s tone was angry.

“Nikki, I’m your friend. I’ve been worried about you all week – you’re late, you look like you haven’t slept in days, you’re not eating, you can’t stop looking at your phone…” MacGyver gestured helplessly. “Something’s wrong and I want to help. Let me help!”

“I’m OK, Mac, I…” Nikki broke off, pressing her lips together. “I just… I can’t…” She shook her head. “I have to go, Mac!”

“Let me help, Nikki.” MacGyver’s voice was quiet. Nikki shook her head again, then her face crumpled.

“It’s my stupid, asshole little brother!” Her voice was angry as much as upset.

MacGyver opened the door of Harry’s Chevy pickup and Nikki got in, scrubbing tears off her face with her coat sleeve.

“What’s happened?” MacGyver got into the pickup and started the engine, cranking up the heat.

“He’s had a… problem for a few years.” Nikki took a wad of Kleenex and blew her nose. “But I’d got him into a rehab facility here in LA and he was doing really well. I thought this time he’d kick it for good, you know?”

“Drugs?” MacGyver frowned as Nikki nodded.

“Heroin. Yeah, I know.” She caught MacGyver’s eye, her expression mirroring his. “He was doing so well, he was getting clean and then I get a phone call Wednesday evening, and they tell me he’s gone.”

“Gone?” MacGyver raised his eyebrows. “Just like that?”

“Just like that.” Nikki raised her voice, imitating the nurse on the phone. “This isn’t a prison, Miss Carpenter, and Matthew is free to leave if he chooses.” She shook her head. “I’ve spent the last two nights driving around the city looking for him. The facility is supposed to call me if he shows up, but so far…” She shrugged.

“Do the police know he’s missing?” MacGyver held up his hands at Nikki’s blistering glare. “OK! OK! Just checking”

“I know, sorry.” Nikki shook her head. “Officially he doesn’t count as a missing person for another… four hours.” She glanced at her watch and sighed, folding her hands in her lap. “So now I go home and wait, in case he comes to my place, or I go out searching for him and worry that he’ll show up at my apartment and find it locked. She shook her head. “Why couldn’t he just stay put?”

“You want some company?” MacGyver put the pickup into gear and drove across the parking lot to Nikki’s car. “We could cover a lot more ground if we both search, or if you decided to stay home, you wouldn’t be waiting in alone.”

“Actually, yes.” Nikki nodded. “That would be great. But that ruins your evening too.”

“No plans.” MacGyver shrugged. “I’d be happy to help.”

“Thanks, Mac.” Nikki got out of the pickup and fished her keys out of her pocket. “Follow me back, and I’ll find you a photo of Matt, OK?”

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