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Classification Angst, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 3,000 words; 8 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers Roughly through the early part of Season 8
Rating GS for violence, language
Author's Notes This story is the first story of a trilogy, but can easily stand alone.

 

 


Mid-summer 2002
Somewhere in Afghanistan



It had been a long day. Hell, it had been a long week. She felt like she had been living in a humvee and bathing in sand for a month. As they rounded the corner and the base camp came into sight she gave an involuntary sigh of relief.

He chuckled. “I know what you mean. Who’d have thought that tents would look like the Waldorf?”

She smiled back at him. “I can’t wait to get into the shower, even if the water is muddy.”

He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Is that an invitation, Colonel?”

“Down boy,” she answered, smiling “I think that’s a definite red light.”

“Oh come on, Mac,” he said, giving her his best wounded look “I thought we were finished with the traffic signals.”

She smirked at him and jumped lightly out of the vehicle as it stopped at one end of the neat semicircle of tents. He had a point. After everything that had happened in the last two years, they did seem to be on the same wavelength. Finally. She shook herself from her reverie. Never had she been so happy to see a base camp, or so happy to hear that their duties here were over. She was sure that Harm was as pleased to be ordered back to JAG as she was. Their first mission in Afghanistan had been exciting, initially a somewhat welcome change from her duties at HQ -- after all she hadn’t joined the corps to be a pencil pusher -- but after the atrocities they had seen and after what happened to Bud, returning here had not been easy for her or her partner.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a distant whistle. She turned toward Harm to ask what he thought was going on when a shout startled her. “Incoming!!” She looked quickly around. She had moved too far from the humvee to use it for cover and the tents were still 50 feet away. As they dove for the ground, the world around her exploded in a wave of sand and heat. She felt her leg crumple as she hit the ground. Dammit! There wasn’t any pain, but from the way the leg had collapsed, she knew that she had done some real damage.

As quickly as the attack began, it was over. She lay on the ground, covering her head with her arms, listening to the silence. She heard Harm call her name.

“Mac? You all right?”

“Yeah,” she answered, though she wasn’t really sure of her status. Until she was sure they were clear, she didn’t want him coming to get her. “What about you?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I managed to get behind the humvee. It looked like you were pretty close to one of the rounds. You sure you’re ok?” He sounded worried.

“I think so,” she answered, dismayed at the uncertainty in her voice.

“You don’t sound too good, Mac. I’m coming to get you. Just hang on.”

Before she could answer, shots rang out from the hills east of camp. “No, Harm. Stay where you are. I’m ok. You’ll be a sitting duck out here.”

“I can make it.”

“No, Harm. I’m fine. Really. I’ll try to move over toward you.”

“OK,” he answered doubtfully.

Mac started to roll to her right and was startled to see a rapidly expanding pool of blood under her right thigh. Her BDU’s were shredded and she thought she could see the white sheen of bone poking through. She stared, fascinated by the amount of blood and perplexed by the lack of pain.

“Mac?” Harm’s voice interrupted her morbid fascination with her leg.

“I’m ok, Harm, just trying to figure out how to get across the open sand without attracting attention.”

She rolled gently onto her back and slid a few feet across the sand. So far so good; nobody shot at her. She pushed a little harder with her left foot, propelling herself a little faster, and then stopped abruptly, mired in the sand she had plowed up. She tried to roll over, but a hail of bullets stopped her. She tried scooting sideways around the pile of sand when the pain hit her like a magnitude 10 earthquake. Her eyes filled with tears and bile rose into her mouth. She spat and lay on her back trying to control her breathing. Another wave of agony rippled across her leg as the muscles began to cramp. She had never felt pain like this. Not in the mountains, not when she was shot in Bosnia, not even when Eddie died. She glanced at her leg and was appalled at the amount of blood staining the sand.

“Ma’am?” a voice called from the direction of the tents, “are you ok?”

“Yes, I’m injured but I’ll be all right. Stay where you are. Do not attempt to come for me.” There was no way she was going to let anybody die saving her.

“Mac?”

She could hear the panic in his voice. She had to calm him down or he would get himself killed.

“I’m ok, Harm. Just stay where you are.”

“No, I’m coming out to get you.”

“No!” she cried, turning her head toward the humvee just in time to see him step out from cover. To her horror, he went down almost immediately, a victim of the anonymous hillside snipers. She rolled over onto her stomach, stifling a scream of pain and fighting the blackness that suddenly threatened to claim her. She began to drag herself toward him, but another flurry of bullets pinned her down. She raised her head in time to see two marines dart from one of the tents and drag Harm to safety. She relaxed, allowing her head to rest on the sand until the pain in her leg again became unbearable. She rolled carefully onto her back again, relieving the pressure on the leg and giving herself a brief respite from the pain.

She lay there for several minutes, drifting perilously close to unconsciousness. She knew she had to find a way to get to cover. Even her mid-summer tan was no match for the high noon desert sun. She could feel her face burning and the sweat soaking her uniform. She tried sliding across the sand again, bracing herself for the impact of a bullet. A few feet, a few feet more, a few more and still no gunfire. Things were looking up. She wiggled around the plowed up sand and slid a few more feet. A voice called to her.

“Commander Rabb is ok, ma’am. He’s not seriously injured. I’ll be out to get you in just a sec.”

Relief overcame her in a rush. Harm was ok. He hadn’t been killed trying to save her sorry ass. She slid a few more feet and was surprised to hear another hail of gunfire. She looked toward the tents to see a marine dive for cover. She slid some more. No gunfire. So. They would let her try to get to safety, but prevent anybody from getting to her. OK. She would have to do this herself. She wiggled to her left around yet another sand pile and slid a few more feet. Exhausted, she stopped to check her progress. She had covered about half the distance to the tents.

She lifted her leg to push against the sand yet again and her vision began to grey. Nausea rose unbidden and her chest tightened painfully. She lay her head down on the sand and closed her eyes, willing herself to hold it together just a little longer. She slid another few feet and collapsed, panting heavily, totally spent.

For the next 22 minutes she moved slowly across the sand, sliding and then resting for several seconds. Each slide was more exhausting and less productive than the one before. Her rest periods got longer after each slide. The desert sun, which had been burning her unmercifully only 41 minutes earlier, had lost its ability to warm her, though it still burned high overhead. She shivered, her body desperately trying to maintain temperature, each muscle contraction jostling her injured leg. She no longer had the energy to stifle her cries of pain. Random volleys of gunfire interrupted the silence of the base camp. She understood then that there would be no rescue. She had to rescue herself or die just 25 feet from safety. If there was ever a time for prayer that was it. Too bad she hadn’t been inside a church in years. Or maybe it would have been more appropriate to pray to Allah since she was in the desert. She smiled, thinking how much her grandmother would have been amused by her confusion. Then she sobered. She had a decision to make. Visions of Harm, the Admiral, Sturgis, Harriet and AJ danced across her mind’s eye. She felt tears of self pity roll down her face. She would miss them so much. She wasn’t ready to die, at least not this way, but she had no idea how she was going to prevent it. She quietly said goodbye to the people she loved. As she allowed the darkness to claim her, a vision of Bud Roberts lying mangled on the floor of the desert invaded her thoughts. He gestured toward the tents, urging her toward safety. She knew what she had to do. She could not let him down. She raised herself up on her elbows…

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Her whole body felt heavy. Her head was pounding and her leg was killing her. There were people talking and the whir of machines. An antiseptic smell tickled her nose and somebody was clutching her hand. She pried her eyes open and looked into the eyes of her partner.

“Welcome back,” he said softly, an undercurrent of laughter in his voice.

“Hey,” she whispered, her voice disappointingly weak.

“Shh. Don’t try to talk right now. Save your strength. You’ve had a rough couple of days.”

“What happened?” she croaked.

He glared at her but she met his gaze unflinchingly.

“How much do you remember?” he asked gently.

She paused for a moment, searching her mind for some clue. “I, I was dragging myself across the sand. My leg…” she broke off and turned hesitantly toward her right leg. To her great relief the grinding ache in the general vicinity of her knee was not phantom pain. Her leg was suspended from a frightening maze of metal, pulleys and rope.

He squeezed her hand reassuringly. “It’s still there. Pretty messed up, but intact.”

She picked up the story where she had left off, unwilling to acknowledge the depth of her fear until her questions were answered. “The snipers had everybody pinned down...You had been hit,” she continued quietly.

“I’m fine, Mac. Just a flesh wound. They had to tie me down to keep me from coming after you.”

Hearing the amusement in his voice, she turned to meet his gaze. “Literally!” he finished, chuckling.

Hearing him laugh, she felt immeasurably better. “So how did I get here?”

“You dragged yourself to the tents,” he answered, calmly.

She was surprised. “I did?” she asked incredulously. “But I, ah,… I blacked out about 25 feet away.” Her last memory was of bidding her friends goodbye. Better save that for another conversation.

“Nope,” he answered his pride for her unmistakable, “you managed to drag yourself, half dead, right up to the door of the tent…” he faltered and turned away.

Confused and concerned, she tightened her grip on his hand. “Harm? What is it?”

When he turned back to her, she was surprised to see tears running down his face. In all the situations they had experienced, she had only rarely seen him cry: on the Hornet when he found his father’s name, in Siberia when they finally discovered his father’s fate, in her apartment after the terrible phone call about Sarah Roberts and on the Guadalcanal after Bud had been injured.

“What is it?” she asked carefully, afraid to hear what had unnerved him so.

“It was awful, Mac,” he continued, his voice choked with tears. “You were covered with blood and shaking. You couldn’t stay conscious and you stopped breathing a couple of times. I was so afraid...” he finished in a whisper.

She reached gingerly for his hand, clasping it between both of hers. “It’s ok, Harm. I’m here. I made it. It’s going to be all right.”

He sniffed. “I know. I know. It’s just that…I…after Bud…I just didn’t know how I would ever handle this…you…being injured…or…or worse. I wouldn’t have survived. I…”

“Don’t, Harm. Don’t do this to yourself. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

“Mac, you don’t understand,” Harm insisted.

“Yes. I do,” she replied, sadly.

He extricated his hand from hers, walked toward the window and stood gazing into the late afternoon sun. Mac’s heart sank as she watched him compose himself. Almost imperceptibly his posture straightened. She knew that when he turned around his eyes would be dry and his mask in perfect order. Before he pulled himself together she had to make him understand. She did know what he was going through. On the eve of what should have been the biggest day of her life, she had been in his shoes. He had dumped an F-14 into the Atlantic and she was forced to come face to face with the possibility of losing him, the only man she had ever really trusted, ever really loved. In the aftermath of that realization, her carefully crafted façade of control had been the casualty. She couldn’t marry Mic, couldn’t face Harm and she had run away. She wouldn’t let him make the same mistake.

“Harm?”

“Yeah,” he answered half-heartedly, still staring out the window.

“I do know how you feel,” she croaked. God, she was so tired.

“No, Mac, you don’t understand. Nobody does. I’m so messed up…” he sighed.

Mac shifted in bed, trying to see his face. The movement tugged on her leg and she couldn’t stifle a soft moan. The longer she was awake, the worse she felt. Sleep was no longer beckoning her, it was ordering her to close her eyes. The struggle to stay awake intensified her headache. She could feel sweat running down her forehead and bile rising in her throat. She swallowed deliberately and took a deep breath, hoping to quell the nausea. To her surprise, a sharp pain rippled across her rib cage. She groaned involuntarily.

Harm moved quickly to her side and sat down next to the bed, his hand gently resting on her forehead. “Hey, are you ok?” he asked quietly.

“I’m just sleepy, and a little sore.”

“You should get some rest.”

But Mac was not to be put off this time. “I do know how you feel,” she insisted again. “I was in your shoes a year ago.”

Harm’s expression softened as he realized what she was talking about. “My crash.”

She managed to nod, though her head seemed to weigh 500 pounds. A gray fog wrapped itself around her, its tendrils drawing her in, strangling her. She fought them, desperately wanting -- no, needing -- to finish this conversation.

“I thought I was going to lose you that night…And that, you…you wouldn’t ever know…” she lost her train of thought.

Harm brushed his hand across her cheek. “Rest. We’ll talk later.”

Mac swallowed and took several deep breaths. “I have to do this, you have to know I unnerstan how you feel. That…night I…” she paused to take a deep breath. She could hear the slur in her speech. She was having trouble stringing together even a few words. Her need to sleep was rapidly outcompeting her need to talk. “Harm, that night…I thought…thought… I was…gonna lose you. I couldn’ deal...” Her eyes closed.

“It’s not the same thing, Mac. You were worried about losing me, but you weren’t in lo...” he sighed. “It’s just not the same thing,” he finished, his tone frustrated.

At his words, a moment of clarity penetrated the fog that surrounded her, like a lighthouse to a stranded mariner. Her eyes popped open and she stared at him, completely perplexed. He didn’t know? How could he not know?

“You’re wrong,” she whispered. “I do know…” She forced her eyes to stay open and met his expectant gaze. “I love you, Harm.”

The look of wonder on his face would have been funny if she hadn’t felt so awful.

“D’you hear what I said? I love you, Harm. You…nobody…elssss.” Her eyes fluttered closed.

His hand released hers and she heard a sound like a sob. She tried to open her eyes to reassure herself that he was still in the room, but she could not fight the urge to sleep. She desperately wanted to connect with him, afraid that he would run and that she would never see him again. That thought terrified her more than anything that had happened before or would ever happen again. “Don’t leave,” she cried, plaintively. “Please don’t leave me…” She had to stop him from running. She had to.

As she fought to rouse herself, she felt his breath tickle her cheek. “I’m not going anywhere, Sarah,” he whispered into her ear. “I’ll be here when you wake up.” A gentle kiss on her forehead suffused her with warmth and five whispered words echoed in her mind as she relaxed into slumber.

“I love you too, Sarah.”

 

The End
 

 
 
   

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